Following the responses to our G.I. Joe script review on message boards all around the web (sorry guys, we had to take it down), I found that a lot of people really don’t seem to like Stephen Sommers, which actually kind of surprises me. I mean, me, I love the guy. When he was announced as the director of G.I. Joe, I know we all cringed a bit, based on Van Helsing, but after I thought about it a bit, I realized “you know, that could work.”
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Follow me after the jump and let’s have a little chat about the man bringing our beloved G.I. Joe to the screen.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my first experience with Sommers was Gunmen. Does anyone other than me remember this film? It actually came out the same year as Highlander: The Final Dimension, and that’s only important because both star Christopher Lamber and Mario Van Peebles! I remember, after Gunmen, thinking they were going to be like the next Danny Glover/Mel Gibson team, but…well, that didn’t work out. I still love the hell out of both actors, but neither one has done much to be proud of in a while. Anyway, as if that wasn’t enough, the flick has Denis Leary as the baddie, Kadeem Hardison, Patrick Stewart, and Brenda Bakke! Remember her? Whatever happened to her anyway? Anyway, Gunmen was about a drug baron who has something like $400 million stolen from him, so he sends Denis Leary to find it. Mario Van Peebles plays a DEA Agent who is trying to find his father’s killer, and ends up arresting Christopher Lambert. They end up teaming up (kinda) to try and find the money while Denis Leary tries to kill them. It’s got a lot of comedy in it, and it’s actually really good – this is when Mario Van Peebles was making some awesome films, like Full Eclipse, Posse, and Panther. I remember this is the first time I found out about the tiny fish that’ll swim up your pecker. Gross. Anyway, fun stuff, and the script was by Sommers.
Remember the Jungle Book movie? The one that had the guy who played Bruce Lee, except this time he was playing Mowgli? And the love interest was the chick from 300 and Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles? I really enjoyed this film – I’m always a big fan of jungle adventure films and this was before Sommers subscribed to the notion that every second of available film had to be action packed. It felt like an Indiana Jones film, and was a great take on a story that, to be honest with you, I never much cared for. High adventure, beautiful scenery, great special effects for the time, and CARY F*CKIN ELWES!!!! Sommers actually wrote and directed this one.
It was four years before he directed another film (was Jungle Book a hit? I don’t remember), and man, when he came back, it was worth it. Deep Rising is one of those films that you can’t show your wife the trailer to before you watch it on DVD because, if you do, she’ll refuse to watch it. Especially after the scene where the girl gets pulled into the toilet. Heh…love that scene – it’s even better in the movie. In Deep Rising, a bunch of crooks (with hearts of gold, mind you) are trying to rob a rich cruise ship. Unfortunately, when they get there, a giant tentacled monster thing that seems to have tentacles everywhere (even in the toilet) has killed everyone and gobbled them up. This movie had the frickin’ great Kevin J. O’ Connor as one of the fellow crooks, Treat Williams as the main guy, Wes Studi, Djimon Honsou, Clifton Powell, Famke Janssen, Cliff Curtis, and Jason Flemyng! It pretty much bombed at the box office, which sucks because I’m kinda pissed there was never a sequel. Especially after such a cool ending. Treat Williams is the man.
What came next? Well, the Mummy and the Mummy Returns of course! I know I’m in the minority, as people were expecting an actual horror film (seriously?), but The Mummy is probably one of my favorite films of all time. Brendan Fraser is great in it, and the world got introduced to Rachel Weisz, that bald dude who always plays bad guys, and the brother dude who hasn’t been in anything else. Oh, and Kevin J. O’ Connor is in this one too! I think anyone who’s seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should probaly, right about now, be WISHING that it was more like The Mummy. Essentially an Indiana Jones film with more supernatural elements and better special effect, the first Mummy had some decent scores, some exciting scenes, great ideas, and a lot of fun. The Mummy Returns may not have been as good, but it certainly was a lot of fun. I think, unfortunately, this is where Stephen Sommers kind of went a little too much into the realm of “action-packed,” not realizing it doesn’t literally mean “nothing but action.” Still, it was great fun, even though it traded what little scares the first film had for more crazy action.
Finally, that brings us to Van Helsing. Man…f*ck that movie. I’m sorry. Stephen, I love you, and this article is totally meant to defend you, but…f*ck Van Helsing. You know how you have those films that you watch over and over because you desperately want to like them, but you can’t do anything but hate them? I have three of them – John Carpenter’s Vampires, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, and Van Helsing. I’ve seen all three about a million times each, and I still can’t stand them. Hell, just talking about Van Helsing makes me think I should pop it in and give it another shot. Great ideas, great actors (Hugh Jackman, Kate Beckinsale…and Kevin J. O’ Connor!), and, actually, some halfway decent creature designs. Still, every time the vampire chicks are on screen, I want to cry, Dracula himself gives me a headache, Frankenstein doesn’t realize the difference between acting for broadway and acting for a movie, and the wolfman…uh…well, he’s just bad CGI. Oh man, the special effects in this one sting my eyes like I’ve been up for 26 hours straight. Still, the full blame can’t go to Sommers. I know this was mostly his baby, but you know…the cartoon prequel to it was actually pretty decent. I have to believe it was the sum total of all parts in the movie that caused the issue, and not specifically just the director/writer/producer. Ahem…well, hopefully.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra hits theaters in August and I’m psyched for it, even after reading our own script review. First, it’s G.I. Joe, a property I’ve loved since I was a small Paul. I remember my buddy Nathan and I at one time actually tried to write our own trilogy of movies (Tunnel Rat, played by John Leguizamo, was going to save the day by blowing up Cobra HQ in the end). Secondly, Stephen Sommers can direct some action in the way of the old school – wide camera angles, no jerky camera nonsense like in the Bourne movies and every film after. I have high hopes. That being said, they are tempered – there have been changes to the script, but not that many, and most of the story beats are sticking. I’m not so married to the storyline I remember as a kid as other fans, as long as in the context of the film it works. The film will 100% be sold on the acting, I think. Great acting can save mediocre writing and bad CGI. If the actors ham it up, Van Helsing-style, we’re in for a tough ride. I’ve got faith, though.
Still, if you haven’t seen any of Sommers older output, before he was given $100 mil to make summer blockbusters, check out Deep Rising, Jungle Book, and Gunmen. I think you’ll dig ’em! And I’ll see you at the movies this August for G.I. Joe!