I didn’t want to have to do this so early in the history of my blog, but time has conspired against me. One of my favorite podcasts, How Did This Get Made? , has decided to discuss Wild Wild West, one of my favorite awful movies.
Now, I need to first explain that I am not defending Wild Wild West as a good movie. I am defending it as an exceptional fantastic bad movie. Many posts on this blog will be about enjoying “good” bad movies, so now seems like a perfect time to expound on some of the particulars that make something horrible, wonderful to watch.
One of the most important rules for what makes an awesome bad movie is how seriously does it take itself. A horrible movie that takes itself too seriously is almost unwatchable. M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender being a perfect example. After hearing how horrible the Last Airbender was supposed to be, I made sure to watch it with my best heckling buddies. But you know what the problem was? It wasn’t good bad, it was just awful. It took itself seriously, in a movie, based on a cartoon, about people who can control certain elements. Not really the ideal scenario for drama or comedy or quality. You couldn’t heckle something that wasn’t funny, and you can’t heckle the dialogue when it just falls flat. Wild Wild West was not sold as a serious action movie/comedy. It was at the apex of the tie-in movie song, and the trailer is all Will Smith singing/rapping with wacky hijinks happening. It has Kevin Kline dressed up as a woman, and as Ulysses S. Grant, and it has one of the world’s best Shakespearean actors making racist puns, how are you not entertained!
To help me in my discussion let me introduce my good friend Chris Miller, or as I call him Chris Miller/Bonner, Bones, or Bonesaw. I am excited to have him join me on this, because what makes bad movies entertaining to watch is one of the few things we agree on. What else is necessary for bad movies to be good bad Bones?
It is difficult to quantify the difference between a good bad movie and a bad movie. To bastardize a famous quote from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart regarding obscenity, “I could never succeed in intelligibly [defining what makes a good bad movie]. But I know it when I see it.” Despite the daunting nature of the task, I will do my best to identify some key characteristics.
The two most important factors have nothing to do with the movie, itself. The state of mind of the viewer and the company with which they watch the movie will do more to determine your experience than anything else. As Jesse mentioned, describing our experience with The Last Airbender, those factors cannot save a truly bad movie. Their absence, however, can make a good bad movie seem merely bad. One of Jesse’s favorite good bad movies isPirates of the Plain starring the incomparable Tim Curry. I had heard much talk about the greatness of that movie. The first time I watched it, I was alone and tired from a long day’s work. There were a few moments (“Stand and Deliver!”), but I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. This, obviously, devastated Jesse, as my approval is paramount to him. When next he was in town, he forced me to watch it again. It was a revelation. Having Jesse and our other prime heckle buddy, Jake, along for the ride made all the difference. I saw the film in an whole new light. Much Like Kenneth Branagh (or Kenneth Burnoff as our AP Lit teacher called him) in Wild Wild West, there is something magical about a classically trained actor of Tim Curry’s stature in such absurdist situations and such absurdist dialogue delivered with such aplomb.
Jesse, why don’t you talk about your introduction to Wild Wild West. What made you part with your precious jew gold to watch this cinematic masterpiece? Tune in Next Week for Part 2 where Jesse defends the greatness that is Wild Wild West.
If Wild Wild West taught us anything it’s that racist humor is always funny. You are right to bring up viewing conditions in regards to bad movies. Just like watching standup by yourself, one needs other people to truly enjoy a bad movie. The context of how and why you see a movie is just as important. You brought up Pirates of the Plain, and while i am glad you finally realize its brilliance, that movie was the culmination of a journey. We were trying to find a film where Tim Curry was a hero instead of villain, and that as the best we could find. We scoured the internet and the local Blockbuster (if you don't know what a Blockbuster is ask your parents) and found this jewel. The fact that is involves time travel, pirates in Nebraska, and hilarious people from the past who don’t understand technology humor was a bonus. You did not know any of those things when you watched it by yourself. Another good example of this is 1999’s Vampires starring James Woods. I won’t go into the plot details but seeing it at the $1 theater in the middle of a Saturday afternoon certainly changes how we reacted to its awfulness. While I want to continue our discussion of what makes bad movies enjoyable, let’s return to Wild Wild West for a moment.
