Wednesday, November 27, 2002

SPEILBERG'S 2001

[Originally written as a reaction to ARTIFICIAL INTELLEGENCE]

Ah, ... where to begin?

Well, with opening titles music, of course. But not some over used bit of old classic. No way. Spielberg will get his mate John Williams to rip off some bit of old classic. Now a regular John Williams title theme is easy to get in your head. Start by saying to yourself in a low harmonious tone "two thou-sand and one". Say it twice, then on the third raise your voice a bit and on the forth raise it again. Then start over. By the time you've done this, say, three or four times, you got a John Williams titles score. This will play during all the opening credits, white on black, till we get to "Directed by Steven Spielberg". The music stops and we fade in to the earth floating there in space. You'll notice the Milky Way looking very striking in the background and we'll have some pretty comet fly by.

Then we'll get the narrator. Now it has to be someone everyone recognizes, like Charlton Heston. But they used him in Armageddon. So let's go with Sean Connery.

And he says, "The Earth at the Dawn of Man."

We cut to some primitive desert scape or, better yet, a mega-lush totally CGI forest, with lovely theme music pointing out the drip drip of the waterfall and the flutter of a butterfly.

Connery says, "Short Tail comes out to greet the morning sun."

And a CGI baby ape-man thingy goes out to delightfully chase butterflies. But he's suddenly threatened by a mean bully ape-kid. Short-tail runs home to cry. Dad shakes his head despondently. Fade to Black.

The next day, the Monolith has appeared. They all touch it to a theme of "this is really important". Fade to Black.

The next day, cute little short tail is walking along, the background a lovely scenic display, when he notices a bird hovering upon thermals high in the sky. There's a lovely violin solo here. Guaranteed to get Williams an Oscar (TM) nomination. Fade to Black.

Bully ape-thing comes trudging through the forest to a trudging through the forest theme. He sees Short-tail and bunches his fists in readiness to bully. But he stops and looks in wonder. We cut to a close-up of Short-tail's furry little hands and he's holding the end of a vine. We cut to a wide shot of Short-tail and as the music, the opening theme, starts up we follow the vine up to the sky. Short-tail had invented the kite. Short-tail giggles. Bully giggles. Dad sees what's going on and gives a "well, I'll be" shrug and follows it with a belly laugh in ape style.

We see the kite, the sun behind it. Suddenly, the kite is replaced with a space ship. It has a huge neon sign and is flashing "Microsoft" with Windows [tm] logo. A stirring John Williams march gets going as we do a tour of space ships and space stations, all covered in paid for advertising. M & Ms float around in a luxury compartment. Pepsi has a bottle in pretty CGI to land in the mouth of a pretty little girl in pigtails and freckles. Children have fun in zero-G. Life is a ball in space. And to make sure we understand, we home in on a video screen and a little film begins. My goodness, it's the voice of Jim Carrey and he is Mr Gravity.

We are eventually introduced to Dr Heywood Floyd. He's played by Richard Dreyfuss in bearded mode. He arrives at the moon base and has a friendly chat with somebody. In this chat he mentions that although life seems sweet, it really isn't. We are always on the verge of war. People suffer from inhumanities to man. Something with all our technology we cannot solve. As he tries to get up, he gives a groan. He explains it's an old injury he got in highschool that could never be fixed. Sadly, it forced him out of the school marching band, something he deeply regrets. Sadly, now he's merely a space administrator.

Anyway, we get taken to the second monolith. But this one doesn't screech. It produces this snazzy ring of light that goes right round the moon. Pretty CGI. Naturally, this upsets Floyd. In his space suit he starts shouting in true Dreyfuss style. "What was that? What did it mean? Who is it for? All I wanted to do is play the trombone!" Music is really loud through all this, a variation on the "two thou-sand and one" theme. Cut to Black. Music ending in "This is the end of this bit" crescendo.

