May the 4K be with you: Rogue One

rogue4kHere in the UK there seems to be an exclusivity deal running at the moment between Disney and Amazon, that ensures that the 4K editions of the Star Wars films are limited to the boxset  of all nine ‘Skywalker Saga’ films which means that those of us who just want the Original Trilogy films, or Rogue One (which hasn’t been released over here in 4K at all), have to shell out for the boxset, wait for the inevitable single-disc releases when the exclusivity deal ends, or go the import route.

Initially, I was fine waiting out, but as I’m stuck on a two-week vacation at home (where I’ve been stuck for eight weeks already on lockdown, working from home) I figured maybe I should treat myself. Avoiding the scalpers on Ebay (I love The Empire Strikes Back but £45 for a copy of it on 4K? Get the frak out of here, that’s LaserDisc-era nonsense) I sourced Scandinavian copies of Rogue One, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back (that’s my idea of a Star Wars trilogy) that actually even cost a bit less than they will likely do when released over here, and with English packaging they are no doubt pretty identical, too, other than the certificate logos (which are smaller than ours, as a bonus, and off the spine too) and that they are minus slipcovers. So all good. Rogue One and Star Wars arrived yesterday, with The Empire Strikes Back on the way and due early next week.

Its the last time I ever buy these films, I’m sure – which seems a curious way to rationalise it, considering how many times I’ve bought Star Wars films, and I’ve limited my spending to these three – as I say, what I consider to be a pretty perfect trilogy. I think the only way they could ever tempt my wallet again is by releasing the original unaltered theatrical editions but that’s so unlikely at this point I’m safe to say this is the last time. To some it would make more sense to have ordered Return  of the Jedi, too, but I had issues with that film even back in 1983 (revisionists may cite the Prequels or Disney saga films as the points at which the rot set into Star Wars, but for me it will always be Jedi, when Lucas clearly lost interest and wanted done with it all). Part of me wonders what the experience of Jedi is even like now that JJ Abrams pissed all over it with his The Rise of Skywalker nonsense, but I have the Blu-ray boxset to try that out someday, if ever the fancy takes me.

I’m clearly stuck in a rut buying 4K editions of my favourite films, even if I do usually wait for the sales to come around. I’ll work that out eventually.

rogue2So anyway, I watched Rogue One on 4K last night and it was gorgeous, absolutely spectacular.  Shot on 6K cameras, and then given a full 4K Digital Intermediate, the film looks remarkable on this disc. Star Wars and Empire will both no doubt suffer in comparison (although hopefully improving on the earlier HD releases) but this film is just ‘wow’ near enough all the way through. Stunning detail from the costumes and props to the sets and the visual effects work, and the HDR really adds depth and ‘pop’ to make the whole thing look vibrant.

I hadn’t watched the film in quite awhile, so it was interesting to watch the film and reappraise it. Its not perfect and stumbles at times -the first third of the film feels awkwardly put together, as if its edited highlights of a longer film/treatment- but on the whole its a fantastic Star Wars movie, with great characters and a great plot. Unlike the Star Wars saga films, this film really has the feel of authentic Star Wars, in how it looks and sounds. Sure there’s quite a lot of fan service but it all supports the story rather than distracts from it, serving the film in a similar way to how such fan service aided Blade Runner 2049 and more recently Doctor Sleep.

What made me really curious about it, though, is all the things they did so right in this one that they turned away from or got so wrong in the other Disney Star Wars films. How did Solo, for instance, turn into such a mess, and while this film features a female protagonist and a racially diverse cast it does not labour any wokeness to such an extent that it irritates as it did in The Last Jedi. Here it feels inclusive and supportive, not dominating anything to the detriment of the plot. What also helps this film is that through that awkward first third and onwards, the film just gets better and better as it goes, building to a tremendous climax that is spectacular but also emotionally involving in ways that most Star Wars films aren’t. I was also struck by how well staged and choreographed the climactic space battle is compared to those of The Force Awakens or The Rise of Skywalker. Again, one has to wonder what lessons weren’t learned, or why Rogue One did some things so well that others stumbled with. Maybe its the personnel involved. I won’t necessarily suggest that the films director Gareth Edwards was wholly responsible, as the film was rumoured to have a troubled post-production with considerable reshoots required that I think he wasn’t involved with, but that’s a story we may never really know unless someone gets permission to write a candid book about it.

