Film Review: ‘Senna’, and death by passion.

I hardly doubt I’m the only person to have seen the documentary Senna and immediately recommended it to other people. I did just that the first time I watched it, and will continue to do so again now, having watched it yet again.

'Senna'
‘Senna’ documents the highs and lows of Ayrton’s formula 1 career.

Although not a documentary enthusiast, I can easily tell that Senna is a film that stands out in a cinematic genre that is something of a niche market. Both UK and US acadamies may have an entire category to find the Best Documentary each year, but when perusing cinema listings, it’s fair to say that those generally on offer are too few and far between. Those that do get through are highly entertaining as well as informative, but just as often this entertainment is derived from the way in which their stories are told.

Not that this is a bad thing however. Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Stroy Ever Sold is a fascinating insight into the world of product placement and cinematic marketing, but much like Super-Size Me, it hinges on his themes and ideas being told through the eyes of his exploits as much as the subject itself.

Senna however, is completely the opposite. As the name suggests, it documents the career of Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna, beginning with his early races, but only briefly. It describes his European karting origins and the Monaco ’84 Grand Prix in which he earned everyone’s attention, but goes on quickly to cover his rivalry with Alain Prost, and confrontations with the politics of the sport, personified by FISA president, Jean-Marie Balestre.

The film foregoes the traditional narrator and instead uses voice overs from interviewees including members of his close family, but most often McLaren boss Ron Dennis, and ESPN commentator John Bisignano. Although it may seem that a British film relying heavily on a commentator’s voice is missing the legendary Murray Walker, it has to be said that the association of his voice, along with the lovable mistakes that often came with it, would here be somewhat detracting.

More than just the voice overs however, the real highlight of Senna is what we see on screen, all of it taken from contemporary footage that includes race coverage, interviews, home movies, and even largely unbroadcast material from drivers’ pre-race meetings. With so much immersive footage, and even the titles designed to blend in with the race coverage graphics, it is hard not to feel as though you are watching the events live as they happen.

But such a compelling film is nothing less than such a compelling man deserves. Driving identical cars during their seasons together at McLaren, and both possesing natural talent, it was often only the driving styles of Senna and Prost that came between them. Known as ‘The Professor’, Prost raced with his head, calculated positions meticulously, as well as, as the film tries to show, the enforcement of the rules, in order to win his four world championships. Senna meanwhile, drove with heart and passion.  At the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, despite, or perhaps because of all his prior setbacks, he wouldn’t let even a faulty gear box deny him his first home win. Something he proudly achieved, and had to be physically lifted from his McLaren and driven to the podium in the medical car afterwards.

With determination such as this, it is perhaps no surprise that a mid race car crash would ultimately be the cause of his death. Senna was one of two drivers who died during the ’94 San Marino Grand Prix weekend, after Roland Ratzenberger also suffered a fatal crash during qualifying. The first death at a Formula One race meeting for twelve years it was something which shook the sport, but not Senna’s convictions. “I can’t quit” he famously told Formula 1 Doctor and close friend, Professor Sid Watkins.

Nineteen years later, perhaps the biggest tragedy of his death is that he crashed on such a tame corner. Although Formula 1 lost a great talent, and Brazil lost a national hero, Ayrton Senna was a sportsman and a driver who raced with a courage and conviction that should be celebrated. He reached the pinnacle of the motor sport elite, won three championships, set five records that still stand today, but never forgot his humble origins; he named kart racer Terry Fullerton when asked “who is or has been the driver you got the most satisfaction of racing against…past or present?

Formula 1 has always been glamorous, but in today’s world of spectacle and technological achievements, it seems hard to imagine that any driver would be able to compete with Senna in any aspect of the sport. Whether such talent and determination was worth dying for is debatable, but for Ayrton Senna, nothing less was worth living for.

Film Review: ‘Star Trek’, The New Current Old Generation

'Star Trek' was the start of a new chapter in the franchise's history.
‘Star Trek’ was the start of the latest chapter in a substantial history.

Just ahead of next week’s cinema release of Star Trek Into Darkness, last week saw the retail release of the Star Trek video game. Both follow on the tradition of Trek‘s new style, brought to our screens by J.J. Abrams in 2009’s feature film, Star Trek. A film which had the difficult job of pleasing everyone from hardcore addict to complete newbie, but did so remarkably well and is regarded highly by pretty much everyone. I don’t know how fondly Hollywood considers each years top ten most illegally downloaded films, but that’s one list that Star Trek boldly topped.

Wherever they came from, and however they were watching, Abrams had his audience in the palm of his hands right from the start, in possibly the most effective opening of any film I have seen. The distinct atmospheres of the eerie arrival of Nero, the action packed destruction of the Kelvin, and the emotional exchange between a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth and House‘s Jennifer Morrison set the scene for a film in which all three don’t compete, but compliment each other throughout.

And this is where Star Trek stands out, not because it achieved the feat of pleasing multiple audiences, but because of how it achieved it. Utilising multiple ideas simultaneously, which includes a Spock/Uhura love story that doesn’t just fill modern cinema’s need to have one, but which also adds an extra layer to Spock’s conflicting personality.

