The Wave (2015) & The Quake (2018)

thewave2The Wave is a Swedish/Norwegian production, a disaster movie set amongst some of the most beautiful natural scenery one can imagine, and a thoroughly entertaining film which is perhaps, like The Tunnel, only let down by its reliance on those over-familiar tropes which disaster movies always seem to rely on. So we are introduced to a family unit and the central protagonist of the film, Geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner) who alone seems to pick up on signs of an impending disaster and is finally vindicated, sadly, when a mountain pass collapses into the fjord Geiranger, creating a deadly tidal wave 85-metres high that rolls down to a scenic town (and the hotel where his wife works). 

So as far as tropes go, we have Kristian’s unconvinced work comrades, who fail to heed his warnings. We have his marital friction with his beautiful wife Idun (Kathrine Thorborg Jo) who resents him prioritising his work over his family (and possibly also the new job he has taken, which they are in the process of moving home for), and his tense relationship with his teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and his younger daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande, who possibly steals the movie). Inevitably when the disaster occurs and Kristian is proven right, his family is split up and he has to try to ensure their safety by going into danger and saving them from the episodic dramas, surviving all sorts of related dangers ensuing from the tsunami.

While the film feels formulaic and over-familiar (its a lot like the rather glossier San Andreas, but lots of others too) it wins-out thanks to its refreshing, frankly, European setting and its good cast which doesn’t really fit the usual Hollywood mould- none more so than Joner, whose hound-dog everyman is a very ordinary-looking scruffy hero.

Technically the film is pretty well accomplished, with some surprisingly successful visual effects and convincing physical effects, like semi-submerged sets, water damage etc. The episodic nature is just the way things tend to be in these films (we have to get from here to there, and we have to get past this obstacle there etc) and its perhaps unfortunate that the film finally just oversteps the drama with a nod to The Abyss and a drowning/death scene that really slips, as the one The Abyss did, into overwrought nonsense that threatens to spoil everything. 

But on the whole, The Wave works and was successful enough to warrant a sequel, The Quake, in which Kristian’s family find themselves at odds with yet another natural disaster…

So three years have past and the thquakeposterEikjord family unit is more fractured (maybe an unfortunate description, considering what comes) than ever: Idun is divorcing Kristian, who has remained in Gerainger, ridden with guilt for having not successfully warned everyone about the disaster depicted in The Wave, while she with the children have moved to the safer (yeah, good luck with that) location of Oslo where she has a new job in a plush high-rise hotel in the city (whoops). Kristian is finally called to Oslo when a colleague who had reached out to him with vague concerns is killed in an Oslo Tunnel collapse. Investigating his colleagues death with the help of the deceased man’s daughter Marit (Kathrine Thorborg Jo), Kristian discovers indications that a major earthquake is about to strike and as usual, nobody believes him until it happens.

The problem with The Quake is really the same as that of The Wave, except that unfortunately for this film, the sense of over-familiarity is only intensified by it happening to the same family (natural disasters for the Eikjords what bad vacations were for the Griswolds). In what is possibly an acknowledgement of this, the raised stakes here actually result in a real cost, and not all of the Eikjord clan survive this one, a surprise loss that doesn’t really land as possibly intended, but, you know, it at least answers some of the plausibility issues some viewers may have.

Like The Wave, the technical side is very accomplished, and the set-pieces are largely just as thrilling as in the first movie, but they do seem more ridiculous/Hollywood than the more grounded reality of the first film (allusions to San Andreas only more pronounced, here). Curiously, while The Wave had a certain unwise nod to The Abyss, this film has a particular set-piece that features a certain nod to a moment in the second Jurassic Park movie that pushes the term ‘homage’ perhaps a step too far, which is unfortunate because I don’t know why these two films felt the need to nod back to Hollywood blockbusters at all. The films are far better when being more their own thing, but maybe it was inevitable making films like this and feeling the need to compete with glossier Hollywood product.

