Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Thursday, 31 January 2013


So, for my 69th review post I give you:

Zardoz (1974) is a bizarre science fiction film that tries to be deep.

We open with a floating head wearing a blue habit with a drawn on mustache and goatee. He tells us about his story of the future full of irony. We jump to 2293 and see warriors gathering in some hills praising Zardoz. A giant stone head floats down and gives a speech that boils down to “The gun is good. The penis is evil” before spewing guns at the savages. We then focus on Sean Connery who points the gun at the screen and shoots us.

Zardoz is one of those legendarily bad films that people talk about. With good reason. It is about the fall of utopian (distopian) society of godlike people called eternals. As the eternals become more bored they slip into stwo types: the apathetics are completely passive and the renegades are mad. “Welcome to paradise."

Our Hero 
Zed is a ‘brutal’ who escapes from the outlands to the land of the eternals. He is an exterminator and some kind of a leader of his savage clan. He’s made a pet by the eternals, but his true motive remains hidden. When it’s revealed, it makes the more sense than anything that follows.

Eternal Observers 
Friend is a more hostile Eternal. He shows Zed the darker sides to the Eternal’s paradise. I think he was the most enjoyable character of the film while maintaining its required weirdness quota.

Consuella is the leader of the Eternals and kind of a bitch. However, it is up to Zed to try and melt her heart. Yay, the bitchy leader stereotype.

May is the kind scientist who discovers Zed’s true purpose. She doesn't do much other than act as an advocate for Zed.

Arthur Frayn aka Zadoz claims to be a trickster. Zardoz shoots him and he falls from the mouth of Zardoz. He's just weird. He walks in and out of the story serving mostly as an exposition machine and plot facilitator.

Weird Atmosphere 
Zardoz tries to be an overly pretentious art film, but comes off as more of a B movie. There are some quotable lines: “You murdered your own God by accident. Or was it an accident?” Sadly, the gaudy set and costume designs and mass amount of dictation and weird flashbacks make this film difficult to watch straight through.

In the End 
Big gunfight. Happy Family. Sort of...

The biggest crime of this film is trying to be too mysterious while including long sections of exposition. This film explains almost too much of itself. It leaves some things to be interpreted, but not enough of the interesting stuff is left to really care. It has some great quotes, but not enough for me to really recommend it. Check out some clips on youtube and save your time for a deeper movie.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

War of the Worlds 2005

I've gone through the novel, the audio and the 1953 film version, so now it's time for the second feature film:

War of the Worlds (2005) is an interesting blend of all the previous versions of the the story and probably the best big budget science fiction remake of the aughts.

We get our standard 'War of the Worlds' into read by the voice of God himself, Morgan Freeman. Our main character, Ray Ferrier, leaves his job and gets his kids for the weekend. His son refuses to even acknowledge him and even his daughter seems disappointed to be there. After they settle in, a lightning storm appears and strikes one spot multiple times. This leaves a tiny hole that is cold around the impact site. Soon that area cracks and caves in and giant mechanical tripod emerges. It howls and fires its heat ray, vaporizing those around it. Ray escapes and goes to try and get his kids out of harms way.

This film has some great scenes that are more daring and striking than most studio films dare to be. The scene where Ray realizes that he's covered in human ash is a very effective addition that I never would have thought to add. There's also the river scene where Rachel sees hundreds of bodies floating down the river. Not to mention the confrontation about the van. These help the fact that we're dealing with a story most people know and the anticlimactic nature of the ending. Even issues with the characterization are forgiven in this harrowing film.

Our Heroes
Ray Ferrier is a deadbeat Dad who works the docks and is taking care of his estranged kids for the weekend. He's good with cars, which comes in very handy as he solves the EMP issue. The character growth isn't a huge change by the end, but the things he is put through leave a definite mark. He is a loathsome character at the beginning and an okay one by the end.

Fleeing Observers
Rachel is his overly intelligent and inquisitive daughter. She is allergic and has back problems... These stupid, forgettable quirks aside, her character is actually used effectively in the film. Dakota Fanning gives one of her most convincing impersonations of a human child that I've seen.

Robbie is Ray's delinquent son proves more capable and less stupid as the movie progresses. His real turning point comes when he saves some individuals cling to a ferry as it flees the martians. Unfortunately, his fatal character flaws that involve a strange fetishization of the military. This isn't explored much from his point of view, but leads to some more character building for Ray.

Harlan Ogilvy is a man who gives them shelter near the end. He's a combination of the curate and the artilleryman of the novel, and the combo really works. His scenes are a blend of several that take the suspense of the novel with some of the visuals of the classic film. It even takes the best scene of novel and takes it to an uncomfortable extreme.

