New Blade Runner books coming

br2049aWell, they must have done something right with BR2049, because there’s a few more books coming – if only the 1982 film had gained such attention so early on. Most interesting of the releases is an art book – Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked: The Art curated by Tanya Lapointe, serving as a companion book to her The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 that came out at the time of the films cinema release. The latter book was a fine souvenir/companion to the film but there is obviously a treasure trove of art not included in that book (as I recall some critical reviews of the book complained there was too little art, too many set/behind the scenes photographs, so this should please those readers). It does bug me a little that various rights issues seem to forever negate any chance of a similar tome concentrating on the 1982 movie, but maybe someday (life has a way of pleasantly surprising you sometimes).  Currently scheduled for October and looks to be same price/format as the earlier book. Hope there’s plenty of text accompanying the artwork and that maybe we’ll get some hints of deleted scenes alongside abandoned concepts etc; the definitive making-of for BR2049 has yet to be written, so I’m certain the film has lots of secrets to yet reveal.

br2049cA little earlier in September we get what must be one of the first texts examining the film – Blade Runner 2049 and Philosophy is a ‘collection of entertaining articles on both Blade Runner movies (and on the spin-off short films and Blade Runner novels) by twenty philosophers representing diverse backgrounds and philosophical perspectives‘. Blade Runner was the subject of several books over the years –  Retrofitting Blade Runner by Judith Kerman was one of the first and is one of my favourite books, hugely important when I first read it and while several similar studies followed, it remains one of the most important. Now that I think about it, it would likely be fascinating to re-read the Kerman book with the benefit of hindsight and all that happened afterwards regards the Final Cut etc.

br2049bAnd your Blade Runner bookshelf will need a little more room this Autumn because scheduled for October is another book about the film- Blade Runner 2049: A Philosophical Exploration (Philosophers on Film). Seems the film studies/critique network is thoroughly enchanted with Dennis Villeneuve’s film (or they know a cash cow when they see it, considering how many books came out about the 1982 film). This book might be especially noteworthy since it actually has a  foreword from Villeneuve himself, and I can imagine it must be especially rewarding for Villeneuve to see his film getting all this attention. I’m curious to see how similar these tow books actually are and it will be fun to read contrasting views between the two collections. This latter book will be ‘essential reading for anyone interested in philosophy, film studies, philosophy of mind, psychology, gender studies, and conceptual issues in cognitive science and artificial intelligence’. You got to love it- E.T never got this kind of attention. One note of caution- these film scholars/ philosophers are hardly what I’d call efficient, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these books slipped into next year. We’ll see.

br2049dBut we’re not quite finished yet. You are probably aware that Alcon Entertainment in cahoots with Titan Comics is bringing us a Blade Runner 2019 mini-series, set, as the title suggests,  shortly after the first film and is officially canon, franchise fans.  I don’t think the first issue is out until June or July, but they have a collection of the series scheduled for November. They do seem to be treating this seriously, as it has the involvement of BR2049 scribe Michael Green to add some weight to its ‘official canon’ claims. The Boom! Comics adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was surprisingly good, and it will be interesting to see how this turns out (I won’t be buying the individual issues, I’ll wait for the book, I expect). Some teased artwork which I’ll include an example of below certainly suggests it will be a quality production. Speaking as someone who had the original Marvel comics adaptation of the 1982 film back in the day (and I still say that was a beautiful piece of work adapting a film not really ideal for the comic treatment), br2049e.jpgI do get a bit of a kick from the Blade Runner films getting this kind of treatment. Of course we also have the anime series due (next year I think) so its evident Alcon are trying to keep the torch burning brightly for their Blade Runner property. A film is possibly too much to hope for, all things considered, but perhaps a HBO/Netflix/Amazon live-action mini-series might actually be even better. Not that we need ‘more’ but it is, well, strangely refreshing and vindication, really, having championed the film back in the post-1982 days when the film was buried and forgotten, to see all this attention now- and clearly the box-office woes of BR2049 hasn’t totally turned Alcon off the intellectual property. The cynic in me suggests they are just trying to maximise/get some return on their investment in untangling the rights to Blade Runner several years ago (which likely wasn’t cheap). At any rate, it certainly is interesting all this going on. Maybe a super-duper disc edition of BR2049 with decent extras/deleted scenes/commentary tracks might be in the offing someday. I bought Blade Runner so many times on home formats, it almost seems wrong not to wind up doing the same for its sequel.

