Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Let’s get this first part out of the way:

If there is one thing I’m tired of in the realm of film and television, it’s pre-emptive complainers trying to de-rail everything before it even comes out. with any review of this live action American/Chinese Ghost in The Shell film, everyone has drawn battle lines in regards to the elephant in the room of “Hollywood whitewashing”; in fact, I would say you were almost expected to take a side, and if you took a side that many didn’t like you’d get lectured by the other. It’s annoying that folks are getting in fights and “unfriending” each-other because of opinions over a goofy sci-fi film, but that’s our modern society I guess. Some popular reviews from major sites didn’t even talk about the film, they just reviewed everything that was in some way perceived as racist to stoke the outrage fires, this honestly comes across like they never actually watched it.

I’m not going to dwell on this topic too much because I can see both sides and don’t think arguing over whether or not Scarlett Johanson should or should not be cast as The Major actually addresses the actual problem that Hollywood has with representation. The internet witch hunts and rage were nearly identical to what people attempted to do with both recent Star Wars films, and even last years re-boot of Ghostbusters, and I honestly don’t care anymore. I’d rather discuss a film based on an anime/manga property that I’ve loved for upwards of 20+ years, and how it turned out.

/end rant

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Ghost in The Shell has been a favorite of mine for a VERY long time. I recall being first introduced to it through my older stepbrother that loved cyberpunk stuff – he had the original Masamune Shirow manga laying around at some point when I was visiting and I was enthralled by what I saw. Not too long after that, I was able to rent the anime adaptation from one of our local video stores and was hooked on the franchise from that point forward. every continuation has been something I get really excited about – all the movies, games, TV shows etc. That said, I was torn when they announced that a western adaptation was going to be produced a few years ago.

Readers may recall that I’m pretty vocal about my dislike for most anime adaptations because they don’t treat the source material with respect and are generally bad (Dragonball Evolution is the king of this). That goes for live action adaptations produced in Japan itself. I am always annoyed when they discuss a possible Akira remake because the two directors that were vocally lobbying for it seemed determined to completely alter the entire premise of the story into something else. I recall at one point, the script going around had Kaneda and Tetsuo, protagonists of the film, gender swapped and made into former lovers – nope! Any such fears that I had with Ghost in the Shell were calmed when the released the first trailer – the logo was there, scenes appeared to be adapted directly from the 1995 film, characters looked almost correct – “wait?! was this going to be okay somehow?” the controversy I touched on above was something that troubled me a bit, but I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happens.

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Quick verdict – Ghost in the Shell 2017 is good, not great, and it’s not deserving of the critical heat it’s getting online.

An argument can be made that many of the visual flourishes in this film seem like a road often traveled, somewhat dated, nothing new. That’s by design, as many scenes are literally directly lifted from the 1995 film – keep in mind that the source material is nearing thirty years of age if you go even further back to the comic. it’s filled with typical cyberpunk aesthetics, and much like steampunk, or post-apocalyptic fiction – straying too far from the agreed upon tropes is never a great idea. Most “cyberpunk” properties follow a set groundwork laid by much older films like Blade Runner, books like Neuromancer, and the like. Ideas like megacities run by huge militarized corporations, dingy slums filled with bright holographic neon lights, weird Asian and Western culture amalgamations and the idea of trans-humanism seem passe today, but we seem to be ever closer to that very reality. it might not look the same, but in many ways cyberpunk is closer to our modern society than it was back in the 80’s.

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I mentioned that some scenes were directly influenced by the Mamoru Oshii film of the same name, and I would even go as far as to say that this was almost a shot-for-shot remake of that very film with a little bit of some of the sequel material sprinkled in. This is a double edged sword in many ways, as seeing scenes like the building infiltration, the spider mech fight, and the cloaked fight with the hacked garbage man was cool, but a lot of those scenes were a lot cooler and more fleshed out in the original film. This was because there was a decent amount of new material – some adapted from the comics or TV series taking up the runtime. Reading reviews online, a constant complaint I kept seeing was that “The Major got a new backstory” which is funny because Hideo Kuze and his revelations at the end of the TV series factor into this film quite a bit, meaning that people have not seen Stand Alone Complex and should not be commenting on it as if they are authorities on the matter.

For much of the film, we know The Major as Major Mira KIllian – a cyborg created by a large robotics company named Hanka Robotics. She was a survivor of a refugee boat accident – something that left her family dead and herself severely injured. Her brain was the only thing salvageable from her body, so it was put in a new body as a second chance at life as long as she’s cool being basically sold to the government as a weapon. Of course, this is all BS and the driving force behind The Major trying to piece her previous life back together.