But more than what happens on-screen, its very nature combines more elements than even Spock’s mixed heritage, and with people describing it as a reboot, prequel, spin-off, etc, it really is all these things and more. So much so, the only word I can ascribe to it is simply an ‘adaptation’. Such a broad term is needed due to the many different ways in which it relates to what came before….

TV -> Film
Like the ten films which precede it, 2009’s Star Trek was a film adaptation of a TV series, 1960’s Star Trek, and later The Next Generation. Where it differs from the original films however, is that it simply takes what was on the small screen, and makes it bigger. Released ten years after the show was cancelled however, The Motion Picture and its successors moved with the times, and changed pretty much everything from the uniforms, even to the ship the crew were serving aboard. Without these changes however, in many ways Star Trek is simply one of a tradition of television adaptations from the recent 21 Jump Street, and Get Smart, that goes through The Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels, all the way back to 1991’s The Addams Family and most likely beyond.

Prequel
Taking its inspiration from the series rather than films, the story of Star Trek goes back even further however. Despite spanning a modest twenty-five years, with most of the action taking place in 2258, the first season of The Original Series was set some years later on in ’65. This however, is done for a rather specific reason…

Origin Story
Perhaps not a term that is considered an adaptation as much as it should be (which, to be fair, is any story which isn’t original), Star Trek nevertheless fills this role by showing us exactly how the trio of Kirk, Bones and Spock comes to be. We even see the Enterprise itself being built, and as individual Starfleet officers make their way aboard, we see them become the crew we know and love. Even more than this however, it also shows us James T. Kirk himself being born, and you really can’t get much more of an origin than that. (Without being icky at least.)

Reboot
A rather popular term these days now that Hollywood seems to consider its output dispensable (I know Spider-Man 3 was hardly Peter Parker’s finest hour, but did The Amazing Spider-Man really have to start from scratch?), but which Star Trek is a responsible example. Not just because it was introducing them to a whole new generation, it’s fair to say that it had to show us how the band got together, considering it introduces us to a what is essentially a new band in the first place. It may be the same crew, but one played by fresh faces, each of whom needs the time to shine and prove to audiences why they deserve to fill the shoes they’re filling.

Sequel
Much like the cinema audiences who have been transported back in time, so to has Mr (or even Ambassador) Spock. Last seen on-screen in the two-part The Next Generation story Unification, Spock was living on Romulus trying to forge a peace between the Romulans, and his half-native Vulcan. Not only holding the same title but still dealing with the same aliens, his personal story through the film is one the writers are continuing from where previously established Trek left off.

Not since 'The Day The Earth Stood Still' has a chalk board been so important to science fiction cinema.
Not since ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ has a chalk board been so important to science fiction cinema.

Spin-Off
As anyone who remembers Back to the Future: Part II will tell you however, travelling back in time has consequences. Most often this results in a parallel timeline, something which the Enterprise crew themselves surmise (as much for the audience’s benefit as their own). Leaving the original timeline of William Shatner and his successors to continue intact elsewhere in the multiverse (generally in the paperback section of your local bookshop), this new timeline begins with something of a bang. One that occurs in the centre of the planet Vulcan, Earth’s closest ally, which drastically alters what is to come, from that which we have already seen.

The film even had its own transmedia comic mini-series, Countdown, which bridges the gap from the Next Generation era of the previous film Star Trek Nemesis, but I think you get the picture.

The nature of 2009’s Star Trek as a production mirrors the very nature of Star Trek as a 47 year old institution. A film that continues Gene Roddenberry’s vision that everything from the crew of a spaceship to humanity itself is so much more than the sum of its parts. That as individuals we can join together to solve problems that range from a Romulan invasion, to war, poverty, and disease.

A noble vision that is shared by many throughout a fandom spanning the globe. Although we may be waiting a long time for Roddenberry’s lasting vision to become a reality, at least we don’t have to wait much longer before discovering Abrams’ latest, Into Darkness.

Film Review: ‘The Book of Eli’

Like many films, The Book of Eli is one I bought cheap and second-hand. Something which I’ve found is often the best way to watch films that may have passed you by, or that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. In addition, if it isn’t any good, you haven’t wasted much money, which generally goes to charity shops anyway. This film however, was well worth the measly sum I paid to take a chance on it.

A US theatrical release poster for 'The Book of Eli'.
A US theatrical release poster for ‘The Book of Eli’.

Starring Denzel Washington as the Eli of the title, The Book of Eli is a 2010 film set in a futuristic wasteland. Approximately thirty years after nuclear war, the film’s setting is where its beauty begins. We are not given any unnecessary information, the film isn’t about how, why, when and where, (although a highly plausible cause is hinted at), we are just given enough to understand the world that Eli is living in, and the film lets the characters tell the story as it unfolds.

On a pilgrimage heading west, Eli is a man on a mission. Not letting anyone, even ignoring those in need of help, get in his way, he is more than capable of defending himself. Something which comes in handy when he arrives at a small town under the leadership of Gary Oldman’s Carnegie, who is on something of a quest of his own (in that he sends his men out on his behalf) to find a book. Not just any book however, but as luck (or the need for the film to have a narrative) would have it, one that Eli has in his possession. Needless to say, he goes to more extreme than necessary efforts to get his hands on it.