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Terry Rawlings has died

Just a few words to note the passing of film editor Terry Rawlings yesterday. He edited several films that have been amongst my favourites- Alien and Blade Runner are possibly the two classics he’ll be most remembered for (other than Chariots of Fire) but I’ll also remember him for two flawed films that could be listed under ‘what might have been’- Legend and Alien 3, two films that never really clicked but could have been amazing in better circumstances. Both are a reminder that with all the best will in the world, films are a collaborative work and always subject to outside forces, ill will and ill luck.

freudostOf course, if you’ve been reading this blog recently you’ll know I only rewatched Alien on Sunday, which was the first film Rawlings edited, I believe, on his own. Having had a background working as a sound editor before, Rawlings brought with him an understanding of the importance of sound (and music) in the editing process, and his work, and films, benefited from this. Mind, it could also be a subject of some contention. Rawlings was a lover of music (and I suspect had a huge collection) and his temp music track for Alien caused him some troubles with the composer Jerry Goldsmith. Some sections of Goldsmiths Alien score were replaced by some of Goldsmith’s earlier score for the film Freud – noticeably the section of Dallas in the shaft or the the acid dripping scene when Ash tried to cut the facehugger from Kane.  They are very effective scenes with the Freud music (it’s a fantastic score, I bought the album a few years back and it’s brilliant, and its quite uncanny how well it works in a film made so many years later). Nothing Goldsmith did for Alien could shake Rawlings and Scott’s love of the temp track and it stayed, much to the composers chagrin – likewise even the main title music was dropped in favour of some other Alien music Goldsmith wrote for the scenes on the planetoid. Goldsmith was horrified by this second-guessing and manipulation of his score for different scenes, but I have to admit, Rawlings was right. The title sequence with its drone-like, moody music never fails to pull me into the mood of dread that pervades the film (I think the Alien title sequence is one of the very best of all time).

Alien 4K UHD

alienAh, Alien– just thinking about the film throws me back to summer 1979, reading Fantastic Films magazine  absolutely goggle-eyed at the imagery- you have to remember, absolutely nothing that looked quite like it had ever appeared on film before (except, curiously, for the Victorian-bent tech of First Men in the Moon in 1964). Alien really was something new, a trend-setter and showstopper, one of those cultural pivot points that rarely happen now in these more jaded times- and of course a neat adult response to Star Wars. It wasn’t the technology of Alien‘s film-making that changed things (as opposed to how technology-driven modern film-making has since become, it was using all the old tricks and methods of so many films before and after), but rather the sophistication with which Ridley Scott approached its otherwise derivative b-movie plot (essentially a haunted house/monster on the loose story in space). The coverage of those issues of Fantastic Films really opened my eyes to the craft and art in genre films- its interviews with Ridley Scott in those issues (particularly the extensive examination of the Alien storyboards Scott drew) really fascinated me, and sealed my interest in Scott’s films forever after.

ff2I wasn’t really familiar with Heavy Metal at the time, but Alien was definitely the very first Heavy Metal movie in approach and artistic worth. It was adult and dark and gritty and quite overloaded with visual information. Even today some forty years later it’s amazing not just how well Alien holds up, but also how it surpasses much of what we see now. The Nostromo bridge, the messroom, the corridors, it’s incredibly convincing, a work of art. That’s quite seperate to the impact of Giger’s nightmarish creations: never was a films title so apt. Alien really was alien, its Lovecraftian pseudo-sexual horrors as disturbing now as they ever were. I almost wish it stood alone, that there were never any sequels or any prequels, that Alien could just stand there, a one-off classic.

Its certainly the best way to watch it today. Just soak up and savour the mystery of that derelict craft and the alien space jockey, and the glimpses of the creature itself as it preys on the Nostromo crew. Try to forget the mythology that followed after with all its contradictory noise.

So that summer of 1979- like some kind of fool, I was of course madly anticipating actually watching the film, but as the September release date of the film neared here in the UK I learned that it was rated ‘X’ by the BBFC, partly no doubt for the films intensity but more for the use of language- swear-words were a big no-no in the old days of Blighty (actually things might not have changed so much in the years since). So having read all the film magazines, as we used to do in those pre-internet days, the film became this forbidden object, a tantalising mystery- and of course this was in those dark pre-VHS days when films came to the cinema and then went, lost for years before even a glimmer of hope of a possible tv screening. I didn’t actually see the film until it turned up on television*, on a Sunday night following the 1982 World Cup final on ITV. In pan and scan, nevermind the dreaded ad breaks (didn’t have a video recorder back then, so recorded the film onto audio cassette to listen to after- only hardcore/older geeks possibly understand what that was all about).

