The Muppet Movie

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Muppet Movie  (C).  I’m continuing my romp through the classics with this recent offering from fathomevents.com.  Although I enjoyed the muppets TV show in my youth, I never saw this, their first theatrical release, which came out in 1979.  Turns out I didn’t miss all that much.  It’s the story of how Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) decided to follow his dream of being an entertainer, left his swamp, and hit the road for Hollywood.  It’s a road-trip movie, with Kermit picking up a band of oddballs (Fozzie Bear (voice of Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), etc.) along the way while simultaneously being pursued by a fast-food-frog-legs entrepreneur (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who wants Kermit to be his front man, er, frog.  The jokes and sight gags really aren’t all that funny, but the frequent musical numbers tend to be better (especially Kermit’s wistful “The Rainbow Connection”).  There are loads of celebrity cameos, including Edgar Bergin, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Big Bird, and even Orson Welles, but only Steve Martin’s rude waiter is very funny.  I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.  (I might look for “The Rainbow Connection” on iTunes, though.)

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune (B+). This is quite an interesting documentary about an eccentric (if not totally bonkers) Chilean stage and film director who attempted to make a movie of the classic Frank Herbert science-fiction novel Dune. If I may briefly digress, I absolutely loved the novel Dune when I was a kid. Written in 1965, Dune is a space opera set in a far distant future in which humanity has settled into a quasi-feudal sort of imperial government, with various noble families jockeying for position and power within the Empire. The whole civilization runs on a spice called mélange, which gives its users longer lifespans and, more importantly, allows some gifted people to see the future (which is essential to space travel). The spice comes from only a single planet, a harsh desert world called Dune, whose main natural inhabitants are monstrous and voracious sandworms that grow to be a quarter-mile in length. The hero of the story is Paul Atreides, young heir to the throne of one of the noble houses, possessor of some unusual mental and physical abilities, and possibly a political revolutionary, religious messiah, or both. I read Dune several times as a kid, and I think I did an oral book report on it when I was in about the seventh grade.  My brother and I even had a board game based on the novel.

Anyway, David Lynch made a movie of Dune in the 1980s starring Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Stewart, Sean Young, and Sting, and it is generally considered to be pretty terrible. I saw it back at the time, and I know I didn’t think it was very good. What I never knew was that a Chilean stage and film director named Alejandro Jodorowsky had already tried to make a movie of Dune (without actually reading the book himself) back in the mid-1970s. He is still alive today, in his mid-80s, and this movie consists mostly of interviews with him and with various art guys that he enlisted to draw up the storyboards and other supporting artwork so he could try to get a Hollywood backer for the project. For example, H.R. Giger, whose designs would later be used to such great effect in Alien, was one of Jodorowsky’s artists.   Jodorowsky tells lots of stories about the people that he got to commit (informally) to appearing in the movie: Orson Welles supposedly said he would play the evil and bloated Baron Harkonnen, Mick Jagger supposedly said he would play the evil and sensuous Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, and none other than Salvador Dali supposedly said he would play the Emperor of the Universe (for $100,000 an hour, and on condition that a burning giraffe appear in his scenes). I don’t know about all that stuff, but it is apparently true that Jodorowsky and his team spent a lot of time and money putting together an immense book of storyboards and artwork to use in shopping the film around in Hollywood, and we see a lot of that artwork during the course of the movie. Jodorowsky says he wanted to make a film that would have the same effect on the viewer as LSD, and if he had gotten the necessary funding he might have succeeded. But the studios all passed on the opportunity, and the French fellow who had backed all the pre-production pulled the plug on the project. It’s a crazy story, and a fun one if you’re a fan of movies or a fan of Dune.