Another Thing…

anotherThingWhilst on the subject of John Carpenter movies (cunning link there to yesterday’s post) I’ve found myself pre-ordering another copy of The Thing, this time the 4K UHD edition that Universal are releasing in September. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought this film on a home video format: DVD twice, Blu-ray twice… actually I think it may have been three times on Blu-ray, and that is just plain insane even to me. But it’s The Thing, and it’s on 4K UHD, and it is surely the last copy of this film I will ever buy. Please, lord, the last time. I’m beginning to think the 4K format is the work of the Devil.

It is rather quietly ironic, in what is supposed to be the slow decline of physical media, that we can still be suckered into buying these new editions of films we’ve bought so many times before. Its likely no accident that Carpenter is so well-represented on 4K disc (Prince of Darkness, Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and They Live with more likely to follow before the disc replicators finally grind to a halt), as his films have always been very popular on home video formats. I remember back when VHS started here in the UK, Escape From New York was one of the first big ‘hits’ on rental in 1983, partly because its a good film but also because it sported, at the time, a pretty amazing stereo track the likes of which previously unheard of in the home. Of course it was on VHS in pan and scan/pain an’a scam format but hey, it was 1983 and our televisions tended to be still black and white even then, and absolutely 4:3. How times change, but some Things (see what I did there?) stay the same, sort of.

Trucking Hell: William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977)

sorcererWilliam Friedkin’s Sorcerer is a wild journey into darkness that shares much with Apocalypse Now‘s nightmarish sensibilities. Four men are forced to flee civilisation in order to escape punishment for their crimes and they wind up in some hellish, unnamed South American country teetering on the brink of revolution, in a village being reclaimed by the Jungle from which it was torn. A world being washed away by the rain and buried in the mud. The only possible escape these men have is a near-suicidal journey driving two trucks over two hundred miles through dense wild jungle, each truck carrying loads of dangerously unstable old nitroglycerine which is needed to blow out an oil refinery blaze. A journey from darkness into darkness, from Hell into Hell.  The film’s conclusion feels as bleak and inevitable as the ending of John Carpenter’s The Thing. A pleasant and jolly film this is not.

Unsurprisingly, the film did not fair too well when it was released during the summer of Star Wars in 1977. Indeed, it was as doomed as the four protagonists it features- that summer, audiences wanted escape and a positive, life-affirming message. They didn’t want the nihilism of Sorcerer and simply abandoned it, the film becoming a notorious financial disaster. The film suffered a similar fate to Blade Runner and The Thing five years later, when they were released during the summer of Spielberg’s extraterrestrial calling home – but I think like those two films, Sorcerer has benefited from some kind of reappraisal over the years. Its not a perfect film; its messy and unfocused and often gratuitous in an almost adolescent way, but I found it absolutely fascinating and very disturbing.

Its a very intense film, with a nightmarish feeling akin to Adrian Lyne’s  Jacobs Ladder, or the dread inevitability of Alan Parker’s Angel Heart: I’m not at all surprised by readings of the film that consider the four protagonists literally in Hell, suffering for their sins. Its unrelentingly grim, and not one of the four protagonist’s stories ends well: this, in the summer of Star Wars? In hindsight, the fate of the film seems inevitable.

The bridge sequence, in which the trucks try to cross a river in a terrible storm over a dangerously unsafe rope-bridge is incredibly well realised, particularly as it dates from a pre-CGI era.  You can almost feel the wind and the rain of the storm and share the nervous terror of the protagonists as the bridge threatens to collapse. What it must have been like watching that in the cinema back then…. how intense that must have felt. And of course, how incredibly difficult filming it. Watching Sorcerer was the nearest thing to watching Apocalypse Now, aghast at the obvious horror it must have been making it: at least with Coppola’s film the hard work must have seemed worth it, vindicated by the critical and popular response to the film on its release. How crushing it must have seemed for those behind Sorcerer when all that work seemed wasted upon the films critical and popular failure. 

In any case, the sheer insanity of the film, its almost delirious sense of unrelenting nightmare, well, I found it quite an almost perverse pleasure. They certainly don’t make films like this anymore. 

