During my epic movie-watch that I began shortly after the first covid lockdown way back in March 2020 here in England, I've not only purchased and viewed many new movies (mostly on DVD) but also finally got around to watching movies that I'd owned unviewed for the best part of 25 years. Two more from this latter category that I've recently seen at long last are The Wizard of Speed and Time and The Amazing Panda Adventure.
Directed, written, and starring real-life special-effects movie maestro Mike Jittlov, The Wizard of Speed and Time was released in 1988 and is basically a much-expanded, 95-minute version of an earlier, 3-minute-long sfx production by Jittlov, released in 1979, much of which appears in the climactic scene of this movie (click here to watch the original 3-min version on YouTube). Its storyline focuses upon an sfx movie wizard and his frenetic efforts to get a sfx movie made and screened by a major TV company, as well as highlighting in comedic manner the problems experienced by anyone attempting to do so independently of Hollywood's varied (and numerous) film/TV unions.
Jittlov basically plays a fantasised version of himself (and also, in the movie within this movie, the eponymous green-costumed Wizard of Speed and Time). So as you'd expect, the special-effects on show are great. Unfortunately, however, the movie itself plays like a feature-length version of one of those manic TV shows for very young youngsters where the acting is totally OTT throughout, the villains are of the slapstick boo-hiss variety, everybody shouts A LOT, hyper-exaggerated mayhem reigns supreme, and the mood is unrelentingly, wholly unrealistically optimistic, with uncoralled, hurricane-force zaniness the order of the day.
Indeed, I had to pause the movie halfway through in order to stop my poor reeling mind from spinning, before gamely ploughing through the second half. However, over-active 3-year-olds will no doubt love it, I'm sure.
By comparison, The Amazing Panda Adventure is a rather more serious affair. Directed by Christopher Cain and released in 1995, it concerns an American boy named Ryan (played by Christian Slater's brother Ryan) visiting his estranged zoologist father Dr Michael Tyler (Stephen Lang) in China where he works at a giant panda reserve, but which is facing imminent closure by government officials as its wild pandas are apparently not breeding.
In fact, one adult female giant panda HAS recently bred, but when she becomes trapped by a leg snare set by poachers and her cub is then kidnapped by them to sell to a zoo, all of the main staff from the reserve set off in pursuit, during which Ryan and Chinese girl Ling (Yi Ding), who works for Ryan's father as a translator, become separated from the others and are stranded together in the wild. However, after trailing the poachers, Ryan and Ling succeed in rescuing the panda cub, and then try to find their way back with it to the reserve's headquarters, chased by the poachers and undergoing all manner of perilous experiences en route, while also bonding with each other as friends.
The Amazing Panda Adventure contains some enchanting sequences featuring a truly adorable real-life panda cub (named Moon Shema), but a robot version is naturally used for all of the dangerous scenes and stunts. Shot entirely on location in the highlands of central China, this pleasant movie features awe-inspiring Sinian scenery that is beyond beautiful. But as a downside, Slater does not appear to have been blessed with the same level of acting ability as his more famous brother, his character tending to come across simply as an irritating brat rather than, as presumably intended, a youngster initially bemused by but gradually coming to terms with and ultimately embracing the fascinating cultural differences between his American background and life in rural China.
Never mind, The Amazing Panda Adventure is still a lovely family-friendly movie with enough thrills and spills to keep the viewer engaged for its 84-minute running time. Plus, how many movies can you think of that feature real giant pandas as the major stars?
By kind permission of Mike Jittlov, The Wizard of Speed and Time can currently be watched for free on YouTube by clicking here; and an official trailer revealing the beauty and charm of The Amazing Panda Adventure can be viewed here.