Both films are pretty good though and well worth anyone’s time, particularly if one has an affinity to the disaster movie genre. I only wonder what the plausibility is of Kristian turning his hand to amateur astronomy and discovering an asteroid on collision course with Norway…

 

.

Dagon wakes: Underwater (2020)

underw1I’ll be honest, I was predisposed to enjoy this film just because of the setting, and the surprising nods to Lovecraft only sealed the deal, so this possibly isn’t the most even-minded, judgemental of reviews. We’re just predisposed to like certain films, I guess.  James Cameron’s The Abyss, for all its faults, is one of my favourite films, and William Eubank’s somewhat ill-fated Underwater (what, not even a DVD release over here?) is like some kind of sequel or perhaps more precisely an  ‘anti-The Abyss’. In Cameron’s film our bold aquanauts meet Spielbergian good-guy aliens who just want us to play nice on the surface, whereas in Underwater our aquanauts meet up with beasties who want us to frak off and die horribly, but both films share the same blue-collar workers in the depths/gritty hardware/grungy reality tropes which nod back to Ridley Scott’s truckers-in-space Alien. The hardware is great in Underwater, particularly the deep-sea suits that they have to wear in order to survive the pressures of the depths and trek across the desolate ocean floor- they are hugely impressive and convincing.  

Underwater initially unfolds like an Irwin Allen disaster movie, with a bunch of survivors trapped in a stricken deep-sea mining platform trying to get back to the surface. The setting is well realised -if vaguely uninspiring/overly familiar, in a Deepcore/Nostromo kind of way- and the characters reasonably defined, our angst-ridden, moody heroine Norah (Kirstin Stewart) surprisingly androgynous as far as traditional heroines go. She manages to find some survivors in the ruins -Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), and wise-cracking comic relief Paul (T J Miller) and after a finely directed claustrophobic crawl-through-the -wreckage sequence they hook up with station commander Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) who has managed to see off the last of the crew in twenty-two surviving life-pods. Lucien and two other crew -Liam (John Gallagher Jr.) and Emily (Jessica Yu Li Henwick)- having now run out of lifepods are trying to find some other way off the station, and Norah and her bunch join the effort.  

underw2My biggest gripe regards the film is that it has clearly been edited down to its bare-bones: it literally starts with a bang, with the drilling station stricken by disaster. It’d be like starting The Abyss with the Deepcore rig being dragged to the edge of the, er, abyss, or Alien starting with the Nostromo landing on the planetoid.  We are not given any time as viewers to acclimatise ourselves with the setting or the premise or the characters, we are just thrown into it and the pace never really lets up over its slim 95-minute running time. The only real information about where we are and whats going on is given during the title sequence in the form of text/news cuttings, and that’s it- clearly this is a deliberate info-dump device which is bookended at the end, too.

This obviously betrays the film as a film of its time, as attention-deficit disorder viewers obviously have very valuable time that they don’t want to waste with movies establishing characterisation and drama in the old-fashioned ways, they just want to get to the action and then go out for a drink and pizza. Very often this kind of thing is done in films to disguise plot holes and bad logic- JJ Abrams is a master of this and Rise of Skywalker possibly the most heinous culprit of late- and its a pity, because Underwater doesn’t really have too many plot-holes it needs to hide away and it could have done with more running-time to establish its characters in more, er, depth (sic). Its hard to care for characters if you don’t know them, and while the film does manage to clearly define them as individuals it only does so by making them unfortunately very simplistic and one-dimensional. The brevity also damages the atmosphere of the film, lacking the time to deepen the mood and tension. Like many-if not all- modern films, Underwater lacks a really good score too: its score by genre veteran Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts is functional at best, and lacks the cloying, disturbing atmosphere, of say Elliot Goldenthal’s similarly-themed Sphere soundtrack.

