Hi. Welcome to another one of these things I said I’d never do again. My usual stance of credit-where-credit’s-due and looking for the loftier intentions in all things cinema are temporarily suspended while I marathon an improbable or just plain idiotic franchise to see exactly how steep the downward curve of watchablity is.
Because it is, essentially, me being snarky at the expense of a lot of people’s hard work, I’d stopped doing this sort of thing (previous installments charting Fast & Furious, Step Up, Twilight and Bring It On are buried in these pages should you care to look), HOWEVER, when I learned that there were four Free Willy films, I couldn’t really resist.
To my knowledge or recollection I’ve not seen any of these before now. Although I do have the heavily biased but almost unquestionably worthy anti-Sea World documentary Blackfish under my belt, so I’m predisposed to objecting to these movies already. Marvelous.
Free Willy (1993, Simon Wincer)
00:00:02: As the Warner Bros logo appears I’m looking up director Simon Wincer on imdb. He’s had a spotted career which also includes D.A.R.Y.L., Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, The Phantom and Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles. Interesting.
00:00:30: The ocean! Vast. Glorious. Majestic.
00:00:40: Ooof! A whale! Now a bunch of whales. Cresting. Spurting. All sorts of whale action. The score tells me, quite rightly, that this is chuffing brilliant.
00:02:23: Cut to binocular wearing gawkers aboard a couple of boats. Uh-oh. They’re gonna catch a whale, I reckon. The footage of the boats is in notably different environs to the footage of the whales. Apparently a key technique in herding whales is slapping together some giant spoons. Probably they’re oars.
00:04:24: They got one! Beneath the surface the whales are chatting to one another, presumably calling out the trapped one for being such a stupid goon.
00:05:26: Land! And a kid. Hope he’s not in this much. Looks pretty annoying. He’s conning a bunch of hardworking honest professionals. Unclear at this stage if he’s homeless or just a prick.
00:06:55: Stealing an anniversary cake from some caterers now, ruining someone poor couple’s day. Will there be no end of this kid’s crimes? He has a gang, too. This is basically season four of The Wire.
00:08:00: Finally, some cops. Order should be restored. Although they ate that poor couple’s cake.
00:08:46: Now some B&E to add to the litany of offenses.
00:09:08: Graffiti, too. Vandalism. Destruction of property. These crimes are tallying up just about as fast as I can type. Hope those cops are on the ball.
00:10:07: Apparently you keep a whale in a sort of turquoise disco tank. The kid doesn’t even know what a whale is, suggesting, at the very least, an inordinate amount of truancy. His name’s Jesse. The cops have found him and his crew.
00:11:14: Aaand, they caught him. Happy ending, right? Credits now?
00:11:58: No. He just gets a lecture from Bubba out of Forrest Gump.
00:13:55: Bubba has dropped Jesse off with miscellaneous-head-of-CTU #949 (Jayne Atkinson). Her hair suggests the 80’s haven’t ended. So this is a period piece? Okay. And there’s Michael Madsen, actually in danger of raising the quality of the material for a change. They’re Jesse’s foster parents, I’m guessing. They’ve given Jesse a pretty sweet room to live in.
00:17:00: Jesse’s a hobo kid at heart, however. He has a harmonica.
00:17:52: It appears Michael Madsen has no intention of raising the quality of anything.
00:18:58: Do kids anywhere actually address anyone with, “Hey Mister…?” Jesse’s got to clear up his mess at the aquatic park. Good to see he’s getting punished for his spree of villainy.
00:20:46: Slacking off almost immediately. Apparently the park has a whale named… Willy.
00:22:21: More slacking. This time to see some seals being tormented. Oh shit! Michael Ironside’s in this! Classic bad guy casting.
00:24:29: More harmonica. Madsen thankfully interrupts this for some much-needed laying-down-of-the law. Still, Jesse tricked him out of five dollars. Allowance during community service? As if!
00:27:24: More harmonica. Willy likes it. Willy likes anything getting blown though. (Sorry, not sorry)
00:28:56: Jesse’s hair is a further crime.
00:30:49: Breaking curfew. And more goddamn harmonica! Jesse’s bonding with Willy. And now he’s drowning after slipping into the whale tank. Unfortunately Willy’s rising to aid him. What a dick move.
00:35:00: Native American character Randolph takes Jesse home. An agreement is made for Jesse to work at the aquatic park. Was he working rogue before? Surely this conversation happened elsewhere already? Never mind.
