More Altered Carbon

altc3I’ve finally finished watching the first (and hopefully not the last) season of Netflix’s sci-fi series Altered Carbon.

Following on from my comments regards the first half of the season, the show really does look spectacularly entrenched in the 1980s, for good or ill (depends on your point of view, I guess). Partly this is naturally due to its debt to Blade Runner, but it goes much deeper than that. Altered Carbon owes much to 1980s shows like Max Headroom and the pop videos/movies that aped the style of Ridley Scott’s classic for all of that decade. It also is so purely cyberpunk in style and attitude that it is drenched in the vibe of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), and the work of Bruce Sterling and  John Shirley.  As someone who read so much of that stuff during that decade it’s really something of a nostalgic thrill to see it brought back. That said, it’s also a sobering thought that this series spends so much time looking back and displaying such retro sensibilities. In just the same way as Blade Runner had a 1950s noir vibe within its futuristic trappings, this series carries a relentless 1980s vibe. Imagine a 1980s sci-fi television show indebted to Blade Runner but with our current cutting-edge CGI and a budget up there with Game of Thrones. That pretty much sums Altered Carbon up.

That being said, I believe that the second book leaps forward in time and has a completely different setting so it may very well lose that Blade Runner/1980s style completely.  This could be exciting and enable the show to remain fresh and different each season.

One of the fascinating things about the show, and its chief conceit of ‘sleeves’ and people’s minds inhabiting successive bodies, is that in just the same way as Dr Who has been graced by many different actors in the title role over the years, so might Altered Carbon‘s main character, Takeshi Kovacs, be played by different actors each season. This might become the shows chief frustration, too, as it dispels audience familiarity and empathy for a particular actor, but it does raise interesting possibilities. Perhaps the show could be a sci-fi anthology show like Fargo, with a wholly different cast and setting each season.  Who knows?

I just hope Netflix lets us find out.


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).