The Alamo Drafthouse’s MONDO MYSTERY MOVIE Night Features an Epic Poster, Oscar-Winning SFX Designer, and One Rowdy Q&A

     September 1, 2011


The idea behind the Alamo Drafthouse’s Mondo Mystery Movie is a great one:  the guys at Mondo (check out if you’re unfamiliar with these brilliant menfolk) pick a movie to screen at the Drafthouse, get a “special guest” who’s somehow associated with that movie to appear during a post-screening Q&A, produce about 200 very fancy, very film-geek-friendly works of art based on whatever movie they’ve picked…and then they deliver it all to a pumped crowd.  Ticketholders get to watch the movie the Mondo guys picked, engage in a Q&A with the special guest, and take home one of those specialty prints.  Sure, tickets are pricey, but just wait’ll you see what this month’s ticketholders took home last night.  It’s all after the jump, folks…

jurassic-park-movie-poster-mondo-aaron-horkey-01One of the brilliant employees of the Alamo Drafthouse contacted me earlier this month, telling me in no uncertain terms that– if I knew what was good for me– I’d say “Yes” when asked if I’d like to attend this month’s Mondo Mystery Movie.  This was immediately followed by an invitation to attend this month’s Mondo Mystery Movie.  I needed very little time to think this one over.

The guys at Mondo produce some of the finest artwork currently available for collection by film geeks:  their stuff is truly amazing, almost all of it inspired by some of the movies that all of you know, love, and can quote verbatim.  Hanging in my living room, I’ve got Mondo prints for Apocalypse NowYour HighnessBreaking BadO Brother Where Art Thou?, and Inglorious Basterds.  I’ve been collecting these prints for some time, and after missing out on the print that came with every ticket purchased for Mondo’s last Mystery Movie (the film was Akira, and the resulting poster was amazing…so amazing, in fact, that copies of the print are reportedly selling for upwards of $1,000 on Ebay), I was pumped to attend the group’s latest get-together.

As for what the movie might be, there were very little hints.  But there were hints.

Press-type people were offered interviews with the night’s special guest the morning after the Mondo Mystery Movie, and once we knew who that special guest was– and after being told that our interviews would be embargoed until mid-October– it was fairly easy to piece together what film Mondo might have picked.  But most of the people waiting in line tonight didn’t have that (semi-major) hint to work with, so everyone at tonight’s M3 screening had their own guess at to what the movie might be.  These guesses were legion, but I’d be surprised if anyone picked the film that Mondo actually ended up screening:  1993′s Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg.  Y’know, the one with the dinosaurs?

Upon entering the theater, we were greeted by the sight of many, many cardboard boxes– each of them filled with heavy-duty poster-tubes– and two of the Alamo’s “interview chairs” positioned up front on the stage.   When the show began, Mondo’s Justin Ishmael took the stage to introduce the night’s film…and the evening’s “special guest”:  Phil Tippett, the Oscar-winning SFX artist who worked onJurassic ParkStarship Troopers, and something called “the original Star Wars trilogy”, whatever that is.  To say that the crowd was pumped to be in this dude’s presence is a massive understatement: the crowd went ballistic upon learning that Tippett was in the house.

Tippett briefly took the stage, introduced himself, and then the film screened.

jurassic-park-movie-image-t-rex-01Now, I don’t need to “review” Jurassic Park for anyone reading this:  by now, you’ve probably seen the film a dozen times over.  If you’re like me, you saw the film multiple times when it hit theaters back in ’93.  I recall that summer vividly:  I specifically recall what theater I sawJurassic Park in, the hoopla surrounding the film’s release, and– more than anything– how truly awe-inspiring the CGI effects were during that first screening.

