Rings of Power Episodes 1 & 2

rings1Its clear from watching the first two episodes of Rings of Power that this Amazon series will be unfortunately divisive – on one level it works fairly well, surprisingly so, while on another it disappoints (albeit for predictable reasons).

So first things first- as a prequel to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, it appears to work very well. It looks absolutely gorgeous, richly evocative of the aesthetic of Jackson’s films – the art direction is superb,  the sets, the costumes, the make-up… it definitely looks the part, convincingly belonging to the world Jackson created, which is no mean feat itself, never mind the finances Amazon threw at it. It also sounds wonderful, too- Bear McCreary’s music already some of the best scoring I’ve heard in a film or television project this year, definitely facing up to the considerable challenge of Howard Shore’s remarkable work on the films. I’m not suggesting that McCreary is attaining the richness and complexity of Shore’s opus but he’s certainly reaching for it: there were several moments watching these two episodes where I was captivated by the music in ways that seldom happens now. Imagine that- music that actually draws attention to itself. There will be, I’m certain, endless comparisons between this series and the HBO Game of Thrones prequel that is airing at the same time (most of which will be unfair which is something I’ll come to later), but certainly while I haven’t seen anything of House of the Dragon I’m pretty confident that show’s music, if its anything like that of its predecessor, functions far differently. But I love big music that draws attention to itself, like McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica music several years ago, so I’m all for it here- its possibly the series saving grace for me which will ensure I’ll keep on coming back.

The acting, is, well, adequate I guess- to be fair, its not like the script is doing the actors many favours.  I guess it would be a thankless task for experienced veterans with the dialogue they are given, but this cast of largely unknowns are certainly struggling. I think the large ensemble, the vast canvas that leaves little room for any proper focus, is a creative decision (likely an attempt to make the narrative feel as epic as the imagery) that handicaps the series from giving characters time to properly breathe and provide depth. Why not, for instance, allow Episode One to focus entirely on Galadriel and her quest and properly demonstrate the amount of time (centuries, millenniums) that we are told is passing?  The one thing that Tolkien’s mythology has in spades is scale, its huge breadth of time, which could have been better used to its advantage. I don’t really know the details regards Amazon’s rights re: Tolkien’s work but imagine a one-hour mini movie telling us the story of the First Age, only then leading to an Episode Two set in the Second Age and the series narrative proper.

The Tolkien purists might have been enthralled by it, but what about the casual viewer, or the Game of Thrones/Stranger Things audience which Amazon seems to be aiming for?

I think that’s the real issue here for Rings of Power; it can’t be everything to everyone.

Is it Tolkien though? Well, there’s the rub. What I’m getting at, is that Amazon, like New World Cinema and MGM before it, is always in a surely uncomfortable tension with Tolkien’s work, transforming what is widely considered classic literature into mainstream entertainments, while George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, HBOs adaptations of which are so readily held up in comparison, is mainstream entertainment before any adaptation starts, the books are pop culture already, something which Tolkien was never aiming at with his work. I’m sure Tolkien purists are as dismissive of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films as they will be of Amazon’s Rings of Power. I suppose Amazon’s problem is more how much of the Jackson fanbase, those fans who love the Lord of the Rings films, is dismissive of the series, because to be sure, it isn’t making Rings of Power for the Tolkien fanbase, its making it for a general, mainstream audience that largely took Jackson’s epic trilogy to their hearts.

How many film producers does it take to change a light bulb (or ruin a movie)?

nitehuntr1Night Hunter, 2018, 98 mins, Amazon Prime

I think I may be done with ‘new’, or modern-day, movies, and that I should possibly retreat to those 1940s- 1970s films made when, you know, they knew how to make films. Film-makers today, they just don’t know when to stop with all the nonsense. Why can’t they stop the faster, louder, darker, edgier, the whole more, more, more bullshit that infects what passes for film today, I’m just so tired of it. Even if a film seems to have an interesting premise, with a decent cast etc, the guys writing and producing it just can’t help but ruin it, so lost in the entertainment industry maze of more shocks, more twists and surprises as if that’s the only way to hold viewer attention. In this case, the once-promising opening degenerating into something that gets sillier and sillier. Its like they are perpetually terrified of viewers reaching for the channel button on the remote, or believe viewers won’t stay for an honest to goodness drama without regular, hysterical twists of fate.

