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Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

We have spent a lot of the 21st century gazing at the stars, or at least CGI versions of them.  The century started with the second and third movies in the Star Wars prequels trilogy, Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).  A series of films that are constantly being revaluated, I’m not sure if they are officially good or bad at the moment.  Star Trek ran out of steam, with the last movie from the Next Generation Crew Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) not being very good.  But then in J. J. Abrams came along and with the help of some wibbily wobbly timey wimey stuff (if I may quote a TV series in an article about movies) created a new timeline to retell the story of the original crew of the enterprise.  The first film Star Trek (2009) was excellent, the second Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), then Abrams jumped ship and the third film Star Trek Beyond (2016) directed by Justin Lin was a partial return to form.  There may be a fourth film in the series eventually, it keeps getting pushed back or going into turnaround.  There may also be a further film in the universe that by Quentin Tarantino, that is looking less and less likely. Star Trek Wars

The reason J. J. Abrams jumped (space)ship, was to go and work for the enemy, Star Wars.  The director of the first and final movies in a new trilogy, a third and final trilogy to bring the Skywalker saga to an end.  The films came about after Disney’s acquisition of Lucas Film (for a staggering amount of money).  All three films have their fans and detractors in a hugely polarized and quite amusing social media battle among a certain type of fanboy.  For me, the middle film, The Last Jedi (2017) written and directed  by Rian Johnson is the best (and the most controversial).  The Force Awakens (2015) is the safest of the three, but good fun and it introduces some great characters, and brings back some old favourites.  The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is certainly the weakest but is still good fun and gets to a satisfying end (except for that certain group of fanboys).  Along the way, we also got two Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) tells the story of the events leading up to the origonal 1977 film, and for me is the best film outside the original trilogy.  The flipside to that, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is totally unnecessary origin story of fan favourite Han Solo.  it isn’t terrible, just pointless.The end of the Skywalker sagaNot satisfied with just Star Wars, Disney went to space with their other big acquired property: Marvel.  They started in 2014 when they took a less well know Marvel property Guardians of the Galaxy and had a smash hit with a more, fun and comic take on the superhero genre.  a sequel Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) followed.  To be fair parts of The Avengers movies were also set in space, and Thor is from another planet.  It wasn’t until Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi’s brilliant but bonkers take on the character that you would call it a space adventure.  After a decade, and about 20 movies Disney finally gave a woman a leading role in a Marvel movie.  While a lot of the movie is based on earth, Captain Marvel (2019) is an intergalactic character, as is Marvels big bad Thanos.  All the characters of the MCU came together to fight an intergalactic battle with the big purple one in Avengers Infinity War (2018) and the biggest film of all time (if you don’t adjust for inflation) Avengers Endgame 2019.  That brings us nicely onto Avatar (2009), with an even higher boxoffice if you adjust for inflation.  James Cameron’s first movie since 1997 when he made a little film about a shipwreck.  As you would expect from Cameron, it made great advances in effects and technology, especially in 3D.  I am not a fan.  As yet he hasn’t made another film yet, but understand he is filming about 100 sequels back to back with the first due for release in about two years. Marvel goes to spaceDC’s ventures into space were less successful.  The Green Lantern (2011) about a group of intergalactic supper powered policemen was rubbish.  Man of Steel (2013) was a reboot of a 1970’s movie about a man called Kal-El who is sent to earth as a baby before his home planet is destroyed.  He ends up fighting against bodies from his home world.  