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.

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…. 

 

Godzilla vs Kong must wait

godzillakongI want to watch Godzilla vs Kong (released this week on home rental) but I think I’ll save my £16 to put toward the 4K release in mid-June. The studios just haven’t got their rental pricing right for these new hybrid-release movies: the only film I could conceivably be suckered into paying that price for a rental for would be Villeneuve’s Dune if I absolutely can’t see it in a cinema come October.

I understand some premium level of pricing is inevitable and even necessary but I can’t see how its really going to work regards recouping the mounting costs these films have while waiting for release. How can they possibly break even whatever they charge, so shouldn’t they be aiming for something more towards the impulse-rental level? Maybe something like £10 would be sweet spot enough to tempt those like me in to giving it a rental and get sufficient rentals enough to be worthwhile. I don’t know.

My worry is where all of this leaves these franchises once the dust clears. How in the world Dune Part Two ever happens is quite beyond me, and I’m rather worried about the gap in time between the productions if they even get Part Two greenlit next year (Dune was completed last year). Will Villeneuve be enthusiastic following the HBO Max nonsense, or will he jump ship as Christopher Nolan is rumoured to have done?

You know, all this actually makes me thankful, in a weird way, that BR2049 proved a box-office failure back in 2017. Had it been successful enough to warrant a third entry in the Blade Runner franchise, it would possibly have been caught up in all this, even had it been still in pre-production. How do ‘big’ films get made in times such as this? 

The Phantom Menace that is Holograms

westwHere’s one of my absolute pet hates with sci fi films and television: holograms. They piss me off no end, its like some kind of fourth-wall busting nonsensical ‘magic’ posing as genuine scientific plausibility. I’m getting really anal about it; its worse than sound in space or artificial gravity or teleportation for me (more on that latter travesty some other time maybe). The ‘artistic license’ that scriptwriters and film-makers exercise with holograms, endlessly frustrates me.

There is a scene in the third season of Westworld… well, there’s not just one, actually, they do this shit a few times and it raised my blood pressure every time… there’s a scene in a boardroom with this guy, Serac (Vincent Cassel in very fine form) holding court, I think he’s sitting down, stands up, the scene is tense, there’s a confrontation, and a character snaps and shoots him in the head and… the bullet goes through him and he flickers and he’s revealed to be a hologram, a repeated gambit of his. But how does this even work? Is his hologram ‘projected’ by hidden cameras, and if so, where are they, why can’t anyone else see them ‘projecting’ the Hologram and how does it work when he’s outside (they do that, they have someone chatting to a hologram outdoors). How does his voice emanate from an empty point of space where his holographic mouth is rather than from a loud speaker across the room, and how the hell does he hold eye-contact with someone when he’s not really there? How does he enter the room,  how does his chair move as if taking his weight, how does… 

How does the person projecting the hologram from some other location even ‘see’ the other people in whatever space the hologram is projected into? He may have a screen in his villains lair that he is looking at but what’s filming that image to broadcast to his screen?  Its just too much like magic to me, and over the years as writers get lazier, its all getting sillier as they take things further and further (what was that ‘hardlight’ bullshit they had in Star Trek in which Holograms could actually pick up items and touch people?). 

I know, I know, its just a sci-fi show. But its not space fantasy like Star Wars, is it, a show like Westworld. Its a more adult, considered and thoughtful piece, a show of bold, often existential ideas such as self, memory, humanity, free-will, purpose, programming biological and digital, all sorts of reflection on technology good and bad. But they slip into these silly sci-fi tropes sometimes, betraying all the good work with lazy writing. Don’t get me wrong, I adore BR2049 but I have such a hard time all the way through that film rationalising Joi and how they portray her in physical space. They sort of nod to it by us seeing lights ‘through’ her but that being said, how does she magically just ‘be there’ in a room or Spinner etc? I’d have an easier time if they just revealed she was something in K’s head and he was ‘seeing’ her in the outside world through his imagination, that he can ‘see’ her but nobody else can. But hey, what am I to do?

