Happy Birthday, Blade Runner

Blade-Runner-movie-posterForty years ago today, Blade Runner was released in America- June 25th, 1982. Obvious things spring to mind; forty years is so long ago, it just makes me feel dismayed thinking that Blade Runner is forty years old. I suppose I should add the caveat that my own 40th Blade Runner anniversary is a few months away yet- thanks to the gradual roll-out of films back then (hey, they used expensive ancient-tech film prints in bulky reels in those ancient times) Blade Runner, barring press screenings and a fabled preview screening by Starburst magazine, didn’t make it to UK cinemas until September that year (I first watched it on September 12th, 1982 in the old ABC in town). But anyway, film anniversaries always fall on when they were first released in the US, for obvious reasons, so today it is.

I know what 4K disc I’ll be spinning up tonight, then…

Forty years, though. Ridley was 44 when Blade Runner was released- he’s 84 now, how old does he feel this morning? Mind, poor old Vangelis is gone, recently passed away. Still can’t get over that, every time I play his music it feels a little different, somehow; only the other night I had a relaxed hour or so and listened to his albums China and See You Later, the latter of course featuring Memories of Green, that was used on the Blade Runner soundtrack (always amazes me how that track, recorded a few years before, fits the film like a glove and set the tone for the whole score). Its inevitable of course as so many years pass that so many of the people who made Blade Runner -who would generally be middle-aged at the time anyway- would pass away, leaving behind a fragment of celluloid immortality as films do, over time.  So many of the actors have gone; Rutger Hauer, Brion James, Bob Okazaki, Kimiko Hiroshige, Hu Pyke, Morgan Paull,  while behind-the-camera staff like Jordan Cronenweth, Syd Mead,  Lawrence G. Paull, Terry Rawlings and Douglas Trumbull have gone. Anybody else getting depressed yet?

Well, that’s what forty years will do. Eventually Blade Runner will leave us all behind, like old classics do such as the original King Kong. Films are Forever. Well, as long as they are restored and digitised I guess. Makes me think of original author Philip K Dick’s description of kipple, which represented entropy in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: “No one can win against kipple, except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I’ve sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I’ll die or go away, and then the kipple will again take over. It’s a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kippleization.”

That’s all of us, eventually: Kipple. I need a drink. Where’s my Blade Runner-inspired whiskey glass? Happy birthday, Blade Runner.

See you later, Vangelis

The news today regards the passing of Vangelis on Tuesday….

Vangelis’ music was the soundtrack of my life, pretty much, certainly for the past 40+ years. His Nemo era, albums like Heaven and Hell, ChinaSee You Later, Soil Festivities, Mask, Rapsodies... his Jon & Vangelis albums, and of course, his Blade Runner soundtrack. It was so normal, that I was working this afternoon in my back room (yep, still working from home, over two years now) and was listening to Vangelis’ The City album, when I learned the news of his passing. I listen to all kinds of stuff, but I always return to Vangelis eventually.

I can’t help it: if its raining, I tend to listen to Movement One from his Soil Festivities album.

Of all his music, Himalaya, the track from his China album, is my personal favourite; I’ve adored that piece of music since I first heard it during an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos tv series. I had it recorded off-air onto audio cassette and played it so often, while not knowing what the piece was, only that I loved it, and it was unlike anything else I’d heard. In those pre-internet days, it was tricky tracking music down, so you cannot imagine my joy when my friend Andy got a hold of a copy of China and was playing it, and Himalaya came on.

Naturally I’ve listened to his Blade Runner score far too many times to be considered healthy. I sometimes wonder if I would love Blade Runner half as much as I do if it was scored by someone else: the mix between the sound effects and Vangelis’ synths (that glorious Yamaha CS-80!) is so perfect you can’t always tell where the music ends and the sound effects take over. I suppose one could consider the film one long Vangelis pop video, or an arthouse installation for Vangelis’ electronic wizardry. His Blade Runner score, electronica dripping with melancholy, is the soul of the film, no question.

To be fair, there was always a love/hate thing though regards Vangelis. I think most of his fans will understand this. Vangelis was always very private, distant to the extent it often seemed like antipathy towards his fanbase. A musical genius and remarkably prolific, it was said he recorded music constantly, and that the majority of it, perhaps even the best of it, would never be heard (shades of Prince there, another of my favourites lost to us too soon). I’ve heard stories, which may not be true, certainly, of music execs who would never work with him again, that he was impossible to work with, unreliable, a loose cannon.

