The 'Pulp Adventure' movie thread

Discussion in 'Lucasfilm Ltd. In-Depth Discussion' started by Ingram_I, Sep 19, 2012.

  1. Ingram_I Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 7, 2012
    star 2
    Tackling such a criterion can prove a bit trickier than one might think, as it spans different genres from science fiction to fantasy, Westerns, war films, superheroes and horror. So why not name any kind of movie from such genres? Would Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Spider Man 2 count, or maybe The Fellowship of the Ring and Tombstone? In my opinion, no. The concept of “pulp adventure” can incorporate a great many different genres and subgenres but at the same time maintains a certain signature set of forms.

    First of all, it’s crucial to understand that the idea of a pulp adventure film largely derives from three interrelated sources of the 1930s and 1940s era: 1) pulp magazines; 2) radio dramas; 3) the B-serial format loosely referred to as "poverty row" pictures where lesser film studios cranked out a steady stream cheaply made genre entertainment. Separately or combined, this cliffhanger style of narrative emphasized action, mystery, romance or any generality of high excitement thrills (often cheap or exploitive) within a short running time and, consequently, at a brisk pace. By the 1950s episodic television replaced both radio and Saturday Matinee-like chapters that accompanied feature films while the printed pulps gave way to more specialized reading material such as adult 'Men’s Magazines' and the DC/Marvel superhero comic books for kids.


    Still, the enthusiasm for pulp adventures would eventually thrive again largely (though not exclusively) through the cinematic medium, with varying degrees of expense, quality and success. The most familiar storied content and characteristics include period settings (typically interbellum or Western), treasure hunting, traveling to-and-through exotic locations, swashbuckling, crime fighting, worldly mysticism and space opera.
    Below is a countdown list of films that I consider the best of pulp adventures. Feel free to add (or dispute) as you like. The more the merrier.


    [IMG] 27. Sheena (1984) - Hey, don't knock it until you've tried it. Tanya Roberts, at her peak, gets naked, bathes. And this is a PG movie!

    [IMG] 26. Firewalker (1986) - Chuck Norris and Louis Gossett Jr. team up as bickering buddies hunting treasure in contemporary Central America. It's a low-grade Cannon Films production but actually has a lot of B-movie charm to it, and also features what is arguably the most comedic and enthusiastic performance from a usually stoic Norris.

    [IMG] 25. Tarzan and the Lost City (1998) - Casper Van Dien is cast in the titular role with a chiseled mug and the ever elusive Jane March is, as always, just plain hot. There are some neat locations coupled with cornball visual effects and a good deal of action including some impressive stunt work. It’s basically a live action Saturday morning cartoon. Good for kids.

    [IMG] 24. King Solomon’s Mines (1985) - Another from the Cannon Films collection, this time aping (even parodying) the Indiana Jones popularity for all its worth. The classic literary character Alan Quartermain is re-imagined Indy-like with a cheeky Richard Chamberlain in the role, accompanied by a young and energetic Sharon Stone. It’s a jokey affair with a lotta noise and ruckus. Good fun.

    [IMG] 23. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) - No doubt, ambitious in its visual-digital design and wonderfully inspired by many a vintage comic-strip wonders, namely retro-futurism. The story is largely generic and the CGI backdrops are two-dimensionally limited, but the imagery succeeds nonetheless as flights of fancy and the lead characters played by Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude Law are high-spirited.

    [IMG] 22. The Mummy / The Mummy Returns (1999) / (2001) - A solid B-movie with an A-movie budget. Nothing more. It’s well polished and competently directed, but not brilliantly directed. The story is meat 'n' potatoes adventure narrative but lacks thematic wit. That’s okay. It’s still plenty fun enough to pass the time. Frankly, I don’t see any issues concerning the sequel, particularly any dip in quality. To me it just feels like more of the same, just bigger and with more outrages set pieces. Rachel Weiz, in particular, was the casting high point.

    [IMG] 21. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) - To my surprise, Evans was perfect as the younger, wide-eyed and slightly naïve Steve Rogers. The movie looked great, with nice cinematography and production design. Some of the visual effects were a bit cheesy here and there but that only added to the overall charm for me. The origin storyline was rather refreshing in that Rogers was never angsty or self-absorbed, but already a noble hearted hero from the start; his physical transformation and further integration into the war effort made for some good storytelling that was, at worst, easy entertainment and, at its best moments, truly captivating. The action was clear and well-staged, if not a bit cartoonish, which is only fitting given the material.

    [IMG] 20. Flash Gordon (1980) - Openly, shamelessly camp. And yet it somehow manages to be sincere at the same time. By the end of the second act, when Ming the Merciless offers Flash a subservient lordship, I’ll be damned if there’s not a genuine story being told. Visually, the film is a blast: all garish reds and golds. The set/costume design alone is worth the price of admission. Great cast and a classic rock-opera score by Queen.

