Mighty Joe Young (1998 film)
|Mighty Joe Young|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ron Underwood|
|Produced by||Ted Hartley|
|Screenplay by||Mark Rosenthal|
|Based on||Mighty Joe Young|
by Merian C. Cooper
|Music by||James Horner|
|Edited by||Paul Hirsch|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Box office||$50.6 million (US)|
Mighty Joe Young is a 1998 American adventure film based on the 1949 film of the same name about a giant mountain gorilla brought to a wildlife preserve in Los Angeles by a young woman who raised him, and a zoologist, to protect him from the threat of poachers until one seeks Joe out in order to take his revenge. It was directed by Ron Underwood and stars Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, and creature suit actor John Alexander as the title character. In this version, the ape is much larger than in the original. The film grossed $50.6 million in the United States against a production budget of $90 million.
As a child, Jill Young (Charlize Theron) witnesses the death of her mother, primatologist Ruth Young (Linda Purl), and the mother of Joe, an infant mountain gorilla, at the hands of poachers led by Andrei Strasser (Rade Šerbedžija), who loses his right thumb and trigger finger to Joe, swearing revenge.
Twelve years later, Jill has raised Joe, now grown to a height of 15 feet (4.6 m) and weighing 2,000 pounds (910 kg). As a result, other gorillas will not accept him and they are both now living in relative peace until a wildlife refuge director, Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton), convinces Jill that they would be safer from poachers if they relocated to the United States.
The trio goes to Los Angeles, and win the hearts of the refuge staff at the conservancy, who put Jill in charge of Joe. Jill meets Strasser, who now runs a fraudulent animal preserve in Botswana, while secretly selling animal organs on the black market, and is eager for revenge after seeing Joe featured on a news report. At first, Jill does not recognize him, since his right hand is concealed in his coat pocket. Strasser attempts to convince Jill that Joe would be better off in his wildlife refuge back in Africa. During a gala, Strasser's henchman Garth (Peter Firth) uses a poacher's noisemaker to scare Joe into a frenzy. Joe trashes the gala, with the intention of attacking Strasser, but is captured, and imprisoned in a concrete bunker.
When Jill discovers that Joe may be euthanized, she accepts Strasser's offer. She and the refuge staff smuggle Joe out in a truck. Before their departure, Gregg, who has fallen in love with Jill, kisses her goodbye. On the way to the airport, Jill notices the half-glove covering Strasser's missing fingers and recognizes him. She fights Strasser and Garth, then jumps from the truck onto Hollywood Boulevard, leading to several automobile accidents. Joe sees her and tilts the truck over onto its side and flees, rampaging through the Hollywood city and being chased by helicopters, before arriving at the Santa Monica Pier carnival.
Gregg too discovers that Strasser is a poacher and goes after Jill and Joe. He finds Jill, who reveals to Gregg that Strasser killed her mother and now intends to kill Joe. They track Joe to the carnival where he is playfully wreaking havoc. Strasser arrives as well and attempts to shoot Jill, determined to not let her reveal that he is a poacher, but Garth, appalled at Strasser's ruthlessness, turns against him and saves Jill, causing Strasser to misfire at a spotlight, starting a fire and causing the Ferris wheel to break down. After knocking Garth unconscious, Strasser attempts to kill Jill, but Joe sneaks up behind them and throws Strasser onto a power line over a transformer. Short two fingers on the hand holding the wire, Strasser loses his grip and falls onto the transformer, where he is electrocuted to death. Later, Joe attempts to save a child from atop the burning Ferris wheel, but the fire burns it down and Joe and the child fall to the ground, where Joe jumps off of the burning wheel, protecting the boy and knocking himself unconscious. Joe survives the fall and awakens, and Jill mentions that they need to raise money to open a reserve for him. The young boy named Jason donates some change to Jill after hearing this, prompting nearby civilians to contribute.
Joe is returned to Uganda where Jill and Gregg open the "Joe Young Reserve". Finally free, Joe runs off into the jungle.
- Bill Paxton as Professor Gregory "Gregg" O'Hara, a zoologist who finds Joe in the wild and develops a relationship with Jill.
- Charlize Theron as Jill Young, a young woman who is Joe's best friend and protecter after they were both orphaned by the same poacher.
- John Alexander as Mighty Joe Young, a mountain gorilla who due to a rare form of gigantism is 15 feet tall and 2,000 pounds and is the sacred guardian of the mountain. He is Jill's best friend since they were orphaned by the same poacher. Joe was designed and created by special makeup effects legend Rick Baker.
- Verne Troyer as Baby Joe Young
- Mighty Joe Young puppeteers, Mark Setrakian, Mike Elizalde, Jurgen Heimann, Steven Sherman
- Rade Šerbedžija as Andrei Strasser, a Romanian poacher who is seeking retribution on Joe after he bit off his thumb and index finger when he was an infant. He is also the poacher who murdered both Jill's and Joe's mothers.
- Regina King as Cecily Banks, a zoologist and Gregg's friend working at the wildlife preserve who immediately befriends Jill and Joe.
- Peter Firth as Garth, Strasser's right hand man from the UK, who isn't as ruthless as Strasser.
- Naveen Andrews as Pindi, a local guide and employee of Strasser.
- David Paymer as Harry Ruben, the supervisor at the wildlife preserve that Joe is relieved to.
- Robert Wisdom as Kweli, a local African man who was friend of Jill's mother and a surrogate father figure to Jill.
- Christian Clemenson as Jack
- Scarlett Pomers as Charlotte
- Geoffrey Blake as Vern
- Lawrence Pressman as Doctor Elliot Baker
- Linda Purl as Doctor Ruth Young, Jill's primatologist mother who was murdered by Strasser.
- Mika Boorem as Young Jill Young
- Cory Buck as Jason, a young boy who gets caught on the burning Farris wheel.