SIX MONTHS LATER

We see a spaceship, long and sexy, go by the camera. It has the word DISCOVERY on it in bold letters. We hear what sounds a bit like a trucker's song. Cut to inside of ship and there is Bowman as played by Robin Williams. His feet are up on a table as he sings to some country ditty. Frank Poole jogs by. He's played by Kevin Spacey. "Haven't you heard that song enough times?" They kid around until the voice of Anthony Hopkins as HAL calls theme for tea. Later, HAL asks to look at Bowman's witty cartoons of Poole getting into whimsical scrapes. Then Bowman asks HAL what he's been doing today. HAL says he's monitoring and checking the ship's circuits. In between he's been reading 'Winnie the Pooh'. Bowman suddenly looks sad and says in quiet Robin Williams' style, "Oh". Poole is in the background looking morose for Bowman. Bowman wanders away quietly. HAL asks Poole if he had said something wrong. Poole says, 'Winnie-the-Pooh' was Bowman's sons favourite book before he died of a disease that all the future's wonderful technology could not cure. That's why Bowman is out here so to escape thinking about his son. Everyone is sad. We have a quintessential John Williams sad theme piece while we see Robin Williams give that sad smile look of his at a video of him playing with his son. Lookee, it's Haley Joel Osment. Or is that Joel Haley Osment? Anyway, this goes on for what feels like an age, the music lusciously right along with it. Fade to Black.

Then we get internal and external views of the ship while we hear HAL's internal monologue. He comes to the conclusion that his faux pas about Winnie-the-pooh has caused Bowman to start doubting him. This could threaten the whole mission. Take note, the voice of HAL started as a quaint Shakespearean sotto, but over the course of the monologue he comes to sound more and more like Dr Lecter. When HAL decides he must act, it's at the very moment Poole walks in.

We then get an extended performance piece of Kevin Spacey versus the voice of Hopkins. But eventually Spacey dies in a protracted and most horrible way. It's Spacey's best death scene ever (causing fans to cry shame when he wasn't up for best supporting). And it's gruesome. Totally off putting for children (later to cause controversy with critics). But Spielberg has shown that he can direct serious mature cinema, brutal and unflinching. Some critics regard it as the best death in space ever put to film. Some old Russian vet cosmonauts say, "that's how it really was".

Anyway, we fade out of that. Bowman gets in a suit and pretending all is okay, convinces HAL that he's in the good books. But then Bowman grabs HAL's CPU and blasts it out the airlock. We then have a lengthy internal monologue of HAL contemplating his demise and the mysteries of the universe. Ending with Hopkins singing "Daisy" as his voice slowly fades away, leaving silence and stars.

We cut back to Bowman heaving a sigh of relief. But then the alarms clang and lights flash. He has to get out of the Discovery before it burns up in the atmosphere of Jupiter. He gets out in his pod just in time. He sees the ship recreate the Shoemaker-Levi impact (there's a documentary on the DVD on how they employed scientists to make it as accurate as possible).

So what now? Well, Bowman sees the floating monolith. A lovely marbling CGI pattern across it and then he goes into a very pretty, but same ol' CGI time tunnel thingy. This goes on for way to little. It's over before you get into it (this pissed off some aging hippies as the acid didn't hit till half way through the closing credits - bummer).

Anyway, Bowman is in a room. A room that looks familiar. Yes, it's his son's bedroom. The one we got to see in mega-detail in the home movie. Bowman gets excited and starts running around calling for his son. But when he turns around, there, standing on the bed is not his son but Winnie-the-Pooh. He points and we see what Bowman sees. The Monolith. With a single tear going down his face and John Williams employing a single tinkley piano, Bowman goes up to the monolith and falls to his knees, dropping his head down low. This lasts a fair moment. But then we hear the faithful Williams flutes as we see a child's arms reach out to touch Bowman. Bowman raises his head, tears all down his face, and sees a glowing Haley Joel Osment (or is that...?).

Poole says, "I should have told you this sooner, but I'm proud of you, son."