Spielberg 'Bad' Aliens
Foes from Another World!
In this version the martians arrive in electromagnetic lightning storms, similar to the EMP used in the 1953 film. They also have shields, again from the '53 version. The heat ray is present, but once again they are without their siege weapon, the black smoke. In this version the martians buried their tripods on earth in the past and came down in small lightning propelled pods. The martian tripods are cool, but the actual martians themselves looked too similar to standard Hollywood aliens for my taste, though this film does bring back their original motivation for invasion. Yes, I know they're never called 'martians' in the film, but calling them 'unnamed Spielberg aliens' would be really irritating. I'm just going with martians to keep it consistent. Spielberg never names his alien races anyway.

War Torn Atmosphere
"Is it terrorists?" This film clearly shows the date through cinematography and style. It is right in between 9/11 and the economic crash. This film has all the sense of terror and destruction that I found lacking in the previous one. As the world descends into chaos, humans become as great a threat as the martians (if not greater). The scenes of destruction are palpable and incredibly rendered.

In the End
The end is faithful to the original with an overly sappy end for our main characters. There is a bit where the army takes down an already dying tripod that I'm not sure why it was added, other than to add in an homage to the 1953 film. They did kind of edit the 'man's responsible stewardship' message, but most of the intent is there. This includes a reading directly from the end of the book by Morgan Freeman.

Tom Cruise singing "Little Deuce Coop" was a definite low point of the film, but it's really just on of some minor personal issues with this. I feel this film actually helps me justify watching the '53 version and one ups it by incorporating more of the novel. This film provides a gripping reinterpretation of the story in a big action blockbuster. Be sure to check it out.

Finally, I don't end on a low note! Looking at my plans for the future, I don't think they'll stay that way.

Also see as I review the rest of Spielberg's movies in:

Friday, 25 January 2013

The War of the Worlds 1953

After the novel and the audio, we arrive at the first film version.

The War of the Worlds (1953) is the first film version loosely based on the classic novel.

This version begins by going through the first two World Wars in a documentary style. Then it explains why the martians chose Earth over the other planets. Then people notice a blue fireball descending from the sky. It lands outside Los Angeles. It's too hot to get near, so they leave three men to watch it and head off to a square dance. Soon a the capsule begins unscrewing and an eye stalk emerges and sprays the three men with sparks.

The voiceover and 'documentary footage' break in at several time to address the 'world' aspect of the film. This removes the claustrophobic viewpoint of both the novel and audio. It provides its own unique view, but it comes of as rather transparent and flat... just like most of the characters. Then there's our shoved in theme that'll I'll come back to later, let's just start with: "Six days... the same amount of time that it took to create it."

Our Heroes
Dr. Forrester is our dashing science hero. We get a minimal bio on him that mostly adds up to invincible hero. We have gone far from our everyman here. Though he does slay a martian with a wood plank, so points for that, I guess.

Fleeing Observers
Sylvia Van Buren is the love interest. Yep, it is incredibly blatant. She does pretty much nothing else, but scream and cook, despite being a science teacher.

Her uncle is Pastor Collins. He portrayed as a nice priest. After the martians appear, though, he goes kind of crazy and blabbers about them being "closer to God"because of their higher technology. Unlike the curate of the novel, the pastor's death is given an odd amount of reverence which leads into the end...

Foes from Another World!
There are some natural short cuts such as the martians walking on invisible legs and redesigned martians to accommodate an actor. The martians receive shields which I guess is an upgrade, but the black smoke is gone. Also gone is the reason that the martians came to Earth. Apparently, they just came to destroy everything. Toward the end they are even shown indiscriminately blasting a city. Also, most of the info given, that they arrive in threes and their sweeping patterns isn't used in the plot.

War Torn Atmosphere
This story starts in the long stretches of nothing with sparse towns in California. There is a lot of small talk from every character. The three human outlines in ash were a hilarious touch though. There is a wink and a nod to book when it mentions the martians found a significant base in the British Isles.

In the End
"We were all praying for a miracle!" Yep, this move credits a literal deus ex machina. I realize that they give the scientific reason, but it is covered in prayer and hymn music. If you like religious films, then this ending is probably great, but I do not. This is an unnecessary addition that defeats the original purpose of the novel's bringing men down to the level of animals and making us appreciate our dominion more. I know they use some similar lines to the novel, but this movie ends on a hymn and a sunrise over a church. Subtle. Also, did Dr. Forrester check that alien's pulse at the end?

