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Does ET inhabit the Star Wars universe?

The Children of the Green Planet

There is a Scene in Spielberg’s ET where our beloved Alien is walking down the street on his way to a Halloween party. He has a white sheet over him and sees the world through the two holes cut out in the sheet. He  sees a young child dressed up as Yoda. Immediately ET points to him and says the word ‘Home’. This begs  the question, does ET recognise Yoda because as a species, they inhabit the same  universe?

In Star Wars Episode 1, the Galactic Senate plays an important role. Various creatures are  represented with each species sitting in their individual pods within the debating chamber. And lo and behold, If you look closely you can see a specific pod, containing three creatures. (As seen in the picture) They are of the same species as ET. According to Wookipaedia, the online Star Wars reference tool, the species is known as ‘The Children of the Green Planet’.

Perhaps that is why ET and his cohorts have such fascination with earths Flora and Ferna at the beginning of the film ET. The ‘Green’ planet is no doubt richly populated with dense vegetation. As is the Planet ‘Dagobah,’ which any Star Wars geek knows is the planet that Yoda went in to Exile on. Are they one and the same?  You never know….

 

Aliens, Al-Qaida and Hollywood

What you may ask, has a notorious Islamic fundamentalist group have in common with little green men from outer space and the US filmmaking industry?  And why has there been a huge surge in the number of alien invasion movies over the past decade, the likes of which we have not seen for over 50 years? Well, to find the answer, we have to go back to the Cold War period of the 1950’s and 60’s.

This was an era when Soviet Communism threatened to destabilise and destroy the governments of the west. Short and long range Intercontinental Ballistic missiles with Nuclear tipped warheads were aimed at the large cities of the opposing enemies and the imminent threat of nuclear obliteration was indeed very real.

It was within this back drop of mutual self destruction that the type of films coming out of Hollywood changed. Films such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’, ‘Singing in the Rain’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’, gave way to ‘Earth verses the flying Saucers’, ‘War of the Worlds’ and ‘It came from Outer Space’. These however represented only the tip of the iceberg.

The fear of a Russian invasion was very real and it was these fears that were translated on to the big screen, thus invading Aliens had became a potent metaphor for the Marxist/Communist threat, seen as  undermining the American way of life.

This then brings us to the post 911 era and the constant threat from international terrorism. The indelible images of the destruction of the Twin Towers will remain scorched in the American psyche for a very long time to come. And along with the rigid dogma of fundamentalist Islam, came a new plethora of Alien invasion movies, that tapped in to the fears of the American public, Indeed, in Spielbergs War of the Worlds (2008) there was a sequence involving the first attack by the martians. The survivors, including the main protagonist played by Tom Cruise, are left covered in grey soot. Spielberg  admitted that this was a conscious decision to draw parallels with the fateful events of September 11th 2001 where survivors were seen covered in grey soot caused by the collapse of the World Trade Centre buildings.

Cloverfield (2008) was another film influenced heavily by the news footage of the 2001 attacks. An unknown creature  attacks New York city and again the resultant carnage depicts buildings collapsing, and people wandering around aimlessly, covered in grey soot.

Films such as Signs(2002), Dreamcatcher(2003), Transformers(2007), Monsters(2010), Skyline(2010) and Battle LA(2011), are all symptomanious of how the political and psychological climate of the times has influenced the output of Holllywood and as someone who is partial to a good alien invasion movie, one can argue that this is at least one positive  that has come out of these unfortunate set of political circumstances.

 

2d or not 2d, that is the question.

Is the 3d film craze finally coming to an end?

With films like Avatar smashing all box office records, and a massive influx of mega budget 3d films hitting the multiplexes up and down the country, one would be forgiven for thinking that the dawn of 3D as an established film medium has well and truly arrived. Indeed, Jeffrey Katazenburg, one of the co founders of the giant film studio Dreamworks, went even further, publically stating that “2D films are going to be a thing of the past”.

Katzenburg’s predictions seemed to be coming true as the first wave of Post Avatar 3D films such as Alice in Wonderland, Clash of the Titans and Toy Story 3 earned enormous box office revenues. The ‘kerching’ of cash registers and the obvious sounds of hands being rubbed with glee, could be heard emanating from the boardrooms of the various Film Studios. However, by the end of August 2010, the sounds of joy was soon replaced by an air of uncertainty.