Tonight we had the choice of a 1940s Hitchcock film I’d never seen, or this. I was attracted by the cast -Henry Cavill, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Alexandra Daddario… sure, there was a time that a cast list like that might promise some kind of quality, but those days are long gone. Thespians gotta eat, or pay for that new sports car, so a gigs a gig, I get it. Anyway, we were tired, long day after a long weekend, I figured save the Hitchcock for a day when I’m sharper, and maybe that was the right choice – but really, it doesn’t feel that way right now.

So Night Hunter is about a serial killer, a devious and ultra-intelligent abductor and rapist of women who has been operating for years- Hannibal Lector with a twisted sex drive, basically, who outwits and surprises a police department at every turn – its Silence of the Lambs by way of Seven, but as usual these days it isn’t enough to just rip-off better movies, the film-makers instead have to do it bigger, louder, darker. Consequently there are plot-holes galore, leaps of logic glossed over in an instant, bizarre twists so out of left-field its like they come from an entirely different movie. The final twist/revelation is so preposterous it leaves a massive credibility hole in what passed for the plot that it beggars belief.

I counted thirty producer credits at the end of this movie. Thirty. That’s thirty pieces of the production budget spread across thirty voices, thirty different opinions. I’m not sure there were that many speaking parts in the whole bloody film. How the hell does it take thirty producers to make a movie? Is that how films are made these days? How can it possibly not end in a film that is such a mess as this one?

Supersly

samaritan1Samaritan, 2022, 102 mins, Amazon Prime

There’s so many films being made (mostly for streaming, it seems, albeit they might only end up there because they are SO bad that cinema releases are pointless), alongside so many TV shows, that we really are reaching some critical point of crisis as the talent pool (I’m using the term ‘talent’ charitably) is stretched woefully thin. There was a reason Star Wars films only appeared every three years, and why superhero films were rare, and why there used to be one ‘great’ sci-fi show airing on television at any one time, barring the heady days of, say, late ST:TNG seasons airing at the same time as Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5. In the case of films, there were only a handful of effects houses (ILM, EEG, Dream Quest) capable of producing high-quality visual effects back in the optical compositing days. The talent producing these films were the best, as the adage quality rises to the top held firm, and while ‘serious’ actors tended to still veer away from genre stuff, the z-list acting pool tended to be side-lined to the straight-to-video/cable television horrors.

Not so today. The talent pool has been stretched so thin by all the productions ensuring Netflix and Disney+ have plenty of new content to keep their subscriber bases steadily increasing (we’ll see how that goes) that there are, frankly, people making and starring in films and television shows who are simply not up to the job. Unfortunately of course, there’s also the feeling that too many geeks have been let loose in the film-making playpen, so much stuff now just so much fan-service.

Well, that’s my theory to explain films like Samaritan. The bumbling efforts of DC (Joss Whedon’s Justice League etc) and the recent output of the MCU (Spiderman: No Way Home and the rest of Phase 4 that I haven’t seen) pale into insignificance as Sylvester Stallone stars in a contender for worst superhero film of the millennium. Its uncanny how bad so many films are of late, and this one’s up there with the worst: the fact that I have seen so many positive reviews for Samaritan just intimates that the critical writing pool is stretched a bit thin now too, but hey, that’s social media for you.

As usual, the script betrays the writer’s/producer’s DVD collection, being a lazy rethread of better movies (in this case most obviously Unbreakable and others). Can’t anyone write anything original anymore? Watching films these days generally involves startling moments of deja-vu, and such lazily-written and mapped-out plotlines that twists are telegraphed way ahead: in this case of Samaritan, there’s a major twist late on that I predicted about ten minutes in. Writers these days seem incapable of surprises, they haven’t got it in them, so indebted are they to those DVD films on the shelf and hamstrung by a lack of imagination.

