Deadpool (2016)

dead12016.15: Deadpool (Cinema)

A deliberately subversive take on the super-hero genre, Deadpool is on the one hand great fun and on the other rather disturbing. Of course the humour (most of which is predicated on the deliberate breaking of the ‘fourth wall’) and the hyper-violent action constitute most of the fun of the film. There is something delicious in seeing/hearing so many tropes of recent Marvel and DC super-hero films being sent-up and ridiculed (affectionately or not). Its also rather risky, as the ‘traditional’ superhero film series are all destined to continue those tropes in subsequent films, and it’s debatable how casual audiences might react to that having seen them sent-up by Deadpool.

Of course the riskiest aspect of Deadpool is its R-rating in America and all that violence. R-rated movies have historically had a hard time recouping their budgets, something that only gets harder with the higher budgets typical of super-hero films, so most Marvel and DC films veer to the ‘safer’ domain of the PG-13 rating.  Notable exceptions are the R-rated Watchmen (that cost $130 million, box office $185 million) and Dredd (that cost $50 million, box office $35 million). In comparison to those two, Deadpool‘s success has been pretty extraordinary- it cost a relatively conservative $58 million and has so far managed $530 million in just a few weeks. Clearly the audience likes their R-rated superhero flicks lighthearted and irreverent, which neither Watchmen or Dredd were.

For the record, I positively adore both Watchmen and Dredd. Still, there’s no accounting for taste as from those box-office figures it looks like nobody else does.

In all fairness, Deadpool is very good at what it does. It is also very funny. Its also clearly in love with everything it is poking fun at. And it is deliriously violent. But beyond the wit and action, there doesn’t seem to be much wisdom. Think of it as Ted with spandex and guns. Should it be making some commentary on what it is doing, about the nature of the black and white world of superheroes and the credo of might equals right (its a bad world, lets beat the shit out of the bad guys and then everything will be alright)? Because this film was ideally placed to do that. Clearly however this isn’t that kind of movie and to be honest while I was watching it, that didn’t bother me. But afterwards whilst thinking about it, the film left something of a bitter aftertaste. This may be R-rated and it has lots of violence and sex and bad language but it isn’t really at all adult- its wholly adolescent.

Our hero is Wade. He is, from the start, one of ‘us’- he’s witty and he’s a geek, only in a devastatingly charming and handsome, Ryan Reynolds kind-of-way, so in fact the film is lying and he’s nothing like 99% of us. But we don’t care, because he beats up bad guys and cracks great jokes and is fantastic in bed. He’s the kind of guy James Bond would be if he read comics and played videogames.

dead2He is exactly who geeks watching the film would want to be, especially when Wade meets the love of his life, the drop-dead gorgeous Vanessa, played by geek-favourite Morena Baccarin of V, Firefly, and Gotham fame (an actress with her geek credentials clearly sorted). Now Vanessa is the very definition of a teenage geeks wet dream. Not only does she love the same movies we love (she corrects Wade when he mixes up his Star Wars films- “Empire” she corrects him, to the sound of millions of male geeks falling in love if they haven’t already), and she loves our hero for all his geekness and thinks he is cool (and therefore us too), but best of all she’s an absolute slut in bed. Wade tries to propose and she assumes he’s working his way to suggesting they try anal (she might even be disappointed a little when she sees the ring). I mean, I know it’s just a movie, but what does this whole set up have to say about 51% of the films audience (which is a conservative estimate as clearly well-adjusted women are much smarter than this and I doubt they make up 49% of the films audience). Its an adolescent’s fantasy. It doesn’t feel real. Its a teenagers ideal of a woman and what sex is like.

Compare this to Watchmen, in which one of the heroes is impotent and can only get it up if he dons his superhero costume and beats the shit out of some bad guys. There’s all sorts of stuff in Watchmen, a real R-rated superhero film with something to say. Deadpool doesn’t seem interested in having anything to say.  I don’t know. Maybe it’s a big joke: is the joke on us? It just feels a bit disturbing, about what the film-makers think a comic-book reading audience is or what it assumes that audience wants. Its wish-fulfillment on an almost Biblical scale. Its just too nuts for words. But maybe its okay, because there’s an incredible amount of blood and explosions and dick jokes to make it easy to forget/ignore what feels like manipulation. And regards that violence, there’s an awful lot of posturing, isn’t-this-cool kind of glorification of that violence. Bodyparts are flying everywhere. Without the humour, how would that look/feel? I have to wonder. Deadpool seems to be saying Violence Is Cool. Violence Is The Answer. Violence Is Funny. Oh, and here’s another dick joke.

