Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985) * * ¾

(first lines)
Pee-wee: Look out, Mister Potato Head!

Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), a childish geek, loves his super-deluxe red bike more than anything else in the world and refuses to sell it to Francis Buxton (Mark Holton), a neighborhood rich kid. Francis pays someone to steal Pee-wee's bike while Pee-wee visits Chuck's Bikeorama and his girlfriend Dottie (Elizabeth Daily), resulting in a relentless campaign to find it. In a search for answers, Pee-wee visits fake psychic Madam Ruby (Erica Yohn) who lies and tells him that the bike is hidden in the basement of the Alamo. Pee-Wee embarks on a quest to find his stolen bicycle, and comes into contact with characters even crazier than he is. He hitches a ride with a man named Mickey (Judd Omen), a fugitive on the run from the law because he cut off a "do not remove under the penalty of law" mattress tag. Mickey abandons him after Pee-wee nearly kills the two of them by accident.

Mr. Buxton: Pee-wee, Pee-wee what is going on here.
Pee-wee: He's a thief, he stole my bike.
Francis: You liar. I swear I didn't do it, dad
Mr. Buxton: Pee-wee, this is a wild accusation. Do you have any proof?
Pee-wee: Well, not exactly.
Mr. Buxton: Pee-wee, the Buxtons are not thieves. We've been preparing Francis's birthday plans all day.

Pee-wee: Exhibit "Q". A scale-model of the entire mall. X marks the scene of the crime. These arrows here show the exact position of the sun at the hour of the crime. Jupiter was aligned with Pluto! The moon was in the seventh...
Chuck: Pee-wee!
Pee-wee: Please save your questions until I'm through, Chuck!
Chuck: Well, when will that be? A long time, we wait! We've been here for over 3 hours now, and I'm not sure if any of us can see what all this is supposed to mean.
Pee-wee: Supposed to mean? Supposed to mean!?

Madame Ruby: For twenty dollars I can tell you a lot of things. For thirty dollars I can tell you more. And for fifty dollars I can tell you everything.
Pee-wee: Tell me why I'm here first.
Madame Ruby: You're here because you... want something!

Pee-wee is picked up by Large Marge (Alice Nunn), learning at a truck stop diner that Large Marge was actually a ghost. Pee-wee meets Simone (Diane Salinger), a friendly waitress who wants to move to Paris. Her huge boyfriend Andy (Jon Harris) thinks Pee-wee and Simone are romantically linked, chasing Pee-wee and causing him to flee in a boxcar of a moving train. Making it to San Antonio he finds that the Alamo has no basement. Realizing his whole trip was a sham, he goes to the bus station to return home. Along the way he runs afoul of the "Satan's Helpers" biker gang after accidentally knocking over their motorcycles. Fearing they are going to kill him, Pee-wee asks for one last request and dances to "Tequila", winning the respect of the bikers. The bikers give him a motorcycle, but Pee-wee quickly crashes it, ending up in the hospital. There, he learns from a TV program that his bike now belongs to Kevin Morton (Jason Hervey), a child star who is currently filming a movie with the bike as a prominent prop.

Simone: Do you have any dreams?
Pee-wee: Yeah, I'm all alone. I'm rolling a big doughnut and this snake wearing a vest...
Simone: Ah! Pee-Wee! Ha ha! C'est magnifique! Voici Pierre.
Pierre: Bonsoir.
Pee-wee: Ditto. Here, brought you guys French Fries! Ha ha ha!
Simone and Pierre: Merci beaucoup, Pee-Wee!
Pee-wee: Merci-bleh-bleh!

Biker: Did anybody tell you that this is the private club of the Satan's Helpers?
Pee-wee: Nobody hipped me to that, dude.
Biker: It's off-limits!

