Just like Judgement Day itself, it seems that no matter what gets in its way nothing can stop new incarnations of the Terminator franchise from being unleashed onto the world. Unlike the previous three feature films however, original creator James Cameron chose to keep up with the Connors himself this time round, taking on the mantles of producer, writer, and creative consultant to keep a closer eye on things. Apparently he learnt his lesson after having previously showered Terminator Genisys with applause all the way until critics and audiences perhaps more wisely decided not to.
But while picking up the pieces from where he left off after 1991’s T2: Judgement Day may be one thing, right from the start Terminator: Dark Fate shows that piecing them back together in the same way isn’t quite what you’d expect. In a film where the old and the new collide it isn’t long before the new takes over, albeit in a very familiar way. The arrival of time travellers in a Terminator film is hardly something to be called “exposition” anymore, although at least this time round the build up to the all too recognisable concept is given a welcomed sense of added tension for those who didn’t grow up with previous instalments. Likewise the fall from Grace and acrobatic swiftness of the travellers themselves let you immediately know who’s who, and the film doesn’t let off from there.
Like being chased by a Terminator itself, naturally the first set piece isn’t far behind the arrivals and it’s immediately obvious that even though Dark Fate may have ignored more previous films than it follows in terms of narrative, it still has to take note of Genisys, Salvation, and even Rise of the Machines, in terms of escalation. Initially it seems as though they just went too much bang for their buck and didn’t even bother hiding the ‘just another cash in’ attempt, likewise there’s not much more you can do with John Connor after becoming a Terminator himself, and it does take a while for Dark Fate‘s bold new direction to pay off.
Given time though, once the adrenaline has worn off the film’s true colours do begin to shine through. Linda Hamilton returns as an older and wiser – albeit scarred – Sarah Connor just like an old friend, in much the same way that John Connor being portrayed once more by Edward Furlong immediately makes you wonder why you accepted any others.
It also takes a while for the full impact of this latest Terminator’s presence as a new threat for a new era to be fully realised, although this is something which Dark Fate shows no attempt at trying to hide as the film progresses. Perhaps the only time the film pulls less punches than its connection between a Terminator’s watchful eye and that of an airborne drone is its portrayal of US/Mexican relations.
But while this may be a Terminator headed in a new direction through a present that is all too familiar, it is also one which is heading for the same destination as its predecessors. “Cyberdyne” and “Skynet” may have been stopped, but the future which replaces them is identical in all but name and so Dark Fate wisely takes this as read and focuses on the characters it has forged instead. And while fresher faces may be given their fair share of chances to shine, like everything else its all about the past as much as the future.
It’s no spoiler to say that Arnie’s role becomes obvious as soon as it’s signposted long before he makes his appearance, although like so much else within the film’s 2hr 8min runtime, this is played for its emotional impact on its characters, knowing as it does that trying to surprise its audience is often the other side of pointless. Meanwhile Sarah can’t help but see herself in Dani (Natalia Reyes), this new future’s chosen target, a similarity which allows herself to be a greater mentor than human+ saviour Grace (Mackenzie Davis), and continues the role of protector that is the hand she was dealt after the events of Cameron’s 1984 original.
The adoption of Dani and Grace into the Connor family unit continues the Terminator tradition of saving the world as a by-product of saving the ones you love, and the fact that this time it is done so by a group in which white men are the minority and older women kick just as much ass as their younger counterparts also takes deliberate aim at the path that modern Hollywood and and the current political climate has been taking as much as the technological one.
As its title would suggest, the concept of fate – or at least the idea that there is none but that which we make for ourselves – is also one which runs throughout the film. Something which it handles with not much subtlety, but remarkably well for a narrative which relies on predeterminism for its very existence.
Even for a formulaic series Dark Fate stands out as much as a remake as a sequel, but like 2009’s Star Trek is at least able to use its time travel standings to simultaneously continue the very same story it’s retelling. As part three of this franchise’s latest (and hopefully final) attempt at a cohesive cinematic narrative beyond Judgement Day, Terminator: Dark Fate is one that brings together ideas from the past and projects them towards the future. And there’s no time like the present.
Think of a weekend away to celebrate and examine the works of Joss Whedon, the genius who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and who wrote & directed Marvel’s Avengers (Assemble) and Age of Ultron, and you’d be forgiven for thinking about a convention. That was the reaction I had from several people when telling them I would be attending EuroSlayage, but it instead was something rather different (and I would argue a whole lot more) than this.
Organised by the Whedon Studies Association, the seventh biennial Slayage was an academic conference; an oppurtunity for teachers, scholars, and researchers to come together to present and discuss ideas from across a wide range of the Whedonverses, or to utilise ideas and characters present in them as an example of wider arguments.
Although primarily a gathering of those active within academia itself, there were also a number of passionate fans of Whedon’s work who had attended essentially for their own enjoyment. Having studied for both a Bachelor and Master of Arts in the realm of Film and Television Studies, although having finished the latter four years ago, I was somewhere between the two.
Regardless of background however, it seems as though talking with friends, family, and colleagues, was met with the same kind of misunderstanding. “You’re studying Buffy?” is a question often posed to academics by those from other disciplines, whereas “you’re studying Buffy?” is one posed by those outside of academia. Thus EuroSlayage was made up of fans and academics (although I argue that both labels would apply to all at the conference, regardless) who not only recognise the value of studying such topics, but who were also delighted to be in the company of those who understand the struggle of dealing with others who consider it ‘just’ a TV show. There was even one presentation which dealt specifically with this issue.
