Re-Animator (1985)

hpl1Always had a problem with Re-Animator. So many critics raved about it, but I rather detested it, alongside so many other films based on Lovecraft’s fiction made around that time. They transposed the stories to the present day and seemed (horror of horrors!) to play them more for laughs than scares.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was at college, and I remember spending one long glorious summer simply devouring the stories of H P Lovecraft. British paperback imprint Voyager had launched a three-volume omnibus collection; I bought all three and commenced reading them throughout. It was glorious indeed, I can hardly describe how care-free and innocent all that was, young and with loads of free time, soaking up all those stories- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Festival, The Tree, The Rats, The Tomb, Dreams in the Witch-House… so many amazing tales. Whenever I think back to those days I can hardly believe I had so few cares in the world and so much free time (these days I hardly seem to have any time at all to read, currently slogging over a period of months through the Games of Thrones books).

But anyway, I grew very attached to Lovecraft’s stories. Many might consider them dated and stilted but I lapped them up, savouring their 1920s settings and the dark charms of Lovecraft’s chaotic uncaring universe of horror; “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” 

So imagine my chagrin when Hollywood turned to Lovecraft’s stories and turned them into modern comedies. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, and I responded with disgust. I still maintain that serious period movies based on some of HPL’s work -I’m thinking The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but we came close a few years ago with At The Mountains of Madness- could be remarkable. Lovecraft’s vision is of its time, and the stories being moved to the present day just don’t, for me, work.

reanimatorBut anyway, years pass and my grudge against those 1980s films that betrayed my beloved Lovecraft has lessened somewhat. I guess time heals all wounds. I re-watched Re-Animator the other day on Blu-ray and quite enjoyed it. It isn’t really Lovecraft at all (which diffuses my hatred somewhat), and I guess it would make a remarkable double-bill with Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead on a boozy night in (the possibilities of drinking games watching those two together just makes my head spin). Now that the excesses of gore have somewhat been tamed by time and ever-gorier movies that followed, what really shines are the acting turns of  Jeffrey Combs and David Gale, chewing up the scenery in fine style. I remember being horrified (in the wrong way) by the distinctly Psycho-like score by Richard Band that really annoyed me (a homage, a rip-off? back in the day I was certain of the latter) but its so dated now in execution with ‘eighties keyboards etc that it almost has a charm of its own. So for me, in a funny way, Re-Animator has improved with time- perhaps I’ve mellowed with age. Its a fine horror-comedy (a tricky thing to pull off) and not a Lovecraft film at all. No, really- it has some crazy dude named Herbert West but that’s not the Herbert West of my beloved Lovecraft; he fools around with a hobby deserved of Frankenstein but that’s also nothing at all to so with the Lovecraft stories, no,  not at all. Just don’t tell me different. And be sure to keep a few pints near me whenever I watch it- the booze dulls my senses and I can let the injustices pass.

 

 

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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

cosmosJust wanted to note a few thoughts regards Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which has just completed its thirteen-episode run on National Geographic over here in the UK. The original Cosmos, co-written and presented by the late Carl Sagan, had a profound affect on me back in 1980 when it aired here on the BBC. It remains, after all these years, my favourite documentary series, and I must admit severe misgivings when I heard that the series was being, well, rebooted for modern audiences. Yep, there’s that dreaded ‘reboot’ word again.

Cosmos dates back to the pre-personal computer age, a world before VHS or DVD, back when shows were accompanied by lush hardback books- yes, we had to read back in those days. I remember having the double-album soundtrack on vinyl (a remarkable compilation of Classical/Traditional/Electronica) and reliving the series reading that book. The series itself was repeated once, the following summer I believe, and I wouldn’t be able to see it again for many years, until I imported the DVD boxset from the USA.

Okay, some of it may have dated presentation-wise, and some of the science itself may have dated too, but much of it still holds up remarkably well, particularly in the use of  that haunting Vangelis main theme (taken from the earlier RCA album Heaven & Hell) and Carl Sagan’s own powerful onscreen personna. He had a gift for explaining things, and it never felt he was talking down to me. For its time it was a visual delight. It must be remembered that the world that Cosmos first aired in was very different to what it is now; still in the thrall of the Cold War and threat of global nuclear destruction. It remains a powerful document of the world as it was back then and had a powerful political pro-science message.

cosmos (1)

So my initial thoughts were, do we really need a new Cosmos? Can you still make a Cosmos today without that uplifting Vangelis theme or Sagan himself? Watching the first few episodes my caution seemed well founded. The Alan Silvestri original score was fine enough but it wasn’t as poetic or unique as Vangelis, the original score giving it a unique voice, yes, but lacking the lush classical music of the original, and Neil deGrasse Tyson clearly was no Carl Sagan. Loosely following the original’s thirteen-part format and storyline, with a modern take on the original Spaceship Of the Imagination in which Sagan explored the universe, and the Cosmic Calendar that so astounded me back in 1980, the show just felt ‘off’ to me. Turns out I may have been too busy comparing it to the original that I loved instead of enjoying it for what it is, but by episode four I had warmed at last to Tyson’s personable presenting style and accepted the changes, such as the animation sequences depicting historical events. By the time episode thirteen closed, with its emotional summation of Voyager’s journey beyond our solar system, and Carl Sagan’s own monologue regards the Pale Blue Dot we call home, I was truly impressed.

cosmos2Spacetime Odyssey does an admirable job of using cutting-edge CGI to explain scientific concepts and arguments in ways that Sagan would be proud of. Clearly aimed at a wider (and younger) audience than the original show was, it was still a joy to see things I was well aware of being demonstrated in fresh and clear ways. I can imagine this series being as profoundly effecting on youngsters today as the original was on my generation and Tyson being as inspiring a figure for kids today as Sagan was for me. A Blu-ray boxset is out now in the US with a release over here later in September. I may have been a sceptic at first, but I’ll be buying the Blu-ray when it comes out and enjoy watching the show all over again.

