Monday, April 5, 2010

1998 - SMALL SOLDIERS, attempt at another Gremlins type of film

The  director Joe Dante loves the cheezy horror and science fiction films of the 1950's and 1960's.  He also loves satirizing the white suburban middle class culture.  He loads his films with actors from Roger Corman's old movies and throws in lots of in jokes from his favorite films.   The problem for Joe Dante is that not everyone shares his vision. 

For a director like Joe Dante to survive in the film business he needs to combine his interests with a way to appeal to a general audience and not just a bunch of film nerds.  He pulled this off only once with the commercially successful but very mean Gremlins.  That film was his take on ET.   Small Soldiers was produced by Steven Spielberg's company that had also produced Gremlins.  Dante probably seemed like the go to guy for Spielberg when they went to make this film which is basically Gremlins as crazy little GI Joe dolls come to life.  

Small Soldiers is clever but pretty slow moving at times for the kid crowd.  The film starts with a very long prologue about 2 inventors who install high tech computer chips into their new product line of action figures without realizing that the toys will come to life and go on a militaristic rampage.  After this long opening the film finally gets going with the toy soldiers parodying scenes from other movies like Apocalypse Now and Patton.

Joe Dante has a classic old fashioned film making style but I think he struggled with trying to keep the elaborate effects from taking over the film, always a problem when you have a special effects heavy film like this.  Dante also probably needed to make the film shorter, an extended sequence with Barbie dolls coming to life like The Bride of Frankenstein could probably have been cut.

Dante's pretty good working with the actors in his film.  Kirsten Dunst gets top billing playing the traditional part of the girlfriend.  Dunst is actually kind of likable but this film was early in her career so it was before she turned into Kirsten Dunst.  The real star is this kid Gregory Smith who goes on another one of those boring young male personal journeys of self discovery that the movies like to do so much.

Small Soldiers has some funny but pretty mild satire about the  Leave It To Beaver type of neighborhood that the toys attack.  Using some of the original cast from The Dirty Dozen as the action figure voices was a clever idea but since that film came out in 1967 no kid was going to know who they were.

Small Soldiers is funny and entertaining but it doesn't look like it turned out the way Joe Dante or Steven Spielberg intended.

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