Ad Astra

asastra1Ad Astra is really two different movies, and I liked one of them, and didn’t care much for the other. The one is a homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and perhaps also Contact– it  wonderfully uses cinema as a visual medium to show us the immensity of the cosmos, and our place in it. It shows us a cosmos wholly indifferent to the human race and how the very immensity of it can challenge our sanity, our sense of reason. It asks the question ‘is there life Out There?’ and suggests a possible answer, and examines what that might mean to us, our place and importance in the immensity of space and time.

The second film is about pirates on the moon and carnivorous apes running amok on deserted space stations, and boys looking for their fathers when their fathers aren’t interested.  Its a Captain Nemo In Space film about as hokey as it was in The Black Hole.

If you can sense there’s a dichotomy there then you can understand my very mixed feelings about this film. We don’t get enough serious science fiction films, and we don’t get serious money and talent invested on space sagas in which we travel into the depths of space with real-space physics and no sound depicted in space (oh God I’m so thrilled at just that alone). Films like 2001 and Interstellar and Solaris are very rare, and even the rather flawed ones like Event Horizon or Sunshine are to be applauded, just for existing.  I’m thankful we even have Ad Astra, and kudos to 20th Century Fox bankrolling it, taking a risk on it. So much about Ad Astra is perfect, so much of it is so damned exhilarating, that it just feels so incredibly frustrating too.

When I saw advance word describing the film as Apocalypse Now meets 2001, I thought it was a bit of a wheeze, maybe a shorthand way, as Internet writers and YouTube reviewers often have it, in describing its sense of a journey across the solar system. I didn’t understand that this film literally is Apocalypse Now meets 2001. I suppose to be more charitable, I should describe it as Heart of Darkness meets 2001, but director James Gray is too on the nose with a narration that is so indebted to Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic that it feels like they should have had Martin Sheen voice it. Surely they could have dropped it, or most of it. Initially its interesting but it becomes far too indulgent and distracting.

adastra3Its also far too obvious, almost as bad as the clumsy narration that Blade Runner had, its so relentlessly describing whats happening and why and what Brad Pitt’s internal thoughts are about everything around him. Coppola’s film had a narration that was perfect, but that’s such a rarity and you have to be careful going there, especially if your basic narrative is also so indebted to its source. It was so obvious, I half-expected Tommy Lee Jones to mutter “The horror! The horror!” as he stared up at the stars. It shouldn’t have been so literal, and it also backs the film into the same quandary that drove Coppola nearly mad making Apocalypse Now– when we finally reach Kurtz, whats the revelation? Whats the endpoint, the grand insight that the previous few hours of film have been leading to? If you’re building up the mystery, you have to have a suitable answer, even if its just wrapped around another question. Gray ends Ad Astra with a mind-numbing revelation akin to ‘home is where the heart is’, and almost even that hoary chestnut ‘love conquers all’ – that’s fine, but helplessly anticlimactic after all the build-up.  Perhaps Ad Astra is too measured, too collected to really warrant the comparisons to Coppola’s hallucinatory trip up the river. Perhaps it needed more product placement, a way of ramming home its suggestion of commercialisation dumbing down what space is, what it means- we can’t have Coppola’s drugs in space, but maybe more Coca Cola would serve the same purpose in showing the inanity humanity brings to the void. What on Earth, I wonder, would a Terry Gilliam-directed Ad Astra be like?

