Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Movies with great beginnings and disappointing middle and endings

The new movie, HEREAFTER, opens with an extraordinary sequence. You’ve probably seen the trailer. A giant tsunami rips through a Southeast Asian resort. SPOILER ALERT: You don’t want to be on the beach that day.

The giant wave advances past a luxury hotel and roars through the town, destroying everything in its wake. It’s awesome and terrifying. Sensational filmmaking. Fortunately for the actors, Clint Eastwood was directing. He usually gets it in two or three takes. Imagine poor Ms Cecile de France, who gets swept along like a rag doll, hearing: “Okay. From the top, everybody. Take 46. Cue the water!”

The only trouble with that sequence is… the rest of the movie is dull and lifeless by comparison. And it got me thinking about other movies that had amazing beginnings but fell flat after that. You go into a theater, it starts, you’re blown away, you think you’re in for a really great ride, and then the movie just fizzles.

Probably the greatest example of this is SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Spielberg’s depiction of the Normandy Invasion is maybe the most gripping twenty minutes on film. You watch it and say, “Y’know, I think I’d prefer the tsunami.” But once the doughboys land the movie turns into this trumped up story.

That first sequence was so effective that Spielberg could have come on the screen himself and said, “Well, folks. That’s what war is really like. Pretty fucking incomprehensibly horrific, wouldn’t you say? I don’t know what else there really is to add. I mean, every soldier had his own story and many are compelling and heartbreaking, but let’s face it – after that invasion – the scope and devastation – how am I gonna follow one or two guys and still have the same impact? I’m good but I’m no David Lean. So instead of making you sit for another hour and a half of “more of the same but not as good”, I’m gonna just let you go. I’m guessing these images I just showed you are going to stay with you for awhile. That’s good. Go have coffee and talk about the brutality of war. Maybe head home and go to that new internet thingy all the kids are raving about and search for information on D-Day. Anyway, thanks for coming. Sorry it was so short, but I’ll make it up to you. MUNICH will be twice as long as it should be.”

What other movies can you think of that had great beginnings but never lived up to its promise? Here are a few that I can think of:

BODY HEAT – Steamy and sexy for the first twenty minutes. My glasses fogged up. If only they didn’t then get into the story.

Most of the last 20 Bond movies (the last two excluded). Wow zowie action sequences that had nothing to do with the plot, followed by Tim Dalton or Pierce Brosnan thwarting supervillains and rescuing Denise Richards (who, we’re supposed to believe in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, is a noted nuclear physicist).

I loved the first half-hour of INDIANA JONES 4 (the real title is too long and doesn’t mean anything anyway). I wish Spielberg had broken in and made a speech in that one too.

FULL METAL JACKET – Stanley Kubrick’s first act in basic training was riveting. Then they go to Viet Nam and since they couldn’t take the Drill Sergeant (the great R. Lee Ermey) along with them the movie goes flying off in fifteen different directions. Their “shit was definitely flaky” as the DI might say.

And finally, TOUCH OF EVIL – Disappointing movie and Charlton Heston playing a Mexican is laughable, but this opening tracking shot is nothing short of phenomenal. Especially when you consider it was made in 1958, well before Industrial Light & Magic. Directed by Orson Welles before he succumbed to ego and Pinks’ hot dogs.

Okay, so help me add to the list.


Jason H. said...

Its not as prestigious as your choices, but I Am Legend has that same problem. It begins with some great scenes of Will Smith just getting by in a completely empty NYC, but as soon as the zombie/mutant/whatevers show up, it all starts to go downhill.

Sandisan said...

Also not a prestigious choice, but I recently watched a movie called Ghost Ship (with Gabriel Byrne and Julianna Margulies) that had a really awesome opening set piece. It's on netflix instant watch if anyone's interested. The rest of the movie was all right, but the opening really set you up for something you didn't get from the rest of the movie.

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott said...

I thought Citizen Kane had a phenomenal openning. The Old Man dies,whispers "Rosebud"...Awesome/mysterious...