As this was my first Slayage (primarily as it was the first to be held outside of North America, and as such much attention was paid to Whedon’s use of Englishisms), and my first academic conference at all, I was told on several occasions that it was not to be taken as an example of academic conferences in general. My first thought upon hearing this was to feel sorry for the rest of academia…
Having booked my train to the wrong station (I was so excited about securing my place at the event in Kingston that I failed to notice I was actually staying in the neighbouring London borough of Surbiton), my Slayage began by turning up to register at the Knight’s Park Campus, followed by taking my travelling backpack to the Seething Wells halls on what can only be described as an urban hike (it is a rather big backpack), and then the journey back again.
I arrived at the wine reception shindig to see a room full of people all chatting away as if they had known each other for years, and at this point realised that many of them indeed had, and that I had no idea as to how I would join in. Luckily I arrived just before the welcome by WSA President Stacey Abbot, and Associate Professor at Kingston University Simon Brown. As much as I enjoyed their introduction, I have to say nothing was as welcome as the whole sea of hands raised at the question of “who here is attending their first Slayage”. I was far from alone.
And far less alone that I originally thought, as people soon came up to me to introduce themselves, thankfully negating the fact doing this for myself is not one of my strong points. Although I didn’t recognise any faces, I have to admit that there was a great thrill at having Rhonda Wilcox, the author of Why Buffy Matters, a seminal Buffy textbook, say hello and that she recognised my name. Admittedly just from the list of those registered to attend, but still.
This was matched by having a short but sweet conversation with a lovely lady taking photos, about whether she wanted us to pose or if she would prefer us to act natural. She then introduced herself as Mary Alice Money, someone who Wilcox often quotes and defers to in her book, essentially becoming analogous to a grand sire of mine in terms of Buffy studies. Whoever came up with the idea of never meeting your idols because you’ll only be disappointed obviously never attended a Slayage.
This was also another situation in which geeky T-shirts should never be underestimated, as they made a great ice breaker for many more than just myself. After the formal event ended, this lead to going to dinner with two women I had never met before, from entirely different countries to my own, but who I was chatting with as though I had known for years.
The next morning the conference began in earnest, with three full days (9am – 7pm) of talks, presentations, and four flights of stairs to get to them. I personally couldn’t have asked for a better start, with a keynote speech about fan reactions to the endings of TV series, and the ways in which those series continue, something which I find particularly interesting. After this came something completely different, but which I was equally looking forward to.
Although Joss Whedon is undoubtedly the current writer/producer/director whose work has the most analytical scholarship about his works, the first talk of the day (or at least my first, the nature of parallel sessions meaning I couldn’t attend them all) was entitled “Images of Tea in the Whedonverse“, something I had never begun to consider before, and was curious as to what I would learn.
In fact it turns out that tea is a perfect example of how even something that a first seems like the most inconsequential element will have many layers of meaning that you only realise after they have been explained to you, but which you can’t unsee afterwards. As well as conforming to English stereotypes, tea – of the British/European variety – was used to highlight the idea of the friendship group; both Wesley’s tea set and Fred’s mug being the first and most obvious possessions seen to be packed away after their respective leavings of the core group in Angel.
Chinese tea meanwhile, and the rituals surrounding it, is also often used as a representation of invitations, particularly those of an intimate or sexual nature. Upon watching Firefly when I returned home I noticed that the introduction of companion (read: courtesan) Inara saw her entertaining a client – both in the physical and ‘smile and nod’ sense – only to be insulted by an insinuation of cheating him of both time and money. With the mood obviously ruined, her reaction is to discard the tea set she had been carrying for seemingly no other reason that to discard it. As I said, cannot be unseen.
There was so much on offer to take in, and as much as I can only congratulate the organisers for the entire weekend, I cannot blame those who chose not to attend every session, particularly those directly before or after their own presentations. While it was impossible to attend every single panel due to them running parallel with each other, all those I did attend were fascinating, although perhaps last thing on a second full day wasn’t the best time slot for an examination of Buddhist philosophical concepts about self/no self regardless of any relation to Dollhouse? It’s fair to say that wasn’t when my mind was at its sharpest, but then I highly doubt I would have understood it all anyway. Perhaps at least this way I have a reasonable excuse?
Luckily the first day was followed by an evening meal which, presumably like other conferences, allowed the attendees to continue meeting new people and continue many discussions. There was also a raffle in which a number of text books were given away as prizes, of which I myself was a lucky winner, and now that my brain has been given a rest I can actually sit down and read. There was also a handing out of lyric sheets for the Buffy Sing-a-long, although I have been lead to believe this is not a standard occurrence at other conferences. As I mentioned before, the rest of academia has my sympathies.
In fact the only downside to such an evening was following a group who were walking back to what myself and one of many newly made friends originally thought was where we were staying, but who turn into the car park of a B&B and say good night. I can only thank them for not minding us tagging along in the first place, add London to the list of cities in which I’ve gotten lost, and figure that hey, part of the reason I attended Slayage was to learn, right? And what better way to learn than from your mistakes?
But whilst I wholeheartedly endorse this type of behaviour (by which I mean the merriment, although getting lost can have its merits), it is important to note that the conference wasn’t one to shy away from the more serious topics either.
Several presenters at Slayage raised many valid points which often came to the same conclusion about how Buffy, and pop-culture in general, help frame society’s values. One talk focused on how ideas of/reactions to abortion and sterility have been represented in the Whedon’s works, and the now infamous attempted rape scene in “Seeing Red” was mentioned several times in relation to notions of ‘masculinity’, as well as actual audience reactions to the very real world concepts of consent and abusive relationships. These also lead to discussions as to why other attempted rapes (as seen in “The Pack”), and telefantastical rape analogies (“Tabula Rasa”) were often overlooked. Ideas which were summed up expertly at one of the last talks of the entire conference, in which “The Wish” in particular was examined in terms of upholding and continuing the trend of victim blaming.
Likewise, two other talks as part of the same panel were the start of an audience debate in terms of attitudes towards of the deaths of women of colour. Although each talk was looking at the death of a particular slayer as examinations of the vampires who kill them rather than the slayers themselves, the point was rightly raised that at the very least in terms of how arguments are phrased, more awareness needs to be highlighted in terms of both gender (slayers are always female), and race (Kendra and Nikki are both black).
