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PCR # 115 (Vol. 3, No. 23) This edition is for the week of June 3--9, 2002.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Sum of All Fears"

Movie review by:
Mike "Deadguy" Scott
2 stars

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Paramount Pictures/Mace Neufeld Productions    
Ben Affleck, Morgan Freeman, James Cromwell, Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Phil Alden Robinson
Written by: Tom Clancy (novel), Paul Attanasio (screenplay)
Rated: PG-13 for violence, disaster images, and brief strong language

A CIA desk jockey makes it his business to know about foriegn diplomatic personalities, as well as the details of their day-to-day lives. He's good, and very accurate, despite his reliance on deductive reasoning, as opposed to solid fact. Other higher-ups within the CIA recognize his strong talent in this, and bring him into events that quickly sweep out of control. However, as his findings begin to contradict his superiors and all other known information, his opinion isn't as valued anymore, and he almost begins to doubt his own findings. Then, just as the one higher-up that still believes in him is unable to help him further, he desperately needs to be heard as he discovers that the world superpowers have been deceived into a standoff that could prove to be fatal to the whole world.

The storyline itself was well conceived, but it was presented in such a fashion that there's no mystery behind the events at all, it's all clearly depicted, and then explained thouroughly. It's hard to identify and commiserate with a guy that's tracking down specific information almost directly AFTER the audience hears the information itself, and ALSO after WATCHING the incident occur. It really tended to hurt the connections between the lead character and the audience because you always seem to KNOW what he's about to find out, and perhaps even create a mild sense of irritation that he doesn't clue-into it quicker.

I DID like this one, but it held no real surprises for me. Tom Clancy certainly knows his material, as per usual, and I would be hard-pressed to determine anything wrong with this film, other than showing a 1973 pilot wearing perscription glasses. In 1973, military pilots weren't allowed to fly if they wore glasses, because there were 100's of pilot candidates, per aircraft, that didn't NEED glasses. I only know about that from being passed-up for flight candidacy in 1989, despite fulfilling all other pilot requirements with flying colors (pardon the pun). Although it's not impossible that ONE guy got through, since it wasn't officially a disqualifying item, it seems unlikely, in light of my own experience. Other than that miniscule item, the movie was very realistically set.

Unfortunately, nothing happened in the film that I wasn't able to predict. I have no way of knowing if that was because I personally had similar theories about how such events might transpire, or because the story itself was just too transparent. Either way, I tried very hard, with only moderate success, to stop whispering to my girlfriend about what was going to happen later in the film.

Morgan Freeman was his usual impressive self. He's very typecast, of course, but I happen to like that character, and love the fact that the "Mr. Electric company" guy has been doing well all these years, even if he IS reprising the same roles over and over again. There's just a certain air about him that demands judicious amounts of respect, yet also requires you to care about what he's apparently feeling. He's also good at delivering a line in such a way that he seems to flip the meanings of the words to an alternative meaning without any apparent effort, and a certain hint of a self-amused smirk. When he's done, you're left kinda' realizing that the message he's sending isn't really the one he's saying, and the message isn't in it's content, it's in what's left OUT of the content. The expression he wears almost seems to be pleading with you to understand the true meaning of what he's saying, while being completely prepared to let your dumbass self-discover it the hard way.

Hmm.. I can't seem to clarify that any further, I apologize if it's confusing, but suffice it to say that it's a good scriptwriter that can properly utilize Morgan's talents in an effective way, and this was done admirably in this film.

Ben Affleck--the third actor to portray Jack Ryan, after Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford--on the other hand, is regularly accused of being a non-actor. Personally, I think he's been typecast into a character that is very similar to how he normally acts. There are certainly more aspects to acting than meets the eye though, so this doesn't automatically make him a non-actor. I think that a lot of people respond negatively to the characters he portrays based on the character itself, as opposed to any talent issues. Reading various books on directing, and working with actors, writing scripts for actors, etc, has certainly opened my eyes in this matter. The typecasting he's got has worked well for him, and makes it easier for viewers to identify with him almost immediately, because his characters are so familiar.

In any event, although he did a very good job, it wasn't a GREAT job, and although this certainly wasn't his best job, it "works".