As you would expect from any film starring both Washington and Oldman, nothing disappoints. The script not only serves a great story, but has a twist that would creep up on even M. Night Shyamalan, Michael Gambon appears in a cameo that is about as removed as Dumbledore as you can get, and perhaps the only low point of the film is the use of a stock landmark that is now bridging the gap to the other side of cliché.

Whilst both Eli and Carnegie are men of strong conviction, Carnegie in particular is one of the most enthralling characters, heroes and villains alike, of recent years. Like all the best villains his antagonism comes from his humanity; having lived in such a harsh environment you can hardly consider that anyone else who had risen to his position wouldn’t be the same. In fact, it is through Eli’s own (in)actions that we see how this world often relies on the ends justifying the means.

Although Carnegie’s backstory features on a list of the DVD features, thanks to the combination of such a tight script and Oldman’s perfect performance, it takes less imagination to work out how he came to be where he is, than it does to comprehend how its included only due to the distributors low opinion of the film’s audiences level of understanding.

The distributors also made the decision not to reveal just what Eli’s book is, perhaps in an attempt not to scare away audiences with heavy connotations that are often attributed to it, but either way it does serve the spine of the story. The DVD cover describes it as having the potential to be either “the wellspring of a revived society” or “the hammer of a despot”, and through the course of the film we are led to realise it is none other than the Bible.

Without needlessly spoiling this “revelation” for anyone who hasn’t seen it, this is where the film shines. In today’s world where the divide between religion and atheism is stronger than ever, where the banner of science is used to attack those who act in the name of their ‘imaginary friend’, The Book of Eli gives us the simplest, and perhaps best look at religion, without ever really being religious itself.

If the audience knew nothing about the Bible in the beginning, they’d still know next to nothing about it by the end. Like the world we have been transported to, there is no explanation. In this medieval climate of struggling to survive, it is Eli’s reason to live, and holds the words that will allow Carnegie to unite (under his power) those still struggling. But to the film itself, it is just an object. It is not a film about religion, but a film about faith. 

Without ever judging or preaching, it shows us that rather than blaming religion for actions performed in its name, we should instead remember that religion is only as humbled or flawed as those who interpret it. Just as Carnegie wants to use its power as a weapon, Eli’s journey is about finding its place in his life, more than just his rucksack.

Today’s world, before the nuclear war of Eli’s, is described as a time of having “no idea what was precious and what wasn’t.” A statement that concerns not just material possessions, but when many consider religion and science to be mutually exclusive (something Georges Lemaître might have an opinion on), they forget that they are instead two sides of the same coin, two different ways of asking the same questions about where we came from, and where we are headed. Like the Bible or indeed any religious text, scientific discoveries often conjure up more questions than answers, and while it may boast its physical evidence, it lacks in faith.

Synonymous with, but different from religion, faith is simply the belief in something bigger than ourselves, but that photographs taken by the Hubble (or should that be Lemaître) telescope can’t provide.

Just as I have faith that one day audiences will tire of Brand Recogonition blockbusters, and Hollywood will realise that risks in producing films like The Book of Eli are well worth taking.

‘Thunderbirds’ are still Go!

After my usual morning routine of checking my email, social networks, and sfx.co.uk, today I came across some great news. Three months after the sad death of Gerry Anderson, not only is his legacy is still alive as ever, but the shows that he was working on seem to still be in development.

Despite growing up thirty years after they were first made, Thunderbirds, Stingray, and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons were highlights of my childhood. They captured my imagination, were undoubtedly an inspiration for me pursuing a career in film/television, and are a treasured part of my nostalgic VHS collection.

Anderson was still creating new shows well into the '90s and beyond.
Anderson was still creating new shows well into the ’90s and beyond.

Although I’m afraid to say I’ve seen less than half the shows he produced, there hasn’t been one I’ve seen and not enjoyed (Space Precinct was also a personal favourite), and this just helps to point out how prolific and imaginative a creator he was.

Not one to rest on his laurels however, it seems that he continued to work as long as his Alzheimer’s would let him, and today Anderson Entertainment have announced that there is still more to come, as they are “actively pursuing a number of new Gerry Anderson projects“.

As much as this prospect delighted me, there was also part of me that was sad as well.

On one hand for Anderson himself, and the simple fact that he won’t be there throughout the production of whatever these projects may be. But also because no matter how good film and TV projects that don’t involve their original creator are, they also have the potential to be so much more.

I know it’s a comparison I always seem to use, but to be fair, there’s not much else that has had such a lengthy and celebrated-auteur-centric history as Star Trek.

Although it continued going from strength to strength after the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991, and with new producers came new ideas such as the stationary Deep Space Nine, none of his sucssesors have explored sexual equality in the same way Roddenberry did with race and gender in the 60’s.