Following his Chariots of Fire success and the wealth it gave him, the gaps between his studio album releases would sometime stretch into years (compared to years in the 1970s when he would release two albums a year, sometimes more if one counts his producing and collaboration projects). We’d hear his succeeding scores in films and be frustrated by his refusal to release those scores on album (Bitter Moon, The Bounty etc) and indeed even taking twelve years to release his magnum opus, the  Blade Runner soundtrack, a score he sometimes seemed to hold some strange resentment towards: an album was supposed to be released back in 1982 (the film famously had a Polydor album referenced in the end credits which I searched for in record stores for months like some damned fool). I didn’t know until years later, but a cassette bootleg circulated that was rumoured to be a copy of the shelved album. Vangelis had cancelled it as if on a whim, perhaps because of an argument with somebody connected with the films production. We never really found out why, and perhaps will never know, rumours abounded for years- ego, money… hey, the music business he hated but made a fortune from, its a tension and dichotomy that runs throughout his career. The way Vangelis complained later in life, I always wondered why he didn’t just open his vault and give it away, but maybe it was all a tease, a source of amusement to him.

One thing is certain. There was no-one quite like Vangelis. Unless one counts, as I alluded to before, the Minneapolis genius that was Prince- both wildly talented, hugely prolific, incredibly contrary. We will never see their like again, I’m sure. The word ‘genius’ is used too often these days, it should be reserved for those two though.

Vangelis was 79. Same age as my dad. Vangelis passed away on the eve of my dad’s funeral. This has been some week.

Sights and sounds of Cyberpunk 2077

cyberpic1There’s definitely a Syd Mead vibe to CD Project Red’s future-noir RPG Cyberpunk 2077. The typical response to the game’s visuals is to dismiss it as simply indebted to the film Blade Runner but I think it leans more towards Syd Mead’s pre-production paintings and his artwork outside the film, while magnified by inspiration from 1970s art for Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One, various Heavy Metal strips like The Long Tomorrow, and stuff like Geoff Darrow’s Hard Boiled graphic novel. Although I must confess I get an endless kick out of waiting at pedestrian crossings and the ambient audio telling me “walk/Don’t walk” straight out of Ridley’s film. But even casually describing its inspiration, one cannot fathom the mindboggling amount work and artistry in transferring it all to a videogame. Its astonishing; a relentlessly fascinating world to immerse oneself in.

cyberpic6What these screenshots from my initial paythrough cannot show is the HDR, the flickering neon lights and atmosphere animation, the ambient sounds of electronics, vehicular traffic, foreign voices, advertising and video that assaults the senses. The architecture and design of the streets is immensely convincing and impressive: it feels solid, thought-out. It has depth. I can imagine the game artists thinking they were designing a Ridley Scott film from his Alien/Blade Runner era- detail piled upon detail. They even have magazines at vendors, the covers all designed for me to linger and stare at, in just the same way that Ridley had mocked-up future magazines for on-set detail in Blade Runner that we never see in the actual movie, but they are there.

cyberpic2I’ve totalled about twelve hours play according to my stats but so much of that has just been me ignoring the main gameplay narrative and just walking around the streets, through markets and sometimes driving around, soaking it all up, the experience of it. I’m playing it wrong, obviously- or maybe not. The developers wouldn’t invest so much effort into creating this Night City if they didn’t want to distract players at every turn with its sights and sounds, to bewitch those of us attuned to it with its sheer beauty and detail. Sure, a lot of it is just surface stuff, you can’t enter every doorway and there are sometimes bugs evident in crowd behaviour but I can easily look past that and just enjoy the atmosphere of walking through this impossible city. If you were to show this to me in the 1980s, back when I was playing games on my Amiga and watching Blade Runner on VHS I would have been incredulous. These images aren’t pre-renders, these are all in-game captures during my exploration, walking around.

cyberpic4Cyberpunk 2077 has a pretty mixed reputation; it’s launch is still notorious all these months later – I cancelled my original pre-order when it became clear how broken it was on the then-current gen consoles. It was clearly a game whose ambitions outreached the machines most of us owned at the time, and even those lucky few with the new machines discovered it wasn’t properly coded for them yet. Late last year I finally got hold of a Series X and when the next-gen patch (so late it would be better described as the new current-gen) was released, the game received a soft relaunch and reduced to half-price. I took the plunge and haven’t looked back. I’m not sure I’m getting the most out of its finer details as an RPG regards character perks etc and to be honest many of the game mechanics zip over my head (I really miss the good old days of detailed game manuals) but as an audio-visual experience I’m just knocked out by it. There is something just too tempting about just ignoring the games prompts to continue the narrative proper or its many sub-mission diversions, and instead just take a look around that next corner. Walk down that street or alley-way, see where those staircases take me.