Then for the rest of the movie all they do investigate and investigate, and just when you think they're going to tell you what Rosebud is, they don't... And after spending God-knows how long watching this film, you never find out what it even means!!!! Orson never tells you. It's so infuriating... When the film finaly gets to that final scene in the Warehouse, I can't turn my TV off fast enough...

Troy said...

I thought I'd throw in a favorite movie that goes the opposite way - incredible opening sequence, and the rest of the movie actually exceeds it:


The sequels, however, were all crap.

notWalt said...

Jason - regarding "I Am Legend": worth your time to get the dvd and watch the alternate ending. For me, it's such a better ending and so much more powerful and memorable and pays off for that great beginning. I am still stunned that they dumbed down the ending -- must have been the result of trying to please a test audience, but totally losing the power of the story.

Tod Hunter said...

I think there's a lot of BS running around about TOUCH OF EVIL, including the ILM craft project where they flensed out the credits and recreated a soundtrack and changed what was (to me at least) a subtle scene where the viewer suddenly realizes "Holy crap, this is ALL ONE SHOT!"

Reportedly, Orson Welles was displeased that Universal put the credits over his opening shot. With all due respect to Mr. Welles, I believe he was wrong and it was MUCH more effective in the original form.

The long unbroken opening shot also sets you up for the lengthy one-shot interrogation scene, where it is established that dynamite was planted in the apartment.

As far as Charlton Heston's character, he once said that his belief was that this educated, intelligent character would have worked hard to speak English without an accent. Heston was never the greatest actor but his heart was in the right place (I remember when he did a play every year at the Ahmanson to support Center Theater Group because he could sell tickets) and although it may look bad now, 50 years later, I think his motive was solid.

Wish I could think of a film that doesn't like up to its beginning. I remember Spielberg's EMPIRE OF THE SUN which ran 129 minutes and I referred to it as "pretty dull for the first couple of hours." but that's totally backwards.


flomob - What they called it when Mel's head waitress turned to crime

scottmc said...

Although I love Billy Wilder the first movie that came to mind was 'The Fortune Cookie'. In that first 20-25 minutes you get the premise and you actually root for Lemmon and Matthau to beat the insurance company. But by the end, the ex-wife's attitude and the football player's fall, you've lost all that you loved about the beginning.

gottacook said...

I wouldn't be so down on Body Heat; I think the movie's story does sustain itself and remain involving to the end. (Last week I heard K. Turner on the radio discussing a new stage production she was starring in, and hearing her voice today - deeper than that of perhaps 85% of men - has probably had a retrospective effect on my memories of her in the first part of Body Heat, which I saw first-run.)

Brent said...

I am going to spend the rest of today re-reading Scott's is either the most subtle joke I have ever read or it is something else entirely.

Anonymous said...

Not something many would care about, but I thought the beginning of Stripes was very funny. Then they were deployted and the comedy left with them.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I think this subject is debatable. Sometimes, a film needs a strong hook to pull the viewer in, and then it doesn't need to maintain that level of intensity for acts 2 and 3. This depends on the mood the story's going for.

I know of some films where that approach works very well. Empire Strikes Back starts with Luke being mauled, followed immediately by a massive imperial invasion, and a chase through an asteroid field.

Afterwards, the action stops cold, and the film becomes a very character oriented piece, with very little action and lots of internal conflicts and philosophical debates about the use of the force. The pacing and tension never matches the first part of the film ever again. But I think it still works brilliantly.

For what it's worth, I loved Private Ryan's beginning, but it takes time for the rest of the film to grow on the viewer. I absolutely love the 2nd and 3rd acts regardless. It doesn't need to match the first 10 minutes. The story sustains itself without the visual blowout (and the climax makes up for it as well).

Anonymous said...

My heartfelt congratulations to Scott for a pitch-perfect troll. (Though I always wondered who heard Kane's last word, he seemed to be alone at the time. Maybe someone in the audience knew one of the reporters and called them up between scenes.)