Things were not looking too rosy as the next wave of 3D films produced disappointing box office results with films barely breaking even on their 3d screenings. And, to add further salt to the proverbial wound, the latest figures released by the New York Times, has only served to reiterate the belief that the 3d medium is in desperate peril. At its height, an average 3d film was earning 70-100 percent more in cinemas than the equivalent 2d film.

However, the first clear sign of danger came the weekend of June 18, 2010. Toy Story 3 opened with $110.3 million in ticket sales, making it one of the most successful films in history. Yet the Pixar movie’s 3-D screenings contributed relatively little to its dazzling profits. Their per-cinema revenue was at minus 5 percent compared to 2-D showings, the first time in recent history that 3-D had sunk below the break-even point on a film’s first weekend. Six weeks later, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore opened with $12.3 million in total sales, and a 3-D “bonus” of minus 10 percent. The monster profits from 2009 had all but disappeared by the end of the summer.

Shares in DreamWorks Animation, the studio managed by Jeffrey “2-D films are going to be a thing of the past” Katzenberg,were in free-fall and Shares of RealD, one of the big players in stereo projection technology, have also been in a tailspin, losing 70 percent of their value since May.

It is interesting to note that Coroline, Resident Evil and Tron were all filmed using 3d Cameras and were not cheap 3d Conversions

But the 64 million dollar question is, who is responsible for the alarming slide in the popularity of 3d films.? I believe there are 3 main culprits…

1. Greedy Cinema chains : In the spring of 2010 , Regal, AMC and other large Cinema chains increased the price of 3d films by 20 % in the hope of cashing in on the 3d craze. Accountants Price Waterhouse carried out their own investigation and concluded that the 3d ticket prices were indeed overpriced. They commented that  “Industry players risk killing a golden goose by overselling and, in some cases, overpricing the 3-D experience” and in a recent study, over 75% of people interviewed felt that the 3d is not worth the extra £4 per ticket.

2. Greedy Film Studios : The production costs of a 3d film far outweigh those of a conventional 2d film. As a result, the studios are shooting a lot of their films in conventional 2d and then during the post production stage they are converted to 3d. This is a cheap, shoddy method which no doubt creates a sub standard 3d experience for the punter who has forked out top dollar expecting a full 3d experience. James Cameron, the director of Avatar moaned “you got people who are quickly converting films from 2d to 3d, which is not what we did. They’re expecting the same result, when in fact it they will work against the adoption of 3D because they will be putting out an inferior product”

3. Shrewd consumers : A lot of people simply have no interest in watching 3D films, Others have suffered nausea inducing headaches and indeed a recent study suggested that 10 % of the population are actually anatomically incapable of seeing 3D effects.

To suggest that the 3d patient is dead, is a bit premature, but certainly, the post Avatar love affair with 3d has definitely soured. With Spielberg’s TinTin, already released and Scorcese and Peter Jackson, also releasing films in 3d, it will be interesting to see if the patient will make a full recovery.

 

 

Beware of Fake 3D films

The last 12 months have seen the arrival of many 3d films. The leader of the gang so to speak was James Camerons Avatar. Its cutting edge 3D technology soon paid off as Avatar quickly became the most successful film of all time.

The downside to this was that Studio Executives quickly assumed that the 3D technology alone was responsible for the masses of cash the film had generated.

Unfortunately for filmmakers, the budgetary cost of making a 3D film is a lot greater than the equivalent 2D film. Indeed, the whole filmmaking process is a lot different. A 3D Film requires large cumbersome 3D cameras, the set design has to be different. The way characters are situated within the frame is different and the pacing of the editing is a lot slower as it takes a couple of seconds for the human brain to register the 3d.

In order to keep filmmaking costs to a minimum and at the same time maximising profits, the studios are shooting the films in 2d and then once completed, they are converted to a 3D format. A cheap solution for the cash hungry Studios. Not surprisingly, this process has been a bone of contention within industry experts who claim that the resulting effect is a shoddy third rate 3D, passed on as the genuine article. With ticket prices for 3D films in some Cinemas exceeding £13 per seat, this is tantamount to misrepresentation at best and fraud at worst.

Clash of the Titans is a good example. The film was almost complete when Avatar began smashing box office records. Straight away the studio performed a quick 3D conversion to cash in on the film. Slapped a 3D tag upon the title and released it upon the general public. And although the film had negative reviews, the 3D effects were singled out for particular criticism. Complaints ranged from the 3D highlighting how bad the special effects are to the flatness of the characters in some scenes, so much so that they looked like cardboard cut outs.