cyberpic5It isn’t a Grand Theft Auto set in the future, and much of the criticism directed at the game is just that: that the game isn’t what many/most gamers expected it to be. I recall cautioning people on forums before it was released that this would be something different, simply because CD Project Red makes RPGs (The Witcher series being extremely popular). Maybe it should have been closer to the Deus Ex series of games, maybe it would have had a happier landing. But as it stands now, with some (most?) of its launch bugs sorted out, its really pretty great, and as for its main storyline/campaign, I’m enjoying it very much, its got some interesting twists and takes on the technology and politics.  Somebody will probably make a decent film out of it someday. Videogames are like comics: just waiting to be movies. I suppose the opposite is also true, movies waiting to be videogames, and yes, this does at times feel like a Blade Runner videogame cheekily without the license (if someone made a mod in which players could walk around hunting down Replicants, then Cyberpunk 2007 would probably be perfect).

Just a thought: noir happy endings

shock1Watching Shockproof (review coming soon-ish) I was struck by how a few noir just aren’t allowed to stay true to their narrative and intent, instead hijacked by presumably nervous studio execs and saddled with audience-friendly happy endings. In the case of Shockproof, I’ll get into it in more detail within the review, but suffice to say for about 75 minutes its a great noir about a parole officer gone bad because of his love for a beautiful woman who killed someone, and then in its last five minutes, maybe less, it becomes a different film entirely with a stupid ending that practically ruins the film. I mean, literally I was loving it, the cast, the story and the locations (they even filmed at the Bradbury Building!) and then boom, Game Over.

Its an ending that comes out of nowhere and I can’t see how anyone ‘buys’ it. A pretty much identical thing happens in The Brothers Rico, a edgy noir directed by Phil Karson (The Killers, The Dark Mirror) about an ex-Mafia book keeper who thinks going straight means he has left the mob behind. Its a very dark thriller that is totally undone by a happy ending so blatantly tacked on it almost undermines everything that has occurred before (which reminds me, I really need to rewatch that film and post a review).

One of the most beautiful and intoxicating things about film noir, about great film noir, are the grim, ‘downer’ endings that sometimes frustrate and sometimes disturb but yet always feel fitting and right, like  the ending of Criss Cross, which continues to haunt and disturb me, months after having seen it. Real-life is less like traditional Hollywood films and more like film noir; things don’t always go right, things sometimes get out of control and when push comes to shove, we are all far less in control of our fates than we like to think we are. Very often things go bad, very bad: there is a Truth in that. Noir films often get away with grim endings because they are about bad guys or good guys gone bad or good guys who do the wrong thing for the wrong woman- and the Production Code always stated that films should show that crime doesn’t pay, so hey, they get away with grim endings that ordinary flicks couldn’t. But sometimes the studio execs just can’t let it go.

Which allows me the excuse to mention Blade Runner again (oh yes, yet again) as everyone will recall its own abortive 1982 release version and its own tacked-on happy ending in which Deckard and Rachel are literally driving off, escaping to a happy future into the sunset. I just never appreciated at the time that the film had been shockproofed.

There. ‘Shockproofed’ is a thing now.

Just a thought: Raiders 4K

Well, first of all; Happy New Year everyone. I’m one of those who believed 2021 was even worse than 2020, confounding all hopes and expectations, so 2022… its GOT to be better, hasn’t it? Well, the old saying ‘approach with extreme caution’ springs to mind, somehow I get the feeling we’re slipping back into the 1970s: Inflation, high energy prices, clowns in Parliament…

raiders artSo anyway, just a thought: last night on New Years Eve I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark on 4K UHD. The film looks absolutely terrific in 4K, highly detailed with lovely grain and a really fine colour balance. Its never looked better, that’s for sure- something one often resorts to when describing films on 4K, but its so true in cases such as this. Films in 4K, at their best, can look very filmic, losing that video ‘shine’ that other home video formats had, instead looking very close to how a film would when projected in a cinema.