The music score was really great too, I’d forgotten how well that worked in sounding like a Star Wars movie but having its own identity, too, something even maestro John Williams struggled with in the last trilogy.

When Rogue One finished with its grand tease of the opening of Star Wars I had to refrain from having a very late night and spinning up the Star Wars disc. Maybe tonight then. Must say, I haven’t enjoyed anything Star Wars this much in ages.

 

 

Oh Disney, say it ain’t so!

swAllow me to gripe a little. The Star Wars films -the ‘proper’ Star Wars films- are coming out on 4K UHD at long last. Usually these films finally hitting a format is something major, something to get excited about, but Disney don’t appear to be too excited. To be honest, I’m finding it hard to get too excited myself, either, because having brought the films on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray in the past, this time around I’d really just like to buy my favourite ones:  Rogue One, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and maybe get around to Return of the Jedi if the price was right or lowered in a subsequent sale. But I can’t. Its a box of the ‘Skywalker Saga’, episodes 1 through 9, from Amazon only, or its nothing, and certainly no Rogue One in 4K at all. That’s where we are at here in the UK.

I still cannot get my around the fact that here in the UK, on release day, nobody can walk into a shop and buy those 4K films, even if only in that box. Who could have dreamed that 4K releases of the Star Wars films will have never happened in regular bricks and mortar retail? Maybe physical releases have slipped into obscurity so far already that the fine folks at the remaining HMV stores won’t be too concerned that they cannot make money from selling them. In the old days a major release like this being restricted to Online only would seem crazy, but I guess the times they are a changin’.

The simplest conclusion of course is that Disney isn’t particularly interested, and if that’s what you’re thinking, then I think you’d be right: Disney+ seems to be whats really exciting the mouse these days. Disc releases are so much yesterdays news. Streaming, and subscriptions, seem to be where its at and physical media seems inconvenient at best, possibly on borrowed time at worst. When you can afford to ignore bricks and mortar retail, its clear that streaming is the future you’re really interested in.

I expect the single-disc releases (and a belated Rogue One 4K release) will happen eventually, a few months or so down the line – maybe Amazon’s deal is a six-month exclusive and everything will follow after. The individual films are available in other territories after all, but I’m reminded that there are several Pixar films on 4K that remain unreleased here in the UK (including my favourite, Ratatouille) and there seems no sign they are ever coming. On the evidence of some forums some fans are going the import route but that can be expensive (and putting up with foreign-language packaging seems a nonsensical argument for maintaining with physical media to me).  Me, I guess I’ll be voting with my wallet and saving my money.

And no, Disney, I won’t ponying up my dosh for Disney+ anytime soon either.

 

The 2017 Selection Pt.4

selection4bI’ve bought a few discs lately, which is putting into question my intent to curtail the expenditure this year and be a bit more selective, and required another updated photo of this year’s shelf. Beginning to wonder if I’m managing to keep the quality level up. So what of the additions since last time?

The Big Heat – Another Indicator release, and it’s clear those boys are after my wallet this year. Watched this only last night (review coming up sometime soon) and it was brilliant. Hadn’t seen this before, but as I love Film Noir (my second favourite film genre) it was a must-purchase, particularly as it was recommended online. It deserves all the praise, its excellent, and deserving special mention regards this Indicator release is that it features one of the very best booklets I’ve ever seen released with a disc.

Jason & The Argonauts – An old childhood favourite, and an excellent Blu-ray edition. The trouble with catalogue titles is that if you want more of them, and want them with plentiful extras and TLC, then you have to buy them, particularly now with physical disc sales diminishing. If you don’t buy ’em, they won’t release ’em- with that logic, it’s clear it is going to be an expensive year for Harryhausen films on blu-ray, with Indicator having several coming up. The cunning devils. I tell you, I may as well hand them my wallet.

