Deep Rising Again?
I should probably apologise to my colleague Mike Sutton for this but I've never seen The Wild Bunch. It isn't that the opportunity never presented itself. On the contrary, The Wild Bunch, perhaps with ageing prints, has played in various independent cinemas within easy reach, including any number in London. It's been on television numerous times. I even own a copy of the Special Edition on DVD, which Mike described as, "The greatest film ever made is now available on a DVD which is very close to being worthy of it." But on an evening away from the discs sitting in my ever-increasing to-do pile - currently running to fifty-eight, not including individual discs within boxsets - with nothing on television, the rain outside keeping me from the pub and with time being precious, will it ever be The Wild Bunch? Will it be the taking a risk on a film that, throughout my thirty-six years, I've somehow avoided seeing? Will it be two hours or thereabouts of quiet concentration? Will it be a much appreciated chance to catch up on a genuine classic of American cinema. Or will it be Deep Rising again?
Stephen Sommers' little monster movie is a genuine treat. Overshadowed by his later and noisier (and even more stupid) films, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing, Deep Rising is a gem. Funny, quick-witted and utterly ridiculous, Deep Rising has Treat Williams, Famke Janssen and Kevin J O'Connor hamming it up on a deserted boat, on which they're threatened by a monster whose CG origins couldn't be any more obvious if a pair of old PCs came clanking after it. O'Connor gets smacked on the head by a shoe, Williams breaks up a party with a speargun and a woman in a ballgown eats eaten through a toilet. Jason Flemying, prior to being eaten, even insults the monster with a, "Take this you wankers!", which I'm assuming he brought to the film and which, bowing to Flemying's superior knowledge of British insults, Sommers allowed him to keep. And to think we could have had, "Alright, ya shitter!" or, "Fack!...shoot it dahn!" Via an overcranked Commodore 64, a computer-generated Cliff Curtis appears half-eaten, Wes Studi appears to be having his skin knitted by the monster and Williams, Janssen and O'Connor wash up on what appears to be the same island as the one in Lost, which Williams greets with a weary, "Now what?" It's quite the greatest monster movie since the heyday of Ray Harryhausen - Sommers named his ship the Argonautica in reference to Jason And The Argonauts - and is so underrated that were I to suddenly, by fair means or foul, to become excessively rich, I would post a free copy to every household in the country.
In a piece written for The Guardian earlier this year titled Why Re-Reading Is A Crime, writer and keen cyclist Jack Thurston set out several points as regards the re-reading of classic books. Beginning by saying, "Some people like to boast about going back to favourite books. As far as I'm concerned they should be ashamed of themselves", he goes on to describe anyone who boasts about re-reading a book as being, "...arrogant, narrow-minded or dim...They know what they like and they like what they know [or is it] that they are a bit dim and didn't understand it the first time?" In many respects, Thurston is quite right. If arrogance could be harnessed as a fuel, I could certainly muster up enough to power all of the world's motor cars for a year or two, thus contributing to a lower-than-expected carbon footprint. Narrow-minded? A bit dim? Almost certainly and much more frequently than I might like to admit to. But not, I think, without good reason in going back and watching a film several times, even if it does become something of a habit.
It's not, after all, just The Wild Bunch. I only name Sam Peckinpah's film because there's a certain amount of shame in owning and not having watched a film that a fellow DVD Times contributor is impressively vocal about. Looking through boxes of discs, I could also list The Green Mile, North By Northwest, House Of Flying Daggers and a dozen or so Hammer Horror films, each one an individual release or part of a boxset that was paid for but which remains unwatched. I could decorate a small room in silver discs were you to take all of those unwatched Avengers, Space: 1999 and British comedies (Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and The Office) and glue them to a wall. I have four season boxsets of Futurama, three of Family Guy and five of The Simpsons and I have yet to watch any more than one episode from any of them. And thanks to this site, I believe that I am in possession of the world's known supply of CD/DVD wallets in order to house all of the check discs that would otherwise be creating havoc, not least a concern for health and safety. The collector in me tends to look often at the HMV deals of the week and on spotting a boxset of Hitchcock films, nudges the mouse in the direction of the BUY ME! button. But I never click it, with the realist acknowledging that I am more likely to walk barefoot across the Arctic than actually watch them all.