Despite giving interviews in which he stated that Season 5 of The Next Generation would feature gay characters, even today, 21 televisual seasons and five feature films later, we are still waiting to see if J.J. Abrams will live up to the fact that it “should happen and I would love to be able to be a part of that” with Star Trek: Into Darkness.

In many ways Roddenberry and Anderson were more similar than I think they’re generaly given credit for, both being influential figures who played their part in the ‘Golden Era’ that revolutionised TV on both sides of the Atlantic. Another possible unlikely comparison however, is James Cameron. Or at least their creations.

When it comes to his films, James Cameron created not just memorable characters in The Terminator and T2:Judgement Day, but an iconic and unique family situation that even the Tracys can’t outdo. Both written and directed by Cameron, they each give different insights into what is an intriguing relationship between lovers, mother and son, and son and absent & adopted father figures, but which the following film Rise of the Machines overlooks.

With Hollywood still seeing the money potential, even after Cameron reportedly announced that T2 finished the story he wanted to tell, the further cinematic adventures were perhaps even more inevitable than 2004’s Thunderbirds. Made by “an American company who didn’t know anything” it is not surprising that the film was a failure with both the box-office and critics. As Anderson was not even hired to be creative consultant, he can only be respected for turning down a six-figure offer to endorse the film by attending its premiere.

TV spin-off 'The Sarah Connor Chronicles' continued 'The Terminator's focus on family.
TV spin-off ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ continued ‘The Terminator’s focus on family.

Although two Supermarionation Thunderbrids films were previously released in ’66 and ’68, Anderson’s genius is something which has fared much better on the small screen. Like the later Terminator series The Sarah Connor Chronicles which, as its title suggests, focused on the family rather than machines, Anderson was able to frame his shows’ legendary special effects around stories that focused on equally captivating characters.

This is something that his fans all over the world can be reassured by, as back in January 2011 Anderson himself announced he was working on a new Thunderbirds TV series. This was confirmed by ITV and Weta last month, and is no doubt be one of the new projects still being worked on. 

In addition to this, the head of production at Anderson Entertainment is none other than Anderson’s own son Jamie. Whilst his media credentials may be somewhat untested as of yet, surely the son of one of the most iconic, and principled, TV producers of his generation is a good bet to ensure the fruition of these new projects will be as close to Anderson’s original vision as possible.

The bigger they come, the harder they charge.

As someone with two film degrees, I want to tell you something that may come as a surprise; I hardly ever go to the cinema. It’s nothing to do with downloading, only partly to do with not having as much disposable income, but mainly due to the state that cinemas and their latest releases have found themselves in these days.

Like many things it pretty much comes down to money. More than than just how much is in my own pocket though, budget day seems as good a day as any to talk about big companies trying to make as much as they can get away with. Yes, big companies have big expenditures, but they also have more seats to put bums on. Surely they could be more helpful at meeting us in the middle somewhere?

'Argo' is available on DVD for only 14p more than could have been spent on a single Odeon ticket.
‘Argo’ is available on DVD from WHSmith for only 14p more than a single Odeon ticket.

I currently live in Devon, and a trip to my local Scott Cinema, any time of the week, is £6. If I want a VIP seat, or have to watch anything in 3D it’s an extra £1.50 (£3 for both). If we compare this to the Odeon I begrudgingly visited in Colchester while at university, we find that even an off peak ticket (mon-thurs, before 5pm) including a further discount for seniors or students would still be more expensive. I saw The Hobbit in 3D with VIP seats here for less than I’d have to pay for a standard ticket at the Odeon. Needless to say, trips often occurred on Orange Wednesdays.

Back in my ex-local cinema, the Commodore in Aberystwyth, I would now only have to pay £5 (£4.50 on mondays). More than just charging only an extra £1 for 3D, they also have a bar and a car park that is free after 6pm.

Considering all three cinemas I’ve been to are either situated slap bang in the middle, or within walking distance, of the town centre, the only real difference is the size. The Commodore is an independent cinema with one screen, my local which has four is part of a small chain, and I have to admit I lost count at Colchester Odeon.

Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the bigger a company, the cheaper the deals it could offer? Supermarkets and horsemeat aside, if we use J.D. Wetherspoon as an example we can see that it offers exactly the same pints as any other pub, but does so at a cheaper price. Even with a bigger infrastructure, they can still do this because they get what is essentially bulk discount on a national scale. I don’t doubt that pint and print distribution work in different ways, but surely the principle is the same?

I’m not for a minute telling you to walk straight past your local, overall they’re often the better places (both pubs and cinemas), I’m just wondering if maybe the situation has now got to the point that for so many cities and larger towns, the huge chain cinemas have already squeezed out any smaller competition. This in turn has given them a monopoly that has left the majority of audiences with no choice but to pay whatever they demand.

Even with my less than frequent visits I’ve seen the cinema advert/plea of a cobweb laden auditorium, and unless anyone can offer me a legitimate reason as to why big chains ask for so much when an independent cinema on the edge of Wales can charge less than a fiver for the same thing, I’m sure ticket prices are a major factor that’s drawing in the cobwebs.

