The intriguing prospect of Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Alien’ project

Alien_(1979)_-_space_jockey

After the recent news of the next planned installment to the Alien franchise it is safe to say there is a lot to be excited about

If you are interested in the latest news surrounding cinema you’ll know that we’re poised quite nicely in a strong time for science fiction. Last year we had films such as Under the Skin showing how small scale sci fi works perfectly, as well as big blockbusters such as Interstellar showing how mainstream audiences are still interested in the genre. This year we’ve got films such as Chappie and Ex Machina already leading the way for a good year, as well as Terminator making a much unwanted come back later this year. If you take a look towards future releases there have been some interesting announcements. Just recently we had the announcement that Blade Runner will be getting a sequel after years of the idea being discussed. However the news that has me most excited is that Neill Blomkamp, famed director of District 9 and Elysium, will be making the next installment in the Alien franchise.

It’s interesting, I think Blomkamp being named as director is the best part of this news, because we already know that he is a very talented filmmaker of the science fiction genre. If it was announced that this film was being made but without a director’s name being attached to it at this point then I would roll my eyes, sigh, and this blog post would be of an entirely different nature. I wouldn’t want to see another sequel made unless it was with a good director at the helm because I care about the original so much. Alien still stands as one of my favourite films of all time, I think it is one of the most important pieces of cinema to have ever been made, however for me the sequels have ruined it. Obviously Aliens is still a very good film but when you move into the region of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection the story loses itself completely and it becomes void of any substance. It seems to have detracted too far away from the original Alien but I think Blomkamp could be the person to bring it back to where it once was.

Much like JJ Abrams was able to salvage the Star Trek franchise by recrafting it for a modern audience I think Blomkamp could be the person to do this for Alien. It just makes me happy to know that this project is being placed in the hands of a director who cares about it. What seems to have happened is that the original Alien idea has been stretched out in order to make money, hence we have somehow found ourselves presented with Alien vs Predator and worse still Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. All of the substance that was once held in Ridley Scott’s original 1979 masterpiece has been squeezed out so that the hollow shell can be used as a money maker. That’s not what Blomkamp will do, as we have found recently when his intentions became clear.

If you’ve read around the topic enough you’ll know that Alien 3 was a very conflicted project. The story was changed multiple times, it was reworked so that the film they were originally intending to make was dropped to make way for the god awful film we know today. What Blomkamp himself said when he first started talking about the film was:

“there’s Alien, then Aliens, and then this film”

and so what he has suggested is that his film would take place directly after Aliens, meaning that in the timeline of events Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection would essentially become null and void. Blomkamp would be taking events down a different path, and I like the sound of that. Alien 3 has always been considered a bad film. Famously David Fincher who directed the film didn’t like it and when they offered him to work on it again to create a director’s cut he turned it down and said he wanted nothing to do with the film, and we can see why. Story wise there is a very little development and the whole thing seems excessive. It’s like when you watch a film, get to a certain point and think “there, that is where the film should end” but then have to sit through thirty minutes more screen time and lose patience with it. That’s what Alien 3 is, it’s the thirty minutes of excess stretched out in to a feature film. Then after that we had Alien: Resurrection which was again excessive and just felt rather unnecessary, so I’m not bothered about Blomkamp wanting to make his film and pretend those films never happened, I think he would be doing the right thing.

There was a fiasco before whereby the story was changed for Alien 3 several times and now it’s unclear as to whether some people should be included in the credits for writing or if some people opted out of it to distance themselves from the project, so hopefully Blomkamp will steer us back in the right direction. I think no matter happens this is going to be an interesting experience because Blomkamp will obviously have a lot of ideas of his own. He has said on multiple occasions that he loves the first two films and so trusting him to make a sequel that comes directly after them is not only a wise decision but the right decision. In order to now screw this up the director/ writer has to care for the source material.

As well as the news of this film being made Blomkamp has released concept art for the film, originally releasing it and informing us that the project had been cancelled, before taking it back up again. The concept art is very intriguing, with some interesting work based around Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, but one of the most interesting pieces in the collection of artwork features someone else. In what is quite possibly the most intriguing piece of concept art we have seen so far we can quite clearly see the character of Ripley stood with the character of Hicks. I quite like the way that’s heading. Alien 3 in a way went off on a complete tangent, it felt like a film from a completely different series. What Blomkamp is intending to do it make a sequel that stays where we want it to and so we can only hope that the character of Hicks has a larger part somehow and it should be interesting to see exactly how that works.