- Reno Wilson as Poacher
- Judson Mills as Impatient Driver
Cinematographer Donald Peterman suffered head injuries, a broken leg and broken ribs in a crane accident on the film set in 1997. His camera platform plummeted 18 feet (5.5 m) to the ground when the crane snapped. A cameraman was also injured in the accident.
In most of the film, Joe was portrayed by creature-suit performer John Alexander, who wore a radio-controlled animatronic gorilla mask and full body suit created by special makeup effects artist Rick Baker and his crew at Cinovation Studios. To achieve those scenes, Alexander often acted on miniature sets surrounded by blue screen; visual-effects house DreamQuest Images then composited him into footage shot earlier. Joe as an infant was performed by Verne Troyer. For certain scenes, the filmmakers used three full-sized animatronics (one in quadruped, one sitting down, and one in a dead position) also created by Baker's crew. For the digital Joe, visual-effects houses DreamQuest Images and Industrial Light & Magic worked on different scenes, using the same model provided by Baker. Many of these performances were achieved by key-frame animation, but to portray the digital Joe running and jumping, motion-capture data from an infant chimpanzee were used.
The music for the film was composed and conducted by James Horner. The soundtrack was released in December 1998.
|Mighty Joe Young: Original Score|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Released||December 8, 1998|
|James Horner chronology|
Release and reception
The film grossed $50.6 million against a production budget of $90 million. and holds a rating of 55% from Rotten Tomatoes based on 49 reviews. The site's critical consensus is: "Beguiling effects transcend a predictable plot."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 stars out of 4, saying, "Mighty Joe Young is an energetic, robust adventure tale: not too cynical, violent or fragmented for kids, not too tame for adults. After all the calculation behind "Godzilla" or "Armageddon," it has a kind of innocence. It's not about a monster but about a very big, well-meaning gorilla that just wants to be left in peace." Despite giving the film positive reviews, he also pointed out that the romance scenes and villains were only average and by no means exceptional. Common Sense Media gave the film 4 stars, finding that the "environmentally-friendly" film provides "serious food for thought [and] plenty of comic relief", as opposed to the 1949 RKO film. The reviewer praised the effects and acting that went into Joe's rendition, saying that children will sympathize with the character, as well as with Theron's and Paxton's romantic pairing.
James Berardinelli gave the film 3 stars out of 4, and generally positive reviews: "Although Joe's size makes him a monster, his disposition makes him cuddly. Despite not being daring in style or story, Mighty Joe Young is nevertheless a charming and enjoyable adventure, and a rare remake that's better than the original. It may not have the box office punch to exceed the $100 million mark, but it's good enough to entertain an audience." Colin Fraser of eFilm Critic gave it 3 stars, saying, "Strictly for ten-year-olds, Mighty Joe Young has its ample heart in exactly the right place. After an opening sequence that will have kiddies reaching for Kleenex, the action soon picks up with many a thrill on the way. This is not Jurassic Park however and doesn't really deserve its Academy nomination for effects."
Among those who criticized the film included Maitland McDonagh of TV Guide, who gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4. McDonagh believed it would be too shallow for adult viewers and too serious for children, adding that "Joe himself is an amazing creation, less personable, to be sure, than the original lovelorn King Kong, but a far more fully realized character than any of the flesh and blood humans by whom he's surrounded." Paul Clinton of CNN gave it negative reviews, saying, "Great scenery, cartoonish villains, huges leaps of suspended belief, and mouthwatering shots of Charlize Theron are in plentiful supply in Mighty Joe Young. And baby, can this boy travel. He goes from Africa to L.A. in just one dissolve. Then when he escapes he goes from Hollywood Boulevard, to the Los Angeles river, to the Pacific Palisades in seconds. If you're not familiar with L.A ... trust me ... couldn't happen." and "The gorilla is pretty impressive and expressive, but overall it's much ado about -- not much. I have a feeling this film will be fairly low on the food chain of "must see" holiday films."
Stephen Holden of The New York Times gave the film generally unfavorable reviews, saying, "Mighty Joe Young, directed by Ron Underwood from a screenplay by Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner, is saddled with dialogue so wooden that Mr. Paxton and Ms. Theron almost seem animatronic themselves. Little children won't notice. In Joe, they can identify with the biggest, cuddliest simian toy a 6-year-old could ever hope to own." Dustin Putman gave it 2 stars out of 4 and a negative review, saying, "Mighty Joe Young is an agreeable time-waster for older kids (it's much too violent for the youngest viewers) and perhaps some adults, but in a season when children could also choose to see the marvelous The Prince of Egypt, and adults could pick any number of far superior films, Mighty Joe Young simply pales in comparison. Although you could certainly do much worse, there is only one really distinctive quality about the film, and that is Charlize Theron's charismatic performance."
- "Mighty Joe Young". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 28, 2016.
- "Perry Moore, 'Narnia' series executive producer, dies at 39; Don Peterman, Oscar-nominated cinematographer, dies at 79; Nancy Carr, network TV publicist, dies at 50". Los Angeles Times. February 22, 2011. Retrieved February 23, 2011.
- Rotten Tomatoes reviews
- "Mighty Joe Young Review (1998)". Roger Ebert.com. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
- "Mighty Joe Young (1998) Movie Review". Common Sense Media. Retrieved October 1, 2005.
- "Mighty Joe Young Movie Review". Reelviews.
- "Mighty Joe Young (1998)". eFilm Critic.
- "Mighty Joe Young Review". TV Guide.
- "Review: Monkeying around with 'Mighty Joe Young'". CNN. December 25, 1998.
- "Movie Review Mighty Joe Young (1998)". The New York Times.
- "Mighty Joe Young (1998)". Dustin Putman.