A Visit to ‘Innerspace’ With Joe Dante

DanteFilmmaker Joe Dante has seen some of his work reach new heights of popularity well after the conclusion of their theatrical runs. His “The ‘Burbs,” Tom Hanks starrer, for example, “didn’t set the world on fire when it was new,” he says — though the black comedy involving very bad neighbors and a lot of paranoia debuted at No. 1 at the box office. However, he goes on, as a home video release, “it’s become this beloved classic. It’s all because people watch these films through the years and talk about them and these communities of sorts spring up around them and that’s very rewarding.”

Now it’s time for another crazy Dante comedy to find a new audience and be seen again by old fans with the Blu-ray release of “Innerspace.” The 1987 feature had Dennis Quaid as a pilot whose secret mission involves being shrunken down to microscopic size and injected into a rabbit — except he gets into the blood of grocery store clerk Martin Short by mistake instead.

“It looks great on Blu-ray,” Dante finds. “I think comedies are always best seen in theaters with an audience, but this film proven resilient, largely because of home video. That’s true of many pictures of the ’80s that would have kind of been more or less forgotten, if only their theatrical reputations followed them. But home video has gotten them to successive generations.”

“Innerspace” was “one of the only movies I had ever done that hadn’t come out on Blu-Ray, and now it is,” notes the director whose list of comedy-fantasy-fright film fare includes ‘Piranha” and “Gremlins.” Looking back at “Innerspace,” he says, “It was a movie that was a lot of fun to make — one of the best experiences I’ve had.”

The initial pitch for “Innerspace” went like this, Dante recalls: “What if you shrunk Dean Martin down and injected him inside Jerry Lewis — and with that as the concept in mind, the most Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis guys at the time were Dennis and Marty. Dennis had done ‘The Right Stuff,” which made him perfect for it. Marty had been a tremendous success, first on Canadian television and then on U.S. television on ‘SCTV,’ with a particular brand of humor that was very popular at the time, and he was getting movie offers. Usually actors like that don’t get lead offers, but this was the lead and this was, I think, a good career step for him.”

The effects by Industrial Light & Magic were convincing enough not only to win an Oscar, but to make the late film critic Roger Ebert believe that Dante and company had used actual medical film. “I had to send him a little rubber platelet in the mail to show him that all that stuff flying around was actually little rubber things flying into the camera,” he says.

Yes, this was before computer generated imagery, and the ILM guys made “actual miniatures constructed and shot with cameras.”

The down-to-earth, articulate filmmaker is ware that movies mixing comedy with complex fantasy and science fiction — the kinds of films that upon which his considerable reputation rests — “are now in short supply.

Everything is so expensive. Special effects are usually relegated to a 30-minute segment in the middle of Act III in which millions die, or people fight on girders suspended from helicopters. It’s all about spectacle now. The kinds of movies I used to do are I used to do are made for cable — or they’re just not made at all,” says Dante, who most recently has been occupied at the helm of TV’s “Hawaii Five-O.” “So TV is the natural outlet for people who want to buy cat food and pay the bills.”

Although he enjoys the series, the rigid structure of TV drama, with its set character arcs and time limitations, isn’t the creative playground he knew and loved in the past. Then, studio development executives gave filmmakers money and “you knew the movie was going to get made.” Nowadays, everyone is in a scramble to find their own financing, and “it’s very difficult,” admits Dante, who has a number of projects in the works.

“You have to have different irons in the fire,” he notes. “Everybody in town is juggling more than one movie. You have to, because if you meet with a financier and he says, ‘Well, this project isn’t really for us,’ you have to be able to pull out a couple more because you don’t want to waste the opportunity.”

Financiers also tend to fancy remakes, because “with so much money on the line, it seems safer to go with something that’s already been successful,” he points out.

Indeed, “They’ve already remade a number of pictures of mine and they talk about remaking others,” he notes. “The trouble with remakes — and I have no problem with them because some of our favorite movies were remakes; ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Maltese Falcon’ were remakes — there’s nothing wrong with remakes, but they sometimes don’t take into account that the original was part of its time. Sometimes these stories don’t push forward into the future into any sense. Someone controlling the purse strings thinks ‘This will be new to kids.’ But for every remake that works, there are two that don’t, and sometimes it’s not the execution. It’s the concept.”

What would Dante think of a remake of “Innerspace”?

He laughs. “When ‘Innerspace’ came out, people said it was a remake of ‘Fantastic Voyage.’ I don’t know, personality-wise, who would fit as well into those parts.”