Which is weird, because one of the things I loved about Blade Runner way back in 1982 was that it seemed to be saying violence hurts, as it showed Harrison Ford all bruised and cut and aching after every fight (most of which he seemed to lose, too). Back then I thought that was quite refreshing and sophisticated and I thought maybe genre films were growing up. It didn’t have any dick jokes either.

Maybe I’m taking this all far too seriously. This is clearly a movie to watch whilst drinking beers. And I’m far too sober right now. But if its R-rated movies from now on, then the one I’d really like to see is an R-rated Howard The Duck. Because Howard would at least have something to say.

 

Advertisements

Crimson Peak (2015)

crims22016.14: Crimson Peak (Blu-ray)

Crimson Peak is clearly Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic love-letter to the Hammer Films of the 1950s and 1960s, and also the Roger Corman Poe adaptations of the same period, and as such it succeeds brilliantly. Its obvious in the rich colour-palette and sumptuous gothic sets and costumes, and in little nods such as the protagonists family having the surname ‘Cushing’. But no Hammer horror or Corman Poe adaptation ever looked as strikingly beautiful as this film does. Guillermo is a visual stylist who crafts beautiful-looking films, the only problem being not having stories and characters that are equal to those visuals, and unfortunately this is something that Crimson Peak suffers from too. But goodness its one of the most beautiful Gothic horror films I have ever seen.

The main problem is, this film is a Gothic Romance that is strong on Gothic but weak on Romance. Its got shocks and scares and creepy moments and blood and violence and my goodness did I mention it really is incredibly beautiful, but somewhere, despite the great cast, it falls flat in the romance, which is rather unfortunate as that should be the core of the film. It feels more of a technical achievement than an emotional one, the romance being dominated and supplanted by those visuals. The house- my God the house! The major part of the film takes place in the titular haunted house, a magnificent piece of art direction that dazzles and takes the breath away. It is the House of Usher of Corman’s wildest dreams. It literally bleeds from the floor and walls, and snow falls elegantly from its broken roof that is open to the sky. Its jaw-dropping stuff and so well built and designed that it can be shot from all sorts of angles and never fail to draw gasps from the viewer. Its the main character of the film- possibly the best character in the film too, dominating everything to such a degree that the whole suffers. How can any story equal such an incredible piece of art direction? No matter how good the cast, they can’t fight it- the house steals the show.

crims1Which is not to suggest that Crimson Peak is a bad film- far from it. It just feels unbalanced. Like many films these days, the story it has to tell is not equal to the dazzling way the film tells it. Which is not to suggest the story is weak (although the ending does have an inevitable feeling of anti-climax) its just that the visuals overpower everything. The heart of the film is lost somehow. I think if del Toro had spent more effort on the romance and the mystery behind it than on those striking visuals, the film may have been less pretty but better for it. Maybe if it were smaller, more intimate. Just because you can use a big budget to craft incredible sets and visuals doesn’t mean you have to. Its still a superior horror film – the jumps and scares are all there and I’d much rather watch creepy period horrors such as this than present-day gore fests populated by dreary youngsters, but I had the nagging feeling that this film could have been -should have been- something more, definitive in the Gothic Horror genre. Maybe subsequent viewings will improve things. I do feel with some films that I should be watching them two or three times prior to presenting a ‘definitive’ opinion, but it’s so hard getting to watch everything as it is without trying to watch them two or three times.

My problem with Crimson Peak -and I shall be careful here not spoil things, as I hate to put spoilers in reviews of ‘new’ films- is that the central premise, the mystery in the background that slowly unravels, is, when I think about it, genuinely disturbing and horrible. There is a central relationship in this film that it quite disturbing but it doesn’t really come across that way- something is implied but it seems to be lost behind those beautiful visuals. Which is unfortunate, because it could have been up there in Psycho-territory had it been handled a little differently. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I was just too distracted by those incredible sets, which will lessen when rewatching it.

crims3.jpgCertainly fans of Hammer and of Roger Corman’s wonderful Poe adaptations will lap this film up though. The scale just seems a bit too big for me, the craving to impress too obvious and overpowering. Its a good film that might have been great had it been rather more restrained, but that’s not how it’s really done in Hollywood these days.

