Thursday, 2 February 2017

Flubber

Today's movie poses something of a conundrum for me.
I mean, I have fond memories of it. All of my friends and co-workers love it too.
But, thinking back, I can't really say much about it that I genuinely liked.
In fact, there's quite a lot that I would outright loathe in any other movie.
Aka: Robin Williams mucks about: The movie.
So let's have a watch and try to work out why this particular film is so fondly remembered despite having just about every cliche in the book.
The opening credits involves lots of floating pseudo-equations, because how else would we know that this movie is about science?
"As long as it looks sciencey" - What this movie and recent make-up adverts have in common.
The movie proper begins with a newspaper being thrown onto someone's lawn (No flashback or narration? I must have died and gone to Heaven.) which has some not-so-subtle foreshadowing about a college being close to being shut down.
They cleverly avoid the common newspaper pitfall of nonsense articles by not showing any articles, just the headline.
The camera pans around the garden, showing us several devices that look like they came straight out of Scrapheap Challenge
Our main character wakes up in the morning by pressing the wrong button, which sends his bin flying into the air.
Exactly why he has a button on his bedside table that does this is never fully explained.
"How can we make our main character seem smart but forgetful?"
"Books. Books everywhere!"
This is our main character, Philip Brainard, as played by Robin Williams.
The joke is that his name can be shortened to Phil Brain, as in "Full Brain".
Brainard is woken by an offscreen voice, which the movie is hoping we will assume is the woman from the photo on his table.
In the kitchen a Rube Goldberg device is making his breakfast, and presumably draining all the electricity from the entire neighbourhood, especially since it uses a high-powered laser to open an egg.
Because lasers are cool, even if nobody in Hollwood actually knows how they work.
After he gets dressed Brainard sits down at the table, taking his perfectly-cooked breakfast from one of his robots.
Yeah, he has an R2-D2 style robot that serves as his maid, passing him food and tidying up after him. I compare it to R2 because it never talks, just makes weird noises.
Brainard does have a robot that talks, named Weebo, who is a miracle of science with a female voice, who serves as his personal assistant.
This thing.
It's important to remember that this movie was made in 1997, when mobile phones weren't very common, let alone smartphones. So having a mobile machine that could not only contain your schedule but also react to voice commands would have been revolutionary.
Not to mention the whole flying/sentient thing.
Weebo and Brainard discuss the news about the college, with Brainard revealing (To us at least) that he's working on a new energy source which could save the college.
Ok, it makes sense for Brainard to not think about selling any of his current technological breakthroughs, since he's meant to be the absent-minded professor.
But why doesn't anybody think of it?
Sure, it's stated that Weebo hid her blueprints so that she'd never get replaced, but surely if she cares about Brainard so much she'd be willing to share her hover designs? Just that alone would earn their college enough respect that it would start making enough money to survive.
Don't worry, you'll learn to hate Weebo in time.
Brainard asks Weebo about his schedule for the day and he starts umming and ahhing because he's certain that there was something happening after school.
Weebo insists that there's nothing important going on that day.
Other than his wedding to the woman he loves, his day's pretty open.
As an aside, did the college not give either of these two people a day off from work for their wedding?
Anyway, the long an short of it is that Weebo's exceptionally selfish, not wanting to share Brainard with anybody, so she intentionally 'Forgets' to remind him.
If you don't hate Weebo already, you should.
Meanwhile, at the college, the aforementioned Sara is taking a phone call about the college's finances.
I mean, I know the college is struggling, but this is ridiculous.
Sara and her friend discuss Brainard and Sara says "If he forgets this time, that's it."
Mini-spoiler warning, he's already forgotten to attend his own wedding twice.
But nobody at this college thinks that maybe he should see someone about his memory. My memory is pretty bad, but it's not that bad, and I've had times when I've been worried about my brain (I've been checked, I'm fine).
Elsewhere Brainard arrives at the college and enters a lecture hall, immediately spilling into a lecture about atomic particles, using the helpfully located nude people as examples.
Something about that sentence doesn't quite add up.
