Bonfire of the Cinemas: The Sequel!

dune2There you go, I have a rough week at work and am unable to do any posting here and suddenly all hell breaks lose. In honour of grand Hollywood tradition, let it not be said that I’m loathe to ignore opportunity for a sequel, so after Octobers post about cinema woes, here comes a totally superfluous post. Bear with me though, I’ve just done a twelve-hour stint at my work laptop so my eyes are blurry and my head fuzzier than normal. Yeah, doesn’t bode well, does it, but the same is true of movie sequels isn’t it? I guess that’s my way of suggesting its not wise to expect this post to be The Empire Strikes Back or Godfather Pt.2 of blog follow-ups.

So what’s been happening? Well news broke late last night that Warner Bros has announced that its entire slate of films for 2021 are now going to debut on streaming channel HBO Max on the same day as each films theatrical release. This includes films such as Mortal Kombat (hey a reboot I was blissfully unaware of till now), Godzilla v Kong, Matrix 4 (I thought this had been pushed back to 2022, maybe I was wrong) and of course Villeneuve’s much-anticipated (by me, anyway) Dune; the list totals 21 films in all.

I honestly thought it was internet hyperbole but I woke up this morning to find it confirmed on the BBC. Fairly ugly news for movie lovers really, on the face of it, but rather than The End Of Blockbusters As We Know It (which it still may be) I have to wonder if this is more a Studio move to dismantle the current distribution network (in the States, at least) by destroying the current cinema chains in order to just move in and replace them in a year or two. I believe that, in the old Hollywood glory days, studios had their hands in the theatrical pie but were litigated out of it, therefore having to share cinema takings and profits with the vendors/cinema chains like AMC etc. I suppose that’d be a bit like Netflix having to share its subscriber money with the Internet Service Providers that carries its content into peoples homes.

Part of the reason why Disney has its Disney+ is so that eventually there will be a Brave New World in which the only way to watch a Star Wars, Disney, Pixar or Marvel movie will be to pay up monthly for its streaming channel. In such a world without physical discs on shelves, it’d just be digital streaming (not even digital downloads) as the only way of watching its content, and ultimately only through its channel, if subscriptions are successful enough that it no longer needed traditional partners like the TV networks, satellite and cable TV providers etc. that it currently sells its content to. If Disney could also own its own cinema chains to monopolise that part of things too, all the better. Clearly the intention is not to share any of the revenue with anybody. And hey, without any competition, and with a captive audience having no alternative, Disney could go all Star Wars Evil Empire and raise its prices to, well, whatever it wanted. Add premium charges for new content, restrict ‘star’ movies to PPV only, downgrade the low entry-price subscription tier to films/content six months old. Hey, if I can think up things like that after a twelve-hour shift, you can be sure the execs at Disney can.

The reason why Warners seem to have jumped into this fray are the woes being suffered by HBO Max, a streaming network in the States owned by Warners’ parent company AT&T which is currently languishing as an also-ran in the the streaming wars currently led by Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. They seem to think having a big Hollywood movie hitting HBO Max will get subscriber numbers soaring, but I do wonder if its a dangerous gamble, certainly for Warners. How in the world they think they can get enough money that way to pay for the huge budgets of some of those movies is beyond me, really. HBO Max may suddenly get a bigger share of the streaming audience and more numbers in, but surely that’s never going to be anything like the $1 billion numbers of the big blockbusters from old-fashioned cinema takings. Unless I’m under-estimating what the revenue streams of business like Netflix are (which is possibly what Disney and the other studios are looking at).

I suppose playing the long game, the studios may intend to pick up all those empty bankrupted cinemas and return to the old distribution model (but owning all the distribution, theatrical as well as streaming), but once punters get used to films being beamed day one into their homes for a monthly fee (that remember is supposed to pay for all of a months content, other movies, doc and tv series, not just Warners’ latest movie), is there a risk it will diminish the public’s sense of worth of said blockbusters? Goodness knows many people astonish me enough by still buying/watching DVDs, so the idea they will go out and pay more for a cinematic experience may not be as reasonable as the studio execs think once they get used to Wonder Woman 84, The Matrix 4 and Dune beamed to their screens on Day One. Disney+ will surely be following its own similar move with Mulan with some of its other films still waiting in the wings (Black Widow seems to be the next likely suspect), all further dismantling the perception of newly-launched films being worth premium ticket prices in cinema multiplexes.

I wonder what James Cameron thinks of all this, with four Avatar films on the go. Its like his franchise just hit a proverbial iceberg (oh the irony).