My children, who are much more thorough about their viewing, rifle through their collection of Disney films regularly, asking for the less-watched films if they should think they might be feeling lonely. The Christmas lot (Olive, The Other Reindeer, It's A Wonderful Life, A Box Of Delights and so on) make it out of the storeroom and into the living room in the first week of December. On the contrary, a very-much-average-sized box could contain all of those discs that are played regularly, at least once a year of thereabouts. Joining Deep Rising would be the Sinbad films, Tron, Jason And The Argonauts, Independence Day and such Doug McClure classics as The Land (and People) That Time Forgot, Warlords Of Atlantis and At The Earth's Core. I have such godawful taste that I sometimes even surprise myself.
This isn't simply a fear of the unknown, more of a certain comfort in familiarity. Much as I no longer want to stay out all night, fall asleep on someone's couch and wake up feeling as though my tongue has died and wondering where my underwear has gotten to, I like certain films in the way that I like my own bed. And I'm sure that we all have our favourites, films that we return to no matter the season, the time of day or the likelihood of catastrophe. When I was younger, it was Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Smokey And The Bandit, both of which I watched until the tape almost wore through. Catching up on Star Wars on the pre-DVD THX-certified widescreen VHS releases, I was shocked to see the kind of condition the tapes were in, made genuinely unwatchable through repeated viewings. Much later, these films would be joined by Trust, Santa Sangre, The Wicker Man and Tron. Oh, to be able to name more serious fare but frankly, I would be lying if I named Rififi, Belle De Jour or Stalker. It isn't that I don't like or admire these films, more that I've become lazy over the passing years.
I can't help but feel that I've let myself down, though. Twenty years ago, with Derek Malcolm hosting The Film Club on a Saturday and Alex Cox Moviedrome on a Sunday, I practically devoured films, be they foreign-language, cult classics or underrated gems that had simply gotten lost over the years. Malcolm and Cox (and later Mark cousins), though perhaps not hands-on in their scouring of the vaults always managed to turn up something interesting, be it a Bertrand Blier film, a drive-in classic, a Nic Roeg or an early Bergman. BBC4 remains one of the last hopes of those who want to watch films from off the beaten track, delivering both on foreign-language films and, more recently, a series of classic science-fiction movies. Like an infant, I do think that I need to be spoon fed films.
However, like many who cross over into their thirties, free time is not what it once was. Just as three free hours on a Sunday afternoon with the football became rarer than gold in our house with the arrival of our first child, so too did the opportunity to watch a film. Those lazy Sundays spent reading the papers and watching movies - my take on a duvet day - simply disappeared. On the rare occasion that the chance to watch a film did present itself, it could not be rated any higher than PG for fear of upsetting the child. The evenings were no better. With work, children and the need to eat and sleep, three or four hours in an evening became two. Sometimes not even that. And when such an evening does come around, do I risk that small amount of time by watching a film that I might not like or do I simply relax and enjoy a daft monster movie set on a boat. As per the title, Deep Rising it most often is.
Nowadays, the discrepancy to the comfort provided in these monster movies comes with the review copies that DVD Times send my way. I have watched and reviewed Italian dramas on the lives of St Francis and Padre Pio, the Mexican Misterios De Ultratumba and a documentary about an airfield in California, One Six Right. However, these are rare excursions outside of the mainstream, largely because it's one thing to come away from a film looking stupid, at least doing so in the privacy of one's own home, but quite another to look stupid in print. And, far too often, I look plenty stupid enough with the less-than-intellectual cover that I provide for DVD Times, so would put myself somewhat at risk at attempting something that actually needed some thought put into it. The peals of laughter might well ring from Downpatrick to Devon. But I don't feel I'm alone in this, being certain that I'm not the only one who passes over acknowledged classics in favour of the movie equivalent of a big, comforting hug, even if it comes from a slightly backward old film friend. So on those nights away, Deep Rising it is. Or The Relic, The Black Hole, Valley Of The Gwangi or The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad. And maybe one of these days, it will be The Wild Bunch, which, no matter considering watching it to provide for a suitable ending to this piece, I passed over in favour of watching Big Trouble In Little China again. Sorry!