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Universal offers up 100 fun movie facts for their centennial celebration

Universal Pictures 100th Anniversary Logo

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Did you know the working title for “E.T.” was “A Boy’s Life”? Or that both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were extras in “Field of Dreams”? All of those facts plus 98 more were released today by Universal Pictures to tease their 100th anniversary. Included are everything from the name of the mechanical shark in “Jaws” to what Bela Lugosi was wearing at his funeral.

It’s a fascinating list for movie buffs so check it out below. When you’re finished with that, hit up Universal’s birthday website here to find out more about the dozens of new centennial edition Blu-rays and DVDs that the company is releasing this year.


1. Universal Film Manufacturing Company was officially incorporated in New York on April 30, 1912. Company legend says Carl Laemmle was inspired to name his company Universal after seeing “Universal Pipe Fittings” written on a passing delivery wagon.

2. The only physical damage made during the filming of National Lampoon’s Animal House was when John Belushi made a hole in the wall with a guitar. The actual Sigma Nu fraternity house (which subbed for the fictitious Delta House) never repaired it, and instead framed the hole in honor of the film.

3. The working title for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was “A Boy’s Life.”

4. In the movie All Quiet on the Western Front, the Greek writing on the blackboard in the schoolroom is the beginning of Homer’s Odyssey: “Tell me, oh Muse, of that ingenious hero who traveled far and wide.”

5. In 1969, a then 22-year old Steven Spielberg was assigned to direct the Universal Television series pilot, Night Gallery. It’s safe to say things went pretty well for Steven after that.

6. The word “dude” in The Big Lebowski is used approximately 161 times in the movie: 160 times spoken and once in text (in the credits for “Gutterballs” the second dream sequence). The F-word or a variation of the F-word is used 292 times. The Dude says “man” 147 times in the movie—that’s nearly 1.5 times a minute.

7. The first feature filmed at Universal City was Damon and Pythias in 1914.

8. President Ronald Reagan starred in the 1951 Universal feature film, Bedtime for Bonzo.

9. Back to the Future’s DeLorean time machine is actually a licensed, registered vehicle in the state of California. While the vanity license plate used in the film says “OUTATIME,” the DeLorean’s actual license plate reads 3CZV657.

10. The film A Beautiful Mind was shot in sequence in order to help Russell Crowe better develop his character’s emotional and physical arc.

11. American Graffiti’s budget was exactly $777,777.77, and it was delivered on time – and on budget.

12. In the Alfred Hitchcock classic The Birds, Tippi Hedren was actually cut in the face by a bird during the shooting of one sequence.

13. Throughout his career, Rock Hudson appeared in 46 feature films with Universal including Pillow Talk, All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession. In 1953, he was elected Mayor of Universal City.

14. The infamous apple pie in the movie American Pie was purchased by the production from Costco.

15. In the movie The Breakfast Club, the students ate the following for lunch: Andrew: A bag of chips, chocolate cookies, three sandwiches, milk, a banana and an apple. Claire: Sushi. Allison: Sandwich with Pixie Stix and Captain Crunch cereal. Brian: Soup, sandwich with peanut butter and jam and apple juice. Bender: Nothing.

16. In Brokeback Mountain, the song Jack plays on his harmonica is “He Was a Friend of Mine,” the same song Willie Nelson sings during the closing credits.

17. The film Buck Privates took in $4 million at the U.S. Box Office (at a time when theater admission ranged between 10 and 25 cents).

18. A sneak preview of the film Buck Privates was held in late January 1941 for soldiers at Fort MacArthur, California.

19. The Munster’s House on Colonial Street was originally built for the 1946 production, So Goes My Love.

20. The title of the movie Do The Right Thing comes from a Malcolm X quote: “You’ve got to do the right thing.”

21. According to reports, during some of the Russian roulette scenes in the movie The Deer Hunter, a live round was put into the gun to heighten the actors’ tension per Robert De Niro’s suggestion. It was checked, however, to make sure the bullet was not in the chamber before the trigger was pulled.

22. In the first scene of the movie Double Indemnity, when Walter first kisses Phyllis, there is a wedding ring on Walter’s hand. Fred MacMurray was married and the ring was not noticed until post-production.