I think my biggest problem with this film is that, while many nations are mentioned being defeated, the U.S. is never shown as being truly destroyed. At worst, the main characters are briefly stranded and then wind up in a place surrounded by healthy looking people. Even the powered up martians don't feel all that threatening. That combined with the tacked on religious overtones make this a lackluster version. I like to point out this film to prove that I definitely don't love all the older versions of Science Fiction films. Objectively, however, this film isn't all that bad on its own, it just ends up being an average alien invasion. I'd stick to the novel and audio though.
5/10  (on its own) 3/10 (if compared to the original or the radio broadcast)

I'll finish up this series with Spielberg's 2005 version tomorrow.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The War of the Worlds ~Orson Welles~

Yesterday I looked at H.G. Wells' classic The War of the Worlds. So, today, I naturally start with the films, right? No way. I love audio and, in a time before T.V., there used to be more dramas on the radio. In fact, the director of Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil produced an audio version for Halloween!

The War of the Worlds (1938) By: Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air

A news broadcast interrupts its main news to report several blue flashes on Mars. Scientists speculate about the causes, but the broadcast continues to some dancing music. They cut back to a meteorite that eventually crashes in New Jersey. Creatures emerge and, as the citizens make gestures of peace, the aliens set up a mirror device. The line cuts. The next report is about sixty people being incinerated and the New Jersey militia is mobilizing.

If all that sounds fairly familiar, that's because it is nearly the exact chain of events that occurs in the novel. The difference is the presentation. The terror is in the invasion of normalcy and it is invading the listener's life. We don't even have a main narrative until the last twenty minutes, but it all works to great effect.

Our Heroes
Professor Richard Pierson is a scientist who initially dismisses speculation about life on Mars. We hear only snippets from him at the start before he takes over reading from his journal at the end. This character is played by the great Orson Welles and despite his limited appearance, he is much more relatable than the narrator from the novel.

Fleeing Observers
Those that aren't killed, flee into the night. This audio is not kind to any of its characters, though the novel wasn't very kind either.

Foes from Another World!
We get less of a description of the martians, but they seem more powerful. THe description of how they look is similar to the novel. They are certainly more threatening in their mystery. Their weapons also appear more powerful than the novel as they tear apart and resist the modern weapons of war.

War Torn Atmosphere
It feels fantastic to sit back and pretend it's Halloween Eve (October 30th) in 1938. You hear the martians invade and the cameras go dead. You hear the grim reports of the destruction of the heat rays and the ominous advance of the black smoke. This is a relic of the golden age of radio, before television and film all but destroyed the medium, and it is a jewel of the era.

In the End
It isn't until the last twenty minutes that we switch back to out protagonist reading his journal to the public. We get the encounter with the artilleryman updated to being a militiaman. The end is largely the same, though somewhat updated and abridged. It is still great including the gravitas Welles himself brings to the performance.

Orson Welles preserves the most compelling parts of H.G. Wells' classic by adapting them to 1938 America. This is a much condensed story, but it definitely eliminates the excess while keeping the core of the story alive. When originally broadcast, this caused many people to panic aneven flee the Eastern seaboard despite the warnings of it being a dramatization. Many later updated broadcasts even caused their own panics. Is it better than the novel? This is my favorite version of The War of Worlds. All the drama and excitement, but none of the excess or forced messages that we'll see tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I take a look at the first film version from 1953...

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The War of the Worlds ~H.G. Wells~

Continuing the science fiction resolution, I've decided to dive into The War of the Worlds by the great H.G. Wells.

The War of the Worlds (1898) By: H.G. Wells

Several flares fire from the surface of Mars. The scientific community is abuzz with theories. Then, out side the town of Woking in Surrey, a meteorite crashes. Men observe a silver capsule and the end is slowly unscrewing. Assuming there must be men inside, many people gather around, but what emerges isn't a man. The martians incinerate most of the onlookers with a heat-ray and our narrator barely escapes.

The War of the Worlds is a claustrophobic first hand account of a martian invasion of earth.We follow an unnamed narrator who is privy to the main events of the martian invasion of Earth. We also get occasional bits of his brother's story about London falling to pieces.

Our Heroes
The Narrator is fairly nondescript upper class married Britisher. He's a sort of everyman, but the focus is really on humanity's experiences. The Narrator's brother falls into the same roll. In fact there are no named characters in the novel.

Fleeing Observers
As the social systems break down, humanity falls into chaos. Most of the passersby that they meet are half crazed. People  even die simply from all the chaos. The curious exception is a pair of ladies who meet the brother. An interestingly feminist move from Wells.