Discussions such as these raised the quality of Slayage as not only are they those which have to be had, but despite the obvious passion with which people were making their argument, they were also done so professionally and in a constructive manner. “Xander’s a dick!” is another point which was brought up with regards to a central male character who is often considered to be the heart of Buffy‘s Scooby Gang (see “Primeval”/”Restless” in particular), but whose other actions throughout the series also include slut-shaming the female lead.
That’s not to say that the entire conference was dominated by such seriousness, as analysis of the varying ways post-coital “morning after” scenes depict specific relationships elicited the giggles you can’t help but expect from such a topic. This is to say nothing of the way in which a room of fully grown academics reacted to the image of Anya eating chocolate whilst unashamedly staring at Spike’s masculine (à la Bruce Lee) body. More than this though, the friendly nature of the conference as a whole meant that presentations were given in a relaxed and even jovial atmosphere.
All of which added up to something one of the earliest professors of my BA once said; subjects like Film and TV aren’t easier than any other, we just have more fun while we’re studying them. Something I can attest to personally as I thoroughly enjoyed my own studies, and attended Slayage having still followed the work of the WSA throughout the four years since I was last within academia. Going back to study for a PhD is also something I have always considered as a possibility for the future.
Despite being hectic at times, and with far more to take in (not to mention write down by hand) than anything else I’ve experienced in such a long time, Slayage has left me with that bittersweet feeling of being sad that it is now over and I have to go on living in the real world once more (apparently it’s the hardest thing), but also glad at having experienced something which, either despite or because of current events, chose to “live as though the world is as it should be, to show it what it can be”.
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, 31st January 2015
Although it has constantly been changing throughout its numerous television and cinematic instalments, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reimagining of Gene Roddenberry’s classic Star Trek brought with it the biggest reinvention of all. Having cast fresh faces as the well-loved characters helming the U.S.S. Enterprise, the film and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness are currently reinvigorating the cinematic experience with fully orchestral screenings.
With two performances over one weekend, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are the latest, and first Australian musicians to bring this international concert tour to their home city. Saying it’s more than a normal screening may sound obvious, and at the same time it was less than a normal orchestral performance. Halfway between the two, it wasn’t entirely either.
A valuble asset in creating the desired reaction from the audience, music is too often overlooked but would be conspicuous by its absence. Highlighting the moments of action, drama, and tension in Star Trek, it is also highly emotional in places; never more so than the pre-credits destruction of the U.S.S. Kelvin. Despite the intensity of George Kirk’s sacrifice being unmatched throughout the rest of the film, Michael Giacchino’s accompaniment score serves as a great introduction, and the opening title was ushered in with well-earned rapturous applause.
Being played in front you the music was naturally given more prominence than in a standard cinema, but the fact that more emphasis, or even lighting, wasn’t placed on the orchestra themselves was a missed opportunity. As much as it was a film screening rather than regular concert it was still disappointing that so much of your attention was drawn to the screen by design in the first place.
A lack of programme was also highly noticeable. Not only did this deny the fans a souvenir of such an infrequent event, but it also hinders the individual orchestra members from gaining the recognition they deserve (although information on the performers can be found on the MSO’s website).
Not that the orchestra weren’t given their time in the spotlight by the end, as the lights were raised once the action had finished and the end credits were overseen by their rendition of Alexander Courage’s iconic TV theme, and Giacchino’s finishing suite. An encore of the Star Trek: The Motion Picture/Next Generation theme was also a welcome surprise for the audience.
An audience which, not surprisingly, was largely made up of avid Trek fans, several clad in Starfleet uniforms of varying eras, but it was also rather mixed. There were those who dressed smartly and presumably came to see the Orchestra’s latest concert, but as a bastion of geek culture in general, Star Trek also attracted those wearing T-shirts from Alien to Game of Thrones. Even a Captain Jack Harkness was in attendance.
As an award-winning Hollywood composer Giacchino has worked frequently with Abrams, and has also composed the score the for several Pixar features and shorts, including The Incredibles, and Up. It is not surprising a film with his score was chosen for Live In Concert screenings, and the film itself was treated well; even the intermission was well placed within the film’s narrative, allowing breathing room for the impact of Vulcan’s destruction to sink in.
Orchestral performances of well-loved films is something that should occur more often, and will do if the ‘coming soon’ teaser is anything to go by. Just the dates of a future performance might not be much to go on, but being given in the style of a certain DeLorean’s dashboard display garnered a huge cheer.
When it was first announced, there was a strong sense that the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s novel into three films rather than two was for the sake of increased ticket sales. However the decision was made though, the decision has long since been made, and third and final chapter of The Hobbit, The Battle of the Five Armies has now been released.
And regardless of why it came about, it is not a bad film. It’s well made, the battle itself is often spectacular, and it highlights just how far CGI has come since Gollum ushered in a new era. That said, as the third part of the trilogy, it did seem a bit out-of-place. The main problem being that it just doesn’t feel like the third part in a trilogy.
With the dwarves completing their quest and taking back the Lonely Mountain, The Desolation of Smaug seemed to end mostly on a substantial ending. In addition to this, Gandalf’s cliffhanger and the added on Sauron subplot are resolved far too quickly at the beginning of Five Armies, that they may as well have just been wrapped up by the end of Smaug instead. In fact this cliffhanger seems to only serve the purpose of bringing people back to watch the third film.
As much as the main events of Five Armies are a part of the original novel, the way they have been presented in the film makes it feel as though it is an entirely new entity, and one which has been hijacked to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There certainly is logic to this, and it does justify the executive decision to produce three films from the single novel source material (even over the increased ticket sales argument), but the trouble is that there just isn’t enough to fill a complete film. Especially one that tries to fit in with, and will inevitably be compared to, its epic predecessors.