One of the things that frustrated me regards the holograms in Westworld is that in a number of episodes they actually manage to rationalise the technology, in that people could only see them when wearing special glasses- you can see something flickering on the interior  glass of the specs so that you can accept them ‘seeing’ 3D imagery in front of them via the glasses, possibly being projected onto the eye’s retina or on the glass itself like a HUD kind of thing. But I have to suspect the showrunners and writers got a bit carried away with it, pushed it too far when suddenly there’s a hologram walking around that everyone seems to see and we’re in bloody Star Trek territory.

I have a nagging theory/suspicion that the way we can tell that the whole third season of Westworld (and by extension seasons one and two too) is actually a simulation within a simulation like a stealth mimicry of The Matrix. You read it here first, just pretend to be surprised when Neo turns up in Westworld Season Five.

Anyway, I may eventually get around to an actual review of Westworld‘s third season, but you can possibly tell by this pointless stream of consciousness/geek rant that I have so many conflicting issues with it. I feel like Indy moaning about snakes, only here its me moaning, “Holograms. Why did it have to be Holograms?”

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

darkfWe’re currently in a period -have been for quite some time, actually, and it seems there’s no end in sight- where pop culture seems obsessed with the past. With re-visiting old icons. Its actually been going on in film for so long now that one could be forgiven for thinking its just always been this way, that this is normal and entirely intellectually ‘sound’. Its gotten to the point at which, having remade and rebooted so many huge successful properties of the past, attention has turned to those that failed first time around; I still have to pinch myself that anyone deemed it a good idea to make a sequel to Blade Runner, box-office flop that it was. News has been circulating recently that John Carpenter’s 1982 flop The Thing is being remade/rebooted. I suppose so many years has gone by that the financial failures of those two 1982 duds has been softened by decades of ancillary sales on various video formats and platforms, and their critical reappraisal won’t have hurt either. But the performance of BR2049 should always be a sobering reminder of the dangers, even if it turned out (in my eyes, anyway) a quite brilliant film possibly equal to the original. So you know, maybe a remake/reboot of The Thing is not the monstrously horrible idea that my gut instinct thinks it is.

The Terminator franchise is one of those properties that Hollywood just hasn’t been able to quite leave alone, but by the time Terminator: Dark Fate arrived one had to wonder whether film-makers were rebooting/continuing the original two films or the successive sequels/reboots. It had gotten to the point at which my apathy left me curious about it, but not enough to actually shell out any coins to watch it. Which might be why the film failed -with a slightly higher budget than BR2049 it barely surpassed that films likewise dismal worldwide box-office, perhaps some measure of just how little any of those old movies actually resonate with modern audiences, no matter how good/bad/popular they were originally.

To be brutally honest, Terminator: Dark Fate is a totally unnecessary movie. Its like Terminator is some Hollywood corpse that keeps on getting kicked around, or which some mad Hollywood studio executive scientist keeps subjecting to lightning screaming “Its alive! Its alive!”until finally realising, no, its still quite dead and kicks it into a dark corner again until some other Peter Cushing lookalike decides its worth a shot.

Maybe this time is the last time. Maybe this time they’ll let it lie.

Its not that Terminator: Dark Fate is a bad film – well, maybe it is, but at least it isn’t terrible- its just that its so redundant, just bringing back the old tropes and stunts and, in this case, two of the original actors/characters. The whole franchise has gotten so wrapped up in various timelines and realities and paradoxes that the first thing this film does is wipe out everything post T2 in one brutal opening sequence to, as it were, simply clear the state. Unfortunately at the same time it also pulls an Alien 3, by pretty much negating everything in T2 itself, too. Which is either very brave or incredibly stupid- some Alien fans still get dangerously fluctuating blood pressure issues when Alien 3 is ever raised in a discussion.  For the record, I’m a fan of Alien 3 and quite like the sheer audacity of what it did to the characters who survived Aliens, but I have always been able to appreciate the ire that fans invested in the characters of Aliens felt at the time and indeed still do. Intellectually it wholly undermines the events of that film, threatening to negate any investment in that film whenever re-watched (possibly fans instead watch and stubbornly (wisely?) ignore the fact that Alien 3 exists at all- something that likely quite a few original Star Wars trilogy fans are attempting in this Disney Star Wars era.

darkf3What Terminator: Dark Fate proposes is that all the efforts of Sarah Connor and Arnie’s reprogrammed Terminator to protect her son John from the shape-shifting T-1000 and destroy Skynet were all for nothing, because in the first five minutes another Terminator (several, it seems, having been sent into the past to kill John Connor because, well, redundancy) comes along and kills John shortly following the events of T2. Its perhaps saying something about the inevitability of fate and AI that although Skynet has been stopped, it is instead simply delaying the same Apocalyptic events, this time orchestrated by another, later AI entitled Legion.