Well, as nude as a Disney movie will allow.
It's worth noting that Brainard's lecture is actually mostly incoherent rambling about Newton's Laws of Thermodynamics, gravity and E=MCsquared.
This is all setup to inform the audience about hos absent-minded Brainard is. It works relatively well, with Robin being a more than skilled enough actor to pull it off.
Later, during lunch, Brainard sits with Sara and her friend, who's name he forgets (It's Martha).
Judging by her reaction, this happens a lot.
After a bit of back-and-forth where Brainard mistakenly thinks that Martha's getting married, he finally remembers that he's getting married that day. It's especially egregious because their rehearsal was the previous day.
Why is nobody getting this poor man some medical help?
He clearly needs it.
Instead, Sara acts as though he's in the wrong for having a bad memory.
Meanwhile, the robot is watching sappy love movies. Nothing strange about that.
Gee, I wonder what Weebo's motivation throughout this movie will be?
Back at the college, Brainard is doing science.
It's not clear what science he's doing, but it's very definitely science.
Very science. Much smart. So genius.
While Brainard's doing whatever it is he's doing, the villain from Superhero Movie walks in and has a nice little chat.
There's no way he'll be an evil villain in this movie too, right?
This gentleman is Wilson, a rival professor from another college.
He's here to gloat about the college being shut down. And also steal Brainard's fiancee in order to make her his wife.
He's not even subtle about that last one. He literally states it outright.
He may be a thief and a crook, but at least he's honest.
When he gets home Brainard confronts Weebo about his wedding not being on her schedule, but since he's a gullible sap he assumes she has a virus, so he checks.
This is just plain dumb.
I feel as though I may have lost some IQ points from how stupid that joke was.
However, the thought of temperature provides him with a breakthrough.
It may have been around this point that people in marketing departments across the globe realised that the masses don't really understand science, but will accept anything on screen if it looks sciencey enough.
Brainard gets distracted from his wedding preparations and runs into his basement to work, leaving Sara alone at the altar again.
To be fair, his tux was ruined anyway.
My question is, if he's accidentally stood her up twice already, why didn't she simply send someone to his house to pick him up? Heck, she even mentioned that she went big in order to help him remember, did the idea of sending a limo driver to pick him up just never occur to her?
Jeez, this woman deserves to be single.
I have no sympathy for this idiot.
It's not all bad news though, back at the house Brainard discovers that his experiment was a success. He has invented a new substance.
Orc spunk?
This substance is called Flubber, which is a semi-sentient mass of goop.
It behaves like an inquisitive pet, but its' residue can be used to break the laws of physics.
And just like all great scientists, his first thought upon discovering a new substance is to stick his nose in it.
It breaks physics in a multitude of ways, but the main one is the conservation of energy. Normally, when an object flies through the air and strikes something, it loses energy in several different ways. Some energy is lost via friction with the air, some is lost as sound when it strikes, most is lost as vibrations in whatever was struck. And all the while, the momentum of the object is fighting gravity, eventually causing the object to fall towards the ground.
Not true with Flubber.
Flubber actually gains energy when it strikes something.
Also, it doesn't like flash photography.
Flubber goes berserk and trashes the neighbourhood, injuring multiple people and traumatising a small child, before perving at a woman's bum.
This is a Disney movie.
Brainard manages to get Flubber under control(Ish) but gets knocked unconscious.
Meanwhile, at the church where he was meant to be getting married, Wilson takes the opportunity to hit on Sara.
He's after that sweet, sweet rebound sex.
The next day Brainard has rebuilt his experiment, this time with much better safety features.
Using materials he just happened to have lying around.
Just how much does this guy get paid?
He manages to build not only a radioactive isotope container in his basement, but successfully synthesises a radioactive isotope in order to regulate how much energy is directed at the flubber.
It's entirely possible that the college is only in trouble because of how much they pay this guy.
Either that, or he's been embezzling from them for years and his absent-mindedness is an act to throw everyone off the trail.
Or he's an alien.