Now I think Blomkamp is the right person to direct this film. He is a modern director with fresh ideas and experience in making science fiction. I haven’t seen Chappie yet and it’s been some time since I first saw Elysium but District 9 still stands as one of my favourite films from recent years. It was a big and unabashedly bold science fiction film and it had large success with audiences worldwide. It wasn’t just down to the incredible special effects or the interesting story that keeps you on the edge of your seat, it stood out because it has a running thread throughout of interviews with various people, and so what you have is almost this sociological commentary that follows the events as they develop and it did make for a very interesting experience. It was nice to see a film whereby humans aren’t depicted as just going in all guns blazing when the aliens arrive, instead we look more towards studying them and keeping the peace. Obviously one of the key features that stands out is the fact the aliens actually become residents and so parts of human life coincide with theirs. So we have sequences whereby the main character is giving out eviction notices to some aliens, and fact that the alien species comes to Earth and is very fond of cat food. It’s just the little details such as this that proved Blomkamp to be a talented writer who understands the genre well enough to add their own twist to it.

What is most important about him though, for me personally, is the fact that he appreciates the original film. It seems like directors that have made films based in the same universe as Alien had quite a pick’n’mix approach when considering the original. They looked at the film and picked out the violence and the blood and the creepiness that comes with the creature, and the chest bursting and so left out all of the elements that made the original as good as it was. Blomkamp has already said that Alien and Aliens were his favourite films of the franchise, so we know he has good intentions and and he isn’t about the run the risk of ruining the story. I think he understands the originals enough to know how to make a film based on them but whilst adding his own visual influence.

When considering how the Alien films have advanced I would still argue that the first one is the best and is one of the greatest films of all time. Aliens was still a good film and I can appreciate that but for me it borders into a slightly less impressive territory with the addition of marines firing off rounds in a James Cameron styled manner. Alien for me is the undisputed masterpiece. Every element is pitched perfectly, from the screenplay that develops the characters so that we actually care about them, right through to the pacing. And what was obviously one of the main factors that made the first film as good as it is was the work from artist H R Giger who designed the set and the creatures themselves. He brought a simplistic chill to the interior design of the Nostromo and obviously was responsible for creating one of the most terrifying creatures ever seen on screen. He was an extremely talented man and it is a shame that he won’t be here to help with the next film, however Blomkamp does seem like he has some pretty impressive ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing what a talented modern director with a good eye for cinema does with the Alien universe.

So in summary I think they have made the right decision in letting Blomkamp go ahead with this idea, I think he is full of good ideas and he respects the original film enough do it justice. It will be nice to see Aliens finally get the sequel it deserves and to see the franchise move back on track after recent disasters. I am hoping that this going to be similar to the Star Trek films of recent years whereby we see a franchise we all love coming back to the big screen, with a good director at the helm and in a modernised way but whilst still respecting what the original set out to do.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you have any thoughts on the matter then please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. In particular I’d like to know your choices for directors who could make this sequel if Blomkamp was out of the question and why you would pick them.

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A Modern Horror Masterpiece?

babadook

After years of tedium spawned from years of uninteresting horror attempts, we have the pleasure of finally seeing a good horror film

I have found over the last two years or so that when deciding what films to watch with friends that I have in fact been born in the wrong time period. I have friends that want to watch horror films on a frequent basis, but there is a small problem with this. See the problem is, I am hard pressed to find a modern horror film that I can actually tolerate let alone enjoy. 28 Days Later was a fantastic horror film for the modern age, what happened after that?

The generation I’m in seems to have this fascination with films like Paranormal Activity and The Woman in Black which for me are films that are trying too hard and just end up being annoying. It just means I am surrounded by people trying to tell me that Sweeney Todd is a good film, much to my distaste, and people who try to tell me that the Saw franchise is the most complex film series of all time. Worse still I used to have a friend that was convinced, to the point of speaking dogmatically, that The Number 23 is one of the best films ever made. Which it isn’t It’s a film that was pitched to us as a psychological horror, but then didn’t amount to anything. In fact you can guess the ending from very early on. The only way in which you could find that film “clever” as it was so often referred to, is if you watched the entirety of the film until you were approaching the end, suffered a brain haemorrhage, and then questioned what was on screen. And even then you’d probably still get it right.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the genre. Au contraire, I have rather a strong passion for the genre, it’s just I prefer older horror films that actually have substance. Films like The Birds, a fantastic piece of cinema that was expertly made and still remains scary to this day, with a brutal look in to the fear caused by the unknown. Nowadays what most horror films consist of is a group of people we don’t care about being picked off one by one in as graphic a manner as possible. Or it’s a family being “haunted” by a supernatural being. The same formulae is being churned out, recrafted, reworked, and it has just become so boring. It’s the reason so many horror films get sequels; people somehow like the same boring structure just adjusted slightly to a setting almost as identical as the last.