The Artilleryman is a running character who represents kind of dreamlike vision of resistance. His section at the end came across as almost more pessimistic than the scenes with the curate.

The curate is a deranged man of God who seeks the aide of our narrator. His weak will nearly spells the death of them both.

"Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity--pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion."

Foes from Another World!
The Martians emerge from their capsules as hideous chinless tentacle beasts that quickly construct massive weapons of war. Their tripods have heat rays and writing tenacle arms. They are nearly invulnerable to harm. When artillery kills one, the Martians devise poison gas grenades that decimate populations. They are an awesomely terrifying foe that is just short of invincible, but their true terror lies in their intelligence and their choice of meal.

War Torn Atmosphere
Though Wells can go overboard on the details and his prose can be a bit dated, this novel has some of the most epic and gripping descriptions. The opening chapter of this book is one of the great science fiction openings of all time.

In the End
The classic ending of a science fiction masterpiece. If you don't know the end, read a freakin' book! I absolutely love the ending and especially how it is foreshadowed at the start. The epilogue leave a sobering tone about the toll a traumatic experience can leave on the human mind. After the grim sections of the novel it is kind of incredible that it has a positive ending at all.

Despite some anachronistic language and long passages, this novel is a timeless classic. The martians are a vicious and calculating enemy. If, for some reason, you haven't read it, do!

Get it free from Project Gutenberg or Amazon!

Tomorrow, I add my first non-Doctor Who audio. Guess what it is!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Night of the Stormcrow ~Fourth Doctor and Leela~

This is a special release that is currently only available to subscribers.You can get it free with any subscription that includes 1001 Nights, see the Big Finish site for details. It features the Fourth Doctor and Leela who are also featured in series 1 of the Fourth Doctor Adventures.

Night of the Stormcrow (2012) By: Marc Platt

On an island observatory several scientists track a strange form that circles the earth at night. They send off a pulse to try and contact the object. The Fourth Doctor and Leela are aboard the Tardis observing Earth from space. The signal causes them to crash. When they leave the Tardis they find a dead security guard. What is the Stormcrow and why is it attacking the observatory?

This is a claustrophobic tale with some interesting ideas that I don't feel made enough of an impact. The performances are fine and the creature is truly terrifying, but the script doesn't give enough focus on those aspects.
Our Heroes
The Fourth Doctor has some great lines, but generally ends up solving one problem after another right away. He doesn't seem too worried and if there's one thing we've learned, it's to trust the Doctor. When he is put out of action near the end, it isn't given as much weight as it should have been.

Leela gets more development! In my favorite section, that should have been focused on more, we get some introspection about Leela's hopes and fears. The true darkness in the feelings of this often comical character is something that I hope we get much more of in the future of the series. There is a section where Leela catches a case of the stupid for plot convenience that really annoyed me though.

Frustrating Observers
Director Peggy Brooks is a big b^tch. She's in charge and won't let anyone forget it. Actress Chase Masterson certainly brings as much as she can to this limited character, but I found myself wondering why she was there most of the time.

Professor Gesima Cazalet is an heiress who discovered Stormcrow. She has developed an unnatural fascination with the beast that drives the end.

Blackest Foes
The No-things are an awesome foe with a great concept. Sadly, they don't come off as threatening as they really should have. They fail to be scary despite their abilities, probably because the Doctor just knows their weakness offhand.. They have awesome power and I think it would be cool to see them back in a future story.

The Stormcrow is another effective entity that comes off as more typical than it should. It reminded me a lot of the X-men's phoenix force (comic version).

Isolated Atmosphere
The small island and the observatory are a rather bland setting. They do a lot with the isolation, except the Tardis is always on hand and even helps out! Now, this does lead to a later plot development, but that wasn't handled as well as it should have been either.

In the End
The end was pretty standard, complete with spooky cliffhanger. I honestly found the trailer for series to of the Fourth Doctor Adventures to be the most exciting thing about the end.

I think the main problem is the lack of tension created by the Tardis being available the whole time. Also, much of the drama is created by human stupidity, which is fine, but I don't want that transferred to say, Leela. I know I've been particularly harsh on this one because I was expecting a lot more than just a good audio It has its high and low points that balanced each other out. It is definitely worth a listen with the fantastic Fourth and Leela, but it doesn't stand out against some of the other great stories.
Buy it here from Big Finish!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 1 First Half

Unlike most of the other Doctors currently on audio, the Fourth Doctor is usually voted the most popular classic Doctor and is possibly the most popular period. So, it was a big deal when Tom Baker finally reprised the character last year with The Fourth Doctor Adventures. I'm not covering the whole season right now, but I do want to cover a few episodes. All the episodes feature Leela, the 'savage' jungle girl companion. They also don't require anything other than a basic knowledge of the Fourth Doctor and his companion. This series us set right after season 14 of classic Doctor Who.