From my own perspective, my immediate concern is the fate of all these movies from this year and next, the James Bonds etc, and where all this will leave them- particularly Dune, whose performance predicates us ever getting the sequel that completes its story. It could be a magnificent adult space opera, Star Wars for adults, as  Villeneuve himself has hinted, which gets decimated by this Bonfire of the Cinemas and the streaming wars. Its already been pushed back a year, which means any Part Two is at least, what, four years away now? How can its performance be properly judged in this crazy Covid world, never mind what any post-Covid world might look like? The film cost $200 million to make… how does it ever get the financial remuneration to ensure execs think its worth another $200 million punt? Will such $200 million ‘punts’ even exist in this future world- returning to my earlier note, might this indeed actually signal The End Of Blockbusters As We Know It? Would that necessarily be a bad thing? Is the era of huge paychecks for directors and actors over?

And if I had shares in Cineworld, would I possibly get any sleep tonight?

Last week…

Still working from home, close on six months now. As we slip towards Autumn, it looks like there’s little rush getting the team back into the office, at best it may be for just two days each week, and that’s still some time off.  Its not lost on me that after all the fair weather we’ve had, the time I’m going to finally be expected to commute back to work will be when the frosts return/bad weather/possibly snow etc.

Meanwhile Covid 19 numbers are climbing, particularly here in the Midlands, and our Governments latest desperate roll of the dice, the ‘rule of six’ (limiting the number of people at any social gathering to just six people) begins tomorrow. A rule that can’t possibly be policed,  simply dependant on the public happily following the rule… I mean, its not as if its Mega City One and some Judge will be kicking the door down if there’s more than six perps chatting in the lounge or back garden. Mores the pity with some of the idiots out there. Regards Covid, so many people seem to be in denial, or just bored of it, and think everything is back to normal. Hence the numbers rising? All I can see is lots of idiots out there, most of them proving the (ironically old) adage of too young to know better. The next few weeks seem to be crucial. The days are shortening. Winter is Coming. Hang on, that didn’t end well, just ask HBO.

Anyway, last week. You may have noted that I had a busy/productive week regards watching films: i’m thinking of ending things, Under Suspicion, Bumblebee, City That Never Sleeps, The Man Who Finally Died. I didn’t get around to reviewing Under Suspicion– a thriller starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Monica Bellucci, Thomas Jane… a great cast, but wasted in a pretty lousy film that almost had me hitting that abort button. Only the great Gene Hackman kept me stuck with it: one of my favourite actors.

ohmssRegards re-watches, I managed two. The first was one that…well, we lost Dame Diana Rigg on Thursday, which was an awful shame, and I’ve been meaning to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again for awhile now. Its an awful reason for doing it, but Dame Diana Rigg’s passing was the push that I needed; I reached for that Bond 50 Blu-ray set. OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie; its the film when the Bond franchise grew up and yes, graced with the best Bond Girl of all, the one that got Bond to the altar. But what a downer at the end. This time I watched it, it just seemed so remarkable, such brass balls of the producers to close out a film -and a Bond film at that- on such a huge emotional downer. And in a film with a new Bond, too. Talk about loading the dice for a serious gamble, like a real-life Casino Royale moment. Dropping George Lazenby and breaking the continuity (OHMSS really needed such a proper sequel with Bond out for revenge) was a terrible error, I think, and it would take Bond decades to grow those brass balls again.

vertigo1The second re-watch was the 4K UHD disc of Vertigo, that graces the four-film Hitchcock 4K set that was released last week. The film looks utterly gorgeous in 4K, really something special. We’ve seen some great 4K releases for classic films this year and this is one of the best, I think. Mind, is it just me, but as I get older, does Vertigo on subsequent viewings just get more disturbing, and James Stewart’s obsessive Scottie more repellent?  As a deeply flawed character who proves difficult to root for, he reminds me of Robert De Niro’s character in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in America. The difficulty in revisiting films with such doomed, self-destructive characters is that you have to re-experience it all over again, with the knowledge of hindsight that the character itself obviously lacks. There seems something deeply personal, of both Leone and Hitchcock, in these two films, and I’m sure that’s part of each films endless fascination. Glimpses of flawed humanity’s darkness. Vertigo is such a powerful film, exquisitely filmed and scored (by the great Bernard Herrmann), and really so daring, its one of my favourite films and it feels a blessing to be able watch it again in this kind of quality. I’m building quite a collection of (hopefully definitive and final) editions of some of my favourite films in 4K, with some great additions this year.

dunetrailrLast week also brought us the first trailer for Villeneuve’s long-anticipated  Dune. Mind, it seems we will have to wait longer for the film itself, as word has it that the film will be delayed to next year now, with Wonder Woman 1984 being moved to the Christmas Day slot (Tenet‘s box-office woes causing much consternation for a troubled film industry struggling to manage the Covid crisis). Of course the Dune trailer looks great and pretty much everything we might have hoped for. I was a bit surprised that it looked, visually at least, like a Blade Runner 2049 sequel set Off World, it seems to share so much of the monochromatic, brutalist ‘look’ of his previous sci-fi epic. I’d hoped for something a bit wilder, more ‘out there’ and unusual, but we’ll see. There’s so much, after all, that we didn’t see.