After listening to the wonderful How Did This Get Made podcast on the movie, I discovered the main reason why they didn’t like the movie but we did: Expectations. The movie came out in 1999, with Will Smith at the top of his game, having done Indepence Day and Men In Black. Barry Sonnenfeld who had directed Men in Black was one of the most wanted directors at the time. There was a lot of pressure on this movie to do well. None of these things came to my attention. This was before the onslaught of pictures from the set and daily leaks that fill the internet today. I saw a commercial for it, I liked Will Smith, it looked funny so I went to go see it. I honestly enjoy it more now than I did back then. Maybe it was not their intention to make a great action/buddy comedy spoof, but they nailed it. This movie has so many great one-liners, I am pausing the movie every minute to write them down. I think the fact that it has so many great actors in it, saying hilarious racist puns, one-liners that are supposed to be witty which fail but are delivered with such gusto creates a unique movie that would never make it to theaters today. These things seemed to bother the people on How Did This Get Made? and the the majority of critics and maybe it would have bothered me as well if I was expecting it to be good, but honestly how could it be? What did people expect? We could do a scene by scene breakdown, but I like where we were going in defining what makes bad movies watchable, so let’s return there for a bit.
So we have the MST3K effect, as our friend TK (for our readers TK is our nickname for our good friend Jason Avery, so I won’t say what the TK stands for) mentioned, the watching it with like minded people. We have context, are you expecting it to be good or bad, and we have the kind of movie it is. Which is something we need to talk about, because the Great Bad Movie seems to always be either comedies, action movies, or a combination of both. I don’t know of any dramas that are in the so bad it is good category? Is it that so bad they are good dramas become comedies?
What do you think Bones?
You missed one of the pillars of good bad movies, though you listed an example. Horror movies litter the landscape of good bad movies. Evil Dead 2 is arguably the greatest such example. Any movie that has several inanimate object repeating "dead by dawn" over and over again fits squarely in the pantheon of good bad movies. And let's not forget the Dendrophiliac's wet dream of a scene, where a character get raped by an evil tree.
You could probably make a separate category just for Bruce Campbell movies. Evil Dead 1 &2, Bubba Ho-tep, Man with the Screaming Brain and even a couple of tv show examples in Jack of All Trades and Briscoe County Jr. He has the innate ability to provide gravity to the most absurd situations and dialogue without taking himself too seriously. He really puts his all in everyone of his movies, even when he is making fun of himself, like in My Name Is Bruce. The actors really have to believe what they are saying to elevate a bad movie.
The SyFy Channel seems to be built on churning out bad movies that occasionally become greatness. The cheesy special effects mixed with washed up stars of yesteryear will often fall flat. Sometimes, however, the stars align and you get Mega Python vs. Gatoroid. When exotic giant pythons begin destroying the ecosystem of the Florida Everglades, the only solution is to give steroids to the alligators, so they can fight back. If that isn't enough to draw you in, there's a cat fight between former 80s teen pop stars Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. I think we all get a little bit of a thrill seeing once great stars fall so far.
Jesse, what are your thoughts on the horror genre's contribution to good bad movies?
Stay Tuned Next Week..Where Jesse admits not liking Horror Movies... Evil Dead 2 excluded of course.
I have to jump right in, before Jesse loses all credibility in a good bad movie discussion. The horror genre is the foundation of good bad movies. I think it is important to make a distinction, here, between the different types of horror movies. When most people think of horror movies, they think of scary movies (The Exorcist, Jaws, Psycho, etc). This discussion is not about those movies. This discussion is about the two other types of horror movies.
Some of the best good bad movies are horror comedies, or horcoms®. We already discussed a few examples, Army of Darkness and Bubba Ho-tep. These are horror themed movies that are intended to be funny. Scary Movie 1 & 2 were excellent. Any horror movie that involves two Wayans brothers is a can't miss film. These types of movies are great fun, but they aren't as fun to make fun of. I realize I'm not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but it's a colloquialism, and frankly, I don't care. The next category is what makes the MST3K effect so much fun.