 

 

25th June

signdeluxeI had intended to post on Thursday (June 25th) about a number of things- firstly the fact that it was the 38th Anniversary of the release of both Blade Runner and The Thing in America. Just imagining those two classic films being released on the same day is pretty wild- studios seem much more cautious these days about releasing tent-pole films at the same time, preferring to allow each other at least a week or two for each such release to dominate screens/recoup costs before the next big release comes along. Just imagining genre fans over in America being able to go to the cinema and watch both films on that opening weekend, or even on the same day, rather blows mind. Just imagining it was 38 years ago blows my mind too, but for all the wrong reasons.

Simultaneous international releases were simply not a thing back then, so over here in old blighty we had The Thing in August and Blade Runner a few weeks later in September (I was too young to get into a screening of The Thing, eventually watching a pirate copy on VHS later that Autumn, but did indeed see Blade Runner on its first weekend- the rest, as they say, is a well-documented history here on this blog).

On Thursday I also wanted to comment on the official announcement that day of Prince’s classic album Sign o’ The TImes getting a Super Deluxe release. Widely rumoured over the weeks prior, the announcement set in stone the contents and packaging, both of which was subsequently scrutinised and deliberated on forums worldwide. On the whole, the track contents are excellent with very few glaring omissions, and I’m particularly pleased to see All My Dreams (a wildly bizarre track only Prince could come up with) and two versions of Witness 4 the Prosecution (the kind of funky classic that only Prince could create and then shelve) included- these are two of my favourite Prince songs that have appeared on bootlegs. As with last year’s 1999 Super Deluxe, the fact that I have heard most of the vault tracks listed for Sign o’ Times Super Deluxe in bootleg form in the years since Prince’s passing seems a double-edged sword; on the one hand the prospect of hearing what I know are really great songs in better quality is really exciting, on the other hand, the sense of discovery most fans will experience hearing these vault releases for the first time is something I’m quite envious of.

Of course there are many tracks included I haven’t heard before either, and some bootleg material from that period apparently missing but hopefully planned for the Parade Super Deluxe that is already being worked on – indeed originally this was actually intended as the follow-up to 1999 Super Deluxe but rights issues for Warner caused a rethink, as the label owns Parade material (and that of other film-related Prince material like Purple Rain and Batman) in perpetuity but the non-film albums move to Sony from next year. So Warner obviously figured that if it wanted to profit from a deluxe edition of what is widely considered Prince’s finest album/period, it had to do it now, and leave the other albums for 2021/2022. I think that’s fair enough, considering all the work the label did for Prince during that period of his career. No doubt we’ll also get a ‘proper’ Purple Rain Super Deluxe after those, too (for the 2024 anniversary?). The bitter irony that it took Prince’s passing to enable these releases to ever surface is not lost on me, indeed, its never far from my mind when getting excited by these releases.

Hopefully we fans will benefit from the oversight of both the Parade and Sign o’the Times Super Deluxe projects being worked on pretty much at the same time, ensuring a wealth of material between them- on the evidence of the Sign o’the Times release, that seems pretty likely.

Regards the packaging, it does seem a bit of a shame that the Estate hasn’t been able to ensure that all the CD versions of the Super Deluxe releases match each other in design, but the 12″ format of the Sign o’ The Times release means we get a lovely, impressive-looking 120-page book as part of the package. Its large size hopefully means that I’ll find it easier to read. I liked the compactness of the 1999 Super Deluxe and that it fits on my shelf with other CDs but my word, my eyesight has failed over the past year or two on the evidence of how I struggle with that boxes booklet. It should come with a magnifying glass or something. Hopefully when Sony takes over for other Prince Super Deluxe releases perhaps they will maintain this 12″ format (and likewise Warner with its own future releases).

 

 

Prince of Darkness 4K UHD

pdark1.jpgI’m always a little wary revisiting old favourites. I’m pleased to say that John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, which I haven’t actually seen since back in the DVD days, holds up very well today. I thoroughly enjoyed the film from start to finish- harking back to Hammer’s classic Quatermass & The Pit this is a thought-provoking, intelligent horror film full of ideas. Okay, as a horror film, it may suffer a little from lack of genuine scares and perhaps a budget a little too short for its lofty ideas (this is a film, after all, that was made for a paltry $3 million), but it really does feel fresh and interesting. As with They Live a few days ago, its such a pleasure watching a great John Carpenter movie.