00:37:10: The Blackfish angle is dutifully incorporated. Jesse lets Willy out of his confined enclosure.
00:39:02: “I’ve got a really special friend named Willy…”
I’M AN ADULT
00:40:45: More goddamned harmonica as Jesse messes with Willy’s diet. “Oh, you want me to put it in your mouth?” Nike get some significant product placement.
00:42:34: Jesse’s stroking Willy. “You’re rubbery!”
00:44:22: Jesse’s teaching Willy to sort of spin around. A manoeuvre I like to call ‘the helicopter’. The trainer lady and the Native American guy are impressed with Jesse’s skills with Willy.
00:47:24: Trainer lady is showing Jesse how Willy likes stimulation. (I’m really sorry)
00:51:51: The film’s bedding in Jesse’s bond with Willy in tandem with his gradual bond with his foster parents. It’s montage time. Generally speaking this is average, pleasing family viewing, my immaturity aside. Even if Jesse’s montage includes further evidence of his kleptomania (he’s steals a big fish).
00:53:40: Jesse made a toy for his friend Willy.
00:54:17: Jesse is now riding Willy. Afterwards he kisses him on his head.
00:59:07: Jesse’s vandalising his own home now. What a small berk. Apparently Michael Madsen’s character is named Glen. I thought it was Stan this whole time. Everyone’s talking about their feelings. Nobody seems that bothered that Jesse just broke a window. Instead they’re going to play baseball in the dark.
01:03:09: More Willy stroking and kissing. You might even call it… heavy petting. Jesse’s taught him to squirt. Their bonding is somewhat undermined by those watching who might as well all have dollar signs for eyes. “‘The Willy Show’ It’ll make money!”
01:06:26: “If you wish to purchase Willy souvenirs, our gift shop has a great selection.”
01:08:25: Bubba is back. He’s excited by The Willy Show. Unfortunately Willy feels mugged off by all the idiotic children pounding on his tank. Nasty little kids.
01:10:34: Suspense as Jesse and Willy have a chat. I hope Willy gets all the nasty little kids.
01:12:24: In the context of how childish I’ve been about this, I realise how that sounds. (I’m really sorry, really)
01:13:20: Performance anxiety seems the main culprit, but maybe Willy was just tired, or had too much to drink? The Willy Show failed. These things happen.
01:19:00: Jesse and Willy are breaking up. I sense the bridge to the third act is well under way. Everyone is sad.
01:20:40: Ah, Willy’s family are all right outside. And something sinister is happening backstage at The Willy Show. Fair play, this little movie’s keeping it pacy. Thought we’d be languishing in Pouty Town for another ten minutes yet.
01:22:34: “Let’s free Willy!” There it is! Randolph replies that he doesn’t like his job anyway. There is nothing to support this. Also, releasing an animal like this from captivity is, I’m sure, a fairly terrible idea. Although he’s almost certainly going to die if they don’t. Oh yeah, this story is powered by insurance fraud now.
01:24:05: A spirited attempt to make getting a whale out of a tank seem exciting when, in reality, it looks like a very long, slow, laborious process. Can’t knock Wincer’s film for messing around though. We’re knee-deep in the prison break sequence less than two minutes after Jesse suggested it. That’s proactive.
01:27:25: Randolph raises a pertinent question: “How’re we gonna pull him?”
01:27:49: Naturally Jesse’s answer is some Grand Theft Auto. Instead of sending him to an aquatic park, did anyone consider some sort of reform school…? I assume the second film is about him and Willy robbing offshore banks.
01:29:18: The adventure park has exactly zero security staff.
01:30:15: Now there’s a tree blocking the road! This is what you get for doing absolutely no planning whatsoever. They’d better hurry; a pick-up truck with a whale in the trailer probably makes for the easiest APB in cinema history.
01:32:07: Randolph is doing his improbable strong man impression.
01:33:03: Props to Michael Madsen for my favourite monotone line delivery of the film: “What the hell you doin’ with my truck… and a whale?”
01:34:45: “Keep him wet.”
01:35:54: They’re taking Willy to a car wash. Pretty sure that’s not just water… When Willy cries he sounds like the deformed baby from Eraserhead.
01:37:20: Jesse is coercing his accomplices into speeding now. And lo and behold, they smash through a perfectly good gate. The list of crimes is endless.
01:39:39: Everyone’s fighting in the sea like a marine edition of Jerry Springer. Wisely, Willy’s had enough and is outta there.