So while I thoroughly enjoyed Underwater for what it is, there is always a frustrating sense that it could have been more, and that it betrays itself as a possibly troubled production (it was apparently finished in 2018 but left on the shelf for a few years waiting release). While I suppose I’m fooling myself to think there’s possibly a longer, superior extended Directors Cut out there that we’ll never see, I think I’d be right in thinking that if this film had been made in the 1970s or even 1980s, it would be two hours long and better-paced with proper character beats and an improved sense of tension. Like many modern films, this film in its final guise almost feels like a highlights reel, and its likely inevitable that if a studio starts cutting a two-hour movie to ninety minutes, it’ll keep the expensive effects sequences and cut the character stuff.

As it is, after a very limited cinema release earlier this year, Underwater has been dumped on digital rental services here in the UK, without even a DVD or Blu-ray release (never mind 4K UHD). Hey, its not exactly a genre classic but it deserves better. A film like Underwater, as dark as it is, can be particularly hurt by compression issues when streaming it, and to be frank it looked pretty horrible in some of the more frantic murky sequences on the Amazon stream I watched it on. Just another reason to bemoan the move away from physical formats- what a brave new world we have to look forward to, film fans. 

  

James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge

deep1I watched this because I stumbled upon it somewhere in the depths of Amazon Prime’s still rather clumsy interface; turns out I watched this so you don’t have to: my loss, your gain, its one of THOSE reviews I suppose.

I don’t know what it is about James Cameron: he’s made some of the most popular films of our generation, whether it be films I don’t particularlly like (Aliens) or films that I recklessly adore (The Abyss), his films are still a huge part of the cultural zeitgeist, and then, of course, there is Titanic, which is something else entirely, but yeah, he’s one of the most successful and popular directors working today. He’s one of those directors who, if he’s working on a new movie, you sit up and take notice. Hell, he was almost single-handedly responsible for all those expensive cinema visits watching 3D films over the last decade and all those 3D TV’s sold. Its a wonder we can ever forgive him.

Its just that, somehow away from his movies, he’s so instantly irritating; just the sight of him bugs me. I don’t know why; maybe its suppressed jealously of the Man on Top of The World. Its not that I’m belittling his achievements (my last paragaraph hopefully explained that) because hell, his record speaks for itself, and I’m sure he is possibly a very nice guy at heart. Ruthless, maybe; I just have the feeling a Very Sweet Guy would never be able to get a James Cameron movie made, and maybe thats a part of it; he reminds me of Nick Nolte’s character in The Thin Red Line, who I always describe as “one of the worlds biggest bastards” but I suppose that gets the job done.

He seems something of a geek; you can tell that just from the films that he makes and the tv shows he’s been involved with, and I imagine that if he sat me down to tear me a new one about this post we’d possibly end up having a very pleasant conversation about our favourite movies. I don’t know what it is: possibly its my introvert Englishness at odds with his loud brash Americanness (is that such a thing?)  but my God he winds me up whenever he looks at a camera and opens his mouth. And God help me, this documentary has him on camera a lot, and yes he does open his mouth volumously, so yes, it was quite an experience.

Yet I love The Abyss. How can I have such an inherently instinctive irritation regards a guy who made one of my favourite movies? I know there are many issues with The Abyss. yes it is very flawed and yes it features toe-curdling dialogue that makes George Lucas seem a veritable poet, but when I saw it at the cinema many moons ago and later the improved DC edition on VHS way back when it was an engrossing experience like few others.

This documentary, with Cameron taking a brand-new submersible on a record-breaking attempt to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, should be right down my Abyss-loving alley. Well, maybe heres the thing-  while I watched this thing on Amazon Prime, this doc has been released on Blu-ray. Cameron hasn’t deemed it worthy bothering to authorise a Blu-ray release of The Abyss, like ever, in all the years that HD format has been out, and yet he managed to deem this doc worthier of the effort. I can see and hear The Ego playing with his expensive toys in his pursuit of a deepsea dive into the unknown, and yet… Bud Brigman’s dive languishes on non-anamorphic DVD in horrible SD? For the last several years I have refused to rewatch The Abyss because, hell, I’m making a stand for HD (and now 4K-UHD), I’ve had enough of this film in SD and I’m not going to bloody take it anymore, thankyou. I can imagine Cameron pulling me to one side “well, f–k you Smithy, here’s a movie about me on Blu-ray instead. Have you seen the 3D version?”