Dante candidly admits, “I did ‘Innerspace’ partly because I thought it would be a commercial movie and I had just come off a movie that was a critical and commercial disaster (the Ethan Hawke-River Phoenix “Explorers,” which developed a following on home video) and I figured, ‘I’ve got to get back into the mainsteam. So I started off ‘Innerspace’ thinking it was a commercial movie, and then I kept adding all these crazy ideas into it, so that by the end of the picture, it was another Joe Dante movie. I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to be true to myself. I can’t make someone else’s movie.”

For which fans are grateful indeed.

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Remakes, Breakups and Bad Blood Highlight News Out of Summer Press Tour 2015

The broadcast and cable networks and Internet streaming outlets have wrapped up the 17-day promote-athon known as the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. Many shows were touted by many creators and stars in many panels and parties — so many, it was easy to get lost in the swirl of it all. So here’s a blitz recap of 10 of this year’s top news bites.

Lee Daniels says it’s inevitable, “without question,” that his massive hit “Empire” yields a spinoff. That spinoff will be a prequel that delves into the life of everybody’s favorite flamboyant Cookie, Taraji P. Henson’s one-of-a-kind matriarch character. No word on when the new series will come along, but “Empire” returns Sept. 23.

Jimmy Fallon has signed on to keep doing “The Tonight Show” into September of 2021.

Donald Trump has definitely been fired from hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.” NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt told critics the show will be back in 2016 with a new host, someone who must be big and make a lot of noise.

Maybe there will be a “Downton Abbey” movie. Executive Producer Gareth Neame says there’s been talk of a film and it just might happen, though there is no script or projected start date. Putting money on this one doesn’t seem like a good idea. Nevertheless, it takes a teensy bit of the sting out of the forthcoming farewell at the end of season six (which begins airing on PBS Jan. 3).

THE MUPPETS - The Muppets are back in prime time like you've never seen them before. Romance! Breakups! Success! Failure! Muppets are opening the doors to their homes and offices in this fresh documentary style series that explores these beloved characters as they live their lives in Hollywood. This real-world Muppet series will have something for kids of all ages. (ABC/Andrea McCallin ) DENISE, MISS PIGGY, JANICE

Denise, Miss Piggy, Janice “The Muppets” (ABC/Andrea McCallin )

Kermit and Miss Piggy broke up and he’s purportedly dating a pig named Denise in the ABC marketing department. Well, we all know how celebrities gin up their feuds to create interest in their new movies and shows. Would anyone be surprised if the showbiz savvy Piggy was behind this tactic to bring attention to their new “The Muppets” coming up on ABC Sept. 22. Co-created by Bill Prady (protege of Jim Henson who went on to create shows including “The Big Bang Theory) and Bob Kushell, the new “Muppets” looks like a good prospect for another TV hit.

Louis K.C. is going to take an extended hiatus after season five of his award-winning FX show. He wants to focus on other things and there is no telling when he’ll resume.

FX Chieftain John Landgraf believes that with all the outlets scrambling to put on more and more — and more — shows, we’ve reached a point of “Simply Too Much Television,” so expect a dropoff. But Showtime President David Nevins contends “There may be too much good TV. There’s never enough great TV. We’re trying really hard to make great TV.” So there.

There’s certainly a lot of retread TV. For example, Showtime has a “Twin Peaks” revival going into production next month for a 2016 debut. In addition to “The Muppets,” there’s “Heroes: Reborn” launching Sept. 24. Come midseason, we’ll see the return of Craig T. Nelson as “Coach.” “Prison Break” will return to Fox next year. Everyone involved wants to do a “Law & Order” revival, if the timing can be worked out, according to super producer Dick Wolf. And NBC’s Greenblatt raised the frightening prospect of a new “Alf.”

Wolf also disclosed plans for crossovers between his series, including a “jumbo” four-way crossover, with a story shared by “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire,” the new “Chicago Med” and “Law & Order: SVU.” That will be in February. In time for sweeps, of course.

Britney Spears will be on the CW’s “Jane the Virgin.” “The Muppets” guests will include Imagine Dragons and Nathan Fillion. But no show is a match for “Empire” when it comes to featuring famous names. This coming season, the show’s Who’s Who includes Pitbull, Chris Rock, Alicia Keys, Al Sharpton and Lenny Kravitz.

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Alyson Stoner Talks ‘Sugar Babies’ and More

alyson stonerTo look at Alyson Stoner’s resume, you’d never think she was just 21. The actress-on-the-rise has credits aplenty for someone years older than she — the “Step Up” film franchise, “Cheaper by the Dozen” and the “Camp Rock” movies, her years on the Disney Channel’s “Suite Life of Zack & Cody,” plus her dance career working with names including Missy Elliot and Will Smith, her recording career and more. Come Aug. 15, Stoner will be seen starring in Lifetime’s “Sugar Babies,” a movie inspired by the burgeoning numbers of young women tapping into college funding by offering “companionship” to wealthy men. She also performed the title song. The telefilm underscores the fact the well-spoken actress is all grown up now.