There are some wonderful moments in Ad Astra, but some damningly awkward ones too, and no matter how strange and huge the grand canvas the film shows us, its also depressingly small and human-scaled too. I suppose that may be deliberate, a message in itself, but it also suggests a lack of confidence or a reluctant nod to the mass audience that perhaps thought that what Arrival really lacked was gunfights and action. A research station sending out a mayday message is devoid of bodies/signs of crew, because the sense of ensuing mystery serves the plot, maybe, but later when Brad Pitt finds his destination, its corridors are full of cadavers floating in zero g, presumably for decades. Even a crazy man would have jettisoned the dead into space, right? I mean, air is limited and its full of putrefaction and decay? That’s beyond unhealthy, its beyond stupid.

adastra2There is an awful lot to appreciate in Ad Astra, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it again at home in 4K (in January next year, I guess) and possibly enjoying it more with reduced expectations. Its a remarkable achievement that it was made for something just a little north of $80 million (by all accounts) as it looks rather bigger. Some of the world-building and art direction is truly amazing, and it feels very grounded most of the time. The cast is great, and Donald Sutherland in a rather short role leaves such a real mark on the film, he perhaps should have been on the journey longer. The cinematography is quite exquisite, and the majority of the visual effects flawless. The music score is perhaps functional at best- it works, but its surprisingly subdued in the audio mix, unless that was an issue at my screening.

The film runs just under two hours, which is refreshing for some perhaps, but I thought it a little short, I think it would have benefited by more time and less narration- less concise, more obtuse, that kind of thing. Dwelt a little longer on the empty spaces between worlds rather than Space Monkeys and Space Pirates, but that was possibly a more intellectual exercise than 20th Century Fox was willing to make.

Nightflyers Season One (2018)

nite1.jpgI’m scared, really quite terrified. The possibility that someone, somewhere, might do the unthinkable and actually unleash a second season of this batshit crazy abomination has me shaking. Usually I’d be content that common sense will prevail, and that in a world in which Firefly and so many others got canceled, there is no way something as diabolical as this rubbish might get renewed for a second season: Nightflyers (‘from the mind of George R.R. Martin’ we are told, as if that’s different from his pen or typewriter)  is a truly terrible, awful show.

In episode six, I think I’m watching a season one episode of Space:1999 and that all the years since 1975 never happened, and it is one of the most confusing and disorientating viewing experiences- I swear it could be an actual unfilmed ‘lost’ episode from that old Gerry Anderson show repurposed for Nightflyers. Its also the most miserable attempt at what the tv execs call ‘a bottle episode’ I have had the misfortune to see in years. Imagine for a moment going back to all the hoary old cliches of that dated old show, and how daft tv sci-fi was back then, the nonsensical ‘science’, the twists and revelations that you could see a mile off, the hammy acting… dressing it up in 2018 clothing and CGI and… It could be the worst 40+ minutes I have endured for years this side of the new Dr Who. 

The whole miserable season of ten episodes felt like that, to be honest, and if I had the time to write all the things wrong with it I would be here all night and it would be a terrible slog of a post. Oh ok, I have the time I guess. Lets get on with all the horror (remember, I watched this so you don’t have to):

The show starts with a scene of dramatic chaos. That’s dramatic as in lots of flashing lights and moving shafts of light from unfathomable sources (because, hey, this is THE FUTURE and this is still 1982?).  A blonde woman (Gretchen Mol, so utterly wasted) is chased down spaceship corridors by a bearded guy with an axe doing a maniacal impression of Jack Nicholson’s worst The Shining excess. There’s a struggle, she flushes a warning message out the wastedump and she kills herself.

nite2.jpgSo we then go back in time, and we won’t see this scene proper until episode 9, I think. But it was so gripping of course we’re going to stick at it for the next 8 episodes to see how we get there and why the hell all the bad shit happened to the good ship Nightflyer. Except, when we do get there it still doesn’t make any sense or explain why it happened. That bearded guy goes crazy and tries to kill two people (arguably succeeds) and in the following episode all is forgiven. I mean, wtf? This show does that shit ALL THE TIME.

In the last episode, the ship is about to blow up, the flashing lights are REALLY flashing like crazy, there’s steam and explosions and people dying and wounded being carried around in circles, and at the same time in the cabin where the woman killed herself, cleaners are mopping up the blood and tidying the room. I mean, wtf? There’s a gigantic alien motherfucking spaceship out the window and the ship is going to explode and someone’s on clean-up duty? Nothing. Makes. Sense.

