For the longest time, Max Von Sydow was one of those perennial “faces” in film. You know, the ones who show up and make you go “Hey! That’s the guy from…” I’m speaking of my personal experience of course. As such, he was never someone that I was particularly looking for when I picked out movies at the video store, or took recommendations from one of my High School French teachers. For the life of me I can’t remember how we got into something of a contest – recommending movies to each other that had not seen theatrical release in Australia. The goal was to go obscure, but still give a hook to convince one another that the movie was actually worth watching. Continue reading →
The world has said a fond farewell this week to one of the acting professions true legends – the inimitable Max Von Sydow. At 91 years old, Sydows list of film credits is epic and impressive, having worked with no small number of master film craftsmen.
He also appeared in his fair share of schlock.
There was nothing pretentious about Max. Like his fellows who have achieve the rank of Legend (Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and Christopher Plummer to name a few) he was happy to lend his own brand of gravitas to ridiculously budgeted sci-fi or horror B-movies in Tentpole makeup. He was never overshadowed by these appearances, instead somehow elevating the movies to something that would not be so easily disposable. His legacy embraces the most critically acclaimed Biblical Epic ever made, what was once considered the most terrifying film of all time, and one of the hands down greatest films of all time.
I came to know him, however, because he was not too proud to appear in schlock, such as…
Director: Danny Cannon
Writers: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Michael De Luca, William Wisher, Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Jurgen Prochnow, Rob Schneider who never once speaks to…Max Von Sydow
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Pat Mills.
1995 was a strange era. Established properties were considered gold by studios, and there were no greater hopes for a global smash hit than those hung upon comics. Comic book properties were hot commodities, thanks to the insanely profitable Batman from 1989. These were far from the days of the meticulously crafted MCU – where the Character is King (except, perhaps, for Robert Downey Jr.) – but a time when the consideration was how a well known funny book character could benefit a movie star looking to up their profile.
Judge Dredd; the most recognised character from Britain’s longest running anthology comic series, 2000 A.D.
Sylvester Stallone; at one time in the running for the Biggest Movie Star In The World, or
at least Biggest Action Star.
2000 A.D. wasn’t particularly well known beyond comic book circles, and Stallone – while still undeniably huge – had not seen stellar returns from his early 90’s efforts. He wanted a hit, and a simple, action-packed story with an iconic look for a character was a good
bet. This was not a film done on the cheap either. Sets were lavish and well designed, special effects were well-polished for the era, and someone convinced Gianni Versace to do costumes. Comedy duties would be handled by Saturday Night Live alumn Rob Schneider – part of the same lineup as Adam Sandler and Mike Myers, who had become insanely popular. With a true international cast and crew to raise the global profile, by number alone, this must have seemed a great idea.
So, we’re all clear that the movie’s trash, right?
I have never been a fan of the “Guilty Pleasure” concept. My motto for film has always been “like what you like”, and no one should ever be able to tell you what you can feel about a movie. None of that is a reflection on any concept of objective quality, so I want to be perfectly clear: Judge Dredd is not a good movie…but I enjoy it a whole lot. Part of it is just the basic cognitive enjoyment that comes from seeing something I already enjoy in one medium become visible in another. The film looks like it came out of the comic, I don’t think anyone could argue that point. Additionally, it’s just fun when to watch actors having fun on screen…and Armand Assante looks like he’s having the time of his life. Seriously, that man is the Manifest River of Ham.
And then there’s Chief Justice Fargo – Max Von Sydow.
There’s a particular type of role I’ve begun to notice, whereby an elder-statesman actor is brought in for one unenviable purpose. Exposition.
Like Patrick Stewart in X-Men and Anthony Hopkins in Thor, Max secures his place among the greats because of his capacity to explain the most ridiculous parts of the story, or the world around him, and be completely believable. The character of Fargo is tasked with providing the audience with context for the film’s environments, motivations for various characters, and back story that factors into the film very little…but it’s totally engaging storytelling because it’s Max Von Sydow. There was something about the man that conveyed a sense of experience and authority. I buy into these worlds, these characters and this ridiculous series of events largely because he tells me to.
This is a quality that is seen in a fair few of his film and television appearances, even the brief ones such as Star Wars and Game of Thrones. He reminded me so much of a grandfather involved with whatever games the kids are playing. He’s taking it every bit as seriously as they do, and that makes the immersion all the more complete. It’s like his presence gives permission for everyone else to go all in.
