A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part Four

Ghost-In-The-Shell-2.0-BoxG is for… GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0. The natural question that springs to mind is, did we really need the 2.0? I’m referring to the fact that when released on Blu-ray a few years back, it was trumpeted as a remix version- remastered with added 3D-CGI, colour-balancing re-done, new cast recording in 6.1…  the list of enhancements (and I choose that word carefully, considering the subject of the film itself)  is long. Its another example of film-makers returning to their work, drawn in by the seductive allure of new technologies available to polish the original.

Its something all too common these days, probably due to it being easier to do as things go increasingly digital. George Lucas was one of the pioneers of this with his Special Editions of the original STAR WARS trilogy and THX:1138. Well, I won’t go on about any of that, except to say that Lucas evidently could see what was coming. I remember a time when films were finished and done, and never tinkered with afterwards. No-one would have ever dreamed of re-shooting the fx of the original KING KONG or FORBIDDEN PLANET, or converting 2D films into 3D. Technology has now made it too easy.

Regarding that 2D to 3D thing, James Cameron, perhaps the biggest exponent of 3D, has often decried sub-standard 3D films and championed films designed to be filmed and projected in 3D, and yet he converted his own 2D movie TITANIC into 3D. I don’t get it, surely TITANIC was never designed or shot with 3D in mind? And if it’s 2D photography, staging and set design works so well in 3D, what does that say of 3D movies having to be specifically designed and shot for 3D to be a success? Or maybe, gosh, its about the money. Yeah, well, that’s what I think 3D was all about. Art my ass.

Remastered/remixed/enhanced/3D conversions. Its a bit of a minefield out there. As if all the remakes and reboots were not bad enough, even the original films themselves are messed about with. My own old fave, BLADE RUNNER is not immune, although, considering how broken/unfinished the 1982 version was (really, the messed-up condition of PROMETHEUS is nothing compared to all the f–k ups and plot-holes in the original BR) then I guess the Final Cut was really a blessing. Maybe it can be argued that BR needed it. But not all films do. GITS was a perfectly fine Japanese anime, prescient and increasingly relevant. The new version means it looks shinier, but it isn’t necessarily a better film. And who’s to say this version is really definitive, and that there’s not a version 3.0 or 4.0 somewhere in the future? That’s the real crux of the argument; when does it end? Lucasfilm commenced converting the STAR WARS films to 3D ( a project quite possibly canned since), but who is to say that later versions of the films won’t have further changes to fx shots, dialogue etc?

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterH is for… THE HOBBIT. Well, while I’m on the subject of tinkering, since THE HOBBIT trilogy (Trilogy! Did PJ ever consider just shooting the book as it was, minus all that Appendices stuff?) is being shot in 3D, and there is an inevitable six-film box-set on the cards for Blu-ray or download in the future, is it likely the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy will be converted from 2D to 3D like TITANIC was, in order to match the HOBBIT movies? What’s that going to be for the hardcore fans, what with 2D/Theatrical/Extended/3D versions…  double/triple/quadruple-dip? And what’s the odds of a full, six-film 3D set coming after the original 2D LOTR is issued with the three HOBBIT films first, you know, just to milk it that extra bit? Crikey. Someone could plan their entire career path marketing these films over and over again over the course of the years and the changing formats.  I guess its true, films never die, they just keep on coming back in different editions on different formats.

Damn it. You knew where you stood with the original KING KONG and FORBIDDEN PLANET.


A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part Three

el cid 320x240E is for… EL CID. I finally caught up with EL CID last Bank Holiday, watching it on BBC2 HD. Dating from that halcyon era when great movie epics had scripts to match the scale of the budget, EL CID is one of those that I just never seemed to be able to get around to watching (count CLEOPATRA as another on that list). Unfortunately it turns out that in spite of its evident scale and ambition, EL CID sadly suffers in comparison with other epics. Partly I think it was due to a rather weak, somewhat perfunctory script, but something certainly feels missing. It just doesn’t feel as polished and controlled as, say, epics like BEN HUR or SPARTACUS.  Perhaps its the fault of the producers rather than the director, I don’t know, although I believe Charlton Heston himself pointed the finger of blame squarely at director Anthony Mann.  To be honest, I know very little about the background of the film or the individuals involved. EL CID just evidently aspires to be something it isn’t. But the film’s reputation over the years would attest to the film being highly thought of and loved by its fans. The sobering possibility as I watched the film, that the film was not as great as it was cracked up to be, made me wonder if I was missing something. Thinking back to colleagues at work being less than excited by my beloved BLADE RUNNER springs to mind this thought- is it unfair to judge a film that is from an earlier generation?