Wait. Breath. Relax. This is a dream. Its not real. Nightflyers cannot be real. I’m in an episode of Black Mirror, surely?

Here’s a list of some of the daftest cliches in NIGHTFLYER-

1. He’s a goddamn robot. I won’t tell you who, but I could have forgiven them casting Yaphet Kotto in this if it meant him reprising his line from Alien, it’s all it was missing. Although of course the audience likely figured it out before the stupid characters.

2. He’s a goddamn Hologram.

3. The ship is possessed by its dead owner. She’s dead, she’s black, and she’s pissed. And she lives in a virtual Irish mansion. She’s a virtual/AI/ghost haunting the ship from a virtual ghostly castle, of course she is, carry on.

4. Oh, and her bully dad is prowling the castle because she’s been a naughty girl. No, seriously this is a virtual/AI/ghost with daddy issues on a spaceship racing into the void.

5. Turns out the bald guy on the bridge had a thing for the dead bitch who’s haunting the ship. I smell trouble in the name of love.

6. Shafts of light, piercing almost every scene, blinking/flashing lights on walls everywhere else. Because yes this is The Future and there is steam. Of course there is steam. Every spaceship has steam filling corridors, especially when things are tense.

7. There’s cameras all over the ship. The captain is watching everyone. Lets have sex. Let’s leave the light on. Lets ignore that red lens gawping at us. Lets get upset about feeling betrayed when I remember the captain is watching everyone. Wait. Is that a camera in the shower cubicle?

8. She’s not a girl. She’s a goddamn bio-engineered spacewoman who cries on demand and falls for the captain only -gosh he’s a hologram, no he’s a robot no he’s her goddamn brother! Actually, no, he was a hologram, he was a robot, and yes, he is her brother! Oh no! The ghost haunting the ship is her mom! I. Kid. You. Not.

nite4.jpg9. He’s a goddamn telepath. These guys are sulky and dangerous, but he’s brought his gorgeous therapist along for the ride. He has the hots for her.

10. Oh the irony about how big space is but how it’s such a small world- the chief scientist knows the therapist. There were lovers, years ago. Of all the spaceships in all the world we have to meet on this one, I know one telepath in a crazy spaceship doesn’t mean a hill of beans but this is my spaceship, and this is my telepath, and this is my hill of beans blah blah (I think I may have Space Madness myself at this point). You just know these two cute ex’s  have the hots for each other and will be in bed before episode 7.  It can only end one way. The therapist is a secret telepath. Gazooks!

Wait a minute. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, and I’m not talking about Event Horizon, although of course it is sitting over there in the corner. The central premise is that our chief scientist has detected an object outside our solar system and he has deduced it might be alien spaceship because it moves in a very off and peculiar alien kind of way. He joins the crew of the Nightflyer and brings a telepath with him because he has deduced only a telepath can communicate with the aliens who he has named the Volcryn. He has also deduced that the Volcryn can solve all humanity’s problems because they are alien and smart. All the way through this bloody show I was trying to figure out why the aliens were called the Volcryn and why everyone thought they could save humanity and why a telepath had to be aboard and why the scientist…. He’s a mad scientist, of course, because they all are in these things aren’t they. And he wants to go home to his dead daughter. Who he sees all the time. She’s wearing a red coat and Don’t Look Now but…

11. Have I mentioned the bee-lady in the dome? There’s this blonde hippy scientist in the dome (there’s more than one dome, yes there are forests, no this isn’t Silent Running, because damn they forgot the droids) who is friends/talks with the bees because obviously the bees are the most intelligent creatures on the ship at this point, well bee-lady she gets cosy with the bearded botanist and she gets pregnant and that doesn’t end well, really, space pregnancies seldom do and apparently there’s only one doctor/nurse available and she’s got herself a lung full of alien spore (well, whatya gonna do, shit happens) so with alien spores threatening the ship and no medical professionals to save the day, which is odd, you’d think they would have a medical team on a big spaceship to treat people attacked by bearded botanists with axes…

nite3.jpg12. That bearded botanist with the axe. A security team eventually (I mean eventually, he’s like gone all The Shining for half-hour butchering the crew and dismembering the robot before anybody with a gun turns up) catch him and they confine him to his cabin. To his bloody cabin! Where anyone -including mad scientists- can just open the door and recruit him for First Contact because only a murderous botanist can figure out alien telepathy shit.