Star Child Haley says, "I'm proud of you, dad."

The music is really welling up now. Big theme time.

Then Star Child Haley flies off into space. The theme is really movin' as we see Haley come up to the earth. We cut to scenes around the planet as nuclear weapons are disarmed by themselves. Fighter planes won't take off. Soldiers decide to drop their weapons. American and Arab hug.

A frightened scientist runs up to Floyd. "What is happening?" He cries.

Dr Heywood Floyd looks up to the sky and says, "Something wonderful"

Then he realizes his leg doesn't ache anymore and he sees, lying on his
chair, a trombone.

We cut to a close up of Haley. He smiles to the camera.

We quickly dissolve to a shot of Short-tail running through tall grass with his other giggly apey friends. The sun is shining. The kite is flying. We dissolve back to Star Child Haley. He starts to fade into the stars. But the glint from his left eye remains, twinkling brighter than all else in the heavens. Williams' score has come down to a sweet tinkle, tinkle.

Sean Connery says, "And Mankind Lived Happily Ever After."

Then the credits roll up to a full orchestral "two thou-sand and one, two thou-sand and one".

The theatre light go up. We get up, look to each other and say, "Well, that was pretty much what we expected".

THE END

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

SOLARIS PRE-REVISITED

[I originally wrote this on 27th of Sept '98 when it was announced that James Cameron had bought the right's to Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris. Since then Cameron has given it over to Steven Soderbergh who may make it into a piece of interesting cinema. In prelude to this new theatrical adaption, I thought I'd dust this piece off. Note: If you haven't read the novel or seen the original Andre Tarkovsky film, which you should have, then this may well have some spoilers]

A James Cameron Film of

SOLARIS

Promo line: Careful what you wish for, you might just get it.

Open on spacey control panels, then pan to a close up of a serious, but attractive science type woman. With other scientists - one looking like a hippie, one like a redneck - they are getting excited looking at a monitor of events unfolding outside their control room. One announces something is happening. They run to the porthole. They look amazed at what is occurring outside, but it turns to terror as the light brightens upon their faces and all bleaches to white.

Something has gone wrong on Solaris station.

The Solaris investigation team ceased transmissions twelve days ago. The head of earth based operations is scientist Grant Lee (Bill Pullman) who's recently separated wife is on the Solaris station. The only man who can get him there is the reclusive Stanton Carlisle (Bill Paxton) who never got over the death of his true love. The pain of her loss even more terrible as he never actually told her he loved her before the fatal car accident only minutes after they had argued over commitment. This told in flash back from flames of a wood fire to flames of a burning automobile, siren blaring, fading away to the ringing of a door bell. Lee makes his pitch, Carlisle says no. Only after Grant puts aside science and duty and talks about the saving of life does Carlisle reluctantly agree. Carlisle picks his team of Space Seals, including dope smoker Renko, Drill Sergeant Bernice, Canadian lumberjack DeGaul and a handful of other typical action extra types.

We're in space where each character shows how stereotypical they are. Renko is talking bullshit, making people chuckle, DeGaul pulls out his accordion and Renko starts doing a jig on the table. Bernice is about to pull them in line, she particularly picks on Renko, but Carlisle tells her to leave them be, "who knows what lies ahead". After Lee explains the truth of the Solaris project, a living planetary entity, to Carlisle, he goes back to his room and looks at a photo of him and his wife on their wedding day.

There it is. Solaris. The planet looks like a giant spherical brain. But before they can get to the station they are attacked by some unseen creature and forced to crash into the Solaris Station docking bay. Recovering little hardware and just barely escaping the bay before all explodes - killing the non-speaking half of the rescue team - they set out to explore the wrecked and seemingly abandoned station.