Pee-wee sneaks into Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California and locates the set on which Kevin is acting. Pee-wee disguises himself as a nun in order to infiltrate the set and reclaim his bike. In a wild chase scene, he flees from the Warner Bros. security staff through a variety of sets. Various actors and props, including a boat-shaped car, a Santa Claus sleigh, and a man in a Godzilla costume, get swept into the chase. He also interrupts the shooting of a Twisted Sister music video for "Burn in Hell" from "Stay Hungry". Using the gadgets on his bike, Pee-wee manages to evade the guards and escape the studio. As he blissfully rides away, however, Pee-wee discovers a pet shop in flames. After heroically saving all the animals, even the scary snakes, Pee-wee faints on the store's doorstep just as the fire department and police arrive. Though the firemen consider Pee-wee a hero, the police place Pee-wee under arrest.

Kevin Morton: Well, is everything straightened out?
Jerry: We are ready whenever you are.
Kevin Morton: Doesn't it look like I'm ready? I am always ready! I have been ready since first call! I am ready! Roll!
Jerry: Quiet, please! This is a take. Roll, please.
Cameraman: Speed!
Kevin Morton: Action!
Jerry: Action!

Pee-wee is brought before a Warner Bros. studio executive who offers to buy the rights to Pee-wee's story in exchange for dropping all charges. Pee-wee agrees and attends the premiere at his local drive-in. All of the friends Pee-wee made during his trip come to see the film, and Pee-wee greets each of them. He ends with Dottie, having finally fulfilled her demands for a date at the drive-in. As a final act of vengeance, Pee-wee allows Francis to sit on his bike, who triggers the ejector seat and goes flying. Pee-wee's movie turns out to be a James Bond-style action film involving James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild fighting ninjas. Pee-wee has a cameo appearance as a bell-boy, but his dialogue is dubbed over with a funny deep voice. After watching for a few minutes, Pee-wee decides to leave, having already lived the real story, saying "I don't need to see it, Dottie. I lived it." Reunited with his bike, he happily rides away with Dottie.

The success of the live stage show THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW in 1980 prompted Warner Brothers to hire Paul Reubens to write a script for a full-length Pee-wee Herman film. With imaginative sets and dream sequences that use claymation and pixilated models, PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE is a side-splitting comedy that references almost every Hollywood genre, especially the perennial favorite Road Movies. Former animator Tim Burton made his feature directorial debut with this delightful comedy, co-scripted by Phil Hartman, who also appears briefly as a reporter. They keep the story simple to concentrate on the characters. Pee-wee's most prized possession, his shiny new bicycle, is stolen, and he sets off on an obsessive cross-country journey, determined to recover it. Pee-wee's awkward and childish attempts to be cool and mature are hysterical, as when he tells his girlfriend Simone: "There's things about me you don't know, Dottie. Things you wouldn't understand. Things you couldn't understand. Things you shouldn't understand.... I'm a loner, Dottie. A rebel." Reubens is on-screen for the majority of the film, and he never fails to entertain. As Pee-wee, he can take the most innocuous lines and make them hilarious.

Pee-wee is never interested in women or the men who admire him. He loves only his bike. The bicycle functions, in fact, as the love interest of the narrative. An object of extraordinary beauty, attended by falling cherry blossoms and ethereal music, the bike is supremely desirable. Filming locations included Glendale, California, Pomona, Santa Monica, Burbank, Cabazon, and the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, Texas. Burton and Reubens had tensions with Warner Bros. studio executives over the shooting schedule, and Burton hired CalArts classmate Rick Heinrichs for scenes involving stop-motion animation. To compose the film score, Burton brought in Danny Elfman, who had not composed a film before. Elfman already had the main title theme written before he signed on, and is now a top movie composer in Hollywood.