13. Now, funnily enough, on a ship big enough to have a crew of hundreds (although we only see roughly seven at any one time?) there is only one escape pod and it’s only big enough for one person. Its like they never learned anything from the Titanic. Or Event Horizon, which was bloody brilliant compared to this rubbish. So with the Volcryn now outside wondering what the frack is going on with this Earth ship that’s turned up and is now about to self-destruct, everyone with any sense, including the Evil Ghost Bitch who has at this point possessed the I.T. expert (no, seriously, its true, if you survive bearded botanists with axes and alien spores you’re just likely to suffer a case of possession instead), yeah she is racing to the escape pod…

and then… well, no, I can’t spoil it for you.

Let’s go back a bit. Death by fire no wait he survives that has a bath and is fine.

nite5So anyway, since I’m feeling brave and my medication is now settling in for the night,  let’s go back to episode six,  which I like to call the Space:1999 episode because it pretends all the growing up that sci-fi did between 1975 and 2018 never happened. Our heroes stumble upon a derelict ship that happens to be drifting on the same course the Nightflyer is taking. So our hapless heroes from the Ghost Ship Nightflyer go over to the mysterious derelict last seen near Jupiter (was this in Event Horizon? Or was it Sunshine? So many homages, it’s hard to keep track) to try salvage its computer brain (one size fits all spaceships) and after fourteen years there are still survivors on board – but all the survivors are old ladies with Space Madness who are on a women-only crusade to live in peace on another planet and drain men of their, er, vital essences in order to grow clones for meat, as they sure as hell are not vegans, no sir not on this spaceship. Calling Captain Kirk- sorry wrong franchise…

Remember. I watched this so you don’t have to. Netflix really should be ashamed.

 

Into The Depths

2017.37: Leviathan (1989)

levi4For any genre fan of my age, the cast is to die for: Peter Weller (Robocop, Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, The Naked Lunch), Richard Crenna (Rambo 1, 2 & 3), Amanda Pays (Max Headroom), Daniel Stern (DOA, Diner, Blue Thunder), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters), Meg Foster (They Live)… A cast like that, you’d think Leviathan would at the very least be a poor-man’s The Abyss with a gloriously nostalgia-filled 1980’s genre cast- forget the movie, just bask in the nostalgic joy of seeing these stalwarts of 1980’s-era genre film and tv in something ‘new.’  Well, as ‘new’ as a film can be when you watch it for the first time when it is, what, something like 28 years old. You have to make allowances I guess, and just, yes, enjoy the nostalgia.

But it is so bad it isn’t even that- indeed, it’s just a stark reminder of just how good Alien, The Abyss and The Thing were, because this film is a horrible imitator of all three- a dodgy replicant, if you’ll forgive another reference to Blade Runner here, and a reminder that the fondest memories of actors can be sullied by the reality that they appeared in bad films too- talent no indicator of quality.  Actors are just working people looking for jobs/gigs, jumping from film to film, tv show to tv show. Just as long as it pays. Rarely the job turns out to be something classic or memorable. Over the years we tend to remember the good ones and forget/ignore the rest- well, this is clearly one of ‘the rest’.

Leviathan came out originally in 1989 at around the same time as Deepstar Six and The Abyss, imitation clearly the sincerest form of flattery and that year undersea thrillers were the next Big Thing (except it wasn’t, all three films failed at the box office). Well, I loved The Abyss, but steered clear of the other two. Until now, with Leviathan rising up from the depths and dragging me back down with it.