 

Mr White’s Hotel Conundrum

When I writing yesterday’s review of Casablanca, it set me thinking about how perfect that film’s script was. The setting and the premise were clearly set up, the characters and their motivations all clearly defined, the dialogue full of character and precisely furthering the story. The humour worked, the emotion felt real, the character arcs and the general plot were interesting and made sense. There was a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even though the hero didn’t get the girl, it was nonetheless completely satisfying, it all made sense. I didn’t start second-guessing it after it finished and I haven’t spent days splitting it apart.

spec1

Here’s the thing: it’s Mr Whites’s hotel room, in L’American (I’m talking the latest Bond flick, Spectre, now). You see, it doesn’t make any sense. Bond has rescued the late Mr White’s daughter, Madeline Swann, from the bad guys and has gone with her to Tangiers to find L’American, only it’s not a person, it is a place- a hotel in fact. There’s a room there that Mr White kept going to, where he spent family holidays with wife and daughter every year. Only in the room Bond cannot find anything unusual. Until, that is, he spots a mouse running through a gap between the floor and wall.  Bond dramatically smashes through this false wall and discovers a secret room beyond, containing all Mr White’s intel and secrets. Hurrah.

But it doesn’t make sense. First of all, Bond has smashed through a wall to get in. How the hell did Mr White use the room if it doesn’t have a door?  A room without a door? Did Mr White have to smash through the wall every time he visited the hotel and then rebuild it and redecorate the hotel room to hide the fact? Does the hotel owner know about the room? You’d think the owner would have to, as you’d think even the cleaner would notice part of a hotel room has disappeared behind a suddenly-new wall. Or notice that the decor changes every time Mr White pays a visit.

So maybe the hotel owner is ‘in’ on it. Maybe Mr White pays him a retainer. Maybe he even keeps the room rented out all year; I mean it’d be embarrassing if Mr and Mrs Jones from Texas with their little boy Tristam on a lovely holiday accidentally noticed, like Bond does, the false wall and hidden room behind it full of horrible terrorist stuff and then posted it all on Facebook.  Where’s the (secret?) way in to the secret room; does it have one? Is it really a room without a door?

I have a theory; it’s all about spectacle and the catharsis of the moment; a moment that outweighs the logic of the whole in favour of the thrill of that moment. We are supposed to be thrilled/excited at how Bond discovers the room and smashes into it with his fists. We aren’t supposed to think,  hold on, where’s the door? All Bond had to do was find a secret catch and a hidden panel/door, it would be fine, maybe less exciting/thrilling, except for the lingering question what the hell was Mr White doing hiding all his stuff in a hotel? 

And of course, there’s the rub. If this is Mr White’s Holy Of Holy’s, his Secret Base of Operations, his motherlode of sensitive intel, incredibly valuable and secret, why would he have it in a hotel room on the other side of the world from where he lives? Does he really think it is so well hidden, so safe? How often does he go there? Is anyone watching the place for him just in case? Would he only learn something was amiss if he paid the place a visit to find  someone else had redecorated the place again? What if the hotel burnt down in a fire? Add to that, it’s already been established when Bond discovers Mr White back at his home in Austria, he has a secret basement/lair full spy stuff anyway; why not just keep it all in there? Why bother with the hotel in the first place? What does it do to enhance the plot/film?

This seems to be happening all the time with films now. The script isn’t worked out, no-one seems to be debating it, testing it. Mr White hides his intel in an hotel room- why? He He thinks its safe – why? Bond breaks into it by punching through the wall- why? There is no door – why? There’s no encryption on any of the data and the laptop is still switched on/logged in -why? So much could just be fixed by asking ‘why’ and establishing a logical explanation.

Its like, a few scenes later, Bond and Swann on a train journey to the Spectre base are ambushed and nearly killed by Spectre assassin Hinx- why? The central plot of cat and mouse is a scheme orchestrated by Oberhauser who intends Bond to find him- indeed Bond and Swann don’t find their own way to the Spectre base, Oberhauser arranges a car to meet and take them there, where they are greeted like expected guests. Why send Hinx to kill them if Oberhauser wants to finally meet Bond/reveal his identity and masterplan and himself torture and kill Bond? If Hinx succeeded, wouldn’t that ruin Oberhauser’s plan for his personal revenge against Bond? Wouldn’t that just piss him off?