Because of this, many of the links between Hobbit and Rings just seem arbitrary. Unlike Dath Vader joining Grand Moff Tarkin’s side at the end of Revenge of the Sith, Thranduil’s parting words to Legolas don’t so much tie the last entry in one trilogy to the first in the next, as potentially change the entire character relationship between the two: is Legolas now Aragorn’s stalker and/or guardian angel rather than brother in arms?
That said, some of the links were nicely crafted. It’s fair to say the addition of Legolas is the biggest manufactured link of all, and generally he is well used in both of the Hobbit films in which he appears. His presence has been made to gel nicely with the other elves and their interaction with the dwarves, and his jealousy towards Tauriel and Kili even adds an extra layer to his relationship with Gimli in the later films.
But more than just these connections, the film includes the expansion and addition of new characters, such as Alfrid. Where a single counselor to the Master of Lake-Town was referred to in the book, this subplot was not only taken too far but also given an unsatisfactory conclusion. Again it is easy to see the reason for this being included, at times Five Armies can be both dark and emotional, and comic relief is often needed to alleviate some of the tension; as highly respected storyteller Joss Whedon explains, “make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” This was done well in Rings with the aforementioned rivalry between Legolas and Gimli, but for all his tales of epic heroes and bravery, is the most cowardly person escaping with all the gold he could carry a message Tolkien ever wanted to get across?
And the reason these just feel like padding is that in a similar fashion to war films such as Black Hawk Down, the single battle is pretty much the only narrative of the whole film; something which in this context just doesn’t seem to work. The film may have shown the burning of Lake-Town, but a climactic battle such as the one shown here is an event which needs to be lead up to properly. Despite it being the culmination of two previous films, this anticipation is something that gets lost in the 12 month wait between theatrical releases.
I’m aware this may be painting the film in a negative light, but when watching it I couldn’t help but notice that these things took me out of Middle Earth and back to the cinema I was watching it in. And once this started happening, it didn’t stop.
One of the biggest problems overall was one of those small things which, for me, also caught my attention within the first two films. Whilst I admit it comes from a limited perspective in terms of worldwide distribution, the amount of British television actors used in the cast can at times be distracting. Not that I am begrudging them their talents and achievements, it’s just that it seems as though they have been specifically chosen to stand out in their roles, and therefore somewhat annoyingly, stand out.
Take the dwarves for example: in An Unexpected Journey we are introduced to them as they come knocking on Bilbo’s door in ever-increasing amounts. There’s a dwarf, another dwarf, and then another. Complete with bushy beards, big hair, large frames, and personalities to match, next comes two dwarves, three dwarves, and then there’s James Nesbitt in a hat. It’s almost as if he arrived in the Shire on one of his Thomas Cook package holidays.
Yes, The Lord of the Rings had its share with the likes of Sean Bean and Bernard Hill, but at no point do we expect Boromir to tell the council of Elrond to “be more dog” when dealing with ring of power. Billy Connelly’s voice alone on the other hand, whilst perfect for Pixar’s Brave, coming from the mouth of a rough and ready dwarf is too close to his own flamboyant Glaswegian stand up persona to be taken seriously.
The Battle of the Five Armies is in a many ways a fine example of film making, but for all of its accomplishments it falls at the first hurdle. What use are great acting, meticulous production design, and state of the art special effects if the story they are serving isn’t up to scratch.
J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t just write novels, he crafted an entire world and populated it with different races, histories, mythologies, and even complete languages. I can’t say how much of it was by design and how much was interference from New Line Cinema and Warner Bros., but in their attempts to do Tolkien’s novel and his world justice, Peter Jackson and co. just didn’t have enough focus on crafting the story.
And isn’t that the whole point of a film in the first place?
With an IMDb (Internet Movie Database) rating of 3.9, it’s fair to say that Piranha DD is a film that isn’t for everyone. Having watched it last night however, I’d say that it does have more going for it than you’d expect, and would argue that you shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it. A sequel to the remake Piranha, released as Piranha 3D in cinemas, Piranha 3DD (predictably pronounced 3 Double D) as it was also known in cinemas, was produced to be what you’d expect from the name, a gore filled titillation fest.
Having not seen the original remake (has Hollywood really reduced us to using oxymorons such as this?) I can only judge the film on its individual merits, likewise having seen it at home I cannot comment on the 3D conversion. Although it was made with some level of self awareness, I am not sure precisely how much the film-makers intended it to be scrutinised, and so please forgive me if I am falling into that postgradute pitfall of overanalysing things.
Obviously aiming at the male 16-24 demographic, Piranha DD tells the story of a water park that is eventually invaded by killer fish. Generally, the trailer tells it like it is although there is more to it than meets they eye, even if Ving Rhames’ part in the actual film is pretty much all seen in the trailer, added only to show more than a passing resemblance to its predecessor, and to include some superfluous footage of shotguns. At only 82 minutes the film is shorter than average, but it does wisely take its time in setting up the blood filled inevitability which is given just the right amount of screen time before it gets old.
As I’m sure you can tell from the name even if you haven’t watched the trailer, DD‘s biggest selling point is scantily clad ladies. Apart from featuring more nipples and even glimpses of full frontal than most films however, something which the trailer wouldn’t have been able to get away with for obvious reasons, the amount of time the films focuses on these assets is actually rather deceiving. Having been hooked and reeled in by the introductory tour of The Big Wet waterpark and all its, ahem, “features”, the middle of the film is pretty much nudity free.