James Cameron, the director of Avatar, while not singling out any film moaned “You’ve got people quickly converting movies from 2D to 3D, which is not what we did. They’re expecting the same result, when in fact they will probably work against the adoption of 3D because they’ll be putting out an inferior product.”

With the price of 3D cinema tickets at record highs, the Cinema going public have a right to a full 3D experience.

 

 

Three Colours: Red (1994)

I first came across the great Polish Director Krzysztof Kieslowski a few years ago when purely by happenstance I stumbled across his feature Krótki film o milosci  (A short film about love ), Made in 1988, it is without doubt one of the most sensitive and powerful depictions of love ever committed to film and a masterpiece in contemporary filmmaking.

Unfortunately, outside of Poland the film had an extremely limited release and as a result a very limited audience. However the films that caterpulted Kieslowski to international stardom was his Three Colours Trilogy. Three Colours : Blue(Trois couleurs: Bleu) was released in 1993 followed by Three Colours: White (Trzy kolory: Bialy) in 1994. The final film in the trilogy, the Oscar nominated Three Colours: Red came out in the same year. Each film depicts a different facet of the human condition.

Red is my personal favourite of the three films and having recently revisited it on DVD I am still in awe of Kieslowski’s talent as a story teller. The film was Oscar nominated and won countless international film awards.

It is a multi-layered, densely plotted meditation on the nature of fate and love. In Red, love and fate are intertwined but complex notions, dictated as much by the whims of human beings as the invisible parallel associations that seems to pass us by. One can sense that the film is really an allegory, a reenactment of Prospero’s omnipresent gestures in The Tempest, yet it is more than its story appears. Red demands countless viewings, and in each viewing something new is discovered that weaves itself into the already immaculately plotted structure.

Although Red stands alone as a masterwork from Kieslowski, it’s best viewed as part of the trilogy. Elements of Blue and White are referenced in Red, which knowing viewers will no doubt enjoy.

Kieslowski intended to retire after this film, so in a way it is his artistic testament. He died a couple of years later and though it is said that he intended to return to directing, destiny decided that this was indeed his last film. A last film any director would be proud of!

Post Cold War Polish cinema had been stagnating somewhat with a lot of Polish talent, such as Cinematographer Janusz Kamiński and Directors Agnieszka Holland and Roman Polanski, graduates from the world famous Lodz Film School, choosing to work in Hollywood. Kieslowski, himself a former Lodz student, chose to stay in Poland and was a beacon for Film excellence. He will without a shadow of a doubt, take his place alongside Steven Spielberg and Akira Kurasawa as one of the truly great filmmakers the world has ever seen.

Avatar Terminates all opposition in Camerons Titanic epic

Ten years in the making and boasting a budget comparable to the gross domestic Product of a medium sized South American Country, James Cameron’s Avatar is finally upon us. The Celebrated Director had shown a select few fifteen minutes of Computer generated footage from the film six months ago which had Fan boys on the various film forums literally ejaculating with excitement.

If you believed the hype, the film would usher in a new revolution in CGI technology and blurr the line between what is real and what is Computer generated. At a cost of 300 million pounds, Cameron and his Effects team have spared no expense in inventing new 3D cameras and software programs to make the CGI as realistic as possible.

The film centres on a race of beings known as the Navi who inhabit the planet Pandora. They are a peace loving race who are at one with nature. To such an extent in fact that one can be forgiven for thinking that they spend their days singing ‘come by yar my lord’ to each other whilst hugging trees.

Earths interest in Pandora stems from its own energy crises and the solution coming in the form of an extremely rare mineral called Unobtainium ( Come on James, you could have given it a more original name!). Unfortunatley, Pandora is the sole location of Unobtainium and to make life a bit easier for the screenwriters, it lies directly beneath the Navi village.

The humans have set up a base on Pandora but do not fancy carrying out a bit of ethnic cleansing and as a result have instigated the Avatar program. This involves the planting of human consciousness inside the minds of home grown Navi bodies. The plan being to infiltrate the Navi, gain their trust and negotiate a resettlement.

Sigourney weaver, in her full headmistress mode, plays the chief Scientist, but the film really belongs to rising star Sam Worthington. He plays paraplegic ex marine Jake Sully who is hired by the military to gain the trust of the Navi in the hope of providing valuable intelligence in the event that the negotiations fail and a military solution is called upon. However, the more interaction he has with the Navi, the stronger the bond he forms with them and not surprisingly he begins to question his mission and his romantic entanglement with one of Navi further helps to cement his views.