The main problem we need to address of course is that the films are not actually scary. What most horror films rely on to scare the modern audience is jump scares. If an image suddenly appears on screen or the volume increases tenfold in an instant then of course the audience is going to jump in their seats, but they haven’t actually been scared. It’s not that the image on screen has scared them or the sound has, it’s just that an element in the surrounding area has changed suddenly and so the central nervous system in the body responds accordingly.

It’s not how horror used to be done. Nowadays it’s somewhat dependent on SFX so it doesn’t have as big an impact because we can tell it is fake. Going back thirty, forty years ago there were what I suppose you could call progressive filmmakers and artists trying to find new ways to terrify the audience. People such as Wes Craven who was experimenting with plastic moulds and god knows what else to give us horrifying images that still look incredible today, such as the figure of Freddy Krueger being pressed through the wall above the bed in A Nightmare on Elm Street. Then of course there were like William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, the makeup for which still terrifies people today. And of course one of my favourites, the Oscar winning artist H R Giger working in collaboration with Ridley Scott to give us the beautifully twisted beings in Alien. It was just a completely different world, a masterclass in making horror films. It’s a shame to see that descend in to what we have today.

However, and this honestly one of the most exciting counter arguments I have ever had to put across, I can safely say without a shadow of doubt that there is now a modern horror film that I not only thoroughly enjoyed, but was also terrified of. At the moment the name Jennifer Kent will not be recognised by many, but it is a name that will go down in cinematic history. She is the first time writer/ director that brought us one of the best horror films I have seen for some time now and essentially one of the best films of last year: The Babadook. 

Interestingly I’m in the position whereby I have witnessed what various opinions have been formed on the film. Film critics whose work I listen to and read frequently such as Mark Kermode loved it, however people I know and have more direct communication with through social networking didn’t like it at all. The people I know on Facebook usually come back from seeing Paranormal Activity 13 or whichever number that franchise has somehow made it to, and they’ll post an obligatory status along the lines of “best film ever!!” and yet they came back from seeing The Babadook claiming it was rubbish and boring.

What we must consider is that The Babadook wasn’t necessarily made for the mainstream audience. They have completely different expectations of horror based on what films are popularly being shown. They’re used to jump scare flicks or slasher films. The Babadook turns that on its head and takes it back to what horror used to be. See modern horror films are like clunky machines that haven’t been looked after properly. The gears grind together and screech, sounding and looking like an utter catastrophe but still somehow holding together. What you have with The Babadook is well maintained machinery. It is polished and pristine and runs like intricate clockwork.

I’m trying not to say too much in terms of spoilers because it is best to approach this film the way I did, knowing very little about the plot. It is just a completely different experience among current cinema, moving back to a better paced film. I like how the film really takes its time and develops the characters so we can see they are three dimensional and are torn as to whether we like them or not. The pace of the film is based quite heavily around the power of suggestion. The language choices, tiny sounds, little flickers of light, and shots where there’s something in the background you see in the corner of your eye, it all stacks up to make you feel completely on edge, and it works perfectly. It’s not so much the modern approach of the bad guy jumping out and everyone screaming, it’s focused more on the little details that crawl under your skin and fill your body with shivers.

Honestly I am trying not to say too much about the film because I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it. I just can’t stop praising it because it is finally a horror film with an intelligent brain and a beating heart. It takes time, it uses physical elements just like older horror films did, it asks questions, it explores important themes like mother and son relationships and the natural fear all humans have of the unknown. And on top of this is annoyed the people who consistently pontificate about the boring and unimaginative horror films that plague cinema screens most of the time.

I’m pleased to see Jennifer Kent receiving the praise she deserves for this film, including quite impressively a comment from William Friedkin, acclaimed director of The Exorcist, saying “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film” and “it will scare the hell out of you as it did me” Praise indeed from one of the masters of horror himself. Kent has shown that she is incredibly talented as a writer and as an artistic director who creates visually fantastic pieces. I thoroughly enjoyed The Babadook and I look forward to seeing more work from Jennifer Kent in the future.