After a couple of scary moments where nothing happens, they find the control room. All looks dead until transmissions are heard on a control deck. Running down corridors they find the three remaining scientists. One of them is Lee's wife, Jane (Rene Russo) who acts non-plus at Lee's arrival. This only hurts his feelings more. Another is angry scientist Dan Caruso (Michael Biehn) who is aggressive to their arrival. They claim they didn't need rescuing. They go further to say, what are lives compared to knowledge? Solaris could be the future for mankind. Solaris thinks solid thoughts. Yes, it makes it dangerous, but it's a small sacrifice for the pursuit of science. Carlisle thinks differently. "We're all getting out of here as soon as we fix the escape shuttle", now damaged under suspicious circumstances.

Suddenly all hell brakes loose. Monsters! Monsters from the id!

Big long sequences of suspense, action and terror go on for some time. A couple of team members get eaten, including DeGaul who saved them all by holding open a door before being crushed. Eventually it is revealed that psychotic Dan is creating the monsters to stop them. His insane jealousy over Jane means no one will survive except himself and her. Jane rejects him, realising she still loves her husband and that human tenderness is more important than science.

"What is real is what you can touch with your heart," She says. "Is better than any dream, no matter how real it may feel."

"Then you must die with the others," says Dan. Not long after, Jane is hanging from a rail over a precipice. Below is a sea of ugly toothy gelatinous monsters. In all the fisty-cuffs, evil Dan has fallen over the rails and has grabbed onto Jane's legs. Dan tries to pull Jane down with him into the sentient slime. But she repeatedly kicks him shouting "I love my husband!" Final kick and Dan falls to his own demise, so to speak. Lee then saves his wife and in that act they are reunited.

Meanwhile, Solaris station is being pulled into Solaris' brain like ocean. All looks bleak, but suddenly, Carlisle's lost love appears (Caroline Goodall, who has been glimpsed by Carlisle from time to time during the action), telling them that mankind is not yet ready for the power that Solaris can offer. She tells them how to fix the escape shuttle and says goodbye to Carlisle, "One day, we'll be together again." Before he presses the launch button, he tells his lost love that he loves her. The shuttles launches out of the bay just as the Station hits, monsters and all, exploding before sinking back into the sea. The shuttle flies away.

All is relaxed. Grant and Lee are comfortable in each other's arms. Carlisle is quietly smiling to his memories, having found himself again. Bernice pats Renko on the back (the only two other survivors) and admits she liked Renko all along.

Suddenly the controls go berserk, Jane tells them to look out the portal. Solaris glows bright, shines brighter till all are squinting, then fades out of existence leaving the darkness of starry space.
"No one will see Solaris again," says Jane.
"When man is ready, we'll find it" says Grant.
But Carlisle has the last word, "But right now, we're going home."

The ship flies away. Credits come up over a blaring James Horner that won't win him an oscar nomination.

The end

Saturday, November 16, 2002

BETTER THAN THE REAL THING

I was not going to kid myself. I new damn well I'd pick up the "Extended Edition" of FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING.

I can tell ya now. It ain't no stinkin' "Extended Edition".

The "Theatrical Version" we saw in the cinemas should be renamed the "Shortened Edition".

I had to admit, although I was enthusiastic to see an extra half hour of material, I was half expecting it to be the reinsertion of scenes that were right or safe to be removed in the first place. FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING isn't like that at all. If you had seen the extended version of RINGS first then you may well wonder what they could have cut half an hour from.

Yes, I thought the original RINGS was, as a film, fairly complete in the first place. Seeing this new version shows how much Jackson had to cut from an even more "complete" film to get it under the three hours he was contracted. Yeah, I've heard the argument that the "Theatrical" is the official director's cut, not this longer version. Well, both versions are director's cuts. But it is very clear which is the director's preferred version. This DVD release isn't a simple marketing exercise. Nor are the bonus materials (unlike with the "Theatrical" DVD release) which are quite interesting from a film creation point-of-view.

It is a better storytelling experience and a better film-going experience, not just for the richer development of virtually every character, but also (and I didn't expect this) for the groovy enhancement of the already groovy action scenes. Traditional Jackson fans will be tickled by the tad extra violence.