I think Ken is stretching his premise to include Touch of Evil. It's true that nothing else in the movie is quite up to that first shot, but by no means is the rest a waste of time, even in the pre-restoration version.

Another interesting topic would be critically-acclaimed classic films that one just doesn't "get". One of mine is The Seven-Year Itch — I've tried twice but I think you have to want to shtup Marilyn Monroe to get through the whole thing without the aids given to Alex in A Clockwork Orange..

Mark said...

Speaking of Clint, the opening sequences in the "Dirty Harry" movies were always great, and after the first one, they were WAY better than the rest of the movies. I mean, lol, how do you top THESE???

Anonymous said...

Ryan's ending is horrificly bad. Had Spielberg ended on the graves he might have had something.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure a comedy writer should be judging war movies. "Saving Private Ryan" is stunning from beginning to end. The battle for that town in France is just as riveting as the Omaha Beach sequence. The attitudes of the men on their long march are a dead-on portrait of America's citizen soldiers in WWII. The stabbing in the upstairs room is heartbreaking. As for that final sequence: It's a message to all Americans. We must all earn the gift of freedom bestowed to us by the sacrifices of our soldiers.

Warren Z said...

@anonymous right above me


John Paxton said...

@Anonymous: I'm not sure someone who won't sign their name to their posts should be judging someone who does.

Emily Blake said...

I can't agree with you on Saving Private Ryan, but it's okay because I still think you're funny.

I can think of a bunch of movies that weren't terribly good but had great moments, but I can't really think of any that dazzled me at the beginning yet failed to deliver. I'll probably think of something later today.

The Guvna said...

1. Cliffhanger. A brilliantly photographed film completely undone every time someone opens their mouth. But the first fifteen minutes are genuinely harrowing and genuinely awesome. Then it all gets rather embarrassing.

2. Mad Max. The last eighty minutes are sort of interestingly weird, but that's about it. The first ten, however, are jaw-droppingly great.

3. The Bonfire Of The Vanities. See Touch Of Evil.

4. Snake Eyes. No, really, see Touch Of Evil...

5. Ali. A massive disappointment from Michael Mann, but that opening titles sequence reminds you of why you expect so much from him in the first place.

5. Blade. Not just rubbish, but brutally overlong rubbish. 123 minutes?!?!? Christ. Luckily, however, it never tops its brilliant first five minutes, so you won't have to feel bad about skipping the other 118.

6. The Hidden. Nifty 80s B-movie is actually very good all the way through, but the opening sequence is SO good that the rest sort of has to pale by comparison, really.

7. Saturday Night Fever. A good picture cursed with a spectacularly good opening titles sequence that is coolness personified.

8. Shaft (1971). A not-so-good picture blessed with a spectacularly good opening that is coolness personified.

9. Van Helsing. Pretty much a complete waste of time, but it *does* have a wonderfully evocative opening that the rest of it never even gets close to replicating. Hence the "pretty much" qualifier, I guess.

10. American Gigolo. A middling Paul Schrader morality play with one of THE coolest opening titles sequences ever filmed. For three minutes, anyway, we're left thinking, "You know, that being-a-gigolo shit IS awesome!". Sort of undermines the point that Schrader was trying to make, really, but if you duck out when the opening montage ends, you're left with a sexy, super-cool film that doesn't overstay its welcome.

Ian said...

Whoa, Ken! You picked "Saving Private Ryan" as an example of a film that opens with a bang and then goes off-track? This was no miscalculation either by Speilberg or the writer. The film was written to change tone after that amazing battle scene. Soon after that battle scene there's another, almost Norman Rockwell-esqe set-piece in which the mother of the Ryan brothers sees an army staff car coming up the long drive to her farmhouse, knowing that it can only be bringing bad news. It's done in only a few shots, without dialogue, and it's given added emotional weight because of the violence that precedes it.
Whoa, again! "Body Heat" doesn't belong on your list either! Maybe you've spent too many years in the sitcom trenches, writing 22-minute scripts with breaks for deodorant commercials. "Body Heat" is regarded by many as one of the great feature screenplays. It's well-nigh bulletproof. I've never heard another soul complain that it failed to deliver on any level. With all due respect for your considerable talent as a writer, do universities use "Volunteers" in their screenwriting classes?
I haven't seen "Hereafter" so I can't comment on that one, but there are SO MANY films you could justifiably criticize for failing to live up to their openings - I can't imagine why you decided to pick on these two.
Rant over. Love the blog.