Q: Had you heard of anyone being a sugar baby before you got involved with the project?

A: A friend had just been approached about a month prior to my reading the script and that’s how I was introduced to the idea. My friend ended up declining the offer of companionship, but the offer was pretty deep and pretty favorable. She’s just over 21 and she’s a hungry artist, so she was an easy person to solicit — a beautiful young woman. Actually, that was the reason I was so curious, having had this just happen to my friend.

Q: This concept blew me away, being the mother of a young woman myself.

A: I think it will open up a lot of conversations. This is a hot topic already circulating widely. What I love about the approach of the movie is that we’re opening a dialogue, but we’re not determining for anyone is the what is right or wrong stance or attitude. Some people use a relationship like this all platonically, some with a certain stringent sort of clinical, cut and dried attitude. Each one is so unique and so individual.

Q: Did you like the way your character was developed?

A: There were very few changes to the story, so when I had an issue with anything in the script I had to take the responsibility to reinterpret how I positioned myself in a scene and what direction I chose as an actor. It might not be a change in dialogue but a change in inflection and connotation.

Q: Can you think of an example of that?

A: On paper, Lifetime dramas can be pretty melodramatic and I wanted to keep the performance grounded in reality. I think of the part where we’re in the car and he’s giving me gifts. When you read it on paper, there appeared to be a neediness and an insecurity and giddiness, and those were valid emotions. I wanted to remind the audience that she does think for herself, she does have a moral compass to begin with. There are things I chose in order to portray a strong woman as opposed to a weak target, in order to show that she wasn’t totally victimized but a conscious participant. That’s where it gets really messy — when you start to justify within your own value system, deciding what you want for yourself and what you’ll do to get there. I wanted to create a little more tension and depth.

Q: You character seemed to be thinking a lot in that scene. I was seeing conflicting emotions on your face. There was a lot going on between the lines.

A: We were shooting at night and wearing thin, so it was helpful emotionally. It’s such an intersection of thoughts in a situation like that one. You’re mixing love and money, artificial partnership with genuine affection. You’re wondering where you stand in the hierarchy of his other women and it’s so confusing. Then you add the conflict of actually needing these men, developing a dependence on them. It’s so prevalent. If it’s a business deal, let it be a business deal. But when hearts get involved it gets very complicated. It built so much compassion for women who get caught up and don’t realize it until it’s too late. Some women are very naive and others are very aware. It’s so individual and it plays on so many levels.

Q: What did your friend who was approached think of all this?

A: My friend was not familiar with this world. When she was approached it was very, very innocent and casual. The intrigue was, it turned out to be very alluring to her. She ended up saying no because of personal circumstances. But if things had been different she might have leaned toward getting that support. I think it’s like a drug in that it’s a quick fix. It’s instant gratification for attention, excitement, adventure, an escape from your own reality. I had a talk with her about this film, and told her after having done it I had a lot of appreciation for the attraction of it.

Q: How did you get along with Giles Panton, who played your sugar daddy?

A: The day we met was the day we filmed our first kiss and full make-out scene.

Q: Of course! That seems to be the way it happens a lot in movie shooting.

A: It caught us, we were performing, but it had that kind of lustful energy behind it. We felt the tug right away and it shaped our scenes together beautifully because there was a genuine connection.

Q: You’re so busy with other acting work, your charity work in Ethiopia, your recording. How did this fit in your schedule?

A: We shot this film in 13 days, 16-18 hour days. The crew was there even longer. It was an absurd schedule, but the intensity and pace mirrored the scenes so it kind of tied into the drama. You carve time.

Q: You have the feature film “Summer Forever” rolling out this month.

A: Yes. The last six films I’ve done have been smaller and it’s been exciting to be involved in the roll-out campaigns, going out to the actual demographic and getting feedback, engaging people on social media platforms — you feel like a true team player rather than just going out and being part of where a studio is spending its ad dollars. I think being a hybrid or a multi-hyphenate is becoming commonplace, even mandatory.

Q: What would you like to be doing next?

A: Having done several movies and a series and some animated shows, the most challenging thing would be to break through as a music artist, to really be able to pour my heart and soul into music.

Q: To that end, you’re now at work on a new album. How is it going?

A: We’re very excited, hoping that it crosses a lot of generations and cultures. We’re going for a global classic pop sound like a Janet Jackson or female Justin Timberlake.

Q: Do you have an eta on that?

A: My estimate is probably fall this year.

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