And it does look lovely in 4K- better than I ever saw it before infact, although admittedly the last time I saw it was on DVD, as we never got a Blu-ray release over here. Honestly its been so many years since I saw this at the cinema back in 1987 there is no way I can compare this to its theatrical presentation, but I can’t imagine it was any better than this. Detail is excellent, really impressive, the colours are vibrant and even the night scenes hold up well- when they do suffer from crushed blacks its obviously inherent in the source and the original photography.  It really looks gorgeous and I am thrilled to have this film in 4K.

One of the chief pleasures watching this film again, was of course its great cast of b-movie actors- and I say that with some affection. These thespians (other than the great Donald Pleasence) were never destined to be superstars of the screen but several have links to some of Carpenter’s other films- familiar faces from other favourite films are always endearing and a pleasure to see. As well as seeing Pleasence again (Halloween & Escape From New York),  there are Victor Wong and Dennis Dun (both from Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, Village of the Damned and other Carpenter flicks).

However, I was struck again by the great performance of Lisa Blount as the female lead (and ultimate hero of the film albeit with a terrible fate- that last shot of her always fills me with horror) and I wondered at how she never became a bigger star. Looking her up on IMDB I sadly learned that she had passed away back in 2010 at the age of just 53. Not for the first time I am struck by sobering reality when looking up someone from an older film on IMDB to see they have passed, a life summarized by a brief bio and filmography. Its a perspective I don’t really like and it makes me increasingly reticent to look people up on IMDB.  It left a bit of a shade upon my experience of rewatching this great movie.

I would not suggest that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film- far from it. It never really lives up to the promise inferred by its great nine-minute title sequence and it does noticeably sag towards the end as the characters sort of do nothing at all while the film waits for night to fall again. The ending doesn’t really have the impact it should but the coda  with its cheeky scare has a truly chilling final shot that infers all sorts of grim horror to follow in the viewers imagination- a great thing for a horror movie to do. Indeed, this film has always been a favourite of mine chiefly from all the ideas behind it, all the concepts going on that linger in the mind afterwards, rather than anything particularly in the film, strangely. Not all films do this.

The film has an absolutely perfect score that has always been a favourite of mine (I originally had the soundtrack on audio cassette that says everything about the age of the film, funnily enough) and I really do rate the film as being one of Carpenter’s very best. In my book, there’s The Thing, Escape From New York, They Live and Prince of Darkness.. but then again, Big Trouble in Little China is no slouch, and I love In the Mouth of Madness‘ Lovecraft vibe and The Fog is a lovely old-fashioned ghost story and.. yeah, well, this is why lists are so useless- Carpenter may have made a few duds late on but he made some great films.

Anyway, this film with They Live really has me hoping for the best with the release of Escape From New York on 4K UHD later this month.

 

Annihilation (2018)

AnnihilationIts a pity that Paramount decided to sell Alex Garland’s quite brilliant Annihilation to Netflix for international markets rather than risk financial woes with a cinema release, but considering what films are successful out there these days and what cinema audiences seem to prefer it’s a perfectly understandable decision, sadly- not one I agree with, but I can understand their thinking.  The film is certainly a tough sell and demands a lot from the audience, including patience and a willingness to do some work, and the ending is indeed, while I won’t go into spoiler territory, something that must have made the execs nervous.