Speaking of delays, news broke last week that Vangelis’ latest album, Juno to Jupiter, accidentally released on digital by a UK store over a weekend a few weeks back before being hurriedly pulled, has been officially delayed (again?). This is so frustrating, its a great album, one of his best in decades, but it seems so strangely (and unfairly) blighted by mishaps. Possibly its just a Covid thing effecting marketing etc, but I sincerely hope that perhaps this delay will facilitate a simultaneous physical and digital release, rather than the latter first (which was the original plan, and which possibly led to that premature release foul-up).  Its a great piece of work, and I was gearing up to finish my track-by-track review… well, I’ll just join the pack and let my review suffer another delay. Hey, its just so Covid, man.

I just hope that the Super-Deluxe of the Prince classic album Sign o’ the Times isn’t going to get delayed. Its only two weeks away now so seems to be all on track. Certainly review copies are out and some reviews have been released, track breakdowns on forums etc so my only worry is problems with stores getting stock out. Hope springs eternal- I’m actually on leave from work the week it gets released, and naturally I’m going nowhere, so the opportunity to just relax for a few lazy days, chill with that box of peach and black goodies is the nearest thing to Christmas I’m actually likely to see this year.

BR2049: Interlinked- The Art

P1100243Much-delayed, BR2049: Interlinked- The Art finally got published this week. Written/curated by Tanya Lapointe, this book is a companion piece to her 2017 book The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049, which was published back in 2017 shortly after the film originally came out. That book was a reasonable examination of the making of the film – the cast/crew and the sets, etc- but considering its title surprisingly had little actual artwork, instead focusing on behind the scenes imagery of the sets and actors and props, its title seemed rather a misnomer, something which this book addresses.

P1100244Its telling that the majority of the artwork within Interlinked -most of it artwork created in computer art packages as opposed to pen, brush and paper- is very tonal, very concerned with atmosphere and mood. Its clearly one of the things that most interested Villeneuve, or something that he prioritised. You can see it in the film itself, the studied attention to lighting and cinematography. An artbook for the 1982 film would have been more about the design details, the intricacies of objects, form and function, than what seems to have been the chief concern of the artists on BR2049. That being said, in this dawning age of limited behind-the-scenes documentaries on home video releases (we were so spoiled by Dangerous Days the 2007 documentary on the making of Blade Runner by Charles de Lauzirika and his Alien 3 documentary Wreckage and Rage) anything we can get now about the making of these films is fascinating and valuable. Obviously a detailed, definitive making-of book about BR2049 is some distance away, if ever, but if these artbooks are all we get, fair enough, its certainly better than the little afforded by the films marketing and home video teams.

P1100241They actually have a third book due out next year containing all the BR2049 storyboards, I imagine the three books together will be everything that the 1982 film never got even after all these years. Not that I’m sore about that. Well okay, a little- I waited years for an Art of Blade Runner and we never really got one; apparently all the rights issues derailed several attempts to actually get such a book of the ground. How odd though that the 1982 pretty much got no proper books (Future Noir may be the ‘bible’ of the making-of the film but it is deplorably lacking in imagery/presentation, and the few paperbacks we got in 1982, the sketchbook etc were basic) and yet the sequel seems to be getting so much attention- you’d think it had been a huge success and the franchise going from strength to strength).

P1100245In any event, its nice to see that BR2049 is still subject top some interest and attention. Maybe there is life in it yet. I suppose the chances of the film getting an in-depth and expansive future home video release with docs and commentaries etc -much as I would love to see it and double/triple-dip yet again- are so remote as to be quite inconsequential. Its simply the world and home entertainment landscape we’re living in. Interlinked is a very handsome book; and I’d certainly recommend it to fans of either of the Blade Runner films – its particularly interesting to see the evident mark of the 1982 film and the artists gradually moving away from it- I would have perhaps appreciated more text and anecdotes but its clearly more of a visual exercise, and that in-depth examination of the making of the film may yet be in my hands someday. I certainly wouldn’t rule it out considering the lasting interest/legacy of the 2017 film.

The Old Guard (2020)

old1You waited long enough. Why Now?  What? This thing only dropped on Netflix 16 days ago. I know most people these days only seem to have very limited attention-spans, but this impatience for reviews of new content is getting a bit nuts. I was 41 years ‘late’ with my review of Play Misty For Me yesterday; I figure 16 days is bang-up-to-the-moment of whatever cultural zeitgeist Netflix is. Unless The Old Guard really is distant history already. I can’t keep up, frankly.