Destination Nerva (2012) By: Nicholas Briggs

The Doctor and Leela pick up a distress signal that leads them to a house where a group of redcoats have slain some aliens and made off with their space ship. When the Doctor and Leela try to follow, they end up en route to space dock Nerva.

I just finished watching some Fourth Doctor episodes, so both Tom and Louise do sound a bit older, but I stopped really noticing after about ten minutes. This episode focuses back on a place that the Fourth Doctor visited twice in the original series: space station Nerva. Unfortunately it is a somewhat weaker carbon copy of the Arc in Space though it does have a few things that let it stand on its own.

Our Heroes
The Fourth Doctor is entertaining but he seems a bit reserved in this outing. He gets to cut loose more in the next audio.

Leela also has some good stuff. Yet again, it isn't anything really outstanding.

Medical Observer
Dr. Allison Foster is instatnly likeable as the ships medical doctor. We meet her as she complains about some defects at her job, but tries to help anyway. I really like the role she played even though it was a bit limited.

Foes from Beyond
Lord Jack starts off as a creepy off-kilter foe, but rapidly degenerates into the weakest part of the story. This villain is similar to the Wirrn, but less intimidating.

The Drellerans are a mysterious alien species who appear in a very limited capacity in this audio. They were an interesting race who'd be cool to see in a future audio.

Classic Atmosphere
This episode starts of with a seemingly unrelated bit before launching into the Nerva section. Both stories collide at the end, but it drags and gets a bit confused in the middle.

In the End
The end was the best part of this audio and made me really wish that the start had built up to it.

I really like the beginning and the end. Sadly, the middle just falls into being typical. It does have some interesting imperialist points, but I don't think they were integrated as well as they should have been. There is a good plot in this which is probably the most frustrating thing. The dual story and commonalities with previous episodes force this down to an average story. It does provide a great hook at the end that launches the rest of the series nicely. However, if you want to skip this one and go straight to next, it might leave you with a better impression of the series.
Buy it here from Big Finish!

The Renaissance Man (2012) By: Justin Richards

The Doctor and Leela head to a museum to continue her education, but once there they discover new sections just appearing out of thin air. They are then shocked when a woman they've just met commits suicide.

This is one of the rare stories with a complicated plot that doesn't devolve into strange unexpectedness. It has plenty of focus on the Fourth Doctor and Leela. It also provides a challenging foe for the Fourth Doctor to contend with.
Our Heroes
The Fourth Doctor gets in some great quips. This episode not only focuses more on the humorous and crazy sides of the Doctor, but has a lot of fun doing it.

Leela continues her education with the Doctor that is the theme of this 'season.' Her strengths are brought up and examined in better detail than they were on her TV series run. The focus on what Leela can do rather than what she can't is a brilliant change of pace for the usual Doctor smart, Leela dumb dynamic.

Knowledgeable Foes
The titular Renaissance Man is our villain and is a very fascinating one at that. He is definitely more concept than character, but he provides a good opponent for the Doctor, which is hard to find.

Matrix Atmosphere
The atmosphere is a little difficult to talk about since it somewhat overlaps with the main plot. It comes across as fresh and manages to keep you oriented even through several scenery changes and some chaos.

In the End
The end is pretty strange, though not much more could be expected from the story. It is a humorous yet sad result from a unique and interesting concept.

This story's strangeness perfectly meshes with the Fourth Doctor's own brand of bizarre allowing Tom Baker to really shine in his role. Leela remains incredibly feisty, but capable and adds her own humor to the piece. The supporting cast was great with the villain being truly wily. This is the Fourth Doctor at his best.
Buy it here from Big Finish!

The Wrath of the Iceni (2012) By: John Dorney

The Fourth Doctor continues his education of Leela when they wind up on the ancient planes of Norfolk. They encounter two soldiers accosting a woman. Leela dives in despite the Doctor's warnings. Now, not only could they change the future of mankind, but they could die in the process.

This is one of the rare Doctor Who historicals. At the start of Doctor Who it was torn between exploring scientific concepts and exploring history. Gradually the series drifted away from both, but once in awhile it returns to its roots. A historical is where the Doctor, the TARDIS and his companions are the only science fiction elements. This one explores the possible consequences of acting before you know the full situation.