Word has it we may even get something the original Cosmos didn’t- a second series. Hopefully if it happens it will be able to examine subjects in greater detail and show ever-more complex ideas. But yeah, not a bad effort.

 

The Last Cut of the Mohicans?

mohicansWatched The Last of the Mohicans last night, first time I have seen it in, oh, so many years! Like so many films these days, curiously the Blu-ray is a different cut from what was originally seen in cinemas. Maybe this is the final, definitive version. If that even means anything these days. I’m sure some of this films die-hard fans prefer, and still demand, the release of its original version in HD, even though far as I can tell the changes are minor (albeit I am no expert here, its been so many years since I saw it). Reminds me how lucky I am that Blade Runner has all its cuts on its most recent Blu-ray release. People get attached to their films, its an emotional connection and particularly to that version that they know- alterations can turn it into something else, and even some change relatively minor to some can seem major to fans. For myself, I very rarely watch Star Wars anymore because the version available is clearly not the film I fell in love with back in 1978- it feels wrong, somehow. The CGI stuff just irritates me, pulls me out of the movie, to the extent that I just don’t feel I can watch it anymore. I had hoped that now that Disney owns Lucasfilm and the movies that there might be a change of heart there, if only generated by a desire to make some money, but apparently Fox’s involvement in the first film has nixed that possibility. Maybe one day. The mighty dollar always seems to find a way, and I’m fairly certain that it will eventually happen.

So anyway, Mohicans– it remains a fine film, an old-fashioned (rooted in reality, no CGI or over-the-top action sequences) adventure movie. I noticed, watching it this time after so many years, how much the score pummels you into feeling what it thinks you should be feeling. Its a good score, which curiously involved a second composer after the first (Trevor Jones) had to move on to another scoring commitment, but its certainly not what I would call subtle. It works though and is a big part of the films success- there’s some achingly beautiful music. Performances are very good, and I was surprised to spot the great Pete Postlewaite in a very minor role.

I seem to recall fans of Mohicans had issues with the colour timing of this Blu-ray when it came out. It looked fine to me- yes its dark, but I assume that’s a nod towards the natural/ ‘real’ lighting (candle/firelight) of the time in which it is set, such as that of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. I rather liked how it looks but again, I guess you can get attached to what you know. Fans of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly are getting upset with that films remaster (recently released on Blu-ray here)- now I love that film and I’m wary now of watching it. Its just indicative of how films can change these days. Alternate cuts, revised colour-timing… films are not necessarily what we remember. Surely there is an argument that they should be left alone, as if locked in stone? God knows there are enough reboots and remakes as it is without tinkering with the originals.

Harry Potter Roundup

HPBXWell, I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies; rather than stick to individual posts for the remaining movies I thought I’d just do one that sums them up. Partly because, by Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix the films are well into serial mode rather than being wholly self-contained, and its unfair to criticise them for not working as standalone movies by this point- truth is, movies like this rather operate in a different way to normal movies. Also because I’d only be repeating myself  each time by this point.

One thought really- does a good book necessarily make a good movie? Several times whilst watching these films I found myself being overly forgiving thinking ‘well, its obviously something in the book’. Horrible pacing issues aside, the films always seemed hampered by an episodic nature within the individual films themselves. I wouldn’t have been shocked had sequences been presaged by a ‘Chapter Two/ Chapter Three…’ subtitle during the films. It made me wonder if perhaps the films were too faithful to the books? Admit its a bit of a poisoned chalice there. I’ve never read the books but can imagine how fans might have reacted to any wild departures or omitting anything (I’m a huge fan of Snyder’s Watchmen movie, and know how it was criticised for being too faithful).

So it seems wrong to criticise the Potter films when really most of my problems are really with the books, and to be fair to Rowling, she was writing books, not screenplays for eventual films (well, when she began the series at least). Pacing etc works differently in a book, chapters can be self-contained and readers can always flick back to earlier sections if they need to check a reference or something. Films don’t work that way and what might be a slow chapter might be a minor annoyance in a book but might be a numbing twenty minutes in a film that breaks the thing completely. A screenplay and a book are two entirely different beasts, to be sure.

One thing that did surprise me, was how the Deathly Hollows finale degenerated into a typical cgi-fest, something that might well be expected of an original film of its ilk but being based on books I thought something more, well, intimate was in the offing. Why does ‘epic’ these days seem to automatically mean a cast of thousands of virtual characters beating the virtual shit out of each other (it was a novel spectacle in the LOTR films, but by God we’ve had it regurgitated so many times since). Does anyone find any of that stuff dramatic? Most dramatic moment in the Star Wars films- not the Death Star battle or any other of the fx set-pieces, its the fight between Vader and Luke in TESB.  One character and another, eye to eye without flashy stunts or pyrotechnics. An example so few filmmakers or audiences seem to appreciate in this era of bigger, louder movies.

But I did rather enjoy the Potter films- they certainly seemed to work better in a boxset watched over a few weeks as opposed to over a few years as they were originally released. They may have worked better as movies had they been edited/structured as such rather than being so faithful to the structure/length of the actual books, but, well, that’s a case of damned if they did, damned if they didn’t. Not bad films though. Will no doubt dig out the box again someday.