Happy Endings – Realistic or Idealistic?

casablancaIt would appear that a happy ending has become the default setting for romantic films, but is really the best kind of ending?

*Spoiler warning! This post discusses endings from films across the years and so contains important plot points for numerous films*

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine” the famous line delivered from Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine. One of the most emotionally weighted characters Hollywood has ever given us, but strangely one of the most realistic too. He appears initially to be cynical a man who is only interested in himself and his actions are based entirely upon his own interests, but as we learn he actually cares more for the one he loves, to the point of realising he must let her go. It presents us with one of the most heartbreaking endings in cinematic history, but it gives us one of the most realistic.

I should make it very clear at this point that I’m not a complete cynic as the title may suggest. I believe it was Blur that once sang the lyric “I’m a professional cynic but my heart’s not in it” which is precisely the point. I don’t think every film should have a bitter, spriting crushing ending like The Mist or The Exorcist. I’m still a child at heart and so I much prefer it when certain types of film do have a happy ending. It’s not like I sit down to watch a Winnie the Pooh film, enjoy the various adventures and mishaps that occur but then remain unsatisfied unless the film ends with Tigger and Piglet being shot at dawn having been convicted of war crimes. I just think happy endings are not always realistic. They are the glossy ideal conclusion but not always the most believable.

What we must consider is that a happy ending as an element of narrative has become common in the romantic film genre. It has become something of the standard. If a romantic film does not feature a happy ending, particularly if it’s a romantic comedy, then it is often deemed as negative or miserable. And is this really warranted? When I think back to some of the romantic films I have seen in recent years that do feature a happy ending can I honestly say that they all deserve one? Of course not. I am a firm believer that if certain characters existed in real life they would not get their happy ending. For example the main character in 500 Days of Summer, yes admittedly we see him get his heart broken by Summer and him having to move on with life, but then in walks a pretty young lady named Autumn. And with a sly look at the camera we know he is has been given his second chance at love. What a load of nonsense. After all of his whining and behaving like a school boy having a tantrum I don’t think he deserves a second chance so soon. I think he needs to move away from the city, take some thinking time, grow up a bit, start eating olives even if he doesn’t like them, possibly consider becoming a monk or a priest, and then attempt love again.

I think the main perpetrator in this annoying movement of making happy endings that shouldn’t exists is films like Sex & the City where we see these awful portrayals of human beings behaving in a way that is utterly repellent and yet they are still happy. We’re meant to believe that these people are real, and yet they are written to be such shallow and painfully consumerist arseholes that talk about nothing other than sex, shoes and themselves. I honestly don’t think people like this exist in real life and if they do they then they cannot be happy. If they go through life thinking they are above everyone else and consistently obsessing over their appearance then they cannot possibly live a happy life. If you want to see a realistic take on the self obsessed, consumerist caricatures that feature in S&C  then I would draw your attention to Blue Jasmine in which we see how people actually look at these cretinous monsters and what would actually happen to them in real life should they behave the way they do on screen.

Sex & the City for many, including myself, can’t even be classed as a romantic comedy. It is not funny in the slightest, due to the fact it draws humour from gruesome stereotypes, and when the main characters measure love based on how much money men spend on them I hardly think you can call it romantic. This is a prime example of a film that does not deserve a happy ending. If we have to believe these self centred cretins who essentially set back feminism several years actually exist then we need to see a conclusion for them that is just.

I’m not being bitter and I’m certainly not suggesting that happy endings should not exist, but I think films should show a more realistic outcome for characters. If the films are to be believable then they need to have some glimmer of truth in them. It seems that films don’t like showing the truth that not everything lasts forever, instead they decide to show almost every relationship being successful and everyone being happy no matter how much they fuck up. In reality love is certainly not an easy experience, it is tempestuous at the best of times, and more often than we like to admit it does not end well. Sometimes relationships have a nice clean break that leaves the two parties in tact and then other times it goes up in flames completely and burns either side in the process. Having been in a long term relationship that ended a couple of months back I understand now that love can be a rather troublesome experience that does not always end in an easy way, and I think it’s something that should be seen more often in films.

Already I have mentioned Casablanca at the start of this post, which I believe to be one of the best endings a film has ever given to the audience. The wartime context makes it all the more emotional as we see Blaine risking everything to get the woman he loves to safety with the man she loves. It’s not just a well written ending but it’s also an important ending because of the statement it is making. It is an ending that chooses to ignore how naturally selfish humans can be and instead chooses to show what a human would do if they love someone enough. If this was an ending written by a modern film maker we would see Blaine shooting Isla’s new man in order to get on the plane with her and keep her to himself. And if Michael Bay got his hands on it I’m sure there would be an explosion or two thrown in.

