Tag Archives: scifi

Triple Feature – All Three Transformers Films

Red Letter Media is a company that produces humorous film reviews. I have linked to these guys before, when they released the amazing takedown of The Phantom Menace.

Here is something different. A little film called Transformers 4 : Age of Extinction is coming out soon, and what better way to celebrate this milestone than to watch the first three films? Simultaneously.

Personally, I have only seen the first Transformers. It was terrible.

Film Review : Jodorowsky’s Dune

Alejandro Jodorowsky burst into world cinemas with the cultiest of 70′s cult films – El Topo and The Holy Mountain. I have seen The Holy Mountain (my review) and it was clear to me that Jodorowsky was a director with a great visual sense who had – how to put it? – a very different sense of reality than most of us. When I heard that somebody had made a documentary about Jodorowsky’s attempt to film Dune I knew I had to see it.
Title Card for Jodorowsky's Dune
Jodorowsky spent 2 years on the project, collecting his “spiritual warriors” to make what was to be a landmark project designed to expanded the consciousness of cinema-goers around the world. His casting was inspired – Mick Jagger as Feyd-Rautha, Dali as Leto, and “Baron Harkonnen is grotesque, fat and disgusting : Orson Wells!”. He also had an eye for artistic talent, gathering SFX genius Dan O’Bannon, and artists H.R. Giger and Chris Foss (who together went on to make Alien) along with others to produce the whole film in book form to show to American film studios.

Jodorowsky’s Dune mainly consists of Jodorowsky speaking about the project, with frequent cut aways to most of the other warriors, who all seem genuinely pleased to have been involved in such a huge but doomed undertaking. It is easy to see how Jodorowsky managed to woo people to his quest, he is a magnetic speaker and his enthusiasm is infectious even if much of what he says is crazy. It is lucky for the world that all he wanted to do was create films; as a politician or religious leader Jodorowsky would be dangerous.

Although not a single frame of film was shot, the complete storyboard was compiled and Jodorowshy’s Dune animates portions to show what the finished product would have looked like, backed by an an appropriately 70′s synth soundtrack. Jodorowsky is certain that he was on track to make a masterpiece, and I am not sure he is wrong. Maybe that film exists in another, better timeline.

Instead, in this timeline we got 80s Dune. David Lynch instead of Jodorowsky. Sting instead of Mick Jagger. Toto instead of Pink Floyd. These are not positive changes. Coke Zero instead of the original coca-infused Coke. Jodorowsky’s face lights up (more than usual) as he recounts seeing the film and realising it was a horrible failure.

Jodorowsky’s Dune is a fascinating and often hilarious look into a project that was just to big for this world. Jodorowsky is the perfect subject, jabbering on in charmingly broken English about his film and his philosophy. By turns hilarious and draw-droppingly mad, Jodorowsky’s Dune is highly recommended.

Jodorowsky has a new film out soon – I’ll probably see it.

Proof of Time Travel

I recently saw an article about researchers looking for proof of time travel using the Internet to search out references to events that hadn’t happened yet. Apparently they drew a blank but they obviously weren’t looking very hard.


(youtube)

History records that this is Grand Cortège de Bacchus from the ballet Syliva by Léo Delibes, written in 1876. But it is quite clearly the theme to Knight Rider, circa 1981. I think it is clear that someone, possibly genius composer Stu Phillips himself, traveled back to 19th centry Paris to influence the past.

How much more proof do you need?

Film Review : Gravity

Sometime in the near future past (when we still had space shuttles), a routine mission to service the Hubble goes horribly wrong resulting in an astronaut being cast off into the void. She must use her training and limited experience to survive.

Gravity is an amazingly visual film, more or less an extended showreel for director Alfonso Cuarón (best known for Children of Men) to indulge his passion for really long, complex shots. His style work really well for this type of story, the camera drifts with the characters in space, subtly framing the action or lingering on the planet below.

Post for the film GavityEverything is choreographed perfectly, I wish more directors and editors would follow Cuarón’s lead. We live in the age of great CGI but people still cut films like they are trying to hide the seams that don’t need to exist anymore.

The long shots also serve to make use of 3D tolerable, indeed even enjoyable. The crisp lighting of space and the fact that background is hundreds of miles away makes the foreground really pop, while the leisurely camera motion lets your eyes just soak it in. I saw Gravity in IMAX 3D and it is the only film to date that I can recommend paying the extra money for.

Is there anything bad about Gravity? I didn’t really care for the dialog which verges on corny in places. To be brutally honest Gravity might work better as a silent movie with a soundtrack containing only ambient sounds and music. Sandra Bullock does an OK job and Clooney amps up his Clooneyness to 11 but neither of them really steal the show. But that is actually fine, since the visuals, nail-biting story, and clever sound design take up the slack.

Not perfect but very well worth seeing, especially on the big screen. Highly recommend.

Book Review : Two Books by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Cover art for both Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood

Sometime in the near future the world is dominated by huge corporations that are above government control. Employees of these corporations live in company compounds that are strictly guarded since business competition increasingly resembles guerrilla warfare. Genetic engineering is behind most technological advancements, bringing wonders (amazing cures) and horrors (virulent diseases) alike. The rest of the population scratch a living in huge grubby cities. Against this backdrop of mistrust, one new plague manages to almost completely annihilate the human race. Almost, but not quite.

Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood tell concurrent and somewhat overlapping stories of the years leading up to the killer plague and the events that follow. They could almost be edited together into a single book.

O&C follows Jimmy, a boy growing up in the compounds of a minor corporation and his association with another boy, Crake, a genius destined for greatness. YotF tells the story of two women, Ren and Toby, who live outside the compounds. Both women belong to a religious survivalist organisation called The God’s Gardeners, who reject modern life and predict a coming world-wide plague. Thus Ren and Toby are well placed to survive one when it conveniently arrives.

The main problem I had with both books is the main characters: Jimmy is a rather whiny and ineffectual as a protagonist, doing almost nothing of his own volition. Although slightly more proactive than Jimmy, both Ren and Toby are outshone in their own story by the more-vivid characters that surround them. All three characters have a rather limited perception of their world, and it is their observations that shape the readers understanding of what is going on. The books play a clever trick of having the reader eventually come to realise more than the characters ever do, but I found it hard going following such mopey people (especially Jimmy who gets a whole book to himself).

The books are well written and well thought out, although some of the nu-speak terms that crop up seemed jarringly tin-eared to me. One thing corporations do well is think up cool names for products and I don’t think terms like “ratunk” would survive the first focus group. The plots unfurl in a roundabout way that can be infuriating, especially since a lot of the real action goes on behind the backs of the main characters, but everything hangs together pretty well.

Of the pair, YotF is the more entertaining book. I think Atwood put more effort into getting the reader into the mindset of the God’s Gardeners and they come off as much more sympathetic (albeit crazy) than the jaded compound dwellers of O&C. The best part is the insane sermons and hymns quoted from the God’s Gardeners endless meetings at the beginning of each chapter. These capture the voice of the organisation well, and read better than anything that directly follows the narrative.

This is not a pair of books for fans of resolution, both books end on the same cliffhanger. A third book in the series MaddAddam (released couple of days ago) will hopefully continue the story but who knows.

Recommended but requires commitment.

Related: Some guy named Orville Stoeber has recorded some of the God Gardener’s songbook on Youtube. I assume he did it with his tongue in his cheek, but it is a little hard to tell.