Our Heroes
The Fourth Doctor is at his most sage and world weary. As always Tom Baker brings a nice blend of wisdom and kookiness. The Fourth Doctor can be somewhat dismissive of Leela and that shows in this, but it comes around to teach both Leela and the Doctor a lesson.

Leela's views are challenged by the corrupt and powerful Boudica. Leela's must overcome her own trustworthiness and become more critical. This is an odd message, but the story manages to make it a very effective tale.

Realistic Observer
Bragnar is one of the Iceni forces who quickly learns the doctor's plans. She becomes a psuedo companion later in the piece and complements the Fourth Doctor wonderfully.

Historic Foes
Caedmon is Boudica's second in command. He is a well constructed and understated henchman. Unlike most overbearing jerk henchmen, he is just doing his job and comes off as a simple unlikeable creep.

Boudica starts off as a downtrodden and betrayed woman with a heartbreaking story. Over the course of the audio she shows more of how past abuse has twisted her. The fact that her story is part of history makes it all the more fascinating and disturbing.

Frontier Atmosphere
This story involves epic Roman battles and the fall of a civilization. There are six characters total. I've only left out a pair of minor Roman soldiers at the beginning. This tight narrative is an excellent example of effective storytelling. It tells a grand story with six characters. It really focuses on the Fourth Doctor

In the End
The ending is sober yet satisfying. It's great to learn about lesser known portions of history.

This story rails against letting your emotions get the better of you, but it goes far beyond that. The audio allows the very real human cost to weigh on the characters. There is also the impressive use pf tiny cast of characters. The fact that this audio manages to be amazing and really focus on the story and characters. All fans of Doctor Who should listen to this one.
Buy it here from Big Finish!

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Day the Earth Stood Still 2008

I've gone through the original short story and classic film, but what did we learn in 57 years? Not a lot.

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) is a big, loud and boring remake.

In 1928 a man encounters a glowing sphere in the mountains of India. He touches it and passes out. When he awakens it's gone. Cut to 2008 and Dr. Helen Benson is giving a lecture about bacteria that survive hostile climates. She then goes home and fails at bonding with her stepson Jacob. She is then dragged away by the military for a conference involving an object approaching earth. When the object, a giant glowing orb, lands safely in Manhattan. As a being emerges, he is shot by a soldier and rushed to a military hospital.

This film does a decent job at paying homage to the original, but falls flat on being its own movie. As is to be expected, this is a huge special effects bonanza. The effects are good, but the story revolves more moving between set pieces than developing characters.

Our Heroes
Dr. Helen Benson is a leading scientist in exobiology and a single mother. She's altruistically good. She sees no evil in anyone and always follows her feelings. She's the only character who I really liked in the whole movie. Unfortunately, her scenes are fewer than I'd have liked and split with Klaatu, the Secretary of State and Jacob...

Klaatu is boring unfeeling bioweapon. The film clearly tries to make him grow over the course of the story, but using a bunch of manipulative scenes that can be seen coming from a mile away is not the way to do it. Klaatu seeing people crying is not character development nor is having a quickly talk with an old guy while listening to Bach. Also, turning one of the most relatable and human aliens in all of science fiction into an emotionless automaton was a stupid idea.

Professor Barnhardt saves the day... in one scene. Hooray for John Cleese!

Obnoxious Observer
Jacob Benson is a stereotypical child of the 2000s. He is also a stupid little shit who's a downright unlikeable drain on this movie. They attempt to salvage his character late in the movie, but it is too little too late.

Typical Foe
Humanity is bad because we destroy the environment and stuff! Oh and the military and government are stupid. So glad Hollywood could drain the complexity out of this movie. We also have a few military leaders and the Secretary of state to be 'evil' for us. Good thing none of them are developed at all so I don't have to care.

Military Atmosphere
If you enjoy lots of military complexes, nighttime forests, and shiny orbs then this is the movie for you! As I mentioned earlier it looks pretty good, but has the overproduced feel that has become a trademark of recent remakes.

In the End
An environmental message... I'm so glad these filmmakers knew exactly what to shove into this movie to really piss me off. Yes, I know we really need to change our ways, but a bloated Hollywood mess is never a good vehicle for it. Especially when it is shoved in because they were clearly out of ideas. Oh and G.O.R.T. is a mass of tiny bugs rather than an ominous figure. Also, I think they forgot to add a proper conclusion because the end certainly isn't satisfying.