A deep-sea mining base on the ocean depths stumbles upon the sunken wreck of a Soviet vessel and unwittingly becomes contaminated by the genetic experiments that were taking place before the Soviets evidently scuttled the ship to destroy/hide their grisly work. The opening half of the film seem overly familiar but also almost gently quaint, in how the scene is set and the motley characters established- its all very Alien– indeed, the Alien nods in particular seem endless and continue behind the camera- Ron Cobb was a production designer, so the sets look like the Nostromo and indeed Deepcore from The Abyss (which he also worked on), and the score was by Jerry Goldsmith (although to be fair, it sounds nothing like his Alien score). But you know, as guilty pleasures such as Event Horizon (and better efforts like Sunshine) will tell you, there is nothing wrong with starting a sci-fi film with nods to Alien- it can almost be cosy and reassuring. The cast is along the lines of so many ensemble films like Alien, we see them at work, we see them come upon the derelict, watch them enter and stumble upon a horror that they unwittingly bring back aboard their own ship whereupon after a lull the true horror begins…. wait, what film am I watching here…? You get the idea.

But Leviathan is vastly inferior, not just to Alien and The Thing, but to both Event Horizon and Sunshine too- and if that statement makes you nervous then good for you, you’ll know to never give in to nostalgic temptation and ever give this film a try. Well, here’s one I took for the team then.

levi2Seeing Peter Weller and Amanda Pays and Richard Crenna back ‘in their prime’ as it were is always something good, but this film can’t even be saved by pleasant surprises such as seeing Amanda in the shower in her underwear, a reminder of something of a crush I had back in the day watching her in Max Headroom (God, I’d long forgotten, was I ever that young?)It’s really a pretty empty and banal film all told, sodden (well, it is underwater) with cliches and predictable plot points and general stupidity. Nothing really surprises, and to be honest it is the awful execution of everything- the cinematography and lighting (the sets are shot in such an unimaginative way devoid of tension or atmosphere), the creature effects are laughable (even with Stan Winston’s crew involved). In truth, the best thing about Leviathan is that it makes you appreciate the achievements of films like Alien and The Thing even more. It makes you realize just how difficult those films must have been to make and how much they just get so right. The casting, the photography, the music, the pacing, the visual/creature effects… they get so much so right, and that why they are deemed classics, decades later, when imitators like Leviathan just sink (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Another Sunshine Reprise

sun1Sunshine (2007)

I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something endlessly rewatchable about Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. I must watch it once, sometimes two or more, times a year. Infact, of all the films made in the last twenty years, its one of the few that I have rewatched several times since its release, and possibly the one I have rewatched the most. It’s not a huge blockbuster, it wasn’t even particularly a success, either financially or critically, on its release, but something about the film just ‘clicks’.

Part of it might be that it’s like a Sci-Fi Greatest Hits. It takes elements of Alien, The Black Hole, Event Horizon, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, amongst others. There’s all sorts of stuff in the film that can be recognised from other films, but for once it doesn’t really irritate. For one thing, it might be imitating other films but it’s doing so with a small budget and pulling it off well too. It looks fantastic on a budget of something like $30 million- compared to bigger films it looks remarkable and shows what is possible with careful planning and craftsmanship.  Really it’s astonishing how good the film looks for what it cost and it stands as some kind of testament to what can be done. Most importantly, the film has a genuine sincerity to how it borrows from the other films, a genuine care and appreciation and respect to those films. It doesn’t feel like a rip-off, or anything remotely negative.

sun2When the crew sits down around a table to eat together, of course it brings to mind the similar scenes from Alien; the set design, the banter, all of that, but you sense that Boyle is being respectful of Alien, not simply ripping it off. Its something that resonates so well from Alien that Boyle and writer Alex Garland obviously felt it was the right way to introduce the characters and the setting. Some shots even seem choreographed to echo shots from Alien– look at the scene when Cillian Murphy’s Capa fills the foreground and extreme right of the frame when he is informed its his decision regards diverting to the Icarus One: it perfectly copies an early scene in Alien with Veronica Cartwright’s Lambert filling the same part of the frame when she is told she is on the excursion team and she mutters “shit” in response, just as Capa voices his own bitterness at having to make his decision.

