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From ‘The Godfather’ to ‘Space Jam’ Army veteran Michael Chapman worked his magic on these films

Michael Chapman's films are well-known to audiences worldwide. Many of them were blockbusters for their time or have earned even further cult status.
Joel Searls Avatar
Left: Michael Chapman speaks during the 25th Annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 13, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images). Right: A scene from "The Godfather." Courtesy Paramount.

Michael Chapman’s films are well-known to audiences worldwide. Many of them were blockbusters for their time or have earned even further cult status. He collaborated with such directors as Martin Scorsese (four times), Ivan Reitman, Paul Schrader and Andrew Davis. Chapman was part of the American New Wave of the 1970s and 1980s. He grew up in Boston and attended Columbia University.

Post-graduation he worked as a brakeman for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in the Midwest and served in the U.S. Army. He broke into the industry as an assistant cameraman and focus puller for commercials. He made a name for himself as a camera operator on The Godfather for Francis Ford Coppola and Jaws for Steven Spielberg before making the leap as a cinematographer. He was the DP for many films including The Last Detail, Taxi Driver, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Raging Bull, The Lost Boys, Scrooged, Ghostbusters II, Kindergarten Cop, The Fugitive and Space Jam.

Michael Chapman is on set. Photo courtesy of variety.com.

Raging Bull

Raging Bull is a biographical boxing film directed by Scorsese, produced by the great duo Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler which was adapted by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin from Jake Lamotta’s memoir titled Raging Bull: My Story. The film stars Robert De Niro as LaMotta whose personal issues keep him from having a normal family albeit his boxing success.

The film was nominated for eight Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Editing. It won for Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker). The film initially was received in a lukewarm manner but is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. AFI ranked it as the fourth-greatest movie of all time. Chapman’s cinematography work should be noted as the movie was shot in black and white and he was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Ghostbusters II

The sequel to one of the greatest franchise films ever, Ghostbusters II came out in 1989. The franchise has spawned tons of ancillary revenue opportunities such as cartoons, toys, lunchboxes, costumes, models and video games. While growing up, my room certainly had its fair share of Ghostbusters paraphernalia. Chapman shot Ghostbusters II which in turn was a box office hit at $215.4M in revenues. The film was directed by Ivan Reitman and stars the usual suspects of the franchise; Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Annie Potts, Ernie Hudson and Rick Moranis. The movie featured On Our Own by Bobby Brown as well. The team reunites to fight against a new evil, Vigo the Carpathian who choose NYC and baby Oscar as his new place to conquer and human to inhabit. The crew must save Oscar and defeat Vigo to save the city yet again. Worth a watch if you haven’t seen it with a lot of 80s nostalgia.

Space Jam

Chapman shot the live-action, animated sports comedy film which starred the famous Michael Jordan alongside Warner Brothers’ own Bugs Bunny in 1996. The story follows Michael Jordan teaming up with the WB cartoon crew and some funny human sidekicks to win the greatest basketball game of all time against invading aliens who want to enslave the human race. The movie was directed by Joe Pytka and had many cameos such as Bill Murray, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Muggsy Bogues. The voice cast includes Billy West as Bugs, Danny DeVito as Swackhammer and Kath Soucie as Lola Bunny. It was provided by Ivan Reitman, which makes sense for Chapman being the choice for DP based on his great work with Reitman. The movie crushed it at the box office with a $250.2M take. It led to a sequel in 2021, Space Jam: A New Legacy.

The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys is an iconic 1980s supernatural horror film directed by Joel Schumacher. It stars Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Keifer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Dianne West and Jason Patric. The title is in reference to the Lost Boys about Peter Pan. The story is about a family that moves to a California town and makes some new friends, who are also vampires. The vampires terrorize the town both in form and as a biker gang. Michael Emerson is encouraged by the gang to join them in their nightly pursuits whereby he discovers they are vampires. The film did well at the box office per its budget and is a cult classic of the 1980s. Chapman made the most use of visual stimulation and lighting throughout, which gives The Lost Boys that special feel which is quintessential to the 1980s. It has spawned sequels, a comic book series and a novelization. A video game would be great as well, maybe one day.