Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Cocoon (1985) ***

PG-13, 117 min.
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Tom Benedek, David Saperstein
Starring: Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy, Jack Gilford, Steve Guttenberg, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Gwen Verdon, Herta Ware, Tahnee Welch, Barrett Oliver, Linda Harrison, Tyrone Power Jr., Clint Howard

“Cocoon” was one of the many calculated steps Ron Howard took toward becoming one of the top filmmakers in Hollywood. Howard faced a much larger hurdle than most directors when it came to being taken seriously as a director. His Hollywood roots as a child actor, especially considering the smiling kid, all-American roles he’d made iconic with his Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham, might’ve held a lesser artist back when it came to building a new image as a director of important films. “Cocoon” was his first important film.

Telling the story of a group of older men and their wives fighting against withering away in a residential complex, the movie wisely incorporates the younger and edgier notion of science fiction into its observations about growing old in our modern world where the young are too busy to remember their elders. As a kid when the film came out, I was fascinated to see it because of the alien element, but the movie’s success is really built up on the story of the old men played by Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, and Hume Cronyn.

The movie won Oscars for Ameche and for its visual effects, proving Howard’s skill in combining the dramatic elements with those more popular science fiction ones. Looking back at it thirty years later, the Oscar-winning vfx aren’t nearly as impressive as the performances, not just by Ameche but also by all three of the leads. In fact, I’d say Cronyn deserved recognition for his work more so than Ameche.

I do question the choice of the grandparents leaving their daughter’s family behind to live their eternal lives in space, but that does tap into the analogy lying underneath the science fiction of the piece. When death comes it is quite often portrayed as a choice, especially with death among the aged. I don’t know if it really is, but it sure is nice to think so.

One more thing… Remember when Brian Dennehy was in every movie ever made? Billy Crystal joked during one Oscars ceremony that Dennehy had shown up in his family movies that year. What ever happened to that guy?

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