23. When Bela Lugosi, star of the monster classic, Dracula, died in 1956, he was buried wearing a black silk cape similar to the one he wore in the film.

24. At 29,500 sq. ft., Universal Studios’ Stage 12 is the 7th largest soundstage in the world. It was originally built for the 1929 musical Broadway.

25. Carl Laemmle Jr. offered James Whale a list of more than 30 film adaptations he could direct and out of them all, Whale picked Frankenstein. It was his transition from war movies to monster pics.

26. Today’s Universal City officially opened March 15, 1915. Nearly three years after Universal Film Manufacturing Company was created. The first mayor was Herbert Rawlinson.

27. Vans, the company behind the checkerboard shoes worn by Sean Penn (a.k.a. Jeff Spicoli) in the cult movie classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, became a national brand after the film’s release in 1982.

28. Actor Charlton Heston “parted” the Red Sea attraction on the Universal Studios Tour at the attraction’s grand opening in 1973.

29. Neither Michelle Rodriguez nor Jordana Brewster had drivers’ licenses or even learners’ permits before production of the film in Fast and the Furious.

30. Universal pioneered the Academy Award-winning Sensurround Sound System which made its first appearance in the 1974 movie, Earthquake. The Sensurround system caused low-frequency audio waves to be felt by the audience and created a visceral complement to the seismic tremors and destruction depicted on screen..

31. In the movie Field of Dreams, both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are among the thousands of extras in the Fenway Park scene. Over a decade later, when Phil Alden Robinson worked with Affleck on the production of The Sum of All Fears, Affleck said, “Nice working with you again.”

32. In the coliseum scenes in Gladiator, only the bottom two decks are actually filled with people. The other thousands of spectators are computer-animated.

33. Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey was the first actress at Universal to receive a nomination for “Best Actress” at the Academy Awards.

34. William Powell from the 1936 film, My Man Godfrey was the first actor at Universal to receive a nomination for “Best Actor” at the Academy Awards.

35. The Universal sound technician, Jack Foley, developed the method of creating and recording many of the natural, everyday sound effects in a film. Today this method is named after him.

36. Universal’s first talking picture was Melody of Love.

37. The Universal Amphitheatre opened in 1972 with a staged concert version of Jesus Christ Superstar. The film version was released in 1973.

38. The legendary thriller and suspense director Alfred Hitchcock did not win any Academy Awards while working with Universal.

39. Thomas Edison presented Universal Studios with a plaque dedicating its first electric studio on October 27, 1915.

40. In the infamous shower scene in Psycho, the sound of the knife-stabbing actress Janet Leigh was made by plunging a knife into a melon.

41. The film Traffic in Souls is considered Universal’s first full-length feature film.

42. The legendary studio head Irving Thalberg got his start in show business as Carl Laemmle’s personal secretary in 1917.

43. ET: The Extra Terrestrial is Universal Pictures’ all-time highest grossing film.

44. With the over-budget production of Show Boat, Carl Laemmle was forced to sell Universal Studios to his creditors in 1936.

45. In 1995, Waterworld generated worldwide attention for being the most expensive film made to date. Unable to live up to expectations at the box office, the film eventually turned a profit due to strong home video sales and inspired one of the most popular theme park attractions of all time.

46. About 25% of the film Jaws was shot from water level so audiences could better relate to treading water.

47. In the film The Invisible Man, the director dressed Claude Rains in black velvet and filmed him against a black velvet background to create the effect that he wasn’t there.

48. Some of the props used in the 2005 version of King Kong were original props from the 1933 version. These props came from Peter Jackson’s personal collection and include the Skull Island spears and brightly painted shield, and some of the drums from the sacrifice scene.

49. In Jurassic Park, a guitar string was used to make the water ripple on the dash of the Ford Explorer by attaching it to the underside of the dash beneath the glass.

50. Universal entered the 3-D market with the film, It Came from Outer Space (1953)

51. Universal won its first Best Picture Academy Award for All Quiet on the Western Front in 1930.

52. Steven Spielberg nicknamed the mechanical shark in the movie Jaws, “Bruce.”

53. In the film The Incredible Shrinking Man, when Louise is on the phone asking for the operator, the music playing on the radio is the theme song to Written on the Wind, which was made at Universal the year prior.