That all said, this film finally got me subscribing to Netflix and I’m so glad I did- this one film worth a months subscription alone (and hey, I get a free month first anyway). While I’m sad that I won’t be able to watch it on a big screen, I’m glad I won’t have to suffer the irritating mobile phone habits and other moronic behaviour that is infecting modern cinema audiences, instead thrilling to this brand new film in the comfort of my home. Maybe this is the future for serious science fiction films anyway- while its wrong to think of BR2049 as a failure (sure it didn’t break even, but it did pretty well considering its length/certificate/intelligence) and no Netflix deal might have saved it, there is certainly an argument to be made to leave the cinemas to the mindless blockbuster spectacles.  You just have to manage the budgets a bit more effectively, I suppose, and question if BR2049 and Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune simply have to be huge to tell their story or if instead its possible to go with a smaller scope.

ann2At any rate, Annihilation is a wonderfully intelligent, thought-provoking and emotionally demanding science fiction film. In places its as horrific as Carpenter’s The Thing, in others as fascinating as Villeneuve’s Arrival, in others as disturbing as Kubrick’s The Shining and as mystifying as his  2001: A Space Odyssey. If that description doesn’t make this film essential to you then I pity you. Its pretty wonderful and the fact that a studio doesn’t think that it can release a film such as this in cinemas is pretty damning, really. But here we are, its 2018 and cinema and television and how we watch films is changing all the time (I sincerely hope we get a disc release with a commentary and other extras eventually).

Like in Arrival, there is a real sense of something truly alien and strange in this film, something transformative about the experience of watching it. There all sorts of subtexts and mysteries playing within it. Is the visitation that creates the Shimmer, a region of expanding space that threatens to eventually consume all the Earth, an event of Extra-Terrestrial contact or of a religious one, or both? Is the film actually about our bodies betraying us, the horror of cancer, of having no control of what is within us, makes us?  We see tantalising glimpses of something utterly alien and beyond human understanding, and yet at the same time the horrors are familiar, internal ones. Transformation from self-destruction, everything that lives, dies, and we lose everything, even our minds, eventually, given Time. And even Time betrays us.

Beyond that, I won’t say anymore about this movie. I think it’s wrong to spoil any of this movie and I hope everyone gets to see it unaware of the secrets/pleasures ahead of them. In awhile I’ll return to this film in more detail but for now, yeah, it’s as good as everyone says and I hope everyone who wants to gets to see it (not everyone has Netflix or wants it). While just sitting down to watch a new movie still playing in cinemas Stateside was something of a pleasure it is also something of a poisoned chalice for fans of serious science fiction or adult film making in general. Is this, afterall, the future? And it can’t be denied, no matter how much I enjoyed this film, it would have been an immeasurably more powerful experience in the cinema.

Next-Gen Griswold: Vacation

vacation2017.78: Vacation (2015)

One of the blights of the last few decades of film-making has been the industry’s propensity towards remakes/prequels/sequels/reboots of existing intellectual properties, whether it be old movies or tv-series. We’ve seen big-screen outings for Starsky & Hutch, Baywatch and the A-Team and so many other old tv-shows. And don’t get me started on the number of film properties that get resurrected- from 1982 alone, we’ve seem a  prequel to The Thing, a reboot of Conan, a sequel to Blade Runner, a remake of Poltergeist, a sequel to Tron. It seems anything goes. No sooner as Ben Affleck quits his current Batman role, it is just taken for granted that another fresh Batman will immediately hit the silver screen, for better or worse.

One of my family’s favourite film series of the VHS era was National Lampoon’s Vacation series, in which the hapless Griswold family endured terrible holidays to great comedic effect. The whole family would sit down and enjoy them- we must have watched those films so many times. Even today there is an enduring charm to the films, and I can watch Christmas Vacation every year during the Christmas holidays and still get a giggle out of it. Sometimes films age like wine, somehow, no matter how truly average they originally were. Nostalgia no doubt plays a part of that, and no doubt that’s why we get so many reboots and remakes anyway- that, and the intellectual and creative desolation that is modern Hollywood.

So here we have what amounts to the Griswolds: The Next Generation, in which the young son of the originals, Rusty, now a married man with two kids of his own, decides to re-capture the disastrous family holidays of his youth by taking his own family on a roadtrip across America to Wally World. In that weird way so many of these reboots fashion themselves, its part-continuation, part-remake. It’s a road-trip like the first film, it features a hire-car like the first film, they have all sorts of mis-adventures like in the first film. Many of the gags are direct references to the first film, such as Christie Brinkley’s supermodel in a supercar whose drive-by flirtation with our hero in the first is reprised here, a gag probably working better here than others, with a great twist that offers something new.