Much like the backstory stuff, I saw people complaining that the inclusion of Hanka was a new addition to the franchise, but they were actually an organization from the original comic, although not as major as here. In both versions they are a VERY bad company, as the comic version of Hanka was caught in a scandal where they were dubbing the ghosts of children into a mass-produced consumer robot to achieve a greater sense of human personality. Here, without going into too much detail – they are trying to create a race of perfect soldiers with human brains in a cybernetic body, where they get these brains could be an issue.

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In some ways, making Hanka Robotics a major plot point in the film is actually going against one of the major philosophical ideas from the original manga. In a world where the internet is literally in and around you at all times, and cyber-warfare is something even low-level street thugs dabble in from time to time, old ideas like national sovereignty and borders are basically obsolete. Section 9 always skirted a fine line between acting within the scope of normal law enforcement, and treating the Networks as a free for all that the old ways stood against. Leaving out some of this diplomatic and political intrigue sort of boils down the role that Section 9 and Hanka have as nothing more than a Corporation acting as The Government and Section 9 acting as their willing lap-dog. I guess in some ways that’s a telling indictment of the current status-quo with our own corporations, but something that I wanted to point out as a major difference. Hanka is also a convenient way to have a blatant “villain” rather than the numerous ephemeral “gray area” antagonists the material usually features.

There are a few differences like this that are not huge deal breakers, but sort of “dumb down” the ideas from Ghost in the Shell to a more palatable product for those looking to see an action popcorn movie rather than a philosophical look into trans-humanism. I’m not annoyed by this in any way because no two versions of Ghost in the Shell are exactly alike. The manga, the Oshii films, The TV series, and the recent Arise films are all different parallel versions of this story, and none of them are very much alike to be honest. I actually prefer the TV series Stand Alone Complex, to the films and dislike the manga sequel. with a franchise like this, there are many ways to look at the story – something for everyone.

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When it comes to casting, I absolutely loved the job they did. And yes, Scarlett Johanson did a fine job no matter what internet folks want you to believe. Pretty much every character from section 9 is present aside from Paz, seemingly replaced by a new character named Ladriya, I’m pretty sure she’s not from any previous version, but could be wrong. Takeshi Kitano (As Aramaki) is my favorite Japanese actor, and having him be such a badass in this film was awesome. He has, by far, the best line in the entire film where he chumps out an entire squad of armored assassins with a briefcase and quips “Never send a rabbit to kill a fox”. I wanted to clap at that very moment, but that probably would have made everyone mad in the theater.

Chin Han is also great as Togusa, perhaps my favorite character from the TV series. He’s not a major part of the film by any means, but I was glad to see him in there. Finally, I wouldn’t be able to discuss this without talking about Batou, as played by Danish actor Pilou Asbæk. I’ve somehow missed him up to this point, but he was really good – he really captured the character and was perhaps the truest to the source material of anyone in the film.

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I’ve already written a lot here, and I don’t want to spoil more than what I have since the film does have a few mysteries and twists. To reiterate from above Ghost in the Shell 2017 is a good, but not great film that stayed close to the source material with a few alterations. Yes, these alterations sort of “water-down” some of the themes of the source material itself, but this was a summer popcorn flick, I was never under the assumption that this was going to be a complex film for jaded otaku. I enjoyed the casting despite the online backlash, and would be up for a sequel if one ever materializes. That is unlikely as the film hasn’t really caught the box office on fire, but who knows. I am sad that there was no reference to any sort of mobile tank unit like the Fuchikoma / tachikoma / Uchikoma /or Logikoma units from the numerous iterations of the franchise. This was no surprise as they are not present in the 1995 film either unless you count the spider tank.

I’d say ignore the haters and see this for yourself – I’m not saying you’ll like it, but it’s not the bucket of dog turds everyone wants it to be.

 


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The Akira Remake Just Keeps Looking Worse…

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding Hollywood is not the tired “they have no new ideas” complaint, a complaint that is bolstered by dozens of films based on other movies, books, toys, and cartoons filling the cinemas. Mine is a broader concern that they have no regard for the fans when it comes to such adapted works. I don’t mind Hollywood remakes and sequels of stuff I enjoy, but what I don’t want to see is adaptation for the sake of itself, and missing the point of the source material.

A while back, Michael Bay summoned a veritable crap-storm of nerd rage when a script for his new Ninja Turtles film leaked to the masses. The story, characters, and general spirit of the original had been all scrapped in favor of something that was essentially the same plot of his Transformers franchise. Mr. Bay yelled at fans on Twitter, whined in interviews that he was misunderstood, pretended the script was fake, and eventually delayed the movie for some reason “totally not related to the backlash…seriously you guys.”

