Remembering Richard Kiel

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16 September 2014.

My Kiel Autograph

In pop culture, it’s funny how the time of your introduction to long running franchises gives you a sense of connection to a particular era of that television or film series. Although I watched from behind the sofa the never ending repeats of Tom Baker era Doctor Who episodes at half past five on Channel 2, my initial taste of first run Time Lord adventures starred Sylvester McCoy as the seventh Doctor. Although generally maligned, and probably the least popular of the incarnations, Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor.

The same with James Bond. My cinematic introduction to 007 was at the now defunct Hoyts Roxy at Parramatta. Sitting alongside my grandmother, I was dazzled by the smooth talking exploits of…err…Timothy Dalton. Sure, there are higher points in the franchise, but the Welsh actor is my James Bond.

I can’t say that the same phenomenon has occurred for Bond villains. By the late eighties, the bad guys were less cartoony and certainly less memorable. I can therefore only assume that my affinity for the metal mouthed giant Jaws came from repeat TV airings of Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me, most likely on Channel 10 and ushered in by Bill Collins.

Richard Kiel, the 7’2” actor who portrayed Jaws, sadly passed away last week. I fortunately had the pleasure of meeting Mr Kiel when he visited Sydney for the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in May.

From all appearances, Kiel was not in the best of health. He struggled to move from his motorised scooter to the signing table. I had a brief chat with him and throughout he could barely lift his head to make eye contact with me. I had brought along a vintage 1979 Scanlens Moonraker sticker set for signing and he had a lot of trouble manipulating the card with his huge hands. Apparently a car accident in 1992 had made his mobility very difficult. Sadly, this gentle giant appeared to be succumbing to gravity.

When Kiel attended a panel alongside one-off Aussie Bond George Lazenby, he rode into the room on his scooter and stayed there throughout the whole session. However, once engaged in telling tales from his Bond days and beyond, his face lit up.

Kiel proudly told the audience how he had received a special watch from the Broccoli family and MGM to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bond film franchise. He spoke very fondly of Roger Moore and their ongoing friendship, as well as regaled us in some stories of their off-screen antics.

Happy Gilmore

I had no idea that Kiel had such a distinguished career, with over 50 TV series appearances and dozens of film credits to his name. One of his final on-screen appearances was as Mr Larson in the Adam Sandler comedy, Happy Gilmore. Kiel described how the majority of his shots are from the waist up, and that the only 2 scenes with him standing have him leaning on something.

Although never surpassing his role in Bond, Hollywood has lost a beloved icon. There may be many James Bonds but there will only be one Jaws.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:35  Leave a Comment  
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Box Set Bonanza 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2nd October 2012.

Every October, dark forces return to unleash unspeakable horrors upon our supermarket and department store shelves. No, I’m not talking about Halloween. I mean the Christmas merchandise that’s already started to appear in our stores. So if it’s good enough for a multinational corporation, it’s good enough for me. In preparation for the silly season, here are my picks for the best box sets to buy for your favourite movie fanatic (or Tuesday columnist).

If too much Bond is never enough, grab Bond 50 – The James Bond Collection which celebrates half a century of Bond adventures with 22 films on 22 discs. If you buy the blu-ray set, there’s also an extra disc full of exclusive new content. Unfortunately, the non-canon Never Say Never Again from 1983 is not included, which is a shame because I’d gladly exchange it for the invisible car and wooden Madonna performance from Die Another Day. With the latest Band mission, Skyfall, hitting cinemas in November, a space has been generously left in the box for you to complete your collection next year. You can then rest easy knowing you own every single minute of Bond goodness, until the next movie is announced and you’ll have to buy a new box set. Start saving your money, Penny.