ScottWriter said...

So what is your recommendation how to successfully integrate an action opening sequence (an audience hook) with a character drama (or comedy)? If it's a full blown action movie then you can design action set pieces and pace them in the movie but if a movie doesn't call for a big explosion every 10 minutes that's a bit tough.

Should filmmaking try to avoid an upfront action sequence to not mis-promise what the movie will be?

If these openings occurred at the end (assuming they could) would that be better?

As with any movie trying to balance action with an engaging personal story is tough.

I don't consider camera gymnastics a compelling story piece or even interesting in this day and age.

Paul D said...

The opening chase sequence in NARC was pretty damn amazing. Ironically the rest of the film never caught up with it.

Mark said...

@The Guvna:

Yes, "Cliffhanger" is a PERFECT choice... After that AMAZING opening scene, it's all downhill (or should I say "down mountain"?) from there.

I don't quite agree with you re. "Shaft" though, in that while the opening sequence *is* fabulous, the rest of the movie ain't bad, and is thus worth seeing (and I'd say the same thing for "Mad Max"). And "Saturday Night Fever" is still-- even today-- kind of mesmerising all the way through.

I think even I violated the spirit of Ken's post in my earlier comment, in that the "dirty Harry" movies were all kind of entertaining all the way through, even though they never really top their opening sequences. And yeah, Ken's wrong re. "Private Ryan", too, as-- as someone noted above-- the firefight in the village is as riveting as the opening sequence.

Mark said...

Okay, what the heck, here's one more:

Baryshnikov's dance sequence (choreographed by Twyla Tharp) at the beginning of "White Nights." The rest of the movie doesn't even come close.

KEN LEVINE said...

I think it's great when movies start with some attention-grabbing action sequence. But does the movie live up to its promise? As someone said, the original RAIDERS does. But the last one doesn't.

If SPR didn't have that extraordinary opening sequence and just started after the landing I bet I'd have a whole different perception of the movie. But I don't think I'm alone in feeling disappointed. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, the fact that SPR lost the best picture Oscar to SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE says that many found it sufficiently flawed.

BODY HEAT. There are a lot of folks who felt the ending manipulative and confusing. Personally, there were enough elements that I liked to still put BODY HEAT in the plus category. But a lot of people, especially when it was released, felt letdown.

Scott -- please be kidding.

Ben said...

From the "Completely Opposite but Still Somehow Related" department...

Steven Soderbergh's remake of "Ocean's Eleven" a few years ago. Not the opening, but the ending. The crooks all gather in front of the fountains at the Bellagio, then leave one by one to the sounds of 'Clair de Lune' before fading to black. A perfect ending for an imperfect movie...which is promptly spoiled by a little "let's set up a sequel" crapfest of an epilogue scene.

SeattleDan said...

I agree fully about Full Metal Jacket. Half a brilliant film, and then, meh.

I'd add Prince of Tides which is great until Streisand the director meets Streisand the actor.

gorath.z.novinsky said...

Of the top of my head:

Alien by Ridley Scott
The curious case of Benajmin Button
2001 a space odyssey
Blue Velvet

I think there are millions of other examples...

Scott said...

Yes, I was kidding.

Another internet guy said...

Anonymous @ 8:21 am wrote:

"I'm not sure a comedy writer should be judging war movies."

I'm not sure an anonymous internet commenter should be judging what an established pro says so dismissively. Just a thought.

Andy Cook said...

