Tag Archive | movies

Interstellar – review & initial thoughts

I’ve seen a few reviews suggesting it’s too long, too loud, too pretentious, that it’s just an homage to 2001.  But I don’t think that’s fair, as the movie caters to an audience that wants to more than cartoonish robots and Yet Another Superhero Movie.  There’s also a generation of us that grew up watching people go up into space, and seeing the last Space Shuttle landing felt like we’d lost something that motivates our drive to explore.

On the surface, it’s about a dying earth prompting a need to get back on that space saddle and find a new home.  This is enabled by the discovery of a wormhole hanging around Saturn, which leads to a new galaxy and all kinds of adventure.  But the core story is much simpler and probably more profound than any meaning that was extracted from Kubrick’s movie.

When we had our first daughter, my first thought after the initial joy and relief was a sense of responsibility and protectiveness.  An inkling of all the things she would face in her life growing up, including the struggles due to her being born a girl rather than a boy.  A couple of days later, my wife asked her Dad, “When do you stop worrying about your kids?” “Never.”

This is what Christopher Nolan and composer Hans Zimmer have described as the the core fable at the heart of the film, and it’s what made me weep in the cinema, that still makes me tremble as I listen to the soundtrack. Everything else doesn’t matter, even the apparent plotholes.  It’s about our fear of death and what drives us as parents, and as a civilisation. The crushing force of knowing that, as we age, we get both closer and further away from our children, and there will be a singularity we must face from which we can’t communicate back to them. interstellar-matthew-mcconaugheyThis resonates more with me than perhaps your typical movie reviewer for a couple of reasons. There are days when I can’t resolve arguments with my daughter before we go our separate ways. And the notion that there could be some freak accident that means we never see each other brings a great pain. My Dad died (drowned in a freak wave, no less) when I was a kid, so the emotional scenes tear me apart by two powerful forces: knowing how he must have felt, knowing he wouldn’t see me or my brother grow up, and my sense of loss that he’s not here to see his granddaughters and all the marvels of the world we live in.

The rest, the spectacular models, the attention put into rendering the wormhole, black hole, accretion disk and the planets, the handheld IMAX camera work, the costumes, the robots, all of this is scenery to this fable. The soundtrack is crushingly loud, drowning out the dialogue at times and I think it’s supposed to make you grab your ears, draw arms and legs in and beg for it to stop.

Go, see the film, and in full IMAX if you can. Cover your ears when you need to. Scoff at the plot holes. Perhaps the whole story is just a dying Cooper on 75% honesty.

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Four fantastic novels that are ripe for filming

Over the years I’ve seen many of my favourite books made into film, sometimes well, sometimes not so well. About 5 years ago I  mentioned a couple, and I intended to follow up with a description of some of them.

Since then, we’ve seen HBO in particular changing the game by getting excellent scriptwriters to convert series like Dexter, Southern Vampire Mysteries (True Blood) and Game of Thrones, as well as supporting the big budgets needed to fulfil the stories.  Longer story arcs have become familiar to the viewer, so that longer novels or series of books do not necessarily need to be reduced to a movie format.

Here’s a few of my favourites that I’m still waiting for.  There’s a few pie-in-the-sky ideas for potential actors or directors, but perhaps you’ve read them and have your own thoughts?  Alternatively if you fancy something different, these are widely available, either on e-book or cheaply through Amazon.

Jill Paton Walsh – Knowledge of Angels 
The story follows a shipwrecked mariner from a secular city who lands on a mediterrean island during the time of the Catholic Inquisition. His arrival challenges the religious order, who are bound by law to execute him if he will not recant his secular ways.  The Mariners’ convincing rebutals, intelligence and good nature cause great troubles among the theologians.  The situation is complicated by the discovery of a feral child, who the authorities try to use to prove the existence of God, the knowledge of angels.

This would be relatively cheap to film somewhere in the Adriatic, perhaps, would look lavish and has Oscar potential from a number of diverse characters.

It’s the kind of thing that would be perfect for Peter Weir, though perhaps Neil Jordan?  Adrien Brody, Ron Perlman, Ben Kingsley would be perfect in various roles.

Jill Paton Walsh – A School for Lovers 
On the back of the previous book, I checked out this romantic comedy, based on Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte.  Lighthearted, yet far more intelligent and satisfying than so many of the tired romcoms that we see year in, year out.

Once again, relatively cheap to make, meaning you could easily attract some big stars.  I could probably see Stanley Tucci as the “Puck” character, perhaps directing it as well?  The other 4 (yes, you only need 5 main actors) could be anyone really, just have to be well matched.

Julian May – Saga of Pliocene Exile 

Like many others, I was disappointed with last year’s Terra Nova, which shares a similar scenario, i.e. people are sent back to prehistoric ages from the future through a one-way time portal.  But here, the ancient and future worlds are well thought out and described, and the “metapsychic” abilities have their own natural logic.

