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.

Could ‘Interstellar’ by Christopher Nolan Be the New ‘2001’?

6b6eb9a0-da34-11e3-9c3a-41bff5b1619b_interstellar

Regular readers of this blog will have no doubt seen one of my latest entries in which I listed the films that are yet to be released this year that I am most excited about. Among the list of many I managed to narrow down three that I am most excited for in the form of the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest piece Inherent Vice, and of course the latest motion picture of genius and personal favourite Christopher Nolan, Interstellar. I am nervous but intrigued by all three of those titles but none more so than the last one, Interstellar, because I think it means the most to me. To see the man that is essentially my favourite film maker of the modern age presenting the mainstream audience with a unashamedly bold science fiction film fills me with nothing less than excitement.

The most admirable characteristic of any Christopher Nolan film is that they are intelligent; they are films written by a man who assumes that cinema audiences are as clever as he is. Too many film makers today follow the rather ugly rule that the way to make a successful film is to treat the audience as if they are stupid, hence we see films such as Transformers charging through with awful sequels that all achieve box office success. Nolan battles against that. He makes films that are sharper than a Japanese blade and more tasking that making a key stage three pupil watch University Challenge for an afternoon, and that is nothing short of heroic. He takes what the mainstream audience expects from a film and turns it completely on its head, to present us with films like The Prestige that not only entertain viewers but also engage them in thought. His films are those that could best be described as equivocal, what you receive from the films is equal to what you put in to them. This is why a lot of people I know do not understand Inception because they went in to wanting to see an action film but what they got was an intelligent blockbuster that may have featured action sequences, but they were by no means the focus. So they went in with expectations that weren’t met and so they didn’t understand the film, which is a shame because they missed out on one of the most impressive pieces of film from our lifetime.

Even from the start of his career with the genius of Memento Nolan entered film history with a strong first blow and continued to deliver hits that were executed perfectly. Memento came out of nowhere and impressed film critics and movie fanatics worldwide and he has continued this success to make a legacy, which is why it is thrilling to see that he is making another film. With Inception Nolan showed us that he is more than capable of handling a film with a slight science fiction-esque spin on it, so to see him attempt a film that looks like an old fashioned science fiction epic is intriguing.

If you have not seen any of the trailers already then I would say do one of two things. One choice would be to watch all of them rigorously; watch the trailers over and over again so that you pick up on every little detail and become more and more engaged by them. Or two, don’t watch any of the trailers. I understand that sometimes watching trailers can ruin a film when it is eventually seen, I know for example it happened to a lot of people with Prometheus back in 2012, so I think it would be a wise move to suggest avoiding the trailers altogether and letting the film approach you as a complete surprise.

For those who have seen the trailers or do indeed plan to watch them you will know that the film is big. And what I mean by this is that it’s not the usual science fiction flick in which there are aliens or flashy pieces of futuristic technology, this film is about humans and our interaction with other worlds. It’s not just about men and women in outfits that are figure-hugging while they run around shooting green men, it’s about the future of our planet and what we as humans can do to help it. It once again is a convention changing film; science fiction films always assume the earth is something to be invaded by outsides as opposed to being something worth protecting by its inhabitants.

Now I realise that the title of this post is a bold statement and it probably made the older science fiction fans reading this gasp or choke on a drink or even laugh when they read it, but I stick by it. I think Interstellar has the potential to be a film that is close to the 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not trying to say I think it will be better because in our lifetime I refuse to believe that is even possible, what I’m saying is that I think it will be on the same scale of film mastery. From initial footage that has been released it looks as though it is at least at the same end of the science fiction spectrum, moving away from the ‘bog standard’ side to being more of an epic scale piece of film.

The thing that made 2001 as incredible as it is was the idea of it, a science fiction film that focused on humans. It sounds silly, much like having an action film that focuses on a pacifist, but it not only made perfect sense; it made film history. The film essentially goes from the birth of mankind right up to our adventures in space and attempting to communicate with alien species, so the film is very much based around humans and the human spirit. It is a film about curiosity and the hunger for knowledge, from the humans venturing in to deep space to find more life, right the way back even to the apes at the beginning of the film who are confused by the monolith, they still wanted some form of answer. That’s what Interstellar is about, albeit in a rather tangential manner.