Luckily, it seems like the film is back on track, but the whole situation is almost baffling. Why would a film studio take something fairly popular amongst a very hardcore and vocal fan base and alter it to an unrecognizable state? Why not actually make a NEW franchise with nothing to do with an established franchise? It’s almost like this happens behind closed doors:

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“Hey guys, thanks for meeting me here today! The purpose of this meeting is that I have a GREAT idea, no not an original one of course, (chuckles) that would be difficult and my head hurts from all that blow I did earlier! So here’s what’s gonna happen….We gonna take something that already exists and we remake it. This is cutting edge stuff guys, nobody has ever thought of re-doing classic films before!! Here’s the catch about us remaking it though, we don’t! (everyone in room gasps!) This is the clever part guys, we throw away everything that made the original popular! We change everything about it, because despite the popularity and reverence for the original we know better than the original creators. It’s a stroke of genius, I know.”

This attitude seems to plague all of Hollywood, a place that has increasingly replaced artistic vision for dollar signs. There’s no wonder most “talent” is flocking to television, as that format seems to have more freedom for just about  everyone. That isn’t to say they aren’t without their issues as well. I remember reading about a San Diego Comic Con years ago where a group of execs slipped into a screening of the US remake of the popular UK science fiction drama Life on Mars, only to be horrified by the bad reception it was getting. Supposedly, they had no idea that the show had fans over here, and immediately re-shot the pilot with a new cast attempting to re-create the show exactly.

Japanese Anime and Manga seem to be the new hotbed for film licensing, and it has been pretty bleak. Executives seem to understand which are the popular franchises, but miss the entire point of why said franchises are popular. It’s like they assume that fans will see things based on name only, and will gladly accept massive changes to all aspects of a production. We thankfully dodged a Keanu Reeves Cowboy Bebop Film, a Zac Efron Full Metal Panic film, and even a Evangelion film that was supposed to be all action, and none of that pesky plot from the original. Sadly, we were “blessed” with atrocities such as the Fox Dragonball: Evolution film, so it hasn’t been perfect. Each time this happens, the possible directors of these franchises in the making, seem bewildered that there is so much outcry.

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The property that I am the most worried about in regards to this situation happens to be Akira, one of my most beloved science fiction stories. I basically have Akira to thank for getting me into anime, because I was completely oblivious that there was an entire industry devoted to “cartoons” that weren’t necessarily meant for children. I’m not going to pretend I understood the film when I first watched it over at a friend’s house back in 1992, but the mix of violence, psychological storytelling, and amazing visuals simply blew me away. I eventually bought all of the manga, animation cells, and even action figures related to it.

For about ten years now I have been hearing about a possible “American remake” of Akira being in the works, but they never get off the ground. Fans flip out about proposed changes, and each one dies a quiet death shortly after. The newest version of this project seems to be one helmed by a director named Jaume Collett-Serra. This name may be familiar because he’s been talking this project up for years now, and it seems perpetually stalled because he feels that he needs to drastically alter everything about it. In an interview with Coming Soon, the would be director had the following to say:

“I hope that I can bring strong characters. In the original source material, I don’t think the main characters are the protagonists. What I’m hoping is to bring characters.

Nobody’s interesting. Tetsuo’s interesting because weird sh*t happens to him, and Kaneda is so two-dimensional. That’s part of the Japanese culture, they never have strong characters. They’re used as a way to move the other philosophy forward.

Yeah. So hopefully in my version that will be strong, and you’ll have a story that happens in that world that will show you a little bit of the mystery. Then, if you’re interested, they’ll make “Akira 2 & 3” then you can get deeper into it. I love the world, a lot of people love that world, so why wouldn’t we indulge in it a little bit and see how it would be if it was real? Like you say I don’t have to explain everything, but wouldn’t you like to spend two-hours in a world of “Akira” and follow a character and be like, “that’s cool”? That’s all I want to offer, is two-hours in a world you can actually feel. We’re working on it.”

So there you have it, get ready for the American Akira that nobody wants!

This Can’t Possibly Be a Real Petition…

So here I was, strolling through my feeds, when this eye destroying image popped up:

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Apparently there is either a fan of “The Biebs” or a troll out there that created a petition to get everyone’s favorite Brazilian hooker aficionado into a TV show he has no business in…

This is real text from it as well:

“Are you sick of ugly old dudes with funny accents playing the lead in Doctor Who?
Hollywood is going to make a big screen version of the classic sci-fi show and we think Justin Bieber would make a great Time Lord.”

SIGH….