This then is a battle between the scientists and the Military for and against the use of force. The military is led by the chief bad guy Colonel Miles Quaritch played by the excellent Stephen Lang, replete with a menacing facial scar. (Any self respecting Hollywood baddie these days is just not evil enough unless he possesses a facial scar the size of the grand canyon).

The six million dollar question is, is the film any good? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding yes. To everyones relief, James Cameron has created an epic that more than justifies the hype.

The planet Pandora with its exotic blend of trees and vegetation and a menagerie of different life forms is as beautiful and real as anything on earth. A mean feat considering it was all created inside the memory of a computer. The Navi themselves are blue 10 foot tall humanoid creatures with sharp pointy ears and long tails, all created using computer animation, yet they are living breathing creatures. Every facial mannerism and expressions have been catered for and in glorious 3D there realism is further enhanced.

To James Camerons credit he hasn’t allowed the technology or effects to overwhelm the film. A situation a lot of people were dreading. Instead, the Computer generated effects and action sequences are subservient to the flow of the story and only adds to the strength of the viewing experience.

Zoe Saldana ( Star Trek) is excellent as Jakes love interest, A Navi princess named Neytiri, while Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez are good in strong supporting roles.

Mention must also go to Director of Photography Mauro Fiore and Film Composer James Horner. The film is as beautifully shot as any I have ever seen in a long time and Horners music to is perhaps not as good as his earlier work, but a slightly off par Horner is still as good as most composers working in Hollywood today. Editing, sound, art direction are all excellent too ( as expected from a Cameron film ).

The story has been criticised by some people for being the weak link in the film. I would most heartily disagree. The story can be enjoyed on different levels. Some may prefer the romantic subplot, others may just sit back and enjoy the exhilarating action sequences while the more demanding viewers, will no doubt find some message about the potential environmental harm we are doing to our own planet allied with a critique of the forced relocation of indigenous peoples throughout our own history.

My advice would be to watch the film in the cinema, put on those 3D goggles and just enjoy an immensely enjoyable rollercoaster ride.


 

Avatar – First Review

“I am king of the world” proclaimed  director James Cameron as he picked up the best picture Oscar for for Titanic.

After a string of the hugely successful films namely Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2 and True Lies, Titanic was the film that ( according to most) would knock James Cameron back down to earth. At a cost of $200 million it was the most expensive film ever made and was also dogged by behind the scenes infighting with the studio almost shutting the project down.

Indeed, the studio was so sure they had a huge expensive dud on their hands that rather than abandon the film James Cameron agreed to forgo his usual up front fee in favour of a percentage share of the profits. The studio being convinced of course that the film would make no money.

How wrong the studio was. After early negative word of mouth, Titanic quickly became the most successful film of all time and garnered 10 Oscars in the process. With a percentage profit share Cameron was now as wealthy as anyone in Hollywood and the world was his oyster as far as his next film was concerned.

Eleven years later and finally his latest film is about to be released. Avatar is by far his most ambitious project and at a cost of $300 million dollars is currently the most expensive film in film history. The Sci Fi spectacular promises CGI that  blurs the line between whats real and whats not. Cameron has said that he only began working on the film when he felt that the CGI technology was advanced enough to match his vision of what the film should be like.

Over the past few months, images and clips had surfaced on the internet which had geeky fanboys literally ejaculating with excitement. Some say the film will be as successfull as Titanic, others say that its viewing will be akin to a Pseudo religious experience.

As the much anticipated release date draws ever close, the film site Gawker.com has posted the first review of the finished film. Apparantly the reviewer is reffered to as a real live entertainment worker and this is his report.

 “I watch a lot of movies, and am especially obsessed with watching horrible films with inflated budgets.  I was delighted to find that Avatar didn’t disappoint in the absolutely horrible fetishizing of azure humanoids that James Cameron has obviously been drawing on the back covers of his notebooks since middle school and secretly getting off to in the gym locker room. The new technology they’ve been using to eliminate the headaches and sickness conducive to old 3D tech has not been used properly in the action scenes throughout Avatar.  The problem is with cutting in between 3D focal points and perspective – the mind cannot adjust to it without a buffer – thus, Avatar is literally vomit inducing. 

But the movie itself, the story/acting/tone are alienating and weird.  Of course there are very beautiful moments, with great editing/sound/art direction, but overall it’s a horrible piece of shit.  The entirety of the Hollywood marketing machine is behind it, however, so it’s going to make a boatload (eh I could slip a Titanic ref. whatever) of money.”