From the looks of it Interstellar is still going to be a film about answers, just different answers. Where 2001 was looking for where humans were from, Interstellar appears to be looking more at where humans are going. It’s addressing issues such as our over-consumption of the world’s resources and our ever growing population, using fossil fuels, our treatment of the earth and such but it’s not approaching it in a childish 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow sort of approach, nothing quite as juvenile, it instead appears to be looking at those issues in more of a Gandhi approach. What I mean by this is the idea of an eye for an eye; as humans we are the ones who have damaged the earth so we should be the ones to deal with the problems of such actions.

Also with 2001 there was a very big focus on humans and on character. The frightening element of the film for audiences at the time was the computer, HAL, because it was simple and human-like. For a film with a U certificate it’s odd to see a character that is so sinister as a talking computer, but this accompanied the humans very nicely because it showed how they still had fear, and they had layers to them to show how complex the human condition is. With Interstellar it clearly has the Christopher Nolan approach. Nolan has always been very good with family relationships, as we’ve seen in Inception, The Prestige and even with the Dark Knight trilogy the strong family bonds do seep through the screenplay, but that is where the strength is: in the screenplay. The trailer already shows us footage of the family talking, with conversations such as why the child is named Murphy and how this links to the theory of Murphy’s law etcetera so it is clear that humans are a huge focus for the film and the screenplay is going to be one of the best weapons in Nolan’s arsenal.

Just like with the majority of Nolan’s past work we are seeing him pair up with cinematographer Wally Pfister to make the film, and already we are seeing some shots in the trailers that are very impressive. The film is going to be a visual treat for any science fiction fan, much like 2001 still is today. There’s something very daunting about seeing a small space ship floating off in the vast and unknown territory of space, and that is why the film looks big to me. When I say it looks big I mean it is of epic proportions, it is about a journey, it is about discovery and will be a challenging watch. I remember sitting down to watch 2001 at the age of sixteen and people such as my father had said one thing to me before it started: good luck. They wished me luck because they knew it was a difficult film to get through and I might not have understood it all after one viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed it first time and have enjoyed it again since but from what we have seen of the film and our preexisting knowledge of Nolan as a film maker it is clear to see that Interstellar will be much the same, a film that has to have your undivided attention.

I guess what I was really trying to say with the title of this post was more that I hope Interstellar will be a film that can walk in the footsteps of 2001 because it will no doubt be another stroke from the paintbrush of a genius. Nolan is an extremely talented man who has a great eye for film as both a director and a screenplay writer, and I hope that this will be another chance for him to make his mark on cinema history but in a bigger way. Inception was the perfect way for him to show us his capability of making an intelligent mainstream blockbuster, but it will take something bigger than that to really put his footprint on the moon so to speak. I think Interstellar could be that film, and I hope it is.

I will of course be posting a review and analysis of the film once I have seen it, with just about two months to go it’s safe to say I am counting down the days. Until that time I intend to watch 2001 again with a completely open mind to see if I get anything new from it like the previous times watching it. If anyone is reading this not knowing what I’m talking about because they haven’t seen 2001 then I would thoroughly recommend watching it at least once. Much like when film critic Mark Kermode suggested going to see There Will Be Blood in cinemas after booking all of the seats around yours to ensure there are no distractions in the perimeter, I suggest watching 2001 in the dark with the sound turned up and nothing around you to distract you. I know it sounds like advice for listening to a Pink Floyd album for the first time but trust me it will work.

So the only thing left to say really is hope you have enjoyed this post, if you even managed to make it this far, thank you. And if you have any thoughts on the matter then please do not hesitate to leave a comment, I welcome whatever you have to say be it bad or good, and I promise to respond to any comments left in due course.

Until the next time I shall simply leave you with my favourite quote from Interstellar (so far) taken from one of the trailer released recently:

“do not go gentle in to that good night…old age should burn and rage at close of day”

tumblr_n5ofv5g6Fm1s3y9slo1_500

 

2013 Review – from Music to Film and Everything In Between

It appears the end is nigh. As many customers at my weekend job have reminded me, yes it is nearly the end of the year, and yes I should have a happy new year. And yes they would like the receipt in the bag.

Seeing as though I have nearly had this blog for a year now and how much has happened this year I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity and sum up all of the best elements of 2013 for me. It’s in the style of an award ceremony, and it branches from elements such as music and film to experiences I’ve had. My year would not have been the same without them.

