Movies I Love, Movies I Hate: Sam Neill

Over on Facebook, there’s a new meme going around that asks users to take an actor and name a movie (featuring said actor) that they love, like, hate, and hate to love. (Individually, of course. Not all at once.) William Bibbiani, film chief at Crave Online, was good enough to assign me Sam Neill.

Movie I Love

Jurassic Park. This one’s a damn classic, and I’ll give it extra points for being so scientifically literate. Yes, yes, it’s scientifically ridiculous on many, many points, but it matters that such an enduring piece of popular entertainment hinges on the basics of evolutionary biology. I also love the moment when Dr. Grant says of a herd of dinosaurs, “They move in herds. They do move in herds.” It’s what an actual scientist would actually say.

In fact, as long as I have your attention, let’s revisit this wonderful scene, which brims with slack-jawed Spielbergian awe as our heroes encounter dinosaurs for the first time:

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Movie I Like

The Hunt for Red October, although I could’ve easily filed this under “movie I love.” Tom Clancy’s first big novel is an efficient engine of story, with very few extraneous parts. It’s also got some of the most crackling exposition dumps you’ll see in any movie. Seriously, can you think of a more chilling expository moment than when Jeffrey Jones’ old submarine expert analyzes a photo of a deadly new Soviet attack sub? Jones, his eyes glassy with panic, asks series supergeek Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin, still the best to play the part), “This isn’t a mockup, right? They really built this?”

But I’m here to talk about Sam Neill, not Jeffrey Jones. Neill plays a stalwart second-in-command to Sean Sonnery’s defecting sub captain. Neill’s best moment happens in this scene – a grand old bit of Cold War propaganda:

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Side note: Event Horizon belongs in this discussion, too, but I don’t know whether to categorize it as a “movie I like” or “movie I hate to love.” In any event, I vividly remember seeing Event Horizon in the theater at the end of a long road trip, and the movie’s genetic splicing of Alien and Hellraiser still clicks for me. (This movie and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine also have two of the best depictions of a human space-leap through a vacuum.)

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Movie I Hate

Well, I don’t believe in “hating” movies, and although I didn’t really hate Jurassic Park 3, I’ll slot it here. I also wasn’t crazy about Daybreakers, but that’s just me.

Movie I Hate to Love/Guilty Pleasure

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the “hate to love” descriptor. (William expressed some mild misgivings about it, as well.) I’ll interpret this as a movie I’d consider a guilty pleasure, so:

In the Mouth of Madness.

Again, I could have very easily put Event Horizon here, mainly because my experience has taught me that both In The Mouth of Madness and Event Horizon have their share of haters. (Side note: One gripe I have with geek culture these days is its insistence on black-or-white, thumbs-up/thumbs-down binary opinions. Very often, there are elements of movies — even bad ones — that I like, and I enjoy talking about those elements without being cast out as a heretic.)

End digression. I love the first three-quarters of In the Mouth of Madness, which I’ll respectfully submit as John Carpenter’s last really great movie. The ending feels like it reaches higher and further than the movie warrants, but I’ve got to give Carpenter credit for swinging for the fences.

In any event, I’ll submit this one not only for Neill’s excellent performance, but also for an array of perfectly unsettllng scenes that dot its landscape. To wit:

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Finally, I adore In the Mouth of Madness because more than anything else, it’s about the transformative power of fiction. To be sure, it wields that power for torment, evil and chaos, but in the mind of John Carpenter, there’s no question who has the greatest power in our world:

The storyteller.