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.

Reboot Fatigue

Well, its not just reboots, I guess sequels/prequels and other spin-offs could all be lumped into the same category, as they are all pretty much the same thing. As I wearily suffered the further death-throes of the Predator franchise this weekend, I was reminded of just how many of the movies I saw in my childhood continue to linger around in some shape or other. We’ve had Alien films, Predator films, far too many variations of web-slingers and caped crusaders. Warner Bros continue to struggle with bringing back The Matrix. No doubt we are due another incarnation of the Batman. We have seen yet another Halloween (well, I haven’t yet but I guess I will see it eventually), there’s a new Top Gun in the works, more Godzilla and King Kong, more Avatar, another West Side Story, more Bad Boys, more MIB, another Terminator timeline, and even (perhaps unlikeliest of all) a Passion of the Christ sequel, which goes to show those folks that own the rights to Spartacus that even a crucifixion needn’t spell the end of any franchise.

I’m told that a remake of Jacobs Ladder has been shot. That’s just so wrong, I just hope it’s some kind of social media filmnut modern myth, or that its as bad as I fear and that it languishes in a film vault somewhere, so bad that even Netflix refuse to bail it’s studio out.

Name any Disney animated classic and I’d say its a safe bet it’s getting a live-action remake soon (anyone else see a blue Will Smith playing the genie in Aladdin and freak out a little? There ain’t nothing someone won’t do to make some money).

And the Marvel films continue to storm the box office, so there’s no end in sight for the comic-book/superhero genre. Must confess I reckoned on that particular bubble having burst by now, more fool me. Not that I think those films are bad, they are wholly entertaining for the most part, but they are hanging an uncomfortable shadow over film-making in general. Mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery in tinseltown, and you can see studios trying to shape their own properties in the Marvel mould all the time- no film gets made now without an eye on the five that could follow it.

Of course I’ve moaned about this kind of thing before here, in many posts over the years. And nothing I write will be anything new or cause any change, but the last few days have had me in a pretty dark mood.

I love movies. Have done most of my life, probably even before Star Wars blew me away back in 1978, but I generally mark that film as the cause of all those many thousands of hours watching films since. There is considerable truth in the argument that Star Wars saved the film industry (back then, cinemas were going the same direction that pubs are going now) but there is also some truth to the argument that Star Wars was the start of films becoming more business than art. Well, thats a sweeping generalisation, as films have always been business, whatever Hollywood historians may say, and the Oscar never did mean anything beyond Hollywood politics. But the quality of American Cinema of the 1970s and what amounts to American Cinema is today is telling. Where is our next Taxi Driver? Our next Godfather or Apocalypse Now? Our next Three Days of the Condor? There’s probably more chance of them turning up on HBO or Netflix than there is them turning up at the local cineplex.

(So no, Mr Spielberg, I love most of your films but I think you may be wrong trying to keep Netflix away from the Oscars, as if those ‘awards’ really mean anything anymore).

The deep irony is that the film I am most looking forward to, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, is not just one film but two, and is a (sideways) remake of not just a 1984 film but two mini-series that followed it. At least it’s not a remake of a classic film like 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead it returning to a property that merits another attempt, as the Lynch film was horribly flawed. I suppose you could correctly argue its based on the book, not the Lynch film, but as the makers of the Dredd film found, it’s always hard to break the shackles of earlier film attempts.

Hopefully Dune will be great. But I am certain that there are many other fine science fiction books, old classics and new ones unknown to me, that would make fantastic movies, if only some studio had the nerve to take a punt on one. Unfortunately, it would be easier if it was already a comic or a tv show or old movie that somebody already knew.

Instead, more sequels, more reboots, more remakes. Mind, in a world where so many ‘new’ properties crash and burn, its inevitable I suppose. I remain curious regards Mortal Engines (disc pre-ordered), as it at least looked pretty different, but maybe it was too different, as it managed a paltry $83 million worldwide on a purported $100+ million cost ($250 million to just break even?). Films, I think, cost too much money today, and I imagine that’s where the real problem lies. BR2049 managed nearly $260 million worldwide, a respectable figure for an adult, cerebral  sci-fi film based on a 1980s flop- but it unfortunately cost $150 million to make, muddying the prospects of any future films.

(I adore BR2049 but even I would contend it would be just as fine had its ambitions had been reined in a little bit into a $100 million film- but then again, it’s just what these films cost now, the scales are enormous, just the cast alone. And who’s going to go out and watch a film with a cast of unknowns, is that even a thing anymore?).

I am curious regards box-office though. I’d love to see home video sales/digital rentals/downloads added to a films initial box office, as I suspect that might be quite illuminating, but we never see those figures, don’t know why (or maybe I’m not looking in the right places).

Anyway, how did we get here? I’m off on some weird tangent again. Oh yes, reboots etc.

Mark Wahlberg is going to be The Six Billion Dollar Man, apparently. I think I’ll stop right there, and rest my case. Be assured however, this Reboot Fatigue post will no doubt get a sequel all of its own, or maybe a genuine reboot. Its sadly inevitable, just like I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu (I nearly choked on my toast when I saw that trailer, who the hell thinks up this garbage?).