It isn’t bad, but not as good as the 1978, and 1980 movies, and like those movies, all subsequent sequels are terrible. DC and AliensRidley Scott decided that we were all wrong, the most interesting thing about his Movie Alien (1979), and James Cameron’s sequel to it Aliens (1987), wasn’t the Xenomorph, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.  It wasn’t the brilliant world building of the story where corporations are more powerful than countries.  He decided the derelict alien ship, and how the Aliens got there was more important.  He then gave us two extremely average films, Prometheus (2012), and Alien Covenant (2017).  There are some excellent characters that aren’t used very well, and some who don’t know how to run to the side.  almost realLets not be too tough on Ridley Scott, he has given us an excellent movie in the genre, The Martian (2015).  The story of a man left behind on Mars.  This is part of a crop of Sci-Fi movies that feel more realistic and closer to where we are now than Star Wars or Star Trek.  The pick of these for me was Gravity (2013).  A film so spectacular in IMAX 3D (the only good 3D experience I have had) that I have not re-watched it again, it just won’t be the same on TV.  Other films in this sub genre could include Christopher Nolan’s excellent Interstellar (2014), Danny Boyle’s underrated Sunshine (2007), Claire Denis bleak but brilliant High Life (2018), and James Gray’s disappointing Ad Astra (2019).   A film doesn’t have to be fiction, or particularly outlandish to be compelling, providing it is told well, and there are two such examples from the last two years: Damien Chazelle’s telling of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong in the film First Man (2018), and the documentary on the same subject: Apollo 11 (2019).  The latter is breathtaking look at the mission using stunning NASA images, no talking heads, or voiceover. smerfs monkeys aliens and the sunI wouldn’t include Passengers (2016) in the list of realist sci-fi movies, as it is too glossy and Sci-Fi, it is however worth seeing for the interesting plot, that is more disturbing the more you think about it.  Part of the premise of the film is people in hypersleep on their way to a distant planet.  Obviously something always goes wrong in these movies.  Others worth watching are: Pandorum (2009) a film that takes these ideas, and gives them a horror and survival adventure spin.  Pitch Black (2000) is an even better take on the horror space adventure, possibly the best and most original since the first two Alien films.  It’s sequel The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), was terrible, but the third film Riddick (2013) isn’t bad, although its attempt to recreate the original are a little forced.  Life (2017) has the almost real world setting, a fictionalised version of The International Space Station, it rapidly turns into Alien when an alien life form gets loose.  It isn’t Alien, but it isn’t bad. Horror in spaceThe man who gave us The Fifth Element (1997) Luc Besson, was back this century, with another bold and bonkers tale: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  The film had mixed reviews, as Besson’s work often does, I liked it.  The title is a little misleading and under serves one of its characters, based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline; Laureline is the more interesting character and probably has a larger part in the story than Valérian.  That asside, it is bright and bold and like nothing else, except maybe The Fifth Element!a mix of fact and fantasy (1)Saving the best for last.  When I went to see Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005), I had not seen (or even heard of) Firefly, I have since watched the whole (short) series more than once.  The movie is nothing short of a masterpiece.  It works whether you have seen the TV show or not.  It is all the more impressive, as it was Whedon’s feature debut as a director.  The budget was less than $40million or about a quarter of Revenge of the Sith that came out the same year.  This doesn’t show, as the film looks amazing, largely thanks to clever photography and practice sets/effects over CGI.  Ticking every box for a space adventure, and a western, the film is fun, and often very funny, but there is a far deeper message about society, about right and wrong, but it is far more nuanced than anything you will get from Disney or Star Wars, it isn’t black and white, or light and dark, The Alliance is not The Empire!SerenityI have probably missed lots, but these are the ones that spring to mind.  I pleased to say the genre is in good health at the movies, and on TV, but that will have to be an entire article in itself. 