This picture sums up the movie for me.
This story ends up less as a narrative and more as a collection of loosely related events. The idea of making Klaatu use biotech is cool, but everything else about his character failed. If they'd wanted to go this route, they should have made it about Helen and Jacob showing Klaatu humanity. Instead it's a bunch of dark shots of forests, military compounds, and explosions. Helen Benson is just about the only thing that this film got right. Sadly, she was sorely underutilized. Mostly, this movie was just boring. It has nothing interesting to offer or to set it apart from other sci-fi CGIfests.
4/10 (on its own) 2/10 (if compared to the original)

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951

We bid Farewell to the Master yesterday and now we're on to the main event:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is often considered one of the greatest films of all time.

The military notes that an object is traveling through the atmosphere at 4,000 miles an hour. Soon, the news is broadcast all over the world causing fear and excitement. The craft lands in a field in Washington D.C. and is soon surrounded by soldiers and tanks. It remains still for two hours before a spaceman emerges. He states that he's come in peace and needs to speak to the president. As he removes a device from his suit, a jittery solider shoots him. He recovers in the hospital after revealing that the device was a gift and that he has a message that he needs to deliver to all the leaders of the earth.

This film has survived for sixty years and will survive for another sixty. It is clearly a product of its time, but its messages are timeless. This film takes most of the intriguing parts from the short story and elevates them using some brilliant yet simple touches.

Our Heroes
Klaatu aka Mr. Carpenter is our hero this time around. He's not entirely open to us though. The film keeps his mission a secret only revealing small sections of it to those he trusts. The simple brilliance of Klaatu is that he acts like a decent human being. He is in awe of the great symbols of freedom around Washington D.C. and what they represent. Despite being from space he is the most human character in the film.

Helen Benson is a secretary who lives in the boarding house where 'Mr. Carpenter' stays after his escape from the hospital. She is portrayed as a strong independent single mother who is more sympathetic to the mysterious alien than others. She is also key in saving the earth despite her bit of stereotypical screaming when Gort slowly walks toward her...

Important Observers
Bobby Benson is Helen's son and he's a very stereotypical fifties kid. He is critical to the plot and much less annoying than some other kid characters, so I give him a pass.

Professor Jacob Barnhardt is the world's leading scientist. After Klaatu's parley to earth's governments fails he turns to the scientists  through Professor Barnhardt. After convincing him by helping him with an equation he agrees to help. I think the most telling,thing, especially today, is the professor sating "we scientists are too often ignored." More true now than ever.

Gort, much like Gnut, stands as a terrifying mystery until the end. Gort's actions make much more sense than Gnut's, even though they are theoretically completing the same objectives.

Familiar Foe
Humanity's own fear, greed and strife are the central villain of the piece. These are spread over several characters in order to create the feeling that these vices reside in all of us. From Secretary Harley's scoff about gathering the world's leaders to Tom Stevens' short sighted greed. There's even a great section where the news completely ignores Mr. Carpenter when tries to make a rational comment. This film picks out what makes humanity great and what makes it terrible.

Fifties Atmosphere
The film is clearly set in its time. It features doctors smoking, boarding houses, and parents being fine with a stranger watching their kid for a day. These things create an interesting look back at a simpler time. There are some great shots of Washington D.C. and the surrounding area that are beautiful and brilliant. There's also the familiar grip of cold war politics, though this gives a much more even treatment than many other films. Also, unlike many of the other films I've reviewed, I had a difficult time choosing only a few screenshots. This film is masterfully shot!

In the End
The end is not the earth shattering finale that today's sci-fi blockbusters thrive on. Rather it's is a simple speech with a simple message. It is now considered a classic finale and definitely stands the test of time.

The ideas of government mistrust, news spreading fear, and the power of greed are more relevant now than back then. However; the message that humanity can overcome and move past these stumbling blocks is just as powerful. What prevents it from being perfect is that it has to oversimplify at points and that the Bensons don't get as strong characterization as they probably could have. However; this is one of those films that I feel should be seen by everyone. "Klaatu barada nikto" my friends.

Tomorrow I see the 2008 remake where Klaatu knows kung fu...

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Farewell to the Master

Keeping with my resolution to do more sci-fi, I've decided to take a look at the classic film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. However, I'm starting at the beginning with the original short story:

Farewell to the Master (1940)
By: Harry Bates

Out story opens on photographer Cliff Sutherland snapping shots of the newly opened alien species museum in Washington. He relates how the now dead Klaatu and his robot Gnut landed three months ago. Klaatu is dead and Gnut hasn't moved since then. Cliff notices that Gnut has moved by comparing photos from before and after. He sneaks into a lab to try and discover if the robot has been moving at night.

This story is straight from the golden age of science fiction and reads exactly like that. We have a clever youthful hero who stumbles upon a mystery. He solves it, but cannot reveal his discovery until the end. This story fares better than some with likeable, if bland, characters and an interesting mystery. There are some things that don't make as much sense as they should and fall into the trap of just excusing it as 'alien.'

