Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes in “Demolition Man”
In “Demolition Man,” which was pretty stupid in 1993 and is now even more unwatchable and terribly boring, Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes play a cop and criminal – both frozen in 1996 (in something clumsily dubbed “CryoPrison”) and thawed out in the pacifist utopia of 2032. Can you imagine what kind of chaos those two are going to get into? Well, yes, you probably can (which is partly what makes it such a drag) – mindless, Joel Silver-supervised mayhem mixed with “satirical” hypothesizing (watch Sandra Bullock, a year before her breakout role in “Speed,” humiliate herself during a scene where she has “virtual sex” with Stallone). “Demolition Man” has an admittedly cool central concept but it thinks it’s way cleverer than it actually is (Bullock’s character is named “Huxley” – yuk yuk yuk) and for all its voluminous fireballs, will ultimately leave you cold.
Brendan Fraser in “Encino Man”
While excavating a plot of land for a new below ground pool, a pair of dumb-ass teens (played memorably by Pauly Shore and future-hobbit Sean Astin) discovers a caveman (Brendan Fraser, pre-weird-hair piece) frozen in a block of ice. They defrost him and set about teaching him all of the amazing things California-circa-1993 has to offer, like Slushees, skateboarding and the joys of wearing unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts. For a movie with such an astoundingly stupid premise and one that is so clearly cobbled together from any number of teen comedies that came before it (a splash of “Teen Wolf” here, a dash of “Sixteen Candles” there, a light sprinkling of “Carrie” for texture), “Encino Man” holds up pretty well, at least partially to due with the likability of its cast and the catchiness of its premise. Apparently the Brendan Fraser showed up in a number of other Pauly Shore vehicles (remember with those were a regular occurrence?) and there was a 1996 TV movie sequel called “Encino Man.” Thanks, Internet!
Mike Myers in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery”
Ostensibly a spoof of sixties spy movies (James Bond and “In Like Flint” among them), the original (and still the best, despite the considerable surrealist charm of “Austin Powers in Goldmember”) “Austin Powers” also owes a certain debt to “Demolition Man.” The set-up is remarkably similar – a super-villain Dr. Evil (Myers) goes into deep freeze so our titular hero (also Myers) freezes himself so that whenever Dr. Evil returns he can be unfrozen and defeat him – and the two are based around similar fish-out-of-water conceits (with “Austin Powers” being initially set in the sixties and then in present day, instead of present day and the distant future). Except that “Austin Powers” is (intentionally) way funnier. It also has some of the best “what happens when you’re unfrozen” jokes (a staple of the subgenre), including a super-extended urination and something that affects THE VOLUME OF HIS VOICE.
Mel Gibson in “Forever Young”
This Mel Gibson vanity project, based on a script by a young, relatively-unknown screenwriter JJ Abrams (Abrams was 26 when the film was released), has the super-star playing a 1939 bomber pilot who volunteers for an experimental cryogenics procedure after his wife falls into a coma. (He doesn’t want to watch her die. Or something.) Of course, his one-year stint in the sleekly retro tube ends up being a fifty-year marathon, and Gibson is unearthed in present day by a couple of bumbling kids (including another future-hobbit, Elijah Wood). Instead of being played for laughs, “Forever Young” is a sentimental affair – sometimes achingly so. Gibson saves Wood’s mother (played by Jamie Lee-Curtis) from an abusive boyfriend, then must face the agonizing physiological side effects of being frozen for so long (including, in the film’s histrionic final act, aging into an unconvincing elderly man). You can see where Abrams would take this mixture of high concept and big heart in future projects like “Super 8” and it’s nice to see an unfreezing tale played straight, but often times things feel clunky and forced.
The Thing in “The Thing”
As far as inhuman, otherworldly monsters go, they don’t get much better than the titular beast from John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece (a loose remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks film “The Thing From Another World”). In the film a team of Antarctic researchers and roughnecks (led by Kurt Russell’s stoic helicopter pilot MacReady) accidentally unearth a gooey extraterrestrial from the frozen tundra. Terrifyingly, the creature can imitate biological matter – including humans! – leading to some major, snow-in-the-mustache trust issues. The creature is brought to life, beautifully, by the special effects wizardry of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, taking practical effects and puppetry to whole new levels, and Carpenter, at the top of his game, creates a palpably tense atmosphere of paranoia and mistrust. Even if horror and sci-fi leaves you chilly, “The Thing” will thaw you to the core.
Sigourney Weave in “Aliens”
True, Weaver’s fierce ensign Ripley is frozen (or “in stasis” or whatever sci-fi-ish term they use) in almost every entry in the beloved franchise, but in James Cameron’s super-sequel “Aliens” her frosty nap means the most and has the most emotional heft. In “Aliens,” Ripley, having battled a obsidian-skinned space-monster, awakes to discover that she has been asleep for 57 years, in which time her daughter has grown to old age and died. Sad emoticon. It’s this element of the film that was largely trimmed from the theatrical cut and reinstated for the definitive (and superior) director’s cut, serving for the thematic backbone of Ripley’s relationship with orphaned alien survivor Newt (Carrie Henn). Most of the movies on this list treat lost-in-time frozenness as a single joke played over a series of gags, but “Aliens” milks it to fine tragic effect.