54. The script Charlton Heston holds in the film Earthquake as he’s running lines with Genevieve Bujold is actually the script for “Earthquake” and on the page of the scene being shot.

55. It took two-and-a-half hours a day to apply Lon Chaney’s makeup in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

56. Legendary Universal Chairman Lew R. Wasserman received an Academy Award in 1973 for his role as a humanitarian.

57. With the film Meet the Fockers, the MPAA would not allow use of the name ‘Focker’ unless the filmmakers could find an actual person with that last name.

58. The first American film to show a toilet flushing on screen was Psycho.

59. While Jurassic Park was in post-production, Steven Spielberg began working on Schindler’s List in Poland and worked via satellite, courtesy of technology provided by George Lucas.

60. In the film, Scarface, an M16 assault rifle with an M203 40mm grenade launcher attached to the barrel is Tony’s “little friend.”

61. The 1932 film Scarface was one of the first films to feature the Thompson submachine gun, known historically as the “tommy gun.”

62. In the film Pillow Talk, Tony Randall was supposed to fake a reaction to being decked in the face by one of the restaurant patrons. However, during filming, the actor overestimated and actually knocked out Randall. The shot was so well done— it was used in the film.

63. Alfred Hitchcock did not choose to conclude the film, The Birds, with the usual “THE END” title because he wanted to leave the audience with the feeling of unending terror and uncertainty.

64. Groucho Marx explained the title Duck Soup as follows: “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.”

65. For Despicable Me, the film’s directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin provide most of the voices for Gru’s minions.

66. In The Nutty Professor starring Eddie Murphy, the family dinner scene was initially going to be cut out due to what was believed to be its lack of relevance.

67. When the Universal Studios Tour opened to the general public in 1964, the general admission price for one adult was $2.50.

68. The children who sang the song, “Every Sperm is Sacred” in the Monty Python film, The Meaning of Life, later said they had no idea what sperm was or what they were singing about.

69. In the film, My Little Chickadee, Cuthbert J. Twille (W.C. Fields) says to Flower Belle (Mae West), “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?”—This is in reference to West’s famous line in the film She Done Him Wrong.

70. The following institutions have existed at one time on the Universal Studios lot—a school, zoo, and hospital.

71. The hair-washing scene in Out of Africa was shot very close to a live, territorial hippopotamus. Meryl Streep was extremely nervous during its filming.

72. The locusts in the 1999 film, The Mummy, were mostly computer-generated, however, some live grasshoppers were used. Hours before filming they were chilled in a refrigerator to make them more sluggish.

73. In Smokey and the Bandit, the Trans-Am featured in the bridge jump scene was fitted with a more powerful Chevrolet engine.

74. The average shot length in the film Vertigo is 6.7 seconds.

75. The permanent set in Stage 28 was created to be a replica of the landmark The Paris Opera House, for the classic film, The Phantom of the Opera.

76. When you hear the sound of the crowd cheering, “Spartacus! Spartacus!” in the movie Spartacus, it was actually a pre-taped recording from a 1959 football game at Michigan State University’s Spartan Stadium.

77. In Sullivan’s Travels, director Preston Sturges can be seen in the background on the set of ‘The Girls’ period movie.

78. The cake in the movie Sixteen Candles is made of cardboard.

79. The final speech by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird was done in one take.

80. The diner in the movie The Sting is the same diner interior used in Back to the Future.

81. In 1928, famous cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, debuted at a Universal-owned theater.

82. Elizabeth Taylor made her feature film debut in Universal’s 1942 film, There’s One Born Every Minute.

83. Yes, at some point, some Universal executive, or team of executives, thought 1986’s Howard the Duck was a good idea.

84. The dog chase scene at the beginning of the film Beethoven was filmed on the Universal backlot.

85. The title of the film Streets of Fire starring Michael Paré and Diane Lane, was drawn from a Bruce Springsteen song, from his album Darkness on the Edge of Town. The song, unfortunately, does not appear in the film.

86. Robert Redford’s character in The Sting is named after blues legend John Lee Hooker. The character’s name is Johnny Hooker.

87. 1920’s Shipwrecked Among Cannibals was the first film to gross $1,000,000 for Universal.

88. Prominent Universal Director Edward Laemmle was the nephew of Universal Founder Carl Laemmle. He directed over 60 films (including shorts) for Universal.