Strangest thing though is the lack of chemistry between man-mountain Charlton Heston and the arrestingly beautiful Sophia Loren. Their romance/love-story is the weakest element of the whole movie. Perhaps the actors  didn’t get on in real-life? Not sure what it is, but there really isn’t any passion going on in their scenes; Heston often looks bored and Loren ready to claw his eyes out. Funny sometimes how casting might work on paper but fail dismally on screen, and I think that’s the case here. But good lord Loren was gorgeous back then, couldn’t take my eyes of her strangely feline features; what a striking-looking actress.

foxyF is for… Foxy Brown. Here’s another film I only saw for the first time recently, and again featuring a rather strikingly beautiful actress. Actually, unlike EL CID, until a few months ago I’d never heard of the film FOXY BROWN- here’s an example of the value of indie labels releasing cult movies on disc, raising the profile of films possibly forgotten by the mainstream.  In this case, Arrow Films with this ‘seventies blaxploitation film released on Blu Ray a few months ago.  Not all these ‘cult’ films are going to be great, and you can certainly get your wallet burned trying out a title that turns out to be a stinker. To be honest, FOXY BROWN isn’t really a great movie, indeed its hardly even what I’d call a good movie, considering its wooden acting, predictable script and questionable racial stereotyping/politics, but as a childhood fan of ’70s tv cop shows like STARSKY & HUTCH, this film is right up my alley -its even got the great Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear), even if he is a complete bastard in it.

Sophisticated this film isn’t, the film-makers knowing full well what Pam Grier’s best assets are, and her busty heroine Foxy Brown manages to get undressed often, but beyond her physical attributes she’s an actress with a great screen presence and its a shame she couldn’t have been a bigger star back then, and given the opportunity to be in better movies.

Anybody who is fond of Tarantino movies will find much to enjoy in this film. Beyond the cheap sets, depiction of dodgy white cops, the painful 70s fashions, the funky Willie Hutch soundtrack…  the film drips with 70s cool. Yes its raw and possibly even rather offensive,  but its also very entertaining. They don’t make ’em like this anymore!

A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part Two

dune_ver1_xlgD is for… DUNE. In some other alternate universe, DUNE would turn out to be a triumph. Originally it was set to be Ridley Scott’s next film following the remarkable ALIEN, but while Scott was deep in pre-production on DUNE with a lengthy schedule ahead prior to production, Scott’s older brother Frank died.  Shaken by the loss of his brother, Scott wanted to get busy filming as soon as possible, so departed the project to work on BLADE RUNNER instead (his loss informing BLADE RUNNER’s themes of defined lifespans, death and mortality), So the tragedy gave us an undisputed classic and my favourite movie. But it’s so tantalising to imagine what might have been, had DUNE had that wonderful legend on the opening credits ‘A Film By Ridley Scott’, back when he was in his prime. Its the kind of movie you can only dream of. Ah, DUNE, how you frustrate.


DUNE seems to be a project surrounded by such what-ifs and maybes. Years before, Alejandro Jodorowsky had planned to make DUNE in the early 1970s, with designs by Chris Foss and H R Giger that even today offer tantalising possibilities, but back then were surely unfilmable. Its considered to be one of the great unmade movies (I think someone has even made a documentary about it),  The soundtrack was apparently going to be done by Pink Floyd (curiously, similar thinking along such lines would result in the odd decision to hire TOTO to create the soundtrack of the final film). The collapse of the Jodorowsky project would lead to Foss and Giger being hired to work on ALIEN resulting in much of the unique ‘look’ of that classic Ridley Scott film.

Frank Herbert’s novel remains one of my favourite books, and I am certain that one day DUNE might be a perfect, wonderful epic, were it made under the right conditions (either 3-hour plus or ideally two films shot back to back).  But I also think that maybe DUNE had its shot and failed, but at least it gave us two great Ridley Scott movies.