So whats it about, then? Ah, well, to go into any detail on this threatens some spoilers, although I have to wonder if I’m spoiling anything when the film’s trailer/teaser pretty much does it anyway. About fifteen or so minutes in, there’s a ‘twist’ or event that lays out the central premise of the film and… well, if someone went into the film blind they’d be gifted a genuine surprise, and as such things are bloody rare in film etc these days, I’ll make this effort to assist it (we’ll add a Spoiler section down the bottom? Okay then I’ll see you down there). Basically, its about Charlize Theron and her team of heroes shooting the shit out of bad guys.

Any good? You know, I thought it was- Charlize Theron is beautiful and a great actress and she can really do these physical movies very well. I remember first seeing her in the Mighty Joe Young remake back in the R1 DVD-import days, in 1998/1999. She’s come a long way since then. The fact that she was so wasted in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a constant bucket of ice-cold water down my pants. The Old Guard‘s action sequences are great, not terribly over-the-top or frenetically edited with shakycam, the cast is great, the story genuinely interesting with a few surprises and tantalising possibilities. The bad guy probably isn’t all he could have been, but the teaser at the end of the film hints that a sequel won’t have that particular problem.

So worth waiting for? What? It came out on July 10th, we already went over this (calm down ghost). I will just say this- in this era of Covid 19-induced lockdowns and cinemas closed for months everywhere (and film releases getting delays upon delays, to the point I’m actually getting concerned for Villeneuve’s Dune in December) its a strange sign of the times that a film like The Old Guard with a cast such as it has, with a budget of some $70 million and international shooting locations, can be made/purchased by Netflix and just casually dropped onto the service, into people’s homes ostensibly ‘free’.  Of course many people will be rushing back to cinemas when they reopen, but one has top wonder if this pandemic has been a huge opportunity for platforms like Netflix and Amazon to push the entertainment history further towards the inevitable streaming future.

Worthless observation? Well I might have already made such an observation in the paragraph above, but as usual of late this is another film based on a comic or graphic novel, so inevitably is a little immature and aimed clearly at a teenage/young audience. Which is fine, its a little disguised but it is clearly a superhero movie (see spoilers below), so one gets used to making allowances, you know? The Old Guard is a fun action film with a neat premise, its just such a shame that novel premises seem to be the domain of comic adaptations these days, and that film producers don’t look at actual old-fashioned books for ideas. There’s plenty of great science-fiction books from the past twenty years that would make for great science-fiction movies, for instance, and I’m sure authors are still writing great westerns etc.

(And a final warning!) Go on then, where be the Spoilers? They are IMMORTALS! There is a great scene early on when the team goes into a stockade in Sudan to free some abducted schoolchildren and it turns out to be a trap and the team are massacred. But then after a few moments they get back up and wreak bloody revenge on their ‘murderers’. Its a good scene that has lost much of its impact simply because the trailer gives the premise away, but, you know, that’s… tricky, I mean how else do you sell this movie? Seems to me that the graphic novel series is clearly indebted to Jack Kirby’s The Eternals from the mid-seventies (one of my favourite comics, can’t wait for the Omnibus later this year – although that is likely to slip to 2021, I suppose, damn you Covid 19) and that this film possibly steals a little thunder from Disney’s movie adaptation.

On this day, a year ago… IT.

That title almost sounds scary, doesn’t it? Curious that it refers to a horror film that wasn’t scary, but that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes. I am often shocked, browsing through past posts, when the whim takes me to look back exactly a year, and I suddenly see reviews of films and think, ‘a year ago? Already?!!’ It can be quite brutal, the passing of time- or certainly the tricks time seems to play on us. For instance, today, a year ago, is when I posted my review of IT. I cannot believe it has been a year already. Mind, I did read a little while ago that IT Chapter Two (because the novel was split into two movies) is due soon, in September I think. Which should be two years since the first film was released (as I ruefully recall it making a mint and then BR2049 failed to muster the same excitement the following month).

Which brings up the harsh realisation that BR2049, which I always seem to think of as still a ‘new’ or even recent film, is actually nearing its second anniversary….

But anyhow, returning to IT– I wasn’t particularly impressed by it (when a horror film isn’t at all scary, then it’s doing something wrong in my book) but the film was extremely popular indeed with the public and I wonder if they will return to cinemas in droves to watch the second half. It has been two years, afterall, even if it may not feel like two years. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, comparing the first films box office and the second films, as Villeneuve’s Dune project will be emulating this with its own part one/part two, with the first film coming in December 2020. I suspect the gap between the two Dune films will be longer than two years, simply due to the scale of the project, but I suppose you never know these days, with so much post-production occurring during filming- the old preproduction/production(shooting)/post production being so blurred now.