Plus the revelation of new plot points (granted they're minor) made me wonder how they'd have been dealt with in the following two films if they weren't going to be revealed in this extended version. I suspect this new edition was planned very early on, even before the initial cinema release.

There's no doubt that the experience of THE TWO TOWERS will be enriched by having seen this "recut".

If you are a fan of the film do see this new version. It is very well worth it, indeed. In fact, if you take your fantastical film with any seriousness, then it's mandatory.

I'll take a stick of birch to ya if you's don't.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

BIG SHOTíS FUNERAL

A satire out of Mainland China is something you would not normally expect, less so one featuring Donald Sutherland. But Xiaogang Fengís DA WAN or BIG SHOTíS FUNERAL (2001) shows off Sutherlandís easy comedic style, something rare to see since his satirical comedies of the late sixties and early seventies. And to do so in what is essentially a Chinese language film only adds to this oh so Donald performance. Playing a big shot director doing a remake of THE LAST EMPEROR, Sutherland fits in smoothly with the more-than-up-to-it Asian cast (particularly the underplaying You Ge as the hero who goes nuts) and the odd Yank (Paul Mazursky is a likeable hard-ass producer) in this film about western filmmaking, Asian marketing and the changing of the socio-political guard in a China changing too fast for itself to keep up.

But despite being a rather Chinese film this is also a satire about the modern world as a whole. Sure, this film pokes fun at western value systems, but it isnít acting all superior about it. It shows that China is well and truly and irrevocably following down the same path and doing so with a vengeance. And thus the richer the irony pervading this funny movie. For instance, the one closest to achieving Buddha-nature - as explained by the central protagonist, a Chinese cameraman hired to film Sutherlandís every move - is a North American wise-ass film director disillusioned with his life. BIG SHOTíS FUNERAL is clever, witty, full of purpose. It is a film of harsh criticism and gentle ribbing.

As good satire should be, every character is mad, yet very normal within their contexts. The gift of a good satire, especially a loving one, is to place the spectator in the privileged seat of seeing simultaneously both the in and the out of these contexts. Once this is achieved a film is made up of characters you laugh at but still remain quite sympathetic toward their plights. Their foolishness is not entirely of their making. Itís a symptom of a society we are all a part of. The absurdity of modern living is something all of us must accept the blame.

Of course, you don't have to read so much into it. BIG SHOTíS FUNERAL simply works as a film of subtle and wacky humour. And I wish more western films could be more like it. But then Hollywood probably couldnít quite pull off a film quite like this. An Asian view of the Western world has been a long time coming. I doubt the Hollywood system would be so daring to make fun of itself as honestly as this. Nor could they conceive of huge portraits of Donald Sutherland adorning the walls of the Forbidden City surrounded by billboard commercials from big name colas to The Great Aussie Steakhouse. This film is wholly Chinese, yet made for all of us to appreciate. And we bloody well better.

Thursday, November 07, 2002

IF THAT AIN'T NICE, WHAT IS?

I know I shouldn't admit this, but I'm gonna anyway.

I've been bad.

Yep, I'm the kind'a guy that doesn't go ahead and read the book, but waits for the video.

Actually, it's just that I haven't read Kurt Vonnengut Jr's Breakfast of Champions. Yeah, I know I should'a. But I haven't. What ya gonna do?

Well, I know I should'a.

Anyway, Iíve watched the movie.

And I'm not sure what to think.

Actually, I had know idea what to think while I was watching it. It might have been piss poor. It might have been brilliant. I couldn't tell. I couldn't tell if I kept watching it because I found it mesmerizing, fascinating, or that I simply couldn't take my eyes off it like I was witnessing some gruesome road accident. Honestly, I couldn't tell.