Unintentional horcoms® are the gold nuggets any movie prospector is seeking. It can be a bit of russian roulette. You never know, when you are going to get John Carpenter’s Vampires or Dracula 2000 (Spoiler Alert: Judas was the vampire!) or 2 Headed Shark Attack (only worth watching for Carmen Electra in a bikini, but google image search is a much less painful method). Perhaps my favorite example is The Wicker Man. Nic Cage is at his best in this remake of the 1973 classic of the same name. I don’t know how he didn’t get an Oscar nod for this scene.
I’m not sure that I can be friends with someone that doesn’t enjoy The Wicker Man. Jesse, we may have to end our decade and a half long friendship over this. This blog entry wouldn’t be complete without mention of our podcast’s namesake, Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed Wood’s 1959 classic may be the greatest unintentional horcom of all time. Bela Lugosi died while working on several unrelated projects for Ed Wood. After Lugosi died, Wood took the disparate footage and weaved it into Plan 9, using his wife’s chiropractor as a stand-in and narration to try to tie it all together. You can see the faux-Bela at 1:00.
Jesse, please explain how you can dislike horror movies, despite the overwhelming evidence I have provided. And don’t forget, the vampire was Judas!
Bones, it didn’t even occur to me that horcoms™ were horror movies at all. My mind is actually kind of blown at the moment. When I think about Army of Darkness or Dracula 2000 (Doesn’t Judas being the first Vampire make sense? I’m Jewish so really don’t understand the drinking of blood, maybe Judas was also the first Catholic) I don’t view them through the lens of horror but as comedies or dramas gone horribly horribly wrong. I guess it boils down to the fact that horcoms™ make me laugh not frightened, and if I am not scared or frightened or disgusted I never classified it as a horror movie. Which is incredibly strange thing to do, why would someone not classify Army of Darkness or the Wicker Man as a horror movie, but I didn’t.
Since the film industry is in love with Trilogies we will end our discussion of the rules for good bad movies here. So while we understand these rules might not work for everyone, the rules for a good bad movie are as follows.
1. the MST3K effect - Watching the movie with like minded people. This can take a move that if it was watched alone would be dull and turn it into Evil Alien Conquerors (If you haven’t seen this movie, go see it RIGHT NOW!)
2. Expectations - Whether you are expecting a movie to be good, bad, or good bad ahead of time. These can make a huge difference, an excellent example of this is Wild Wild West.
3. Genre - It is clear to me now, and apparently has been clear to Chris “Bones” Miller for a while, that horror/comedies or horcoms™ seem to encompass the majority of good bad movies. Whether they be intentional horcoms™ like Army of Darkness or unintentional horcoms™ like James Carpenter’s Vampires, if you see a horcoms™ it will probably be a good bad movie.
Also, don’t forget huge blockbuster action movies!
Ryan Flippo, Nickname Flippo:
Alright, Jesse, since we’re discussing a Grantland bracket, we may as well rip off Grantland’s format and break this down via email. So here are my initial thoughts:
First off, I’m annoyed and bummed that I missed the voting for day one, but hey, I have a job, a wife and 14-week old twins, so I really can’t complain:
Except I totally CAN complain that they’ve pitted Star Wars against Lord of the Rings not once, but twice. TWICE! How am I supposed to reconcile these two disparate yet equally important aspects of my nerderific soul? I can’t freeze out LOTR altogether, but there’s no way I can ditch Empire in the first round, so I have to advance Two Towers over Jedi. European Vacation vs. Beverly Hills Cop II is a wash for me, and ultimately irrelevant because neither one can top Godfather II in the next round. I love Leslie Nielsen, but I can’t say no to one of the greatest montages ever and “If he dies, he dies.”