Here’s another thing- spoilers be damned, when Cameron eventually suceeds and hits rock bottom, as it were (“The Ego has landed” I think he announced, but I possibly misheard him) we find NOTHING. Its like the surface of the moon down there, only darker, obviously, and Cameron’s excitement at discovering a, er, hill, is almost endearing, its so funny. At least Bud found an alien city. WHICH WOULD LOOK BLOODY GREAT IN 4K UHD, JAMES (just saying).

Kingdom of Heaven and the Shelf of Shame

kohWatched the Roadshow Directors Cut of Kingdom of Heaven last night; what a bloody brilliant movie that is. I think Kingdom of Heaven is possibly the best example of the transformative power of the Directors Cut- sure, the DCs of Watchmen and The Abyss are much better than their original cuts, too, but they remain flawed films in many ways, but the DC of Kingdom of Heaven is just, well, to put not too fine a point on it, a bloody brilliant movie, and is one of Ridley Scotts best films. His last truly great film, too, I suspect (I guess its only competition would be The Martian, but, well, I like The Martian but clearly Kingdom of Heaven is the better movie). This is the same guy who brought us Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? I find it so hard to believe; incredible. I make no apologies for stating that this film is one of my favourite all-time movies, which makes it a little odd to confess that I gave not seen it in several years….

Of course, I’ve watched the DC of Kingdom of Heaven several times before- first on a sumptuous R1 DVD edition many years back, and later when it arrived on a lacklustre Blu-ray edition (here in the UK, anyway). The reason why this post features in my Shelf of Shame series is that this copy is the Ultimate Edition steelbook, that contains the three cuts of the film via seamless branching (theatrical, DC and Roadshow cuts) with a second disc containing the exhaustive special features from that old DVD edition. To my frank disbelief I bought this edition back in 2015 and its been sitting on the shelf ever since, which is some kind of madness considering that, as I have mentioned, this is one of my favourite movies. Maybe its the length of the film. The Roadshow version, which features an Overture and an Intermission, runs well over three hours (as I adore the score for this film, I find that Roadshow version by some margin the best version to watch), and like Once Upon a Time in America, the longest films may be the greatest, but they do demand more time and consideration when scheduling.

Oh well, this lockdown and isolation we’re living during Covid19 has to be good for something, right? We have the time, I guess, to enjoy some of these longer films now.  And, er, I really need to rewatch Once Upon a Time in America, too, now that I think about it…

I hate double and triple-dipping but I’ll say here and now, this film desperately needs a 4K UHD edition. Please, someone, by all that’s Picard, make it so. This is one of Ridley’s greatest movies- they put that damned Robin Hood flick of his on 4K UHD, and those Alien prequels, but not this? Kingdom of Heaven looks fine in HD, but there is noticeable banding and blocking in some sections of this film, particularly during fade ins and fade outs, which I suspect is down to the sampling rate limited by the length of the film and the multiple branching over the single disc. Its hard to believe I’m berating a Blu-ray disc when it used to be the pinnacle of home viewing (I wonder how bad the DVD looks like?) but its clear to me that a 4K UHD would handle a lot of such sections, as well as the dark interior scenes, much better than a Blu-ray encode can manage.