So perhaps it was fitting that last night, another Sunday almost thirty-seven years later, slowly slipping towards the fortieth anniversary of the films 6th September UK release date, I watched the film again, only this time in yet another format- 4K UHD.  I have to say, the film looked gorgeous, the best I’ve yet seen it, one of the best catalogue films I have seen on 4K disc. The HDR isn’t distracting, instead tastefully managed to increase the sense of depth to the picture and really improving some of the miniature shots (such as the Nostromo touching down on the planetoid with its lights blazing in the stormy murk). The colour balance and saturation of the film seemed improved, and the 4K image certainly allowed more appreciation of the films many visual details. I’d say this presentation seemed pretty much definitive to me, and I really enjoyed the film again.

Rewatching films can always be a curious experience, as you can take different things from them with every viewing- this time around, I seemed to appreciate some of the acting quality. Ian Holm was brilliant, as was Veronica Cartwright too- both are superb character actors with a sense of understated reality. They seem natural and effortless performances and convincingly ‘down to Earth’ (albeit that might seem strange considering the film’s setting). As a whole I’d say the films casting was a masterstroke in general- the characters are quite underwritten by the script but each actor brings something to each part. Compare the trucking Nostromo crew to any of the characters in Prometheus or Alien Covenant, say, and you’ll get what I mean (damn- I intended not to refer to those prequels at all and I’ve gone and bust it). The casting grounds the film in a sense of blue-collar reality, and while the smoking may seem a little incongruous these days, it’s certainly another layer of reality that carried weight back in 1979. The world has changed but Alien won’t, it’s a part of film history locked in time and thank goodness for that.

A curious thought though, that forty years ago I would be reading all those magazines, Fantastic Films, Starburst etc) and getting photographic glimpses of the film, and I’d read the Alan Dean Foster novelization, and the film would be frustratingly yet held back for another three years. And here I was some forty years later rewatching the film again. If I was around forty years from now, no doubt I’d still be rewatching it. Films, afterall, can be forever- well, the best of them, certainly. But maybe I’ve just bought Alien one last time in one last format.

* prior to the network premiere, indeed some time before as I recall. maybe in 1981, I was looking at records in my local HMV when I noticed that they were playing Alien on a television sitting on the shelf near the till (it must have been a sell-through VHS tape, which were wildly expensive at the time, before rentals took off and the idea of actually owning a film became rich fantasy). It was near the chestburster scene, and needless to say I stuck around awhile to see it in the corner of my eye while pretending to examine vinyl copies of albums. Vinyl, VHS, record stores… it’s a long time ago indeed, and I was so nervous that this was an ‘X’ -certificate film that they were surreptitiously screening that everyone in the shop of any age could see. Was I ever that young/naive? 

The 2019 List: March

Well, another month already.

TV Shows

30) The Umbrella Academy

34) Stranger Things Season One

35) Love, Death & Robots

40) Brooklyn 99 Season Five

Films

31) Free Solo

32) Bohemian Rhapsody

33) The Predator (2018)

36) Voice From the Stone

37) Await Further Instructions

38) Triple Frontier

39) Mirage

41) Wheelman

42) Paddleton

It occurs to me that in Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to life, the universe and everything is the number 42. Which just happens to be the number I’ve reached with Paddleton. So anyway, whatever that means. So 42. In three months. That’s some kind of record for me, I think. And of course that doesn’t include re-watches, which this month includes Game of Thrones Season Six (which I didn’t post about) and stuff like The Big Lebowski (which I did). I also re-watched Arrival the other night, on 4K UHD this time around, which I really should write about because it remains a wonderful film and one of my very favourites of the last decade. Its always nice to step back from new stuff to relax with old favourites. A bit like what the guys do in Paddleton. Maybe that’s the answer to life, the universe and everything, at least for movie lovers- just rewatch your favourite films.

