The good thing about nerds is that, for avoidance purposes, you can see them coming a mile away. There’s the weight issue (either too fat or too skinny), the dodgy hair, the lack of style (the only item of clothing given any kind of fore thought is the t-shirt, usually adorned with a logo from their favourite franchise), and most tellingly the lack of females. An unfair generalisation? Maybe, but all humour is crafted from a large dollop of truth. There’s a reason nerds aren’t made fun of for their stupidly muscular physiques, their Flock of Seagull haircuts or their penchant for retro smoking jackets. "What’s that?
” the nerd exclaims, "Waste my time in a gym, sculpting a toned physique, like the one sported by an early Captain Kirk, or a battle ready Aragorn? Why on earth would I want to go to such lengths to look like my heroes? Next you’ll have me donning outfits from said movies and gathering with similarly dressed folk at some sort of gathering or convention. Nay, say I
”. There might be a few nerds out there that are gorgeous physical specimens, that do live in designer apartments, that do head out on a Saturday night with members of the opposite sex. Their shrines to nerdism are hidden in the back bedroom behind a locked door, the wrappers still on their collectable figurines, their replica costumes fresh on the hanger. No one knows their dirty little secret. To you I say bravo, congratulations on your ability to drink from both cups of life. Like Bruce Wayne himself, you lead quite the double life. Like Clark Kent, you are in the minority. It’s not all bad news on the nerd front. Say what you want about their personal hygiene, they have excellent taste in movies. They know a good film when they see it; usually on Saturday morning, 11:30 showing, in the front row of the cinema. Alone.
- THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
My sister would often tease me with the Christmas television guide. "There’s a Star Wars film on Boxing Day” she’d say. "Wicked! What one is it?” I’d ask. "Empire Strikes Back” she’d grin. "Bollocks” I’d huff. The reason I loved Star Wars films when I was a kid was because they were chock full of space based daring-do. The middle part of the original trilogy was the slow, talky, depressing one and I didn’t like it. Where were the space battles and lightsabre ass-kickings? But any nerd will tell you that Empire is the best Star Wars film of the lot. It shouldn’t be though. Let’s face it, if you want to watch a film of high drama with great moments of human interaction and electric dialogue you should be reaching for the De Niro collection. And if there is one thing George Lucas can’t do its write decent dialogue. So how is it that his downbeat Part V turned out to be the best? It’s probably due to the fact that Empire didn’t have to follow an agenda. It didn’t have to kick start the story and it didn’t have to neatly wrap it up either. It could expand the Star Wars universe as much as it liked without having to answer too many questions. And expand it did. Enter Jedi guru Yoda, Star Wars’ resident John Shaft, Lando Calrissian, and the mother of all twists, "I am your father”. It is a moment that has been completely turned on it head by the new prequel trilogy, evolving from boo-hiss bad guy exclamation to thank god he told him turning point. Couple that with further iconic scenes that also became the most grounded moments of the saga, "I love you”, "I know”, and part five is perhaps the only one of Lucas’ efforts that comes close to breaking away from the simple space-fireworks, Saturday morning serial concept. Watch Empire and enjoy, you must.
Tasty Morsel – The reason for freezing Han Solo in carbonite? Harrison Ford, unlike Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, had yet to sign on for a third picture and his involvement in the last part of the trilogy had yet to be decided.
- TRON (1982)
Home gaming was in its infancy in the early eighties, with only the Atari 2600 making inroads underneath television sets. But arcade machines were snorting up currency like a millionaire smack head. The computer game market crash was still a year away away. What a great idea then to create a film that cashed in on this new fascination with all things Pacman and Space Invaders; Tron (1982) was born. Disney bank rolled the picture and Steven Lisberger was called on to write and direct. The plot was an acquired taste; Jeff Bridges is a computer programmer who hacks into a large company’s mainframe to prove that senior exec David Warner has been stealing his work. But Warner has created a unique security protocol, "quantum teleportation” that zaps and transports Bridges into the mainframe itself, a sort of digital alternate reality where people wear light-bulb clad spandex and take part in games to decide who lives and dies. And if you’re thinking that you need a computer science degree to get your head around the plot, you’re not far off the truth. But the story was merely a catalyst for Disney and its crack team of special effects designers (including renowned comic artist Jean Giraud) to get the most high-tech visuals ever seen onto the big screen. The result was a film way ahead of its time. The film was so aesthetically ground breaking even grumpy cinema critic Roger Ebert was wowed enough to look past the wonky story and wooden characterisation. The neon graphics might seem quaint today when compared to twenty first century CGI wonders, but the slightly camp, eighties infused styling has fertilised the film’s cult status. So much so a long awaited, but somewhat disappointing, sequel was released twenty eight years later Tron: Legacy (2010).