Or maybe we’ve just all seen too many genre movies. Maybe the reason why there seems nothing new under the sun is simply that its all been done. Its tired-out. We’ve seen the bright, hopeful classic stuff (Richard Donner’s Superman, Sam Raimi’s Spiderman), the darker, edgier stuff (anything with Zack Snyder’s name on it) and we’ve seen the adult, ultra-violent stuff (The Boys etc). With nowhere to go, projects look for ever-more obscure comics inspiration, or to retread those DVD favourites.

Samaritan is horrible. It almost feels like it should have been titled The Last Action Superhero, complete as it is with an irritating child character, Sam, a big fan of a superhero Samaritan, who disappeared twenty years ago following a climactic battle with his arch-enemy (and brother) Nemesis, the two of them having believed to have perished in a fiery explosion. Granite City (a poor-mans Gotham) is now under threat from rising lawlessness and anarchy, and thirteen-year old Sam, who believes Mr Smith (no, seriously) a refuse collector who just happens to live across the way in the same apartment building as he does, is Samaritan in hiding, hoping he can convince his hero to step up and save the day.

Sylvester Stallone seems to have a penchant for reluctant heroes who spend the majority of films delaying their inevitable violent validation. So many of his films seem to tease the fan-service heroics that are obviously coming. Mind, he is, what 76 years old now? Seems reasonable he can’t keep up the crazy stunts etc throughout his films anymore. But everyone knows the drill; keep up the baiting by bad guys, Sly turning the other cheek, show the good guys suffering, maintain Sly’s reticence to step up and beat the shit out of every piece of scum onscreen, always with the knowledge that its coming as obvious as night follows day. I don’t know how many bad guys Sly manages to burn, maim, cripple, kill, dismember or blow up in the carnage that Samaritan ends with, but its surely close to triple figures. I remember when those kind of numbers were questioned in the press by our moral guardians, but that’s by the by now. What’s most alarming is just how boring all that carnage is.

Farewell Armageddon

ARMA1Armageddon, 1998, 150 mins, Streaming

Ah, but who am I kidding? The ‘Farewell….’ series of posts are about films which I believe I have watched for the last time (there’s only so much time, and so many films to watch, after all) but deep down I know I’m sure to return to this film again, someday (hell, it would probably only take a 4K UHD release to start me reaching for my wallet).  I KNOW that Armageddon is a terrible movie- its not a lot saner than Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall, which is what brought me to this one again, but certainly its a whole lot better than that disastrous disaster movie. What actually makes it a better movie is an interesting conundrum though. Is it the cast? The music? As far as scripts are concerned, both are incredibly silly, over the top spectacles that use big special effects to cover up all sorts of chasms of logic and scientific inaccuracy. One can feel self-respect and brain cells melting away with every minute of screen time. Its an endless marvel watching the actors earnestly spouting the cornball dialogue like their careers depended upon it – Steve Buscemi gets away lightly with what are probably the film’s best lines, but most everything Billy Bob Thornton utters during Armageddon is cringe-inducing, and Bruce Willis’ wry smirk seems to indicate he knows that he’s got worse movies/scripts coming.

While I shall likely (hopefully, even) never watch Moonfall again, I’ve probably watched Armageddon twelve times or more over the past twenty-plus years since I first watched it at the cinema, and parts of it more than that – I can’t help myself watching it if every time I stumble upon it screening on television, for instance, so I’ve seen the last half too many times to mention, probably. My routine excuse is that its so bad its good, like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, another guilty favourite (although in that films case I can rationalise it as imagining it is the film Hammer might have made had that British studio still been making its horror films into the 1980s, which actually improves the experience no end).

A more interesting, certainly more fitting, comparison than Moonfall would possibly be between Armageddon and 1998’s other meteor impact film, Deep Impact, which seems to be on television just as often, if not more. Deep Impact is widely accepted as being the better film, even if its not the most re-watchable of them. Which maybe adds another question, regards what actually makes films re-watchable anyway. Maybe its just anticipating the cheesy moments, the clunky one-liners, the idiotic science, as if there’s some perverse pleasure in it. I do know there’s better movies I should be re-watching.

That all being said, for all I know someone out there, maybe LOTS of someones, rate Armageddon as their favourite movie of all time.  I’d love them to explain why.