I was really buzzing, though, after watching this. As its been a few years since last watching it, some of it surprised me, regards what I had actually forgotten, such as the layers of the storytelling, the different character arcs and moments, particularly in this extended version. Its quite complex and nuanced and features a great cast in great form, with brilliant direction and some really fine editing. Naturally its a beautiful-looking film, but some of the pacing and composition work… really, its the director at the absolute peak of his game, here. I can’t really understand why people talk about Ridley and mention Gladiator etc but not this, but I can only assume that’s because they saw the original version and not the DC. I recall watching that theatrical release back in, crikey, 2005, and being disappointed by it; sure it looked beautiful (as one would expect of Ridley, especially with period pieces) but the whole thing felt simplistic and formulaic. Which is why I rate this edition so highly as an example of just how good extended or directors cuts of some films can really be.

Last Week: Some hopes for disc.

Somehow in this digital age of downloads and streams and ever-declining physical format sales, new announcements still surprise- indeed, all things considered it’s possibly more surprising than ever. Soundtrack releases and news of such have become a little scarce of late (unless you’re a Planet of the Apes fan) as many of the independent labels have run into a few issues lately with the studios they license scores from. But Quartet Records last week announced the release of a remastered and expanded edition of Philippe Sarde’s score for Ghost Story from 1981. The score is one of the finest horror scores but has always had limited releases, first on vinyl and later on a Varese CD that has commandeered high prices on the secondhand market for years. Its a big lush romantic symphonic score that’s also quite gothic and dark, and comes from the era when so many films had such different and unique soundtracks. It was one of my friend Andy’s favourite films and scores. Expect a review towards the end of the month.

Another announcement has been the 4K UHD release of Angel Heart, which I posted about yesterday. Its a funny thing, the films that are getting 4K UHD releases these days (Nic Roeg’s haunting Don’t Look Now got a restored 4K UHS release a few weeks back, also from StudioCanal). Apocalypse Now in 4K arrives this month and Kubrick’s The Shining in September. If done right, these can be the final and definitive editions for the home – pity about my DVD and Blu-ray copies that got us here, but if physical formats are nearing their Retirement Date at least they’re going out with a bang. Hell, rumours were afoot this week that Disney is prepping the original Star Wars films for 4K release next year, and it’s an old adage that when Star Wars hits a format it’s officially hit its stride/become popular so hey, 4K may not be as niche as its cracked up to be.

So anyway, it’s gotten me wondering about James Cameron’s The Abyss, which is enjoying its 3oth anniversary this year. Incredibly we never got the film on Blu-ray at all, so a 4K release would be a big leap from the old DVD release, and there has certainly been rumours around for the past few months (although to be fair, there have been rumours before over the years of an HD upgrade, so wait and see).

The R1 special edition of The Abyss I have was from the halcyon days of the format, when studios repeatedly tried to outdo themselves with ever-more elaborate special editions with documentaries and all sorts of behind the scenes footage and fancy menu animations – one of the things that disappoints with 4K discs is the really primitive front-ends, having to trawl through seperate screens to get to the audio or scene menus? Really? Anyway, if there is any truth to the rumours, we should be hearing some announcement in the next month or so if its coming before the end of this year. It’d be great to cap off my irregular ‘Party like it’s 1989’ reviews with one about The Abyss hitting 4K UHD.

Party like it’s 1989

I’m always slightly amused by studios and/or their marketing departments focusing so much on anniversaries when releasing or re-releasing films on disc. I’d buy a copy of Alien on 4K disc whatever year it came out, it doesn’t have to be the film’s fortieth anniversary, but hey ho, there you go. So anyway, this year we seem to be getting reminded of certain film’s 30th anniversaries this year- The Abyss appears to be getting a new 4K scan or master for release later this year (originally released 9th August 1989, I guess it will slip a bit later than that for a disc release in the Autumn), and Field of Dreams is getting a 4K disc release in May. Unannounced but surely coming is Tim Burton’s Batman, another film from 1989 (looking back, I always feel like 1989 was the year of Batman– it was all over the place in the media, a huge ‘event’ film in the same way Star Wars was). Before all these, Pet Sematary gets a 4K release next week, partly due to its thirtieth anniversary but also thanks to an incoming remake/reboot (hey, before you watch the new one, here’s the old one to watch first so we can make a bit more money out of it).