Tasty Morsel – Considered a box-office failure at the time of its release, the video game based on the movie that was released at the same time out-grossed the film.
- STAR TREK: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) / STAR TREK (2009)
There was a time when Star Trek wasn’t the conquering sci-fi monolith we know it as today. The original show only lasted three series before it was politely told to get lost. It had established a slight cult following, enough to prompt a brief animated revisiting in the 1973. But when a post Star Wars (1977) boom in space themed fare assured Trek of a big screen revival the resulting movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), was such a bore-fest it almost sunk the franchise. A tentatively commissioned sequel had to work miracles. Luckily Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982) was made as a great movie first and a good Star Trek outing second. The result was a film that even non-Trekkies could enjoy. Ricardo Montalban hammed up a storm as returning villain Kahn, bringing with him a streak of nastiness previously unseen in Roddenrberry’s universe. The confident plot also took the bold step of killing off the beloved Spock, a shocking turn of events at the time. The film’s performance ensured another four movie outings for Kirk and his Enterprise as well as numerous brand new television shows. By the end of the twentieth century Star Trek had become such a mega-brand it was in danger of drowning under the weight of its own mythology. The Next Generation series had taken the movies as far as they were likely to (four films to their credit). Some streamlining was required and new sci-fi supremo J.J. Abrams was drafted into to recreate the Roddenberry magic. Abrams 2009 movie was simply named Star Trek and told the intriguing tale of how Kirk and his crew first got together. Some ingenious casting (Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban were dead ringers for Spock and Bones) and exhilarating set pieces got the new franchise off to a great start. Abrams even found a way of shoe-horning in a Leonard Nimoy appearance. Shame William Shatner didn’t get a last look in though.
Tasty Morsel – When Simon Pegg’s Scotty is introduced to us, keep an eye out for the small fir-ball behind him, one of the infamous Tribbles from classic Trek episodes.
- WARGAMES (1983)
The eighties were great time to be a nerd. There were so many things for a nerd to get his or her teeth into most of them spent the decade spinning with giddy delight. Computer games were taking off, home computers were within reach of the mere mortal, manga made its way across the Pacific, Transformers unfolded into reality. Cinema also began to place the nerd at the centre of its universe. Geeks kicked ass in the likes of BMX Bandits (1983) and The Karate Kid (1984) and won the day in Mischief (1985), The Breakfast Club (1985), Flight of the Navigator (1986) and The Manhattan Project (1986). With the Cold war still decidedly chilly John Badham added his own nerdy offering to the list. Specky teens of the moment Ally Sheedy and Matthew Broderick inadvertently hack into an American super computer that has been designed to predict the outcomes of a nuclear exchange. Why the Yanks needed a whole computer just to tell them "We’ll be fucked” is anyone’s guess. But when you throw a horny teen with too much time on his hands into the mix, things can go askew and when Broderick starts pressing the wrong buttons that’s exactly what happens. Of course, Badham didn't go so far to actually start the Third World War which is a shame as that would have been truly groundbreaking. But where Badham and writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes left off, James Cameron picked up with his Terminator franchise. It was still an inspired choice to combine the burgeoning home computer craze with what at the time was the inevitable fiery end of Planet Earth. And even though my electric toothbrush has more computing power than the mountainous servers of WOPR at the time WarGames gave hope to spotty teenagers everywhere that the world was at the their fingertips via the sticky keys of the home keyboards.
Tasty Morsel – A sequel was released in 2008 entitled WarGames: The Dead Code (2008). There has also been ongoing rumours since 2009 of a possible remake of Badham’s original.
- REVENGE OF THE NERDS (1984)
There was a time when being a nerd had more to do with your towering intellect than your Avengers comic book collection. A nerd may have dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons on the weekend and might have passed away an hour or two in front of Monty Python, but their foremost domain was the front row of a mathematics class. In American cinema of the seventies and eighties, the social divisions of high school were drawn and the nerds composition was set in stone, the polar opposite of the more popular, lady laden jock. But one film attempted to shift the balance of power and make nerds the unlikely heroes, Jeff Kanew’s Revenge of the Nerds (1984). Eighties mainstay Anthony Edwards and Robert Carradine of the infamous acting clan play Gilbert and Lewis, two geeks eager to join a college fraternity. When they cross paths with the Alpha Beta fraternity, made up exclusively of members of the college football team, a feud commences for which there can be only one winner. The fine college campus comedy tradition, kicked off by National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), is carried forward with raucous ambition by Kanew and his cast. A large dollop of wish fulfilment for anyone who has ever been "stepped on, left out, picked on, or put down” carried forth by colourful characters completes the winning formula. Three sequels followed (Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise (1987), Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992) and Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds In Love (1994)), along with a pilot episode for a failed 1991 television series, and a cancelled remake in 2006.