But while watching it, it occurred to me that Harrison Ford made Raiders (released 1981) and then went and made Blade Runner (released 1982), and the difference between the two vouches for just how great cinema can be/used to be. One was a rip-roaring, witty and exciting adventure flick, the other a dark, dystopian (some would suggest turgid) thriller. What struck me though, is that the two seem decades apart in style and sensibility. And when one considers that The Empire Strikes Back was released the year prior to Raiders… Ford’s filmography at the time; wow, he seemed the coolest guy on Earth- at least until no-one turned up to watch Blade Runner, but then again, decades later who cares about box-office, the films stand far removed from all that now.

Raiders is something special though. Spielberg was at the height of his game, every shot is imaginative, the way the camera moves, catches actors face’s reactions which often speak more than the scripts dialogue (and wasn’t that casting great?), John Williams’ score propels everything magnificently, another vivid example of what films today have lost in how music is used in them now. Frankly the film is a masterclass. And its forty years old. Yeah, that last bit… .

Lost in Space Season Three (2021)

loasts3Attentive readers will likely recall my glowing reviews of the surprisingly good Season One and Season Two of the Lost in Space reboot.  Season Three is the end of the series (kudos to Netflix for letting the show run its course and not cut it short like they have done the recent Cowboy Bebop) so I guess the question is, did they stick the landing?

Well, that’s a tricky one really. There is some weird expectation -maybe its just a general narrative thing, maybe its a Game of Thrones thing- that a series finale has to be some big epic event, a grand conclusion to leave fans buzzing. Its the way they mostly went with Lost in Space, and I’ll be honest, I could have been forgiven during the last two episodes for  thinking I was watching a Marvel movie: infact, it DID occur to me a few times. There are some big climactic moments, particularly during what amounts to a huge battle between good and bad robots across a desolate battlefield of fire and smoke and destruction, where it looked like something from the climax Avengers: Endgame, complete with ‘hero shots’ of human characters posing in essentially slow-motion moments, that felt very ‘Marvel movie’. And sure, for a television show to even approximate that is achievement in itself, even if it is a show made with what I imagine is an inflated Netflix budget. But was that good for the show?

It just made me question why the showrunners felt the need to go large like that, to go so epic. Personally I see so much CGI spectacle now, it quickly gets boring no matter how well its executed, its just a distraction from what should be more genuine drama. There’s a sense that its just a ticking of boxes- bigger explosions, crazier stunts, noisier music- that ruins so many blockbuster movies now. Blockbuster movies used to be a term referring to movies that had crowds queuing around city blocks, like in the glory days of Jaws or Star Wars in the 1970s, but these days its seems to be describing films as loud and noisy as a city block collapsing in an explosion, and its something increasingly infecting television shows all the time too. One of the most depressing things about Star Trek: Discovery (thank goodness I won’t be seeing that show’s latest season since Netflix dropped it) is how much it felt it needed bigger and bigger spectacle, at the expense of actual ideas (or rather it excused its lack of ideas and good writing by blindsiding viewers with flashy vacuous visuals).

To be sure, season three of Lost in Space is visually amazing, as the show always has been. Its production design -sets, costumes, hardware- has always been top-notch, and I’d argue its visual effects have been some of the very best I’ve ever seen on a television show. Its always been a very cinematic series, very strong indeed. But I also think that, some irritating character arcs aside, the series was at its best with regards its characters, especially the dynamic between the young Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) and the Robot, which is something one would certainly expect from a Lost in Space show and one of the reasons this reboot has been so enjoyable. While that isn’t entirely lost in this series conclusion I think it did lose its way, fell out of focus as the show became distracted by trying to become a big Marvel movie. 

Which is why I had mixed feelings as regards season three. It certainly had its moments and the finale largely worked, minus some major plot-holes that irritated me no end which I guess I was supposed to ignore amongst all the CGI and noise. Maybe I should be prepared for more of the same, maybe its just how things are done now. I hear a live-action Blade Runner series is in the works… must say that makes me more than a little nervous, but perhaps much of this is just symptomatic of increasingly poor writing/box-ticking and maybe studio expectations. 