So anyway, its been getting me a little nostalgic for 1989, which on the face of it never occurs to me as a great year for films, but now that I think of it (and consider those 4K disc/Blu ray release schedules) I have to admit, maybe it wasn’t such a bad year at all. I used to go to the cinema quite a bit back then, and can vividly recall shedding a tear or two to Field of Dreams (in a good way, it’s not as if it was a terrible film or anything, I’d reserve that kind of emotional reaction to something like Black Rain), and coming out of a matinee screening of The Abyss into a full-blown storm, torrential rain lashing across the cineplex car-park in a tempestuous gale that was like I’d brought the film out there with me, one of those disorientating moments that last with you forever.

I remember watching Born on the Fourth of July and Glory on the same day. We went to see Born on the Fourth of July in the afternoon, went home to have a chip tea then went back in the evening to see Glory. Now, the funny thing about that was, we all expected July to be the better film, but were totally amazed by Glory, really swept up by it. It had a phenomenal score by James Horner, and a great score is something I always react to in films, no doubt a big part of why I enjoyed it so much. Another film I saw at the cinema that year with a great score was The ‘Burbs, and I remember scouring record stores looking for that soundtrack for months in vain. Yeah, it was a good year for soundtracks, as I recall, though it would take years for me to finally get a copy of The ‘Burbs score on disc.

Not every cinema trip was as thrilling, mind. 1989 was also the year of Star Trek V: The FInal Frontier, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and, yes, Black Rain, and The Fly 2. Not films I recall really enjoying at all. I remember coming out of Pet Sematary more impressed by the music than the film- I bought the Varese CD and years later the La La Land expansion, but never actually saw the film itself again at all. It was also the year of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a film I enjoyed at the time but has really worn thin on me over the years since. Its a funny thing, how films you were once wowed by later lose their charm, but films you didn’t ‘get’ the first time around sneak up on you (Munchausen is such a crazy maddening folly of a film I eventually couldn’t help but fall in love with it).

Thirty years, though- scary. Mind, I was looking up both Glory and Born on the Fourth of July online and they were released in December 1989 in the States, and it certainly wasn’t December when I saw them, so suspect it was later in 1990 when I saw them that day over here in the UK- release dates could be really staggered back then. After so many years it’s hard to remember very clearly, although I can remember sitting in the cinema at the time and looking over at my mate Andy after Glory ended, both of us shell-shocked by having watched not just two war films at the cinema that same day, but two damn good films at that.  It would never happen again- it’s funny sometimes, you just never know, in the moment, just how special/unusual or unique a day really is. They just come and go but perspective lends us clarity- and thirty/twenty-nine years, whatever it is, it’s certainly some kind of perspective.

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).

How Old is Star Wars?

Star Wars is 39 years old this year. Looking back on Star Wars from now is like being in 1977 and looking back at films made in 1938. Thats films like The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn or James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces. Those are the only films from that year I can recall ever seeing, and back in 1977, those films seemed so old.

Looking back now at Star Wars, it’s hard to feel its really as old as those films seemed to me back then when I was eleven years old. Back then I even thought those great 1950s sci fi movies that I loved were old- films like Forbidden Planet, made in 1956. But in 1977 that was ‘only’ 21 years before. Thats the equivalent of looking back today on films released in 1995- films like Toy Story and Apollo 13 and Heat. Those films don’t feel very old (indeed something like Heat feels like it might have been made only yesterday). But maybe they do seem so old to eleven year old kids watching The Force Awakens now (I wouldn’t recommend that an eleven-year old kid watch Heat but you know what I mean).