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Short Film Tuesday – Factory Farmed (2008)

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A new feature I decided to do was a series of micro reviews for notable short films produced by fledgling directors. Just about everybody writes about the latest episode of Doctor Who or Red Dwarf, but I don’t see too many taking up the “indie” mantle. Some of my favorite science fiction directors began with groundbreaking shorts under their belts. Neil Blomkamp, for instance, created a series of amazing shorts that eventually got him a Hollywood deal.

Today we are going to be looking at a short called Factory Farmed directed by Gareth Edwards. Edwards gained a fair amount of fame a number of years ago when he released a film called Monsters, a film that eventually led to his name being placed on the newest Godzilla film due out in 2014. Factory Farmed was created in 2008 as an entry in the “The SCI FI LONDON 48 HOUR FILM CHALLENGE 2008”, a challenge that gives crews a prop, a single line of dialog, and two days to produce a film.

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Factory Farmed is a minimalist affair that is both haunting and perplexing. The sombre tone of the film owes a lot to its solid film score that fills every moment with dark pessimistic tones. We aren’t given much to go on plot-wise and there is only a few lines of dialog towards the end of the film. What we do get is the sense of hopelessness and despair of a man on the brink of mankind’s ruin. There has been some sort of catastrophe involving humans and a clone sub-class. We are mostly shown the plot through flashbacks of a hospital from the viewpoint of a small child. In the present, our protagonist wanders the wasteland looking for anyone else alive. He doesn’t want to save them, meet them, help them or any other cliché. He wants to….well….you should watch the film.

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Seeing this short means that I need to get around to finally watching Monsters in order to get pumped up for Godzilla. Being a big fan of “kaiju movies” (Japanese monster films), and seeing this short makes me really excited. Here’s hoping that they take the franchise back to it’s roots, when it wasn’t all about flash and had substance. If this is any indication, the franchise is in good hands.

Here is the film, Enjoy!

 

 

 

People That Whine About Science Fiction Being Too Political Are Media Puppets

Today I have decided to sidestep my narrow focus on British science fiction to discuss something that caught my attention relating to the genre of science fiction in general. My wife and I saw Neill Blomkamp‘s sophomore film, the visceral and gritty Elysium today. We both came away enjoying the film quite a bit; not in the Avengers sort of way where you want to high-five everyone after the movie and punch the air in happiness, but the more sombre “holy crap that was good, but also depressing” sort of way. This was what happened when we watched District 9 a few years ago, a film that lead to us discussing apartheid south Africa, something that really would not have happened had the film not taken our emotions hostage for two hours. When I got home, I decided to check the box office gross Elysium had, as well at critic reviews to gauge whether it is doing well or not. It did top the box office, and gained generally positive reviews, but the negative reviews the movie was getting are quite puzzling. People that don’t enjoy the film aren’t hating it because of the gore, the foul language, or the shaky-cam action scenes, but because it challenges their political beliefs in some way.

Take, for example a few of these little gems taken from a popular critic aggregation site, Rotten Tomatoes:

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And here we have some choice quotes from some online reviews:

“Particularly towards the end, the political messages are just so overt, I don’t know how you can watch it without thinking of current events and connecting the dots that the director obviously intended to connect,” – Big Hollywood’s Christian Toto.

“It’s not just hypocritical to say this movie isn’t political, it’s hilarious,” – Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Center.

 Elysium advances one of the more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory.” – Variety Magazine review.

Those that have yet to see this film, might be wondering what all the hubub is about. Elysium tells the story of a future Earth that is so overpopulated and crime-ridden that the well-to-do upper class citizens have fled the planet Entirely. They all have decided to live in a space colony well away from the stench of the poor surface dwellers; the ultimate gated community, if you will. The citizens of Elysium have jumped so far technologically (in a sharp contrast to Earth’s urban decay) that they can afford to have no illnesses whatsoever due to the creation of a machine that can heal everything. This has caused black market operations to spring up promising illegal trips to Elysium, usually taken up by ill people trying to cure terminal illnesses. Since the majority of the plot has a vague notion of how everyone should have access to medical care, and that policies on illegal immigration are too tough, TV pundits and conservative bloggers alike have pulled out their pitchforks in protest. 

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The thing that really bothers me about this mindset is that science fiction has ALWAYS been about taking social issues to their breaking point to illustrate the ills of our society as a cautionary tale. It’s not like Neill Blomkamp woke up a few years ago, and realized that nobody has ever talked about politics in film. These media-types have an ulterior motive here, as nobody can be so stupid than to think that science fiction has never been like this. One of the earliest modern science fiction epics, The Time Machine was essentially H.G. Wells‘ commentary on British social classes and social Darwinism. That was only the beginning, authors like Robert Heinlein promoted either fascism or communism depending on the story, George Orwell warned of the road to totalitarianism, and Ayn Rand promoted Objectivism. All very different political strains, all either championed or demonized depending on what the authors intent was.