KIng Kong – I love this film. Another of those HMV exclusives that required a journey into darkness/in-store purchase. This is a nice package with a nice booklet, but I have a fancy R1 DVD copy in an embossed tin-box package with same extras etc (which is what this HD release is based on, although it came in a digibook in the States). Tempted to get it out and pop these blu-ray discs in place of the DVDs, so there may be a transformation in the 2017 selections’ next update. Looking forward to giving this a spin late at night sometime. Can’t beat curling up with this film around midnight.

Kubo and the Two Strings- I’d never even heard of this until it was released on disc early this year, and read some glowing reviews that put it on my watchlist. Amazon dropping it to a fiver last week was too good an offer to refuse (note to self: ignore sales/offers as much as possible in future. Maybe stop browsing online altogether. It won’t end well).  Very curious about this one as I usually love this kind of stuff.

Rogue One An inevitable purchase and what I’ll most likely be watching tonight. We’ll see if it measures up on another viewing (particularly regards how CGI Tarkin and Leia look on a smaller screen).

Well I’m off to hide in a hole so I won’t be able to buy anymore discs for a bit. Need to watch a few of these first (Garcia– I can’t believe I haven’t gotten around to watching Garcia yet!).

Get Carter

cartr1It was a cold, wet, dark drive to work this morning. Thoroughly dank and dismal. So I put on the John Carter soundtrack on the car stereo (usb memory stick, 32gb of my music, all sorts of weird stuff hiding in there). I haven’t listened to this music -or seen the movie, either, for that matter- in such a long time. It almost sounded new. Suddenly the rain and the traffic were gone and I was adventuring on the sands of Mars.

Its a great fantasy score, and always sounded like a Star Wars kind of score, benefiting from sweeping flourishes and great melodies and orchestration. The irony is that Disney buying Star Wars from George Lucas would kill any John Carter franchise stone dead before it even got released and that Giacchino would later get a ‘proper’ Star Wars scoring gig with Rogue One, which would be a vastly inferior score compared to his John Carter.

Okay, we should maybe cut him a break. In the insane world of modern film-making, Giacchino only had a few weeks to score Rogue One, as he was a last-minute replacement. His Rogue One score is functional and adequate and will likely ensure he gets another Star Wars gig with more favourable conditions someday in the near future.

But John Carter remains a fresh and magnificent score, the kind we don’t get too often these days. Attached to a dead franchise, the score seems to be relegated to forgotten/OOP status- I see the CD soundtrack commanding crazy prices now. Listening to it this morning it rekindled all those ‘what might have been’ fantasies of a series of Carter films and scores.

Death By Star Wars, eh.

The 2016 Top Three

We’ll keep it simple this year, with my favourite films of 2016, starting with…

arr11. Arrival – Yes its an unusually intelligent science fiction film with adult themes, terrific acting and direction, wonderful cinematography and a novel and disturbing score. But its my number one film from this year simply because it was such a gut-wrenching emotional experience for me. The film will not connect with everyone the same way, but I’m certain anybody who has loved and lost and experienced the pain of that, will find something oddly cathartic about the central question behind this film. If you knew ahead how things will turn out,  how much pain and tragedy your life and the choices you make will bring, would you still go through with it, still make those same choices? Its a profound and soulful question with a profound and soulful answer for many. And all this from a science fiction film depicting alien contact, the same central plot so abused by Independance Day and Transformers and so many other silly spectacles .Arrival is a special film, and for me a special cinematic experience. Film Of The Year, no question.

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2. The Revenant– Back when I saw this at the start of the year in early January, I figured this was it, I’ve just seen the Film Of The Year already. For several months,it clearly was, as it was on a different level to everything else I saw. The Revenant looks utterly gorgeous, has a haunting score, some great performances… I came out of the cinema feeling rather shell-shocked. It’s an example of what Doug Trumbull used to call Pure Cinema, a visual and aural feast, and incredibly powerful on the big screen. It isn’t quite so amazing on the small screen but its still certainly the second-best film I’ve seen this year. Most years it indeed would have been Film Of The Year, it just got ambushed by Arrival from out of nowhere.