Tasty Morsel – The majority of the film was shot at the University if Arizona, though it took some convincing after the college heads read the raunchy script.
- REAL GENIUS (1985)
If you’re looking to cast a movie nerd Valk Kilmer isn’t likely to be a name at the top of the list. But just a year away from playing cinema’s most testosterone fuelled jock in Top Gun (1986) Kilmer was cast as physics supermo Chris Knight in Martha Coolidge’s Real Genius (1985). When the CIA send their own college-aged spy to the fictional Pacific Tech in order to have Knight inadvertently build them a laser capable of assassinating the world’s undesirables it soon becomes apparent that whilst Knight is indeed a technical wizard he is also a classic college slacker. Knight then is the first cinematic nerd / jock hybrid, capable of nailing a three hour written exam whilst simultaneously crafting a bra and beer bomb for that extra special graduation ceremony. Coolidge’s movie works best when it plays with the screwball comedy of the traditional American college campus. The plot rather gets in the way when the heroes have to head to a US airbase in order to take back their laser weapon, but pranky antics return for the house demolition climax and the biggest mound of popcorn any cinema fan will ever see. The movie failed to get the dollars flowing in at the box office but some notably grumpy film critics were uncharacteristically impressed, including Roger Ebert who awarded it just half a star shy of top marks. In joining Revenge of the Nerds in breaking down the typical movie nerd stereotypes it earned every one of those stars.
Tasty Morsel – In 2009 television show Mythbusters tried to recreate the popcorn house busting finale. Alas, in reality destruction by kernel was not possible.
- THE MATRIX (1999)
No sooner had the Wachowski Brothers (or brother and sister as they now are, after Larry's sex change) smash hit lit up cinema screens, the nerds were throwing on their ankle length leather jackets and black sunglasses. High streets and shopping malls up and down the land were awash with Neo lookalikes. The fact that the weather called for sunglasses and no coat, or coat and no sunglasses mattered not. Their ensemble cried out "I have seen a cool movie, I dress like that movie; I am cool”; except they weren’t. They were hot, sweaty, and they smelt like a welder’s armpit. The film they chose to emulate was icy cool though. The Matrix not only kicked Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’s (1999) ass, but the collective ass of all cinema. It had action like we’d never seen before and a story plot that bent the mind inside out and back again. Never has a film combined astounding action with the complex theories of existentialism. Hollywood took notice and levelled the Wachowski’s with a huge wad of cash. "Bring us sequels, cash-ins and merchandise” they demanded. The follow up The Matrix Reloaded (2003) also had some great action sequences but was rumbled by the worst scene of exposition in movie history, "Ergo”. The third part of the supposed trilogy The Matrix Revolutions (2003) was a depressing turd of a film, hand cuffing all the best characters and ending the story, from what I can tell, by returning everyone to the same place they were in at the start of the first film. The tie-in video games, comic books, direct to dvd accompaniments, salt and pepper shakers, and Matrix bog-roll-holder had the distinct whiff of cash-cow. The Wachowskis should have left well alone, and so should you. Stick with the brilliant first part.
Tasty Morsel – As with Lord of the Rings, Nicholas Cage turned down the lead role (Neo) due to other commitments. Ewan McGregor also turned down the Neo role in order to work on the Star Wars prequels.
- THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001)
I have a friend that was particularly nonplussed by the long awaited live action Lord of the Rings films. "Why would I waste eighteen hours waiting for some short-ass to chuck a piece of jewellery down a hole?”. Bored of the Rings he called it; very droll. You might argue that he has a point. LOTR does meander a bit and a stout composition would be needed in order to watch the whole saga in one sitting (especially the extended editions). Long the journey may be but what an expedition. As jobs go director Peter Jackson had the most unenviable task in filmmaking history in 1999 when he set about bringing Tolkein’s masterwork to life. To start with how could anyone cram that much material into a standard length movie? And once a workable script had been crafted how would the myriad of locales and characters be created without a billion dollar budget. Rather than have to go through the process three times over Jackson shot all three LOTR movies back to back. The budget was stupendous but a large box-office take was almost guaranteed. Success wasn’t sure-fire though; good films still had to be made. Jackson blasted through the biggest hurdle by assembling one of the most perfect ensemble casts of all time. Considering the many parts that needed to be filled, not one character or creature was played by someone that was any less than perfect for the role. Jackson gathered players from every end of the profession, aging stage performers, A-list celebrity stars, unknown younglings, jobbing journeymen. When cobbled together they created one of the most watchable cast of characters ever assembled. While the visual splendour of Middle Earth catapulted the films to victory and acclaim it is the human element in the years since that have made them so eminently re-watchable.