89. In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the films that are watched by the “employees” in the Smar-Tech store are all produced by Universal.

90. The Blues Brothers “Bluesmobile” is a 1974 Dodge Monaco.

91. Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is only the second time Bela Lugosi would play “Dracula” in a feature film. (He played other vampires in the interim, but not Dracula.)

92. In 1973’s High Plains Drifter starring Clint Eastwood, one of the headstones in the graveyard bears the name Sergio Leone as a tribute.

93. On Golden Pond was Henry Fonda’s final film, and the only one he starred in with his daughter Jane.

94. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is the third major motion picture produced by Universal from a book written by Theodore Geisel a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

95. In 1992’s Scent of Woman, Al Pacino repeatedly shouts “Hoo-ah.” “Hoo-ah” comes from the military acronym “HUA” which stands for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”

96. The car wash in Car Wash was named The Dee Luxe Car Wash.

97. 1971’s Play Misty for Me was set in Carmel, CA, where Clint Eastwood later lived and became mayor in 1986.

98. “The Bride” in “The Bride of Frankenstein” is the only one of Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters to have never killed anyone.

99. Throughout its hundred year legacy, Universal brought to audiences the first films of talents such as John Ford, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Norman Jewison, Ben Stiller, Robert Zemeckis, John Hughes, Amy Heckerling, Spike Jonze, Zack Snyder and Judd Apatow.

100. More than 100 million people from around the world have taken the Universal Studios “studio tour.” While the tour officially began in 1964, Universal has been welcoming the public to our studio since 1915 and the silent era.

Which of these movie facts did you find most interesting? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

invitation

Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

“Prometheus” international launch trailer delivers the aliens

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After months of pouring over the trailers for “Promethueus” like Jim Garrison studying the Zapruder film (for the younger readers, that’s a “JFK” joke), one thing we still hadn’t seen was a dead-on shot of one of the film’s monsters. That all changes with the new international trailer, which includes scenes with what might be the spiritual predecessor to “Alien’s” face-hugger, exploding pods, infected crew members in different stages of transformation, and some ethereal shots of the Space Jockeys in action (possibly their race’s version of instant-replay?).

Keeping in theme with other installments in the “Alien” saga, one of the immediate dangers that the crew of the Prometheus faces is one of their own. The new footage give us a look at Charlize Theron’s character Meredith Vickers, the Weyland-Yutani corporation representative who clearly has a hidden agenda, but goes about about it with a sinister directness that neither Ian Hom’s Ash or Paul Reiser’s Burke never dared. The trailer shows Vickers as a cold and ruthless figurehead, supervising a mission she openly believes is destined to fail. So, why is she going?

For everything “Prometheus” has shown the audience in these trailers, there’s still a ton of mystery behind the film, and we’re counting down the days until June 8 when all will be revealed. In the meantime, enjoy the new footage below.

What do you think is the corporation’s ulterior motive in “Prometheus”? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

“The Avengers” review: Impressions of a Marvel masterpiece

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Four years ago today, “Iron Man” arrived in theaters and kicked off a bold, long-term plan (by Hollywood standards, at least) that would see four different Marvel superheroes appear in their own solo movies, then unite in a single film featuring not just all of the previous films’ stars, but many of their supporting cast, too.

It was a plan that seemed to disregard the inevitable clash of egos and all of the other behind-the-scenes elements that often doom a franchise before it gets started. And because of that, it was a plan everyone wanted to succeed, but quietly expected to become another ambitious failure.

Yet here we are, four years to the day after Robert Downey Jr. became the living embodiment of armored superhero Tony Stark, and “The Avengers” is riding a wave of positive buzz as it approaches the finish line and its long-awaited premiere.

Even more unbelievable, though, is that despite all of the odds against it and the stratospheric expectations heaped upon it, “The Avengers” still manages to not only live up to those expectations, but to exceed them with an epic adventure that’s just as impressive as its larger-than-life characters.

Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans in 'The Avengers'

For a film that required so many prologues to get to this point, it’s surprising how little up-front exposition is required to bring newcomers up to speed with “The Avengers” universe. While the film clearly assumes some familiarity with the main characters and a few basic plot points of the preceding films (“Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Thor,” “Iron Man 2,” and “Captain America: The First Avenger”), co-writers Joss Whedon and Zak Penn have done a great job of weaving any necessary information into the early portions of the film and making the exposition feel organic.