Those computer-generated dinosaurs were a big-ass deal when they debuted back in ’93.  It’s hard to imagine this now, but beforeJurassic Park, CGI wasn’t as omnipresent as it is now.  Back then, SFX artists were still using elaborate makeup, models, matte paintings, and all the other classic SFX tricks to bring fantasy characters, creatures, and tableaux to life.  CGI changed all of that, and we might as well credit Jurassic Park for making “CGI” a household term.  Indeed, upon hearing that Spielberg would be using CGI to create the film’s numerous dinosaurs (rather than puppets or GoMotion), practical-effects enthusiast Tippett’s response to the news ended up being co-opted for use in the film:  ”I’ve just been made extinct.”

Seeing Jurassic Park now is…well, it’s a lot of things.  It makes one recall just how good Spielberg can be when he’s firing on all cylinders.  It makes one realize just how well-shot, edited, and economically-written the film is.  It’s still thrilling in all the right places, it’s still awe-inspiring in all the right places, and it’s still able to provoke laughs in all the right places.  Seeing it again after all these years– on a big-ass screen with a jazzed audience, as the film was surely meant to be seen– I was reminded why the film played so well eighteen years ago:  it’s just a perfect entertainment machine.  Once the characters’ tour of the island goes off the rails (right around the time that Alan Grant leaps out of the moving Explorer to investigate the sick Triceratops), the film doesn’t let up until the credits roll.  Somewhat amazingly, the film holds up across the board:  the performances are still great, the writing’s still sharp (if a little dated in its treatment of computers and “hacking”), and– most importantly– the nearly-two-decades-old special effects are still convincing, still impressive, still awe-inspiring.

I had a blast watching the film again, but the night was far from over once Jurassic Park wrapped:  after the credits rolled, Justin Ishmael went back up onstage to bring Tippett back out, and Tippett proved to be the most entertaining interview I’ve ever seen at an Alamo Drafthouse Q&A (and, considering the parade of awesomeness I’ve seen come through the Drafthouse, those are big words).  I managed to snag some video of Tippett’s interview, all of which you can see below.  In this first clip, Tippett talks about some creative differences he and Spielberg had on the Jurassic Park set:

In this second clip, Tippett talks about his interest in dinosaurs growing up, and how he came to be involved with Jurassic Park:

And here’s more Tippett talking about his work on the film:

By now, you’ve probably noticed that Tippett’s not shy about sharing his opinions on things.  That’s a perfect segue into this next clip, where Tippett talks about the CGI changes George Lucas has made to the Star Wars trilogy (and some other heavy-CGI films).  It’s been cut off, but basically, Justin just asked Tippett what he thinks of the “new” editions of Lucas’ original trilogy:

Ladies and gentlemen, Phil Tippett.

Again, this was one of the more entertaining Q&A’s I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through at the Drafthouse, but the fun still wasn’t over:  after all this, Ishmael then revealed what many of the audience had been waiting for all night:  the exclusive Mondo print.  By now, everyone knew that the poster would be Jurassic Park related, but no one had any idea what it might look like.  As you can see below, the final product is flat-out gorgeous:  produced by Aaron Horkey, this thing’s even more impressive in person than it is on your computer screen:  the yellow tint on the poster’s a little more subdued in person, with the gold a little heavier.  This print is a 15-color job (that’s the most Mondo’s ever had on a single print), and features two different metallic paints.  Tickets to the Mondo Mystery Movie cost $75, but this is why:  you get to take home one of these prints, and there are only 200 of them out there (well, 220, but who’s counting?).

jurassic-park-imageOh, and I almost forgot:  Mondo had one more surprise in store for everyone last night.  After Jurassic Park had screened, Tippett finished his Q&A, and the poster reveal had taken place, the Mondo guys announced that they’d wrangled together a second film for the crowd.  After being told that it was the film that had inspired Tippett to get into SFX and filmmaking in the first place, they announced it:  The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.  Most of the crowd– who hadn’t planned on being at this screening for five or six hours– headed home after the posters had all been distributed, but there were a few hardcore ticketholders willing to go the extra mile with the Mondo guys.

