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.

 

For the BR2049 Bookshelf

cinefexBack in 1982, I remember standing in the old Andromeda Bookshop in Birmingham, upstairs in the magazine section. looking through Cinefex issue 9, which was devoted to Blade Runner. I very nearly bought it, but on limited pocket money funds decided to buy a few REH paperbacks instead, and maybe pick up the Cinefex at a later date. Damned fool I was. There was never any later date for Cinefex 9, as it quickly sold out and I spent years looking for a copy. Fortunately the issue was reprinted by Titan books in a hardback book many years later, which itself is OOP now and fetching rather large sums, so I did manage to eventually own and read it.

So, when I learned the latest issue of Cinefex would feature BR2049, I quickly ordered it, keen on history not repeating. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a pretty good read. It doesn’t look as if Cinefex devotes issues to single films as it used to (God knows there’s far more effects films these days than there used to be) so the BR2049 article shares the issue with articles on Dunkirk, The Dark Tower and the latest Kingsman film. Consequently the coverage isn’t as in-depth as it was for the original film (the issue also devotes a few pages to a pictorial of the original Blade Runner coverage from 1982, which is nice but does raise the forlorn wish that the issue might have simply been devoted to both films).

Of course in the good old days Cinefex coverage meant brilliant pictures of behind the scenes stuff, like models being built and matte paintings being painted on glass, and on the whole that’s all gone now thanks to CGI taking over. But BR2049 does feature extensive miniatures so there’s some nice pictures of that, amongst the CGI renders and wireframes that no-one on this planet can make exciting. I think the Cinefex article suffers from the cloak-and-dagger secrecy around the film prior to release, so although it discusses the creation of the 1982 Rachel, it doesn’t have any images to back it up, which have been made available elsewhere on the internet since the films release. Ultimately it’s a good article but not as exhaustive or complete as I would have liked, but hey, it’s different times now. We don’t even have the massive articles of Cinefantastique these days either. Progress, eh?

artbrA much more complete package, imagery-wise at least, can be found in The Art and Soul of Blade Runner 2049 book. Its an oversized (and consequently rather expensive, although Amazon have since reduced the price substantially) coffee-table book, that from the title might be inferred to be an art book but is actually more of a making-of book, dominated more by behind the scenes and production photographs than artwork. As a visual record and memento of the film and how it was made, it’s quite brilliant and everything a fan of the film could hope for. The imagery for the visual effects material is superior to the Cinefex article, although the text less substantial (so yeah, you really need both sources, unfortunately). The book also shares some of the limitations of the Cinefex article regards some of the more closely-guarded sequences (no imagery, again, of the CGI Rachel for instance).

It’s a brilliant book though. I might have preferred more substantial text but the imagery is breathtaking in the film so consequently that gets reflected here. There are some lovely behind the scenes shots and commentary about the film. It’s exactly the kind of book that I would have loved to see about the original film. Both are intensely visual experiences, and the Blade Runner ‘bible’ Future Noir is severely lacking in that regard. So maybe someone might write a more in-depth book about making BR2049 someday, who knows, but for now this will more than suffice.

george-hull-br6.jpgI almost wish one of the actors could have written a diary like Bob Balaban did for CE3K, that was a great book. Walter Koenig did a similar fly-on-the-wall book for ST:TMP. You don’t see that kind of book/coverage anymore but both were fascinating glimpses of the frustrations of making technically-demanding films and managing all the boredom behind the scenes. Yeah we get loads of DVD/Blu-ray featurettes on the best disc releases these days but that’s never as impartial/balanced coverage as one would prefer.