Song of the year: Do I Wanna Know?, Arctic Monkeys – it was up there with ‘Four Simple Words’ by Frank Turner and Black Sabbath’s ‘God Is Dead?’ but being released in the middle of the year as the first song by the band in well over a year, it was always going to be something special. It was a nice surprise returning from a camping week to hear this song, a nice blend of heavy guitar and bass accompanied by Alex Turner’s incredible vocals. It is masterfully written and presents a clear and strong message based around the connection you have to someone. 

Album of the year: Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man – having not heard of the band before spending a weekend away in Southampton to visit my sister back in July, I was excited to hear what music was produced by the band. Their new album was released and instantly became a favourite of mine, every single song on it is brilliant and makes me want to keep listening. Sure ‘AM’ was brilliant but it didn’t have me as hooked as Portugal. The Man did. If you haven’t listened to them before then I would heavily recommend them. Their music is a little different but beautiful nonetheless.

Best Live Act: shared winners Arctic Monkeys and Fleetwood Mac- I know I’m cheating by choosing two, but despite Reading Festival in the summer nothing compares to either of these acts. Fleetwood Mac performed for three hours straight and were musically perfect whilst still putting on a good show. Then Arctic Monkeys differed from that, being more energetic and making me dance harder than I’ve ever danced before. A particular highlight for me was the blend of their song ‘Arabella’ and the Black Sabbath classic ‘War Pigs’. Both were completely different styles of performing, but either way I witnessed true titans of music.

Television Programme of the Year: Breaking Bad – I don’t think I need to elaborate here. It was insane and there was no Sherlock to compete. Next.

Film of the Year: Kings of Summer – A beautiful, charming, funny and heartwarming film that was probably missed by most people I know. An obscure comedy about three teenagers who decide to live in the forest, reminding us all of the times we wanted to be free when we were younger. It shows the value of friendship, challenges the value of family and makes you laugh out loud in between. It is a genuine treasure of the year and it’s a shame so many people missed it. I would heavily recommend this film to anyone that is human. 

Cinema Shock of the Year : Trance – I came out of the cinema screening and didn’t know what to think. It was how I imagine ‘Inception’ would be if it was directed by Quentin Tarantino. I’m not saying it wasn’t good because it was a very good film, it’s just not one for the faint hearted. Danny Boyle did a terrific job but it should not have a 15 certificate. 

Film Soundtrack of the Year : Silver Linings Playbook – I can’t really say a lot more than it’s a perfect soundtrack for a damn good film. A good blend of old and contemporary songs that link to the mindset of the characters so well. I love it. My review of the film can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/rapid-reviews-silver-linings-playbook/

“I shouldn’t like it but I do” Film of the Year : The World’s End – those who are followers of my blog will know how much I thought of this film. Yes it was ill disciplined, yes it wasn’t as funny as ‘Hot Fuzz’, but I don’t care. The use of sci fi humour and the underlying theme of what it means to be a human, and furthermore being proud of being human were enough to make me very happy indeed. Again, my review of the film can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/the-worlds-end-review-no-spoilers-the-cornetto-trilogys-worthy-last-installment/

Acting Performance of the Year : Joaquin Phoenix, The Master –  I know it was technically a 2012 film for some but it was nominated for the 2013 Academy Awards so I think it counts. Honestly I cannot give Mr Phoenix enough credit for this role, he was absolutely superb. The scenes that were improvised were chilling and gritty and then the scripted scenes were perfected. This award very nearly went to Jennifer Lawrence for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ purely because of the shock factor but in the end Joaquin really put on a good show and showed us just how unstable a character can be.

Nerd Pleasing Moment of the Year : Doctor Who 50th Special – Star Trek didn’t get this award. Thor didn’t get this award. Superman definitely didn’t get this award. There was only going to be one winner, and that was indeed the anniversary special of Doctor Who back in November. The combination of David Tennant, John Hurt and careful writing (finally) made the episode as good as it was. I was overjoyed when it turned out to be as good as it was and I think it was a near perfect way of celebrating what is one of the best television programmes ever to be made.