    [IMG] 19. The Phantom (1996) - The very prospect of a masked avenger in purple skin tights who rides a white horse named Hero with a sidekick wolf named Devil is almost too boyishly cool to pass-up. This is the kinda movie that features a Jungle Patrol, all-women air pirates, a volcano island super-lair and skulls that shoot lasers. I mean, c’mon! Billy Zane plays it cheery and straightforward; the rest of the cast barks their pulpy lines in earnest.

    [IMG] 18. The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (2011) - Essentially, this was little more than an exercise for Spielberg. The story, though solid, is not all that memorable, but the CGI/motion capture animation allowed the director the ultimate freedom of pure invention, to stage a near-continuous Rube Goldberg style action narrative. The virtuoso results are a sight for the eyes.

    [IMG] 17. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book (1994) - This all-but-forgotten gem from Stephen Sommers surpasses his Mummy films with less mayhem and goopy visual effects in favor of a heartfelt romance story between a grown Mowgli and the daughter of a British colonel. But there’s still plenty of ‘lost city’ adventuring to be had, with a dastardly villain and an assortment of the classic animal characters both friend and foe. Good score by Basil Poledouris, too.

    [IMG] 16. Congo (1995) - Michael Crichton’s high concept sci-fi techno premise trimmed down to what feels like a theme park ride through vintage jungle pictures. Sure, it lacks the complexities of the novel, but the colorful venture though exotic Central Africa in search for an ancient diamond mine brings about all kinds of classic pulp thrills. Note the pitch-perfect, charismatic performance by Ernie Hudson as Munro Kelly, the classic ‘bwana man’ mercenary; Hudson, no doubt fully aware of the kind of movie he was in.

    [IMG] 15. High Road to China (1983) - There’s an authenticity to this 1920s set romance-adventure, not so much concerning the actual period setting (though that’s handled well enough) but the movie itself, with its open matte, workmanlike filming style and Hawksian repartee between the two leads. Tom Selleck is the ace-pilot of fortune who escorts a rich heiress across the eastern orient to find her lost father. The production is almost TV-ish at times, which accentuates the whole serial feel. It ends with Selleck sporting a machine gun in an all-out battle against local warlords.

    [IMG] 14. Hidalgo (2004) - The second of three on this list from director Joe Johnson, this time helming a Western-turned-cross-Arabian horse race adventure where, at one point, the hero must rescue an Arabian princess from a desert fortress, amongst many other exciting chapters involving well staged action scenes. Viggo Mortensen makes for a scruffy likable cowboy and his titular horse is given a lot of personality.

    [IMG] 13. The Shadow (1994) - Don’t let its history as a box office disaster dissuade you from enjoying what is actually a visually creative crime fighting strip. There’s great art direction and the stylistic flourishes never cease. Baldwin assumes the role with equal parts cool and deliciously maniacal (his rendition of the signature Shadow laugh gets an A+) while John Lone plays the stereotypical villain with modern charm and Penelope Anne Miller looks hot slinking around in night gowns. The best feature, however, is Jerry Goldsmith’s kick-ass score.

    [IMG] 12. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai (1984) - A physicist, neurosurgeon, test pilot, rock star... a samurai gunfighter with his own comic book... there’s nothing Buckaroo Banzai can’t do. If you haven’t seen this movie, really, no description or explanation can do it justice. I can only express my amazement at how unaffected the cast and overall tone is considering the material; all the makings of wacky parody and yet the movie plays it straight as an arrow.

    [IMG] 11. Gunga Din (1939) - It’s a real guy’s movie about a trio of sergeants fighting off a horde of mad Thuggee vermin in British Colonial India. Just a big ol’ blast of excitement with horseback battle scenes that are nothing short of epic. Clearly, this one informed many kinds of adventure films that would follow throughout the decades; the most obvious one of course doesn’t even need mentioning.
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  2. Ingram_I Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 7, 2012
    star 2
    [IMG] 10. Silverado (1985) - Covering just about every trope of the classic American cowboy Westerns, writer and director Lawrence Kasdan still manages to infuse his characters with a degree of sophistication while the entire cast performs with ease. Scott Glenn and Kevin Kline in particular make the absolute best of Kasdan’s subtle, witty humor. Lots of cool gunfights and horse chases, capped with a quintessential happy ending.

    [IMG] 09. Red Tails (2012) - Using the latest in digital wizardry from ILM (and subset FX houses), Lucas and Co. have rendered a series of lush, vivid, clear sky aerial combat set pieces to accompany the human story of WWII's Tuskegee Airmen. But this is no contemporary telling. Instead, the film lovingly harkens back to the simpler propaganda war films of a bygone Hollywood era: broad characters, clipped scenes of hokey drama, squared framing style. But there's sincerity to it all as well. It's the dogfight sequences that shoot for the moon with sensational, even surreal, digital artifice.

    [IMG] 08. The Rocketeer (1991) - Still the best from Joe Johnson, this film is a winning example of a well-balanced screenplay, mixing just the right amount of character, plot and action at an even pace. There is a delightful nostalgic feel to the setting and the airborne scenes with Rocketeer really bring out the kid in all of us. Its single most inspired moment is a top secret, Max Fleischer-styled cartoon with an army of rocket pack Nazis invading the US, and the end set piece aboard the German zeppelin is pretty spectacular. Oh, and likewise for Jennifer Connelly.