To me, something like Elysium is only ruffling these conservative feathers because of the ridiculous political climate we live in and the 24 hour news cycle. When you have media stunts such as a left and right leaning media conglomerates claiming outrage at every turn, these people would love if we just watched paint dry all day, as to not put “bad ideas” in our heads or offend someone. I always find it ironic when commentators claim a subversive piece of literature or film is damaging society as is usually their viewpoint that the film is directly satirizing.

In Closing I leave you with a quote from Philip K. Dick on the media: 

“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.”

 

Day of the Triffids (1981) – Episode 2

Egads! It has it been a while since I looked at this series, and I know that I should do more seeing that it brings the most traffic to my blog than any other topic! I had previously stated how thrilled I was that Netflix was carrying the show, and that they had a big selection of such material. I guess the people who make sure we don’t have any fun saw my glowing praise and the show was gone immediately from their digital service. All kidding aside, I had wondered if I should go ahead and just buy the film from Amazon, which was until I noticed that it was on Amazon Prime for free. It seems that in the wake of “Flixtergate”, the debacle wherein Netflix announced that they were splitting into two companies and raised prices – killing their reputation, many of these great UK shows have moved to both Hulu Plus and Amazon prime. Most of these aren’t science fiction shows, but I know that I’ll be getting some new material for this blog from this none-the-less. Now I hope that this very article will not trigger another calamity such as the show being lost forever, but I think I can take the chance, if only to share with you all this great drama.

When we last left Bill Mason, he was lying in a hospital bed thinking back at the series of events that ultimately led to him being there. His blindness seemingly gone, Mason yanked his bandages off only to find everything in disarray. As far as he can tell not many people have the ability to see anymore, and even worse – the world has gone to hell. Dead bodies lay everywhere, Triffids are crawling all over the place, and human society has ultimately crumbled. Some of the post-apocalyptic scenes we are presented with are truly disturbing; one of the earliest shots in this episode sees a man committing suicide nearby a field full of people wandering around without the use of their eyes. It’s always a cheap tactic to use endangered kids against the viewer to illicit certain emotions, but hearing small children yell “Mummy where are you?!” was a shock.

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We are also introduced to another main character of this program, Josella Payton as played by Emma Relph, the eventual love interest of Mason. Being another person that hasn’t gone blind, Jo finds out first hand that the world isn’t such a nice place anymore as she is assaulted by a haggard looking man with a beard. Desperate people want to take advantage of anyone that still has their vision, and this man is the worst kind of accident survivor there is. Jo isn’t in danger long, and eventually meets up with Bill when he saves her from this creep. Her interest in Bill seems sort of forced, as if she is only tagging along because she feels helpless by herself, but it’s cool for such a nerdy guy to get with such an attractive lady. Then again this was a time of the “weak female assistant” as seen in Doctor Who and other shows; all they do is get in trouble and act emotional as the strong man character does all the work.

I think I really like this show based on the simple fact that Bill Mason, as portrayed by John Duttine, doesn’t look or act like your typical action hero. He’s a normal looking guy with a beard and a tweed jacket, not a square-jawed badass that you would normally see in Hollywood action shows. Bill feels the need to help people in the situation, but feels bad that his size and ability gives him no upper-hand in altercations with bands of marauding football hooligans. If there is one thing he’s awesome at, it’s killing triffids – we see him destroy one with a pitchfork towards the end of this episode in a manner that would make Neptune himself blush with envy.

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My last review of episode one was pretty sparse, as it was like the third entry for this blog, so hopefully I’ve improved here. Episode 2 of Day of the Triffids was awesome, and keeps me coming back for more. Slowly but surely through this and the 2009 miniseries, I am becoming a big fan of the property, and plan to seek out more if I can.  Since I can definitely watch this on Amazon prime, I will try to get through this fairly quickly so that I could possibly read the books as well. Onward we go to episode three, where Mason is hopefully on his way to get some firepower in order to battle the triffids.

The Day of the Triffids (2009) – Part One

Having enjoyed the 1981 BBC miniseries for The Day of the Triffids (review of that here),I jumped at the prospect of watching a newer take on the story. At some point I really need to get the books and dig into the original stories; but with my limited time as of late I have to settle for movies. The 1981 TV miniseries was fairly iconic, in that parts of it were used an inspiration for the film 28 days Later, especially the opening hospital scene. The one thing that really drew me to this show was the inclusion of a handful of actors that I really like – Eddie Izzard, Dougray Scott, and Brian Cox. These guys are usually in larger productions, and it was cool to see them here. Izzard and Scott are especially awesome actors in this film, basically carrying the production. With a bigger budget, a great cast, and modern special effects, one would hope that a new take on the story would be truly exciting and a feast for the eyes; luckily it is for about half the time.