Agh. No. I’m getting a headache. God, it’s Prometheus all over again…

Casablanca (1942)

cas1

2016.13: Casablanca (Blu-ray)

It’s really a crime against cinema that this film has remained on my to-watch list for so long. I bought it on Blu-ray back in 2013 (the receipt was slipped inside the case, as if I’d put it there to shame myself when eventually watching it years later). How I managed to miss ever watching it prior to 2013 though, on any one of its many tv showings over all the years before (or even afterwards, while the disc gathered dust on the shelf) will remain another mystery. Its strange how some such films slip through the net,  but in some ways it’s a good thing that such classics can still be discovered for the first time. I have to admit, this is a film that surpasses all expectations, it’s a wonderful film. Perfect even. Naturally it leaps into my list of fifty great films.

Naturally for a film as old as this one, and so well-known as this one, it is pointless describing the plot and anything positive I have to say about the film is utterly redundant. Surely all has been said. The script… goodness, the script is simply perfect, and somehow despite being set in 1941 hasn’t dated at all. It’s a genuine example of why a good script is the foundation of any good film. The film is perfectly directed and lovingly shot. The cast are perfect. Have used the word ‘perfect’ enough?

It’s one of those films that was made at just the right time, when just the right talent in front and behind the camera came together at just the right time. It’s a film that defies criticism, that seems perfectly formed- cinema magic, a timeless work of art. There’s not many films this good; masterpiece is an over-used term these days, especially regards films, but in this case it is more than justified, its essential.

cas2So anyway, now I can truly understand all the fuss. One thing I must just mention; Ingrid Bergman- she just glows. Her performance is just… priceless. The rest of the cast are no slouches; Bogart impresses, as does Claude Rains, but it is Bergman that steals the show for me. It’s a phenomenal performance from -incredibly- seventy-four years ago. That thought just makes me pause a moment. Seventy-four years ago. Good grief.

Thats the magic of movies I guess. Some moments, some performances. They are frozen in time forever, truly the nearest a human can get to immortality. In this film Bergman shines forever.

Labyrinth (1986)

2016.12: Labyrinth (Network Airing, HD)

lab1I’m rather late to the party with this one. I’ve been a fan of Jim Henson’s work for many years, ever since I watched The Dark Crystal on VHS long ago, but I never got around to watching Labyrinth. Maybe it looked too much like a kids movie- I never watched The Neverending Story, either. There’s nothing wrong with kids movies, you understand, but back at the time, well, it passed me by without getting much interest. Over the years I’ve understood it has quite a following. There’s even been a remake/reboot mooted recently to various excitement/consternation.

Likely scheduled because of the recent passing of David Bowie, the film got screened on a Sunday afternoon over here and I finally got around to watching it.

I think Labyrinth is a film some people feel very strongly about, as they likely grew up with it and you get rather attached to stuff you ‘connect’ with as you grow up. So maybe I should  get this out there right now- I didn’t like the film.

Maybe you had to be there at the time it first came out, or grew up with it as a kid on VHS or DVD or something. The music score is abominable. I’m not trying to be contentious and critical of the Bowie songs, I’m really referring to the Trevor Jones score- it’s terribly dated 80’s drums etc and dates the film horribly. It just sounds so wrong and hurts the film terribly, making the film seem so of its time when it should feel more timeless, especially with all the fantasy elements. Which is why I rather think you had to have seen the film at the time it came out to really fall for it- if you watched the film back in 1986 and loved it, then that same music that turns me off so profoundly is likely just another of those things you love returning to.