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At the start of the film Iron Man (2008) you would be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a film set in the real world. As it went on it remained on the edge of reality with the only science fiction being the technological advances of Iron Mans suit. Later the same year The Incredible Hulk (2008) added more sci-fi and fantasy to the story as did Captain America: The First Avenger ( 2011), Thor (2011) and The Avengers ( 2012). Later this month will see the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, a film within the same fictional universe as the Marvel movies but set “In the far reaches of space”. This leads me to ask the question; have you ever noticed that is space set Sci-Fi movies we can never get too far from earth? When I say too far, I am talking I am not talking physical distance. With the exception of Star Wars (1977) most notable “space operas” tend to be set a few (or many) years from now and feature humanity exploring or colonizing other worlds. The other common plot involves returning to a Earth after some near apocalyptic event. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with films that are tied to earth, humanity and reality but the freedom that George Lucas gave himself and the makers of the new films by setting the first film “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” is immeasurable.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Serenity (2005) Set mainly in the outer worlds away from the Alliance government, it is basically the American west or frontier in the late 19th century, with the addition of space travel. The towns on many of the planets look intentionally like those from western movies. There are no alien life forms or creatures, everything has an old fashioned look to it. This is contrasted with the new and shiny cities on alliance planets. The film uses its settings and the idea of humans colonising the universe to its advantage in the plot of the film. I can’t remember any reference to Earth in the Firefly, the TV show that spawned the movie, but the film starts with the explanation of earth not being able to sustain us so new planets were found and terraformed. This comes back to bite humanity later as we learn what was created in the process. There is a nice symmetry about the way the story creates its own monsters “like the bogeyman from stories”, this gives an extra dimension and meaning to the plot. It makes the back story of the setting integral to the current plot but also grounds it somewhere near reality.serenity

David Lynch’s Dune (1984), is a more complicated story, there is no reference to earth in the film, but there is in Frank Herbert’s source novels (a reference to Chaucer as I remember it). It is the film, after Star Wars that best creates a believable universe. There are planets with different ecosystems and inhabitants. The Spacing Guild acts as an antagonist in the story, with a monopoly on banking and interstellar travel, I have always suspected they were an inspiration for the Trade Federation in Star Wars. At the time of its release, it was hit with the duel criticism of not being faithful to the book at the same time as being unintelligible to anyone who hadn’t read the book. I have never understood this, I saw the film on its initial release when I was around ten years old, several years before I read the book and had no trouble following the plot. We only see a handful of the planets and the people who populate them, as the story is mainly set on the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune) rather than the rocketing around the galaxy. Dune is the centre of the universe because of the presence of Spice, the most valuable substance in the universe. Unlike the McGuffin Unobtainium (Avatar) Spice becomes central to the plot of the film.Dune

Alien (1979)and its sequels are all about humans in space, despite the extraordinary alien creatures the film always has a sense of realism. There is always an unbalance between the working man and the plans of big business. There is always a desire to capture the alien to study and weaponise it, this is both a plot point and the bases for the movies subtext. The themes explored give it more in common with a Bruce Springsteen song or a John Steinbeck novel than with Star Wars. Most of the action in Alien takes place onboard a spaceship. Aliens (1986) relocates the action to the surface of the planet, that is undergoing terraforming leaving the action mainly in an industrial interior.Alien

There is then sub genre of films about protecting the world from an alien invasion or attack. Notable among these are The Fifth Element (1997), Flash Gordon (1980), Starship Troopers (1997). Notable, not for how good they are, but because they leave the confines of earth and are set in part on alien planets. Of these only Flash Gordon does any notable “world building”, but this is largely inspired by earlier film, TV, and comic versions of the story. One of my most anticipated films of the year is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, a film that appears from the trailer to be a film about space exploration set in a near future of depleted resources. I’m sure there is more to it than that but the less I know going in the better. interstellar

I understand the reason for tethering a story to earth and humanity, and the emotional connection it gives an audience to the plot and characters, however I want to see something different. Films will always be filled with meaning, metaphor and subtext. A films social and political stance will always be grounded in the era its is from, but cutting the ties from earth and humanity as we know it could be the start to it. I’m not sure if there is a film other than Star Wars set in a totally fictional universe, but if there is I would like to see it. If there isn’t it’s about time someone made it. With a new Star Wars trilogy and at least two stand alone films I think they will have the market cornered, but my hope, and the real reason for this article, can they inspire future generations of film makers the way Star Wars inspired a generation in 1977?A_long_time_ago

