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Spittin' Images - When Hollywood Icons Become Ubiquitous

It is said that imitation is the best form of flattery. Certainly this has been borne out time and again in the movies. Star Wars opened a floodgate of “space operas”, James Cameron’s The Abyss was joined the same year by undersea sci-fi thrillers Leviathan and Deep Star Six, and the so-called “mockbuster” genre seems to be going strong at studios like The Asylum. But there are other ways in which the creations of filmmakers are unquestionably flattered that transcend the silver screen.

It was not too long ago that I had caught a bit of some children’s programming while visiting Rick, Molly, and Oliver. At some point in the course of the show a group of pirates were called into existence. Molly pointed out that one of their number sported lengthy dreadlocks. She remarked, “Isn’t if funny that after Pirates of the Caribbean there is always at least one pirate with dreadlocks?” This got me thinking about how something that appears in a single film or a franchise can become so iconic that it becomes the new face of that particular thing. Suddenly this is the image that comes to mind in the public consciousness and there is always someone ready to utilize such imagery.

With that realization I began to wonder what other films had spawned such unimaginative imitation. Almost instantly I recalled the dilophosaurus in Jurassic Park. Certain liberties were taken with the dinosaur designs in that film and one of the greatest was the artistic license applied to this venomous creature. While Michael Chrichton’s novel provided this extinct animal with a poisonous bite, it was the film production that lent it a retractable frill. This prominent physical feature would naturally be replicated in licensed toys and figurines based on the movie, but it did not end there. Almost to this day it is not uncommon to find depictions of dilophosaurus in children’s toys and coloring books sporting that distinctive frill!  Even the "Dino Tots" kid's meal premium currently offered by Sonic drive-in restaurants includes one style that very much reflects the look of the movie dinosaur featured above.  If Jurassic Park said it is so then it must be so it would seem.

An attempt at setting such a trend was 1988’s Mac and Me. This would fall into the realm of straight rip-off to be sure, but also threatened to establish a love of hard-shelled candy on the part of extraterrestrial beings. Where E.T. had a fondness for Reese’s Pieces (take that M&M/Mars!), I am lead to understand that MAC enjoyed munching some Skittles. While this film is roundly panned for excessive product placement (Coca-Cola, Skittles, and a five minute dance number in a McDonalds that would make the Jabba’s palace dance routine Special Edition of Return of the Jedi seem a welcome sight), the product placement is not the sole similarity. A stranded alien life form called MAC (Myserious Alien Creature, no kidding here) is befriended by a child in his adventures. The fact that MAC was not simply an Earthly name given to the creature but actually stood for something in the same way "E.T." did furthers its imitation of that blockbuster movie. Fortunately borrowing from E.T. did not prove lucrative and a planned sequel suggested at the end of this film was never seen. Though I suspect that the theme found its way into Saturday morning cartoons and other media of that period.

To my way of thinking, the worst example of misguided imitation is what I refer to as whisperer inflation. This phenomenon began of course with the Robert Redford film The Horse Whisperer. I am not certain of the chronology but it seems in fairly short order everything imaginable had a “whisperer” all its own. From the reality series The Dog Whisperer to the Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle The Ghost Whisperer, the term exploded into vernacular in a ridiculous way. Even here in Texas there is a billboard ad campaign to discourage overwatering in the current drought that features “The Lawn Whisperer”. A quick search for reality series using this term revealed The Human Whisperer, Dog Whisperer, The Bird Whisperer, and even The Vette Whisperer. The Vette Whisperer?! Perhaps I should change the name of Buy Me, Fanboy! to The Collectibles Whisperer!

In the end I am left wondering what designs or themes from upcoming movies will make their mark on the cultural landscape. Will some future blockbuster make a particular type of moustache synonymous with a particular type of character? Will a style of hat or gloves become a standard? Who can say what will inspire tomorrow’s imitators? We will all just have to keep our eyes open for the next wave of flattery that shows a particular design choice has made a lasting mark.

This just in!  Shortly after completing this article I went on a vacation trip to the Texas coast.  On the way back I found this set of plastic dinosaurs (a cheap $1.99 set mind you) at a gas station convenience store.  And what should be one of the dinos featured in the set but dilophosaurus...with a frill!  At that price I just had to own it because the timing could not have been more perfect.


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