Despite a few changes for the sake of modernity, and adding a more “cinematic” feel, a lot of the story in part one stays largely the same. Bill Masen (Dougray Scott) is a scientist that studies Triffids on a Triffid farm – an area where an odd species of plant is harvested to make a type of fuel that has made fossil fuels obsolete. This comes at a cost, however, as Triffids are very dangerous to work with. Bill knows this all too well, as we see the death of his mother at the leafy hands of these creatures in the opening moments of the film. Bill is stung early on by one of these guys, and spends a while in the hospital with his eyes taped up. Luckily for him (as his eyes are covered), a crazy solar storm happens that knocks out power and makes much of the populace blind (those who were watching the storm), and helps cause a post-apocalyptic Triffid-running-amok scenario. He is joined by a BBC television reporter named Jo (Joely Richarson), a con-man (Eddie Izzard), and a few others as they try to survive the ordeal.

In the original, the bright lights that blinded everyone were the result of a meteor shower, so changing it wasn’t too much of a change at all and somehow seems more realistic. This inclusion also helps tap into the zany 2012 theorist wet-dream that we are going to be hit with a large EMP/solar wave that will destroy the Earth this year.

While I feel that our films and other media are largely getting over-saturated with zombie apocalypse stuff, Day of the Triffids puts a new spin on this trope. Instead of the horror of mindless masses of flesh eating monsters running around, we have a situation where most of the world has been rendered blind resulting in a writhing mass of humanity trying to stay alive when the more predatory folks out there try to take advantage of the situation. These people aren’t zombies, but are fueled by pure hysteria and helplessness. In many instances, when someone finds out that someone else can still see, they try to harm them or force them into a situation where they are now these people’s eyes. The hysteria causes many a massacre with policemen firing on civilians trying to get to safety, people getting trampled, and the weak (children and elderly) getting lost in the shuffle.

With everyone on Earth subdued, suddenly we are at the bottom of the totem pole with Triffids suddenly at the top. There are ten million of them out there on various farms, and they are hungry for human flesh. This is especially made more shocking when we find out that these monsters are most-likely intelligent and seem to communicate to each other.

My main concern going into this film was that the production staff would somehow mess up the design of the Triffids themselves. Granted, the 1981 series depicted them as slow bell-shaped pitcher plants made out of fiberglass. Since these guys could “walk” the 80’s take would scoot around on the ground ever so slowly. It seemed that as long as people could take them out within about three feet or so, and keep from being over-run, everything might be cool. This time around, the Triffids have long tentacle-like appendages that can go great distances and sting anyone capable of doing them harm. Rather than a three foot radius, these new stingers are truly terrifying and could come out of nowhere. In the first part we gradually see the Triffids, but in very small doses. They stay in the shadows for the majority of the film, making them a bit scarier despite the silly premise of the creature (sentient walking plants). When we do finally see them, they are pretty well done special effects-wise.

After all the praise for story and acting, there has got to be a few bad apples in the bushel. Some of the CGI effects in this movie are questionable at best. Towards the beginning of part one, we see a multitude of news reports rolling in, talking about an impending solar storm hitting the Earth. For some reason we see these news reporters standing in front of obvious green screen backdrops of swirly sun energy in the sky, the effect it so bad that I cringed a bit. In an era where one can see even the cheapest of TV shows implement some sort of competent computer effects, it makes this stand out even more. This isn’t to say that it all looks bad; some of the cinematography and effect shots are quite impressive for a TV miniseries –bordering on Hollywood caliber. Scenes like one in which an airplane crashes into a busy city-scape after the EMP hits are quite scary and very well-done. One can definitely see where the money went, I just wish there was more consistency.

In the first of two parts, we also see the ugliness of heavy-handed preachy dialog starting to roll in. Bill talks about global warming, fuel consumption, and other ills that we are currently dealing with at this time. I’m really worried that the production will suddenly turn into a PSA for the environment or something that wasn’t intended in the original story. This sort of thing makes sense in a film like The Lorax, which was based on a book about the ailing environment. Subtlety can be great with messages in movies, but when overdone you can end up with something like October Baby, which was more message than film.

Aside from a few wonky solar flares, I really enjoyed part one of Day of The Triffids, and am confused by all the bad press this movie got. Looking at Amazon.com’s listing for this DVD, one comes away with the impression that Ed Wood had directed it. Maybe I’m easy to please, or maybe the whole thing goes awry in part two; all I know is that this first episode is well worth a watch for fans of the original 1981 miniseries and sci-fi fans as a whole.