If someone was there next to me, they might have just as easily said, "Man, this is fuckin' brill. suck-hold-exhale This could go on forever. suck-hold-exhale Wanna drag? Hey, the colours are real bright in here." Or they could as easily said, "I'm goin' out and gettin' a pizza and I'm gonna sit in my car and eat it by myself as I ain't gonna share my Hawaiian with anyone who'll make me watch this pathetic piece of shit." I can't tell. I dunno. It was like watching Richard Lester's THE BED-SITTING ROOM or Peter Greenaway's THE FALLS or Gilliam's FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. There's no predicting what the person next to you will think. But usually, I know what I think, especially when I'm watching the damn thing. With BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS, I just didn't know.

Well, that's how I felt while I was watching it. That is till I got near the end. When Albert Finney's enigmatic Kilgore Trout and Bruce Willis' manic Dwayne Hoover finally come together in the cheesy bar-room, Bunny (Lukas Hass) playing his organ and while Nick Nolte runs around in a tutu on some TV screen . Then Albert Finny, as that old crusty pulp sci-fi author says "If that ain't nice, what is?" and I burst out laughing. Like a whack in the face with a satori sandwich, I understood the film. Well, I think I understood the film. Perhaps the film understood me. Maybe we understood each other. Or didn't, as the case may be.

And when it comes to that mirror... but I'll say no more. Some of you, I hope will discover it for yourself. Some I hope will never try to scale this many-coloured tower of confusion. It just won't be worth your while. But some I hope get that same sensation that I did the moment it all makes sense to Hoover and thus all made sense to me. Still, it will not surprise me if some of you switch it off before you get to the second act. I won't be blaming you. Not at all. This film may be a total failure on almost every level of filmmaking, from crap music to bad acting to camera tripods not properly set to level. But, damn I say. Damn! Like Ice-Cube seeing his first gold record or a contract to be in another George Clooney movie or a fucking big snake. Damn! This film worked for me.

So, now I feel bad. I should have read the book. I guess, now I will. I've waited for the video, now it's time to read the book.

I wonder what Kilgore Trout would have made of that? Probably nuthin'.

Anyway, let's hear it for Kilgore and all those ol' pulpy science fiction writers.

They had the hard task to write about it. We just had to live it.

Friday, November 01, 2002

MAN, THOSE MAD SCIENTIST DUDES SURE CAN PISS ME OFF SOMETIMES

I mean...

The other day I was talking to one of my mad scientist buddies and he was telling me how he had put the mind of a rabbit into a Rottweiller to make it docile. Well, it still attacked everybody, but now it drops small hard balls of shit all over the house. His housemate invented a domestic servant robot. Fair enough, but the moron gave it metal cutter claws instead of hands, because he found it "esthetically pleasing". Now their place is shredded to ribbons and the thing still can't make a decent cup of tea.

I went to a party there a while back, and some guy had invented a black hole and thought he could impress the girls by whipping it out and swallowing the known universe. Fortunately, he met a female mad scientist - working on a machine to turn men into an army of mind controlled zombies willing to do her every bidding (something to do with not being asked to the school prom) - and the heavy petting they gave each other on the couch (it wasn't pretty) meant they both forgot all that world domination stuff and did a snuggle up STAR TREK NEXT GEN marathon, only pausing to get fresh bottles of Jolt (tm) and find rational explanations for the techno-babble.

And I'm still waiting for my foot to heal after one let his sentient cauliflower loose and the little bugger attacked my big toe thinking it was a snail come eat it. I remember shouting at the guy, "You gave an angry cauliflower sharp teeth! Didn't you think of the consequences?" The guy paused, scratched his unkempt beard, pushed up his taped glasses and said, "Nope."

I don't know why I continue to hang out with these guys. If they didn't live at the base of Mt Pootmootoo down in burbs I probably wouldn't bother. They like living deep in the heart of Burbia cause there's plenty of pliable residents. Ideal for a whole variety of experiments and you never run out.

But hey, being mad doesn't mean you're not happy.

Welcome back, I say to myself.