In the middle of the experiment Brainard's watch alarm goes off, telling him that it's 6:30. This reminds him that he's getting married, but Weebo breaks the news to him that he's been working all night and it's actually 6:30 AM.
Brainard goes to the college (Where Sara is working on finances on a Saturday) and attempts to apologise.
It goes well.
Obviously Sara doesn't literally throw Brainard out of the window. He's actually attempting to show off the Flubber and just what it can do, but Sara's too angry about the wedding fiasco that she completely ignores it.
Because sentient green goop that reacts to human touch by forming a head and purring is not the kind of thing you care about when you're desperately trying to find a solution to your college's lack of money.
Sara is an idiot.
Brainard survives the fall, despite the Flubber randomly tearing itself out of his back pocket.
Thank the Gods that the grass was there, or else that three-story fall might have hurt him.
Sara, of course, just yells at him and slams the window.
Elsewhere, we get introduced to the main antagonists of the movie.
Yeah, Wilson's mostly a personal nuisance, the actual villains are a mafia-style group led by Hoenicker, whom you may recognise from the newspaper right at the start of the film.
His son has been kicked off the basketball team because he failed chemistry, due to the chemistry lecturer not being willing to take bribes.
And who is the chemistry lecturer? Brainard of course.
Even though the lecture we saw him almost give earlier would actually come under physics, not chemistry.
I'm guessing the writing staff didn't take science when they went to college.
Hoenicker promises his son that he'll get the situation sorted out, which pleases the son, but not the two goons who're going to be tasked with the legwork.
Best thing about this scene though? The actor who plays Junior.
WHEATOOOOOOON!
This came right after Star Trek: The Next Generation finished, so Whil Wheaton was doing his best to distance himself from his Westley Crusher persona.
After all, the best way to get people to forget about your role as an irritating, whiny, spoiled brat teenager is to play an even more irritating, whiny, spoiled brat teenager.
Seems legit.
The two goons, delightfully named Smith and Wesson (There's a joke that went right over my 12-tear-old English head) attempt to explain that Brainard either didn't understand their persuasion tactics, or just plain forgot.
The guy on the left's thinking about how ironic it is that Wheaton's flunking chemistry.
The guy on the right's just thinking about lunch.
And so, the two goons sneak onto Brainard's property and try to find something they can use as leverage against him.
Unfortunately for them, they do so just as Brainard's applying a thin Flubber solution to a golf ball and checking how it bounces.
You can see this coming a mile off.
The goons however, didn't see it coming.
One of the goons gets smacked right in the middle of the forehead by the ball, which goes sailing into the sky.
Brainard doesn't worry about it though and instead decides to continue with his testing, upgrading from a golf ball to a bowling ball.
Welp, he's dead.
They both somehow survive their injuries, though they do have massive welts where they got struck.
Due to the laws of wacky comedic slapstick, they get struck several more times before deciding to give up and go home.
This guy really should be dead.
After he's done with his experiments he builds a new engine for his car (Because apparently he's not just a chemistry/physics lecturer but also an engineer), which allows it to fly.
Because sure, why not. Everybody loves the concept of owning a flying car, even if it does come at the expense of using radioactive isotopes as the main power source.
Specifically, Gamma radiation.
So one crash and we'll have a few new Hulks running around the place.
Flying cars and unstoppable green rage monsters? Count me in.
Something of note though. This flying car seems rather similar for some reason. Let's get a better look at it.
I like it. It's a red convertible.
I don't know much about cars, but I can't help but shake the feeling that I've seen another car that was very similar to it.
No idea where though.
What is it with people wanting their flying cars to be red convertibles?
Technically it's not the car that flies, but the giant robot it's attached too. Same principle.
Brainard flies his car to Sara's house, because he's excited about it and his first thought is to show it to the woman he loves.
Which is quite sweet.
Sadly though, he arrives just as Wilson is putting the moves on her, which upsets him quite a lot.
Dude, she's been single for literally one day.
Sara doesn't respond as readily as Wilson had hoped she would, but he rather politely accepts that she needs time.