I’ve already stated my vote for Empire, and it will waylay either of the part II’s, Bad Boys or Rocky. I’m torn between my love for Christopher Nolan’s epic vision, and my love for insane plots, awesome buddy-pairings, literally life-or-death puzzle solving, and a neverending stream of one-liners. Who am I kidding? I’ll swear to Nolan later. Die Hard With a Vengeance all the way, baby! Incredibly rewatchable, not to mention, far more of a true sequel to the first Die Hard than craptastic Die Hard 2. Bonus points for added the added hilarity of watching every Samuel L. Jackson scene edited for TBS. Wow that was a lot on Die Hard 3. Back to the Future II over Spider-Man 2. I respect Sam Raimi, and Spider-Man 2 is awesome, but as sequels go, I mean, Back to the Future II. “Future” is in the title of the first movie, and Part II actually takes us there. Hoverboards!
The Dark Knight bracket is loaded with genre talent. Obviously The Joker moves on. If this is even debatable to you, we cannot be friends. Clearly, the star power of the Color of Money moves it ahead of Star Trek II…I’m sorry, I can’t even go on typing that. I’ve never seen the Color of Money. Even if I had, there’s no way I could NOT advance Wrath of Khan. There’s also no way I can say anything else about Wrath of Khan that will be better than what you’ve got. I’m offended that they put Superman II as low as a 6-seed, and Fast Five gets a 3-seed. Superman II is THE reason it’s even possible for us to have The Avengers now. I have to move on. I’m afraid I’m going to break the space bar on my keyboard. You might be able to talk me into Ocean’s Thirteen over T2 from a “fun group of characters” standpoint, but it simply cannot overcome the awesomeness that is Evil T1000. One of the top movie villains EVER.
Aliens is the weakest 1-seed for me by far, and I don’t really care if it beats Bogus Journey or not. Toy Story 3 is an absolute laugher over Temple of Doom. It’s not even close. Rocky III is, well, Rocky III, but Ghost Protocol was freaking sweet, and I already have Rocky IV. And last but not least, in quite possibly the easiest decision of the whole bracket, Last Crusade over Wayne’s World 2. That is non-negotiable. If you made another decision, you chose…poorly.
Jesse Ulrich, Nickname Jboose:
Flippo, you are the Jacko to my Simmons. Don’t cry to me that you are busy with TWINS, since they are half Flippo and therefore I assume they sleep all the time. Now to the legitimate complaints.
OF COURSE YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE ANGRY ABOUT LORD OF THE RINGS VERSUS STAR WARS!! This really shows that Grantland is not a site run by nerds like us, who love sci-fi and fantasy, but by dorks who love Bad Boys II. The fact alone that Army of Darkness is not on this list proves my point. While I could yell at Grantland some more, it works out fine because, honestly (and you knew this was coming from my history of Star Wars bashing), there is really only one great Star Wars movie and it is Empire, which I am happy to advance over RoTK, since the ending was not only changed from awesome (Scouring of the Shire) to lame (endless teary-eyed goodbyes), it went on for 45 minutes longer than it needed to (it should have ended after Aragon says “You bow to no one”), and I will never forgive them for that because when I saw it in the theaters I had to pee halfway through and couldn’t leave, stupid filthy Hobbits. It is sad that it has to go down in the first round, because it is great except for the ending, but such is life.
I can't talk about LOTR and not post this:
In the rest of that region, I love me some Will Smith but Rocky II beats Bad Boys II. Back to the Future II, literally, in all timelines, smokes Spider-Man 2. It did make me sad to eliminate the one movie that has Bruce Campbell in it, but you are right Flippo, we actually got to go to the Future!! Where is my jacket that dries itself? Considering it is raining in Boston today, I could really have used that.
And now we must address The Dark Knight Rises versus Die Hard with a Vengeance. While you and I might disagree on religion and politics Flippo, we agree on this. Die Hard with a Vengeance is the epitome of great sequels. It is beyond rewatchable. It is on TBS or TNT or USA so often that if Michelle sees me turn to it, she knows there is no coming back. You mentioned how fun it is to watch the networks censor Samuel Jackson, but you totally overlooked the fact that throughout the movie, every time they show the villains (and you can’t fail with German villains), they are playing “The Ants go Marching Two by Two” in the background. Simply Fabulous. Also, tons of racist humor, which, as the four readers of this blog know, is my favorite kind of humor.