One of my favourite openings to a film is in ‘This Island Earth’. All the mystery at the beginning really grabbed me when I first saw it as a kid (and still does). Starts to go downhill after the hero climbs out of the robo-plane though, ending up with crappy rubber monsters. If there’s a film ripe for a remake, this is it (just as long as they keep the first 25 minutes).

Jeff said...

How about the exact opposite? The Deer Hunter had a REAAAAAAAALY boring first act and a shit-your-pants second and third.

The first act was needed to set up the emotional craziness of the next two hours and to set up the overall theme of the film, but damn that wedding was boring.

Debby G said...

Scott, you slay me. Pun intended.

I loved the first two-thirds of ADAPTATION, but then it degenerated into a typical action movie. I get that the screenwriter was probably demonstrating the foolishness of following the Hollywood formula, but did he have to spend forty minutes to do so?

Anonymous said...

Pretty much disagree with every example in your post. Maybe it's because you live/work in a 22 minute world...?

To the few who "haven't gotten the memo"...enough with the "Really? --REALLY?" should be buried with "sigh" and "yawn".

Ian said...

Interesting observation about "Saving Private Ryan," Ken. If the film had started just after the D-Day invasion, it would been a completely different experience. I for one always had a problem with the "bookend" scenes - the now-elderly Private Ryan visiting the graves at Normandy at the start and again at the end. A bit too much.
On the ending of "Body Heat," I felt the ending MADE the movie. It was my favorite thing about it, except possibly for Kathleen Turner's boobies (there - I've said "boobies" in TWO posts this week). I think I was about fifteen when the movie came out.
On "Shakespeare in Love," I am still upset that not one newspaper or magazine used my headline after Gwynneth Paltrow won for best actress: GWYNNETH WINNETH.

Phillip B said...

At some point in the late 1970s it seems the judgment was made that audiences could no longer deal with exposition and stories which built to a climax.

We now have premature climaxes passing for character development. Fresh remakes of the French Connection and Bullitt would have the car chases at the beginning and not the end. The alien in Alien would now be in the opening credits; Carrie would be soaked with in blood in the first 20 minutes - and the conclusion of the film would be its own sequel...

Can't blame it all on Lucas and Spielberg - but they certainly seem to have been part of changing the narrative style.

So now we get a lot of clueless, aimless endings which wind up subplots - outside of those with Bollywood style singing and dancing (my recent faves were Shrek and The 40 Year Old Virgin - and I still have nightmares involving dancing Ewoks).

And yes, I'll just leave the phrase "premature climax" for the use and enjoyment of others.

The Guvna said...


The Dirty Harry sequels were good examples, by the way. Yes, they were largely entertaining all the way through, but with the notable exception of Magnum Force, they all tend to front-load the most satisfying moments---almost without exception, said moments involve Harry blundering into a crime in progress, gunning everybody down, then cracking wise while his angry chief tells him how the mayor's gonna shit when he finds out. Or has in fact already shit, and spent the morning chewing the chief's ass out for it.

Magnum Force differs from the others in that

A) It's actually a damned good movie in its own right


B) Arguably the two best scenes in the movie (the shooting range competition, which [SPOILER FOR THIRTY-SEVEN YEAR OLD MOVIE] Harry deliberately tanks in order to acquire a key piece of evidence, and the parking garage confrontation between Harry and the vigilantes) occur well into the second act.

We'll have to agree to disagree on Shaft, my friend. It's a picture I keep wanting to like, because it IS cool as all hell. But it's just a bit too ragged, with a bit too much cringe-inducing dialogue for me to tolerate. Strangely enough, I actually like the sequels a bit more than the original. Dig that opening titles sequence, though.

Gary said...

I'll join those who disagree w/Ken regarding SPR and Body Heat. I too like to write boobies. I'm so disappointed that Kathleen Turner is no longer so young and hot! Same for me. My theory that SPR did not win the Oscar that year is that the academy would not reward a film for being so graphically realistic: a reward might be glorifying war. I loved the story and I enjoyed watching to see what uncredited star might appear next. Sam Malone? Great! I'm sure similar stories actually took place during WWII, and during any war. Great topic, lots of responses!

