"Pork chop sandwiches!"
"Give him the stick! Don't give him the stick!"
"Hey kid, I'm a computer. Stop all the downloadin'."
If you're someone who grew up in Generation Internet, these seemingly nonsensical catch phrases not only make perfect sense to you, but have been part of your lexicon and, after all these years, can still make you laugh. While the big budget action flick G.I. Joe: Retaliation is now playing in theaters and will likely clean up at the box office this weekend, for many G.I. Joe will forever be associated with some low budget, but tremendously creative (if not completely absurd) dubs of the old animated PSAs.
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Back in 2003 Eric Fensler, a writer and the man behind Fensler Film, goofed around with the audio and visuals on those cartoon PSAs and a classic meme was born. Hollywood.com caught up with Fensler to reflect on the humble beginnings of the Internet phenomenon he created a decade ago, in the moments before Internet phenomenons were even a thing.
"I used to watch the cartoon growing up so I was a fan. I found this G.I. Joe: The Movie in a five dollar bin, watched it and on the DVD special features it had all 25 of the PSAs on it," he recalled. Fensler was working in an editing suite in Chicago at the time and in his down time "would put them on my hard drive and mess around with it. I made like four of them and showed them to friends and we were laughing so I said, 'I guess I'll make the rest of them'."
Fensler, who said he did "maybe…half of the voices" then recruited his pals to get in on the action. "I was doing them all at the beginning and then I got sick of hearing my own voice so I would just pull in my roommates or my girlfriend or friends or whoever was around at the house. I'd have them do a voice and then [I'd] pitch it or pitch it down."
Fensler's roommate at the time had provided the voice for the famous "Snow Job" clip. "I think we were drinking whiskey and watching it and just laughing," Fensler recalled, "I remember messing around with the visual, making the kids look at him and then look away and playing with that. He did a really good accent. We were just goofing off." (Watch that video, for roughly the millionth time, below).
In fact, Fensler had no aspirations for the videos beyond just goofing off with his pals and making each other laugh. "I wasn't even going to put them up on the Internet," he admitted. "It was 2003, there was no YouTube, you had to make all these compressed files, it would take forever and then loading them up onto a server using dial-up was tedious. That whole process was hard." He added, "Mainly I would watch them with no sound and then figure out ways to manipulate it visually and then I would look at it over and over again and mold it until it felt like it was done."
Unlike most viral videos of today, Fensler's clips were created and eventually gained traction in a way that's now practically unheard of. "I was passing them around on VHS and showing them around in art galleries and that's how it got around at first. My girlfriend at the time said, 'You should just put them up on the Internet, that way a lot of other people can see them.' She was right. But I was just freaked out by the Internet at that time…I still am, I guess," Fensler said.
While the gallery that had represented Fensler had initially hosted the clips on their website, Ebaums World got their hands on it. "They downloaded the movie files, which is fine, that's what it was there for, but then they watermarked it and put it up on their site and sorta claiming that they had made it in a sense," Fensler said, adding, "Eventually people knew the source of where it was coming from."
But that knowledge proved to be troublesome for Fensler, who received a cease and desist order from Hasbro in 2004 to take the parodies down or face legal action. Fensler obliged, but as evident by its continued popularity on sites like YouTube, it didn't have a permanent effect. "I was...fine with it because it was already on a lot of different sites or people had the original movie files," he said of the cease and desist, "I just took them down and that was that."
While Fensler — who also worked as a writer on Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! — is gracious for the success of his hilarious G.I. Joe PSAs ("Anytime I'm doing something,, the GI Joe thing gets mentioned and everyone seems to respond to it in a good way. It did open a lot of doors") he admitted that he himself hasn't watched the clips in years and he's stunned by their staying power. "It's been ten years since I've put them up on the Internet…and yeah, it's surprising that something could last that long. Nowadays it usually kind of comes and goes and is a flash in the pan." All together now: "You're not cooking!" "Yeah dude!"
[Photo credit: YouTube]
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A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.