Sometimes, they are pure evil. In other instances, they are nuttier than a squirrel’s sauna. Usually, they are a combination of both, the better to match the whole “mad scientist” label. But not all inventors have world domination on their mind. Some even believe in bettering mankind with their sometimes insane ideas. Of course, when the final ‘solution’ is unveiled, the true purpose is often more awful than first imaged. From the first Gothic horror novels to our flawed ‘50s ideal of science and experimentation, the crazy doctor, determined to do something mere mortals shouldn’t be capable of, has been a media given. In books and film, TV and theatrical extravaganzas, the unhinged inventor has been a genre go-to, and as a result, a bit of a cliche. That’s why coming up with a list of our 10 favorites is so tough. In looking over the possible candidates, one usually ends up coming to the same set conclusions.
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When the history of Summer 2013 is written, the biggest story won’t be the return of legitimate terror or the wealth of off the radar gems one can uncover outside the standard Cineplex experience. No, everyone will go overboard discussing the various flops, from The Lone Ranger (which we liked, so sue us) to White House Down (we preferred Olympus Has Fallen for our sampling of faux Die Hard cheese). They will try and decipher why certain known quantities—Johnny Depp, family films ala Turbo—failed to inspire while adding their own bits of baseless schadenfreuda. For us, the answer is always a question of connection. A movie can be smart and savvy, or poorly conceived and cobbled together, and if audiences don’t agree with your particular approach or aesthetic, the effort will fail, no matter what we critics think or say.
There’s a point in every movie about magic where someone makes the following statement: “Magic doesn’t work in TV or in the movies because the camera can’t be misdirected. It sits silently watching everything, not allowing the magician to use the tricks of the trade to successfully pull off their illusion.” Of course, that’s the rub with all stage productions. What works in front of a live audience, a group of beleaguered and gullible patrons, simply doesn’t succeed once it’s recorded and replayed. With such scrutiny comes knowledge one shouldn’t possess. Sure, some of the allure is there, but for the most part, the sense of wonder is turned into a simple shoulder shrug. Still, Hollywood has tried on many occasions to use the practice as a means of making their own motion picture enchantment. Sometimes, the profession is portrayed. In other instances, magic is made into something real and relatable, a gift given to one from some unknown source.
It always happens. You’re enjoying a film, getting into its specific artistic grooves and rhythms, relishing the differing connections its clicking off inside you when - WHAM! Here it comes. The irritation. The aggravation. The annoyance. It could be a song, a setting, or a scene itself, but more times than not, it’s a character (or as part of said possibility, the actor playing same). We all have our own aesthetic kryptonite. Yours truly, for instance, can’t stand Jennifer Aniston, dislikes Mary Louise Parker probably as much, and is about to add Rachel McAdams to that talentless coffee klatch as soon as he can double check said status (which would require stomaching another one of her performances). As for men, Robin Williams works an already raw nerve while Billy Crystal has gone from great to grating over the span of his career.
We go to the movies for lots of reasons: to experience emotions we don’t normally face on a day to day basis; to interact, if indirectly, with characters who are usually outside or just barely within our frame of personal reference; to laugh; to cry; to be frightened; to be pushed to the edge of our seat. But one of the main reasons we park our behinds in the often uncomfortable confines of the local Cineplex is to see something we’d never see in real life: zombies amassing against the last holdouts of humanity; boy wizards working out their destiny among the magic they are supposed to master; the end of the world as envisioned via earthquake, flood, alien invasion, or any combination of natural and unnatural disasters; and, of course, monsters. Those mythical, made up creatures that only the skilled hand of a talented F/X artist can bring to the fore without much effort (but via a boatload of imagination and innovation).