I Told You So Award :  shared winners Man Of Steel and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – This is again an award that is shared between two films, and it is for the films that I warned people about before but they didn’t listen. What I mean by this is simple: ‘Man of Steel’ was ruined because Zack Snyder concentrates too much on visuals and so the film lacked substance. A secondly, ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’ is still too long and it doesn’t need to be that long. Both films could have been a lot better and it’s a shame because I wanted to enjoy them both a lot more than I did. Incidentally I reviewed the second installment of The Hobbit recently which can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-the-film-is-long-meaning-my-review-is/

Blog Post of the Year : “Tim Burton vs Christopher Nolan – The Batman Argument” – this was always going to be a favourite of mine. It took a long time to write due to the research behind it, but it was worth it. It was a lot of fun to write and to this day it still remains my most viewed blog post. It was my response to an article saying that Tim Burton made better Batman films than Christopher Nolan. In all fairness the article was very well written and they formed a strong argument, however I responded accordingly, and if you haven’t read it then it can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/tim-burton-vs-christopher-nolan-the-batman-argument/

Runners up for my favourite blog post were:

Cloud Atlas review: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/rapid-reviews-cloud-atlas-dvd/

Great Gatsby review: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/the-could-be-better-gatsby-no-spoilers/

So there you have it, my review of different elements the year had to throw at us. Were they the best choices? Probably not but they were the ones that stood out to me and the ones that had the biggest impact.

On a side note I would just like to say a huge thank you to everybody who has followed my blog or indeed anybody who has read it. Even the one time means a lot to me and I’m grateful for anybody who takes the time to look at my work. I started this blog a year ago and didn’t even imagine it would be as well received as it has been so I would like to thank those who have supported me throughout the year. Thank you to everyone who has made this year so brilliant, and I wish everyone all the best for 2014.

Why is the hunger games really catching fire?

With the release of the ‘Hunger Games’ sequel a couple of weeks ago, the inevitable has happened as I predicted; the box offices figures are flooding out in to the press. Taking a substantial amount at the box office over its opening weekend, the film is already being hailed as a success. With a new director picking up after a film I wasn’t particularly keen on, it’s might be safe to say that there could be hope for the franchise.

After reading a series of different reviews and online commentaries it appears that the new film has been received rather well. I still find this surprising after a rocky start with the first film that never really found itself and failed to reach above average. Many websites are already comparing the series to a number of other film series they feel applies, with some saying it’s like the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and others comparing it to the ‘Alien’ series. When you consider the different comparisons being made it’s easy to spot which direction they all point to: the second film being better than the first.

I think it is fair to say that it could be a case of repeating what happened with the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and that the second film is better than the first. There is always the chance that a new director will not only bring their own different style and technique but will also improve based on what they feel were the weaknesses and strengths of the previous film. ‘Star Wars’ was always a tough subject because it is quite rightly renowned as one of the best science fiction films of all time. It has a legacy that has so far lasted well in the test of time; I’m just not sure if the same can be said about ‘The Hunger Games’. I don’t know if it will become a similar style of ‘Star Wars’ and stand the test of time proudly, or if it will go the way of ‘Commando’ leaving us in thirty years feeling as though we remember how good it was at the time but can accept it is poor eventually.

I am of course willing to give the new film a chance because I want to remain open minded about the franchise and would like it to be good, but I will already disagree with what some people have been saying. The comparisons are being thrown about left right and centre which is fair enough but I think comparing it to ‘The Godfather’ is a stupid for a number of reasons. Firstly I think it’s a bit silly to try and compare ‘The Hunger Games’ to ‘The Godfather’ series because it is no way near as artistically perfect or well-constructed, or ever will be for that matter. Secondly because the idea of the comparison was to say that both of them had good beginnings but the second film was better, which may be true for ‘The Hunger Games’ but is not true for ‘The Godfather’ which had an artistically perfect first film and an equally perfect sequel. To say that the second ‘Godfather’ is better than the first one is someone’s opinion and they’re entitled to it of course, but I hope they realise it’s an opinion based on nonsense.

As I have said before I’m not going to judge the film yet because I haven’t actually seen it, but I am curious still as to why it’s being hailed so much. Personally I think it could easily be a case of it being a good film but not a great one, but what makes it look good is the fact that the first film was so terrible. It sound negative admittedly but if you take a step back and examine other series you can see that it has happened before on other occasions. Take James Bond for example, some people feel that ‘Skyfall’ only appeared to be a brilliant film because ‘Quantum of Solace’ was so bad before-hand. I’m not sure if that’s true or not because I agree that ‘Skyfall’ was excellent and ‘Quantum of Solace’ was a travesty, but the point still stands that the one before was terrible and it makes the next one look good.