She does offer to buy him dinner on Thursday though, since she'll be in Rutland (Where his college is located), but only as a celebration for her team winning.
He accepts this, but ups the ante, deciding that if her team loses then he'll take her on a weekend vacation.
Seems like a win-win situation if you ask me.
Except for Brainard, who's already proven that he can cope perfectly fine without her anyway.
I'd advise him to forget about her, but...
Meanwhile, the two goons are telling Hoenicker about the Flubber, or what they saw of it.
I'm amazed they don't have memory problems at this point.
That night, as Brainard goes to bed despondent, Weebo gets all creepy and creates a hologram of what she imagines she'd look like as a human.
Then holo-molests him while he sleeps.
This is a Disney film.
Y'know, for kids.
Brainard wakes up, but is too distracted by an idea he's had to even notice that Weebo was there.
Because, in addition to being absent-minded, he's completely oblivious to the entire world around him.
But what's his big idea? The one that will solve all of his problems?
Use Flubber to help his team win the basketball game.
By cheating.
Yeah, this doesn't look suspicious at all.
Brainard applied liquid Flubber to some tacks which he put in their shoes (Which they somehow didn't notice) and, during one of the breaks, sneakily applied some to their hands as well.
The officials somehow don't suspend the game, despite the obvious cheating.
Because they're the good guys, and it's not cheating if the good guys do it.
And yes, that is lawyer Ted from Scrubs standing next to the blue team there. He's apparently their coach, serving to underscore just how pathetically outmatched the team is.
Because it's not enough that the Medfield Squirrels be a bunch of stereotypical nerds facing off against a team with a stated 108-match victory streak, but they also need to have Ted as their motivator.
This looks like the kind of college basketball team that would need Whil Wheaton to have a chance.
By far the best part of this sequence is when Brainard sits directly behind Wilson though.
With an air horn.
It's the simple things in life.
Oh, and while all of this happens, Weebo lets out the Flubber, which randomly decides to have a dance party.
This doesn't serve the plot, nor is it funny, but it does pad the runtime and gives Danny Elfman a chance to write a Mambo.
This becomes a lot less impressive when you realise that the cameraman had to point a camera at an empty room for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, back at the totally legitimate basketball game.
The Medfield Squirrels manage to win by 1 point in the last few seconds, causing everybody to go wild.
Including Sara, who absent-mindedly hugs Brainard.
Hoenicker was also at the game and is confused by what just happened (The win, not the hug) and his goons try to convince him that it was Flubber, but it's not until he sees Brainard's flying as they drive home that he actually begins to believe it.
His son is still skeptical.
Once he's home Brainard has a heart-to-circuit with Weebo, where he expresses sadness at his lack of understanding of human emotions.
He even posits the hypothesis that he's absent-minded because of his love for Sara.
In my opinion, it's far more likely that he's absent-minded due to a tumour growing in his brain.
After all, lots of people fall in love and don't become absent-minded enough to forget their own wedding.
Three times.
Baymax would have taken him to a hospital already. Weebo is a failure as a personal assistant.
His little talk to Weebo does get her to realise how selfish she's been, so she flies off to see Sara and attempt to put things right.
She manages to get Sara to watch a video of Brainard's confession about loving Sara, which is enough to get her to completely forgive him.
She then sneaks into his house in the middle of the night and wakes him up.
They then presumably have some amazing makeup sex.
After showing Sara the car, which she is rightfully impressed by, they get surprised by Hoenicker and his goons.
Hoenicker offers to buy the technology then and there, but Brainard refuses.
But I don't understand why.
I mean, we know that Hoenicker is a bad guy, since he wanted to blackmail Brainard into giving his son better grades, but Brainard doesn't now that.
Heck, he and Sara just agreed to sell the technology to a car manufacturer so that they could raise enough money to save the college. And here's a guy offering them everything they could want, in exchange for them doing exactly what they were already planning to do.
Is stupidity an STD?
Oh, and the laws of slapstick dictate that the two goons get hit on the head with the balls, which are apparently still bouncing.