    [IMG] 07. Quigley Down Under (1990) - Hats off to Tom Selleck. Here’s a guy who never quite reached the level of stardom he rightfully deserved. Matthew Quigley is his most polished yet effortless leading man role. Selleck strides through the film with both an easygoing persona and the moral convictions for your classic cowboy hero. This is a good old fashion Western (or extreme Southern) adventure where right is right and wrong is wrong; where the good guy saves the natives from the evils of genocide, guns down villains with a steady hand and gets the girl in the end.

    [IMG] 06. The Mask of Zorro (1998) - I honestly consider this the finest Zorro film of them all and one of the best swashbucklers ever made, right up alongside the Flynn-Curtiz collaborations of yore. Both Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins are handsome and utterly convincing in their roles as young and old Zorro, while Catherine Zeta-Jones is breathlessly beautiful and impassioned as Elena, the dramatic-romantic crux of what is a measured and well scripted story. Martin Campbell’s slick staging and editing of the action rounds out the film with a perfect score.

    [IMG] 05. King Kong (1933) - The one and only. Forget that maudlin, overwrought remake from Peter Jackson. The original’s lean and mean narrative doesn’t force audiences to sympathize with Kong, but depicts the giant ape for what he is and allows us to project onto him our own 'me-against-the-world' sentiments. Even after some 80 years the stop-motion puppetry and rear-screen projections still hold a certain fantastical allure, the way Skull Island’s murky jungles beckon the imagination with its antique surrealistic qualities.

    [IMG] 04. Streets of Fire (1984) - A gritty rock 'n' roll fable from Walter Hill that mixes the urban settings of the 1950s with the music and fashion of the early 1980s music video phenomenon. Taking place in an unnamed city that evokes the L-train underworld of Chicago along with the rainy street atmospheres of yesteryear St. Louis and Detroit, the rock star diva Ellen Aim is kidnaped by a biker gang called The Bombers; a motley crew comes to her rescue, led by a stalwart ex-solder named Tom Cody. Songs that are at once dated and timeless, a stunningly gorgeous Diane Lane and a bitchin climax fight scene involving sledge hammers ...these are just a few gems this movie has to offer. It’s sexy. It’s got attitude. It’s a great movie for tough guys and tender girls alike.

    [IMG] 03. Big Trouble in Little China (1986) - A hidden world of chop-socky and sorcery in San Francisco China Town gives rise to one of the most entertaining (and most quotable) action adventure films of all time. John Carpenter’s ode to Fu Manchu pulps, John Wayne heroics and the history of Asian martial arts films is a barrel of awesomeness, while Kurt Russell as the swaggering Jack Burton has since become a household name for any fan of the genre(s). Who can forget the back alley war between the Chang Sing (yellow sash) and the Wing Kong (red sash) or Egg Shen’s crystal rocket launcher or an exploding Thunder? Carpenter edits from start to finish with a tight economy, giving the whole enterprise an exuberance that never wanes.


    [IMG] 02. The Star Wars Saga (1977 to 2005) - Without a doubt the most sprawling, epic and thematically ambitious endeavor on the list. George Lucas used the B-movie pulp conceit as a tonal, structural and stylistic vehicle for his grand mythology. No need to further explain these films on a Star Wars message board. The only reason I’ve slotted them at No. 2 instead of giving them the title of numeo uno is precisely because said artistic ambition has, in certain aspects, elevated the saga to abstract, avant-garde proportions. Pulp adventure is the part-and-parcel foundation of Star Wars, but not necessarily the sum total. That title -- in perfect balance between art and form -- belongs to...

    [IMG] 01. The Indiana Jones Series (1981 to 2008) - "Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune - and - glory."
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  3. StampidHD280pro Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2005
    star 4
    Awesome list. Thank you much! I haven't seen most of them. But I've been meaning to watch Buckaroo Bonzai for some time now, and i recently started watching the old Flash Gordon serials on youtube!
  4. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Ingram_I, could you use these films to tie them into Lucasfilm's projects somehow?

    It would be more on-topic and then I wont have to move it to the JCC. ;)
  5. StampidHD280pro Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2005
    star 4
    These largely are films that inspired, were inspired by, or WERE Lucasfilms. I think it's very much on topic.
  6. Ingram_I Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 7, 2012
    star 2
    Yeah, I wasn’t sure about that myself. I figured including a total of ten movies from Lucasfilm, nine of which are at the top (or bottom, however you look at it), would be enough to justify posting on this board. If not, I do apologize. Kinda new here.
  7. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

    Member Since:
    Mar 26, 2001
    star 6
    Oops. Don't know how I missed that huge SW saga banner you posted and the Indy one. But yeah, I did miss those.

    It's all good.

    Carry on.
  8. StampidHD280pro Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jul 28, 2005
    star 4
    Thought I'd drop this piece of info here cause its relevant:

    Not the 1980 movie, but the OLD 1930's Flash Gordon serials are ALL up on Netflix instant watch. Anyone looking for a good place to start, it probably doesn't get better than that!