Yes, internet piracy is also a factor. Some time ago I wrote an article for The Rabbit, Essex SU’s student newspaper (links will be added when they become available [EDIT: this particular article can now be found here]), which puts forward the argument that piracy hurts the diversity of films, and encourages brand recognition (something else that keeps me away), but allow me here to consider this in terms of cinema audience figures.

The more people download films, the less they go to the cinema, and so the more cinemas charge? In head office propaganda & justification theory, yes that’s how it works, but surely the more cinemas charge, the more people will download?

Another largely overlooked factor, is not just box office takings, but the records they produce. The list of top ten worldwide box office takings contains only three films that were released before 2009. These are some of the most important figures that matter to Hollywood (one day I’ll do a post about why they shouldn’t be), and in today’s environment of appealing to the lowest common denominator by churning out sequels aplenty (there are also only two original films in the top ten), it is often the studios and distributors who are just as guilty. By parting people with as much cash as they can afford to, the higher up these charts they can climb, and the more they can boast about being ‘successful’.

Despite being #1 on that list, James Cameron’s Avatar still only managed second place to 1939’s Gone With The Wind when adjusted for inflationThe film was an innovative use of 3D, but much like Gone With The Wind and colour photography, it was made at a time when it was a spectacle the likes of which nothing could come close to rivalling. Today however, the technology is now taken for granted and abused.

With cinemas worldwide having invested in it, what Cameron helped to engineer as the next step in immersive storytelling is now being flaunted as a cheap gimmick the bigger businesses are using to increase ticket prices without so much as a second thought. Rather than offering anything extra however, these prices now seem only to serve an investment that had so much not already been spent on it, probably would have gone the way of the Betamax. It only works if the effort is put into it, and regardless of the fact many people physically can’t watch it, many more are becoming disillusioned by the fact that such visually stunning films like Life of Pi (which itself is emptying the pockets of visual effects companies now in administration) are too few and far between, and the standard conversion process often achieves only sloppy results.

Some action shots can often look better on a small screen than in a 3D cinema.
Some moving action shots are often made worse by 3D.

It is also because of this that 3D seems to be going hand in hand with downloading, but rather than giving audiences a better experience they can’t download, it could actually be making things worse. By processing the action heavy summer blockbusters (those often topping the download rankings) into 3D, the only thing studios and distributors are doing is to make those same action sequences blurry and confusing. I was disappointed to find that the best 3D effects in The Avengers were the pre-opening credit company logos, and I have to say that the classic ‘camera circling the surrounded heroes’ shot looked far better in the small screen trailer than a 3D cinema.

The fact that there is a growing trend in 3D films that are not being given a 2D release in the UK only makes thinks worse.

So what does the future hold for my own cinema going? Just because I can now afford to go more often than I did this time last year, only by virtue of living the country, that is not to say I am any less picky. For a start, I am pleased there are groups such as Where’s My 2D? which are campaigning for studios and cinemas to go easier 3D distribution, and even lobbying equality ministers in parliament on behalf of those who physically are caused actual pain by 3D, and it is a fight I wholeheartedly endorse.

But while I’m still looking forward to watching several films on the big screen, a list that includes the likes of Robot & Frank and Welcome to the Punch more than Iron Man 3, I have to that as much as I prefer the event of going to the cinema, watching a DVD on my comfy sofa is still my viewing method of choice. Whilst you should never underestimate the discovery of an overlooked classic in a charity shop, I can only look forward to the time when the cinema is back in it’s number one spot.

Why ‘Firefly’ shouldn’t be given a kickstarter back onto our screens.

One of the most talked about things that happened in Geek/Film/Internet news this past week, is that a Veronica Mars spin-off film has been greenlit, based on fan reactions (and donations) to a crowd-sourcing project started by the TV show’s creator Rob Thomas.

Although hardly the first film to get started this way, it is by far the most well known, which is probably the most important factor for it breaking the record to be the fastest $1m dollar earner, which it achieved in less than five hours. Because of this, it is not unexpected that people have started to look at it with some suspicion, if not doubt. Will the fans get anything extra in return for their investment, or is their devotion just being exploited?

The feature film 'Serenity' was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.
The feature film ‘Serenity’ was unprecedented in its creation from a cancelled TV series.

It is also hardly surprising that fans of other cancelled TV series and movie franchises are also wondering what it could mean for the objects of their own affection, none more so than the so called ‘Browncoats’: Fans of the TV series Firefly, who have taken their name from the Independents of the series, a passionate army fighting against the all powerful Alliance.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Firefly was an extremely short series which, thanks to the tenacity of creator Joss Whedon and the devotion of fans, was picked up by Universal Studios, and the feature film Serenity was born.

Somehow Firefly had done the impossible. There are whole numbers of long lived series that can only dream of making it to the big screen, and Firefly had done it after just fourteen episodes? Fourteen episodes that FOX hadn’t even broadcast in the right order, three not even at all during its initial run. Serenity was a massive success in just getting made, but was only less than mildly successful at the box office.

Whilst fans went to see it in their droves, the general audience went there only generally. Despite the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) being just one of the many awards it received, not to mention reaching the #2 spot at its opening weekend at the box office, the film wasn’t all that Universal had been hoping for.