A similar instance happened recently for those who are fans of science fiction, when the ‘Doctor Who’ fiftieth special was aired it pleased fans nationwide (including myself for various reasons) and really did the franchise proud. However after various discussions with a number of fellow Whovians (yes I am using that as a collective term) we all started to feel the same way about the episode. What we all started to realise is that because we all disliked the writing for ‘Doctor Who’ in the series before the special, it was only good to take writing that was slightly better to impress us. This is partially what made it good for me because I was overjoyed that the writers had really bucked their ideas up for the anniversary and put on a really good show and it brought the franchise back up from the depths it plummeted to. Regardless, it was still the idea of what came before that influenced our opinion.

Just earlier this week I found yet another situation where this was true. I sat down finally to watch the latest William Friedkin film ‘Killer Joe’ I had thoughts of a similar nature. Apart from being slightly disturbed and wanting to wash my eyes out with acid I realised I was enjoying a film with Matthew McConaughey in it…because of Matthew McConaughey. It was a worrying feeling but also one that was slightly relieving. I’ve had doubts about him in the past because he’s done some very bad films and has been awful in all of them, but in the case of ‘Killer Joe’ he gives a very good performance and left me feeling both scared and impressed. But yet again it was the same principle, I really enjoyed his performance partly because it was refreshing to see him being talented compared to how awful he has been before.

I realise by this point I have strayed away from my original point quite a bit, but to sum up I am going to stay open minded about ‘Catching Fire’ because I haven’t seen it and obviously it’s worth giving every film a fair chance. I want it to be a good film, but either way I think my opinion of it is going to be heavily influenced based on my thoughts about the first one.

Rapid Reviews – Looper [DVD]

Having sat down about this time last year to watch ‘Skyfall’ but catching the first ten minutes of this film due to a mistake in the projection booth, I was actually looking forward to watching it. After waiting for it to be released on DVD and then watching it with the same excitement, I think it’s safe to say my interest was like a bag of sand with a small hole placed in it; it slowly drained out of me as the film progressed.

From the first ten minutes you hear Joseph Gorden-Levitt recite a speech that sums up who his character is and what sort of world he lives in, being a gun for hire who kills people that are sent to him from the future. That was interesting I’ll admit, but I wish I could say the same for the rest of the film. The concept behind the film is very good and has some level of interest but the delivery was not up to scratch. You have a story that fills you with details as you go along that somehow become important or don’t amount to anything so it’s all a bit hit and miss. The film the writer set out to make at the beginning is really good but it looses it’s way and turns into a different film entirely which is a real shame.

I’m not saying that Rihan Johnson did a terrible job, it’s just it needs a lot of tweaking, particularly in terms of writing. If I was sat there questioning how someone was somewhere at one time but then this happened to them later and then this person can’t even exist anymore it just goes to show two things; firstly it can’t be that well written, but secondly I’m not engaged enough in it. Time travel is always a fascinating area to use in a science fiction film, but it has to be applied well. I can appreciate that the film is ambitious with what it’s trying to achieve but personally I don’t feel it reached it.

I also found some of the visuals quite out of place as well, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt being altered to look like Bruce Willis (his character from the future) but not actually looking human any more. It’s got the usual splattering of ‘future technology’ thrown across the screen, combined with a “this is how the poorest of the poor live” and “this is how the wealthy live” making it quite average in terms of how visually pleasing it is. The violence in the film is a bit over the top too, with Bruce Willis engaging in some very stupid scenes towards the end involving a machine gun which were incredibly boring and were the points in which I considered leaving the room to get a drink. The violence is really vamped up to eleven and phasers are set to ‘dumb’ in the last section of the film and it really made my eyelids feel heavy.

From my point of view the film thinks it has more themes and messages than it actually does. I think the film is attempting to show the exploitation of the class system and how the lower classes can be treated in certain circumstances but this is only touched upon briefly so it doesn’t matter. And the whole message of “be careful of your actions because violence has it’s consequences” is completely negated by the level of violence in the third act of the film in which the film shows Bruce Willis killing an innocent person and then asks you not to care about it. I don’t think so.