Attack the Block (2011)

 

As much as I like big budget sci-fi films, there has been a sad trend lately where they all have to cost hundreds of millions of dollars with no substance, and many fall by this fact. In the case of John Carter of Mars, Disney set it up so that it would have to gross over 600 million smackaroos just to break even (!), a fact that makes me mad and reminds me that these Hollywood folks have no idea what they are doing. It’s no wonder that some of the better, more talented directors of our time have had to deal with smaller budgets in foreign markets and as a result have come up with better films.  Recently we had District 9 from South Africa, District B-13 from France (neither are related ..lol), and a new movie (for me) called Attack The Block from Great Britain. These films struck me as far more endearing than a lot of recent big budget Hollywood sci-fi films in that they did not rely on cookie cutter action heroes, and looked a lot “cooler”, more vibrant, and more expensive than their Hollywood brethren.

Since I mentioned atypical heroes, nothing can get less “mainstream” than a gang of juvenile delinquents. And no I don’t mean the whitewashed leather jacket and cigarette smoking kind of delinquent found in many 90’s teen movies trying to be edgy (or the Fonze); we’re talking foul-mouthed criminals that deal drugs and get in fights. In fact, we first find our group of protagonists engaging in a mugging at knife point! In no way does the film try to glamorize this fact, or lessen the fact they these are generally bad people, and this becomes a big plot point in the film. This mugging is broken up by an alien crashing into a nearby car, to which our gang of reckless heroes kicks it’s skull in. what they don’t know is that their arrogant display of faux invincibility has brought repercussions that they couldn’t dream of. In their quest to make a ton of money selling the dead alien, they have unwittingly brought an alien invasion to their council tower block.

This plot set up vaguely reminds me of the initial set up for the immensely popular anime film Akira, in which a biker gang composed of drug dealers ends up saving the world. This always seems to work better for me than your normal action plot in that it has built-in character development. Why waste time coming up with a way to have your chiseled jawed dopey eyed action hero fall from grace, when you can have your heroes literally start out at the bottom of the barrel. Our main character Moses, as played by John Boyega, is struggling to avoid falling into the traps of organized crime within his community. He’s getting increasingly into worse activities like drug dealing via the local self-styled “boss” of the flats Hi-Hatz. He feels bad about trying to mug the aforementioned nurse Sam, and we follow the character as he “grows up” and realizes that there are always effects for the things you do.

Aside from the plot, Attack the Block succeeds in having a good-looking alien menace to contend with. Instead of human-like creatures we have a race of gorilla-wolf monstrosities with no eyes, glowing teeth, and shaggy black hair. The animalistic nature of these creatures coupled with the few gory scenes of people getting ripped out throats makes these guys fairly intimidating. Good thing our rag-tag gang of misfits has a ton of “teenager weapons” like Katanas bought off the internet, illegal fireworks, and super-soakers filled with gasoline.

Last, but not least, we can’t forget the great job in directing that Joe Cornish did. It was amazing to realize that this was actually his first big film, although he did help write the very awesome Tintin movie last year. Nothing is wasted in the direction, and it doesn’t feel padded out at all. The flashy up-tempo style reminds me a bit of other UK directors like Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie, but not so derivative that it seems like a copy. If Cornish decides to revisit this movie, I would love to see a sequel, as it ends in a sufficient manner to end the narrative, but leaves it open to more alien killing “badassery.”

Bottom Line: this has been on Starz lately here in the U.S., check it out!

Here’s a trailer from Youtube:

Should there be a Hollywood Doctor Who movie?

NO.

I guess I’ll elaborate: The recent news of the (now confirmed as bogus) preliminary production on a big theatrical Doctor Who film had me both excited and worried. I’ve seen what happens when a “movie” version of the franchise gets made, and although Peter Cushing Tried his best, those were some “craptacular” films to be honest. The budget was bloated to the point where some guy obviously said “the TV show doesn’t have color, so let’s jack this thing to the brim with so much color that even Liberace will find it garish and unappealing…”

More proof that using garish colors is not better

This combined with a need to “change the story to fit the medium” and other movie-maker B.S. led to a product that didn’t feel like the show it was based on, and somehow seemed “cheaper” than a show that was filmed in a flea infested backlot for the first few years. I know that if I had even seen the movies at the height of “Dalekmania” back in the 60’s I might have loved it, but I’m a jaded Gen X /Gen Y guy and both movies bore the pants off of me. It really doesn’t help that my favorite episode of classic Doctor Who is The Dalek Invasion of Earth, the basis for the second film.