I suppose the question is, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? And if this is what a Vacation movie is, why should it be anything more? On the whole it’s a poor imitation of the original, as it largely misses the chemistry of the original leads and can’t help but feel over-familiar and tired (as so many reboots/remakes do). But I still got plenty of laughs out of it, once I’d warmed into it twenty minutes in. Its a Vacation movie, and quite fun. You know what you are getting- it ain’t great, but it ain’t bad. Is that damning it with faint praise?

2017 Selection Pt.7

2017gWell, after a  year of some success regards curbing my disc-buying, everything went out the window towards the end of the year. I mean, just look at that haul above, which dates from around Sept onwards I think. This 2017 selection update is clearly way overdue, and with so many additions I almost gave up on it, but I suppose that would have defeated the point of all those preceding posts so here we are.

So a quick run-through seems in order. The sales caught up with me with The Walk and Nocturnal Animals. You can’t go wrong at about £4 each. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was my favourite cinema experience up until BR2049 swept me away- I may be in the minority, but I do think Galaxy 2 is superior to the original. Wonder Woman didn’t particularly fill me with wonder but it was still cheaper than a cinema visit and I’ll inevitably rewatch it sometime.

While I quite enjoyed Alien:Covenant at the cinema, it fared less well on disc, but I chiefly bought it for the Ridley Scott commentary, which unfortunately I haven’t heard yet (come on Ridley, explain it to me, what’s going on with the Alien franchise?).  The Vikings, meanwhile, is a great catalogue release- it’s a brilliant film brought to HD with a beautiful picture quality and worthwhile extras. Brilliant. Then of course we come to one of  the releases of the year- the simply gorgeous Arrow edition of The Thing, here in its LE variant- a lovely matt-finish hard box with the Amaray slipped inside with a book and artcards and poster. Regardless of the package, it’s the remaster of the film that is the big draw- it’s perfect. I almost dread the inevitable proper 4K release one day- I’ve really brought this film too many damn times already.

Then Indicator’s Hammer box (the first of four, I believe) heralded the Autumn of big releases coming up. I just cannot resist Hammer, and while the Sony Hammers that Indicator have access to are not exactly the Premier league of Hammer their treatment is exemplary and I really rather enjoyed them all. Some nice surprises in this set.

So here we come to the start of the spending madness.2017h

In My Mind was an impulse purchase, a great documentary about The Prisoner, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Season three of The Leftovers was another import due to there being no HD release here, which was followed by the exact opposite- a release that tempted me with one too many HD options. HBOs Westworld really impressed me when aired and was a disc release that I was looking forward to all year, and it turned out to be my first dual-HD format purchase, as I bought the tin with both 4K and blu-ray discs. Of course, I don’t have a 4K telly yet and have no idea when my current perfectly-fine Bravia will fail and cause any 4K replacement. Months? Years? It feels a bit silly but already future-proofing is on my mind. That slick packaging likely swung it.

La La Land was another sale purchase, and I really enjoyed it- I only hope I won’t regret not waiting for the 4K edition to come down in price. The Farthest is a simply brilliant doc about the Voyager space mission and Captain Scarlett in HD needs no explanation for anyone like me who grew up on a diet of Gerry Anderson magic.  Then of course two blockbusters I didn’t see at the cinema- Spiderman Homecoming and War For the Planet of the Apes, both great movies. They look great in HD but again, should I have stretched out to the 4K editions? I have a feeling that question will be a routine one going forward.

2017g (2)So then we come into Decembers offerings. Two more tv series boxsets follow- season 7 of GOT and the sublime wonder that is the Twin Peaks series three set. When in the world I will actually get to watch them I don’t know (the last three sets of GOT have sat on the shelf waiting for the past few years- I love the show and having only seen them on Sky Atlantic over the in-laws are surely ripe for proper viewing without breaks etc but somehow it never happens). A few more sale buys follow- 4K/Blu-ray of the notorious marmite flick Valerian that might prove to be a disastrous purchase (haven’t seen it yet) and two anime titles from a Christmas sale at All the Anime; the tv series Terror in Resonance (actually in a deluxe set in a huge box that’s hardly shelf material) and the twin set of Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond, two rather curio films that I have been interested in for years but never seen.