Now on the one hand, this is a fascinating proposition- similarly to the mythology of the BSG reboot, it seems to be suggesting that whatever we do, humanity is doomed to repeat the same mistake, in that the drive/forward momentum of scientific advancement we are always destined to create machines and then AI which, when sentient, always turns against us. In BSG, what has happened before is destined to happen again, a cycle of advance and disaster. So that defeating Skynet in T2 is always futile because some other scientist is going to eventually stumble upon the knowledge that leads to AI and another Skynet- in Dark Fate‘s case, an AI called Legion. It suggests a particularly dark viewpoint, the nihilistic view that humanity is doomed whatever we do. This isn’t really dwelt upon, more the pity, because Dark Fate lacks the darkness of the first Terminator film in particular The one thing I did appreciate, is that Dark Fate actually offers a possible break in the cycle: the issue with T2 was that it ended Skynet but not the industrial/economic drive for scientific progress that led to Skynet (because Judgement Day never happened,  the lesson of Skynet couldn’t be heeded by the public/powers that be). Dark Fate is never about stopping Judgement Day, it happens eventually, and Dani is the leader to lead the resistance and defeat Legion. One would suppose that afterwards, whatever the world is like, its one in which scientists won’t be so eager to create AI that threatens the Apocalypse.

So, decades after John has been killed and Sarah lost in semi-drunken rage, two new Terminators arrive from the future- well, one, as it turns out, is not quite a Terminator, but the other is a black-liquid T-1000 variant obviously up to no good- and the basic plot of the Terminator movies is up and running again. The AI of the ‘Future End of the World (Delayed)’ has identified the human that usurps it in its future and has sent a deadly assassin into the past to kill her and ensure it isn’t, er, usurped. And, er, someone else has then sent someone into the past to ensure she, er, isn’t.

darkf2Its like the very definition of reboot. And of course, it perhaps reflects the current obsession of our times that the hero that can save humanity is a woman not a man, and that the ‘good’ Terminator sent into the past (actually an augmented human, named Grace) is a woman too. I’m not concerned with the sexual politics, its boring and largely irrelevant except for those that choose to make a Big Deal about it on YouTube etc (afterall, we had Ripley and Sarah Connor herself kicking ass in films 40-odd years ago so its really the same old, same old). But the gender choices do impact the casting, and its that casting that chiefly damages this film. On the one hand, Mackenzie Davis as Grace is great – she’s excellent at the physical work in the action sequences and she is a very fine actress so is emotive and is, really, the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, while Natalia Reyes, who plays Dani, the Dark Fate variant of John Connor, is probably a good actress in her own right, she never at all convinces as the future saviour of the human race. She doesn’t have the hardness or physical attributes to really convince that way, particularly (and most damningly) in the future sequences in which we see her leading the resistance against Legion. Maybe it was an attempt to cast against type, but it doesn’t work, at least it didn’t for me. To be honest, it was almost laughable, and her future leader proves even more unconvincing than her present-day unwitting factory worker destined for Greatmess. As if ‘anyone’ can be The One.

Arnie, of course, is back, as the Terminator that assassinated John at the films opening but is later redeemed by living with humans and getting a conscience. Yeah, I know, even typing that feels stupid, but its one of those leaps of logic that Dark Fate inflicts upon us in its strange insistence to stay positive about everything- the film really misses the darkness of the first film. This Terminator seems to have even adopted a family and had success selling Drapes. Excuse me while I barf… I don’t know. Maybe they should have written a backstory of Sarah hunting the Terminator down for revenge, capturing and reprogramming it as her robot-slave or something, or maybe that would paint her in a bad light. Speaking of Sarah Connor, Linda Hamilton makes a welcome return as the great haunted anti-heroine, but again, she utterly lacks any chemistry with Reyes as Dani, I mean, there is literally nothing there.