The characters are a big part of Sunshine. The cast is diverse and top-class, but wisely lacking huge ‘star’ names that might distract (although inevitably some of the cast are certainly ‘star’ names now from more successful ventures since). All of the cast bring their A-game and something to their characters, and the film is carefully threaded with character beats and moments that are important. Not all of them are likeable- some of them irritate but only because they seem so genuine and convincing with their flaws and mistakes. There is a sense that they have been stuck together for sixteen months and frictions are brewing as well as friendships. It always seems convincing to me, how they relate to one another and interact. It’s all very well-written, well performed and well-observed/directed.
sun3Some moments in Sunshine are extraordinary, like when the crew all gather at the viewing port to witness the transit of Mercury across the Sun. It is a beautiful and awe-inspiring spectacle, with a real sense of the wonder and majesty of space that most films would make us think mundane. But more than just the magnificent visuals and music, Boyle takes time to examine the faces of the crew so we can compare and contrast their seperate reactions to what they are watching. It informs us subtly what they are thinking, and where they are ‘at’ regards the mission, in a much more profound way than simply through dialogue and exposition. Its one of my favourite moments from any science fiction film.

Its when Sunshine slips into Event Horizon territory that most viewers seem to think it jumps the shark. I like Event Horizon, I think it’s the best Alien film that isn’t part of the official franchise (and to my mind is likely a better Alien film than Resurrection or Prometheus or even -controversial!-  Aliens). And I certainly don’t mind when things go all apeshit as the Space Madness-inflicted Pinbacker runs amok. What’s so nuts about a Captain whose mind has collapsed under the stress of his mission, in the face of sights no human has likely witnessed before? Its something that the transit of Mercury scene surely portends, in how the Icarus 2 crew react to what they see. Some are awed, some are bored.  Pinbacker saw stuff like that and saw God. His brain pulls a Hal 9000 and he kills his crew and aborts the mission thinking he’s doing The Right Thing.  Boyle and Garland are reaching to 2001 here even when they slip towards exploitation-horror territory. What does ‘Space’ really mean, or our place in this vast unthinking/unfeeling universe when you are millions of miles from home trapped in a steel can on a likely one-way mission probably destined to fail? What does that mean when that failure dooms all of humanity? You can’t wrap your head around stuff like that. It could drive you nuts and with Pinbacker it does (even the name Pinbacker nods to a character in the John Carpenter comedy Dark Star, itself an anti-2001, another example of the thought and respect running throughout Sunshine with its nods to past films).

Yes, Sunshine suddenly shifts in tone from semi-serious 2001/Alien hybrid towards a slasher flick, but you have to appreciate what Garland and Boyle are doing. They are making a science fiction film to entertain, and are no doubt enjoying taking the risk in pulling the rug from under the audience’s feet.  Its also adding dramatic conflict to the piece and ramping up the tensions regards will they/won’t they succeed in nuking the sun. It’s putting greater and greater obstacles in front of Capa and forcing sacrifices from the remainder of the Icarus 2 crew. And even though they succeed, no-one on Earth will ever know what happened or what sacrifices they had to make or tasks they endured.

You either buy it or you don’t, I guess. But I think Sunshine is a hugely satisfying and rewarding little film far superior to so many bigger-budgeted blockbusters. I wish it might have been successful enough to enable more similarly-themed, similarly-budgeted films. You don’t have to spend $200 million to make a convincing and entertaining space movie, and for all that critics moan about its last third, it still isn’t likely as daft and nonsensical as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, for instance. Sunshine is the little guy that done good.  I only wish Garland and Boyle might one day return to the genre again, and make another great little sci-fi movie together.