Offering only teasing hints of the climactic massacre the audience is no doubt waiting for, the film follows the traditional slasher setup (complete with an obvious Nightmare On Elm Street homage) and shows a number of incidents focusing on teenage hijinks, antics which despite their sexual nature are somewhat less explicit than the style of the film would suggest. Nakedness aside, adolescent tropes are catered to in the form of one particular trist which would actually seem to argue for abstinence much more than others that are purported to. For all it’s birth trauma, I hardly doubt the Twilight sage comes close to uttering the line “Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina.”
But this is not to say the film doesn’t have its more subtle moments, Christopher Lloyd may be all to familiar but perfectly cast as the expository fringe scientist Mr Goodman, and in fact the scene where Chet (Anchorman‘s David Koechner) tries to convince a small child that it wasn’t his fault is actually unexpectedly touching. Wondering if it has gone to far with this however, the film drastically negates any emotion with gross immaturity within the the next fifteen seconds.
Where the film shines however, is the fact that despite its rather biased marketing campaign conforming to a world of one sided female exploitation (just ask any gamer), the inclusion of rampant but choreographed swimwear modelling is actually defendable. As the films central character, Maddy (Danielle Panabaker), despite needing to be rescued by her eventual love interest Barry (Matt Bush), is more thoughtful, decisive, and proactive than certain other female leads from recent years (yes Twilight, I’m looking at you again); it is through selflessly putting herself in harms way to rescue others that she is endangered, and the fact she is one of the most fully clad females is arbitrary. Even the somewhat obligatory slow motion running sequences are about the best argument for natural rather than fake breasts as you can get, and as such the general portrayal of women throughout the film can actually be described as fully rounded, no pun intended.
On the flip side of this, the only male character with a substantial part not seen to be any combination of horny, greedy, sexist, arrogant, cowardly, and selfish throughout, is considered to not be hetrosexual either. While making the men (or should I say boys?) in the audience laugh at their exploits, the film does so whilst holding something of an exaggerated mirror in front of them.
Overall Piranha DD is a film which, led by a brilliantly self depreciating David Hasselhoff, is more than happy to swim in its own silliness, and even the ‘serious’ characters get brilliant one liners. All of this results in it arguably joining the likes of Starship Troopers as a multi-layered film which features unabashed blood splattering on top of thinly veiled satire.
Oh, and it’s produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, too.
Before I start discussing this film, I feel I should reiterate something that is perhaps often overlooked; Much Ado About Nothing is a black and white adaptation of a William Shakespeare play, directed by Joss Whedon.
As much as these two names are often revered and celebrated for their timeless stories and witty dialogue, and for many they will be the sole reasons for wanting to see this film, when it comes down to it, it is fair to say that the audiences for their specific texts (like those of other black and white films) can be made up more of cult followers than mainstream viewers. As such, Much Ado About Nothing won’t be of interest to everyone, and it is highly understandable why it initially went for the festival circuit rather than riding the tail of Avengers popularity with a wide release.
That said however, for those who are interested in either Wheden or Shakespeare, Much Ado is the perfect combination, and is a great place to start for anyone who wants to give more niche films at try. Those with haunting memories of studying Shakespeare at school should remember that he wrote plays to be performed by actors and not novels to be read out monotone in the classroom, which is generally where most people’s dislike comes from. On the screen these characters are more than understandable, they truly come to life, and in a way which successfully manages to merge the traditional text with a contemporary setting.
Although it can take a few minutes to acclimatise to the 400 year old dialogue, the characterisation of each performance allows the message and feeling to come across, even if individual words can get lost in translation.
Despite not having written the original script himself (although he did adapt it to the film’s abridged version), Whedon has no difficulty in directing his actors reciting the Shakespearean dialogue due to the simple fact that the two wordsmiths are so compatible. Throughout their careers both have been noted for creating characters who are witty, sarcastic, eloquent, and above all, perfectly rounded. Ye olde language aside, I don’t think there could ever be another writer more suited to being adapted and directed by Joss Whedon.
Unlike other Shakespere adaptations which clash the historical text with contemporary Hawaiian shirts, Whedon has instead opted to dress his characters in more timeless attire; the men soon forget about the wars they have just been fighting and wear classic suits for example, and the women don simple but elegant dresses. In fact almost all the visual clues, from the monochrome finish to the architecture and decoration of Whedon’s own home in which it was filmed, lend a timeless appearance to the film in which the the text itself seems perfectly placed, but which renders the sight of modern technological gadgets far from intrusive.
Obviously fans of Whedon’s previous work will smile at the appearance of familiar faces, but it is clear that each has been chosen specifically for their individual roles. None of the leads are so familiar they cause a distraction, and the unique style of the film allows even Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker’s portrayals of Benedick and Beatrice to be so far removed from their previous pairing of Angel‘s Wesley and Fred, that you never make such a comparison whilst captivated in their world.Likewise his performance as Claudio proves that Fran Kranz is more than just the comedy of Topher and Marty he excels at in Dollhouse and The Cabin In The Woods respectively, and the lesser seen Reed Diamond does indeed shine when given the spotlight as Don Pedro. Whilst the bulk of the cast may be certified Whedon alumni however, there is still adequate room for newer faces such as Spencer Treat Clark (Gladiator, Unbreakable) who fit right in and gel with the rest of them.
Perhaps the only recognisable performances come in the guise of Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk, who here have both been in cast in roles they have played before. While Fillion manages to even out-hammer Captain Hammer as the obtrusive Dogsberry, cast opposite the quiet and unassuming Lenk’s Verges, the pairing of the two as the traditional Shakespeare comedy duo is a welcome treat which make us laugh, but have cleverly been given just enough screen time to make sure they don’t outstay their welcome and become too much of a destraction.
Despite this lovable double act, and spot on slapstick that is occasionally seen throughout, the film’s label of “comedy” sticks mainly to it’s Shakespearean polar definition of ‘has a happy ending’ (in contrast to his tragedies which ‘have an unhappy ending’) and again may not live up to mainstream expectations of ‘makes you laugh the whole way through’. But where the film may not get you roaring with laughter however, it will undoubtedly have you ensnared in it’s charm.