I really hope that this guy is wrong or that the Review is a fake. If you cant wait for the Release date then below is the trailer.

Paranormal activity

Every now and again a horror film comes along with the dubious claim of being the most scariest film ever made. However, most of them turn out to be as frightening as an episode of Scooby Doo.

This then brings me to ‘Paranormal activity’. A new film by first time director Oli Perri, which is leaving horror fans moist with anticipation. At a cost of £9000, the films budget wouldn’t even cover Johnny Depps breakfast bill, yet in the states alone it has grossed in excess of $120 million making it ( from a cost to revenue ratio) the most successful film ever made. The entire film was shot in the directors own house and only has two main actors throughout. Fortunately I happen to catch a sneak preview a couple of weeks before its official UK release date.

The film centres around a young couple Katie and Micha, who experience strange goings on in their home. Micha is less inclined to believe in a paranormal explanation but is still intrigued enough purchase a video camera in order to capture whatever it is on screen.

The entire film plays through the camera lens a la Blair witch project, but fortunately for us the camera shake is kept to a minimum. The audience heart beat rate per minute certainly increases alarmingly when the camera is perched on a tripod in the couples bedroom, filming as they sleep. The resulting filmed activity is pretty creepy to say the least.

But the real question is whether the film is as scary as the word of mouth from the states would have us believe. Judging by the amount of screams and sharp intakes of breath heard from the members of the audience during the course of the film I would say that it certainly lives up to its reputation. Is it the most scariest film ever made? To be honest, I can’t really say yes or no, but it certainly is up there as one of the scariest films ever made.

District 9

Every now and again a movie comes along that reminds me exactly why i fell in love with the medium of film in the first place. District 9 is that film for me at the moment.

Produced by Peter ‘Lord of the Rings’ Jackson and directed by Neil Blomkamp, based  upon his short film, this is indeed a powerhouse of Intelligent filmaking allied with some of the most impressive visual effects i have seen in a long time.

Aliens have reached earth and their huge ship is hovering above the city of Johannesburg. Following months of inactivity the humans force their way in to the ship only to find thousands of starving aliens barely clinging to life.

They are transferred to the surface and kept in a compound known as District 9. This soon turns in to a slum and has the same social problems as any other slum anywhere  in the world. Some aliens start venturing out and commiting crimes against the human population. The authorities fearing a backlash decide to relocate them.

The film centres around Government worker Wikus Van De Merwe. He is tasked with managing the resettlement of the aliens and a search of one of their  homes yields an alien object which fires some liquid in to his face. The resulting problems caused by this  represents the cornerstone of the film.

What is the liquid? why was it there? are the aliens up to something? if so, what??

Neil Blomkamps decision to base the film in South Africa has paid off. The film has that gritty realistic feel, that has more in common with a social documentary than a science fiction film. But this only adds to the realism.

 There are times when you feel you are watching a socio political documentary about living conditions in the slums of south africa. The 30 million dollar budget is miniscule particularly against the back drop of highly impressive visual effects and action set pieces.

Watch and be impressed.

The Incredible Hulk

The big green man with the anger issues has once again been thrust upon us. The previous effort directed by Ang Lee was criticised for not having enough action and instead concentrating on some psychological Freudian father/son subtext involving the two main stars.

What fans wanted was the Hulk smashing the crap out of everything and everyone.

Thus, ‘Transporter’ Director Louis Letterier was bought in for the next instalment to give the fans what they wanted.

The result is a two hour rollercoaster ride of a film that barely stops to catch its breath.

Playing Banner is the ever dependable Edward Norton with Liv Tyler as the Love Interest.

All the pretext about how Banner managed to become the Hulk is explained during the opening credits. So when the film starts proper its Banner is now in South America working in a bottling factory while the US military who claim ownership of his ‘altered’ Body is trying hard to track him down.

Tim Roth plays Emil Bronsky, a British Born Russian special forces operative who is given a tiny amount of Gamma radiation to enable him to take on the green fugitive.

However, the power it gives him, is not enough and he takes an overdose ,which transforms him in to a huge monstrous creature. Mayhem is caused as the creature runs riot. Can anyone stop him.

Well actually yes, we all know who and the climactic fight scene between the two is exhilarating. When you first see the Hulk he looks decidedly CGI, but as the film progresses, he is as ‘live’ and realistic as his co stars.

Is it worth watching? Put it this way, my wife wanted to watch it again straight after. You cant get a higher recommendation than that.