There’s also something ‘off’ with the script or the editing. Maybe it’s the casting of Jennifer Connelly (“heresy!” I can hear her fans shouting at me), who just feels too old (16 at the time, I think) to play the films protagonist, Sarah. Now here I admit I may be just plain wrong- the fact she seems too old to me may be just me missing the point. Maybe the film is all about a girl too old for her childish books and games and having to ‘grow up’ to save her infant brother from the Goblin King. But if that’s the case, I think the film fails to bring that across very well or I wasn’t paying enough attention (hey, it happens).  It might simply be that the film doesn’t establish her character or background/world sufficiently before the fantasy stuff happens. There’s some hints of her being spoilt and lost in her own world, maybe not having any friends, wondering gardens reciting the words from a play or fantasy book, but she’s swept into the fantasy world too soon for this to be developed properly. Maybe more of her humdrum reality needed to be shown first. At the end there’s a kind of Wizard Of Oz thing going on with elements of her adventure being objects in her bedroom, as if they were triggers of her subconscious and everything was all a dream. Or maybe I’m missing something. Should a simple fantasy film be quite so confusing? Is it just me or bad storytelling?

Likely its just me. Afterall, Henson was a genius, right? For me, Labyrinth was just a reminder of the better Henson stuff, like the great The Storyteller tv series from a few years after (far too short-lived, why not a reboot of that rather than another Labyrinth?). The Dark Crystal is wonderful, too, but no, I didn’t ‘get’ Labyrinth. Infact it had me reaching for my Blu-ray of Ridley Scott’s Legend, which came out the year before and remains far more impressive visually and thematically. Legend isn’t perfect and deserves its detractors/criticisms but it seems to have aged far better (for one thing, the Goldsmith score is much better – no, I refuse to acknowledge that Tangerine Dream version- and ageless compared to Jones’ Labyrinth score) and is a far superior fantasy.

So not only am I late to the party but I guess I’m even something of a party-pooper; I really didn’t like Labyrinth. As a fan of Henson, I feel wrong even writing that, especially in the face of such evident adoration for the film over the years. So I guess I’ll leave everyone else at the party and leave the room now…

 

January 12th, 2018

…is the date Warner Bros will release Blade Runner 2 (or whatever it is eventually titled). Thats in America, as Sony Pictures have the international rights but I guess we’ll get it same-day or damn close to it. Seems a sinilar release strategy to the release of The Revenant, which has done quite well in what will be a post-Star Wars window for some years to come. Well put that date in your diaries.

Me, I’m excited/scared. Shooting this July, release date set. Its happening…

Macbeth (2015)

2016.11: Macbeth (Blu ray)

mac1.jpgShakespeare by way of Game Of Thrones. It is visually powerful film-making and a critical darling, but how well the bard’s writing is transferred is open to some debate. I’m sure purists would take this film to task in much the same way as Tolkien purists would with The Lord Of The Rings films. Although it is a period-set film it is thoroughly modern in its execution, so much so that it often feels a triumph of style over substance and inevitably loses some of the depth and beauty of the original.

I’ll confess that I’m not too familiar with that original text. Not that I expect that matters too much here. I’m told that scenes have been cut, monologues cut, scenes changed (the most arresting visual, the camera panning across a windswept beach to sandy dunes where several captives are being burnt to death, is a major change from the original text). On the one hand I think it is commendable when filming Shakespeare’s work for a film-maker to be brave enough to change things/make it his own (Julie Taymor’s Titus was one such arresting work). However to a degree much of this seems to just make the film more confusing rather than more coherent or palatable to modern audiences.

Baz Luhrmann got it perfect with his 1996 version of Romeo & Juliet. An opening monologue in the form of a news broadcast, accompanied by a carefully chosen visual montage  of characters and scenes, perfectly set that film up while the film at the same time updated the setting to a modern-day city named Verona Beach. Macbeth lacks that grounding. Set in the period (albeit by way of Game of Thrones) and place of the play, we are thrown into it without any of the characters being introduced or their motivations or allegiances explained. It’s unnecessarily confusing and while I might otherwise have cut the director (Justin Kurzel) some slack, having had the unfortunate experience of seeing his previous film, the horrible Snowtown, and recognising similar failings in storytelling, I have to say it’s definitely lazy and a case of unnecessary style spoiling content. I can’t say I’m particularly enamored by Kurzel’s style so far.

mac2It’s a film trying too hard to be visually arresting; the performances are fine (Fassbender particularly excellent as usual) but the film is so intent to make us smell the dirt, wince at the violence and gasp at the beautiful imagery that it forgets what makes the original text so timeless. This Macbeth is certainly of its time, it is always a film of 2015 even though it is ostensibly a period film.It’s bold and its bewildering and it feels wholly designed for Imax.