The Mondo Mystery Movie‘s an ongoing series, and there’ll be another screening again in October.  If you live anywhere near Austin, I cannot recommend this screening series enough:  the ticket prices are steep, but the value is through the roof.  You get a surprise movie, a surprise Q&A, and a gorgeous piece of artwork to take home (or to turn around and sell for a ridiculous markup on Ebay, if that’s your thing)– that’s pretty goddamn amazing.  Once again, the Alamo Drafthouse has proved itself to be the most film-geek-friendly, balls-out awesome theater chain in the country.

As if we needed further proof.

Stay tuned for my exclusive interview with Phil Tippett sometime in October (I’m guessing that we’re embargoed in order to get those interviews to coincide with the October 25th Blu-ray release of the Jurassic Park trilogy):  if you liked what you saw in the videos above, you’re gonna wanna hear what the dude has to say when I get to ask the questions.  As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below if you’ve got anything you’d like to add here:  wish you coulda been at tonight’s screening?  Like that print?  Think $75 is an outrageous price for a movie screening, even if artwork’s involved?  We wanna hear about it, so sound off below, folks!

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  • bigfiction

    Really dug this, and if I lived near Austin, paying the $75 ticket fee is a no brainer.

  • JLC

    I appreciate the video of the Q&A. I’d appreciate the artwork a whole lot more if Mondo made their prints available to more people at a reasonable price. As it is, it reeks of elitism and exclusion. That’s too bad, since they and the Alamo otherwise seem like decent folk.

    • Scott Wampler

      Elitist? That seems like a strong word– it’s not like the posters are $5000– but I see what you’re saying.

      I think that’s also part of the fun for collectors, though: if it was the kinda thing that anyone could get their hands on for $5, it would take some of the “specialness” out of the whole deal.

      If you go to Wal-Mart, you can pick up a bajillion different “Twilight” posters for about ten cents apiece: besides the fact that “Twilight” sucks large, hairy man-balls, the fact that the market’s so saturated with that crap– and at such bargain-basement prices– means that I wouldn’t be interested in collecting those even if I were a “Twilight” fan.

      Think of Mondo’s stuff kinda like Sideshow Collectibles’ stuff: yes, it’s pricey (that said, $70 is the most I’ve ever paid for a print), but the quality’s top notch, and the fact that not a lot of people have what you’ve just bought makes the item all the more special.

      • JLC

        Sideshow Collectibles is a really good example, but at least in that case, the stuff they’re making costs a lot to produce. In Mondo’s case, the paper and ink probably cost $5. They could produce multiple print runs, like signed and numbered editions, to keep the collectability high.

        Maybe I’m just sensitive because we’ve been hearing this “Alamo’s doing something AWESOME- What? You don’t live in Austin? Sucks to be you” meme for a long time from certain websites. They obviously can’t move the Alamo, but they could sell the posters. I’d love to have one. Oh well.

      • Bill Graham

        They have to please their core customer base, and that is in Austin. It’s what made the Drafthouse a success, and has continued to be their biggest draw for good reason.

        Complaining that they keep some things exclusive reeks of the mentality of society’s “me, me, me” attitude. They sell a litany of prints online, at very reasonable prices. $45 for a great piece of art that is done with a lot of heart and represents one of your favorite films, in a limited quantity, is an outstanding deal. IF you’re into that kinda thing.

        I have four Mondo prints, and can’t wait to get more. Also, the idea that it only costs $5 to make per item doesn’t count the fact that the artist also gets a cut, and likely spent a long time creating it. And who knows what it took to secure the licensing. As Scott mentioned, the limited quantity makes it special.

        Special doesn’t mean elitist.

      • JLC

        Agree to disagree. I’m not saying that they can’t charge a fair price for what they sell. I’m only saying I wish they didn’t restrict their product to such limited quantities that it’s particularly difficult to get one.

  • Tarek

    This poster is a piece of art.

  • El Alto

    Hey Scott, you should post a pic of the Breaking Bad Mondo Poster. I love that show, and searched hi and low on the interwebs to check it out with no luck. Thanks!

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