Party like it’s 1989

I’m always slightly amused by studios and/or their marketing departments focusing so much on anniversaries when releasing or re-releasing films on disc. I’d buy a copy of Alien on 4K disc whatever year it came out, it doesn’t have to be the film’s fortieth anniversary, but hey ho, there you go. So anyway, this year we seem to be getting reminded of certain film’s 30th anniversaries this year- The Abyss appears to be getting a new 4K scan or master for release later this year (originally released 9th August 1989, I guess it will slip a bit later than that for a disc release in the Autumn), and Field of Dreams is getting a 4K disc release in May. Unannounced but surely coming is Tim Burton’s Batman, another film from 1989 (looking back, I always feel like 1989 was the year of Batman– it was all over the place in the media, a huge ‘event’ film in the same way Star Wars was). Before all these, Pet Sematary gets a 4K release next week, partly due to its thirtieth anniversary but also thanks to an incoming remake/reboot (hey, before you watch the new one, here’s the old one to watch first so we can make a bit more money out of it).

So anyway, its been getting me a little nostalgic for 1989, which on the face of it never occurs to me as a great year for films, but now that I think of it (and consider those 4K disc/Blu ray release schedules) I have to admit, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year at all. I used to go to the cinema quite a bit back then, and can vividly recall shedding a tear or two to Field of Dreams (in a good way, it’s not as if it was a terrible film or anything, I’d reserve that kind of emotional reaction to something like Black Rain), and coming out of a matinee screening of The Abyss into a full-blown storm, torrential rain lashing across the cineplex car-park in a tempestuous gale that was like I’d brought the film out there with me, one of those disorientating moments that last with you forever.

I remember watching Born on the Fourth of July and Glory on the same day. We went to see Born on the Fourth of July in the afternoon, went home to have a chip tea then went back in the evening to see Glory. Now, the funny thing about that was, we all expected July to be the better film, but were totally amazed by Glory, really swept up by it. It had a phenomenal score by James Horner, and a great score is something I always react to in films, no doubt a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. Another film I saw at the cinema that year with a great score was The ‘Burbs, and I remember scouring record stores looking for that soundtrack for months in vain. Yeah, it was a good year for soundtracks, as I recall, though it would take years for me to finally get a copy of The ‘Burbs score on disc.

Not every cinema trip was as thrilling, mind. 1989 was also the year of Star Trek V: The FInal Frontier, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and, yes, Black Rain, and The Fly 2. Not films I recall really enjoying at all. I remember coming out of Pet Sematary more impressed by the music than the film- I bought the Varese CD and years later the La La Land expansion, but never actually saw the film itself again at all. It was also the year of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film I enjoyed at the time but has really worn thin on me over the years since. Its a funny thing, how films you were once wowed by later lose their charm, but films you didn’t ‘get’ the first time around sneak up on you (Munchausen is such a crazy maddening folly of a film I eventually couldn’t help but fall in love with it).

Thirty years, though- scary. Mind, I was looking up both Glory and Born on the Fourth of July online and they were released in December 1989 in the States, and it certainly wasn’t December when I saw them, so suspect it was later in 1990 when I saw them that day over here in the UK- release dates could be really staggered back then. After so many years it’s hard to remember very clearly, although I can remember sitting in the cinema at the time and looking over at my mate Andy after Glory ended, both of us shell-shocked by having watched not just two war films at the cinema that same day, but two damn good films at that.  It would never happen again- it’s funny sometimes, you just never know, in the moment, just how special/unusual or unique a day really is. They just come and go but perspective lends us clarity- and thirty/twenty-nine years, whatever it is, it’s certainly some kind of perspective.

Ugly Alien

alien4kHere’s a definite pre-order, one of my favourite films of all time, in 4K UHD. But what an ugly bloody cover. What is it with cover art these days? I would have hoped, considering how niche/film collector-oriented that premium discs on 4K are in these streaming-dominated days, that the studios might consider showing some effort, if only in releasing catalogue films with their original poster art (which is something after all that would likely appeal to original fans and collectors). Instead we get all sorts of nonsense (can’t say I was particularly impressed by the recent 4K Superman: The Movie either, much preferring that films original Bob Peak art) and this Alien one seems  particularly bad. It doesn’t represent the dark mood of the original film at all. A really missed opportunity considering how definitive 4K discs are supposed to be in representing the films at their very best (and in all likelihood in the final physical format that the films will ever be released on). Sure, ultimately its the film that counts rather than the box it comes in, but the whole point of physical is how it looks and feels as a overall package. alien4k2I’m really a fan of going back to original poster art (particularly with catalogue films, as in the old days, posters were usually given some thought and attention compared to the routine photoshop clones we get today). The original Alien poster was stark, menacing, and dripped mystery and warning while being very enigmatic. And the film was never all about the Alien itself in my book- it was the setting and the mood and the characters.