Still, the film has its fans. While I enjoyed it, it also frustrated me and failed to fully win me over. Perhaps a repeat viewing now I am more familiar with its plot and its storytelling method will warm me to it more. It is definitely a marvel for the senses and looks and sounds gorgeous on Blu ray, but I was hoping/expecting something perhaps more… authentic. Had it held back on some of that visual design and perhaps kept more of the original work within it, it might have achieved this. As it is, it seems to lack substance, and actually feels like a ‘cut-down’ version, as if there is a superior three-hour directors cut waiting in the wings. Which of course there isn’t.

Happy 36th, Saturn 3

Dedicated to Gregory Moss and all the bad films that some of us love

Sometime back in 1980, or maybe 1981 (its over 30 years ago, anyway) I found a hardback copy of the Saturn 3 novelization in my local library. I knew of the film from reading mags like Fantastic Films and Starburst, and while I hadn’t seen the film, I knew from the reviews the film was pretty dire. Curious, I took the book out and read it, and was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. It was an interesting piece of science fiction with a Frankenstein theme, about a robot going rogue on a distant science station near Saturn. It even had a surprisingly bleak (well, bittersweet, anyway) ending that I found quite poignant.

Some years later, I caught the film on its first network tv screening. Alas, the book that I remembered  was far better than the film.

sat1

So here we are, decades later, and Saturn 3 has a very minor part in sci-fi film history, I’m sure it’s mostly been forgotten, rarely even turning up on late-night tv. But even films like Saturn 3 have fans; there’s certainly no shame in it- indeed, there are several bad/unpopular films that I really like, although I don’t count Saturn 3 among them. I don’t think anyone consciously makes a bad film, and it’s nice to think that all that effort spent on a bad film somehow gets rewarded by someone somewhere being a fan.

Fellow blogger Gregory Moss, whose opinions I value is a big fan of Saturn 3 and created a website about the film and its troubled history. Even people who love the film have to admit that Saturn 3 is one of those films where the behind the scenes story is actually more interesting and rewarding than the film itself. When a special blu ray edition was being planned in America, the discs producers hired Greg to record a commentary track for the disc. Smart move, really- a knowledgeable and enthusiastic fan can give a better commentary track than a film’s producer or director, particularly if they’d rather forget the film completely than share in how they got everything so very wrong.

Unfortunately for me, the disc would be Region A, and here in the Region B UK I didn’t have a multi-region player.However, a few months ago Greg announced on his blog that a German label had licensed both the film and the American discs special features for a release in Region B-freindly Germany. I immediately ordered it; a handsome steelbook edition with a price that was actually quite reasonable. Saturn 3 is a film I would never ordinarily buy, and I’d rarely if ever have the urge to rewatch it, but I was really curious about Greg’s commentary track. Maybe there is something about a fellow geek’s love of a movie that gets other geeks eager to share in it, I don’t know. Maybe it was the nostalgic pull of a film more than 35 years old, a film from that other age that was my youth, a film as old as my teenage self feels distant.

Here’s a curious fact; Saturn 3 was released on February 15th, 1980. It shares my birthday (the day, not the year, you understand); so this year on the day that Saturn 3 celebrates its 36th birthday, I’m celebrating my 50th (as if anyone ever really celebrates being 50 years old). So happy 36th, Saturn 3.

sat2

Films were different in 1980. Science fiction films especially so. Back in 1980, the shadow of Star Wars loomed large over science fiction films. It is nowhere more obvious that Saturn 3 dates back to 1980 than in its opening shot; a star-field is broken by a giant spaceship (spacestation?) that passes by overhead slowly filling the screen. Its as if the producers thought every sci-fi film had to start like that ionic opening from Star Wars (demonstrated by Alien too, just several months before). Unfortunately the visual effects of Saturn 3 were pretty dire even by 1980 standards- today they are horrible reminders of how truly special the special effects of ILM and Trumbulls EEG were back then.

Looming larger over Saturn 3 than even Star Wars is Ridley Scott’s Alien, released several months earlier in the summer of 1979. It seems that everything that Alien gets right, Saturn 3 gets wrong. Scott struggled himself getting decent effect shots completed for Alien, limited by the technologies available this side of the Atlantic, but got away with it with careful photography, shooting around the limitations set on him (Scott shot many of the effects himself). Saturn 3 fails spectacularly- the miniatures are terrible, they are shot terribly, they are composited terribly (grain is everywhere, mattes fail  and stars bleed through some of the spaceships, there’s all sorts of errors that abound).