Just because you can do something, visually with all the tools film-makers have now, doesn’t mean one necessarily should- I think that’s a lesson taught us by George Lucas and his Star Wars special editions back in the late 1990s, but here we are and it still hasn’t been heeded. Character-based drama always wins out, but that relies upon a sophistication of writing seemingly lost to the current generation. An army of Replicants, a series of Spinner-Car chases… is that what Blade Runner in future incarnations is destined to become? Likewise an army of Aliens rampaging the Earth in a mooted Alien series, no doubt. Perhaps Lost in Space got away lightly after all.

Blade Runner: Black Lotus

While I’m a sucker for anything Blade Runner, and appreciate the efforts that Alcon are making to keep their investment in the property alive (the Titan books, comic spin-offs etc) this trailer for an anime series titled Blade Runner: Black Lotus just feels so woefully generic (it also disturbingly looks too much like that old Westwood Blade Runner game). For me it is just a cautionary reminder of how bad BR2049 could have been- it would have been so easy just to make a Blade Runner sequel with steamy, wet, rain-swept streets and superhumans beating the shit out of each other. Hell, maybe that would have been more successful at the box-office than BR2049 proved to be, and maybe closer to what many would have actually preferred but really, that tired old aesthetic is not what makes Ridley’s film so great for me, and there is surely more to the franchise/IP than that. Its not about countless neon signs and throwing Coca-Cola logos into the background. At least BR2049, while it made nods to that, actually went with a brutalist look of its own.

Perhaps this trailer is not indicative of what the actual series will be like- maybe it will be more intelligent than it looks and have some decent ideas behind it, but it does look so woefully generic that I fear the worst. I’m not confident about the CGI anime style either; to me I don’t see the point in this semi-cartoony/semi-reality ‘look’: you either go stylised art or photo-realistic (there’s plenty examples of both in Netflix’s excellent Love, Death & Robots series). Oh well. Mercifully I may not be able to watch the thing anyway, as its being made for Adult Swim and Crunchyroll in the States so I rather hope it doesn’t get sold over here in the UK at all.  Ignorance is bliss.

If you ever watch this again, you never saw it before

some1Last night I watched Someone To Watch Over Me and The Front Page, a double-bill like in the old days when I used to have plenty of time for such things. There was no calculated decision regards which two films would make a good double-bill (i.e. Jaws and Alien = two films about Killing Machines!) – this was one of those accidental things, simply two of my recent purchases. Someone To Watch Over Me on Blu-Ray came in a box alongside with Columbia Noir #3 from Indicator a few days ago (yes folks more noir reviews coming soon-ish), and The Front Page on Blu-ray came from Amazon Germany (‘ExtraBlatt“). I’d noticed the latter had come back in stock at last, and as its one of the few Jack Lemmon films available on disc that I don’t own (and a Billy Wilder film at that) I thought it was past time I bought it, especially as it was just about £7.00. Now that I think I’ve pretty much caught up with these Lemmon/Wilder films available only in foreign territories (The Fortune Cookie last December and Avanti! sometime before that) no doubt Arrow or Eureka! will announce UK releases shortly.

I remember watching Someone To Watch Over Me back in 1987 when it came out at the cinema, and later on VHS- yeah the ‘old days’ indeed. At the time it was a very odd film for Ridley Scott, coming after Alien, Blade Runner and Legend and at a time when Scott was claiming he wanted to be the ‘John Ford of genre films’ or something of that nature. It was obvious even at the time that after the financial and critical drubbing of both Blade Runner and Legend, Scott was in the movie industry sin-bin and was having to find lower-budget, less-ambitious film projects in order to get a gig. Its funny now, with the hindsight of his later filmography to put things in better perspective, how at the time Someone To Watch Over Me seemed to me such a betrayal of Scott’s promise and ability. Its one of his weakest films, as low as any of his films are regards ambition or originality, and was clearly so at the time. Sure, it looked pretty, but it was more pretty vacuous, and even though Scott would later make worse films these days Someone To Watch Over Me is pretty low in the list of his movies that people even remember.   