I’m not suggesting two years is too long, but will the public still think IT is sufficient part of the cultural zeitgeist that Chapter Two  will be a must-watch at cinemas? I can’t say I’m particularly enthused enough to even catch up with it on (eventual) home video release, as that first film was more than enough for me but as patently shown on this blog before, I’m not exactly in tune with the mass public. Maybe people are really excited.

Its a curio, almost, in this age of binge-watching seasons of tv over a weekend, for people to return to the bad old analogue days of waiting years for a film to come out. When I was a teenager, three years between Star Wars films felt like forever. These days it’s like three years passes by so quickly, it’s as if I’m sitting in George Pal’s Time Machine and everything is just racing past- and I don’t think it’s simply just me getting older, I think it’s partly how the world is now. Films come and go now, here today, forgotten tomorrow, replaced by the next blockbuster- there is simply so much content. In the old days, a film like Jaws seemed to hang around in the mainstream culture seemingly for years, films now seem to be more disposable. Which is ironic, as thanks to streaming and discs, it could be argued they stick around longer now, but you know, what teenager cares a hoot about Avatar now? Or even the Matrix films?  But maybe in a funny way, that helps films like IT, and waiting two years for the second entry- these days, two years doesn’t feel like anytime at all.

Afterall, I still can’t quite believe its been a whole year since I saw that first one.

Last Week: Glory, Alien, Dune… and Captain Nemo in Space

Last week was unfortunately hampered by real-life issues impacting my posting here, and I didn’t make much progress with my re-read of Frank Herbert’s Dune because a shinier book came my way. I’m so shallow and time is so limited: sorry Frank, I must try harder.

The disc releases of films from 1989 celebrating 30th anniversaries continued with the 4K UHD release of Glory, a film I have mentioned before here when remembering seeing it at the cinema. It never gets any easier realising how many years have passed by me when films get anniversaries, whether it be twenty, thirty, forty, it’s all a sobering reminder of time slipping. Music fans no doubt mark time by anniversaries of album releases etc, and I can be guilty of that myself, but usually its movies with me. Glory is thirty years old damn it, and I’m thirty years older.

Its looking better for those thirty years than I am. I haven’t sat down to watch the film yet- watching old favourites is like enjoying a fine wine, it’s something to be savoured and appreciated when able to give it the attention it deserves, and this week has been far too hectic, but I was curious enough about the transfer that I did watch the first fifteen minutes, and it looks great. As always with Glory though, whenever I watch it I am struck by the beauty of James Horner’s score, and like Field of Dreams, which I watched a few week back as that film is also celebrating thirty years, it’s always a little sad now, hearing Horner back in his prime and remembering what we have lost with his passing. Its also a reminder of how much film scoring styles have changed over these thirty years, and not for the better- even if James Horner was still around and scoring today, his scores for films now would sound little like these scores. They are not in vogue anymore, that old (I would suggest ‘proper’) kind of scoring.

Alien of course, is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year and its 4K UHD (and cinema re-release, albeit limited) has been accompanied by J W RInzler’s excellent book The Making of Alien. I’m really, really enjoying reading it. So far I haven’t read anything particularly ‘new’ to me, it’s really just recounting things I already knew from other books and contemporary magazines of the day, such as Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique etc, and naturally the various documentaries made to accompany DVD and Blu-ray box-sets over the years. But it’s an almost tangible nostalgic joy reading it all again, especially in such a richly presented format. Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter, Ron Cobb, Ronald Shusett, Ridley Scott- these are names from my teenage years that were like the names of  football stars to other kids my age. And yes, it’s surely nostalgia, but going back to the 1970s, and reading about O’Bannon going off to Paris to work on Jodorowsky’s Dune with Moebius, Chris Foss and H R Giger, and Gary Kurtz calling O’Bannon about a film he was producing called Star Wars… those were wild times, back then. Analogue times in an analogue age, I guess.

Mentioning Dune brings to mind the recent news that Villenueve’s Dune has completed shooting, and the announcement yesterday, I think, that its November 2020 release date has been pushed back a month to December 18, 2020. That’s Oscar territory right there, and the same period that Spielberg’s West Side Story remake is due. Dune is by far the most exciting film in my immediate future, with huge expectations for me. Just imagining that film all in the can, in the old parlance of things (really I should write ‘all on the hard drive‘ because that’s where it lies, or on various servers somewhere at various stages of post-production). At this stage of things, without any stills or teasers or trailers, the project is full of all kinds of crazy possibilities. Maybe this is the best of times, indeed, when everything yet seems possible. I remember those heady days of Revenge of the Jedi (before it became ‘Return’), wondering how George Lucas would follow The Empire Strikes Back. And of course the more recent (and more tension-tinged) period when BR2049 was at a similar stage, and all the secrecy around that particular project made Blade Runner fans like me especially nervous.  Well, that turned out great- here’s hoping Dune does too.