Its like the film lacks any emotional depth or profundity at all, and that Reyes is this strange Black Hole when the character really needs to be an icon, a gravitational force of depth and substance. Only Mackenzie Davis seems to make any real connection with Reyes or Hamilton or anyone, really. Arnie is pretty much wasted, he gets a few funny gags/one-liners but its not as if the film has a dark mood to alleviate. Without the emotional connections there really can’t be any drama, and some of the decidedly ropy CGI work in the stunts with digital characters substituting for the actors and their stunt doubles while plainly necessary is so poorly done, and sticks out so badly, it just seems to turn it into an animated movie so minus any real tension.

Its bad enough that we’ve largely seen so much of this before, but the films tendency to try to do action sequences up there with the daftest Marvel Studios spandex hero nonsense just makes it, well, silly, totally lacking any weight or depth. It really needed, in my opinion, to return to the physical reality of the first movie, and a violence that looked real and hurt, away from the Marvel stuff that threatens to infect everything now.

Dark Fate is not a complete disaster, but its really not particularly good either, completely negating any reason for its existence, even if it could argue for one in the first place. Did we need another Terminator movie? If we did, we needed one better than Dark Fate.

Doctor Sleep = Shining Chills

drs1All being well I’ll post a review tomorrow, but having just seen Doctor Sleep, I just wanted to post my initial feelings: the spookiest thing about this film is how much it reminded me of BR2049. There were moments in Doctor Sleep -music cues, aerial shots details of which shall remain spoiler-free – that frankly gave me chills, and had me thinking about similar sentiments regards BR2049.

Denis Villeneuve’s film was that most miraculous thing, after so many decades, of being a perfect sequel to a film that never needed one. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was as different to its source novel as was Blade Runner from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, both films were met by fairly negative (scathing at times) critical response and subject to critical reappraisal over the years after, and both were self-contained and not in the slightest bit needed a sequel. Indeed nobody, I’m sure, ever really expected one for either film.

Yet here we are, both films have gotten really fine, respectful and sincere sequels that expand upon the original work while each treading a new path. Decades after. Its almost beyond bizarre. In a similar way to how BR2049 returned to the original source novel as well as the 1982 film’s rather distant adaptation of it, so does Doctor Sleep return to the original source novel of The Shining as well as the Kubrick film – in some ways both films turn the tone and themes back to the source in ways that enrich original and sequel. Of course Doctor Sleep is itself based upon Stephen Kings own sequel novel to his The Shining book, and I haven’t read either King book in all honesty, but it seems clear to me that this film is not simply that book, its clearly a sequel to both the widely different King book and Kubrick film, as well as the King Doctor Sleep book, and manages a brilliant balancing act.

It was just the strangest thing; watching BR2049 I had this sensation of the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, a kind of magical meta-reality going on, returning to that Blade Runner world after so many decades, and it feeling so authentic. I had that exact same feeling with Doctor Sleep, particularly two-thirds in when there are suddenly a few shots which… well, lets stay spoiler-free awhile yet. But wow. What a feeling. Its when pop-culture becomes something rather more than just pop-culture, when years in the real world are mirrored by years in the artificial film world, and there’s this weird clarity, almost, a feeling of meta-reality.

Anyway, I liked it.

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.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

I was rather surprised how successful this was, and how much I enjoyed it. Something of a sequel and reboot for the franchise, following the original three films starring Noomi Rapace and the Western remake of the first of that trilogy,  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by David Fincher that starred Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. Phew, that’s seems a little complicated looking back on it- and rather symptomatic of the state of the film industry these days. Its enough to make this latest film seem rather cynical.

Which does hang over the whole enterprise. Based on a book by David Lagercrantz, in turn based on characters in the original book series by the late Stieg Larsson, the whole thing is an attempt to extend the original book series and films beyond it- a little like James Bond books and films running far beyond the passing of Bond creator Ian Fleming. Characters can so easily gain an immortality of their own far beyond that of original creators, and while it may have noble intentions there is always a sniff of opportunism and money-making in things like this. Its also rather true that in this film, and possibly the original book, there seems a concious intention to shift away from the dark character-based intensity of the Larsson originals and towards a larger espionage/James Bond thriller vibe- perhaps a little like the Jason Bourne franchise. It does feel a little incongruous for Lisbeth here to be drawn into a thriller about a program that can seize control of the world’s nuclear arsenals and leave the world ransom to armageddon- it really does feel more like the plot of a Bond movie.