The ultimate disastrous disaster movie: yes, Moonfall

moonedMoonfall, 2022, 130 mins, Amazon Prime

Moonfall is unrelentingly stupid, probably the most stupid film I have ever seen. I used to think Michael Bay’s Armageddon was off its rocker, but that film seems pretty excellent in retrospect. Isn’t it rather sad when new films make what we thought were the bad films of old actually seem pretty decent in comparison? Armageddon at least had actors making an effort, playing fairly interesting characters with some memorable character arcs in a script with a genuine threat, with added drama of the race against time etc. True, it was utterly bonkers and over the top as all of Bay’s films tend to be, but crikey, it was a work of substance compared to Roland Emmerich’s utterly dismal offering that never tries to make any sense whatsoever or contain any believable or remotely interesting characters.

Moonfall is absolutely  horrible, with no discernible redeeming features that I can see, other than stupidity taken to some new higher level that deserves a whole new word in the dictionary. A disaster movie in which the biggest disaster is the movie itself, full of lazy tropes such that it almost borders on parody : of course the military’s immediate solution is to try nuke the moon before it can crash into the Earth. But- nuke the moon? As if all the nukes of all the Earth could blow up the moon? Just think about that for a moment, the sheer insanity of it. Mind, by the time all the cities are ruined during the film’s proceedings, and all the satellite networks swept up by the moon’s tumble into the Earth there’s nothing worth saving, the economies of the world completely thrown back into some new Dark Ages: yeah some kind of happy ending, that.

Its rather contemptible really, modern film-making in microcosm, believing that spectacle alone is enough. The utter hubris thinking that a film can get by with just big effects etc. You don’t need well-written characters, or dramatic conflict, or pretty much any script at all- imagine; an end of the world storyline totally lacking any real drama, its mind-boggling how low this film sets the bar, and everyone involved shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a film production ever again (but of course they will, its just business as usual).

So the moon is apparently some kind of megastructure built by aliens but broken somehow (actually it has been sabotaged by a seperate alien threat but that’s another level of silliness threatening an alien invasion sequel) and the moon is now falling to Earth, and only America and NASA can save us. Which has become just another level of stupid since those Armageddon days, bearing in mind that currently NASA can’t even get a guy into orbit without out-sourcing it to Elon Musk’s bunch. But hey, isn’t there an old, flight-ready (sorry, what?) Shuttle on display in a museum?  If one can even accept all that nonsense, we are asked to accept that a) NASA knew all along the moon was an alien construct and covered it up, b) they developed an EMP bomb to thwart any alien menace but it got cancelled by -wouldn’t you know it-  short-sighted budget cuts and c) nobody, not all the amateur astronomers or foreign space agencies etc noticed an eruption of space aliens on the lunar surface when a shuttle mission back in 2012 suffered a critical disaster depicted during the films opening rip of Gravity. You know a film’s bad when within the first few minutes I’m shaking my head at being asked to reduce my intelligence to that of an infant-school Spaceflight pop-up picture book.

So bad that it isn’t even fun as a curio, Moonfall is the ultimate disaster movie in all the worst possible ways. Thank goodness I watched it on Prime and never got fooled into watching it at the cinema or buying it on Blu-ray or 4K UHD.

Taking a 747 for a swim in the Bermuda Triangle?

airport77Airport 77, 1977, 114 mins, Digital

Well, I only watched this because its a Jack Lemmon film I’d never seen before. No doubt if I had a tick sheet of all his films, I could never hope to complete it, but anyway, here’s one more off the list. Turns out its one of the oddest films of his I’ve ever seen, albeit paradoxically very Hollywood, oh so typical of that mainstream Hollywood that Lemmon worked in and was a part of. Airport 77 is from that cycle of  disaster movies so popular in the 1970s that seemed to pull in surprising talent – either an irresistible easy pay-check, or maybe the acting fraternity of the time felt they simply HAD to be in one of these disaster flicks to be considered part of the then-zeitgeist. I can imagine Hollywood parties at the time and thespians exchanging notes, and sneering at those who HADN’T appeared in one yet. Nearest thing we have these days to something like it would be Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, films that don’t really seem to deserve their star-studded cast’s (and surely the most anticipated thing regards the third of those films is when the cast gets revealed).