I’ve found myself reflecting on BR2049 a lot, lately. A sure sign that I’m about due a rewatch. Its been awhile; indeed, I may not have actually watched it this year at all yet. I still haven’t managed the double-bill of Blade Runner and BR2049 in the same evening, something that in the old days of more free time (less of a ‘real life’) would have been the most natural Saturday evening in the world.

One curious thing I did do last week- when I found half-hour free one night, I found a recent recording of The Black Hole on my Tivo and gave the first twenty minutes or so a go, curious at seeing it in widescreen and HD. I actually saw The Black Hole at the cinema, way back when it was in direct competition with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While ST:TMP had pretensions towards 2001, The Black Hole was really just Disney knocking-off a Star Wars wannabe whilst nodding back to its own classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (maybe it should have been titled ‘20,000 Light Years Into Space’). I haven’t seen the film in decades and doubt I’ll ever have the two hours required for a full rewatch, especially on the evidence of this twenty minutes. Good lord it’s horribly dated. While I quite enjoy the John Barry score (I had the old LP and have the recent Intrada expansion) it doesn’t seem to work in the film at all, and Vincent is such an annoying R2D2 it’s a grim reminder of how much Star Wars influenced film back then. So many sci fi films had to have robots and spaceships flying overhead and laser gun battles etc. Its curious to think that Alien was released a few months earlier than The Black Hole or ST:TMP, and while all three owed a great deal to the existence of Star Wars kickstarting the sci-fi boom of those years, it’s clear that Alien was really its own thing, while the other two felt so inclined to flatter the effects extravaganza of Lucas’ blockbuster. I well recall Starburst‘s John Brosnan likely having the time of his life ripping at both The Black Hole and ST:TMP in his reviews.

bhStill, there was some value to seeing Ernest Borgnine and Anthony Perkins again, and I do adore the design of the Cygnus, that was such a beautiful model. I watched up to the moment that the darkened, and apparently derelict Cygnus is suddenly lit up, ablaze of light, like some Victorian dream of space travel. Arresting if somewhat preposterous. Its a nice moment that really caught my imagination back when the film came out. Nice starfields too. Yeah, some nice effects in that film, but it’s a horribly mangled Captain Nemo in Space film, really. There’s certainly a much better film in there that we never had opportunity to see, and a bad one that we unfortunately did. George Lucas had a lot to answer for, even back then.

 

Dead on Arrival

arrivalSo a colleague at work borrowed my copy of Arrival, being a genre fan who was pretty much blown away by BR2049 and was totally unfamiliar with the films of Denis Villeneuve and evidently in need of an education.

So he watched it. Turns out he didn’t like Arrival… well, he liked it, but wasn’t convinced/thrilled by it. Bit slow? I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to him, I was too surprised and feeling very sad.

Anyone who read my posts about Arrival, like my first review, will possibly remember my emotional connection to the film, especially its feelings of loss and grief. The film just came around at particular time in my life where it just seemed the right film at the right time, absolutely stabbing me in the heart almost, but in a good way. Ever since it’s been a film with a certain personal importance, a connection to a time and a loss (our pet dog, Ben at just three years of age) that might seem hysterically ridiculous to an outsider but remains quite profound to me to this day.

But isn’t it strange when films don’t mean the same to everyone else? I mean, I’m used to that, of enjoying a film and being at odds with people I know or general opinion, but in the case of Arrival it just feels doubly depressing. That a film I can feel so deeply connected to and which means so much to me can just so totally miss the mark with some. Or maybe my colleague deep down is just a cold-hearted bastard who doesn’t ‘get it’. Ha, only kidding. Or maybe he is. Maybe he just failed some kind of empathy test.

There is a strangely profound thing regards Arrival being the point in question here, and my connection with it and the emotional space I was in when I first saw it. Arrival, after all, is concerned with the idea of linear time and how an alien language unravels that view of time, so that our heroine, Louise, begins to ‘see’ the future as memory, of events already happened. And the film asks, if we knew our future and all the pain inevitably bound up with it, would we accept it? Louise sees that she will marry fellow scientist Ian, and will have a child, and eventually divorce, and their child later die when still young. And yet at the films end, after having seen and felt all this  with the viewer, Louise still goes with it, reasoning that the pain is worth it, that it’s part of being alive, that perhaps the cost of loving is in the losing.

