In the brand new Shrek Forever After, an ill-advised pact with a conniving Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn) turns reality upside-down for everyone's favorite Scottish-accented ogre (Mike Myers). Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) no longer loves him, Donkey (Eddie Murphy) is downright terrified of him (and still annoying), and everyone in the kingdom of Far Far Away wants his head on a pike.
But, by far, the most upsetting inversion is that of the formerly dashing lothario, Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) — now a morbidly obese, singularly unmotivated housecat. When fantasy's ultimate swashbuckler can no longer buckle his swash, you know things are bad. (We can think of two reasons for so bloated a feline; for the sake of propriety, we'll go with an overindulgence in Tender Vittles.)
Puss isn't the first to have his downhill slide observed by the merciless eye of the camera. In fact, the list of characters who've undergone unfortunate cinematic transformations is considerable. Take a look at these 10 particularly distressing cases, and see if it doesn't inspire you to reactivate your New Year's resolutions.
10. Raging Bull (1980)
Eventually, it was only hoagies that feared him.
For a textbook example of "How the mighty have fallen," you can't do much better than Raging Bull
's Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro
). The actor famously went through intensive physical training in preparation for portraying the boxer at the prime of his profession, and then gained 60 pounds to enact LaMotta's post-career down-slope. That commitment to a role gave the audience an unsettling glimpse into the life of man whose animal impulses made him a threat in the ring, and a threat to himself once he'd hung up his gloves. (We don't want to boast, but Papa John's has been helping us prep for a similar role for the past 10 years. Where's our Oscar?)
9. The Machinist (2004)
Repeat after us: "Cupcakes are my friend."
Not to be outdone by that poser De Niro, Christian Bale lost
60 pounds in order to play the obsessive, paranoid insomniac at the heart of this Hitchcockian thriller. Director Brad Anderson
plays up the shadows in his cinematography, the better for us to appreciate the visible ribcage and sunken-eyed visage of a character who might be descending into psychotic delusion. That grounding in an actual, physical transformation added a queasy reality to Bale's performance. It also gave us another reason to give up the xylophone as a hobby.
8. Beetlejuice (1988)
Would some aloe vera help?
So what could be worse than being dead? How about being pulled out of the afterlife by a psychic (Glenn Shadix
) who botches the spell so badly that you experience the entire age-and-decay process in fast-forward? It's hard to tell what's more torturous for newly deads Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin
and Geena Davis
): To have to watch each other wither to mere ash, or to know that their only real hope for rescue lies in loose-cannon Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton
). In this case, dust-to-dust might hold a distinct edge.
7. The Dark Knight (2008)
From savior to scourge at the flip of a coin.
Director Chris Nolan
gave us a two-pack of twisted figures in his Batman sequel. But if it's not particularly clear how the Joker (Heath Ledger
) wound up with his leering visage (not even the demented clown seems to know), there's no shortage of exquisite detail to Harvey Dent's transformation into the vengeful Two-Face. Turns out it's ill-advised to be championed as the sole hope for a city's moral rebirth; it's only asking for trouble, and for the Joker to go to any lengths — including murder and your own disfigurement — to expose the corruption in your soul. Dent never stood a chance.
6. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
The paleness is less from lack of light as from lack of vision.
This is what happens when the dream dies: Trapped in the belly of an enormous sea beast, history's most ardent fabulist, Baron Munchausen (John Neville
), loses all hope and begins to falter and die. It's painful watching a man who places such unlimited capital in the power of imagination visibly waste into decrepitude in mere seconds — you begin to suspect that, despite the pleas of his young companion (Sarah Polley
), not even wild horses could pull the Baron out of this death spiral. Turns out, though, that such thoughts are wrong. It only takes a single horse.
5. Akira (1988)
I am all-powerful! Uh, I'm all over the place, actually.
Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. So it follows that absolute, complete, unlimited power in a belligerent street punk leads to really unfortunate mutations ... absolutely. All Tetsuo — the aforementioned delinquent — wanted was a little respect. What he got, courtesy of some over-ambitious experimentation by the Japanese military, was a technology-induced telekinesis and the physique-distorting side effects that came along with it. Oh, sure, the teenager can tell himself he's king of the world, but when his butt keeps spilling over the throne, we doubt anyone will be rushing to endorse his reign.
4. The Fly (1986)
We haven't seen so profound a perversion of nature since the introduction of the KFC Double-Down.
Poor, foolish, prideful Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum
). He wanted to single-handedly change the world with his teleporter, but was so intent on the goal that he failed to consider all the variables. Enter a housefly into his self-piloted test run and, boom, meet Brundlefly, a biological crossover that transforms Seth from a guy just trying to nail the cute reporter (Geena Davis
) into a mutant with an inordinate hankering for Krispy Kremes and a less-than-firm grip on his various body parts. That really ain't the path to the Nobels, man.
3. The Aviator (2004)
Think of him with your next dollop of Purell.
Being the richest man in the world doesn't necessarily exempt you from your flaws. In the case of Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio
), having all that cash just meant also having the freedom to indulge his paranoia, germophobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. You and I have it lucky: Sooner or later we have to get up off our posteriors, go out into the world, and take care of ourselves. For Hughes, having a staff willing to bring him food, drink, and the year's output from the closest Kleenex factory at a moment's notice was only asking for trouble.
2. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
That ring's just slightly less a pernicious influence than Silly Bandz.
Someday there'll be a reality show where a contestant is driven to murder for the sake of a piece of jewelry. To head off that day, we offer as case example the fate of the hobbit Sméagol (Andy Serkis
), seduced to homicide (hobbitcide?) by the malevolent Ring of Power. Driven into exile, he's doomed to both a spiritual and physical decay that leaves nothing left but Gollum, a sallow, humanoid-like husk whose only emotion is a proprietary desire for his "Precious." That's a precipitous fall for a creature whose brethren are better known for their joyful embrace of life. And that comb-over isn't helping any.
1. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Why didn't they upconvert this film to IMAX?
Who doesn't like seeing the bad guy get his comeuppance? But when the villain is as vain, as scheming, as bag-o-hammers stupid as one-time fitness guru White Goodman (Ben Stiller
), it takes a special kind of vengeance to balance the scales. Fortunately, Dodgeball
goes the extra mile, using the closing credits to show us the muscle-boy's devolution into a roiling ball of undulating flesh, while still having the grace to allow the guy to mock us for our schadenfreude
. Final lesson: You can revel in the triumph of good versus evil, but you might also have to walk out of the theater with the image of White jiggling to Milkshake
permanently branded on your brain. Enjoy the show, and we'll meet up at Denny's afterward.