But it’s not just the fantasy and sci-fi, there are themes of deception and politics, of human resourcefulness, but also the psychological and sociological impact of being part of a globally connected community, or of being exiled or otherwise excluded from that.

With exotic aliens, castles, fearsome beasties, big battles and touching romance, it could be a great follow-on to Game of Thrones.   It’d probably need a similar budget and probably a similar sized cast!

May wrote four more books that explored the development of metapsychic abilities in humans, and their eventual admission into a space-faring community of aliens. These allowed the story to come full circle but give the potential to extend the series or even shoot them as movies in their own right.

Maria Doria Russell – The Sparrow 

When beautiful singing is heard from a distance planet, a small mission is sent out to make contact and explore (as you do). However when the sole survivor returns, it’s clear that some horror has occurred, and the book follows his interrogation in parallel with flashbacks to the coming together of the team and the mission itself.  Like Knowledge of Angels, there are important spiritual and philosophical themes here which add weight to the sci-fi.

Out of this list, The Sparrow has come closest to seeing the screen, with 3 screenplays since it was first published in 1996, and Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas attached at different points.   The author writes here of her dilemma, which due to the nature of the story (not to mention the final reveal!) is more of a problem than for the other books in this list:

There’s a big market for science fiction action movies, but despite the success of films like “Moon”and “Inception,” there’s no market for science fiction drama. As one insider told me, “Not even George Clooney could get anybody to go see  ‘Solaris.’”

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life apologizing to people who would feel betrayed by a screen adaptation that didn’t face up to the central issues of the story.

Russell may eventually get her way as another of her novels,  “Doc” is being made into an HBO series.

Which of your favourite books are you aching to see, and who do you see being involved?

Beowulf: The reason why my favourite books are never going to see the screen

Beowulf one of those pieces of literature like The Aeneid or the Epic of Gilgamesh that, unless you studied classics (which isn’t generally considered a subject outside public schools), just sits on bookshelves to fill the space between Umberto Eco and James Joyce. I know it only from “Tolkien wanted to write an English version of Beowulf”. The Lord of The Rings series and Troy (probably others too) were a wakeup call to movie execs. The success of these meant that new trove of material was available without huge franchise fees like Harry Potter, no hordes of obsessive nitpicking fans like LotR. The story and characters are sufficiently unknown so that they can be manipulated to suit the audience and desired running time.

But I don’t feel that there’s been a huge call for this text to be made into a movie, or that your average moviegoer will see this because it’s a CGI movie. This is an awkward time of the year: half term over, running up to christmas – there is an additional risk of this underperforming at the box office, purely because of timing. Contrast this with the interest in The Golden Compass, which has a much better released date in December.

On a side note, I hate that the term “CGI Movie” is still being used – It’s been 12 years since Toy Story, for goodness sake! I thought with The Incredibles we’d seen the end of animation being seen as second-class or purely for kids. I thought we’d got out of that “ooh look at the pretty pictures” attitude – CGI has been part of the scenery for a long time. In the last year, I’ve had my expectations raised by Superman Returns and Transformers where the effects were used appropriately, a tool for illustrating the story.

I was expecting a movie made entirely using Motion Capture / CGI techniques to have come a long way from Lord of the Rings and Final Fantasy. The image below is a quick & nasty comparison of how far we’ve come in 6 years. Certainly Zemeckis seems to have learnt from the mistakes in Polar Express in terms of making the characters look more emotive. Obviously these are just static images, but it still looks a little wooden. I expected more from 6 years development in CGI hardware and software. TSW (2001) and Beowulf (2007)

The film looks to have fairly mature violence and sexual content, yet they have somehow squeezed a 12A certificate. King Arthur tried to do this a few years ago and it showed on screen – the Director’s Cut was quickly released on DVD. So already I get the nagging feeling that the story’s been compromised.

I’m not too keen on Ray Winstone in roles where he needs to talk. I loved him in Final Cut and Love, Honour and Obey, but in Henry VIII and Sweeney Todd (both TV dramas), it sometimes felt like he was reading phonetically from a card, much like the main bad guy in El Mariachi. So when the trailer ends with “I – wiw – kiw- yowah – monstah!”, and the CGI character looks more like Sean Bean, I wonder if he wouldn’t have been more convincing.

So with all that, I’m slightly disappointed, even though I wasn’t particularly looking forwards to it. And whilst there’s no loss to me from this film not doing well, I feel that if it doesn’t do well, it’ll be blamed on the story or the CGI.

And that’s a bad thing, because there are dozens of books out there that are screaming to be made into movie, but need CGI because of the scenery or characters. Some are in development hell, like The Sparrow, others like the Saga of the Exiles aren’t well known enough, but would make a fantastic series. I’ve got a list as long as my arm of books that I’d love to see on screen, I’ll share them with you one day.

Postscript:
I’ve finished writing this after the opening weekend, and signs are good.
But I’ll still wait for the DVD.

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