01:41:27: Jesse runs down the bay, yelling encouragement to Willy. Guess it’s pretty much time for that jump scene they always show in clips. But not before some single tear action. Actually might be multiple tears; Jesse’s pretty soggy.
01:43:50: Jump! Well, that was pretty good.
01:44:39: Jesse’s face turns sad. Could be because he’ll never see his friend again. Could be the volume of misdemeanors he’ll have to answer for coming into focus.
01:45:41: Willy is reunited with his family and they swim off into the sunset. A once in a lifetime story, surely. Credits.
Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995, Dwight Little)
00:00:02: Idents. Dwight Little’s a name I actually recognise. Quick check and, yep, lots of telly. Dollhouse, 24 and Millennium most likely where I’ve seen the name. Wikipedia also advises me that the Willy in this film and the next is animatronic (we’ll go with puppet). In the fourth it’ll be CG. Sure that’ll look amazing.
00:00:37: Trees! Little begins his film in bold form, suggesting a very different approach ahead…
00:00:47: Birds! What a renegade.
00:00:55: Oh. Water. BAU then.
00:01:24: As the credits roll we get treated to (possibly the same) documentary footage of whales in the wild. They don’t look like puppets.
00:02:25: Randolph’s back (he has a boat). Actually the credits suggest quite a few returning players, setting Free Willy comfortably aside from the likes of Step Up and Bring It On. Three credited writers this time, meaning this one’ll be three times as good, obviously.
00:03:48: Jesse and Stan/Glen return. Jesse’s perving on girls. He’s growing up. Wonder if he’s still an unstoppable felon? He appears to have evaded justice (along with everyone else). Here’s Bubba and Jayne Atkinson from 24 too.
00:05:51: “Just leave me alone!” Yup. They’ve gotten writing this teenager stuff down to an art. Jesse’s just been told he has a surprise brother, which he seems pretty angry about. Oh, and his mum’s dead. He’s gone off to do some vandalism.
00:07:03: Apparently Jesse’s pretty predictable, as Stan/Glen is already exactly where he ran off to. “Your little brother’s going to come and stay with us for a couple of weeks” is about as unwelcome a set-up as Jesse or I could’ve hoped for…
00:08:16: Jesse’s hair is still a crime.
00:09:05: Woah, little brother wears a backwards cap! He’s so tough! Oh. He’s called Elvis. Never mind.
00:10:30: It’s quickly made clear Elvis is going to be an insufferable little shitbag.
00:12:37: Elvis isn’t impressed by anything, except whales, which I’m guessing is going to come in pretty fucking handy. I’m swearing. That doesn’t bode well.
00:15:15: I’m checking my Facebook.
00:15:42: Jesse and Randolph have gone on an orca spotting trip. Jesse’s perving on Randolph’s god-daughter. Suddenly scared the makers have cottoned onto the double entendre in the film title. But no, everyone’s on the trail of Willy, having recognised his call some-fucking-how.
00:17:52: “Hey, guys! J-Pod!” yells Randolph, recommending a good book to the kids. Lots of presumably-stock-footage of whales.
00:19:13: They’ve found Willy.
00:20:53: Camping. There’d better not be any more harmonica. Elvis is annoying enough as it is. If Jesse ups to full-on homicide, I wouldn’t –
00:22:13: Oh fuck. Harmonica.
00:22:30: Yes! He dropped his harmonica in the lake. What a Jesse.
00:22:55: Willy brought it back to him. Willy caught the harmonica. And brought it to the surface in his giant mouth. And gave it back to Jesse. I have no words.
00:25:04: Jesse to his foster parents: “Wake up, it’s 7 in the morning!” <— why I don’t have kids.
00:27:31: Jesse’s perving has upgraded to stalking and spying. And Elvis is learning from him.
00:30:33: Jesse is showing off his Willy tricks to impress a girl. “Willy, where’d you come from!?”
0033:06: She’s pretty impressed through. Willy riding is on the agenda. If these are puppet Willies, they’re pretty good ones.
00:34:11: Elvis tried out the harmonica and got immediately punished. This pleases. Don’t do it again you little bastard.
00:35:17: Cut to oil tanker. I wonder what might be about to happen…
00:36:50: Nadine! Her name’s Nadine. Probably missed that earlier. Stan/Glen is taking Jesse for a talk about the facts of life.
00:39:27: Underwater Willy play.
