Split Decision: Puppet Takeover
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
In honor of Netflix's prequel, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, what is your favorite cinematic performance by a puppet?
Patrick McGuinn's Leather featured a scene with puppets that I was wary about at first (when I saw the trailer), but it worked beautifully, showing that a filmmaker can incorporate puppetry into a tender romantic drama and not make it campy or cheesy. But the best puppet film I think I've seen is Todd Haynes's Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which uses dolls to examines the singer's anorexia and career. It's a remarkable achievement.
I would have to go with David Cronenberg's various gross out creature puppets from both Naked Lunch and The Fly. They are terrifying and disgusting, and move like the giant versions of the small creatures that they are. Totally disgusting and scarred in my mind. Ghastly things that should not be.
Hands down it's Norris' spider-head from John Carpenter's The Thing. Also referred to as the head-crab, it's one of my favorite practical creature designs in the history of movies. If you're not familiar, there's a scene in which a character's head falls off his body and lands on the floor where it grows many legs and a couple eyestalks, becoming a gross insect-like creature. Rob Bottin designed it for the movie, and said he added the insect elements for "comic relief." He was only 22 years old when he worked on this movie, having practically forced his way into playing Captain Blake, the main ghostly pirate from The Fog, just a couple years earlier. Bottin had a remarkable career in special FX, starting out at just 14 years old working under Rick Baker of An American Werewolf in London fame, and eventually earning an Academy Award nomination for his work on Ridley Scott's Legend. He worked with Veerhoven, Fincher, Gilliam, and many other cinematic greats throughout his career. But that head-crab puppet from The Thing is THE image that I always point to when preaching the use practical FX in movies. It's an incredible series of puppets, different ones designed specifically for each shot, that create an extremely real, viscerally disgusting, and yet truly otherworldly creature that I absolutely believe exists in the same space as the actors. Because it really does!
I'll go with Kermit's performance of "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie because the rest of you savages are choosing Cronenberg and Carpenter puppets. I'll be over here with banjo frog while the rest of you enjoy your blood and intestines and whatever else you hooligans care to spend your days with.
Yoda! The cutest muppet to ever exist that isn't playing a banjo. He proves big things come in small, decrepit packages, and his no-bullshit attitude towards the whiniest bloke in the galaxy is a pleasure to behold. He also has great feets. And Frank Oz's voice.
I could echo Yoda and Kermit, or bring up Disney’s 20,0000 Leagues Under the Sea again, because the Giant Squid puppet is astounding. But I am going to have to go with the first onscreen version of Jabba the Hutt. Having been mentioned in the previous two films, when Jabba shows up in Return of the Jedi, it would have been hard to imagine a giant slug that required at least three puppeteers to portray. His massive body seems so lifelike,. not only because of how slimy he is, but because of how well is eyes are done and the little gestures he makes with his tail.
Well since you guys are taking all of my horror ones I guess I'll have to go with the puppetry of Ghostbusters! Slimer and the ghost librarian are so insane looking that I often forget about the puppets behind all of these scenes but if you look up some of the production information it is super interesting.
Apparently Akroyd and Ramis wanted Slimer to homage to John Belushi and special effects artist Steve Johnson made it happen! The most iconic scenes in this movie have amazing puppet effects that I'm only now really beginning to appreciate.
Being John Malkovich features John Cusack as a puppeteer who stumbles across the ultimate form of puppetry. But before he was piloting John Malkovich, he shows considerable talent controlling his own melancholic creations. Being a Charlie Kaufman script and a Spike Jonze movie, Being John Malkovich is hard to describe. The only word I can ever think of is "demented." Rather than describe it, I invite you to check out this puppet performance for yourself.