More importantly, Scott knew that his film would succeed or fail simply with its title character. Luckily he stumbled upon, by way of Dan O’Bannon, H R Gigers disturbing art and a team was assembled with Giger to create one of, if not the, most successful movie monsters of all time. Even then Scott knew he had to be careful to shoot around the creatures limitations lest it be revealed to be, ultimately, a tall thin guy in a rubber suit.

Hector, the giant humanoid robot of Saturn 3 that goes rather awry, is in fact a  pretty good piece of design. It certainly looks authentic and the fact it lacks anything like a human face (or robotic approximation of one) works in its favour. But even its biggest fans will admit that it suffers from the technology of the day. You can always tell that the film is being edited around whatever workable footage the crew could get, and if rumours are to be believed, it was largely those difficulties shooting the robot that exasperated the actors and got the first director fired.

The story of John Barry’s involvement in Saturn 3 and ultimate exit from the project is a sad one that I won’t go into here (see Greg’s website for more). My own most personal link with Saturn 3 is John Barry and the news of his passing that I read in Starburst at the time. For a teenage geek like me who loved movies, John Barry was something of a minor hero. Its funny thinking back on it now, but back then I knew the names of costume designers and effects guys like my school friends knew and idolised football players. So when I read the news of his passing and what happened to him with Saturn 3, it was very sad, and I cannot think of Saturn 3 without feeling that sadness and remembering him. It’s easy for me to state that John Barry deserved better, that perhaps if Saturn 3 was a smaller film with a cast of unknowns with less egos involved, that he might have stayed with the production and it ended up a better film. But this is the real world in which great production designers don’t necessarily make great directors and where films only get greenlit with ‘name’ actors attached, and time is money in film-making and difficult shoots require difficult decisions.

sat5As it is, Saturn 3 is a pretty bad film that hasn’t aged at all well, but it is an enduring reminder of how beautiful Farrah Fawcett was. She’s actually cast well as Alex and the part suits her- there is an innocence and other-worldliness to her that comes across, but I don’t think she looks particularly comfortable at times with co-star Kirk Douglas as her lover Adam. Her casting as a love interest with the-then-64 year-old Douglas is astonishing really. I don’t think a film would get away with it these days but it isn’t just a casting oddity; the age gap is in the script. I think her character is actually supposed to be younger than Fawcett was at the time (33 I think), she certainly seemed younger to me in the novel, as I remember.

A remarkably fresh-faced Harvey Keitel is in fine form as the snake that enters Eden, but his performance is hampered by being dubbed over throughout the film by English actor Roy Dotrice – although I am tempted to suggest the strangeness of his voice being so ‘off’ actually helps the film in a way. Captain Benson is clearly odd and deranged and his voice not matching the face we know so well just makes him even more untrustworthy and suspicious.

sat4Kirk Douglas is fascinating; there are all sorts of real-world subtexts going on in the background of the films storyline. Here is a once-major star at the tail end of his Hollywood career clearly in denial of (or indeed raging against) his own age/mortality/twilight career. I mean, he’s in love scenes with the pin-up girl of the 1970s who is more than 30 years younger than he is. Funnily enough, Douglas spends more time with less clothes on than Fawcett, which is either very brave or foolhardy considering his age (maybe he still thought he was Spartacus). The dark side of me thinks it was the casting of Fawcett that got Douglas into signing on for the film, which adds another layer to the already rather dark subtext of all the characters in the film lusting over Alex. Adam is in a long-term loving relationship with her, even though their age difference makes it look ill-judged, Keitel’s Captain Benson brazenly and openly admits he wants to have recreational sex with her (and even seems to try to ply her with drugs), and once Benson’s brainwaves are programmed into Hector, the robot wants her too.