The premise of “The Avengers” is this: Thor’s evil brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned, and he plans to use the Tesseract (the powerful, glowing blue cube last seen in “Captain America”) to take over Earth. When Loki proves too powerful for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and S.H.I.E.L.D. to take down on their own, all of the characters from the previous Marvel Studios films team up to defeat Loki and the alien horde helping him.

It’s a plot that seems laughably old-school in its simplicity, but its genius lies in how this bare-bones narrative foundation allows the film’s talented cast and creative team the room to do what they do best.

A scene from The Avengers

From start to finish, “The Avengers” is a film that draws heavily from classic comic-book tropes. An early misunderstanding has the heroes fighting each other before they eventually realize that they’re on the same side, and the combination of personalities on the team has the expected oil-and-water chemistry. As in all good crossovers, they eventually put aside their differences and cooperate for the common good (in this case, saving the Earth).

It’s the sort of adventure that comic fans are accustomed to seeing in print, but just like the best comics, “The Avengers” truly shines in how it fills out its narrative skeleton and the area around these tropes with vibrant storytelling, compelling character development, and moments filled with so much heart – and humor – that the entire package stands on its own.

Initially, what’s most surprising (though in hindsight, not very surprising at all) is how well director Joss Whedon’s focus on dialogue, humor, and character development drive the film forward and make the moments without action just as enjoyable and interesting as the action sequences. At times, it’s hard to tell where Downey’s clever repartee as Tony Stark ends and Whedon’s influence on the character begins, but it’s easy to see the writer/director’s signature all over Mark Ruffalo’s version of Bruce Banner and – more noticeably – his green alter ego, Hulk.

With Hulk, Whedon somehow manages to find the sweet spot between the raging, uncontrollable behemoth of the 2008 film and a new side of the character that makes him the source of some of the film’s funniest moments. This new dynamic is presented as a natural evolution of Bruce Banner’s relationship with the beast inside of him, and Whedon finds a humor-rich vein to mine in the creature’s lack of impulse control and primitive take on the events transpiring around him.

Marvel’s wise decision to bring back Tom Hiddleston as Loki also pays off in a big way, and the British actor not only holds his own against the film’s cast of heavy-hitters, but draws your attention every moment he’s on screen, oozing with all of the charisma you’d expect from the god of mischief. At times, he’s almost too good, as his scenes with Chris Evans make Captain America seem, well… a little bland in comparison.

Thankfully, for every scene featuring Loki and Captain America, there’s another that puts Loki and Tony Stark in the same room and lets Hiddleston and Downey put on a two-man show as trickster god and narcissistic genius, respectively.

Samuel L. Jackson in The Avengers

It’s worth noting that “The Avengers” doesn’t fail to appease on the fan-service side, either. Over the course of the film, nearly every permutation of hero and villain finds its way to the screen at one point or another, and Whedon masterfully balances the roles each character plays in the big-picture story. Much was made of the dynamic between Captain America and Iron Man in the run-up to the film, with fans wondering how the two characters could possibly share the same screen. “The Avengers” director makes it seem easy, though, and neither Captain America nor Iron Man – nor Hulk or Thor, for that matter – feel relegated to supporting roles.

The most important takeaway from “The Avengers,” however, seems to be the film’s triumph as a comic-book movie that defies the trend toward dark and gritty superhero stories.

Where many films adapted from comic books have kept things at street level, “The Avengers” soars through the air at every opportunity and chooses bright, witty, and unabashedly heroic over dark, grim, and conflicted. Possibly the greatest compliment that can be paid to “The Avengers,” however, is that the film comes the closest of any recent superhero movies to capturing that sense of wonder and spectacle that first turned many kids into lifelong comics fans.

Yes, on top of all the expectations the film lives up to and all of the obstacles it overcame to get to this point, “The Avengers” greatest accomplishment could be this: its ability to make an entire audience feel like children reading their favorite comic for the very first time. It’s a quality that precious few comic book movies seem to capture these days, so let’s hope it’s enough to make audiences assemble for “The Avengers.”

“The Avengers” hits theaters May 4.

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