00:40:31: I hate that harmonica. Putting it in Elvis’ hands is a terrible decision. No sign of that oil tanker though…
00:42:00: Cut to oil tanker. Apparently it needs a tug.
00:43:15: Elvis is crying about feelings.
00:45:00: Oil everywhere!!! TWIST
00:46:43: Now all the Willies are oiled up.
00:48:09: Randolph! Whale doctor! Glad they’re puppets this time around; this level of hands-on Willy manipulation would be ill-advised otherwise.
00:50:01: It’s hit the news. A buttload of protestors have turned up. Oh and Elizabeth Peña as an actual whale doctor because Randolph was full of shit, presumably.
00:51:50: Willy doesn’t want Peña putting anything in his blowhole. Now they’re all having a meeting with Clark Kent from the oil company on a bunch of logs. He’s a nice oil man, that Clark Kent. Not gonna lie, this film would go up a few notches if Daniel Plainview had rocked up at this point.
00:54:04: “Our family motto is ‘We don’t kiss butts’!” Yeah, but you kiss Willies.
REMEMBER: I’M AN ADULT
00:55:12: Harmonica. I give up going against that fucking thing. Willy’s getting aggressive. He’s raging hard.
00:59:00: Nadine’s getting pretty emosh about the whole cove getting ruined. Fortunately, Jesse’s on hand being all smooth.
01:01:00: Willy’s sister has beached again. This film’s no disaster, and it’s got a strong environmental message worth reiterating, but the overall quality level is just-so, a little tepid even. Still, it gets points for not recycling film one wholesale.
01:02:54: “You doing a spit-shake with somebody? That’s serious.” Madsen winning the monotone delivery award for the second film in a row.
01:03:36: ARE THEY SERIOUS WITH THIS SONG? SUB-JACKO “HAVE YOU SEEN MY CHILD?” CROONING OVER A MONTAGE OF LOOKING FOR A CHILD?? I take back most of my faint praise.
01:06:02: I checked. It was Michael Jackson. It was still fucking appalling. Meanwhile the film is drifting. I think it’s stuck in spilled crude oil also.
01:07:38: Apparently they should have been looking for Elvis in a tree right beside them. He’s in a hammock having his own single tear moment.
01:08:58: And here’s M. Emmett Walsh filling in for this film’s conspicuous lack of Michael Ironside, corrupting Clark Kent over doughnuts.
01:11:15: Now Jesse’s raging as they trap the whales for their own good (even though Walsh is scheming to abduct them). Jesse and Willy are in sync. Clark Kent’s gone so casual and lacks any whiff of personality that I keep assuming he’s a brand new character.
01:13:16: Jesse yelled something about “whales and dolphins” and all I can think of is Terrorvision (Google them, kids).
01:14:18: Literally no one cares that Jesse and Elvis just pushed two men in the lake. Not even a state trooper right beside them. No response. Not even a disapproving scowl. Bad extra.
01:15:52: Forgive me for saying so, but there’s not nearly enough Willy in this movie. It’s largely devolved into laughing at men falling in water.
01:16:51: But then, I’ve spent the best part of three hours making Willy jokes, so I can hardly take the high moral ground.
01:17:47: Whale jump! CG whale. Sorry, it looked shit guys. It’s pointed out that Jesse and Elvis have stolen a boat (who’s surprised). Thought better of Nadine though. I guess she’s lost to their life of crime.
01:19:21: Exploding oil tanker! The lake is on fire! Stock footage of narked-off whales! Production value ahoy!
01:21:28: Jesse, Elvis and Nadine have crashed their ‘pleasure craft’ as Little and his screenwriters dramatically overestimate how much we really care at this point. Willy got away. That was enough to kick in credits, surely?
01:22:43: As Elvis whines insufferably and it looks like they’re all about to burn to death in a fiery cove, I can’t help but wonder why this film is subtitled “The Adventure Home” when it’s really just about a piss-poor holiday. They’re being helicoptered to safety now.
01:24:30: Gasp! Jesse missed the helicopter! He’s stuck in a fiery ring! How could this possibly end!?!?
01:26:53: …with Willy penetrating that fiery ring! Of course! Go on! Get in there, son!
01:27:57: Hooray for Willy! Not sure death-defying rescue is a logical next step in his trick repertoire, mind.
01:29:54: One last rub of Willy’s head for good luck and he’s off. Now just enough time for a scathing review on Trip Advisor and some emotional closure for Jesse and Elvis, with a little bit of woolly mysticism thrown in for good measure. Credits time?
To be continued…