James said...

While SPR isn't a perfect film, I think it's loss to S. in L. is due more to the hugely aggressive PR campaign by the Weinsteins, rather than any real backlash against it's story telling.

A flick I would add to the list, is 'Body of Lies' with Leo and Crowe. The first 20 or 30mins of that movie is actually really compelling, but it sputters and then goes totally off the rails when a love interest is introduced.

Troy said...

If you want to read a complete evisceration of "SAVING PRIVATE RYAN", see the following essay:

"SAVING PRIVATE RYAN" Essay by William Goldman

William Goldman and Ken Levine... wonder the picture lost the Oscar to "SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE"!

Anonymous said...

I have an obscure example: _Tourist Trap_, a low-budget horror film with Chuck Connors. It's trash, but the opening scene is wonderfully creepy. I still remember how disappointed I was at the rest of the film.

Roger Owen Green said...

Two Charlie Kauffman films Adaptation and Synecdoche, New York. Liked the beginnings, but couldn't wait for them to end.

Loosehead said...

Please take Saving Private Ryan off the list. Hearing "Earn this" after watching the whole movie should be compulsory for all school-leavers.


I am Leg-End - they shouldn't have killed the dog, especially when you learn Sam is short for Samantha.

Anonymous said...

For me, it begins and ends with "Falling Down" with Mike Douglas. Great first 30 minutes, then, it just sort of wades in shallow water. Not a bad middle and end, just not as brilliant as the first part.

Mr. Snrub

jankworks said...

No Country For Old Men? More of a story problem than a prob with the movie itself, but still...

Kirk Jusko said...

This is the problem I have with Frank Capra movies. People call them corny, but the ones he made before World War II were never corny in same way that, say, an Andy Hardy movie was corny. Rather, they were hard-hitting satires with cop-out corny endings. Best example is Meet John Doe, about a media-created populist hero who's actually serving the aims of big business. It's really kind of a forerunner to both A Face In The Crowd and Network. In this movie, the populist hero (played by Gary Cooper) rebels against his handlers and is ruined as a result. At film's end, he's contemplating suicide. Then a few of his followers, who had temporarily abandoned him out of a sense of betrayel, come up to him and say something to the effect of, "Oh, it's all right, John Doe, we'll just start all over" I'm the last person who wants to see Gary Cooper off himself, but that was just plain stupid.

Mac said...

War Of The Worlds. Builds (beautifully) to a humongous alien invasion, then it's just watching Tom Cruise in a damning indictment of the shortcomings of public transportation following an alien invasion. The bit where he cries while he sings "Little Deuce Coupe" is when you switch allegiance and start rooting for the aliens.
Hereafter sounds like Independence Day - after you've seen the White House and the Taj Mahal blown up, where do you go? Or The Day after Tomorrow, where you know you've seen the money shots in the trailer. I have to introduce the caveat that Independence day holds the record for pulling $100 million in less than week, so what the hell do I know?

steve said...

Pretty much anything made from a Stephen King book. That may be because King himself is much more interested in situations and characters than how they resolve their conflicts or get out of situations.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I liked them all, all the way through. Can you imagine SPR maintaining the level of intensity of the beginning all the way through?

Tony said...

SPR being beat at an awards show has nothing to do with quality, as it wasn't fan voted. Block voting and studio/writer/agent, etc. professional bias has more to do with who wins than which is actually the better movie. True? I know that for a fact in the music biz, I can only assume it's the same in the film world. you vote for who gets you ahead or generates your paycheck, not who's best. Sad but true.

David Russell said...

And speaking of phenomenal opening shots....Mr. Saturday Night. The opening sequence following David Paymer through the labyrinth of back stage was pretty darned cool for 1992. I thought the rest of the movie kind a fizzled.

Question Mark said...