Which might be a good thing, I don’t know. I certainly quite enjoyed it, because it did seem to be stretching the character a little  and pushing the boundaries- but does it do that too much? I guess that’s more a question for die-hard fans of the Larsson originals to ponder.

Taking over the role of Lisbeth Salander here is Claire Foy, which really seemed a bit of a stretch to me when I became aware of the casting but I have to say it works quite well. There’s a few peculiar moments where Foy seems to suddenly channel the Queen from Netflix’s The Crown (an occasional inflection of her voice, or flash of her eyes, sometimes) but on the whole she’s really intense and surprisingly successful, She manages the physical moments very well too- certainly a far cry from Little Dorrit.

Less successful, and very surprisingly so really, is Sylvia Hoeks as Camilla Salander, the main villain of the film and sister of our heroine. Hoeks was simply brilliant as Luv in BR2049, a really quite complex and nuanced character/performance but here she does seem to simply be a blonde Luv, reprising that role alarmingly in what feels a one-note performance. In Hoeks defence, I suspect it’s more the limitations of the part as written, leaving her little else to really do with it, but its similarity to her character in BR2049 is really disappointing. When I saw her name in the credits my interest in the film was raised considerably as I’ve not seen her in anything else other than BR2049 and I was really curious to see her possibly surprise me, but alas, no, this really is just more of the same.

I gather the box-office returns from this film were quite poor so we are unlikely to see Foy reprise the role in future installments. Perhaps the intent to reboot the series into another film franchise with yet another cast was perceived as cynical and ill-judged, and  got the rewards it deserved.  For myself, the quality of the film (it’s a pretty successful, albeit routine, old-fashioned thriller, and there’s nothing particularly wrong with that in a cinema swamped by superhero caped crusaders etc) seemed pretty decent and I found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected. It does make me wonder if sometimes films such as this might be budgeted too highly – I suppose the purported budget of $43 million might seem fairly low in the great scheme of $150 million blockbusters but its returns of just $35 million (with marketing costs etc the film must have been a bit of a bomb financially) would suggest the market simply isn’t strong enough to support films budgeted like this.  If this is indeed the case then its an unfortunate state of affairs, and possibly suggests this kind of thriller might in future be relegated to Netflix/Amazon productions- which is a little sad, to consider that traditional cinema is no longer the place for thrillers like this.

Fan Entitlement & Game of Thrones Season Eight

Back when I was fourteen, three years felt like an awful long time, much longer than it seems these days when the weeks, months, years seem to slip by in a hurried rush leaving me wondering what happened. So back then, having seen The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 with its tease for whatever would happen next with the various threads it left in place, it seemed I had a long, long time to daydream and fantasize about what would happen in the next Star Wars film- especially when its original title Revenge of the Jedi leaked out. I would imagine such grand events.  I imagined an opening scene in which Darth Vader stormed into the Emperor’s throne room, killed him and became Emperor himself. Vader was still a terrible Dark Lord to us back then, quite irredeemable- the idea he’d turn back to good and save Luke would have been laughable. Back then Star Wars was Luke’s story, far as we were concerned, and certainly not Anakin Skywalkers. It was also a 9-part saga, and the idea that the next film would see the Empire defeated and no Vader or Emperor alive, and all finally well and done, well, that was preposterous. How little we knew.

At this point no-one had any idea who or what Jabba the Hutt was, except that he was a big bad crime lord and Han Solo was in big, bad trouble. I imagined Boba Fett was as mean and tough as anyone we’d met in Star Wars so far, and that he and those other bounty hunters working for Jabba would be a big handful for Luke and his friends. I imagined a whole movie spent searching for and rescuing Han Solo, while Vader resumed his search for Luke… or maybe the ‘other’ that Ben had remarked upon. Back then it was such a big canvas, and Star Wars seemed to be getting just bigger and bigger, such a wealth of possibilities with Episodes 6 – 9 ahead of us (Episode 7 in 1985, Episode 8 in 1988 etc… I and so many other fans had it all mapped out). We thought Vader and the Empire would be around for many years of movies. How little we knew.