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3. Rogue One– It has occurred to me that Rogue One may be a case of diminished expectations following The Force Awakens resulting in my enjoying this film far more than I might ordinarily have, but it remains a great Star Wars film (my third favourite in fact).  Its not perfect but you have to applaud the audacity of putting a cgi Peter Cushing onscreen with a bigger role than he actually had in Episode 4, and the sheer ambition of making such a love-letter to the 1977 film in the guise of a Disney blockbuster. The fan-service may have been a little overcooked but to me it all feels more natural and less calculated than The Force Awakens (the latter film doesn’t ever ‘earn’ the death of Han Solo, it simply dumps it onscreen to apparently fulfill contractual obligations to get Harrison Ford back). I’d much rather a Star Wars take chances like Rogue One does (and The Empire Strikes Back decades before it) than strike such a safe path as The Force Awakens (and Return Of The Jedi and all) did. I rather think the standalone ‘Anthology’ films might prove more rewarding than the main saga entries if only because they have more freedom to take those chances. In anycase, it’s my third favourite film of 2016, not what I would have expected after The Force Awakens rather disappointed me.

And there you have it, my favorite three films of 2016.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue12016.98: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  (Cinema)

Frak me, this film was terrible. Awful.

Nah. I’m kidding.

Now, this is how to make a Star Wars movie. It isn’t perfect, there’s a few missteps that mean it’s some way short of greatness, but its a hell of a Star Wars movie. Infact, I haven’t seen one as good as this since 1980- it’s the Star Wars film we’ve been waiting for since The Empire Strikes Back. Its the film that Return of the Jedi deliberately wasn’t, that the prequels weren’t, and The Force Awakens failed to be. What I’m trying to get at is that, well, Rogue One feels authentic. Genuinely ‘Star Wars’ in a way that only the 1977 and 1980 films really were.

Instantly all my gripes about The Force Awakens being a contrived and nervous attempt at rebooting a franchise that doesn’t need rebooting rather than simply continuing, are simply forgotten with this beauty. I came out of the screening buzzing like a twelve year old back in 1978. I knew it wasn’t perfect but man, I’ll forgive every misstep because what a great Star Wars film it is. Genuine Star Wars. Surely there’s no better praise than that. It even possibly revitalises watching Star Wars: A New Hope in future- a hell of an achievement. What a great two-parter/double-bill these two films will make on Blu-ray someday.The writers even managed to put to rest the old joke about how lousy the Empire’s engineers were for building a space station with a dodgy exhaust port. After near-forty years that old joke is finally done.

As usual, I’ll leave spoilers out of this so will keep details vague. I’ll turn to spoilerific details in a few weeks maybe, as it’s best that people see this film knowing as little as possible. I must point out that I deliberately avoided the last few trailers as each successive trailer was clearly revealing too much- what is it with the marketing boys these days, can’t they just tease anymore? As I have already pointed out, the film isn’t perfect, but it nails the look and sound of Star Wars, has so many nods and treats for Star Wars fans, particularly of the original trilogy, that it feels like the perfect Christmas present for someone like me. Fan service isn’t always a bad thing. I didn’t even really mind the rather contentious (apparently) issue of bringing back a Star Wars character (or two) using cgi. It just felt right, and even if it isn’t quite a resounding success (the tech clearly isn’t quite there yet) the kid inside me just reveled at the sheer audacity of it. In a narrative sense it works and its dynamic is one of those things that likely will add to rewatching A New Hope.

Rogue One is a great Star Wars film- the Star Wars film I had given up on ever seeing (especially after The Force Awakens). Wow-  Disney, you turned me around. Keep the anthology films as good as this and the Star Wars franchise will run and run and that $4 billion will seem like small change.

Yep. I really liked it.