As it’s setting no doubt indicates, Much Ado is an intimate film giving us an important snapshot of the lives of a select few. Whole characters have been left out during Whedon’s abridging of the script, and as such the limited screen time is concentrated more on those that remain, allowing the two couplings of Beatrice & Benedick, and Claudio & Hero to both have their moments, although the reasoning behind Sean Maher’s Don John getting between them is perhaps somewhat unclear. Either that or I was just too distracted when he was possibly explaining his motive (let’s just say he had his hands full at the time).
All in all Much Ado About Nothing is a refreshing welcome not just from CGI laden Hollywood blockbusters, but also from Whedon’s own sci-fi/fantasy back catalogue. Whilst metaphor is something he obviously does well, stripping away that extra layer leaves these characters bare for all to see as we are shown their love, heart break, and inner most thoughts. Perhaps the only negative to this film is that it has raised the bar too high, and introduced a new audience to Shakespeare who will not be able to find another adaptation to match, as the result of Whedon’s work is a subtle film which makes sure that anyone who finds the idea of it appealing, won’t be disappointed.
As promised, here’s another Rabbit article I’ve managed to find and upload. Prior to the 19th November 2010 issue, the film editor asked round if anyone would like to write about their top ten film soundtracks. Despite it being limited to 500 words if I remember rightly, I gave it a go, and lo and behold, my first article based on someone else’s brief was published for all the world (well, on campus) to read.
Okay, more from a shelf in my old bedroom at my parent’s house, but before I started writing for this blog regularly, I wrote a few articles and reviews for my Student Union newspaperwhile I was at university. I’ve now managed to dig them out, get them scanned, and can finally add them here.
The first of which comes from the 29th April 2011 issue, and with a student readership in mind, looks at the cinematic costs of illegal downloads.
[Click on the image to zoom]
Hopefully it hasn’t aged too badly for a two-year old article. My writing experience aside, I’d say it’s still pretty relevant today, and probably will be for a while yet as well.
Since his first comic was released in May 1962, The Incredible Hulk is one of the most iconic characters to have come from the imagination of veteran comic writer Stan Lee. From his initial comic fame came a successful TV series throughout the 70s and 80s, and he has appeared in three of Marvel’s recent wave of films, the first of which came out ten years ago in 2003.
Of these three, two are stand alone films for the character, and only two officially take place in the canon of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. Each of the three films has different stars, directors, and styles, but they also relate to each other in the form of a varied beginning, middle, and end of the same story. Much like Bruce Banner himself, the films are each different, but inseparable from their alter egos, as a detailed look will reveal.
First up was the film simply titled Hulk. No ‘Incredible’, and not even a ‘The’, Hulk was directed by Ang Lee, someone noted for character driven films which explore certain themes and ideas, The Ice Storm being a prime example, and so bringing a big green monster to the screen was something of a surprise add to his resume. The result however was a film which combines the nods to classical literature of the likes of not just Dr. Jekyll but also Beauty and the Beast, with comic book action that could only have come from the director of both Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Whilst keeping the themes and inspirations intact, the film does play with the original comic’s story somewhat, particularly in terms of Bruce Banner’s transformation.
Although still getting his gamma infusion by sacrificing himself in front of an invention of his own making, this time his dose of gamma radiation comes from a medical experiment designed to heal wounded tissue. Something which is also combined with genetic mutations passed on from experiments that his father David (a nod to the TV series), tried on himself. The film does include a desert explosion with tenuous links however, again caused by his father, and which occurs as a young Bruce witnesses his mothers accidental death by his father’s hands, when she falls in front of the knife aimed at her son. Thus the psychological trauma of Bruce Banner is born.
While it may have changed the story of the comics a little too much (although you can see why they didn’t risk a hero who builds nuclear bombs just two years after 9/11) this first big screen adaptation unfortunately goes the other way in terms of the medium itself. Lee’s choice of split screen editing is an interesting addition which certainly has its moments that shine, but like the use of slow motion in The Matrix sequels, becomes overused far too quickly. In addition, the fight between Hulk and a mutated poodle, as well as with his father’s own rather curious transformation are perhaps something that should have been left between the pages of an actual comic book.
Over the top they may be, but it has to be said that for a ten-year old film, the CGI is still able to stand on its own feet, and in fact the only thing that risks dating it is the youthful Eric Bana in his first starring Hollywood role.
This is not the only instance of an actor standing out however, as they, along with their characters, are its success. Bana brings out both the vulnerable and enraged sides of Bruce Banner with ease, and Jennifer Connelly unsurprisingly brings a great performance to the role of Betty Ross, having come straight from her applauded roles in Requiem for a Dream andher Oscar-winning performance from A Beautiful Mind. Receiving mixed reviews from critics, it is a film in which its failures come only from trying to hard.
Hulk’s pseudo-follow up on the other hand, 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, is something of an anomaly. Looking back on it now, it seems to try to do a little bit of everything, and doesn’t really achieve as much as it could. Much like Marvel’s Punisher: War Zone released in the same year, it retcons the origin story of its predecessor whilst simultaneously continuing its story; Banner has escaped the US military and is on the run in South America. Still on the hunt is General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, who the film tells us has been chasing Banner for five years, the same time frame between Hulk and Incredible‘s cinematic release. Even Lou Ferrigno cameos once again as a security guard, and also gets to deliver Hulk’s only line, the cheer worthy “Hulk Smash!”
On the reverse of this however, the film also strives to make new ground, Betty’s scream of calling General Ross “Dad” being a prime example as it seems almost as though it’s meant to be a revelation, but no new ground is really ever made. In addition to this, Banner’s background as a brilliant scientist is hardly mentioned, and where the audience doesn’t have prior knowledge for the film to fall back on, it would seem he is merely a military pawn that just happens to be good with machinery.