It’s also important to note that every single emotional beat of the film involves his character. Every one. Understanding the horror that Judge Dredd himself has been proven guilty of a crime is sold by the expression on Fargo’s face. The drama of Dredd’s sentence is only effective because it is intercut with Fargo’s exile. We are drawn into the tale of Dredd’s birth because Fargo is telling the story, and it may be the last thing we hear from him. In contrast a later scene in which Dredd shows vulnerability to love-interest Judge Hershey is simply not believable, even though it is played as an emotional moment for both characters.
Put simply, Max Von Sydow is the only reason I care about what’s happening in Judge Dredd. That is perhaps the more lasting impact he has had on me as a fan of movies, and I suspect others would have a similar experience. It’s part of the reason why I am finding that his particular passing moves me so much. He was the reason I cared in quite a few movies. It’s like he was a bridge for people to connect with stories, and I think that may be the best legacy he could leave behind.
It’s the reason why a brief testimonial, or even a list of favourite appearances didn’t seem enough of a farewell. That’s why I introduce this new feature “Five Of…”, to celebrate Max Von Sydow through five of his feature roles that had an impact on me.
Alongside Al, who built Esoteric Fish in the first place, and everyone who has contributed over the years, I have worked hard to keep the tone of this place fun. Most definitely esoteric, but always fun. When we have looked critically upon a film, show or game I like to think we have never indulged in piling abuse for the sake of entertainment. Obviously the luxury we have had on this platform is that – beholden to none but ourselves – we get to talk about literally anything we want. In light of all of that, what follows will likely seem an odd contribution, but it is a subject that hits very close to home for me. I have recently been challenged about whether my silence on certain controversial topics is wisely not becoming involved in pointless debate, or complacency that belies my personal convictions. This may be a little raw folks, but I pray it will make you reflect a little. Continue reading →
Although I rarely indulge these days, in the not-too-distant past I was something of an avid gamer. I suppose for most of my generation that’s more to be expected than not, but I should be honest and upfront about the fact that, while enthusiastic, I was never very good. ‘Good’ is probably a subjective term anyway, but certainly from the point of view that I rarely, if ever, actually played a game through to completion. Notable exceptions include Mass Effect (1 & 2), Uncharted 2: Drake’s Fortune andDiablo. Just the original mind you, even though Diablo 2 probably stands as my favourite game of all time, and certainly holds the record for most number of hours clocked. Continue reading →
I think my first experience with a water world was playing Lylat Wars (StarFox64 for US readers). It was a video game on the Nintendo64, and involved a team of elite fighter pilots travelling through the Lylat System, stopping at each planet to battle the evil forces of Andross, determined to take over the universe. It was a pretty fun shooter-on-rails, and I still occasionally play it on an emulator. Continue reading →
Now, I’m a reasonable guy; Birthmoviesdeath is my go-to for movie stuff, and they have affirmed their appreciation for the glory of the cinematic wonder that is Point Break; and I always take several grains of salt with pieces such as this. But as I got further and further into this article…son, my blood began to boil. Continue reading →
Underwater movies have never been something I dived into over the years; it’s been something I’ve grown to appreciate, slowly and surely so I don’t get the bends.
Underwater is just dark and some weird looking fish (not Esoteric Fish). Then I started reading interviews with James Cameron and I began to appreciate the technology and the science that it takes to get down there. I did see James Cameron’s exhibition at the Maritime Museum and seeing his diagrams and photos of sending a mouse underwater in a diving bell gave me that sense of new horizons.
I watched the documentary on James Cameron’s dive into the Mariana Trench. Just the tension around the planning table where James straight talks the Australian Engineering firm. He tells them that if something goes wrong on the diving sub, he is dead. End of story and the end of a lot of stories.
To see that ship go out and dive down deep into the ocean is an amazing thing to achieve and whilst I don’t want to go down deep myself it gave me an appreciation of the ocean and the environment there.
Last summer I was given the gift of my first snorkelling kit, I went to a beach of Sydney, put my flippers on and double backed into the water. I swam and avoided some rocks, went through the seaweed and saw my first fish. Just swimming around and seemingly oblivious that I was there.
I saw some more fish, this time with colours and stripes and different looks and I felt amazed to see this going on in my hometown.
The underwater world is amazing, there is life there that is inspiring, if you can explore it.
James Cameron’s stunning documentaries – Ghosts of the Abyss, Aliens of the Deep and Deepsea Challenge are well worth a look for the extraordinary passion for the ocean on display.