I hadn’t seen the film myself in maybe twenty years, so I was pretty shocked when watching it how much came back to me, even being able to predict what characters were about to say (I could recall some dialogue verbatim) and elements in the plot and shots etc. What can I say, I must have had a better knack of committing films to memory back then. Its unfortunately one of those films that doesn’t really improve with age, so there’s no re-discovery of a lost classic here. Indeed, I had one of those moments when watching this last night that I wondered if I would ever watch the film again, which is a bit disconcerting when I’ve just plumped down money for a new Blu-ray edition, but being an Indicator release it does come with a few special features, including a new audio commentary (by filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill which will give me reason for at least one more watch). Anyway, I’m certain I’ll watch it again someday regardless of commentary track; its a Ridley Scott film, isn’t it? There’s a certain fun in spotting Blade Runner-lite shots in the location shooting and the cast is pretty great; I never understood why Tom Berenger didn’t have more success (although I guess maybe flops like this one did more harm than good) and Lorraine Bracco is quite terrific. Mimi Rogers is great too; its not a bad film, but its Ridley Scott, you know? Its my own personal baggage from when the film originally came out, I just can’t shake off the feeling, even after all these years, of comparing lightweight stuff like this to Alien and Blade Runner.

But whenever I do re-watch this film, it always reminds me of those days when Blade Runner was such a flop and critical failure, before it was ‘reappraised’; these days people forget how badly that film fared and how disastrous Legend was with its heavily-delayed American release and soundtrack change and how it was so badly edited. I so clearly recall the years when Blade Runner was the very definition of ‘cult film’.

Here’s another thing: when I first watched this film in 1987, it was way before Babylon 5. Andreas Katsulas, having to make do with a badly underwritten part here as bad guy Joey Venza, would be magnificent under lots of make-up as Ambassador G’Kar in Babylon 5, usurping expectations over a number of seasons turning a villain into a deeply nuanced hero. Its difficult to watch this film knowing, now, just how good an actor Katsulas was and how he deserved a better script here. Venza is terribly one-dimensional; there’s no attempt to add any depth or substance to him: he’s simply background noise, a plot mechanism to get Tom Berenger and Mimi Rogers together. Its not that Someone To Watch Over Me is lazy film-making… or maybe it is, maybe its indication that Scott was just working as director for hire, here, because usually however simple a Ridley Scott film can be, usually there’s some nuance and depth, some sleight of darkness in his better films. 

Films are of their times and when examined on that criteria alone, something like Someone To Watch Over Me makes sense when considering Scott’s film career-path. I wonder what might have been had audiences been ready for Blade Runner and had Legend been given a decent chance (you can see Blade Runner‘s failure all over Scott’s second-guessing regards Legend, even in its European cut). Would Scott really have turned towards more low-key, real-world character drama, or would he have been off making another sci-fi or historical epic? I remember James Cameron commenting (I believe it was after T2) that he was weary of big blockbuster film-making and wanted to turn to a smaller, more intimate film and he never did (unless Titanic was his twisted idea of ‘intimate’). Likewise George Lucas always went on about making smaller, more experimental films after Star Wars, and he never did (well I guess one could describe Howard the Duck as an experiment). But Ridley Scott did, even if it wasn’t actually wholly by choice or totally successful. His road back to genre films was a long one and itself not wholly successful (Prometheus, Alien: Covenant)- it was too long a road, perhaps, over too many years. Maybe I should have guessed that back in 1987 when I watched Someone To Watch Over Me with such puzzled frustration- I can make my peace with the film now; its not a bad film, really, but it does have whiff of DTV/ ‘cable movie of the week’ about it, and for a Ridley Scott film that is… well, that’s about as bad as it gets.

 

The Good, the Bad & the * Ugly True Romance

true4kversOh dear, what has happened to my beloved Arrow Films? Is the boutique Blu-ray/DVD market suddenly on a slippery slope? A 4K release of True Romance, of both cuts and with a raft of extras making it pretty much definitive, is surely something to be championed and praised loudly, considering where physical media is going lately, but this release is blighted by some of the worst artwork I’ve had the misfortune to see in all my many years. It also appears to signal a cautionary note regards possible future 4K releases of The Thing (and maybe, even, Ridley Scott’s Legend if the rumours are valid) if they follow a similar release path to this one.