Thankfully it is not just older filmmakers who have a firmer grasp on reality, there are fortunately modern films that choose to show a more realistic ending in their work. About two years ago cinema goers had the pleasure of seeing Spike Jonze’s latest triumph Her starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. For the most part this film is very upbeat as we see the main character, Theodore, developing a relationship with his operating system, Samantha. Although it is meant to be set in the future it is written in a way that makes it relatable in some senses. We see the main character falling in love just purely through speech. All visual aesthetics becomes unimportant because the OS doesn’t have a physical form, their connection is built purely through speaking. This leads to the relationship’s eventual end as we see the OS attempt unsuccessfully to add a physical element through the use of a surrogate lover, and Theodore seeing how there are complications that come with an artificial girlfriend. It is not the most positive of endings but I think it is realistic because it shows how as humans it is our actions that build the path we follow, and all consequences are a result of what we do. Theodore invested a lot in to the relationship and withdrew himself from many people so when it ends there is still some positivity in seeing him strengthening his connection with this friend, played by Amy Adams.

It’s going to be a controversial point but I’d argue that one of the finest romantic comedy writers is still Woody Allen. He’s not a person many people like; I think too many people have been brainwashed in to thinking they don’t like his films because they don’t like the Woody Allen they read about in the Daily Mail. Personally I think he is a complex man and I do not condone any of the actions he has been accused of by any means, but I haven’t let this prevent me from enjoying his contributions to cinema. Particularly for this topic I believe Allen’s contributions are most admirable. As a comedic writer his back catalogue is unparalleled and he has given us some of the most impressive romantic comedies, the majority of which have realistic endings.

Firstly consider Annie Hall, arguably Allen’s most well known film. It tells the story of comedian Alvy Singer’s relationship with the titular character, from the initial stage of young romantics through to the inevitable breakup. I don’t think that’s a bad way to end a film, two grown ups accepting that their relationship is no longer working (I draw your attention to Alvy’s dead shark analogy) and that’s the mature thing to do. It is admirable of a writer to approach love with at least a shred of maturity and accepting that not everything lasts forever. It’s more realistic to show Alvy and Annie parting ways as friends than try to convince us they could stay together for a happy ending. In fact I’d say that’s one of my favourite moments of film, seeing the montage of Annie and Alvy together before Alvy speaks of how grateful he is to had had Annie in his life and how he still sees her as a fantastic person.

Furthermore I think it’s clear from Allen’s body of work that he is capable of mastering the obscure comedic elements that we all love but then balances them with absolute sincerity when approaching love as a topic. Films like like Midnight in Paris which again ends with a break up of sorts but again it is one that the audience has to see as logical. It is a grown man accepting that the woman he is with is no longer a nice person and so he cannot stay with her. It is an ending that leaves us full of uncertainty because we don’t fully known what is going to happen to Gil after leaving Inez and deciding to move to Paris, but we know that he has done the right thing. The image of a man sitting alone in Paris staring blankly without knowing what his future will hold is a sad image, but it would have been so much sadder if he had stayed with Inez.

To summarise I suppose what I want from the ending of a romance film, because it is a genre I care greatly about, is for it to be realistic. If the characters have behaved like idiots but still get the person they want, that’s inappropriate. It is their own behaviour that brings them to their conclusions, so for a writer to suggest (much like we see constantly throughout the series Friends) that a character can act like an absolute arsehole and just generally annoy everyone but then still end up with the person they want for a happy ending, doesn’t quite sit well with me.

It makes me happy to see writers such as Woody Allen and Spike Jonze writing for intelligent, sentient beings who can accept that not everything is perfect in the world, and you can’t deal with that unless you acknowledge it. I’ve had the misfortune of seeing films that butcher the romantic genre on screen *cough* The Fault in our Stars *cough* but I have also had the pleasure of seeing some of the best pieces of romantic cinema, written by both admirable and talented writers who keep the genre alive.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, whether you’re a regular viewer or if this is your first time on this blog I’m grateful for you choosing to spend ten minutes of your day reading my work. If there is anything you’d like to discuss, any films you would like to address, or any comments (good or bad) then please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below and I will send a response within twenty four hours.

midnight in paris