But considering what a silly little film this is (hijackers trying to steal a fortune of art treasures from a 747 fly it into the Bermuda Triangle, where it collides with an oil rig, crashes into the sea and lies submerged on the sea-bed), what a cast Airport 1977 has! Its got Jack Lemmon, one of my favourite all-time actors in one of his weirdest, most physical roles; he plays Captain Don Gallagher, pilot of a 747 with a talent for scuba-diving who manages to save everyone. Its got Dracula (Christopher Lee), its got Kolchak (Darren McGavin), its got Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), its got the Seven Million Dollar Man (Monte Markham, that’s the bad bionic man for those who weren’t around back in 1975), its got Apollo 13‘s Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan), its got Inspector Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) –  seriously, its got a cast which itself alone makes the film worthy of a watch.  I haven’t included those cast-members who include such films as Citizen Kane, Vertigo and  Gone With the Wind in their filmography! Its quite extraordinary stuff for a film so inherently daft but which, as I have noted, also makes it just so damned watchable. Production values are pretty good, too, and while some of the visual effects betray the pre-Star Wars quality level that was acceptable at the time (but would get laughed at afterwards and not age well post-ILM/Apogee etc), some of the effects shots are surprisingly fine (as its a Universal picture, it included Albert Whitlock as part of the effects crew).

While The Towering Inferno remains, surely, the best of all those disaster flicks, Airport 1977 is one of the better examples, no doubt, albeit its not really in the ‘so bad its good’ category. I suppose there is something rather endearing about the genre and its  possibly my loss that I’ve never watched Airport, Airport 1975 nor The Concorde-Airport ’79 either (having watched Airplane! I figured they were redundant). Seems there’s a Blu-ray box to fix that.  Something for my film bucket-list maybe, someday.

At last (?) the Action Hero

actionheroThe Last Action Hero, 1993, 130 mins, Amazon Prime

Practically thirty years after its original release, I’ve finally gotten around to watching John McTiernan’s The Last Action Hero, a thoroughly peculiar film that maybe performs better today than it did back in 1993. Or maybe not. On one level the advantage of watching The Last Action Hero today is that it has now become, after close to thirty years, a nostalgia-fest for how action films and also television shows like The A-Team were back then. More than that, its a nostalgia-fest for a time when movies were projected on reels of film and the idea of a magic ticket pulling us into the screen has that analogue charm lost in these days of digital movies on hard drives: these days a film like this would conceivably be more something like Tron, a character pulled into a digital world. Where’s the romance in that?

At any rate, The Last Action Hero isn’t a very good film; its clearly something of a folly, one of those films that has too many cooks and a script that was still a draft or two away from being a good shooting script. Its always a wonder to me, the chaotic way some films get made, there’s definitely eerie echoes in The Last Action Hero of the ill-fated genesis of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and the bizarre way studios mandate premiere dates that just can’t be possibly met. Here’s another film without a proper final cut, rushed into cinemas not properly finished or fine-tuned.

The real problem for The Last Action Hero is that’s practically two different movies itself. In one its a kid’s adventure film with a child becoming a part of one of Arnie’s onscreen adventures, a kind of wish-fulfilment for film lovers of all ages who would love to have that magic ticket to transport us to our favourite film universe, while in the other, its a self-knowing send-up of action movie tropes and movie violence. Its likely that if the film were made today it would be two movies- it seems a perfect premise for a Part One/ Part Two, the first film featuring the kid going into the movie world and the second film with the movie characters brought into our world. Doing both in one film leaves it pulling in two seperate directions, from which so many of the film’s problems arise.

In its movie in-jokes and self-aware humour, it does seem rather prescient, but I can’t decide if its references to other films/characters -cameos for Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct (1992)) and Robert Patrick’s T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)) amongst others- is either a reference to the conceits of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) or instead offering a glimpse of something like the multiverses becoming so popular these days in genre offerings. Are the in-movie mythologies referenced in The Last Action Hero an anticipation of how Matrix: Resurrections references earlier Matrix films, to the point of even projecting clips from them around on-screen characters, films within films? Or is it a prediction of the film multiverses such as we have seen in Spiderman: No Way Home which retcon earlier films/reboots into their narrative to such an extent that it actually becomes the narrative. Films are so meta now. They used to be just movies.

