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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

He’s dead, Jim

Another major issue that needs addressing is: What about movie characters that just won’t stay dead?

Okay, maybe this isn’t one of the most pressing problems in the world today, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about—partly because of two movie trailers I’ve seen lately. Now, to talk about these movies and their trailers, I’m going to have to talk about stuff that happens in these movies. And I haven’t actually seen these movies, which don’t even get released until December. But I have pretty good idea about some of the things that happen—in one case, thanks largely to people I don’t even know who use false names while publishing on a web site. Still, I am fairly confident in my information, and so it qualifies as spoilers. So, please, do not read any further unless you want to hear stuff that might take some of the suspense out of movies you might see five months from now.

So, back to my topic of movie characters that won’t stay dead. I think we can divide such characters into two general groups: good guys and bad guys. Please note that, for the purposes of this discussion, I am disregarding films where someone coming back from the dead is the whole point of the movie, e.g. films about the life of Jesus. Or Re-Animator.

What got me thinking about good guys who won’t stay dead was something I read on Ain’t It Cool News, which is a really great web site for finding out stuff about movies and television shows before they get released. Okay, so it doesn’t have the rigorous editing and fact-checking of The New York Times, but then The New York Times never allows you to amaze your friends by spilling the beans about what’s going to happen next week on ER. Anyway, so I was reading about the new Star Trek movie, which is coming out in December and is called Nemesis. I was intrigued because I had seen the trailer for the movie and wanted to know why there was some young kid running around who looked just like Capt. Picard. Was he a clone or something? AICN confirmed my suspicions. He was indeed a clone. This made me gnash my teeth and decide that the Trek fans who insist that Rick Berman has ruined Star Trek are right. Not only was the clone thing done in the all-too-weak latest Star Wars movie, but it draws unwelcome attention to the fact that Picard bears a passing resemblance to Dr. Evil of the Austin Powers movies. Now, he actually has his own Mini-Me!

While I was digesting this information, I came across another tidbit that further shocked me. (Okay, this is the first spoiler. You really should stop reading now if you like being surprised by Star Trek movies.) AICN let us know that, at the end of the movie, Data the android gets killed! While this information has to be labeled as rumor, I tend to believe it because the trailer shows someone who could be Data leaping off an exploding ship into the void of space. Now, this is really depressing news. And not because I’m a big Data fan. It’s depressing because it seems like a cheap ploy on the part of the filmmakers. I mean, how are we supposed to get upset over the “death” of an android? Won’t they just build another one? We even know that there will be plenty of spare parts because the trailer shows two Datas, one of which is apparently built by the other to be the brother he never had (if you don’t count his evil twin, Lore). Heck, maybe they will even pull a switcheroo and it will be the android clone who gets killed instead of the real Data. Anyway, the really depressing part is that this means that there is liable to be a sequel called, as one of the consistently temperate, reasoned and dignified posters who routine provide feedback to AICN articles suggested, The Search for Data, (now there’s a title a systems analyst can really get into) reminding us that we have been through this kill-off-a-beloved-Star-Trek-character-and-bring-him-back-in-a-sequel thing before with Mr. Spock.

The other unnerving movie trailer I saw was for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. As you know, I thought the first film of the trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring) was one of the greatest movies ever. And I fully expect that the second film will be as well. But I was upset to see a scene in the trailer (okay, now you really should stop reading here, unless you are me) where Gandalf appears. Now, I know the books forwards and backwards (well, forwards anyway) and I (along with everyone else who has read the books) know full well that Gandalf the Grey, who seemed to perish in the first book, will return as Gandalf the White in the second book. But it just seemed wrong to show it in the trailer. Presumably, there is someone out there who has not read the books and is entitled to be surprised. And even those of us who have read the books might like to be surprised, since watching the movie will be like having it all happen for the first time again.

So much for the good guys. We all know that the real problem with dead people coming back to life is really with the bad guys. Villains always seem to come back after you thought they were gone for good. This is a convention that seems to have originated with comic books, where villains are regularly killed at the end of a story only to reappear an issue or two later. I can’t even begin to count the times that Lex Luthor and the Joker died during the height of my comic book reading days. Now, an exception to this was the Green Goblin in the Spider-Man comic books. In that case, the story usually ended with him forgetting that he was the Green Goblin and just going back to being Harry Osborne’s overbearing father. But in the Spider-Man movie, the filmmakers look like they actually finished him off for good. Of course, that’s never stopped a good villain from coming back before. But more likely what they’re going to do is… okay, I think I’ve dropped enough spoilers into this piece. Figure that one out for yourself. Let’s just say that for movie purposes, the Spider-Man story is getting tightened up a bit—including how fast Peter Parker graduated from high school and skipping his first several girlfriends.

This whole thing about villains refusing to die seems to have become ingrained in our very culture. Look at the way we assume that Osama bin Laden is still alive out there somewhere, like some comic book villain waiting for just the right opportunity to surprise us all again. We believe this even though this man, who is supposed to be such an inspiration to his followers and a thorn in the side of western civilization, thereby having every motive to proclaim his survival, has not been heard from for months. But maybe he is still alive anyway. If so, we will know because he will inevitably suffer the fate of many a mediocre movie. No doubt, he will go straight to video.

-S.L., 25 July 2002

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