Finally, last weeks Arrow release of The Apartment, one of my top ten fave films in a lovely set with some new extras and a book, and the extended 4K/Blu-ray release of The Martian. The latter has been on my radar for ages but was in one of those flash-sales at Amazon last week (I bought it whilst surfing on a break at work, and the price had already gone up again by the time I got back home later in the day). Bit daft really, I wanted it mostly for the commentary and addl extras but figured if I was double-dipping I might as well go the 4K route whilst doing it.

Christmas presents/festive sales may yet add to the selection and require another post. But clearly I already have my work cut out for me regards the to-watch pile. Breaking the barrier into 4K purchases is a troubling event that may prove to be a trend next year (I already have the 4K BR2049 pre-ordered) which frankly feels a bit silly knowing a 4K telly and Ultra HD player may yet be over a year away. But double-dipping is so frustrating maybe it’s the only solution. Will 2018 be the year I buy discs I can’t even watch yet? Shudder.

 

 

 

 

Of Things and Replicants

th1One of the pleasures/appeals of both The Thing and Blade Runner originate from their…. I hesitate to call them ‘mistakes’, but in all honesty it’s hard to consider them deliberate constructions.  Both films somehow created genius from chaos, perfection from accident. One of the timeless appeals of Blade Runner is the question of whether Deckard is human or Replicant, but during the making of the film it wasn’t a deliberate conceit, more one created from the melting-pot of the films confused conception. The writers wrote the character as human, the actor played him as human- the idea of him actually being that which he was hunting was an idea that appealed to director Ridley Scott and is one he has played upon ever since, particularly in subsequent re-edits of the film.  The strength of it is the ambiguity of it’; there seems no definitive answer, only hints and suggestions and contradictions which are left for the viewer to decipher.

I suppose it raises the issue of authorship; who is the central creator of a film and whose opinion really matters. Or maybe it’s all about teamwork which even includes the viewer as a participant in that teamwork and authorship.

In the case of The Thing, the role of the viewer as author is based upon the films confusion regards who is the Thing and what constitutes the Thing in the first place, all of which predicates on how one ‘sees’ the ending of the film. The film is never clear (except perhaps in two or three cases) who exactly is the Thing or when the they ‘became’ the Thing. A strength of this is the rising state of paranoia and conspiracy as the events unfold, but one might also view it as confusing and a lack of control by the film-makers. It establishes that the Thing ‘infects’ a subject and on a cellular level absorbs or replicates that host, but on a macro level demonstrates that it feeds and destroys that host as it duplicates it (what it does to the dogs in the kennel early on, or how we see it attacking some of the humans later, or leaves torn and bloody clothing in its wake). I have often felt that much of this stems from Rob Bottin and his creature effects crew dreaming up ever wilder and graphic set-pieces which, while spectacular, are almost at odds with the more subtle suggestions from the screenplay.

There is a suggestion, for instance, that one does not know one is the Thing, while also a suggestion that the Thing knows who is the Thing (due to glances between characters like Palmer and Norris). The latter would infer that at the films conclusion, at least one of Childs or MacReady must be human because they don’t ‘know’ each other’s real identity of human or Thing (because if they were both the Thing they would be triumphant and content to wait out eventual rescue). We are offered alternatives- they are both human but suspicious of each other, or one is the Thing and content to let the human die while it is content to freeze and thaw out later upon rescue, or both are The Thing and don’t know it. It could be any of those possibilities. Should the film be settling upon one and establishing it?