A dreadful proposal: Deep Water

deeplyDeep Water, 2022, 115 mins, Amazon Prime

A very silly film, this, about a toxic marriage that… well, I suppose this kind of thing trended well back in the 1990s; indeed, director Adrian Lyne had great success with this sort of tosh with Fatal Attraction (1987) and Indecent Proposal (1993), but while Deep Water is competently made and shot (as one would expect from someone like Lyne) its just.. so silly it borders on parody.

This time around its Vic (Ben Affleck) a fabulously wealthy and handsome husband of beautiful and sultry Melinda (Ana de Armas) who is strangely bored with her marriage and her fabulously wonderful daughter Trixie (film-stealing Grace Jenkins). Melinda fools around having successive affairs and Vic sleeps in the spare room getting increasingly suspicious of her late nights and drunken behaviour at the fabulous parties they keep going to. Melinda isn’t in the slightest bit discreet regards her affairs, even inviting each beau to the next party they are at, raising embarrassed glances from party-goers and freinds. Vic of course is beefed-up like he’s ready to appear in a Batman movie so when Melinda’s lovers each disappear… well, it wouldn’t take the Worlds Greatest Detective to deduce who the prime suspect is, so a local author, Don (Tracie Letts) realises there might be a great book in what’s going on in the neighbourhood.

Its pretty nauseating nonsense, really. The fabulous lives of the fabulously attractive and fabulously wealthy elite have nothing at all in common with my everyday experience: as we Brits say, its all bollocks. I’m supposed to feel sympathy with fabulously wealthy Vic married to fabulously beautiful Melinda with fabulously perfect daughter Trixie? I’m supposed to maybe understand fabulous Melinda’s boredom and promiscuous nature? Melinda is a beautiful trophy-wife but a frankly hideous character. Meanwhile, I’m not supposed to laugh at Vic’s preposterously odd hobby of raising snails/slugs in his garden shed/Batcave mancave? Moreover, I’m not supposed to be too concerned at an apparent lack of screen chemistry between the two leads?

To be fair, Ana de Armas plays a fabulous drunk and she exudes sensuality etc fabulously (she’s certainly not reticent regards shedding her clothes in films). Ben Affleck broods well but we knew he could manage that from his Batman role, and here he just looks too… well, handsome man-mountain- he’s hardly an Everyman, in just the same way his wife is hardly an Everywoman. Is this the fabulously toxic marriage we ordinary folks are supposed to aspire to? Affleck’s best moments are when he’s showing some genuine warmth, mostly those scenes he shares with the delightful Grace Jenkins, who genuinely steals the film from her adult stars. Highlight of the film is her singing in the back of the family car, reprised in the films end-credits for a bit of outtake fun, but a sexy thriller is in trouble when its stolen by its child actor and the best scene in the film is during the end-credits.

At any rate, the film gradually descends into farce and features the mother of all contrived coincidences once author Don stumbles upon Vic’s final (?) crime. I mean, that entire final reel is so audacious it almost deserves to be applauded, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. It deserves some kind of award. One of those fabulous raspberries, probably.

Schrödinger’s party: Coherence (2013)

coherenceCoherence, 2013, 89 mins, Amazon Prime

Oh this was a strange one: imagine a streaming app. There’s a film on that app, that may or may not be any good. If Erwin Schrödinger was a film reviewer, he might suggest that, until that film is actually watched, it actually exists in two states: its a one-star film, and its a five-star film, at the very same time. Its the act of observation that determines whether a film is any good or not. Hang on. I don’t need high-end Quantum theory or a professor to tell me that I need to watch a film to discover if its any good or not.