Speaking of great franchises, Indiana Jones has finally taken the leap to high definition. Indiana Jones – The Complete Adventures features all three original films on beautiful blu-ray, plus an extra disc chock full of bonus stuff. The films have been remastered under the supervision of Steven Spielberg, with Raiders of the Lost Ark receiving a complete restoration from the original print and sound mix. The set also includes a special Indiana Jones coaster. You can protect your tabletops knowing that The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has finally found a useful purpose.

The Universal Monsters Collection on blu-ray celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal Studios by unleashing some of its iconic creature features in high definition. Featuring a 48 page book and 8 discs, I can’t wait to get my hands on this one and experience horror classics Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and Phantom of the Opera for the first time. Best of all, The Creature from the Black Lagoon will make his (or is it her, or its) debut in blu-ray 3D.

Finally, the master of suspense has been given a high definition makeover to bring you Alfred Hitchcock – The Masterpiece Collection. The box set features 14 Hitchcock  classics including Rear Window, Frenzy, Psycho and Vertigo, plus every ornithophobe’s favourite, The Birds.  There is also 15 hours of bonus content for your enjoyment. Strangely, my favourite Hitchcock flick, North by Northwest, is not featured. Neither is Gus Van Sant’s disastrous 1998 shot for shot remake of Psycho, which is good thing.

One last thing, all of these box sets are labelled as limited editions. This is a rather meaningless marketing term nowadays so don’t rush out and buy them all just in case. With all of the above around or above the $100 mark, the limiting factor may well be your wallet.

Product placement in movies: buy a hot dog

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th January 2011.

Remember that scene in Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond reboot, where 007 and Vesper Lynd are travelling on a train and she asks him about his watch? She asks, “Rolex?” Bond (Daniel Craig) calmly replies, “Omega.” Lynd ends the conversation about the watch with the simple, “Beautiful.”

Ker-ching! You’ve just been the victim of product placement. Omega reportedly paid $7 million per film for Bond to spruik Omega watches. Sure, the world’s favourite superspy has to wear a watch so it may as well be an actual brand but there’s really no need to shove it down our throats by altering the script to become a bizarre commercial. Last time I checked, the ads were meant to be before the film, not during the feature.

Product placement in films is nothing new but imagine what might happen if a company actually bankrolls a feature film. There are two famous examples of this. One is a beloved family film and the other is one of the worst movies ever made (it has a 0% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes).

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally published in 1964. A children’s literary classic, it was adapted into a movie musical starring Gene Wilder in 1971. What you may not know is that the film was financed by the Quaker Oats Company.

Founded in 1901, the company specialised in breakfast cereals at the time and had no experience in film making. The film’s producer, David L. Wolper, managed to convince the company that the movie would be the perfect advertising medium for their new candy bars. And thus, the Wonka Bar was born and the film’s title was altered to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in anticipation of a marketing match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, due to production problems, Wonka Bars never made it to the shops and the film was released, unblemished by product placement, to generally positive reviews (Dahl hated it) but mediocre box office. Via endless television repeats and its popularity on video and DVD, it is now considered an iconic children’s film (despite the scene showing a chook being decapitated).

Quaker Oats sold their share of the rights for half a million dollars 1977 and never invested in another film again.

Mac and Me was an E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial rip-off released in 1988. Featuring a cute alien (MAC stood for “Mysterious Alien Creature”) who befriends a boy in a wheelchair whilst on the run from evil government scientists and agents, this turkey was financially backed by Coke and McDonalds.

In one of the least subtle product placement ever, Mac (as in Big Mac) conveniently only needs Coke and Skittles to survive. A visit to a McDonalds Restaurant with the bad guys hot on the trail strangely deteriorates into a syrupy happy impromptu dance contest, complete with a cameo from Ronald McDonald. This sickly sweet scene is widely available on YouTube and has to be seen to be believed. A warning, you may need insulin afterwards.

Ronald McDonald deservedly won the Worst New Star category at the 1988 Golden Raspberry Awards for Mac and Me. The film ends with the words, “We’ll Be Back!” written across the screen. Luckily for us, this atrocious waste of celluloid didn’t spawn a sequel. I understand that business for McDonalds was unaffected by the film’s failure and that there are now several restaurants worldwide.