Overall I give the film two and a half stars out of five, it wasn’t terrible but it was far from perfect. I really science fiction films and I have to say this didn’t meet my expectations. I can appreciate how ambitious it was and how gritty it tried to be, but it was trying too hard to be the type of science fiction film ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Total Recall’ already succeeded at being before the year 2000. It’s a real shame that the writer lost their way and ended up not making the film we all wanted from the first half. In the end I would feel more angry about the film if I was more engaged with it and took an active interest. But that would mean watching it again. Which I don’t want to do.

Career Paths From Films – None Of Them Would Work Out

I might be the only one who has moments like this, but I had random thoughts the other day about characters from films and the jobs they have. After glancing through my film collection and reminiscing about the lead characters I started to think about how good their jobs are. I started to consider what film character I would want to be based on their career alone. They all seemed like quite interesting options, but then I thought about the job titles they have and realised just how unsuited I am for them. Quite depressing when you think about it, realising that you’re so unsuited you can’t get a job that doesn’t exist. It may seem like I’m being a complete pessimist, which in a sense I am, but I couldn’t help but think about how badly suited I am for certain job roles from films. Still, it was an interesting thought process about non existent jobs and the results did seem quite entertaining to me, so here’s a list of just some of the careers paths from films that I’ve ruined for myself:

1. Blade Runner – I like to think I’m good at running which would work in my favour quite well. I’ve been on a shooting range before which didn’t go that badly, but I question my skills of finding the right people. I’d end up shooting the wrong person, or letting the right person escape because I didn’t suspect them. It could get very confusing, and despite any future advancements in technology there would still be a lot of paper work to fill in.

2. The Lone Ranger – firstly I don’t particularly like horses. Which is a problem when you consider the fact that they’re the main mode of transport I would have available to me. Working in an area that is largely desert based is an issue also because I don’t really like hot weather so I’d be very grumpy on the hob. And if I’m honest I don’t think the whole ‘secret identity’ thing would work out for me. I’d probably leave my mask in the wash because it got a slight bit of dust on it. It’s all well and good being a masked vigilante who fights for justice, but I’ll only do so if my uniform is washed frequently and ironed.

3. Space Ranger – by this point I realised that any kind of ranger wouldn’t really suit me. I’m not that great with heights so flying (or falling with style) wouldn’t really be an option to me.

4. Captain of The Enterprise – I would like the comfy chair, but already that would a hindrance. The ship would be getting attacked by Klingons and I’d be sat there adjusting the height of the chair and position of the arm rests so that I’m comfortable. Having an arch enemy seems to be a key element to, but that sounds like quite a lot of effort. Plus the technical side would go right over my head, and I would mix the shirts up in the wash by mistake. So basically The Enterprise would have a redesigned uniform consisting of orange, green and purple shirts within a week.

5. Alfred the Butler (from Batman) – I have quite a steady hand so carrying a tray full of food/ drink would be alright, but I don’t think I would be able to assist much more than that. He offers moral advice where necessary, whereas I would get quite bored of Wayne’s moaning and tell him that he picked the career path so really it’s his fault he’s suffering. Keeping Batman’s identity safe wouldn’t last long either.

6. The Godfather – I would be so concerned about the budgeting and cost/benefit analysis of criminal activities.

7. Head of Q Branch for MI5 – I got an A in GCSE Graphic Products but that’s the only skill I could bring to the job. My ideas would be quite abstract and wouldn’t be particularly useless for a spy to own. I think now that the spork has been invented there’s not really much point in trying to invent something new, nothing is going to top that.

8. Wizard – I’m more suited to essay based subjects, anything practical involved and my skills are very limited. Ideally I would want to be on the same level as Gandalf, but I’d me of the ‘sales advisor’ equivalent of the wizarding world.

9. Time Traveler – I’m one of those annoying people that always turns up to an event annoying early.

10. Men in Black Agent – I have the clothing sorted, that isn’t an issue for me. But what would hold me back is that my name begins with the letter ‘a’ meaning I would have to be ‘agent a’. I am more than certain that would have been taken already so I would have to wait until a vacancy arises before making my move. Communicating with aliens is an issue too because of the language barrier. Not sure my B in GCSE German would really be of any use to me.

After thinking about the topic for a longer period of time than I should have done, the thought of ‘I need to find a proper hobby’ springs to mind more prominently, but in this instance it’s accompanied by the thought of ‘I need to find a proper job’ quite nicely.