Tasty Morsel – Famously Viggo Mortensen landed the career making Aragorn role at the last minute when actor Stuart Townsend was replaced by Jackson. Nicolas Cage had already turned down the role and Vin Diesel had unsuccessfully auditioned.
- SUPERBAD (2007)
With Shia LaBeouf abandoning the title of Champion Onscreen Nerd to go Megan Fox hunting, Hollywood needed a replacement performer to fill his amiable-geek shoes. Quietly putting in solid television work in Arrested Development Michael Cera nabbed the title by default thanks to the Greg Mottola directed Superbad (2007). The script flowed from the pen of comedy writers of the moment Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The long time buddies allegedly started writing the script when they were thirteen years old which if true goes some way to explaining the delightful streak of adolescent humour that runs through the movie. There’s a dark, politically incorrect, course sense of humour shared by all teenage boys and it’s really only nerds that hold on to it when adulthood approaches. But despite the crude facade there’s genius below the fart gags, which only makes the humour more appealing to nerds; they’re the only ones that really "get it”. And there was a lot to get in Superbad, the quotable dialogue and scenes ripe for re-enactment, the destined for cult status characters, the references to teen movies of years gone by. But for more universal acceptance Mottola softened the rough edges of male teen humour with a central trio of genuinely likeable friends, Cera being joined by Jonah Hill as Evan and Seth (named after Rogen and Goldberg). They are America’s answer to Pegg and Frost, two loveable fuck-ups you wish would catch a break but know will end up on the wrong end of a beer-bong bashing. The friendship between the two is written and performed so well it carries the weight of penis gags effortlessly. Throw in a delightful turn of events for the legendary McLovin’ and the world’s greatest two laidback coppers in the form of Bill Hader and Rogen himself and movie nerd-vana is secured.
Tasty Morsel – Seth Rogen’s father Mark can be seen as the baseball bat wielding Dad when Seth and Evan are running from the police through backyards. McLovin and great friendship between the lead two.
- SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010)
The current era of filmmakers are the first to have had childhoods that included a large amount of time sat with a joypad in their hands. The influences of days and nights spent on Street Fighter II and Doom are finally starting to shine through. As with any new electronic hobby, outsiders looked on with suspicion (remember the hullabaloo around home video tapes when they first became available in the early eighties?); computer games were no good, would rot your brain, and had the artistic merit of a shit filled bucket. But those of us that knew different are now wielding power in media and art circles. Gaming is still struggling to be fully accepted alongside music, movies and literature but at least those creating the more "traditional” forms of media know how important gaming is as the newest form of expressive enterprise. One of those carrying the torch is Edgar Wright. Following the success of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007) Wright found mainstream Hollywood hammering on his door. He was careful to pick his first Tinsel Town project. The script for the adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s offbeat graphic novel Scott Pilgrim seemed ideal. And it was, the resulting movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010) turning out to be one of the most original and exciting offerings of 2010. Michael Cera was perfectly cast in the title role, and Wright followed his Shaun / Fuzz predilection for squeezing in clever cameos in just about every on screen role. The story was suitably off the wall, with Pilgrim having to use his bass playing skills to defeat a stream of super powered ex-partners of his new squeeze, the quirky Ramona Flowers. Cue lots of computer game inspired smackdowns as high scores rack up on screen and "special moves” are launched to bring each rumble to a spectacular climax. The only misstep is the writing for Flowers herself and Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance; she’s so cold and aloof you can never work out why Pilgrim is going to so much trouble to win her over. Flowers never seems particularly impressed. It at least rings true to a nerds willingness to pursue a female, any female, to ludicrous ends no matter how shitty they’re treated in return. Whether it was this central relationship misfire that audiences didn’t like or whether it was just another one of those Hollywood mysteries, the box office failed to light up in quite the same way as Wright’s visually arresting work.
Tasty Morsel – Cera was already an accomplished bass player before filming began, but his onscreen bandmates also became proficient enough to perform the movie’s Sex Bob-omb songs for real and can be heard on the film’s soundtrack.