Or something like that. Arrival feels to me as deeply spiritual a film as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe most people don’t see those films that way, and that’s why my work colleague didn’t ‘get’ it. Arrival is a beautiful movie wrapped up in a ‘first contact’ alien thriller. Its deep and heartfelt and beautifully constructed and acted, and of course now even more poignant for the loss of Johann Johannsson and remembering him everytime I watch it and hear the films haunting score.

So it isn’t important to everyone and not everyone ‘gets’ it. I shouldn’t be surprised but somehow today it just felt doubly sad. Some films we like aren’t ‘just’ films, I suspect. They mean something more to us. Which is probably why I write this blog and you, dear reader, are reading this.

I think we pass the empathy test.

Another One Gone

harlanThe passing last week of the American author Harlan Ellison deserves a belated mention. I neglect to describe him here as a science-fiction author as a mark of respect because he didn’t consider himself as such, although he always seemed to be, to me. That being said, I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a fan of his work. I’ve read some of his stories and of course seen the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog (based on one of his stories) and the much-celebrated (and much-maligned by him) Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever, and the Outer Limits episode Demon With A Glass Hand.  I have a hardback book, a huge tome titled The Essential Ellison: A Fifty-Year Retrospective, that I bought back in 2001 and have only dipped into occasionally since. I do well recall a review of Star Trek: The Motion Picture that he wrote for Starlog back in 1980 that was pretty blistering and which I didn’t really agree with… but I remember it so well it clearly left some impression.  In hindsight, I think Ellison was right in what he wrote about the film, but back then I wasn’t ready to admit it.

Ellison was loud. He always seemed to have a rough and aggravating character, a reputation that always turned me off him. In truth it was probably narrow-minded and foolish of me, but there was always plenty of other authors’ work to read that didn’t carry all the background noise and politics of Ellison’s stuff. We were like chalk and cheese I guess, although as I have grown older maybe I find myself agreeing with more of his views than I once did.

Regular readers will know that I am forever loathe to neglect a Blade Runner reference when it slides into view. Did you know that when Ridley Scott was attached to the Dino De Laurentiis’ Dune project (eventually helmed by David Lynch), Scott approached Harlan Ellison to write the screenplay? I mean, just imagine that- a Dune film directed by Ridley Scoot based on a screenplay by Harlan Ellison: the mind boggles, and I dizzyingly think of Ray Bradbury and John Huston conjuring the 1956 Moby Dick (but hey, we got Blade Runner instead so its all good). In an essay in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,  Ellison recalled that he met Scott for breakfast in September 1979, and instantly declined the job. The book was too vast, too complex, to ever be made into a satisfactory movie, and “…besides, who needs to see Dune when David Lean has already made Lawrence of Arabia? Its just King of Kings with Sandworms… No.. there isn’t a writer living or dead who could beat this project,” he told Scott. Whether Scott came to agree is unclear, but he later left the project in order to make Blade Runner instead. Oddly enough, the new Dune project is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, director of the Blade Runner sequel- its weird how these connections come around.

One interesting note- this meeting between Ellison and Scott is when Scott remarked that he wanted to be known as the “John Ford of science fiction films,” a quote that was bandied around often back when Blade Runner first got released. With Alien and Blade Runner to his name I remember it seemed an admirable and exciting intention, but I guess the box office of Blade Runner nixed that intent.

One more Blade Runner note: while Ellison was apparently somewhat sour about the film in 1982 (feeling it inferior to the original Philip K Dick novel) he later warmed to it: “[Blade Runner] has come to look to me, after repeated re-viewings, as a significant achievement, deeper in human values than I’d supposed, far more than a glitzy melodrama of sci-fi machinery and thespic posturing. Over time, my respect and admiration for Scott’s vision has grown substantially.”

Withdrawing from the Blade Runner talk, the reason why I’m writing this is simply the obvious observation implied by this post’s title- another one gone. I have been lucky, more lucky than I ever appreciated at the time really, to have grown up in a world in which some quite remarkable people lived and worked. The names are quite extraordinary, when I think of them:

While I lived, these people walked the same Earth as I: Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Herbert,  Frank Frazetta, John Buscema, James Blish, Jeffery Jones, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Philip K Dick, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Barry, Basil Poledouris, Jack Lemmon, Christopher Reeve, Stanley Kubrick, Chris Whitley, Eric Woolfson, Prince, Steve Dillon, Gil Kane… some of these names will be familiar to you, I have no doubt, some may have you curious enough to reach for the google search tool (please do, you should know these people’s work) and there are many, many others that I have not listed but should have.