Approaching Science Fiction – Stop Setting Phasers To ‘Dumb’

Those who follow my blog posts will no doubt have noticed the recent section I’ve created entitled ‘Rapid Reviews’. This is where I take a DVD release (old or new) and review it as quickly as I can. One of the latest reviews I wrote was for the new Star Trek film, which very nearly made it is a four star film but just missed out. Some people (for some bizarre reason) disagreed with my judgement and slated the film for being too action packed. I refer these people back to my review, particularly the section where I discussed the different themes and underlying messages, clearly they were too blinded by the lens flares to notice what was right in front of them. It didn’t annoy me that much, it did however get me thinking about science fiction and the layers behind it.

When outsiders to science fiction take a glimpse at it all they mainly see is two actors, one dressed in terrible alien costume, in front of a strange setting and locked in poorly choreographed combat (not your best moment Shatner). Not being able to look past this shows quite an unengaged and impatient person if you ask me. The depths that some pieces of science fiction explore are so much more than what you see on screen. Take ‘Star Trek’ itself for example, the basic message behind it is that equality is something we should strive for. It displays a hopeful future where people live together harmoniously, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age or any other factors. Admittedly it’s not all perfect and the sense of conflict is still present, but that’s just what happens when a fleet of Klingon war-birds are approaching and shields are at 30%. Regardless of this people take one look at Leonard Nimoy in the ‘silly ears’ and give up watching, which denies them access to one of the best forms of entertainment; intelligent sci fi.

From watching as much science fiction as I have you start to develop an understanding of who has a true grasp of the subject matter, and who quite frankly hasn’t. Ridley Scott is one for me that is a pioneer of science fiction, he steers away from the bog standard 12A certificate sci fi fling and presents the audience with a piece of intelligent cinema that means something. Take ‘Blade Runner’ for example, one of the best science fiction films of all time, not only was it a big, bold and unashamed science fiction film but it had depth. The underlying messages focused on quite a central idea; the idea of wanting to meet your maker. The characters that are replicants have actions that at first seem irrational and odd, until you realise that they’re merely representing the human instinct present without an understanding of rules or boundaries. The film focuses a lot on the human condition, testing the audience on what it means to be human, and what makes us who we are. There are action sequences admittedly, but they show a more gothic approach to science fiction, with Rutger Hauer giving an outstanding performance as a machine that has the freedom all humans want and the question that all humans ask; why are we here?

It’s a message that Scott keeps quite close to him in his films, ‘Prometheus’ had quite a similar message behind it. The key characters of the film are all questioning the same thing; who is their maker? The humans are on the search for who made them and what they were designed for, and then the robot character of David, played brilliantly by Michael Fassbender, understands fully who made him and what he was made for so he questions what intrigues the humans so much. It’s the sort of science fiction that makes you think about how small you are as an individual human, and if there is ever going to be an explanation for our existence. Linked closely to this there is the idea of questioning religion and faith in ‘Prometheus’, with the main character making use of the response “because it’s what I choose to believe” when justifying her actions. It shows truly intelligent sci fi when a film plunders such depths and presents philosophical arguments. David questions why Doctor Shaw still has faith even after all of the pain and loss she suffers, but she represents the human urge to seek the truth.

Cinema isn’t the only place you’ll find science fiction that has meanings to it as well, all you need to do is flick through your television channels on a Saturday and you’re sure to stumble across one of the most important science fictions creations of all time; ‘Doctor Who’. Running for fifty years now ‘Doctor Who’ is one of the single greatest science fiction creations ever to be made, presenting the audience with an interesting character that is both human and yet not human and adventures every week that take the audience away from their lives for a short period of time. The character of the Doctor is very interesting because he represents a lot of ideas linked to being human, such as the sense of adventure we all share and the need to find someone who you consider a friend. The Doctor is just like any human, he had the chance to run away from the reality of life and took it to go off and live properly, an experience I think everyone will admit they want. The show allows a lot of room for thought because it’s the alien side to the Doctor that makes him friends, and the human side that takes them away. It makes you think about the ones you love and how much you’re willing to do for them. 

