William Hurt was definitely one of the more celebrated actors of his generation. Certainly, the lion’s share of his acclaim came in the 1980’s – perhaps when he was searching after and securing work in some of that decade’s meatier projects, but he leaves behind a legacy of over one hundred different screen credits for students who like to delve deeper into his craft.
So far as genre projects go, Hurt was no slouch.
His career certainly took off from its earliest days with a big role in Altered States, a 1980’s Science Fiction film from acclaimed director Ken Russell. Hurt played ‘Eddie Jessup,’ a scientist who used sensory deprivation experiments to tap into what he believed were memories tied to his earlier genetic states, hence the film’s title. (Though I’ve seen the film, it was years ago, and I don’t have much recollection of it other than a bit of confusion; this is one I probably need to rewatch before saying anything further about it.) In 1981, the feature won the Saturn Award for ‘Best Make-up’ while having to settle for nominations only in the categories of ‘Best Writing,’ ‘Best Director,’ and ‘Best Science Fiction Film.’
After roughly a decade of work in conventional fare, genre called Hurt back to its influences with Wim Wenders Until The End Of The World (1991), another flick I’ve no problem admitting I found a bit confusing. (In my opinion, the films of Wim Wenders are an acquired taste.) The technological hook to the feature is that scientists have tapped into a means of recording dreams and other visions, and Hurt’s character is on-the-run from the CIA on what he insists are trumped up charges. If this all sounds a bit elusive, then this might be the reason: director Wenders’ original rough cut of the film was twenty hours long! Multiple cuts (obviously shorter) exist, but perhaps the perfect version still escapes mankind to this day.
1998 was a big year for Hurt’s immersion in Science Fiction and Fantasy as he enjoyed screen time in two big projects: Alex Proyas’ Dark City continues to enjoy a massive cult following to this day (one that this reviewer doesn’t quite understand), and Stephen Hopkins and New Line Cinema sought to re-invigorate a franchise with the silver screen incarnation of Irwin Allen’s Lost In Space. Though neither feature really found the kind of acclaim studios hope for, I think it’s safe to conclude that the actor showed the strength of his versatility by appearing in two vastly different worlds in the same year.
Are there any more?
Syfy funded (in part) one of the better attempts to bring Frank Herbert’s Dune to life with its 2000 mini-series; and Hurt turned up as no less than ‘Duke Leto Atreides’ in the effort. In 2001, the actor enjoyed a small but important role aboard Steven Spielberg’s half-baked A.I. Artificial Intelligence for Dreamworks Pictures. 2008 saw the man’s first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the role of ‘General Ross’ for the poorly-received The Incredible Hulk incarnation. (Honestly, that’s been the only Hulk film I’ve enjoyed, take that for what it’s worth.) And, in 2015, Hurt turned in some great work on the small screen as the inventor of synthetic people in the AMC production of Humans, a series that deserved far more love than it got.
Alas, none of us last forever, and word reached us this weekend of Hurt’s passing. Though the man is gone, his work survives, and here’s hoping it gets the attention it deserves. May he rest in peace.
Prayers to the family and friends.