Coherence is a film that is very preoccupied by Schrödinger’s thought experiment about his cat in a box.  In fact, its the films central conceit. Eight freinds attend a dinner party at one of their houses while a comet dominates the sky and news headlines. Peculiar things start to happen; the lights go out, there is a loud banging at the door. The street outside is in blackness, except for a house down the street that has its lights on. Two of the freinds go out to that house, looking for a working phone. Two freinds come back. But they might not be the same freinds. Turns out the house with the lights on is identical to the one where they are having the party, and through the window they could see guests identical to those freinds they had left behind. But maybe there are more than two identical houses, more than two sets of eight identical party-goers.

Ironically, the film becomes less coherent as it progresses. This might well be deliberate. Initially its premise is very interesting, even unnerving, and the cast pretty great in what I suspect were mostly ad-libbed scenes other than whenever a key plot-point had to be thrown in to move things forward. Its an extremely low-budget production, mostly an ensemble piece set in one place, very much like a theatre play and that elements works best, with some nice character work and rising friction. Oh, and it features that guy from Buffy.

Its essentially a Twilight Zone-like piece, an exercise in rising paranoia which unfortunately just confuses more and more as it goes on. I can’t really say I even understood the ending, it throws a weird tangent right at the end which rather undermines everything before (an unconscious body left in the shower seems to have disappeared and there is some vague twist about a phone call that is meant to mean… what, exactly?). Its either one of those films that is too clever for its own good, or not as clever as it seems to think it is- or maybe it just lost its way in execution. I should need a diagram to understand a narrative? This is a film that possibly needs an internet FAQ (no, I haven’t looked) to explain it all- not a Good Thing, really.

It’s the Final Countdown

final1The Final Countdown, 1980, 103 mins, Amazon Prime (HD)

Is it unfair of me to ask; does The Final Countdown really qualify as a film at all? If I had a stopwatch and rewatched the film again, and counted how many minutes of footage consisted of all the hardware porn courtesy of the US Navy, compared to the actual time spent in traditional dramatic scenes with, like, people etc and dialogue and plot… what would the ratio be? 60/40 or even 70/30?

Not that there’s much of a plot. Or character beats, for that matter. Or tension. Sure, the film tells a passable time travel story but there’s no explanation for why a bizarre weather event should suddenly whisk the USS Nimitz from 1980 to 1941, or conveniently turn up again to whisk the aircraft carrier back to the present day before any harm is done. And certainly the footage of all the US Navy hardware is very pretty, and I’m sure it all looks lovely on that 4K UHD that came out over in the States a little while ago…

(and while we’re on that, what is going on with all these odd choices for films coming out on the ‘prestige’ 4K UHD format? The Final Countdown? Lifeforce? The Sword and the Sorcerer? Hardly a week goes by these days when some boutique label fails to announce a 4K UHD release that has me shaking my head in disbelief. I suppose I should accept it as a positive and something keeping physical media relevant, but some of the choices of films coming out on the format are, to be charitable, niche, to be honest, appalling)

But anyway, back to The Final Countdown… and by the way, what does the title even mean? What does it have to do with the plot? What’s the countdown it refers to? The deadline of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour I guess, but its a bit of a stretch as regards what’s so ‘final’ about it. The most frustrating thing regards the film is that the basic premise is really pretty neat, and there’s an awful lot one could do with it. Let’s say the Kirk Douglas’ character Capt. Matthew Yelland had a father who died at Pearl Harbour, or one of the crew did and they went AWOL to go save him, and the crew had to go chase him down and stop him from changing the timeline and destroying the 1980 they left behind. You know, SOMETHING that meant tearing the director and cameraman away from all that Navy hardware and, you know, get on with making a proper dramatic film. Because The Final Countdown isn’t a ‘proper’ dramatic film. Events take passive characters back in time and subsequent events return them to their present. The End. There’s a nagging feeling that some producer struck a deal to shoot lots of footage of the US Navy’s new flagship and then had to come up with a plot as some excuse to use all that footage.

To be fair, there is one dogfight sequence of F-14’s and Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero’s duking it out in the skies that looks pretty astonishing and maybe suggests how good the film could have been, but otherwise there isn’t much indication of ambition to be anything but a recruitment film for the Navy.

Frankly, the original Twilight Zone series did this kind of time travel thing much better and much more cheaply. So did Somewhere in Time, now that I think about it…