So anyway, there have been rumblings for a few years now that there would be a big budget Doctor Who film at some point. The sheer shock of this sentiment was only made worse when big nerdy websites started suggesting “dream casting” with actors such as Johnny Depp that were somehow in the running to play the Doctor. It seemed that someone had missed the point and we were in line for Depp’s bizarre take on a classic fictional character. “Sweet!” I thought to myself “we’ll get a Tim Burton directed Doctor with a loud cross between a camp homosexual accent and British accent, and insane clothes just to make sure people know he’s eccentric! And maybe Danny Elfman can do the soundtrack!!” This was of course sarcasm as that would be nearly unwatchable.

UGH!

It’s not that I don’t want something like this to ever happen, it’s just that Hollywood has a habit of jumping onto something popular, raping it for all it’s worth, then dropping it in the gutter if it fails to be the next Avatar. I could come up with one-hundred examples where this has happened, but I’ll run with another UK-based TV show to film conversion: the mid-90’s Bean Movie. I always liked the Mr. Bean episodes that ran on PBS around that time, I guess it had something of a U.S. resurgence then due to HBO frequently running the episodes, and plans were made to create a movie for American Audiences. Suddenly the title character, as played by Rowan Atkinson, was sidelined as the main character and everything was Americanized. There was nothing particularly wrong about the new characters added in, but let’s be honest here, nobody cared about an uptight American family; all they wanted to see was Mr. Bean. It was like watching a high school theater version of a Shakespeare play; the spirit was there, but everything seemed off. The movie did poorly as a result, and thank the lord that a real Mr. Bean movie came out later, one that felt like a continuation of the show.

This is what would happen with Doctor Who. The Hollywood producers would cast aside everything that makes it what it is in favor of trying to make a new audience. Last time I checked this cross-global whitewashing and repackaging has NEVER worked aside from a few Japanese horror films!

Luckily these tweets make me feel better:

(Twitter Images floating around on the net, not sure original source)

“If, and when, the movie happens it will need to star television’s Doctor Who — and there’s only ever one of those at a time. And it would need to come out of the same production operation that makes the series … Doctor Who is a vitally important BBC brand with a huge international audience and not even Hollywood can start this one from scratch. So sorry if there’s been any confusion, but on the plus side it has reminded us all what an exciting prospect this could be.”

Survivors Episode 2 (2008) Reaction

The one thing I find most disturbing about post-apocalyptic television shows and movies is the way the film makers can make a normally crowded area look desolate and destroyed. One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who is an old William Hartnell serial called The Dalek Invasion of Earth. It was the second episode featuring the metallic pepper pots, and as a result of their new found popularity, the production team opted for some on-location exterior shooting. This resulted in an incredibly grim look at London after the Daleks enslaved mankind, complete with an abandoned Trafalgar Square and other London Landmarks full of patrolling Daleks. This same unsettling image is done to a fine degree in the second episode of BBCs Survivors, as we finally see some of the aftermath of the plague. As far as one can see, there are emptied shopping centers, urban blight (most likely from a riot), overturned cars, and wreckage strewn about. These kinds of shows really rely on this sort of visual desolation to look good, and Survivors gets an A+.

We do see our first antagonists of this series in a rival group of survivors with different views on how to stay alive. While our star group hope that everyone will play nice and live in happiness, the truth is that situations like this really do bring out the worst in humanity. This opposition group has laid claim to large portions of territory, especially a well-stocked supermarket. When the survivors come across this they are horrified to see people resorting in such a way. After the crazed gasoline thief that ultimately burnt himself so nobody could share with him, and this barbaric lot, I do believe that our main characters have finally realized how life is going to be from here on out.

We also see a side-story of sorts where a woman uses her looks to seduce a man to not only take her in, but to share his enormous warehouse full of supplies with her. He hopes that she will reciprocate with a relationship with him, maybe even a sexual one; sadly, she is just leading him on. She lures him with promises of a worldwide distribution business for their stock, and he buys it whole-sale. I’m not sure if this character ends up being bigger than she is, but I could see them using her to drive a wedge within the survivor ranks.

Once again, the acting in this episode is superb, and a special nod goes to Anthony Flanagan as Dexter, the leader of the aforementioned gang of thugs. From his greasy hair, to his pale complexion, and his evil demeanor, they really couldn’t have picked a better actor for the job. He’s going to be the guy in the show that any sane viewer is going to root for some misfortune to befall. As for the rest of the cast, I do wish a few of the other survivors would get fleshed out a bit more. Anya, Al, and Najid immediately come to mind in this case. As this is only the second episode, I can imagine that this will come with time.

All in all, this was another fine episode of Survivors. Hopefully the show keeps this quality up and doesn’t resort to either a cheap ending like the Hollywood version of I am Legend or a super preachy one either.