John Lone in “Iceman”
Imagine if “Encino Man” was played straight… and you more or less have “Iceman,” a marginal drama from Australian director Fred Schepisi and producer Norman Jewison, wherein an anthropologist (Timothy Hutton) thaws and then revives a caveman (the first performance by the magnetic and perpetually underrated John Lone). While never reaching truly glorious levels of self-aware kitsch, there are a number of wonderfully WTF-worthy moments, including Hutton naming the “iceman” Charlie (apparently he is on his way to becoming a radio deejay), Hutton singing him Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” and a ludicrous escape-from-the-science-compound climax. You can tell, looking back on “Iceman,” that it was inspired by the “otherworldly creature can teach us something about ourselves” subgenre that popped up after “E.T’s” astronomical success (see also: “Mac and Me,” Carpenter’s underrated “Starman”). Ultimately “Iceman” plays things too straight to ever be the bad-taste/good-fun B-movie it ought to be, but Lone’s fine performance does much to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the snow.
Chris Evans in “Captain America: The First Avenger”
Although Captain America isn’t really frozen until the end of “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and the ramifications of his thawing aren’t dealt with until this summer’s multi-headed sequel thingee “The Avengers,” he’s still a classic example of the frozen hero – both his body and his values have been trapped in a block of ice. As Captain America, a genetically modified “super soldier” developed to win World War II but used mostly as a jingoistic marketing tool to sell war bonds, Evans embodies a kind of aw-shucks patriotism that somehow doesn’t come off as overtly cheesy in the age of WikiLeaks and voter suppression, and reveals a character surprisingly deep and tortured – when he’s thawed out in modern day, to him the horrors of Hitler were just a few weeks ago.
Woody Allen in “Sleeper”
In arguably the most beloved movie in Woody Allen’s “wacky” period (coming less than a half-decade before game changer “Annie Hall”), “Sleeper” sees Allen’s Mile Monroe, a health food store owner, cryogenically frozen against his will and defrosted 200 years later in a zanily oppressive society. Originally conceived as a silent film, “Sleeper” is best remembered for its physical comedy (like Allen repeatedly slipping on a huge, genetically engineered banana peel and another sequence where Allen disguises himself as a robot) and for an early indication of the chemistry between Allen and Diane Keaton that would be memorably cemented with “Annie Hall.” (A lot of “Sleeper,” as funny as it is, is sometimes horribly dated. Irony!) There is also, hilariously, a scene much like the “sex scene” from “Demolition Man.” Except I’m pretty sure that “Sleeper’s” sequence was actually meant to be funny.
Billy West in “Futurama: Bender’s Big Score,” “Beast With a Billion Backs,” “Bender’s Game,” and “Into the Wild Green Yonder”
The entire concept behind “Futurama,” Matt Groening’s insidiously brilliant follow-up series to “The Simpsons,” is a kind of hyper-caffeinated version of “Sleeper” – Fry (Billy West) is a delivery boy who is accidentally frozen in the year 2000 and unthawed in the year 3000, where he goes to work as a delivery boy for a distant relative (also West). The animated format gives Groening and company license to push the (conceptual) boundaries until they almost give way, but the melancholic elements of “Futurama’s” central concept are often revisited in profoundly touching ways (remember the episode about Fry’s dog? Exactly). One of the show’s best episode, season three’s “Future Stock,” has Fry meeting a fellow temporal refugee in a cryogenic support group (other members included a caveman), except this guy was frozen in the eighties (sample dialogue: “I was having whisky with Boesky and cookies with Milken”). It was proof that even if you’ve been frozen for thousands of years, there’s still common ground – namely, “The Safety Dance” and power ties.
Harrison Ford in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”
There’s really only one place you can go after delivering one of the best romantic back-and-forths in movie history (Leia: “I love you” Han: “I know”) – deep freeze! Instead of ice, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), ruggedly lovable rapscallion and pilot of the Millennium Falcon, is doused in “carbonite,” some kind of steamy sci-fi liquid metal, to be delivered to blobby gangster Jabba the Hutt by bounty hunter Boba Fett. Han is unfrozen relatively soon after his freezing, so he doesn’t have any wacky out-of-time moments to indulge in (but he is blind and pretty sweaty). Han’s chill-out is so iconic that you can buy ice cube trays of his frozen visage and Disney, as part of their “Star Wars” Weekends at the Hollywood Studios park in Florida, was offering customizable “carbonite” portraits of yourself. If either are found in your house you probably don’t have anyone telling you they love you. Sad emoticon.