Like the series that preceded it, it was DVD sales that would be its economic lifeline, but they were still not enough to greenlight even a TV movie, let alone the two cinematic sequels to complete the “Big Damn Trilogy” fans were hoping for. Serenity was made back in 2005, Firefly was first (partially) broadcast and cancelled in December ’02, and only the small number of comic book mini-series and one-shots that have been published is all that the Browncoats have heard from the Firefly ‘verse in all this time.

Needless to say, Veronica Mars‘ latest news has reignited the spark of hope in fans’ hearts (if it ever went out to begin with), and Whedon has already been interviewed for his take on what it means for the future of the ‘verse:

“I’ve said repeatedly that I would love to make another movie with these guys, and that remains the case. It also remains the case that I’m booked up by Marvel for the next three years, and that I haven’t even been able to get Dr. Horrible 2 off the ground because of that. So I don’t even entertain the notion of entertaining the notion of doing this, and won’t. Couple years from now, when Nathan [Fillion]’s no longer [on] Castle and I’m no longer the Tom Hagen of the Marvel Universe and making a giant movie, we might look and see where the market is then.”

As one fan put it, “Drat. More “maybe eventually”s.”

Needless to say, fans’ hopes and expectations are a constant up and down, hanging on to anything Whedon and the rest of the cast and crew have to say on the matter. Speaking as a fan myself, I have to say that, in my opinion at least, Firefly is dead. And it should stay that way.

For those of you who haven’t left in disgust, I’ll explain why.

As I mentioned, the series was cancelled ten years ago. I don’t know if anyone else has ever seen a film based on a series that’s been gone for ten years, but I have, and I didn’t find Star Trek: The Motion Picture that interesting.

[Dammit, Twitter has just directed me to Jane Nelson’s blog on SFX.co.uk, where she’s saying exactly the same thing. Whilst she’s talking about a variety of shows though, allow me to carry on with Firefly in more detail].

Looking at this properly (and in more detail than Nelson), Whedon is busy for at least the next three years, and even then it seems as though Dr. Horrible 2 gets first dibs on his constantly busy schedule. In her blog Nelson says many fans think Whedon should hand over the reigns to someone else, but a Whedon-less project also has the potential to anger as many fans as the initial cancellation. Assuming fans would compromise with someone else producing and directing a Whedon written script, he still wouldn’t have time to do even that.

Also, there was speculation of the sequel to Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Whedon’s online project during the Film & TV writers’ strike, being a feature film even before Whedon was attached to the Avengers. There were also reports of the story outline and even songs, had already been written. If we were to assume the already in the works Avengers 2 makes it to screens in the Summer of 2015 (which is pushing it), and the Doctor Horrible 2 script already to go, the very earliest it could be released is Christmas ’15.

Bear in mind this is taking Whedon’s ability to juggle projects to max, and assuming there are no other problems in Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, (and Felicia Day?) finding room in their busy schedules. Very (very very) vaguely possible, but still highly unlikely. If (again, very big if) this happened, the earliest we could expect Serenity 2 is Christmas 2016. With his own passion for the project it is not something that Whedon would allow to be rushed, just the knowledge of knowing it was being made would placate fans enough for it to be given the time it would need, and I doubt Universal would give it priority in their summer blockbuster schedule anyway.

So, Christmas 2016 it is. (Very big if.)

Remember how I said Firefly was cancelled in December ’02? That’s fourteen years difference. As Nelson (damn you and your being paid to write!) points out, that’s a big difference. Too much of a difference to pick up where they last left off, and no-one wants to see them still in the same place. When you consider the character of River Tam was 17 years old, she’d now be 31. Hardly the crazy and mischievous teenager she once was, the fact that actress Jewel Staite was even younger only complicates things further.

'Star Trek: The Motion Picture' was released ten years after 'Star Trek' was cancelled.
‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ was released ten years after ‘Star Trek’ was cancelled.

But rather than carrying on the hypothetical situations, lets go back to that comparable TV/Film series, Star Trek. Like Firefly, Star Trek was unappreciated in it’s own time, and much like Serenity, a fan campaign was needed for season 3 to be commissioned, when NBC cancelled it after only two. It was during syndication that it achieved the major popularity it is recognised for today, but with people finding it only after it had been cancelled, again the only ‘official’ stories were hand drawn, with Star Trek: The Animated Series producing 22 episodes in 1973-74. The Motion Picture was finally released in ’79, ten years after season 3 originally aired. What started as the pilot episode to what would have been Star Trek: Phase II, it was a massive hit with fans, but only mildly popular with the critics.

Looking back it isn’t exactly seen as one of the best Trek films, and it’s sequel The Wrath of Khan performed so well thanks in part to the replacement of Gene Roddenberry with a newer, and more objective creative team. Headed by producer Harvey Bennett, together they had the insight to acknowledge the character’s age, putting fearless Captain (now Admiral) Kirk in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Whilst fans would find this a not only plausible but also hilarious situation for Captain Malcolm Reynolds, by now he would surely have been pushed beyond the raggedy edge, and his crew scattered to all corners of the ‘verse. And it’s not as though it could have an emotional/unexpected Spock style death to end on a (dramatic) high with either, thanks to both Book and Wash having already suffered that fate. Yet another obstacle for new Firefly projects to overcome.