So anyway, my copy of Alien in 4K is obviously ordered but I do wish they had given some thought to that cover- or perhaps offered a double-sided sleeve with the original art on the reverse to allow the alternative if required?

Or maybe I’m just distracting myself from the really horrific fact that the film is celebrating its 40th Anniversary, and all the years that entails for someone like me who remembers its original release (I wasn’t old enough to see it over here at it got saddled with a ‘X’ certificate at the time but I was so fascinated from the film magazines and the tie-in novelization etc). Seems every time a film gets announced its another sobering reminder (The Abyss finally seems to be coming on HD & UHD now that this year marks its thirtieth anniversary- I was listening to the deluxe soundtrack the other day and could recall buying the original OST cd and listening to it, as if it were only yesterday, only it’s not yesterday, far from it). I seem to marking my middle-age by all the films I saw in the cinema ‘back in the day etc’ hitting anniversaries that are really pretty sobering when I think about it.

 

Avanti! again

avantiSo I returned to Billy Wilder’s Avanti! again. Its widely considered one of Wilder’s lesser films, and of course when compared to some of his greatest films (a list, remember, that includes Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard) I suppose that’s inevitable, but the film has a certain charm that draws me to it, perhaps more so than some of those ‘greats’ oddly enough. The fact that it stars Jack Lemmon is likely part of that, since he’s one of my favourite actors. But Avanti!… is strangely magical.

Even when it was first released, back in 1972, it was considered old-fashioned which was understandable looking at that era of 1970s American cinema – your Godfathers, Taxi Driver, Jaws, The Exorcist etc. But the funny thing is that once divorced from their original release, films like Avanti! (and certainly you could include Its A Wonderful Life alongside it, decades earlier) become utterly timeless in a way their contemporaries can’t. Avanti! is also so endearing, it really feels like love, my affection for it. Its a little bubble of romantic, sweetly funny joy and has frozen in time a sense of time and place forever. Revisiting Avanti! is just like revisiting a favoured place or fondly remembered friend that you haven’t seen in a long while.  It doesn’t hurt that the film features a gorgeously romantic score by Italian composer Carlo Rustichelli that can literally break your heart or laugh with joy- it plays almost throughout the film and gently seduces you without you even knowing it’s doing it.

avanti ostSome people have issue with the films languid pace and think it runs too long- clocking in at 2 hours and 24 minutes it is perhaps a little indulgent but when its a film you love, you just enjoy the extra time to wallow in it. As it is, rewatching it this time I felt the ending came just too soon, feeling rather abrupt. I wanted more of Lemmon and Juliet Mills (who in particular is so achingly bewitching and beautiful here), more of the island, the Rustichelli score, the gentle comedy Its one of my regrets that at the end, when Lemmon and Mill’s new lovers agree to repeat the routine of their parents and meet again at the islands hotel the next summer, I won’t ever be able to see it, rejoin their affair or see the adventures each yearly rendezvous brings. I want to feel what they feel, again, and again, but its locked away (well, at least I have the DVD and the Blu-ray and the soundtrack). We can but dream of what happened the next year, and the one after, and the one after that…

I came back to Avanti! by way of a German blu-ray that matches a US release from a year or so ago that was region-locked. Why we have to rely on German HD releases of quality films like this I don’t know- I would have thought this kind of thing (anything Wilder, frankly) was a sure thing for boutique labels like Arrow or Eureka over here. As it is, the two short cast  interviews included are slightly marred by burned-in German subs but the film itself is perfectly fine with English soundtrack and optional player subs. The HD image is a little problematic, likely derived from the same source/master as the earlier DVD but it looks fine with stable grain and no DNR: a fine filmic image with superior detail to the SD version. No doubt a fresh new master would sharpen things up better still and enable some improved colour ‘pop’, but really, a new master for a niche film such as Avanti! is unfortunately highly unlikely (but I’d like to be proven wrong).

I learned from the interview with Juliet Mills that the part of US STate Official J.J. Blodgett, played by Edward Andrews in the film, was originally written for Walter Matthau, but at the time Billy Wilder and Matthau were having a feud which nixed the actor appearing in the film. In hindsight you can tell it was written for him, some of that dialogue just drips for Matthau’s personality and comic timing, and him in it would just have made Avanti! even more perfect. Chalk that bit of casting up as another of movie history’s great ‘what ifs’.