Wedding Crashers. Twenty=thirty minutes in, I thought I was watching one of the funniest movies ever. Then it morphs into a pretty standard romantic comedy once the guys get themselves invited to the family cottage.

daniel in cherry hill said...

my condolences on the loss of your former play by play partner in Seattle.

-bee said...

Unbreakable: WORST ENDING EVER. If it hadn't started off like gangbusters for the first hour or so, it would be different, but it just made me angry and I'm still kinda teed off.

"Let the Right One In" (parent of the current "Let Me In"). Really liked the first hour when we didn't know exactly what was going on - but I think the movie answered the questions too early and I was really bored for the last hour or 45 minutes.

Social Network: Hate to speak ill of a film you like, but while I loved the first half hour or so, I thought the film sunk itself by relying way too much on exposition in the deposition scenes.

Victor/Victoria: I liked the first half hour of Victor/Victoria when Julie Andrews' character was poor and hated everything that followed.

Adaption: Agree with poster above who mentioned this. I think "Being John Malkovich" by the same writer had the same problem: the writer establishes intriguing puzzles in the beginning but flounders for a way to resolve them.

Frank Capra films: Capra was famous for saying that he 'figured out' that Americans crave tragedies with happy endings - but I find all his 'happy ending' to feel false and inauthentic to what came before - to the extent I find them pandering and rather insulting. And its too bad because he was a masterful director. I have the same problem with writer Edith Wharton's remorseless insistence on tragic endings - it begins to feel formulaic and kind of pretentious.

In regards to the poster who mentioned Capra above, Capra made some really good silent films -notably with the comedian Harry Langdon - although the sexual subtexts of those films are super-weird.

SeattleDan said...

Ken, my condolences on the passing of the great Dave Niehaus. The short time you were his broadcast partner made a couple of Mariner seasons bearable.

He was a master of the play by play and a wonderful story-teller. I will miss him a great deal.

Anonymous said...

History of the World Part I

Roman scene brilliant, everything else sucked.

SamuraiFrog said...

I completely agree with you about SAVING PRIVATE RYAN; brilliant opening that says everything it needs to say, then two more hours that are puerile, obvious, self-serving, and whiny. "Earn this," indeed; all the subtlety of a board to the head.

I'd like to add the Disney film DINOSAUR. The first few minutes, which are completely dialogue-free (except for some narration), is some of the most dynamic, spellbinding animation I've ever seen. It put me completely in an alien world and had me gripped to the story. Then, after this spectacular journey, the prehistoric animals start talking and using modern slang and it instantly destroys this illusion that had been so perfectly woven.

Ian said...

"For me, it begins and ends with "Falling Down" with Mike Douglas."

I thought this was a GREAT movie - especially the part where Mike sang "Fly Me to the Moon" in a duet with Dinah Shore.

bevo said...

"MUNICH will be twice as long as it should be."

NO! Munich is not intended for a theater but for your home. There are a lot of arguments in the movie. If you are not thinking about it various arguments days after watching it, then you need to watch it again. I have watched it twice, and enjoy a lot because, in part, the arguments are not rushed. You probably despise The Wire too.

I agree that every James Bond movie made except the last two suffer from this issue of a terrific beginning before descending into a pit of mediocrity. The last two Bong movies were really enjoyable. My colleague, however, despises the last two Bond movies because he thought they were incomprehensible; probably thinks Munich is too long.

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, I agree about Mel Brooks' History of the World, Part 1 (tho the Hitler on ice coda was nice.) And Tears of Internment, I mean Terms of Endearment, which I liked up until the slow march to death.

Warren Z said...


Speaking of animated movies without dialogue, WALL-E also comes into mind. Not saying its middle and end were even remotely bad (it wasn't, and I thoroughly enjoyed it), but that first thirty minutes was somethin' else.

MBunge said...

"6. The Hidden. Nifty 80s B-movie is actually very good all the way through, but the opening sequence is SO good that the rest sort of has to pale by comparison, really."

I've always seen The Hidden as sort of a benchmark for sci-fi B-movies in that it sets a standard for quality to which most filmmakers should and can aspire.