What I am getting at is that, as I have gotten older, so many people that I grew up reading about or watching or listening to, are simply not around anymore. And the world is so much lesser for the loss. I honestly can’t see how many of the names I have cited above are ever going to be replaced by a successive generation because the world isn’t the same. Fame now is hardly earned, its almost stumbled upon for a few fleeting fifteen minutes in an entertainment arena which measures careers in months/years rather than the decades/lifetimes they used to be. The talent honed over years and decades seems to be lost to us when careers are so much louder and shorter. I’m no fan of the Rolling Stones, but its clear to me that when they are finally gone, they will be gone, and we won’t see the like again (good riddance, many of us may say, or hardly blink a notice, but we all should get the point that rock bands like that just don’t happen anymore and the world is missing something for it).

 

So anyway, Harlan Ellison is gone. Another name that featured in the culture-scape of my existence has been extinguished at last, joining an ever-increasing list.

Meanwhile, I think I shall go to bed tonight and dream about what that Dune film might have been like, with visuals by Ridley Scott in his prime and words crafted by enfante-terrible Harlan Ellison… I shall dream in 70mm, and Dolby Stereo…

The Doom that came to 2049

br2049aWell, actually, BR2049 doesn’t really deserve that Lovecraftian post title- yet. The film has stumbled to a global box-office total of $240 million this week, and while that still entails something of a failure and loss of money for the film’s chief backers, Alcon Entertainment, it isn’t really too bad at all for a near three-hour sci-fi tone poem about humanity rated R in the States and a 15 here in the UK. It was hardly a feel-good high-octane blockbuster for the masses, after all. My main concern over the box-office tally is that if the film is deemed a failure this will impact on the film’s success during Awards season, because, rest assured, this film deserves awards and it would be a worse crime that it gets shunned at Awards season than the audience apathy at the box-office. If ever the film fails to get the artistic and technical consideration awards-time that it deserves, that really would be a Doom of Lovecraftian proportions. I can feel my blood-pressure rising already.

But what a miracle that we got a sequel to Blade Runner at all and that, beyond all hope, it turned out to be a masterpiece almost equal to the original. Indeed, I’ve heard some say they feel 2049 is superior to the original and while I don’t personally feel that way myself, I can understand such sentiments from viewers. It’s a great film.

Certainly, it can be argued it’s a more polished film than the original, at least comparing their initial releases; BR2049 feels fully-formed, complete, while Blade Runner back in 1982 was always flawed.  It’s curious to compare the release of the two films. Alcon gave Villeneuve final cut, let him spend a big budget and let him deliver it at near-three hours. They didn’t insist on preview screenings that would have instilled a panic such as the original film was subjected to- so we didn’t get it shortened or tacked on with narration or explanatory dialogue reshoots or a happy ending, all of which the film might well have been suffered. The original Blade Runner in 1982 should have been pretty much the 2007 Final Cut (compare the workprint to the Final Cut and they are pretty much identical), as it was it took decades to get there, whereas with BR2049 we got there first time. BR2049 is a final cut, and yes, its bloody brilliant.

(We don’t need any recuts and we won’t ever get any, but I would love to see an even longer cut someday- well, some of us are never happy, eh?).

Of course some might argue that previews and resulting edits, maybe even a lower age rating, may have ramped-up the pacing and resulted in a more ‘audience-friendly’ film and more success at the box office… but that wouldn’t have been BR2049, would it?  It would have been, oh, something else.

So anyway, here we are just over a month after its release. I’ve seen the film three times at the cinema. Three times. Well, had to do my bit for the box-office, and the film will be a long time on disc/television and rarely on the big screen, if ever again (over the years, I’ve seen Blade Runner five times at the cinema, but I doubt I’ll get such opportunity with BR2049). But yes, it’s been just over a month and I’m just getting my head around the very existence of the film and that it turned out so good.  What can I say? It swept me up. I expected it to look pretty (most films do, these days) but what surprised me was the depth to it, thematically, visually, artistically. The kick in the chest I felt when Rachel returned. The haunting pace, the great performances, all the stuff it left rattling around in my head, which dragged me back to that second and third viewings, and I have to hold myself back from going to a fourth showing. The home release is coming about February, by all accounts, just in time for my birthday, so I can hold out until then.

I do hope that the unfair box-office of BR2049 doesn’t translate to it being ignored come awards season, or that it will somehow impact negatively on Villeneuve’s next project, the much-anticipated Dune. Can you imagine how good that film might be, if he cracks the script and is given creative freedom somehow in spite of what happened with BR2049?  One can only hope that the industry recognises the critical successes of the film, and its technical and artistic accomplishments, rather than dwell on perceived failures financially. It might not have been a huge global success but you’d have to expect that given time, looking at its long-term prospects, BR2049 will have plenty of life in it for years to come, and draw audiences to its charms long after most films released this past month or two are forgotten and consigned to the bargain bin.

Quality wins out, eventually. Time enough, as Batty said….