The next day, Brainard and Sara decide to visit a car manufacturer and sell the technology.
Their proposal was unorthodox, but convincing.
That night, the goons return to the house, intent on stealing the technology.
They are discovered and opposed by Weebo but the goons find a weakness in her design.
Violence.
When Brainard and Sara return, they discover that the house has been smashed apart.
They find out that the Flubber was taken, but are more concerned with Weebo and her dying words.
"Weebos Vista has encountered a critical error."
Her last word is STORK, which turns out to be the password for a file on his computer.
This file contains a heartfelt confession and her missing blueprints, which she's adapted since she doesn't want to just be replaced.
This scene is corny and sappy, but I'll be darned if Robin didn't somehow manage to make it work.
After this heartfelt scene, Brainard and Sara fly to Hoenicker's house in order to settle everything once and for all.
Brainard offers to tell Hoenicker everything about the Flubber, including how to make more, but Hoenicker decides to haggle. He wants exclusive rights to anything Brainard invents for the next two years, in addition to the secrets of the Flubber.
Which is not as fair as the previous offer, but since he owns all of the cards he can afford to negotiate.
Also, this is how it actually works in the real world. Engineers work for a company, which gets the rights to their inventions, in return for a steady wage and (Depending on the company) a small percentage of the profits made from those inventions. Plus the prestige of having their names attached to the invention. This ensures that they have the income necessary to focus on their first few breakthroughs.
But this is a Disney film, and the bad guys can't be allowed to have what they want, even if it also gives the good guys want they want.
Oh, and guess who's working with Hoenicker.
Because it's easier for the bad guys to get their comeuppance if they all work together, even if they've never shared a nanosecond of screentime.
Wilson mentions how unstable the Flubber is, so Brainard offers to show him how to handle it. He pulls some hand cream out of his pocket, which he says acts as a separating agent.
Considering that the two goons were there when Brainard mixed Flubber with hand cream earlier, they really should be more suspicious.
Then again, they did get hit on the head by heavy objects immediately afterwards, so maybe they did get brain damage after all?
He's wearing a plaster, so he did get some treatment, but it's not clear just how much.
Whilst they approached the library Brainard used a remote control to surreptitiously manoeuvre his car outside the window, which nobody noticed.
Just as he removes the Flubber from the container, he turns on the car's lights, infusing Flubber with a lot of energy.
And it reacts in the same manner as earlier.
With Flubber's help, they beat up everybody. They use tacks on their shoes to jump high and pull off some other bouncy shenanigans, teaching children everywhere that if you don't like a deal put in front of you, just use violence to get your own way.
Sara was wearing high heels. We never see this guy in the movie again. He is straight up dead.
Eventually only Wilson is left standing, but the Flubber flies straight into his mouth.
Then, after a few moments, it flies out of his other end.
Meaning the fight ended with a poop joke.
I'm not sure what's worse. This, or the crotch-mounted-bomb from Superhero Movie?
I'm trying to imagine how the script described this scene. And the actor's response to reading it.
His career must not have been on a high note when he agreed to it.
And so, the heroes walk away, apparently immune to any legal ramifications of their assault of the incredibly rich man and his family.
During the epilogue they finally get married, although this time Sara was content to do so by video-call via Weebette, because she finally realised that getting him out of his lab would be utterly impossible.
Of course, they could have just held the wedding at his house. That's a thing they could have done.
This movie was, in hindsight, not that great.
The plot was cliche and predictable. The heroes turned down peaceful solutions to their problems for no reason. Heck, the heroes caused most of their own problems.
And it all hinged on people not getting Brainard the medical help he so desperately needed.

But what saves this movie is Robin Williams. His comedic timing is as excellent as ever and this may be the first movie to really test his ability to act serious. Weebo's death wouldn't have registered if it weren't for just how broken he looked by it.
Not to overlook Christopher McDonald though, the actor who played Wilson. That man knows how to play a villain.

Next week, Brendan Fraser wears a loincloth and swings about a forest a lot.
George of the Jungle.

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