This is a pretty scary game. Blade Runner is 34 years old this year, the equivalent of being in 1982 and looking back at films made in 1948. Thats films like Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, or John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre starring Humphrey Bogart. I’d say the former is pretty timeless but the latter a bit old-school compared to Ridley Scott’s film. But compared to films made now, Blade Runner doesn’t feel ‘old-school’ at all, not to me.

Or The Abyss, from 1989. That’s 27 years ago. That’s like being in 1989 looking back at films from 1962, such as the first James Bond film, Dr.No, and David Lean’s magnificent Lawrence of Arabia, or Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcataz. Great films, but in 1989, they felt pretty old. The Abyss doesn’t feel that old now though, hell, I remember watching it at the cinema like it was only a few years ago, not decades ago.

2001: A Space Odyssey is 48 years old, which is the equivalent of having your mind blown by Kubrick’s masterpiece in 1968 and looking back at films made in 1920. Can’t say I’ve ever seen any of those films from 1920, although I’ve certainly read about some of them, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde starring John Barrymore. Of course they were silents and in black and white, a lifetime away from the widescreen glory of 2001‘s feast for the eyes and ears. But maybe to youngsters today, 2001 feels just as old and dated when compared to the films they have now with their virtual worlds and CGI characters.

Anyway, I was just thinking about Star Wars closing in on its 40th Anniversary and wondering what 39 years really means. But its led to all this other rambling about movies and it’s freaking me out. So I’ll stop now before I feel as old as I really am.

The Abyss: The Deluxe Edition OST

abyss de ostIts funny how spoilt we have been over the past few years by soundtracks  being released in expanded/complete form. Some are more deserving than others of course, and I often give news of a release a curious double-take wondering why bother, as I guess the definition of ‘great’ is wholly subjective- we all have our funny preferences/favourites. For myself, I always liked both the movie and soundtrack for THE ABYSS, but never thought it was a score that would ever get an expanded release. It was widely considered a good score, but I doubted anyone would think it deserving of the deluxe treatment. Well, how wrong I was, and here it is, the first notable soundtrack release of 2014 (for me anyway)-Varese’s rather literally-out-of-the-blue THE ABYSS: THE DELUXE EDITION.

As might be expected the sound quality is a vast improvement on the original album from 1989, but the real surprise is the music itself and how the restored cues and sequencing elevates the score. The original disc was nearly 50 minutes long, which was quite reasonable for the time and covered most of the highlights of the score, but in complete form (something like 80 mins or more, with addl alternates bringing it to nearly two hours of music in all) it reveals itself as a rather varied and challenging work, mixing moments of ambience and suspense with precise (albeit rather ordinary) action scoring and quite melodious classical pieces. As a whole the entire thing just seems to work better than memories of the film or the earlier release would suggest, and its a more interesting score than I expected. The atmospheric, suspenseful ambient electronic pieces are very effective bookended by the more traditional melodious orchestral cues, and the whole score feels more balanced than on the original album.

Curiously I was struck by similarities with James Horner’s score for BRAINSTORM, particularly the main title (both the music and, in the film, the actual title reveal, are very similar to that of BRAINSTORM). For some reason I don’t recall this ever occurring to me before, but its blatantly obvious here, particularly as the main title here does not segue into the military drum music as it did on the original album.   Wouldn’t surprise me if Cameron hadn’t temp-tracked the film with some of Horner’s BRAINSTORM score as there are a few other moments in the score that are very similar (interestingly, Cameron had worked with Horner previously on ALIENS and perhaps Cameron originally intended to hire Horner for THE ABYSS?).

abyss original
The original, now utterly redundant, 1989 album.

Likewise there are some illuminating alternates that reveal a warmer, more emotional/traditional score that director James Cameron apparently rejected. The alternate version of  The Only Way coupled with Lindsey Dies indicates greater use of the film’s love theme which were dropped in favour of a perhaps more radical, ambient approach.  Both pieces are very effective and while its debatable which approach was best for the film (I prefer Cameron’s final version, but I can see how some would prefer the warmer approach Silvestri originally intended), its a fascinating glimpse at how differing pieces of music can effect a scene. I love this kind of thing, hearing how the composer originally saw a scene and what music he thought functioned better, before the director or producer gets involved as the film is being cut together.