The cast also includes: Irving Hellman (Mr. Crowtray), Monte Landis (Mario), Damon Martin (Chip), David Glasser (BMX Kid), Gregory Brown (BMX Kid), Mark Everett (BMX Kid), Daryl Keith Roach (Chuck), Bill Cable (Policeman 1), Peter Looney (Policeman 2), Starletta DuPois (Sgt. Hunter), Professor Toru Tanaka (Butler), Ed Herlihy (Mr. Buxton), Ralph Seymour (Francis' Accomplice), Lou Cutell (Amazing Larry), Raymond Martino (Gang Member), Bill W. Richmond (Highway Patrolman), Ed Griffith (Trucker), Simmy Bow (Man in Diner), Jon Harris (Andy), Carmen Filpi (Hobo Jack), Jan Hooks (Tina), John Moody (Bus Clerk), john O'Neill (Cowboy 1), Alex Sharp (Cowboy 2), Chester Grimes (Biker 1), luis Contreras (Biker 2), Lonnie Parkinson (Biker 3), Howard Hirdler (Biker 4), Cassandra Peterson (Biker Mama), Bob McClurg (Studio Guard), John Paragon (Movie Lot Actor), Susan Barnes (Movie Lot Actress), Zachary Hoffman (Director), Lynne Marie Stewart (Mother Superior), George Sasaki (Japanese Director), Richard Brose (Tarzan), Drew Seward (Kid 1), Brett Fellman (Kid 2), Bob Drew (Fireman), John Gilgreen (Policeman at Pet Shop), Noreen Hennessey (Reporter), Phil Hartman (Reporter), Michael Varhol (Photographer), David Rothenberg (Hobo), Patrick Cranshaw (Hobo), Sunshine Parker (Hobo), Gilles Savard (Pierre), James Brolin (Himself - as PeeWee), Morgan Fairchild (Herself - as Dottie), Tony Bill (Terry Hawthorne), Dee Snider (Himself), Milton Berle (Himself), Terry Bolo (Biker Chick), Tim Burton (Thug in alley), and Cleve Hall (Godzilla, Biker Gang Member). Danny Elfman composed the original music. Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, and Michael Varhol wrote the screenplay. Tim Burton directed.

Music Track listing:

1. "Overture / The Big Race (03:07)
2. "Breakfast Machine (02:36)
3. "Park Ride (01:14)
4. "Stolen Bike (01:44)
5. "Hitchhike (00:56)
6. "Dinosaur Dream (00:48)
7. "Simone's Theme (01:35)
8. "Clown Dream (01:58)
9. "Studio Chase (01:24)
10. "The Drive-In (02:02)
11. "Finale (03:12)

Also in the film are "Burn in Hell" by Twisted Sister and "Tequila" by The Champs.

PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE opened on August 9, 1985 in the United States in 829 theaters, accumulating $4,545,847 over its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $40,940,662 domestically, recouping five times of its $7 million budget, making it a financial success. The film was nominated for a Young Artist Award for Best Family Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). The success of this movie prompted CBS to to sign Reubens to act, produce, and direct his own live-action Saturday morning children's program, PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE in 1986.

At the time of its release in 1985, the film received mixed reviews. Gene Siskel called it one of the worst films of 1985, but PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE developed into a cult film. Christopher Null gave positive feedback, calling it "Burton's strangest film." Variety compared Paul Reubens to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, while Empire called the film "a one-comic masterpiece" and "a dazzling debut" for Burton. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon wrote, "Everything about PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, from its toy-box colors to its superb, hyper-animated Danny Elfman score to the butch-waxed hairdo and wooden-puppet walk of its star and mastermind is pure pleasure."

Warner Home Video released PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE on DVD in May 2000. Special features include audio commentary with Paul Reubens, Danny Elfman, and Tim Burton, premiere party footage, the original theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, and a compilation of story boards and sketches with a third commentary by the production designer. In the deleted scenes you'll learn the origin of "Amazing Larry", meet Boone the Bear, and see Pee-wee fling the boomerang bow tie he bought at the magic shop. The anamorphic widescreen picture is perfect, and it appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD. The image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This is the first time the movie has appeared in its original aspect ratio. Previous releases were full-frame and actually offered more information on the top and bottom. Sharpness is consistently good, with only some moderate softness that appears during a few wider shots. The print used for the transfer looks fairly clean, with some occasional speckling but no grain or more significant flaws such as scratches or hairs. This film features a lot of bold primary colors, and the DVD does a decent but unspectacular job of rendering these. Hues seem fairly accurate but slightly bland.

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