The blood test sequence is a highlight of the film and it is based upon the mystery of not knowing who is the Thing or indeed if oneself is the Thing- witness the relief on characters faces when they pass the test, a fantastically paranoid conceit which which means nothing if the Thing knows it is the Thing.  But whilst it establishes that Palmer fails the test and is indeed the Thing (betrayed by his own blood cells, which raises other questions of what constitutes the Thing and hive mentality etc), it always raises questions in me regards why he/it doesn’t act sooner, why he allows himself/itself to be tied up and cornered like that. Unless he doesn’t know, but this itself seems at odds with his apparent resignation just prior to being discovered as the alien. And yet a little earlier when he delivers his famous line “You’ve got to be fucking kidding!” he seems so human and so shocked at what Bottin magic he is witnessing. Its as if the script and the film is wrestling with itself, a chaotic mess from which order may or may not emerge.

All this confusion and apparent lack of control allows room for the viewer to step in and interpret things (sic) as he wishes. A critical view might suggest that this ambiguity is a weakness in Carpenter’s direction, that perhaps he himself lost control of who is the Thing and when, and indeed what the Thing actually is. But it undoubtedly becomes the films strength, when even at films end, viewers can have opposing views of what it all means or what has actually just happened. Happy accident/coincidence? Or just the viewer repairing a broken film?

SomeTHING Arrow this way comes…

thing1The other night when I watched this, it was dark early and getting cold outside and I commentated to my wife that it was a perfect night to watch The Thing. “Who on Earth would consider releasing this in the summer?” I said, shaking my head. “But of course, they did- in the middle of June in fact.” My wife is hardly concerned with the vagaries of film releasing and marketing, but even she can see the insanity of releasing a horror film such as this in high summer.

I suppose studios back then thought -and maybe they still do- that big films simply have to be released in the summer per the example set by Jaws and all those summer hits that followed annually ever after. But The Thing is such a winter horror movie its frankly mind-boggling to consider audiences walking out of a showing reaching for ice cream and a chilled coke in dazzling hot sunshine. It’s almost indecent.

Anyway, this edition of The Thing is simply perfect. The film has never looked or sounded better and all the old extras are there as well as a few new ones. Well, to be fair the new ones are a bit meh – I turned the new commentary track off after about twenty minutes of inane podcast-worthy chatter. Maybe I’ll give it another go, see if it settles down, but how does anyone do a lousy commentary track for a film like The Thing? Incredible. Someone give me a microphone and I’ll show how a quality commentary track should be done for a film such as this. A new feature-length doc has a welcome focus on the original short story and the Howard Hawks film, but offers little new regards the Carpenter film. There’s an interview panel with a few of the cast from 2017. A featurette about all the genre films from 1982 and how they suffered the wrath of a cute ugly alien suggests a nostalgic glow but slips into a talking-heads piece offering, again, little new. But in anycase, its the film that matters and it’s indeed never looked as good as this. Its a real pleasure to watch it looking so amazingly good.

Oh, and there’s a particularly good fan-short, The Thing: 27,000 Hours,  inspired by the film that is just brilliant and a lovely hint at what a sequel might have been like…

1982

As I write this, 35 years ago.

Half a lifetime ago I guess. I was sixteen.

I remember, walking with a group of friends (most of whom I have not seen in decades- in that pre-social media era freindships had a habit of splintering off forever,  lives spinning off like shattered shards of glass). We were walking to another’s house on the other side of our council estate, to play Dungeons and Dragons (we were RPG-junkies for a few years back then). I remember walking down a street as we made our way across, talking about Blade Runner, thinking about the film’s year of 2019. Worked out how many years ahead it was, how old I would be in that year. A time so long-distant to a sixteen-year-old! 2019 was some incredibly far-off shore, a distant alien landmark, way past that other notable year, 2001, that figured so highly in our geek estimations.

It’s odd to consider that Kubrick’s special year was such a landmark to my generation and those before us-  2001: A Space Odyssey! Those very words were exciting, powerful, they carried some kind of arcane meaning. People now, kids, likely look back on it as just any other date, just another old movie. For us it was something bigger than us, something evocative of a space-faring future ambition. We had visions of returning to the moon, going to Mars. Even in 1982 it all seemed a matter of when, not if.

In hindsight, we were pretty stupid. But 1982, 35 years ago, it was another world.

