Monday, March 4, 2013

Cinenigmas: Peter Hyams

Peter Hyams has been around a long time.  I've been familiar with his name forever.....

Let me preface this by telling you that my thought process has, from youth, been that of a cinephile...names, particularly directors and producers as well as actors are never truly eradicated from my mind.  The same can be said with the monikers of baseball and football players absorbed from hours of game-watching and bubble gum card stacking, as well as music credits inhaled from much platter listening and album liner note reading...

So since childhood, the name of Peter Hyams has been rattling around in my skull due to the pre-cable pay channel (Spectrum was the outfit) viewing of a Sean Connery flick I barely remember called "Outland".  Forgive my memory, I was 9, but the name stuck, if the film didn't. So "Hyams"  always sparked something of an interest from a very young age.

And like Forrest Gump, AC/DC, and boy bands, he never goes away.

He is a director of some talent. He shoots films beautifully, (he's his own director of photography, not many save for Robert Rodriguez can say that) gets solid performances out of actors, tells a story well, and builds great action and suspense scenes....and damn, if he hasn't put together some snappy fight sequences. "TimeCop" and the Hong Kong theatrics of "The Musketeer" are prove positive of that.  (Now, "Sudden Death" has a battle royale in a kitchen between Jean Claude Van Damme and a giant Pittsburgh Penguin with some dead serious John Debney music behind it, that I hope was going for chuckles, because I don't want to associate Peter Hyams with unintentional laughter.)

Now, the reason for all this Peter Hyams related Hem & Haw is that I looked him back up recently after my wife and I were watching a second hand copy of his film "The Relic", which I had no clue he directed.  Damn my eyes.  My lovely inomorata and I enjoyed the hell out of "The Relic", that underrated little sci-fi/horror opus.  Surely, underrated is a word that can be tacked onto Mr. Hyams himself. His films are always better than critics give them credit for. They seem to fit neatly into the category of movies that are often only appreciated a few years after the fact. Now, unfortunate lackluster box office numbers may have something to do with the lack of familiarity of many of his movies, but he has had his share of successes. You don't direct for 30 plus  years in Hollywood if you pile one failure on top of the other.

He's had hits.  "Telefon", "Capricorn One", "2010", "Running Scared", "The Presidio", and "Narrow Margin", working with legends like Bronson, Connery (twice), Billy Crystal, Gene Hackman, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and of course, um, er....James Brolin and Jean Claude Van Damme.

His films look great. They really do, and he surprises, because he can't be genre pinned. He seems as comfortable with sci-fi (TimeCop, 2010, Outland) as he is with action (End of Days, Telefon, The Musketeer, Sudden Death), and even drama (Hanover Street, Narrow Margin, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt). That sets him apart into a class with folks like Rob Reiner, whom I adore,  and John Landis, whom I still can't figure out. You thought I was gonna say Spielberg, didn't you?  Let's not get nuts here.

 As he's approaching his 70th birthday, he's still busy spinning about. Although his second partnering with Michael Douglas, "Reasonable Doubt" failed, he soldiers on. He moonlights as cinematographer on his son John's films, and he has his third pairing with Van Damme coming soon, "Enemies Closer" with Tom Everett Scott and Orlando Jones. Before you ballyhoo that, take a look at Van Damme's recent's not totally embarrassing fare the likes of Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, or (snicker, giggle) Steven Seagal. Unlike those 3, there's respectable material there.

Don't think Peter Hyams done just yet. No, he's never had that mega-box office smash, but his films aren't outright failures either, are memorable, and seem to age well for the most part.  Yes, underrated, as well as eclectic, is probably a good word to use for the New York born man of many tastes, as he's a gifted musician, a painter with works on display, and a former documentarian that has spent time as a CBS news anchor.

With a resume like that, I think the last thing to do is count Peter Hyams out. 

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