By Mark L. Lester, D.G.A.
Well, Commando-ites, the day has come… the final chapter in John Matrix’s saga. Before starting, I just to thank you all so much for the kind words in the comment sections in prior installments. (You can Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.) Some of you were very open about your affection for the film. One of you even revealed that you use the film as a masturbatory prop. I think that’s completely healthy, and I respect that! So thank you.
When we last left off, Matrix and Cindy had just narrowly escaped being intercepted by the military. They successfully land on the island (that’s not Valverde!) and Matrix deplanes to steal back Jenny from the clutches of Arius and Bennett.
And so Begins Part Three…
We realized that at this point in the film, the drama was too intense for audiences to handle. But there was a montage in the script, and those always get pulses pumpin faster. Oh no! We knew we needed to check in with the audience and tell them to keep their chins up – all without a character ever looking into camera and literally telling them that (though we did cover that version, too). So, you’ll notice that about midway through this montage, after Matrix gears up, that we cut to Arius and Bennett doing absolutely nothing inside Arius’s villa.
When we were rehearsing the original scene with those two, Dan Hedaya (Arius) pulled me aside and said, “Mark, shouldn’t we have lines here, or some kind of action?” I laughed and said, “Do you want the audience to die from a heart attack, Danny?” We decided that it was ultimately best to have Arius sipping an alcoholic beverage and looking at his watch while Bennett casually fiddles with his gun clip, as he would naturally do in his leisure time. (We also shot a version with them watching a Spanish-dubbed episode of Three’s Company. It was the episode where they couldn’t pay their rent! Hilarioso!)
We had a consultant from the military tell us how to make things look. I wanted to get all the pageantry and colors just right. But then the consultant got called to a secret mission or something halfway through the first day of shooting. Luckily, we were able to save some of the notes he scribbled on a napkin and I think we did a fine job matching everyone in the same camouflage. But what’s even more important about this scene is how, with Bennett’s reaction to Matrix’s arrival, we strengthened an already authentic rapport between old military comrades with a dark past.
Pay close attention after the watchtower building blows up three times in a row (for you tech heads out there, we didn’t actually blow up three buildings that looked exactly like each other, but instead shot one explosion with multiple cameras, and then showed the same building blowing up three times in the edit). We cut inside Arius’s villa, where Bennett hears the explosion. He knows that it’s not an accident. One of Arius’s personal chefs didn’t forget to turn off the stove! No, Bennett can tell it’s Matrix because he’s studied the sounds of Matrix’s explosions, just like blind people can tell certain cars by the way the engine sounds! And while stroking his knife, Bennett whispers, “Welcome back, John. So glad you could make it.” The knife stroking and the words “welcome” and “glad” reinforce that Bennett is looking forward to killing Matrix, which is very dramatic. Most people wouldn’t want to fight a guy like Matrix. He’s too strong and muscular!
JUST ENOUGH VIOLENCE
This sequence is from my director’s cut (available at Amazon.com) and you’ll notice it’s a more visceral sequence than in the theatrical release. Still, it’s very tasteful, and organic to the story. I had said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a tool shed at Arius’s villa, because that would give Matrix the chance to show off without his gun, too.” I think this came out nicely, and we used everything that we shot except the part where Arnold rakes someone to death with a Garden Weasel™. It was just too much screen time.
You may have noticed a part where Matrix chops off an enemy’s arm with machete. Really getting into his character, Arnold suggested he take the severed arm and slap the soldier in the face with his own hand. And I thought to myself that it might be too much. But I negotiated with Arnold, which is why you see two circular saw blades killing two soldiers, instead of just one like in the script. In the end, I think two were necessary, so demonstrate that the first saw blade wasn’t just a lucky shot. Matrix is actually very skilled at throwing sharp objects.
SOMETIMES BRAWN ISN’T ENOUGH
The major turning point in the film comes down to the fact that Matrix knows Bennett’s fatal flaw is pride– like so many villains before him. Matrix plays such a wonderfully complex mind game with his nemesis in this scene; it’s like solving a Rubik’s cube. When Matrix says, “Let’s party,” Bennett knows that he doesn’t mean the kind of party with hats and cake, or the other kind of partying that was done a lot in the 80s up people’s noses. No, this is a party of two, and the party is over when the other person dies.
Of course, that person is Bennett, who gets a lead pipe thrown through his chest, giving way to Arnold’s delivery of one of the most crisply written one-liners in cinema history. It just perfectly captured what Bennett was in need of – letting off some steam! He was so tense before that, don’t you think? But Bennett isn’t the type to relax with a massage or bath beads. He needs to get rough and tumble with other men. This addiction ended up killing him, which is tragic, but it’s life. Some of the crew cried when we wrapped shooting Bennett’s death scene, because they knew that a great character of the silver screen was lost that day*.
THE END CREDITS BALLAD
Well, Commando-ites, this is the final lesson in the syllabus, but it’s possibly the most important one of all. You can make the greatest bottle of cinematic champagne ever (like we did), but it doesn’t mean anything unless you cork it with a really rocking power ballad. I don’t think this film could have come together and had such a cultural impact like it did without Duran Duran and Power Station’s Andy Taylor writing “We Fight For Love” sending us out. You can tell that he was touched by the muse when he came up with the lyrics; they capture the essence of the film so eloquently.
I will protect you/Nothing can hurt you (this is essentially Matrix singing to Jenny)
No storm clouds gathering/Terrify (the storm clouds are Arius and Bennett, who are terrifying!)
I am a mountain/Surrounded by Your Love (Arnold is a mountain of a man, and he is metaphorically surrounded by the love of two women – Cindy and Jenny)
You are a fountain that dreams are made of (the “fountain” can be interpreted three ways 1) Cindy, 2) Jenny, 3) Commando, the entire film)
And then the chorus kicks in. We fight for Love. Truer words have never been sung with power chords and synthesized drums backing them up.
We do fight for love. Arnold does it in this film, and we do it every time we make a film. I know that I love this film, and not just because I directed it. I know I love it because every time I see John Matrix tell Colonel Franklin Kirby there’s “No chance” that he’ll work with him again, I get a knot in my chest. But it’s a knot of sadness and joy, because I also know that Matrix and Cindy are going to get married, and the ceremony will be beautiful, and they will probably dance to a song by Linda Ronstadt.
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it! And I hope this gave you some insight into what made this movie so timeless, and how you can use conventions we created to make your stories even better.
Also, if you have time, please write a petition to 20th Century Fox to green light my idea for Commando 2: Bennett Steams Back. (*That’s right! He’s alive, and he still doesn’t like Matrix!). You can post it in the comments section!
Yours in the Movies,
MARK L. LESTER, D.G.A.
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