1982 was a year for other worlds. Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Runequest, Gamma World. Well, I could go on and on about those RPG days. Back when the acronym TSR meant so much, Gary Gygax was some kind of genius, and Games Workshop was a gateway to incredible places- each of us of our group would pick a game system and create adventures we would later gather to play.  I ran a campaign titled Shadow World using the AD&D rules that went on for years. I still have books and folders of work I wrote for it, up in my loft- it was such a passion of mine that took so much time it’s hard to fathom now. I should have been out fooling around with girls but instead was inside my room dreaming up dark dungeons and evil sorcerers. Well, either that or reading or painting.

I read so much back then- Arthur C Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert E Howard…

1982, Arthur C Clarke was still alive and writing, as was Ray Bradbury. Frank Frazetta was still alive. John Buscema and Gil Kane and Gene Colan and so many others I grew up with were still working in comics. I was reading 2000 AD in those days, the comic still in its prime. 1982 was the year they ran the 26-issue Apocalypse War saga in the Judge Dredd strip. Each week after reading each installment I was trading comments with my mate Andy in the halls of our secondary school. Block Mania, East Meg One, War Marshall Kazan, Stubb guns, 400 million dead... it was some glorious soap opera, a comicstrip punk-Charles Dickens that unfolded each week, and we would marvel and moan at the various turns of fate as the saga progressed.

I remember the threat of global nuclear armageddon was very real, so that Apocalypse War storyline seemed very pertinent. We actually went to war that year, an old-fashioned war: Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and we sent an armada to those small islands thousands of miles away that no-one had even heard of. I remember the daily updates on the news.

1982 was a very good year for films. Its why this blog has its name, for one thing.

Blade Runner, ET, Poltergeist, Star Trek: Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Mad Max 2, Conan.People often refer to it as the ‘summer of 1982’ and of course it was if you were American, but in other countries that incredible summer of genre films was spread out across the year, as releases were not so immediately global then. Wrath of Khan was here in July, The Thing in August (what madness was that?), Blade Runner and Poltergeist in September, Tron in October, and finally E.T. not until December when likely everyone had already seen it on pirate VHS. Video piracy-  how I first saw The Thing and Conan and Mad Max 2 (and The Exorcist, too, that Autumn).

I could never get my head around being able to watch films on-demand at the press of a switch. Even today it seems a bit weird, a bit like sorcery. In 1982 of course it was a slice of the future, but always over someone else’s house; at home we couldn’t afford a VHS machine until we rented one in late 1983.  Those dark Autumn nights of 1982 when we gathered over a freinds house when his parents were out and watched those VHS copies, they linger in my head forever, so intense it almost seems like yesterday. I giggled like some kind of idiot on first watching The Thing (it just seemed so extreme, in hindsight it was probably nervous laughter, not funny ‘ha-ha’ laughter, but I hadn’t seen Dawn of the Dead at that point). I detested Conan for not really being honest to the Howard books (though I made peace with it soon enough on subsequent viewings) and I remember being gobsmacked by the wild kinetics of Mad Max 2.

Backtrack a few months to Easter, 1982, and Tron: I remember playing an RPG over a freinds house and we paused to watch Disneytime on his portable telly. Imagine five or six of us enthralled when they showed a clip of Tron: it was the Lightcycle chase, and this little portable b&w television was suddenly a window into the future. Hell, I was still playing videogames on my Atari VCS and they were nothing like the cgi being thrown around in Tron. We had seen nothing quite like it, it was like something that arrived out of nowhere.

It was like that back then. Films did seem to come from nowhere. I remember every month going into the city to the specialist bookshops, reading all the latest movie news in the latest issues of Starlog, Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique, Cinefex. Marvelling at the latest pictures, reading the latest previews/reviews/interviews. There was no internet, films were spoiled less and information harder to come by. Trailers were rarely seen (not available at a whim as they are now).

When I saw Blade Runner that September, I had never seen a single scene beforehand, hardly any pictures. I do remember a film-music programme on the radio on which I heard the sequence of Deckard meeting Tyrell- that was my only experience of that film beforehand. I wonder if that was why the film had such an impact on me back then? Nowadays we see so much, learn so much, before we even see a film. It steals the surprise somehow. It’s so hard to avoid these days.

Back in 1982, films kept their surprises.