When Revenge eventually arrived in the guise of Return of the Jedi, well, I really did feel let down by it. Vader was suddenly a bit of a stooge, the Emperor a cackling crazy old wizard who talked and boasted too much, Jabba a giant slug easily thwarted in what was reduced to almost a prologue, and as for those bloody teddy bears… This wasn’t the ‘even darker’ sequel to TESB that I had dreamed up over the years in between. I felt let-down. With TESB, Star Wars seemed to have grown up with me, become a more serious and teen-adult Star Wars and I’d expected it to carry on as I became 17. I’d forgotten that Star Wars was a kids film, really, and I wasn’t actually its intended audience afterall. Lucas, although I didn’t know it at the time, was already leaving Star Wars behind as he suffered a divorce and his real life became more pressing than a saga in a galaxy far, far away…

Back then of course, my negative view was left for me to stew over with my friends. I had no Internet or social media  to rage on, to share my indignant wrath and sense of betrayal by George Lucas. We lived in much smaller worlds, little bubbles of geekdom. There were no petitions  to get George Lucas to reshoot Return of the Jedi as a darker film with Wookies instead of Ewoks and leave the door open for the  Episodes 7 – 9 that we fans had dreamed of and felt entitled to.

Naturally the world is so very different now. Those old Star Wars films that only existed in my teenage dreams, though, have returned to mind over the past few weeks as I have watched season eight of Game of Thrones and witnessed the almost hysterical drama being enacted online  and in social media. Dedicated fans have been outraged by a perceived lack of thought, originality and care that is evident within the final eight episodes of this huge saga. Characters acting completely out of character, logistics of geography and time and distance, such a big part of the show in earlier seasons, now being ignored, awkward plot holes just being left there for fans to rage upon.

The brutal truth is that most of the fans complaining would struggle to organise a six-year olds birthday party, nevermind a tv show costing anything up to $100 million to make, being made across continents, a scale of production the details and difficulties of which we cannot imagine. Game of Thrones is a remarkable achievement, an event we rarely see. I appreciate the old term ‘tv show’ hardly means what it used to, years ago, but watching some of the scenes in Episode 5, The Bells, and its huge scale… well, I had to keep telling myself, this isn’t a movie, its a bloody tv show. We forget what has been done here when we become so accustomed  to tv of such scale. This stuff isn’t easy, and I think we ridicule it to our peril. Its too easy to sit in our armchairs and sofas and pretend we are experts and believe our opinions carry any weight with the behemoth that is HBO or anyone making millions from Game of Thrones.We are consumers, on the sidelines.

Yes, there are obvious issues with season Eight. Could it ever match the hopes, fears and expectations of fans, especially with the lengthy delay between seasons seven and eight? So many theories have rampaged across the internet for the past two years, some crazy, some profound. If there was a perfect season eight or ending for the show, we’ll never see it, but I think we got near enough.

I’m well aware that I sound too much of an apologist when I simply offer my own opinion that it could have been worse. But it could have. I honestly am totally thankful that it is as good as it is.  It would have been intolerable for it to have led to a total let-down after so many years and such promise and ambition. But of course, some fans really do feel it was a total let down, and I feel for them- it’s probably awful to feel so angry about something so dear to them. God knows I felt pretty angry about The Last Jedi and very disappointed by Avengers: Endgame. It is so easy when you’re passionate about something to feel so personally affronted by something.

But fans are not entitled to their dreams being given form. Those dreams that take flight in film and tv and books, they are the result of hard work and craft, and unless its us doing that hard work, well, how entitled should we really feel? We do not own these tv series or movies.  I did not deserve as if by some God-given right to have that huge dark Return of the Jedi of my dreams, nor those episodes that should have followed on in the rest of that decade. Its great of course when a film or tv show or book lives up to hopes and expectations (praise be BR2049) but we should always contain those hopes and expectations- hope for the best, fear the worst, something like that. Babylon 5 didn’t manage a saga across five perfect seasons, it rather stumbled after four but I’m glad we got what we did. Its sadly a fact that many shows get cancelled before their time. In the real world, it’s awfully difficult to make a perfect movie, and God knows Lucasfilm has been trying to better TESB since 1980 to no success, Sometimes it’s simply getting lightning in a bottle- get it once, like in Game of Throne‘s Red Wedding episode, and it’s magic, but it’s a deal with the Devil to get it twice or thrice.Eight perfect episodes is treat enough, but eight perfect seasons?