A Fireside Chat: Ghost’s A-Z Part One

altered-states-1980A is for… ALTERED STATES. I remember being intrigued by ALTERED STATES way, way back, when it first came out and John Brosnan wrote a glowing review of the film in Starburst, comparing it to 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY, which was a comment that hit me square between the eyes. Now, Brosnan was a picky guy with his movies and if he liked a film then it was a film worth seeing. At the time his views could be annoying to me as his opinions didn’t always gel with mine, but hell, what did I know? I was a kid back then and a sucker for the marketing boys. Remembering Brosnan’s regular column in Starburst, I find I greatly miss Brosnans views and baiting of Trekkies and Star Wars fans. In hindsight, his was an independent voice,  a critic who held his own views irrespective of the marketing departments and mass opinion. He died several years ago. Turns out he was a depressive who drank too much (which killed him in the end, apparently), but I’m open to being corrected on that if anyone reading this knows better. I’d love to be reading his reviews of the films being made today, they would piss him off no end, I’m sure.

So anyway, he wrote great things of ALTERED STATES. It would be years until I eventually saw the film. I bought it on VHS, in the dim, very early days of the sell-through market- it may even have been an ex-rental copy. I remember not knowing what to make of it at the time. It was pretty strange and no doubt the film lost much of its impact on the small-screen, but I liked it. It seemed like a very ‘grown-up’ movie, and the acting was high quality, unlike most genre films. I recall it was one of those few films in which the scientists seemed to talk and act like ‘real’ scientists, you know, slightly off-kilter and other-worldly, in which the real-world seemed a distraction from their research.  I watched the film again on DVD a few years ago and found it still quite rewarding, albeit inevitably slightly dated.  Thinking about it now, and loathed as I am about remakes, I must admit that with today’s tech and done with IMAX  in mind, perhaps even (shudder) in 3D, a remake of ALTERED STATES could be quite extraordinary.

Blade_Runner_quad_movie_poster_lB is for… BLADE RUNNER. Well, of course it is. Thinking back about John Brosnan, reminds me of his review of BLADE RUNNER in Starburst- I remember the opening of that review well; “Blade Runner is a masterpiece, much to my surprise“. This was back in the days when the film was ill-received and proved a massive box-office failure. Unless you were around in 1982, you cannot understand how it was back then regards BLADE RUNNER. It was the very definition of cult. I used to read Brosnan’s  review over and over again. Man, I’d love to be able to buy Brosnan a drink for that review and chat about it (which considering how things turned out for him wouldn’t,  perhaps, be such a good idea, but the sentiment is there, anyway).

Funnily enough, in my office at work I’m now the oldest guy there and I’m surrounded by young turks who weren’t even born back in 1982 . Its a sobering experience, and I lent one of them a DVD copy of BLADE RUNNER (“part of my ‘education'” as he put it, teasing me). The film rather confused him as it turned out. Certainly to this generation BLADE RUNNER fails to have the impact it did back then.  My mate Andy lent a copy to one of his own younger friends awhile ago and she described the film as being “nice”, which is about as damning an assessment as I can imagine. Its like the world is slowly going mad.

close-encounters-of-the-third-kind-styleC is for… CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Which brings me to CE3K. At work the other day one of the lads was looking up travelling times online and Google Maps slipped over to a map of the USA, and I noticed the state of Wyoming there. “Devils Tower,” I commented, pointing at that place on the map. To which bemused puzzlement was the office response. What the hell was I going on about? “Lord of The Rings?” one of them asked. “Close Encounters,” I replied. Incredibly, even more puzzled frowns. Turns out none of them had even heard of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS. Incredulous, I suspected they were winding me up, but it was true, none of them had seen the film, or even heard of it.  It was like I’d slipped into some alternate universe or an episode of The Twilight Zone. Now I finally realised I really am growing old.

I remember the impact of CE3K back when it came out, in those heady post-STAR WARS days. I guess Spielberg couldn’t believe his bad luck having his mate George steal his thunder, and one can only imagine a world where CE3K was released onto an unsuspecting world that hadn’t been wowed by STAR WARS several months before (I wonder at the impact of those Douglas Trumbull effects had audiences not seen the blue-screen wonders of ILM before). I remember the social impact of the film back then, how its five-note ‘tune’ that represented the conversation between us and the aliens permeated pop culture so. Its incredible to consider that there are people now that have never even heard of the film. Maybe pop-culture is all just fluff and nonsense. Being a movie buff, its natural to think some movies live forever but I guess even the greatest of films can have their fame and impact diluted by future generations of audiences and film-makers, but really, I’m living in a world wherein some people have never heard of CE3K, and that’s somehow an oddly disconcerting thought.