From Zero Hour to Airplane!

01-Jun-10 12:31 PM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

Kentucky Fried Movie is a relatively little-known film released in 1977 that consists of a series of humorous vignettes, sketches, and spoofs that bookend a "feature presentation": an extended parody of Bruce Lee action films, "A Fistful of Yen". The film was a financial success and encouraged its creators — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker — to create a sequel. This time, the featured skit would be a spoof of disaster films and would be set in an airport. As they developed the script, they realized it had enough potential to be a feature-length film, so they dropped the shorter sketches and built out the rest into one long parody.

Thus was born Airplane!

At least, that's the story I was told — but a recent post at Cinematical has me questioning its veracity. It seems that Airplane! was an unabashed remake of a 1957 drama Zero Hour! with almost the exact same premise. Rather than rework the concept for their purposes, Abrahams and the Zuckers copied it almost scene-for-scene:

It's remarkable the amount of dialogue that was copied verbatim. Although Airplane! often takes those scenes to ridiculous lengths, other lines are parroted perfectly — yet what was dramatic in Zero Hour! somehow becomes humorous in this new context.

Although the quantity of parody suggests this aping intentional, such is not always the case. Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove are two films based on different books that were released by the same studio in the same year — yet the former is the most terrifying Cold War film I have ever seen, while the latter was ranked as the American Film Institute's third funniest movie of all time. (Airplane! comes in at #10.) But to watch these films, you'd think that there had to have been some correlation between the two, as there was with Airplane! and its source material.

Regardless, will anyone ever watch Zero Hour! the same way again?

(Hat tip to Bill Loguidice)

The Best of the Best

24-Jun-07 12:18 PM by
Filed under Films; 2 comments.

Just as they did ten years ago, the American Film Institute has announced their list of "The Top 100 Movies of All Time". CNN.com reports:

The top-100 were chosen from ballots sent to 1,500 filmmakers, actors, writers, critics and others in Hollywood from a list of 400 nominated movies, 43 of which came from the decade since the first list was compiled.

Of those newer films, only four made the top-100: 2001's The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (No. 50), 1998's Saving Private Ryan (No. 71), 1997's Titanic (No. 83) and 1999's The Sixth Sense (No. 89).

Older films that did not make the cut on the 1998 list broke into the top-100 this time, led by Buster Keaton's 1927 silent comedy The General at No. 18. Others included 1916's Intolerance (No. 49), 1975's Nashville (No. 59), 1960's Spartacus (No. 81), 1989's Do the Right Thing (No. 96) and 1995's Toy Story (No. 99).

Films that dropped out of the top-100 this time included 1965's Doctor Zhivago, which had been No. 39 on the 1998 list; 1984's Amadeus, which had been No. 53; 1977's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which had been No. 64; 1990's Dances With Wolves, which had been No. 75; and 1927's The Jazz Singer, which had been No. 90.

I agree with many of the changes — Saving Private Ryan is an important film about the reality of war, while Close Encounters has not aged well, resulting in a boring morass. But there are so many such "best of" lists that to consider any one, even the AFI's, as definitive would be foolhardy. In this instance, where are films such as Days of Wine and Roses, Fail-Safe, The Empire Strikes Back, The Matrix, Lost in Translation, and Groundhog Day? The absence of these stark, gritty, comical, and/or memorable films from the AFI's list is noticeable. Of course, any list limited to only a hundred films will not be comprehensive, which is why the AFI has so many other lists: Groundhog Day was #34 on their Top 100 Laughs list, and The Matrix was #66 of the Top 100 Thrills list.

Regardless of the Top 100's subjective accuracy, it is still a useful barometer of Hollywood's milestones and their impact on American culture. To that end, it is intriguing to measure your own cultural literacy against what the AFI deems noteworthy. I've seen half of the top ten films, and nearly a third of the total list. (Trivia: The average year of release of the 100 films is 1963; the average year of release of the 30 films I've seen is 1972. Both years precede my own personal release.) Considering the vast number of films I've seen and researched, such a low number may be a surprise. I compensate by priding myself not only with the knowledge of more esoteric films (everyone's seen #3, Casablanca — what about that experience would make me unique? — but I have seen #80, The Apartment), but also in knowing that many people have seen fewer than thirty of the top hundred films. (One Showbits contributor shocked me with his familiarity of only a tenth of the list!) Still, there is much work to be done.

What films do you think should be on the list and aren't? How many of the AFI's choices have you seen? Which ones haven't you seen that you want to?