Valerian & The City of a Thousand Planets

val1Valerian is an astonishing mess. It isn’t awful, but it is, well, really messy.

Here’s the thing: as some kind of motion-comic ode to the glory days of European sci-fi/fantasy mag Heavy Metal, it’s fantastic. Unfortunately, this isn’t a motion-comic, its supposed to be a movie. As the latter, its awful.

Which is the curious thing about last year. Denis Villeneuve gave us a slow, long movie full of ideas and philosophical concepts, and it struggled at the box-office. Luc Besson gave us a fast, stupid, action cgi-fest full of explosions and stunts and eye-candy, without hardly any trace of a plot, and that, too, struggled. I guess how you judge if either film ‘bombed’ rather than ‘struggled’ is down to expectations/point of view.  The same year Rian Johnson gave us The Last Jedi, and that sailed past a billion dollars in weeks. Well, you don’t have to bother yourself with words like ‘bombed’ or ‘struggled’ there, I think. As for the quality of the three movies, well…

Less is more, I think. Movie directors today really do seem to have a problem with cgi effects, with simply being able to do everything and anything. Like a kid in a candy store, they cannot resist having ‘just one more’. With Valerian, director Luc Besson seems to have emptied the entire store, and perhaps the storeroom in the back

It’s so noisy, so stupid. Most of the time, I didn’t know where to look. The multi-dimensional market in the desert had vast canyons teeming with life and neon and stores and details but it was a bewildering, confusing mess. The titular city of a thousand planets was gigantic and sprawling but, oh, where to look? What am I supposed to be focussing on? Half the time, I didn’t know what the hell was going on.

Focus is a good word regards Valerian: there isn’t any. Perhaps Besson thought the visuals and the noise would carry it through.

As it is, we have two main protagonists without any charm at all, played by actors with no chemistry. Perhaps Besson thought, again, that the visuals and noise would carry them through. Alas, he was wrong. Who the hell cared about either of them? We didn’t know them at all. Some horny young bloke hot for his gorgeous chick partner babbling on about a marriage proposal whilst they have a crazy mission that is unclear and makes no sense?

But it sure is pretty. The prologue piece, showing the foundation and expansion of the titular city, to the sounds of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, feels like something approaching genius. Its snappy and gorgeous and a little 1970’s psychedelic, complete with Roy Batty gravelly intoning something about the future. It’s all rather downhill from there.

val2Problems arise early on with a visually impressive sequence on a strange alien planet that promises much, but is deliberately vague robbing the sequence of any drama or context- it seems to mean nothing but looks very pretty doing it, and thus sets up the tone for the remainder of the film. We cut to our two pretty stars and their vacuous, meaningless zero-chemistry relationship and they are off on a mission on a desert planet that yes, looks amazingly pretty but, well, means nothing. Oh yeah, they steal/rescue (even that isn’t clear) a little alien critter we saw in the earlier alien planet segment but we don’t know why, even when they than take that critter to the city of a thousand planets.

Oh, and there’s a really odd sequence involving Ethan Hawke and Rihanna that seems like a pointless diversion and… well, it looks pretty.

People like me reading Heavy Metal and 2000AD in the 1970s dreamed of films that looked like this. Little did we know that they wouldn’t mean anything, other than looking so spectacular.

 

Bring Him Home: The Martian (extended cut)

marty2017.75: The Martian Extended Cut (2015)

While it’s debatable just how much ten minutes of footage can impact or benefit a film (I suppose fans of the cocoon sequence in the first Alien might have an interesting opinion), I must say I certainly enjoyed this repeat viewing of The Martian, and perhaps this was aided by that ten minutes of extra footage. Mostly tweaks/extended scenes, nonetheless I think that while it may not have improved the film greatly, I did appreciate the additional shots of Mark Watney’s emaciated figure towards the end, clearly establishing the physical ordeal and impact of his lengthy stay on the red planet, and some of the other character beats littered through the movie.

Indeed, I think the extended cut (note it isn’t called a ‘Directors Cut’, I wonder what is the distinction?) does improve the film, and the fact it’s only ten minutes extra footage means the film doesn’t slip into the longer attention-span/pacing issues pantheon of extended cuts that, say, leave me still preferring the theatrical cut of Dances of Wolves or Apocalypse Now.

One of the biggest impressions from rewatching this film is just the observation of how good a Ridley Scott film it is, just how good he is given a decent script. Tellingly, the film is not one he himself developed; instead its one he was hired -onto during development and it clearly benefits from his keen eye and visual techniques whilst not being harmed by some of his aesthetic choices idea-wise that probably harmed Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. It makes me think about the case of Terry Gilliam and The Fisher King (but also the case that a John Carpenter movie was never a ‘real’ John Carpenter movie when he was simply hired-in to direct some studio project) . The distinction is sometimes lost these days between a film-director as a film-maker and perhaps as an auteur/director whose sole ‘vision’  or voice dominates a film for good or ill. Film-making is a collaborative enterprise and I think some directors would be advised to be more directors than producers, and perhaps leave professional writers etc to do their jobs. But what do I know? I’ve yet to see if Luc Besson dominating the Valerian movie resulted in a great or flawed movie, but yeah, it just makes me wonder.

It still feels wrong feeling thankful that Ridley Scott didn’t make BR2049, but as that film clearly had a great script etc maybe it would indeed have turned out okay directed by Ridley- but would Ridley have been unable to resist insisting Deckard be revealed as a Replicant, forcing that personal view onto the other film-makers less inclined to agree with him (or an actor for that matter)? Ridley still has great films in him in the right circumstances, as evidenced by the successes of The Martian.  It’s quite possible some viewers/critics are of the opinion that it is in fact his best movie, period.

While I’m unable to watch the 4K disc in this package (a regular refrain going forward into 2018, I’m sure) I will say this release/double-dip does benefit from a solid bunch of extras, including a commentary and a fine series of docs produced by Charles de Lauzirika whose name on a doc always means quality (and to whom I will always be indebted to for the stupendous Blade Runner Final Cut release several years ago). The visual-effects breakdowns alone are enough to make me reassess the achievements of this film and the ‘genius’ of Ridley and his team- so much taken for granted is the result of huge amounts of trickery (they even CGI’d his beard in on some shots, it’s bizarre, where were the make-up crew?). Some interesting Q&A discussions involving NASA staff regards the real exploration of Mars round out a great all-round package.

So if nothing else, my estimation of The Martian, towards which I was always a little reserved, has improved no end. It’s a great film with a hell of a lot going for it, and whilst the extended cut’s differences/additions are perhaps not substantial enough to be an essential purchase for those happy enough with the film in its original form, I do think its an improved movie and the extras package finally gives the film the treatment it deserves. And who knows, maybe the film really sings in 4K with HDR etc.- for me that will be a pleasant discovery for some other time down the road.

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.