In terms of the retcon, Banner’s transformations now come courtesy of a decades old super soldier serum, a nod to Captain America for those in the know, but for those who aren’t it may seem a possibly unneeded change that still keeps the lab experiment at the expense of the characters established origins. In addition, the fact that the military never told Banner what it was exactly just adds even more to his scapegoat like status.
While Tim Roth may be a great choice to play the newly introduced Emil Blonsky, his desire for, and transformation caused by the Hulk’s power is merely a better realised version of Banner Snr’s story. The fact that he is a power hungry soldier also only adds to the Hollywood cliche, and is a perfect example of the film as a whole, there just doesn’t seem to be enough originality on offer.
Unfortunately, the films pitfalls don’t end here either.The attempted humour just feels too forced throughout (“You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry”?), and the cast don’t really live up to their predecessors, although it has to be said that they did leave the bar rather high. The core trio of Edward Norton, Liv Tyler and William Hurt are all fine actors in their own right, but the script (which Norton also had a hand in) just doesn’t seem to let them flex enough of their acting muscles. Unlike Sam Elliot’s, Hurt’s General Ross in particular hardly seems like the type to earn the nickname ‘Thunderbolt’.
That said, The Increible Hulk is not a bad film altogether, it just doesn’t have much to work with. What it does have however, it uses to it’s best, and the Hulk Vs Abomination showdown is something to behold. It may not have the joy of destroying US military hardware via a gold medal hammer throw, but with the flailingly gruesome deaths handed out to soldiers and civilians alike, it’s fair to say that The Incredible Hulk was aiming at a tone more dark than entertaining. Something which it also makes the most of; the first ‘appearance’ of Hulk amongst the industrial bottle plant’s shadows does bring out the the best of an Alien influenced ‘less is more’ atmosphere.
All in all it seems that the films main function is merely to act as a bridge, essentially nothing more than preparing Hulk‘s audience for the eventual release of (The) Avengers (Assemble) some four years later; it is the simple narrative purpose of Banner getting on the right side of the military (alongside an obligatory Downey jr cameo), in the guise of a cinematic blockbuster.
As a film that combines elements of four other Marvel movies, it’s unsurprising that Avengers combines elements of both previous Hulk films. As a character with a more rocky filmic history though, it is not unsurprising that only elements important to Banner’s own story are incorporated. While Iron Man, Captain America and Thor may have brought the plethora of supporting cast with them, and even the tessaract central to villain Loki’s plan, not even Betty Ross gets the courtesy mention afforded to Thor‘s Jane Foster, complete with Natalie Portman screenshot.
As such it has to be said that even having been written and directed by Joss Whedon, whose previous film Serenity is a masterclass in exposition designed for both new and old audiences alike, any Hulk fan who hasn’t seen the others won’t exactly be confused throughout preceedings, but may be a little behind those who have.
The first of the main four superheroes to be introduced, Banner’s story picks up where Hulk left off, rather than Incredible, which I’m afraid to say does make it perhaps a little superfluous. Again a brilliant scientist, who this time round is even comparable to Steven Hawking, he is acting as Doctor to those in need when hiding (as Bana is seen doing at the end of Hulk), rather than bottling plant handy man who can build himself a chemistry set. As mentioned previously however, Avengers does continue the super serum origin story, and acknowledges the events of Incredible when Banner states that he “broke Harlem.”
This time he is played by Mark Ruffalo, who was not only the original choice for Incredible, but who is also the first actor to portray the Hulk as well as his alter ego. Alongside a different actor, we also see a different side of the character; this time a Banner who is more paranoid, pointlessly turning away from a S.H.I.E.L.D. logo whilst in the middle of a command centre, and also has a more unique relationship with the Hulk, referring to him throughout as “the other guy”, even to the point of correcting himself when mentioning him by name. Added to this is his secret at controlling his changes. An idea that Whedon has since hinted at coming from his own experiences in Hollywood, Banner here is “always angry”, in comparison to Norton’s calming breathing techniques.
As an ensemble piece we also get to see a variety of different reactions from the various characters. In the absence of Betty Ross, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow is at first wary of contacting “the big guy”, but brings a sense of pity as well as fear when trying to calm him. Perhaps the best though, outspoken as ever, is Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. Not only is he a great match for Banner intellectually, but openly admits being a fan of both his “work on anti-electron collisions” as well as his ability to “turn into an enormous green rage monster”, which he considers to be Banner’s suiting up. Something Banner refutes however, clarifying that rather than having a suit, as the Hulk he is instead completely exposed.
Although not strictly an end to the Hulk story with The Avengers 2 is already in development and another stand alone film not completely out of the question, this appearance does bring a sense of conclusion to the character. Having fought the Hulk for so long, Banner is now more at peace with his alter-ego (even if he does have to always be angry to achieve it), and by fighting alongside the Avengers to save the earth, he has gained a sense of acceptance that was previously missing.
So what are the connotations of three different actors? For a start, it is not as though Marvel films, even those considered canon to the Cinematic Universe, don’t have a perfect continuity record, with both Terrence Howard and Don Cheadle appearing as Captain Rhodes in the Iron Man films. With recent discussions about the logic behind how (un)generous the wages can be, it’s also entirely possible more changes may also take place in the future.
As I’ve mentioned, we also witness three different sides to the character of Bruce Banner. Whilst film making is obviously a collaborative effort, especially when different films come from different writers and directors, throughout all the Hulk has been through I feel that I have to make a mention to Zak Penn, perhaps the only person to have been involved in the writing of all three films.
While it would be unfair to blame him personally for the differences of the three films, his screenwriting history, especially with Marvel, is an interesting one. Credited as writing the story for both X2 and Avengers, arguably two of Marvels best efforts, he is also credited as writing (presumably the screenplay as well) Elektra and X-Men: The Last Stand, arguably not Marvel’s best efforts by any means.