Our Heroes
Cliff Sutherland is an intrepid "photo reporter" who was among the first to see the visitors. He soon gets wrapped up in discovering Klaatu's purpose on earth. As with most protagonists of this era of sci-fi he has little personality outside his devotion to the mystery which is kind of a shame.

Visitors from the Unknown
Gnut is a massive humanoid robot constructed from an unknown green metal. His actions during the night are the cause of great mystery and speculation. I really think that the author could have used some more introspection on Gnut's actions because many of them make no sense.

Klaatu is a traveler from time and space. He was killed by an insane man before he could reveal his purpose in visiting humanity. Klaatu plays a much more minor role than in either of the films.

Anachronistic Atmosphere
This story is meant to take place in a future of ray guns and rocket ships. As such, it doesn't really vibe too well with the actual future in which we now live. It's actually kind of funny reading it now.

In the End
The twist ending is not as surprising nor meaningful as the story tries to build it to be. It is interesting in a kind of average Twilight Zone episode kind of way.

This story has some intriguing bits, but its age and reliance on a twist ending make it weaker than it could have been. It did go on to spawn a great move, so I suppose it has that going for it. Check this out if you enjoy decent golden age science fiction.

Oh, and it's free! See you tomorrow for the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Strange Days

Happy New Year! Given that I identify myself as a sci-fi fan, it is strange that I haven't done a single sci-fi film yet. So, I'm starting the new year right with a Science Fiction New Years film.

Strange Days (1995) is an underrated science fiction film by Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow.

The film opens on a robbery that ends with the point of view character being shot. Lenny Nero pulls something off his head and yells at his slimy looking fence about not dealing in snuff films. The device is a squid that records people's experiences as 'clips' and plays them back. We learn from the radio that it is 1999 and the new millennium is about to happen. The assassination of rapper and political activist Jericho One has pushed racial tensions to their limit.

This film dives into the racial foment of the Rodney King beatings. It shows haw the world could easily dive into chaos if we let our hatreds drive us. The two main plots involve the cover up of Jericho One's murder and finding a murderer who records his rape-murders. Unfortunately, the film takes nearly an hour to set these up. So, for awhile the film mostly follows Lenny around L.A. This is good for setting up the character, but could definitely have used some editing.

Our Hero
Lenny Nero is an ex-cop who now deals in black market squid recordings. He's having trouble getting over a breakup with his girlfriend. This misguided love drives Lenny into a conspiracy that could cause huge riots and political upheaval.

Faith Justin is Lenny's ex-girlfriend. They've broken up and now she is with Philo. She comes across as a real bitch. We get snippets of her and Lenny together in the past leading you to wonder whose side she's really on.

Max Peltier is an ex-cop friend of Lenny's who now works for Philo. He's one of the few willing to help Lenny out aside from Mace.

Lornette "Mace" Mason is Lenny's kick-ass limo driving friend. During her introduction, you wonder how Mace and Lenny could even become friends. The reason is short and sweet and helps drive their relationship during the second half of the film.

Establishment Foes
Philo Gant is Faith's new boyfriend and a record producer. He is an all around sleaze and a is knee-deep in both plots.

Steckler and Engelman are a pair of vicious cops hunting down a clip. They create an awesome amount of menace and help pick up the plot when it gets too slow. This is made all the better by the fact that they barely have any dialogue.

Dystopian Atmosphere
Late Nineties L.A. driven into chaos and despair with a touch of noir. This film shows the worst parts of L.A. including drugs (via squids), gang violence and police brutality. There is a lot of sex and violence in this movie and all of it is disturbingly harsh.. This film is very dark with Lenny's attitude prevents it from being oppressively so.

In the End
The two plots intertwine at a giant New Yera's Eve bash. Steckler and Engelman finally catch up to Lenny and Mace as they head to stop the murder from killing Faith. It provides understandable and human resolutions for a somewhat complicated plot.

The film is a bit cluttered and takes awhile to deliver a story. That being said, the time is spent creating a believable world. Most things in this film come back around and pay off even if it does take awhile for them to do so. There are some moments of unintentional outdated humor, like hearing that gas being over $3 a gallon is a sign of the end of the world. Despite this, I feel it still has plenty of things to say about the present. This film was a huge box office flop on its release, but did recieve mixed to positive reviews. The result is a film full of great ideas and complicated characters that just needed a bit of trimming toward the front to truly realize its potential. This film isn't for everyone, but sci-fi fans should definitely check it out.