About the CGI...
I, unlike many, liked the special effects used on this film. Unfortunately, the CGI wasn't of the highest caliber, but on a smaller budget, it's not too bad. Yes, the CGI sequences felt like CGI sequences, but that seemed to work in it's favor a bringing a certain shocked and amazed "otherworldly" effect that the events were supposed to portray. As per usual, the effects weren't things that they would have been able to recreate otherwise, but it's kind of a shame that the money wasn't there, because although good, it could have been great.

Strangely enough, some of the smaller CGI effects were more glaringly bad than the larger ones. For example, a helicopter, during a crash, tilts over and is about to hit the ground. The real helicopter is "composited" (which essentially means mixed) into a 50% CGI, 50% real background, and then some broken, shortened, blurry CGI blades were added to the scene. The blades were horrible, but the overall shot worked. Obviously, they had removed the real helicopter blades for safety reasons during the actual helicopter crash because the top of the coptor's nose hits the ground, and the real blades shattering in unpredictable ways could have killed a WHOLE lot of folks at the site.

Re: Comparisons to 9/11...
It's hard to believe that this film was made in it's entirity before the events of 9-11, I personally suspect that one quick oncoming dust/smoke cloud scene in particular looks suspiciously like an attempt to mimic that part of the 9-11 tragedy. I can't be sure though. Although it's not unusual for a smoke cloud to behave like that, It just seemed a little too realistic in comparison to some of the surrounding events.

I guess this is going to be one of the films that help bring us back into the whole "terrorist violence is an acceptable topic for action entertainment venues" thing. It won't be long before the next Chuck Norris steps up to the plate and takes on cruise ship terrorists again. Unfortunately, it will do well, and we'll probably be plunged into another round of 80's "Delta Force" movies, mixed with new Die hard flicks, etc, with a smattering of "Adam Mary Three", and "Emergency One" films.

At one point in the film, a soldier mentioned standing at ground zero, and although it wasn't the same ground zero we're used to thinking of, my girlfriend reports that the phrase itself gave her chills. I'm guesing it might take awhile for that to wear off enough to allow that type of thing into the mainstream again. I just wonder how many special effect teams have watched and rewatched the 9-11 tapes to learn something about adding realism and "coolness" to those types of scenes. That just kinda' sickens me... the thought of those bastards sitting there going: "Well, we gotta' have about 10 animatronic suicide-jumper dummies, 90 smoke machines, crowd interruptions mixed with horrified reaction shots..." etc. It's just wrong, but at the same time, from now on, are people really going to "accept" a scene of that nature as being real without those elements at least being alluded to?

I haven't read the Clancy novel that this film is based on, nor do I intend to, but I've heard quite a few reports that the badguy was altered for the movie to make him more "palatable" to post 9-11 moviegoers. Although it makes me curious, I'm not going to read the novel because the story really doesn't seem to have any re-watch or replay value to it. I guess I can see myself rewatching some of the more intense scenes when it comes out on Cable Tv, but that's about it.

About the coming attractions...
Hmm.. However... the Previews had a little element that may stir up the PCR group a bit. Personally, I think, even from just previews, they look good, REAL Good. Of course that's partially due to the fact that they are shown in dimly lit (read "CGI-Favorable") scenes, but that certainly equates better to the dark scenes of Dragonslayer and should provide a good table for comparison. Some things I need to say from the outset though: The Dragons appeared to move in a fashion similar to the Dragon Heart dragon, and although I'm not to thrilled about that, I'm ok with it because there's apparently none of the overdramatized facial movements. Also, there's also a bit of blur to the dragon motion, it was hard to determine how bad it was. These suckers are in the air, so the "weightless CGI" issues are possibly going to apply, although it seemed to me from the clips that at least SOME of that has been addressed.

However, despite the appealing description (snicker) of a post apocalyptic London in 80-something years, with "something older than dinosaurs" awakening "after its long slumber" to take back the world that was once rightfully theirs.. the acting and actor selection, plus the script, and possibly the storyline, appeared to be kinda.. umm.. crap, for lack of a better word. However, Like "Jason X", I'm gonna go have a good time, and I invite you all to waste your money so as to have enough ammunition to fire your anti-CGI bombshells, and attempt to torch a film that I'm guessing I'm gonna like despite its cheesiness.

Good luck! -Mike "Deadguy" Scott

This week's review of "The Sum of All Fears" is ©2002 by Michael Scott. All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2002, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.