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent regards Alan Silvestri’s scores in general (although he certainly has his followers), but I really think THE ABYSS is revealed here as one of his finest works. Both the complete score and its many alternates included here reveal an ambitious score and how much effort Silvestri clearly put into it.

Although Silvestri seems to have been rather quiet of late, his work perhaps out of favour in Hollywood, I read recently that he has been signed to write the score for the remake of Carl Sagan’s COSMOS tv series. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been too impressed at the news, but listening to THE ABYSS and its varied score, I think it may turn out to be a bold and interesting development. We shall see.

Cinema Memories

One of the things I miss about not going to the cinema so much these days is the memories that goes with seeing a great movie. Its not the same when its just putting a disc in a player and ejecting it when the film is over. The actual viewing experience can be the same, or even superior, considering how many morons frequent cinemas these days and how good HD transfers look on a quality screens at home. But I do miss the stuff that surrounds a cinema experience, the memories that stick around. Its not quite the same when it involves the postie delivering a film and you sitting down to watch it on an evening like any other.

For instance, I remember watching COCOON on an autumnal Sunday in town- I enjoyed the film and in particular the James Horner score (I was a big Horner fan back then), but as we walked across town afterwards to catch the bus home, we were fascinated by the silver crescent moon in the sky above us, wintry clouds scudding across it. The moon was such an iconic image in the film and it’s fine poster-art, it seemed like a real-life echo of the movie. As if the film experience was bleeding into reality. It was weird, and something that I always recall when seeing a crescent moon.

One of my strangest moments was with THE ABYSS. I saw it on a Saturday afternoon in high summer, on a glorious sunny day. I’d actually been in town that morning and bought the soundtrack in advance (I used to do daft things like that back then). I remember it being a fine hot day, picked up my friends and drove over to the local multiplex. Now, I really loved THE ABYSS, even its theatrical cut. It was such an authentic experience, the dark dank wetness of the thing, you know? It was like being there, down in the deep cold depths. How bewildering it seemed, then, walking back out to the car-park afterwards, out into the  bright, warm sunshine. It was like some kind of shock, a bewildering return to reality. I remember how disconcerting it seemed at the time. When I went to watch film again the next week, I went on an evening, and it seemed less alarming walking out into a cool dark night, it just felt right.

And of course there was BLADE RUNNER, with the feeling that I had somehow truly been to 2019 (how distant that date seemed back in 1982!). It remains my most intense cinema experience. I was walking around for days, weeks, months looking at the world with new eyes, seeing the slivers of Ridley’s future world in my reality, something that has carried on to this day. We are living in so much of that 2019 now. But back in that September early evening the world of 1982 was the one that didn’t feel real, I felt I’d left the real world behind in that ABC cinema. Maybe all these intervening years have been a slow return to that reality. We’ll never really quite get there, alas (flying cars!).

And then there’s the emotional ‘buzz’ that follows a great movie- I remember walking out of SUPERMAN 2 with John William’s fanfare ringing in my ears feeling like I could fly. Then coming back down to reality with such a bump. It was, after all, only a movie, the world didn’t have a Superman, and I couldn’t really fly.

Thats the magic of trips to the cinema that generations of filmgoers have experienced, an escape from their own humdrum reality, whether it be GONE WITH THE WIND or BEN HUR or STAR WARS or AVATAR. We’ve all walked out with the films and their ‘realities’  lingering in our heads. You might get something like that watching a film on disc at home, but not so intense a feeling as from the cinema experience. Mind, there’s plenty wrong with the cinema experience too- I much prefer watching films at home these days, but I accept the related memories just aren’t the same now.