This ousting of Roddenberry to the role of “consultant” in the first place wouldn’t have been sacrilegious to the fans, even if it was disappointing. Despite being the shows creator, Roddenberry himself jumped ship during the show’s third season and remained executive producer in name only. As a TV show its three seasons were crafted by a range of extra writers brought in, Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel also worked this way like nearly all US shows, but Firefly was never given the chance. The creative team was kept to a core of only a few members, and as mentioned before, any Whedonless project could split fandom wide open in a manner not seen since The Phantom Menace. A film which itself is a warning to leave the long gone, well alone.

Actors and characters aside, it’s also the audience who have grown. Whilst I was aware of it when it was released, I didn’t see Serenity until a screening at my University’s Students Union. This would have been around the time of the DVD’s European release, and I got into Firefly from that. I’ll admit I was late to the party (sorry!), but there is now a whole generation younger than me who are even later. Despite DVD and now Blu-ray keeping the series alive for new audiences to find all the time, it’s fair to say that the majority of people younger than me are too young to remember it first time round, even if it isn’t their fault.

Even as a film student, Serenity is the best example that I can think of, of exposition aimed at audience members that are both new, through to those with encyclopedic levels of knowledgeable, simultaneously. In today’s climate of ever increasing, and attention seeking, media, relying only on word of mouth (and blogs) will never be enough to keep up, and many of today’s teenagers simply won’t be interested in something that’s ten years old. I can’t even imagine 2016’s teenagers being even remotely interested in something that would be older than they are. Between many older fans’ incessant expectations, and newer audiences’ ambivalence, the stakes just seem to high to live up to.

So what about Serenity: The Next Generation? Despite featuring only one solar system compared to Star Trek‘s entire galaxy, there is still a whole host of other ships and crews out there, many in similar situations. What about a fresh start for the ‘verse  featuring one of those?

For a start, the actual Next Generation is more than just what Phase II would have been, and Decker/Riker & Ilia/Troi aside, the differences outweigh the similarities. Not only is the whole show is set in the next century, there’s even a Klingon on the starboard bridge console! While retaining the same exploratory spirit of the original, it’s more than just another crew on another ship, because it needed to be something different. Although Data is not so far removed from Spock (the two of whom finally meet in Unification part II, a conversation which doesn’t disappoint), there is a difference between the same roles and same characters. Picard may hold the same rank as Kirk, but has a far more diplomatic way of going about it.

The fan-film 'Browncoats: Redemption' "Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available."
The fan-film ‘Browncoats: Redemption’ “Project has ended & the DVD/Bluray is no longer available.”

This different crew approach was when the 2010 crowd sourced fan-film Browncoats: Redemption was released, which featured a cameo from Adam Baldwin and reportedly received a “blessing” from Whedon himself. Although the project has raised money for many different charities and is given respect for the undertaking involved, it hardly filled the gap many fans still felt was missing in their lives.

Unlike in any Star Trek, the mercenary crew of Serenity are so much more than a militaristic unit, and it is the characters and relationships that made Firefly what it is. Just as any ‘reunion’ movie wouldn’t likely work for the reasons outlined above, Redemption was criticised by some fans for trying too hard and following the original too closely. This is an obstacle that even a new Whedon created crew would also have to tackle, and anything too different seems almost beyond waiting for.

By 2016 I’m sure Whedon’s clout in Hollywood would be enough for those writing the cheques to greenlight anything he wants. As much as passion is needed to create a film that works, rather than creating a film because “If I don’t, it’s the only thing I’m ever going to be asked ever by anyone“, I believe fans should instead be asking for original stories in new universes. Whilst I’m sure the above quote was said with the zany sarcasm present in most of Joss Whedon’s interviews, he has a very real point.

Yes I would have loved Firefly to have continued rather than be cancelled, and by all means please do give us more comics. But by now the on-screen adventures of Serenity and her crew are long gone, and any continued efforts to bring them back just seem like flogging a horse that is dead as Browncoats’ hope should be. Like so many others, as a huge fan of Whedon’s, I continually can’t wait for his next projects. The general release of Much Ado About Nothing can’t come soon enough, I’m sure The Avengers 2 will be just as breathtaking as the first, and I can’t wait to see Doctor Horrible again, but original or not, these are all projects that Whedon and co. have already started working on.

While too many Browncoats are waiting impatiently for the box office success of Veronica Mars: The Movie to bring their dream that one step closer, my time will be better spent specualting on something else.

Whedon is not just a writer, he is a creator. Thanks to the fruits of his creative genius, a teenage girl not only saved the world several times over, but reshaped the landscape of American TV while she was doing it. A crew of mercenaries instilled so much passion in fans that they actually achieved their goal of getting a feature film produced from a TV series cancelled during its first season.

 These are feats that are unprecedented, and cannot be overstated enough. And I for one am eager to know what game changing universe Joss Whedon will create next.