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Monsters and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards has been announced along with screenwriter Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli) for an upcoming “Untitled Star Wars Project” set for release in two years time, a year after J.J. Abrams first film in a new trilogy. The film is described as a standalone story but no other details have been given. This has resulted in huge amount of speculation. The most popular theories seem to be an origin movie of either Han Solo or Boba Fett. I am not exactly excited about either of these ideas. I don’t want to know any more about Solo’s back story and am not interested in Fett’s.han and boba

A far more interesting idea for a standalone movie would be to go back before anything we have seen before, a story of “a more civilized age”. In the first Star Wars movie Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s light saber, “the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age”. The window into this age is a small one taken from just a few lines of dialogue; Obi-Wan went on to say: “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times… before the Empire”.obi wan and luke

It is worth remembering that Star Wars is now a Disney property like the Marvel Avengers Movies. They do however differ in their execution. Where The Avengers relied on the success of Iron Man to kick-start the franchise, Star Wars is already existing and established. While an Avengers movie may have always been in the background, had Iron Man failed we probably wouldn’t have seen Thor or The Avengers. Since the success of the movies there has always been a thread running through them, they have even introduced another connected franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy, the first of which is due out in six weeks time. So does Stand-Alone mean a new and completely unconnected story, or just a film outside the upcoming trilogy? Whatever they do the idea and setting mean nothing without a strong script and well chosen actors.Guardians of the Galaxy

Whatever they are thinking, only time will tell, but I can’t help feeling the franchise is in safe hands with J.J. Abrams and Gareth Edwards. I am rapidly moving from ” I have a very bad feeling about this” to A New Hope!

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A couple of days ago Ryan at The Matinee wrote an interesting article about George Lucas’ vision for the future of cinema. We seem to have a similar view on Lucas’ brave new world so I decided to write a comment; not for the first time in responding to one of Ryan’s articles a quick response suddenly became 600 word rant. Rather than post it I decided to publish it here.

As I have mentioned many times I am my local multiplex’s worst customer. I pay £15 per month for a pass allowing me to attend as often as I like. I go around ten times per month. I don’t buy confectionary or drinks (that’s where the cinema’s real profit is) and I take advantage of their three hours free parking. All in all I pay around £1.50 per film (that’s around $2.25) excluding the cost of travel. I sometimes go to my local independent cinema for around £7 to se a film that isn’t on at a multiplex. I am prepared to go to the extra effort and cost for a smaller independent film, I’m not sure I would bother for a bigger film if things were the other way around. If a big movie opens I often go and see the smaller releases first as I know they won’t be out for long. It also means when I do o and see the blockbusters the cinema won’t be quite as packed. This month I have seen the big releases like World War Z and Man of Steel, but the film I was most looking forward to was Before Midnight. To put it simply the big movie isn’t always the most appealing or to of my to see list.George lucas

As you may have guessed I think George Lucas has lost the plot. The only way I can see where he came up with this is if he truly has no idea how much $40 is to the man on the street in a regular job and a regular income. The multi billionaire appears to want to make the most inclusive and accessible visual art form into something exclusive. Given his history I wouldn’t expect an idea like this to come from a man like him for two reasons: 1 – He is the man who made a film that grossed 250 times its budget (American Graffiti not Star Wars); 2 – One of the reasons the Star Wars movies make so much money is the people who go back and see them for a second or a third time. american graffiti

The concept of changing prices between a bread and butter movie and an event movie isn’t that strange. English Premier League football clubs vary their ticket priced depending on who they are playing, however the price difference he is mentioning makes no sense. Forgetting any discounts a standard ticket is £7.70. if they were to drop that to £7.50 for most films put it up to £10 for “event movies” it would make a kind of sense. In a way they are already doing this with “event movies” often being in 3D and Imax, with the additional charges and the price of 3D glasses we are getting used to paying extra for certain films. They tend to be the most expensive to make but far from the best films. In that way we only have ourselves to blame if we are stupid enough to go and watch the 3D movies. In my defense I always go for the 2D version when I can, but there is often no 2D option or the time of the 3D is better for me.The Great 3D Swindle

Here is the interesting thing. How will distributors decide what is a $7 movie and what is $40 movie? If a studio makes a turkey like John Carter that gets panned by the critics do they hold out for the $40 a ticket to recoup their money or do they sell it cheep in the hope of getting bums on seats? If a movie has a large budget does it have to wear its $40 ticket as a badge of honour, anything cheaper would be an admission of weakness or lack of quality? I think there will be a time in the not too distant future where ticket prices will rise. There is a limit to how much the cinema’s can keep increasing the cost of food and beverages. It is unlikely that distributors will let cinemas take a larger cut so to keep on making money they will have to increase ticket prices. This is a very different thing to what Lucas has proposed.

The great successes of cinema is despite the rising prices it can still be a relatively cheep night out. That is why admissions have gone up during the recession the way they did during the great depression. By pricing a lot of people out of the cinema at a time when home systems are getting bigger and better would be counterproductive. Or to quote Ryan “Hollywood – your product makes you money because of one simple reason: you stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap. Don’t fuck with that.”

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Radio 2's Top 100 Favourite Albums

I spent a large proportion of the past Bank Holiday Monday listening to a BBC Radio2 poll ranking their Top 100 Favourite Albums. Basically what they did was take their Top 100 Most Played Albums (limited to one per artist) and asked listeners to rank them. The results were often surprising with a top five consisting of:

  1. Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
  2. Keane – Hopes & Fears
  3. Duran Duran – Rio
  4. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon (the only one a lot of people expected)
  5. Dido – No Angel

Ahead of what a lot of people expected including in the top five:

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers
The Beatles – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Queen – A Night At The Opera
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Led Zeppelin – Untitled fourth album

One of my thoughts were that different records live longer in the mind and memory, and possibly the heart than others. For example, I bought No Angel when it first came out (before the Eminem sample made it a hit), I listened to it a lot but haven’t listened to it in about five years. I first heard Rumours and Zeppelin’s fourth album when I was a kid and still listen to them all the time and see no reason why I won’t continue to for the foreseeable future. The conclusion, if they re-do this list in fifteen or twenty years time No Angel and A Rush Of Blood To The Head may not make the top 10 or even the top 100, but Rumours, The Dark Side Of The Moon, Sgt Pepper, Born to Run, Bridge Over Troubled Water and countless other classic albums will still be there.Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Led Zeppelin Bridge Over Troubled Water The Dark Side Of The Moon

This got me thinking about the current and recent movies that will be heralded as classics in the future and which will be forgotten. Skyfall will be watched a lot and may prove to be the best Bond ever but will be dismissed as just another Bond movie. The Dark Knight Rises will survive as part of, one of the best movie trilogies ever, but possibly the weakest link of the trilogy. The Artist may be considered a gimmick. Stoker, Cloud Atlas, We Need to Talk About Kevin and some great foreign language movies like Amour, Rust and Bone, The Skin I live In and In the House may be too obscure for the masses. Moonrise Kingdom is going to age well as is Argo so could be up there in popular opinion. I can’t make my mind up about Drive and Black Swan but hope I love them as much in years to come as I do now after two or three viewings and hope others feel the same about them. Margin Call and Zero Dark Thirty will possibly stand as testaments to the time but possibly not a time we will want to look back on too often or very fondly.Moonrise Kingdom Argo Margin Call Zero Dark Thirty

The conclusion, there hasn’t been a 12 Angry Men, The Godfather, Goodfellas or even Star Wars in recent years, the two closest are probably The Dark Knight and Inception. I’m not saying it is a bad time for film, in fact the opposite, while, the occasional all time classics seem a little few and far between the number of really good movies being made is greater than ever. I just long for a Citizen Kane, The Searchers or Casablanca, we are about due one. Or am I being cynical and some of the movies I have mentioned will find their way to the upper reaches of the IMDB top 250?Citizen Kane The Searchers Casablanca 12 Angry Men

Update:

Want to read more on the subject? Check out THIS ARTICLE that picks up the baton from where I left off.

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As I work on my inevitable list of best films of 2012 I started thinking about Argo. Not the Ben Affleck film that we saw, but the un-filmed Star Wars rip-off Sci-Fi movie that featured in it. For as long as I can remember Star Wars has been essential Christmas viewing, but why? Probably because as an action adventure fantasy film it is yet to be surpassed. It is often stated that Star Wars changed films for ever, it certainly built on the idea of the summer blockbuster that began with Jaws two years before. All this is most probably true, but surprisingly Star Wars has never inspired a successful and credible action adventure set within a alien universe. The greatest failing of most of them is an unnecessary attempt to ground the plot in the reality or to earth, this is true from The Last Starfighter (1984) through to Avatar (2009). It worked for Star Trek as the idea of humanity exploring space was central to the premise. After its cancellation in 1969, it gained cult status, around the time of Star Wars a plan to resurrect the television series as Star Trek: Phase II.  It was a planned and quickly abandoned, ideas from the pilot were however saved and became Star Trek (1979). The  highlights of the film series that followed are: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and the reboot Star Trek (2009). 1977 star wars

The latest failed attempt of the genre was John Carter (2012) based on A Princess of Mars by (Tarzan author) Edgar Rice Burroughs. So uncomfortable in its own skin the producers dropped the Sci-Fi “of Mars” title from the movie shortly before it hit cinema screens. Telling the story of a civil war era gent who is transported to Mars that is going through its own Civil War. A lot of the story involves the fish out of water scenarios as Carter adapts to the culture of the society and then imports his own sensibility. Going back to the time of Star Wars, the biggest of the early attempts to cash in on the Star Wars was unsurprisingly by Disney. The Black Hole (1979) had a budget of around $20million, around double that of Star Wars but only grossed around the same as Star Wars took in its first weekend. There is a good reason, for all its technical accomplishments, the movie is just plain dull. I have seen it at least twice and remember very little about it. With a budget of around $4million Starcrash (1978) is certainly low budget but isn’t quite the Z Movie it is often claimed to be. Poorly acted with terrible effects and unintentionally funny moments it isn’t very good. However it does deserve a certain amount of praise as a low budget movie that has grander ambitions than many of its contempt competitors, it is also good silly fun at times.

Starcrash

The one success of the genre (artistically if not financially) was Flash Gordon (1980). The plot is a rehash of the original thirteen part film serial starring Buster Crabbe from 1936. One of the reasons the movie looks so good and worked so well is the retro design including long shiny almost phallic spaceships that were inspired by the original 1930’s comic books. The result is utter camp, the characters and the performances are totally bonkers and over the top in the vein of Barbarella (1968). All this was held together by a an equally camp and over the top score by Queen.

Flash Gordon

The story goes that David Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi instead opting to replace Ridley Scott as the director of Dune (1984). Unlike most people, I am glad he did. I first saw Dune on video in 1985 and loved it. A few years later I read the first three or four of Frank Herbert’s novels. It was the first David Lynch film I saw, I have seen and loved everything he has made since. The movie shares producer Dino De Laurentiis with Flash Gordon, that is where the similarity ends. While Flash Gordon is fun and camp, Dune is sombre serious but when you strip away all the religious symbolism, mythology and the ideas of loyalty and betrayal it is simply a story of trade and politics, possibly an allegory for the fight for the control of the worlds supply. The TV mini series is heralded as a superior adaptation, it may be but it is painfully dull, something the movie can not be accused of even in its three hour cut.Dune

Star Wars often plays like a western set in space.  This is where the genre has found the most sucess.  A film that took this idea a stage further was the Roger Corman produced Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) that took its plot from Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai. It has a certain degree of pedigree with a screenplay by John Sayles, a score composed by James Horner, and the special effects directed by a young James Cameron. A similar idea had been attempted in the “High Noon in space” Outland (1981) with Sean Connery in the Gary Cooper role. Not a classic, but far better than its reputation. The best space western is probably Serenity (2005) based on the too short-lived TV show Firefly (2002-2003). It is still rooted in the reality of humanity but unlike the movies that suffer for this, Serenity plays its hand perfectly.Battle Beyond the Stars

The Star Wars prequels failed to live up to their billing, will the new Disney produced movies be more successful or will we have to wait for someone else to create a new Space Opera in a believable alien universe? Star Wars: Episode VII is expected in 2015.

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“I’ve got a very bad feeling about this.” Han Solo, Star Wars (1977)

 With the news that Disney is to acquired Lucasfilm for a reported $4billion and that a new Star Wars movie series is on the way speculation is mounting as to how it will work. The first thing that springs to mind is what is George Lucas thinking? I remember seeing an interview with him around the time of return of the Jedi where he suggested that he always saw the saga as nine films, three before and three after the original trilogy. Then around the time of Revenge of the Sith he had changed his mind saying that the saga had always been about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker/ Darth Vader and that there was nowhere else for the story to go adding that he was too old to do it all again. Far be it from me to say that he has sold out or cashed in, but it does appear that that is what is happening. This in itself isn’t a problem providing it is done well. We have already seen with the prequels that George Lucas is capable of screwing up his own franchise an that other new talent can reinvent a previously stale one: J.J. Abrams with Star Trek springs to mind.

It has been suggested the first new film will be called Star Wars: Episode VII. This suggests following on from Return of the Jedi is what they have in mind. A setting around thirty years after Jedi would work both with the gap between episode III and IV and with the age of the original cast if they are to be used. A thirty year gap will also give the opportunity for Han and Leia to have kids who will now be in their twenties and can play a significant part in the story. Luke could have started to rebuild the Jedi finding and training new young gifted apprentices. A possible plot that could spring from this could involve an apprentice (or group of apprentices) exploring the dark side of the force creating a new threat. This could be attributed to Luke taking on and training multiple pupils instead of the traditional single master and pupil relationship. There have also been suggestions for a film set just after Jedi, this would be a bad idea as it would mean recasting the original characters or using some horrible CGI to make the old actors look young, does anyone remember Patrick Stewart at the end of X-Men Origins: Wolverine?

This leads us onto other ideas, first the possibility of going years into the future; I have heard the name The New Jedi Order suggested. This would possibly amount to a reboot of the original idea set in the future with new characters. I personally favour a different option. Going back to an older time. I seem to remember Ben/Obi-Wan Kenobi telling Luke that the Jedi were guardians of the universe for a thousand generations. This gives us anything up to 50,000 years play with. Although I am more than familiar with the six existing movies, I have never read any of the spin-off literature or played any of the games relating to Star Wars. With this in mind two titles that I have heard mentioned are Dawn Of The Jedi and Knights of the Old Republic, I have no knowledge of their stories, but the titles sound good. It is conceivable that over time more than one of these ideas could be explored. The one I would most like to see would be the origin of the Jedi and the Sith set in an older simpler time. Were the Jedi formed to combat the dark side of the force or were the Sith an offshoot of the Jedi as some of the order were corrupted by the search for greater powers? Are the Jedi less honourable and good than we think? Were they an attempt by a government to control anybody who is different, anyone with special powers? All these ideas could be explored. However, if we are going to have original cast members in the movie they need to do it now, Mark Hamill is 61, Carrie Fisher is 56 and Harrison Ford is 70.

One thing they should look at in any new saga is a strong female character, possibly a leading Jedi or Sith. Although Natalie Portman’s Padmé had her moments, the prequels lacked anyone with the presence of Leia when they really should have had a stronger character. I’m sure there is a law somewhere in Hollywood stating that Jennifer Lawrence has to be at least “attached to” every new film so just give her lightsaber and see what happens! There has also been suggestion for some time of a TV show set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope featuring some of the secondary characters such as The Hut and fanboy favourite Boba Fett. There has to be some mileage in this as well as the X-Wing novel series that started with Rogue Squadron just after Return of the Jedi.

And finally who could do justice to this most treasured franchise? Two names already working within the Disney family spring to mind: Joss Whedon and Bryan Singer.

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“In space no-one can hear you scream.”

In preparation/anticipation of the release of Prometheus a few weeks ago I watched the first two Alien movies again. I have the directors cut of Aliens, the first sequel directed by James Cameron on DVD however I only have an old VHS copy of Ridley Scott’s original film.

Commercial towing spaceship Nostromo is on route from Thedus to Earth with a cargo of twenty million tons of mineral ore and a refinery. Its crew of seven are in stasis until they are awoken when they pick up what they believe to be a distress beacon.

Looking back at Alien, aside from the grainy image of my old VHS copy, the most notable thing about the movie after all this time is not the suspense or the horror, it’s the characters. They are different characters with their own ideas, personality, prospective and their own agenda as you would expect of a the crew of a ship (in space or a regular ship in the real world). In many ways the most significant of these are Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) who give the movie a more relevant and political edge. Kane (John Hurt) has one of the most memorable scenes in film history but within the plot it is the only important thing he does. Ash (Ian Holm) comes to represent “the corporation” this is a defining element of the movie and one that has continued through all the sequels spiff offs and the new prequel Prometheus, it is also like Parker and Brett the thing that gives the movie edge and relevance beyond the genre. As captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is an interesting character, he is more a company man than the rest of the crew but is still his own man never forgetting how far from home he is. Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) could have been there to just make up the numbers, but she does more than that, she helps give the movie balance and prospective. And finally the star, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). It seems hard to believe now but aside from a couple of bit parts Alien was her first movie. The casting was perfect, not only did it define her future career, but it helped elevate the movie beyond its genre origins.

On the surface it is a sci-fi movie but owing far more to the horror and thriller genres. Contemporary space movies of the day like Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) have a bright an hopeful outlook, Alien has more in common with John Carpenter movies Halloween (1978) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). The basic concept owes a debt to Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel “And Then There Were None” (originally published with a less politically correct title), itself being inspired by the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians. In comparison to the later films (including the Predator crossovers and the prequel Prometheus) it has a much smaller story and scope, this far from being a problem, it is actually a benefit. Its not that we don’t care where the “space jockey” or the Alien come from, it is that they are not relevant to the survival of the crew. We are focussed in on a very small part of a larger greater universe and know no more, or less than the characters in the film. It is this simplicity and intimacy that helps create a bond between character and viewer making us care what happens to them.

The effects should stand out in a film that is more than thirty years old, but they don’t. The models used to recreate the exteriors and the H.R. Giger designed “space jockey” are fantastic and a relief in this over CGI age. The interiors of the Nostromo look dated just like they do in Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and many Star Trek movies. The important thing though is the Alien also designed by Gieger, I have heard “man in rubber suit criticism”. This really isn’t fair, sticking with the first rule of monster movies, the alien spends most of its time in the shadows, when we do see it, it really stands up. The planet is a dark rain soaked inhospitable place that exists largely in shadow and half-light, the Nostromo is made up of dim corridors, this lends itself perfectly to the movie. The style of the lighter brighter Prometheus would not work in Alien.

Like no other sci-fi or horror movie before Alien redefined two genres and possibly invented there own genre. It has aged surprisingly well and could teach the makers of a few flabby overcomplicated movies a thing or two about suspense and atmosphere. The grainy VHS version seems somehow appropriate for a movie that I first saw on late night television in the 1980’s.

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