Whatever Happened to Paul W S Anderson? – Pompeii (2014)

pompeii_movie_2014-t2Paul W.S. Anderson- I quite liked his Event Horizon movie. Sure, it was a b-movie that was blatantly obvious regards its influences (it was mostly part Alien, part The Shining, amongst others) but it was pretty effective. It looked great, had a few genuine jumps and scares, had a great sense of mood and dread. It marked Anderson as a genuine talent, someone to watch. Well, so I thought at the time.

Alas, he never quite lived up to that, and has never -in my mind at least- come even close to replicating what he achieved with Event Horizon. In hindsight, maybe that film was an indication of what lay ahead, because while he may be technically proficient he’s like a poor-man’s Jim Cameron, with the same lack of writing skills or originality to give his films that extra spark, but lacking the ability of Cameron to marshal huge budgets and production values to hide those faults. I still return to Event Horizon– I bought the DVD, the Blu-ray…. I still find something rewarding in it. Its like an Alien sequel that we never had, in that its almost emphatically set in that same Alien universe (perhaps more so than Scott’s own Prometheus funnily enough). As if Fox was daring enough to think Alien films could be about horrors other than the titular Alien (if only Hollywood were ever that brave with franchises, eh?). I’m a fan of Event Horizon, but regards Anderson’s subsequent films, I always hope for the best but suffer the worst, and only ever watch them once. Once is always enough, and I face each successive film with ever mounting apathy.

pomp2So here we have Pompeii, and sadly it lives up to every cliché you could imagine- even for an Anderson picture, this one’s on Autopilot throughout. Its not that its bad, its just so blatantly obvious regards what it is, so patently lazy in its disregard of trying to be anything new or original. Akin to Olympus Has Fallen being a Die Hard movie in all but name, Pompeii, is, well, its Gladiator, complete with its hero being stuck in the arena with a personal grudge against his Roman masters (even to the point of avenging his family), and its Titanic, its star-crossed lovers from different worlds doomed to find love amidst some larger disaster (replacing an Iceberg with a volcano in this case). Its simply no more than its original pitch to the studio “hey- Gladiator mixed with Titanic! Can’t fail!” and if that wasn’t the pitch to  the studio, if the scriptwriters just put the damn thing together and sold it as something original, then more shame on them.

Tpomp3he sad thing about director Anderson is that he apparently hasn’t moved away from the Event Horizon method of making his movies- in the absence of any original ideas, just combine two or more earlier movies to make something ‘new’ (“DNA recombination”, as a certain Dr.Tyrell would put it). Its okay to start your career like that but to maintain your career like that? Maybe Anderson needs to start working with a  new producer, one able to promote new ideas, search for new properties. Maybe Anderson just can’t get anything else greenlit other than something with a simple pitch like ‘Gladiator meets Titanic’. I hate the word ‘competent’ but thats just what Anderson is- he’s a competent director. He can handle set-pieces, effects, can work well with actors, handles technical productions. He just needs something new to channel his abilities into. I was certain, years ago, that he had it in him, but now I’m not so sure. In his defence, maybe its more to do with how Hollywood works these days, and what films get greenlit, rather than Anderson himself.

Pompeii is just lazy and tired with an ill-judged concept from start to finish. You watch it feeling sad for all involved (there’s quite a cast marshalled here for such a poorly executed script). There’s clearly a great film in the central premise about Pompeii and the disaster that befell its people, something dramatic, heartfelt and tragic, something touching and valid regards the human condition and our fragility in the face of Nature, our place in the world, but this isn’t it- Pompeii and its fate seems almost incidental to the entire enterprise, which is shocking really; it might as well have been an alien invasion that totalled the city in this film for how cartoon-like it seems with its overblown cgi and stunts. No character feels real, nothing ever raises itself above the mundane and familiar and predictable. One to avoid really.