On the other hand I know that a crucial element of science fiction is the action because that’s all part of the adventure. I mean if I’m honest if I want to possess a working time machine, alone with a sonic screwdriver, lightsaber and phaser. I understand that different people take different thinks from watching film and television, but being open minded helps when it comes to pieces of intelligent science fiction. I’m not saying that what I take away from science fiction is down to me watching them correctly and others not doing so results in them not enjoying it. I just feel as though judging something before you understand it properly somewhat holds you back from the key purpose of it. The purpose of it is to enjoy the experience in any and every way you can, and I thoroughly hope everyone does.

 

Rapid Reviews – Star Trek Into Darkness [DVD]

Quite simple to start off this review; I think it’s brilliant. As both a film nerd and a science fiction nerd, this film pleases me on a number of levels.

If you liked the previous film, released in 2009, then this film will not disappoint. The story sees the crew of the enterprise embarking on a mission to track down the man who infiltrated and attacked Starfleet. It sounds simple but it’s been written very well so it is a film that you have to keep up with. I think the writers of the film did a very good job with the story and indeed the screenplay. The screenplay for me was particularly good because it had a strong balance of intelligence and this rather absurd humour where quite a simple remark from a character you love will leave you in fits of laughter. The writers of it clearly understand the classic characters from the original television series but then equally they know the twist that has been brought about by the recent film, so it’s just a relief to see they’ve handled it so well.

The acting is just top notch, the crew of the Enterprise is just fantastic. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto work very well as Kirk and Spock, with this odd chemistry of brains versus instinct both clashing and yet accompanying each other at the same time. I have to say Quinto has grown on me, I love how emotionless he really is in the film, however you do get to see a darker side to him at times in the film. Karl Urban is still brilliant as Bones, rather grumpy and not afraid to voice his opinion (quite easy to relate to for me), as well as John Cho, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin still doing a terrific job.

For me the best of the enterprise was Simon Pegg as Scotty, he is absolutely brilliant. His accent is near perfect, his emotions are very energetic and powerful, and his delivery of lines is so smooth. I really liked the fact he had more of a main role in the film as it showed just what he is capable of. However the star of the film (pardon the pun) is Benedict Cumberbatch as the main villain: Khan. I have never been so terrified of that man in all of my life, he is phenomenal as a villian. His raw anger matched with this rather chilling personality worked very well and he gave one hell of a performance. He was strong both intellectually and physically and there are times he had me genuinely terrified so he was definitely a man who shouldn’t be messed with. As far as I’m aware the cast sparked numerous amounts of nerdgasms nationwide.

The special effects for the film were incredible, and if you found the lens flares a problem then you clearly weren’t engaged enough in the film. I think J J Abrams did a terrific job directing, handling a strong cast very well but also in the action sequences. What impressed me about both this film and the previous film is the action and chase sequences, they’re very gritty and are paced well enough so you can see every detail of what happens. Abrams is clearly someone who is passionate about film and sci fi and it is easy to see that in his work because of the attention to detail he has.

There were some quite interesting themes present which I really liked about this film. There is quite a strong underlying message about terrorism and the option to intervene, so there is a depth to the film that really links well to our modern world and various social factors. I also rather liked the themes linked to ‘brain versus instinct’ because it really gets you thinking about how you handle tough situations and dilemmas based on overbearing thoughts of the consequences. There is also quite a lot to do with revenge and people paying for their actions, which goes for both the heroes and the villain of the film because you can see pros and cons on both sides. Your moral compass is tested while watching this film so keep your wits about you. The message from the original Star Trek series of racial and gender equality is still present, despite the shot of Alice Eve in her underwear that sparked off numerous debates. I don’t approve of the use of the shot and it was a slip up that Abrams has apologised quite rightly for.

Overall I would give the film three and a half stars but it is ever so close to four stars and just sits on the border. It wasn’t perfect but it was a big, bold and unashamed science fiction film that ticked the boxes of what makes a good sci fi film so it pleased me as a film and sci fi nerd. It’s fast paced but there is some interesting dialogue in there too. Possibly if it was slowed down a bit the cracks may begin to form and it might give the audiences heads a rest quickly, but it’s not a major problem. I like that it was a big sci fi romp because it pleased fans massively without losing it’s nerve in the climate of modern cinema audiences. I would recommend this to anybody who is a fan of either star trek or science fiction. And to anybody who hasn’t watched this or the first Star Trek film from 2009, I heavily recommend both of them.