Zavvi (yeah, boo hiss, everyone) bought Arrow Films recently and its pretty clear now how things are going to pan out. Announced for release mostly as Zavvi exclusives True Romance will be released as a 4K limited release steelbook with lots of tat, a 4K steelbook minus the tat with a slimmed-down 30-page booklet (both of these the Zavvi exclusives), and seperate 4K and Blu-ray limited editions (with the ‘proper’ 60-page booklet) which will presumably turn up on Amazon for pre-order next week. Luckily I couldn’t care less for the £40 and £30 steelbooks but even the tat-less 4K set is £30, and with cover artwork as ugly this one’s got they are perhaps pushing people into the direction of the steelbook, but only braver than I risk ordering from Zavvi (not renowned for the best mail packaging around).

true4k5Of course what’s on the discs is what matters but I do wonder who’s in charge of the art direction on this release and greenlit the poster art. Likenesses are pretty poor and worst of all I don’t think any of the designs -even the steelbook, which is the least ugly one of the bunch- actually feels right for the film. It rather seems something of a fudge and a surprising one, as Arrow in the past has been pretty good with their packaging (although their Blu-ray of The Thing was borderline bad, now that I think about it). The thing (sic) that concerns me (other than the Zavvi exclusivity, which was inevitable really) is the sudden tendency to load the releases with tat in order to justify a higher price-tag (their American Werewolf in London was another example of this). Is this just a refection of a last-ditch effort to save physical media?

Can’t imagine Indicator going that way with Columbia Noir tee-shirts and badges etc but I suppose this is the influence of Arrow’s new owner: Zavvi is infamous for re-packaging the same old discs with all-new ‘premium’ packaging, especially regards steelbooks which for some reason seem to drive fans/collectors into a buying frenzy. I’ve bought the odd steelbook in the past but have never second-dipped a film just for the new packaging (I’ve not been in the slightest interested, for instance, in Zavvi’s recent steelbooks for Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, as the discs are just the same as I already have and you’d have to be out of your mind (or under the influence of too much Soylent Green) to spend £25 just for fancy re-packaging, no matter how much of a die-hard fan you might be – and believe me, few are as die-hard regards Blade Runner as I). Its surprisingly easy to part fools with their money, maybe, but I fear for where this indicates physical releases going.

As far as True Romance goes, its possibly my favourite Tarantino flick (if only because it was directed by a better director) and I’m really pretty chuffed about it, especially in 4K, and the extras look really fine. I never bought the film on Blu-ray so that’s a nicer bonus as it will be nice to watch the film again for the first time in quite awhile… but man, this artwork…. 

 

Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards

br2049storybAnother Blade Runner 2049 artbook. The irony doesn’t escape me- if any film ever deserved an ‘art-of’ book it was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner; even its fiercest critics would admire its visual strengths and production design (whilst also damning it for it, usually). Back in 1982 a strange publishing deal had some weirdly-fashioned tie-in books for sale, paperbacks of the screenplay with accompanying storyboards, and a sketchbook, but each was fairly lacklustre compared to the ‘art-of’ books that the Star Wars films were getting. By the time Blade Runner recovered from its dismal release and was reappraised as a classic with a sizeable audience, the rights issues with the Blade Runner Partnership and the creatives involved (Syd Mead etc) had grown so complicated that attempts to publish a genuine ‘Art of Blade Runner’ always hit a licensing brick wall, or so I’ve been led to believe.

But here we are, just over four years after that unlikeliest of sequels, BR2049 was released and we have a third BR2049 art book. Following on from ‘The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049’ and last year’s ‘Blade Runner 2049 Interlinked – The Art’ we get ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Storyboards’ which is a pretty much self-explanatory title. All three books are handsomely sized and presented hardbacks; BR2049 has certainly gotten plenty of love from the publishing side. Indeed, my one major issue with this storyboards book is that it really is missing  the films screenplay, if not part of the storyboard presentation then certainly as an appendices at the rear of the book, so my natural suspicion is that a ‘Blade Runner 2049: The Screenplay’ book is almost inevitable. Titan Books, I’m leaving room on my shelf.

On the one hand, I am reassured that there is still interest in BR2049 sufficient enough to warrant these books, various comic tie-ins and an anime series, so that while a third film in the franchise is unlikely in the extreme there is still yet some life in it. As someone who well remembers that post-1982 wilderness when I used to name Blade Runner as my favourite film and always get puzzled blanks in response, it still feels like I’m now in some alternate reality worthy of Philip K Dick (The Man in the Blade Runner Castle, anyone?). The very existence of BR2049 alone has me sometimes reacting with a ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming.’

So forgive me for just going with the fact that we now have three artbooks for BR2049 and that we dare not discount more books in the future (we already have a few collections of essays etc). Maybe before physical media shuffles off this world we might get a BR2049 SE on disc with documentaries and commentaries: hey Charles de Lauzirika are you busy these days I have a project for you (well, one can dream, but as I’m possibly living in a Blade Runner Castle-alternate reality lets go with it).