It’s bizarre and disturbing; in Alien, the creature simply wants to kill, but here, well, I’m not sure exactly what Hector has planned for Alex but it surely isn’t pleasant and is likely worse than simply just killing her. It’s HAL 9000 with a libido for goodness sake. Makes me wonder if the film-makers knew what they were getting into in the first place. This film really could have gone dark places but it isn’t that kind of film at all, which undermines the entire thing. Replacement director Stanley Donen (the films producer) was more familiar with musicals and lacked the ability to maintain much suspense. Comparisons here between Saturn 3 and Alien are even more striking- Alien is a brutal masterclass in tension but Saturn 3 is very, very weak. Which is odd really, as what Hector has planned for Alex is much worse than what the Alien has planned for Ripley. Imagine what someone like David Fincher could do with this kind of stuff, or Cronenberg.

You see, that’s the damned thing with Saturn 3– there’s a sense that there is, somewhere, a very good film here. With better effects, a more balanced script, a better director, maybe a less star-studded cast, who knows? (Who am I kidding all thats a completely different movie!). The whole twisted sex thing with Alex caught between an old man/father figure, a young creep and a deranged robot is an adult and challenging subject matter that deserved an adult thriller. Maybe even something as dark and adult as Body Heat. Imagine if Saturn 3 turned out like some kind of noir-ish ‘Body Heat in space’. Now there would be an interesting movie, even with the cast it has. Something hotter, darker, psychological.

But mainstream sci-fi films didn’t do that sort of thing in 1980 (indeed I don’t think they would be allowed to do that sort of thing even now), so Saturn 3 certainly isn’t that kind of movie. At the very least it needed to be as thrilling and intense as Alien, even if just a robot-on-the-loose kind of thing, but it falls way, way short. It’s a pretty bad film really, but yeah, it does have its fans. So I’ll join them today in raising a toast to this bad movie- Happy 36th, Saturn 3; you could have been a bloody disturbing movie.  And I’ll spare a thought for John Barry, and the film he actually wanted Saturn 3 to be. Barry’s Saturn 3 wouldn’t have been the dark sexual thriller I think it could have been. It might have been better.

Maybe the remake will be that disturbing movie. I’m thinking of that line at the end of Robocop; “they can fix everything,” only more along the lines of “they can remake everything” Yeah, even the clunkers like Saturn 3. Its only a matter of time, right?

How Old is Star Wars?

Star Wars is 39 years old this year. Looking back on Star Wars from now is like being in 1977 and looking back at films made in 1938. Thats films like The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn or James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces. Those are the only films from that year I can recall ever seeing, and back in 1977, those films seemed so old.

Looking back now at Star Wars, it’s hard to feel its really as old as those films seemed to me back then when I was eleven years old. Back then I even thought those great 1950s sci fi movies that I loved were old- films like Forbidden Planet, made in 1956. But in 1977 that was ‘only’ 21 years before. Thats the equivalent of looking back today on films released in 1995- films like Toy Story and Apollo 13 and Heat. Those films don’t feel very old (indeed something like Heat feels like it might have been made only yesterday). But maybe they do seem so old to eleven year old kids watching The Force Awakens now (I wouldn’t recommend that an eleven-year old kid watch Heat but you know what I mean).

This is a pretty scary game. Blade Runner is 34 years old this year, the equivalent of being in 1982 and looking back at films made in 1948. Thats films like Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, or John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart. I’d say the former is pretty timeless but the latter a bit old-school compared to Ridley Scott’s film. But compared to films made now, Blade Runner doesn’t feel ‘old-school’ at all, not to me.

Or The Abyss, from 1989. That’s 27 years ago. That’s like being in 1989 looking back at films from 1962, such as the first James Bond film, Dr.No, and David Lean’s magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, or Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcataz. Great films, but in 1989, they felt pretty old. The Abyss doesn’t feel that old now though, hell, I remember watching it at the cinema like it was only a few years ago, not decades ago.

2001: A Space Odyssey is 48 years old, which is the equivalent of having your mind blown by Kubrick’s masterpiece in 1968 and looking back at films made in 1920. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any of those films from 1920, although I’ve certainly read about some of them, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde starring John Barrymore. Of course they were silents and in black and white, a lifetime away from the widescreen glory of 2001‘s feast for the eyes and ears. But maybe to youngsters today, 2001 feels just as old and dated when compared to the films they have now with their virtual worlds and CGI characters.

Anyway, I was just thinking about Star Wars closing in on its 40th Anniversary and wondering what 39 years really means. But its led to all this other rambling about movies and it’s freaking me out. So I’ll stop now before I feel as old as I really am.