At least the show got made and finished. Its anybody’s guess if ever the books will get written and published. I wonder sometimes if George RR Martin’s (apparent) lack of activity at the typewriter is simply caution, letting the tv show forge ahead and test the waters so to speak, and that he’ll tweak his original intentions per the fan base reactions. That’s rather the long game that Littlefinger might have taken. Evil clever bastard, then.

 

Mortal Engines (2018) 4K UHD

mort3Berating Mortal Engines for being just a silly fantasy is like criticising the Hobbit films for being a saga about little folk with large hairy feet. It is what it is: a dystopian steampunk story, pretty basic in plot with characters that follow the usual tropes. Where it scores, and it does so quite highly, is in its production values- fantastic production design, from sumptuously detailed sets and costumes to brilliantly realised visual effects, all coming together to depict a pretty breathtaking world. In 4K UHD, it looks really spectacular, the details fascinating and the HDR both adding a great sense of depth but also an added realism to those effects.

Unfortunately, it’s also quite true that such incredible visuals only exasperate the simplicity and predictability of its story- albeit such issues are possibly as much to do with the original source material (based on a series of books by author Philip Reeve) as anything the film-makers are guilty of. I think its quite possible that the huge expense of the intricate detail and care and conviction in its making (and of its visuals) works against the film, considering the narrative shortcomings – its something just as true of this years Alita: Battle Angel and 2017’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: both were impressive visually and both were hampered by issues of plot, drama and characterisation. I think I actually preferred Mortal Engines of the three, and there’s obviously many other cinematic cousins that I could mention, like the live-action Ghost in the Shell. Its also far better than that Solo movie that tanked last year. It is evident that compared to the old days when the original Star Wars trilogy stood apart from most other genre films, these days all film-makers seem to have an incredible toy box to play with.  What distinguishes them isn’t so much the execution now, as the quality of the story and narrative arcs, characterization, tension, drama etc., elements which modern blockbusters aren’t particularly famous for. Studios seem to be mired in a no-mans land of late, of creating big spectacular films for the biggest, commonest denominator, comfortably familiar stories that try to woo instead with bigger and more beautiful visuals- but so many are doing it now that those visuals just aren’t enough anymore.

mort2Mind, the relative failure/struggles at the box office, of, say, Blade Runner 2049 which coupled big productions values and visuals with a thoughtful and actually rather complex plot seems to indicate that the mystery of what makes a successful film that isn’t a caped crusader caper is as confounding as ever.

So anyway, I really quite enjoyed Mortal Engines, and was pleasantly relieved to find that its a pretty much standalone adventure that doesn’t hint at better stories to follow or leave many threads hanging in the air to infuriate me on subsequent viewings. I’m certain as the book series it is based on numbers at least four books that I know of, that it was intended to serve as the launch of another franchise but thankfully such cynical thinking doesn’t seem to have impacted on the final result: the film ends with an ending, not a tease for something next.

mortal2And it really does look gorgeous on 4K UHD. I’ve read that the film was shot in 8K and finished in genuine 4K so isn’t the usual 2K upscale (not there’s much wrong with that, really, but you can see the difference here). Admittedly I come from the era of dodgy matte lines and fixed-camera compositing that plagued (which seems the wrong word, as ILMs work in the 1970s/1980s wowed us immeasurably back in the day) pre-computer imaging so all of this modern effects wizardry likely impresses me more than many and yes, seduces me into forgiving-mode somewhat. But in any case, the artistry involved in the intricate design work in this film, which harks back to stuff like Brazil and other Gilliam fantasies, which is great, is almost beyond eye-candy, it’s almost a piece of art in of itself. Its just gorgeous and quite bewitching. The sets are hypnotically fascinating, the visual effects mightily impressive- turn the sound down, run the film in the background, like a two-hour plus wallpaper, it’ll draw the eye and your attention just the same.

Of course, its frustrating that this film wasn’t some kind of dramatic, high-tension thrill ride with all sorts of twists and novel moments to confound and surprise. But it would seem the book/s aren’t either. Perhaps it was too faithful, I cannot say, as I haven’t read the book/s but as fantasy epics go, this was really quite enjoyable. Shame it flopped so badly really- I don’t miss the sequels that might have been but it seems ill reward for all the effort and artistry involved in putting this film together.