Actors, directors, and writers may change, and details may not be consistent throughout the three appearances of Bruce Banner and the Hulk, but we do get an over arching, if fractured, story which serves a great modern character. Overall, a great example of the many Marvel films that have been released recently, and why they are so popular.
Whether they be a stand alone, sequel, or part of a franchise, Marvel Studios utilise well respected actors and terrific special effects, but these alone do not make successful films. Marvel films shine in exactly the same way its comics do, by telling enthralling stories about daring characters that have been thrilling audiences for generations.
So, I’ve just got back from the cinema having seen Star Trek Into Darkness. A film I have been waiting a long time to see, a time which seemed to have been made even longer from all the trailers, posters, and clips floating around on the internet. Not to mention a text from a close friend who thought I’d be interested to know about her attending the premiere.
I guess I can forgive her now that I’ve finally seen it myself, but knowing how to describe it, especially without giving away any spoilers, that’s the tricky part….
Firstly, the film does have all the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster, and I have no doubt it will go on to do well at the box office. It has action, explosions, spaceships, even the obligatory scantily clad blonde, although it has to be said we do get to see her intellect as well (I think). Whilst not necessarily a bad thing, the film is also perhaps the single biggest argument for audience reception theory there is, as Trekkies, Newbies, and everyone else in between will have entirely different reactions to what they see on screen.
I chose to see it in 2D, and have to say it’s a gloriously looking film. The flyover of 23rd century metropolitan London is so much something to behold that it’s a scary realisation of what our historic capital could actually look like 200 years from now. The Enterprise is also given some amazing set pieces, and I truly hope that the 3D conversion is done properly, and does them justice.
The actors are also praise worthy, and along with the script each continues to bring these characters loved by generations into the 21st century. Zachary Quinto brings us a more rounded character, particularly as this film again toys with the conflict between Spock’s human and vulcan half, even if his sarcasm may at times be more pointy than his ears. This is compensated somewhat by Karl Urban toning down his DeForrest Kelly possession however, and giving a more natural rather than impressionistic performance.
Despite this however, there are a small number of instances where the film is let down by common sense, at least for established Trek, and has to make way for artistic license. There and back in a day does seem to be pushing it even for warp (let alone the beaming), but having actually thought about Chekov’s red shirt a little more (it was in a trailer, therefore not really a spoiler), it isn’t as out of place in Star Trek common sense as you might think.
Continuing director J.J. Abrams’ new vision to the screen,Into DarknesshasStar Trekrunning through it like the stick of proverbial rock. So much so in fact, that it makes you wonder how many of those references were included just to show off either the writers own knowledge/research, or how eager they were to make sure they pleased hardcore fans. Let’s just say it’s a long road getting from there, to the Admiral’s desk.
[Like I said, it’s tricky, but I’m still trying my best. If anything is getting too spoilery for you though, now’s the time to press that little x in the corner.]
This is much like the film as a whole, in that rather than seek out new life and new civilisations in a new timeline, Into Darkness does choose to use more than just references to what has come before. Revenge is hardly a new concept to cinematic Star Trek (see The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, Nemesis, and even Star Trek), let alone the whole of the franchise. My review of it’s predecessor tried to list the ways in which it adapted the series it was spun from, but for it’s sequel it seems I should add “Mirror” to that list.
Where Star Trek took the series and gave it a twist, Into Darkness carries this round to a full 180 degrees. Many aspects of Trek are turned on their head, each with varying degrees of success. I have to admit at one point the sight of a Tribble made me facepalm that Picard himself would be proud of, but on the whole, even the sharpest of turns is perhaps only comparable to reading Shakespeare; an academic exercise that conveys interesting and debatable ideas, but doesn’t hit the mark that was intended. Just as Shakespeare wrote plays to be seen performed not read from a page, so too here are several ideas that perhaps may have worked better in speculative transmedia prose than a canonical feature film.
I also have to point out that this review is coming from the mind of an unashamed Trekkie (hence receiving the boasting premiere text), and like I said, everyone will have different opinions. Overall though I would say that it is definitely a film worth seeing, and does have something for everyone. With it’s fiftieth anniversary only three years away or not, I’m sure that there will be another outing for the crew of the Enterprise, but this time I’m be mulling over the most recent release for a bit more time before eagerly awaiting the next.
[Ok, I’m gonna give this a try, for anyone who has already seen it, or just doesn’t care, highlight the rest of this post, to reveal the spoilers in white text.]
So, it seems all those rumours were true after all, Benedict Cumberbatch IS Khan. For those who don’t know, not only was original Spock right, in that he was the meanest, baddest and brightest of the Enterprise’s adversaries, but his place in Star Trek history was assured by the flawless performance of the late Ricardo Montalban, and you can be sure there will be those sending hate mail simply at the idea of his recasting.
Personally, I have to admit that I too am annoyed that John Harrison’s true identity wasn’t someone else, but for different reasons. As much as I can see what Abrams and co. were thinking, anyone passionate enough would have been following the rumours, and therefore not surprised. Likewise those who weren’t, probably wouldn’t find it that much of a big deal. In fact it’s most likely those occasional audience members somewhere in the middle that get the most out of it.
‘Revelation’ aside however, the idea of Kirk and Khan fighting shoulder to shoulder was certainly an interesting one given the nature of their previous relationship, but as I mentioned earlier, is possibly one that should have remained speculative rather than canonical.
And the mirror doesn’t just end here. Seriously, anyone who hasn’t already, really needs to go and see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Carol Marcus, the radiation chamber, almost half the new film seems to copied and pasted from the old
Although Scotty’s sabotage of Starfleet prototypes and miraculous resurrection stem from Star Trek III, I don’t really want to talk about Kirk’s death, let alone his revival.