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Film Journeys

Robin Williams

September 15, 2014

This December will see the UK cinema release of Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb. The third film in the popular family franchise sees familiar characters return to face a new foe; and this time the plot is set in London.

Returning cast members include Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Steve Coogan and Ricky Gervais, with new actors joining the cast, including Dan Stevens, (from Downtown Abbey), and Sir Ben Kingsley as the new big, bad guy.

I loved the first two films. They both really feel like traditional family films from the 80s, with a good mix of humour, fantasy and – most importantly for a family film – a sense of magic.

With strong international box office returns for the franchise, (and a cast that features quite a few Brits), it made sense to start to spread the story out a bit in terms of location, hence the story moves to London in this film.

So, it promises to be another good fun, solid family film for the festive season and I’ll definitely be there, with my family, to see it in cinemas. But why have I picked this film – especially when its release date is so far away? Well, I didn’t mention all of the returning cast members … there was one other, a particularly special member of the cast, Robin Williams and he our featured actor this month.

In the Night At The Museum films Robin Williams plays Teddy Roosevelt … well, actually he plays a wax dummy who comes alive at night and *thinks* he’s Teddy Roosevelt, but let’s put that to one side for now!

So I’ve picked three Robin Williams titles for you to get to see more of Mr. Williams.

We want everyone listening to get involved as well though. Have I picked the right three films? Let us know by calling / text or leave a comment with your suggestions on our Facebook page.

First up is Good Will Hunting (1997). This was one of the first times Williams was – more or less – the straight man in a film. Having been the joker since his big break in 70s with Mork & Mindy, we all found it refreshing to watch him play down the laughs in this little drama that did big business.

Robins character, Sean Maguire, is a therapist with a detailed backstory of his own and he plays it magnificently.

There is a pivotal scene in the film where Williams is finally starting to get his patient, (played by a very young Matt Damon), to open up and talk with him.

What’s really interesting to see in this scene is how Williams changes the entire mood of the scene in just a few lines; a feat that takes some real skill to do without the lines sounding corny, or pre-written or, indeed, hamming the scene up.

And that’s what is so great about his performance in this film – a performance which won him an Oscar – is the subtlety. I watched the film again recently, having only previously seen it not longer after its original release and two things surprised me. First was actually how slow most of the film is; we think of it as this little film that did really well and launched the careers of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but actually, the quality of the script is pretty patchy, the overall look of the film hasn’t aged well and some of the performances are not, frankly, that stellar.

The second thing that surprised me was just how good Robin Williams is in this film. The scene that stuck most with me is one of the first therapy sessions between Williams and Damon. Williams character knows that he must not be the first to talk, that the conversation has to be started by Will, (Matt Damons character). So he, Robin Williams, world-renowned for his hyper-energetic, manic comedy performances has to sit there, quiet, still. No facial ticks, no funny lines, nothing. He does this with such commanding skill that it truly is a master class in acting.

The second film in our #RobinWilliams #FIlmJourney is One Hour Photo (2002). Robin Williams plays a photo lab technician called Seymour Parrish. Now, this film is creepy – not a gory horror film creepy, but psychological thriller type creepy … and it’s Robin Williams who is the creepy character here.

This was such a break from his usual onscreen persona that it was something very new for him and for audiences watching him. Interestingly, in the same year, Williams also stared in Insomnia where he … well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say he played against type in that film as well.

Sy – the lab technician in One Hour Photo seems a perfectly likeable, affable guy; very helpful, good at his job and always polite and friendly to his regular customers. At first, perhaps, he seems a little off-kilter – but then you are slightly thrown by the whole look of the film. The art direction for the sets of the superstore that the one hour photo lab is part of is stunning. It’s all very clinical, very washed out and a little off-beat. Not only a comment on how bland and homogeneous our shopping centres have become, but also a statement on how vapid this characters life is – how his life is lacking any kind of human touch.

Sy becomes obsessed with one particular family and fixates on their photos; things like their holidays snaps, pictures of their sons’ birthday parties, things like that and, eventually, he crosses a very dark line as the obsession becomes stronger and stronger.

If you want to see Williams in a very different role to his normal type, then I’d definitely recommend you watch One Hour Photo, especially if you like your films with a slight indie feel to them. If you’d rather see him perform a similar role but in something that is slightly more accessible, then I’d also recommend you check out Insomnia. In fact – why not watch them both?

Before we tell you the final film in this film journey, we should quickly list some ‘honourable mentions’ – these are the films that nearly made the list.

In no particular order: Dead Poets Society, (a firm favourite of many listening I’m sure), Jumanji, (another family classic), Death To Smoochy, (a hilarious, if a little foul-mouthed, pastiche of Barney the Dinosaur), What Dreams May Come, Hook, (where he plays a grown-up Peter Pan … talk about perfect casting!), The Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Awakenings and, of course, the first two Night at The Museum films.

So, what’s the third and final movie for this week? Well, I really couldn’t talk about the career of Robin Williams and not mention one of his most loved roles. He’s done a lot of voice work – a natural fit for somebody with such vocal talent. But the animated character he is, perhaps, most instantly linked with is the genie from Aladdin (1992).

His fast-talking, improv riffing style now seems like a perfect fit for a character who has gone a little stir crazy being cooped up in a lamp for thousands of years; as he says, “phenomenal cosmic power … iddy-biddy living space!

Williams’ energy can really be seen in this film. He ad-libbed so many of his lines that not only did they end up with over 16 hours worth of material, but the script was also turned down for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination!

The scene that sees Aladdin and the Genie meet for the first time is a perfect example of Williams’ energy … and what an entrance!

There was some controversy between Williams and Disney, the studio behind the film. He agreed to work on the film, at union scale rate, (which was the lowest legal pay a studio can give an actor), on the conditions that his voice was *not* used in any merchandise, (like toys), and that the genie character didn’t take up more than 25% of the poster, ad or billboard. Unfortunately Disney didn’t stick to these conditions and so Williams withdrew his support of the film.

The CEO of Disney at the time, Michael Eisner, tried to apologise to Williams with a peace offering of an original Pablo Picasso painting, but Williams stated that he still felt hurt and betrayed by them. The dispute went on for some time, meaning that Williams didn’t voice the genie for the second film, (Dan Castellaneta did the voice – yes Homer Simpson himself!).

By the time the third sequel was muted however, Williams and Disney had buried the hatchet and he agreed to voice the character again.

Actors Martin Short and John Goodman were among others who were considered for the role of Genie … but Robin made the role his own in such a way that I cannot see anyone else playing him now.

So, have we picked the right three Robin Williams films to feature? Get in touch and let us know which films you would have chosen and why.


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