So the next time you buy a watch, or grab a drink, or participate in an impromptu dance off at your local burger joint, or visit a chocolate factory run by little men with green hair, ask yourself if Hollywood made you do it.

Famous Characters: Recast

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 31st August 2010.

The Australian Box Office figures for the past week have Salt, starring Angelina Jolie, in the top spot, grossing a very healthy $5200000 in its first week of release. Directed by Australia’s Phillip Noyce, who knows his way around a spy thriller having previously helmed Clear and Present Danger (1994) and Patriot Games (1992), Salt features Mrs Pitt as a CIA agent who must run for her life when a KGB defector names her as a Russian sleeper assassin.

Whilst Australian cinema goers clearly appreciate Jolie’s assets, that is, her ability to jump off bridges onto moving vehicles and smash her enemies in the face with various objects, looking beautiful the whole time, something inside of me still wonders what Salt may have been like if its original star had actually agreed to make the movie.

Originally, the titular character was supposed to be a man. That’s right, Salt was written to be a vehicle for Tom Cruise. Ultimately, he jumped ship to make Knight and Day with Cameron Diaz instead. By the way, does anyone know what the title Knight and Day is supposed to mean? There’s also talk of a third Mission: Impossible sequel that may have been a little too close to Salt in terms of its spy on the run storyline for Cruise’s liking. So the producers simply rewrote Mr Salt into a Mrs Salt and a box office hit was born.

There are several iconic film characters that were originally slated to be portrayed by a different actor. No matter the reason for the recast, it must be difficult as a performer to see someone else rise to fame in “your” role.

It is hard to imagine anyone else as adventuring archaeologist and snake hater Indiana Jones. In 1981, at the time of casting Raiders of the Lost Ark, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’s first choice for the man in the hat was Tom Selleck. Lucas wasn’t keen to work with Harrison Ford so soon following their collaborations on American Graffiti and the first two Star Wars films (or fourth and fifth if you want to be a nerd). The producers of Selleck’s hit TV series, Magnum P.I. would not release him, so Ford got the gig three weeks before shooting was to begin.

A similar situation occurred in 1986 when Pierce Brosnan was slated to replace Roger Moore as the new James Bond in The Living Daylights. Brosnan’s commitments to his TV series, Remington Steel, appeared to have concluded with its cancellation that year, so the timing seemed perfect. Unfortunately, a spike in interest in Brosnan with the announcement of the Bond offer led to NBC renewing Remington Steel for another year and the contract bound Brosnan had no choice but to decline the role. Of course, he eventually did get to play Bond a few years later, following on from Timothy Dalton in GoldenEye and three other film adventures.

Whilst on the subject of Bond, is he the same man in every film, or is “James Bond” a code name that gets passed on between different 007’s? Just thinking out aloud…

Finally, can you imagine anyone else as time travelling Marty McFly? How about Eric Stoltz? Star of Mask (1985) and Some Kind of Wonderful (1987), Stoltz filmed Back to the Future for six weeks before being recast by director Robert Zemeckis. According to Zemickis, Stoltz lacked the humorous feel that was required for the role. With short notice, Michael J. Fox, the director’s first choice for McFly but initially unavailable, was able to split his time between the film and TV sitcom Family Ties.

For the trivia buffs, Fox’s middle name is Andrew but chose “J” when he discovered that Michael Fox was already registered with the Screen Actors Guild and he disliked Andy Fox as a stage name.

For the record, a similar thing has happened to me. Way back in 1998, I auditioned for the role of Choi in The Matrix. Choi is the character who buys illegal software from Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo. This scene then leads Neo to start his awakening by “following the white rabbit.” Unfortunately, there is no great scandal or controversial recast to be found here, I just did a truly terrible audition.