Vermonter17032 said...

I liked Saving Private Ryan all the way through. Just, you know, for the record.

Ed Blonski said...

Not a movie, but a set of movies: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

Fellowship of the Ring was fantastic. But The Two Towers was dull and The Return of the King was impossibly long.

Anonymous said...

Excellent take on Citizen Kane, Scott.

I nominate
By the People(2009)

Anonymous said...

they could have made the invasion as a flashback at the end

(captcha: progai. lol)

Loosehead said...

But the SPR bookends, with the older Ryan, are crucial to the film. "Earn this" is directed at the audience, and Ryan, saved by the sacrifice of others, is us.

Glenn Hauman said...


THE SPY WHO LOVED ME-- out of all the Bond films, the skiing of the cliff scene is sooo well executed you home the rest of the film is that good.

And if you extend it to TV, STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. Great pilot, but after that....

Idolators Beware! said...

For most SciFi fans, I believe most would say that the beginning of Return of the Jedi is amazing but once Han is rescued there is a let down.
And then there's 2001. The Monkey scene and the fade into the Space station...but then there's a lot of sleepy time.

Epics: Gladiator. The beginning was awesome and the rest was just Rambo meets Spartacus.

I really enjoyed UP (the cartoon movie). But the beginning love story is terrific, especially since this is no dialogue.
The rest of the movie is no where near as great.

Trainspottings beginning is terrific and then the rest...who can remember.

Mark said...

@ Idolators:

That's so unfair re. 2001... That whole movie is on another planet (and not just literally!) from any other film ever made!

Re. "Gladiator": Yes, the opening is the best scene in the movie, but the rest of it's pretty solid, too. Hell, it's worth sitting through to the end just to hear Russell Crowe tell the asshole emperor:

"My name is Gladiator".

I have no acting ambitions whatsoever, and I *still* wish I could deliver a line like that.

John Pearley Huffman said...

I'm shocked this thread could go on so long without mentioning the greatest opening teasers ever -- the James Bond movies.

My favorite Bond teaser is from 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me" when Bond escapes by skiing away in Austria and winds up with him skiiing off the biggest cliff ever only for his Union Jack parachute to open to the Monty Norman Bond Theme. A great tease. And fortunately the movie lived up to it.

My second favorite was the tease for 1979's "Moonraker." Bond is pushed out of an aircraft without a parachute and has to wrestle the parachute away from an evil dude who proceeded him out of the plane.

Unfortunately that movie got awful even before the sequence was through... when Richard Kiel's "Jaws" character appeared in the air and then started flapping his arms before landing in a circus tent. Lame.

Daniel said...

Ken - I agree with you on Saving Private Ryan.

Anonymous - Hilarious that you use "haven't gotten the memo" to say that we shouldn't use "really" and other words that you have decided are not cool anymore. I guess I'm one of the few who didn't get that memo. Please resend.

Anonymous said...

Although this is a far cry from the movies most people are mentioning, the first film that popped into my mind was "An Affair to Remember" (relax, I've only seen it on Sunday afternoon cable).
Instead of having the courage to explore the consequences of what might have happened if the couple had kept the rendezvous, the movie takes a sappy, soap opera inspired turn from which it never recovers. When Deborah Kerr is struck by the car, the plot dies.

Anonymous said...

From Anonymous to Anonymous (no relation):

Your remark that Mr. Levine has no standing to judge war films is doubly ironic when you consider how many of his Emmy awards come from writing for the most successful TV series about war of all time.

Logan said...

Jeepers Creepers is a horror film that I found myself actually angry at when I watched it, due to how precipitously it dropped into a pile of garbage.

The lead-up was creepy and actually horrific, a feat most horror films seem to have incredible difficulty with. And then, oh yes, it's a giant bat demon that flies and drives a truck.

Another mentioned 'I Am Legend' - I don't always find myself being one of those "wah-it-didn't-follow-the-book" guys, but how come none of the movies based on this book even try to follow the premise of the book? Love the book, hate all three movies.