Up to the top left region, obviously Godfather II advances and will go on to annihilate either National Lampoon or Beverly Hills Cop. As I alluded to earlier, The Two Towers should, but probably won’t, destroy Return of the Jedi. Why you might ask? Oh I don’t know, how would Ewoks do against the Uruk-hai and how does the destroying the Death Star AGAIN compete with Helms Deep?? Two Towers is my favorite of the LOTR movies and it is my favorite book. It is simply the best…..around (and how did Bill Simmons not get Karate Kid II on this list?). Rocky IV beats The Naked Gun 2 ½ of course.
It took me a long time to get there, but to the Dark Knight region. It will certainly crush Nat’l Lampoon and go on to face the greatest sequel of all time…..STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAAAN! Chuck Klosterman believes “The only problem (with sequels) is that – outside of a few notable exceptions – they end up being terrible, terrible movies,” but I think that is a generational thing. In recent decades, it seems the sequels have almost always been superior, save for maybe Iron Man 2. Maybe he is including all the direct to DVD types, or is thinking about all those 80s movies that I forgot, but I digress. You go back and watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture…go ahead…I will wait. Did you notice something? That’s right NOTHING HAPPENS! NOTHING!! I’ve been watching the extra documentary features on the blu-rays of TNG season 1, and I have come to a realization. Gene Roddenberry’s personal version of Star Trek encompasses all my least favorite elements of the shows and movies. He doesn’t like battles, he doesn’t like villains, and he doesn’t like conflict. He’s only interested in pretty visual effects, and peaceful exploration where the only source of conflict is misunderstanding. Those things are all well and good, but that also sounds a lot like the plot to the worst Star Trek movie, also known as The Motion Picture. Ugh. Thankfully, Star Trek II came along and set the tone for the rest of the eventual Star Trek universe. Without this movie there is no Shakespeare-quoting Klingon in Star Trek IV, there are no awesome submarine-like space battles, and there is no KHHAAAANNN!! Without that scream there is no angry Captain Sisko, (which readers of this blog will soon see discussed in the Captains Debate), there is no Gul Dukat, in fact, there are no heroes or villains at all! In a just world, Wrath of Khan and the Dark Knight would have met in the finals, but life goes on.
I have already spent way too long on this region, so finishing up, Superman II advances (General Zod is Fantastic), Terminator 2 destroys Ocean’s Thirteen. It is Ocean’s Twelve that should be on here Flippo, not Thirteen. Then I could have argued for the “fun group of guys” movie, really just for the scene where Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and the others go through the list of different hilariously-named heists they could try, and that the audience has no idea what any of them are, except that one involves a cat. I love that scene. Also, Izzard.
Finally, to the weakest bracket. Aliens beats Bill & Ted mostly on the fact that I just love alien killing movies. I am going to argue for Temple of Doom to lose to Toy Story 3, which I admit that I have never actually seen. Why? Mostly because Temple of Doom, which actually takes place before Raiders of the Lost Ark, is just blah to me. But really, there can be only one Indiana Jones movie in this bracket, and Last Crusade is soooo much better. I’m sorry Flippo, it was nice being friends. Perhaps I can win back your esteem with a worst sequels bracket where there can be only one winner, and we both know what that would be. Ghost Protocol beats Rocky III (we have enough Rockies moving on at this point), and obviously Last Crusade beats Wayne’s World 2. I am sad that the weird naked Indian does not make it past the first round.
We will see what the majority of people on Facebook think, but I think you and I should continue our own bracket and then see where the official one goes.
Stay Tuned for more great, nerdy content here at Rantology.
Grantland's original article:
The Day 1 Results with an explanation of why certain movies did not make it: