Friday, 4 October 2013

Movie Musings

Friday, October 04, 2013

Share it Please

During the past couple of months I've watched a few movies of the sci-fi variety and I thought it'd be worth typing up some thoughts on them.

Tragically I ended up going alone to Pacific Rim. Sure I might have been a bit impatient, but still! I think you
know what the movie is about pretty much; giant mecha fighting giant monsters. This could so easily have become too silly for its own good or it could have taken itself too seriously, again ending up making the movie silly (the Transformers movies manage to do both at the same time!). Instead Guillermo del Toro finds the perfect balance and a movie about mecha fighting monsters becomes as fun and as awesome as it should be! It's hard putting my finger on exactly what it is that makes it work so well, but I certainly enjoyed myself and look forward to the sequal.

Something I really liked was that you had about five minutes of exposition at the start of the movie and then we got straight into kaiju fights! No gradual build-up, no origin story, just pure mecha fun from the get go! Brilliant! I really don't understand why the film didn't do better in the states. It didn't do badly at all, but I thought it could easily have been the big summer blockbuster. Did the average American movie goer miss the flag waving and patriotic undertones of movies like Transformers and Independance Day? Was the international cast and the main battlefield (Hong Kong, not NY or LA) off-putting? Or am I being a bit too prejudiced? ;)

Next up was Elysium, which I did manage to see with a couple of friends. After Neil Blomkamps first movie, District 9, was such a cool piece of cinema I had quite high expectations. I'd heard that the reviews were lukewarm but I went into the movie theater undeterred! It's about the poor, filthy masses down on Earth in contrast with the super rich and beautiful who have taken refuge to a space habitat (basically a Stanford Torus) called Elysium. Although the gritty style of District 9 is still very much intact you quickly realize that this is a different kind of movie. If District 9 was Fargo, Elysium is (the original) Total Recall . If District 9 was The Wire, Elysium is The A-Team. And I really do mean this in the best way possible! I think one reason for the lukewarm reviews is that this fun 80s style action movie can be hard to see behind all the grit and realism that Blomkamp loves so much. I was a bit confused as well at first, but when Sharlto Copley's evil sleeper agent character just became more and more over the top and insane it all clicked; "he's having so much fun doing this!". Despite the grit and the realistic design you really can't take this movie all that seriously - it's an action romp with superb sci-fi design and execution! Think about the plot a few seconds too long and you'll realize it's got holes like a sieve. But that's not the point! Just lean back and enjoy it.

With a lesser director Elysium would have been some kind of direct to video release, but Blomkamps amazing eye for detail raises it to a different level. The movie is full of all kinds of cool technology and designs, but they never insist upon themselves. This is really quite rare in modern sci-fi as every neatly designed gadget or gun have to be poured over by the camera, showing it in detail and how it works. Blomkamp simply throws all the cool stuff he likes in the movie but just allows it to stay in the background, which really helps with world building and, again, realism. And there are so many things that you'd like to just pluck out of the movie and put in your little sci-fi mini game! Just look at the different ships/hovercraft to the above.

If you don't know what I'm on about, consider the original Star Wars films. They had tons of background technology and designs that just were there and most of it you as the viewer never really understood or got a good look at. This probably had a lot to do with the cobbled together practical models used that often seemed to be a compromise between the concept art and what parts the model builders had knocking around. In the new prequal trilogy on the other hand, so many of the ships, gadgets and sets are thrust in your face, screaming "look at this awesome design I came up with! Please agree with me that this is awesome!! LOOK AT IT!!!", and to me this detracts greatly from a movie. I want cool designs, but I don't want to look at a showreel. Anyway, I quite liked Elysium and while it's not as good as District 9 it should be in every sci-fi fan's collection. 

I remember hearing about Europa Report quite a long ago, but feared it had died the kind of death movies you like to see usually do. So I was pleasantly surprised when it was released and made available for streaming. It's of the found footage variety but as the cameras are mostly fixed inside the spacecraft you rarely get the shaky cam that can be tiresome if used to much. It's about the first human exploration to Jupiter's moon Europa and we get to follow the crew through the journey and as they finally set down on Europa. The creators have gone to considerable length to make the movie as an accurate portrayal of space flight and that alone makes for an interesting movie. It's so rare these days to see something like this - the latest I can remember is Apollo 13 and (of course) 2001.

Europa Report is basically a "things go wrong in space" movie so you kind of know what you're in for, but what actually happens and how these problems are handled is what sets this movie apart. I don't want to move into spoiler territory so I'll leave it at that. It's also remarkable what kind of visual effects they've managed to achieve with the budget they had. The exterior shots are simply gorgeous! Especially during the landing sequence on Europa. Really spectacular stuff!

This is a film any sci-fi enthusiast would enjoy, but if you prefer hard sci-fi and perhaps enjoy real space flight it's an absolute must watch!

Hmm... that went on a bit too long. The next two will be quick.

I had heard so much bad about World War Z but I ended up thinking it was fairly good. It has almost nothing in common with the book of the same name, which really is the films great problem. Had it been released under any other name I think the reception would have been much better, now it simply seemed like people were angry that it wasn't the "real" World War Z and discounted it because of it. Standing on its own legs the movie adds a few things to the zombie mythology and it's actually pretty cool to see a zombie movie that is more like a classic disaster movie rather than a horror movie. Wouldn't mind a sequal.

Finally, I've watched Star Trek: Into Darkness. JJ Abrams does his thing and there are some cool scenes and pretty visuals. The cast is quite good (I liked Cumberbatch) and no expenses have been spared to make the effects spectacular. However, this is not Star Trek. It really isn't. And this is coming from someone who is really not a Trekkie in any sense of the word. I watched a bit of TNG as a teenager but that's about it. Recently I've started watching TOS and I quite enjoy it from a conceptual stand point. As a teenager I remember I thought Star Trek was mostly boring and not as action packed as Star Wars, but watching it now I like it because it is something different.

These two new movies really don't have anything in common with Star Trek except names, ships and uncountable nods and winks to the original series (really, it's starting to become a bit much). They could easily have been done as just generic non-Star Trek sci-fi movies and no one would have noticed. No one would have said "you know, Into Darkness really reminded me of Star Trek".The whole overarching concept of exploration and the future of humanity has been discarded in favour of explosions and silly plot twists. It's like rebooting Star Wars and forgetting about the Force. Or rebooting The Lord of the Rings and forgetting the actual ring! Basically, I think it's a waste of an IP when it's turned into generic action like this.

Yepp, I think that's about it when it comes to recent (new) sci-fi I've watched. I could perhaps throw in Agents of SHIELD in the mix, but it's on tv so... meh. Ok! So it is pretty cool and very Joss Whedon-y. In fact, I kept thinking "this is very much like Firefly" which in this case is a good thing. It could use a few generous scoops of grit though, as it feels much too sentimental. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing more!

There are a couple of characters missing still, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a 
River and Simon (although Simon really seems to have been integrated with Fitz/Simmons) 
and perhaps even a Book joining our merry band. :)

As for upcoming movies, we have Gravity by Afonso Cuaron, which looks absolutely fantastic, Ender's Game by Gavin Hood, which could go either way and Robocop by José Padilha, which also treads a fine line. Anything else in the next three or four months to look out for?

2 kommentarer :

  1. I'm not sure why Pacific Rim didn't do better. In my mind, it was the best sci-fi film of the summer, and far better than either Iron Man 3 or Man of Steel, both of which buried Rim at the box office. I don't know if Americans missed the flag-waving of other, similar films, as neither Iron Man nor Superman (who after all IS the American way) featured these elements, and both still did very, very well here.

  2. I wrote you about my thoughts on Elysium in your another blog post, so I'm not going to repeat myself. Just saying it was good and worth your time.

    Sadly I still haven't had the time to go see Pacific Rim. And as much as I would have liked to see this in theater, I have to settle for the home cinema with this one as it's no longer screening.

    I've never been really that much into Star Trek (or Star Wars for that matter), but I got the same "not Star Trek" vibe from the movie. Movie actually had a very Mass Effect like feel to it. It wasn't bad or great, just little above average and that "above average" was mostly because of Cumberbatch's performance.

    Of the coming movies I still have high hopes for Ender's Game and Gravity, which came pretty much out of nowhere, looks really good. Probably the best sci-fi flick of the year.


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