20 years on: The ‘”Maybe not super, but still better than average” Mario Bros.’

For some reason, 2013 has been one of those years that’s reminding me I’m getting older. As an avid film fan, it’s probably something to do with the fact that 1993, a great year of films for seven year olds, was 20 years ago.

Yep, I’m afraid to remind you that as of this year Mrs Doubtfire, Cool Runnings, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights to name but a few, are all 20 years old.

Theatrical poster for 'Super Mario Bros', Rocky Marton & Annabel Jankel, 1993.
Theatrical poster for ‘Super Mario Bros’, Rocky Marton & Annabel Jankel, 1993.

With so much time having passed since their production, these films are all viewed in different ways. Jurassic Park is set for a re-release in eye-popping/hurting 3D, whereas Bob Hoskins is most likely still of the opinion that: “The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers. It was a fuckin’ nightmare.

Credit where credit is due though, in 1993 Jurassic Park set the record for highest grossing film. I’ve never quite agreed with measuring a film’s (or anything’s) success with money, but considering it’s ground-breaking physical effects are still better than many modern CGI efforts, the forthcoming Jurassic Park 4 notwithstanding, it’s not hard to see why they’re giving it the 3D treatment.

Super Mario Bros. on the other hand didn’t exactly wow many critics or cinema-goers, but in the spirit of fair play, it was the first of a whole wave of  Hollywood Video Game adaptations that haven’t exactly fared much better. The very next year Japanese and Western audiences were each given their own Street Fighter film, which the last 19 years have given both the time to be seen worldwide. The resulting opinions seem to suggest that Hollywood’s Jean Claude Van Damme offering was K.O’ed by it’s anime counterpart.

As the years came and went, so did films such as Mortal Kombat, House of the Dead, and Alone in the Dark. Don’t worry, I haven’t seen them either.

But this is not to say that all video game films are worth avoiding, or haven’t at least contributed something to modern cinema. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within might not have been what audiences were expecting, but the sophistication of its photo-realistic animation garners nothing but respect. Likewise I can think of much worse summer action movies than Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Even with a last minute sci-fi time travel twist, it still received much less flack than the aliens of Razzie winning Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

With so many films receiving so many mixed reviews it’s hard to say which has fared the best, though perhaps one that stands out the most is 2002’s Resident Evil. Where others have been faulted for either staying too close or straying too far from their playable counterparts, writer/producer/director Paul W.S. Anderson instead decided to take it in another direction. From a game famous for it’s suspenseful horror and nerve shredding atmosphere, the film places emphasis on action instead, and even does so without the need for running ‘zombies’. The result is a film which not only keeps in plenty of the game that the audience love, but gives it enough of a twist to keep it fresh.

'Tekken', Dwight H. Little, 2010, wasn't even released theatrically in the U.S.
‘Tekken’ was never given a theatrical release in the U.S.

Between its failures and moderate success’s though, it doesn’t seem as though Hollywood has learnt much over the past two decades. Resident Evil has since jumped the shark with four (so far, more on the way) sequels, Street Fighter‘s player two, The Legend of Chun-Li, barely even pressed the start button to join in, and the only U.S. screening of 2010’s Tekken was to prospective distributors. Needless to say, none felt that entering the Iron Fist Tournament was worth their effort.

Despite this however, Hollywood’s films keep on coming, with Assassin’s Creed and Metal Gear Solid reportedly in development. But given its reputation, it’s not surprising that the Japanese games makers themselves are increasingly producing CGI films themselves. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children and Resident Evil: Damnation are aimed almost exclusively at gamers, fit into the games’ continuity transmedia style rather than rebooting, and were released straight to DVD. It seems to me as though they’ve found the right way to go about it.

Taking all this into consideration then, from a general perspective if not Bob Hoskins’, does Super Mario Bros. really deserve the bad reputation its been chained to all these years?

First things first, the Mario games were more than likely chosen for being a well known name than having an adaptable storyline. The basic premise of ‘hero rescuing princess trapped in a castle’ isn’t exactly the most original, even if Mario is the first plumber to do so. Also using this age old fairy tale however, is the other still long running Nintendo franchise, The Legend of Zelda. 1993 saw the release of the series’ fourth title Link’s Awakening, and by nature of being an RPG as opposed to a run and jump platformer, each offered much more in terms of quests, adventure, and more importantly, characters that were only two dimensional in terms of pixels.

And here is perhaps the first misconception. Looking back it is easy to assume that a simpler backstory to adapt naturally gave the film-makers the attractive prospect of more freedom to explore the Mushroom Kingdom; but with such an assumption comes the wonder where Dinohatten and even dinosaurs came from? With The Princess Bride made six years previously, it’s not as though such a fantastical medieval film, turtles included, wouldn’t have been practical. But when you consider this point is backed up by the all too similar Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, a film released just two months before Super Mario Bros., in which the titular turtles travel to feudal Japan, you can’t really blame the film-makers too much for going in another direction. Even if that direction wasn’t Zelda.

As mentioned before though, Mario video games are simply more popular, and therefore a bigger name to draw in the crowds. But they are still video games. Unlike the books and TV series which were also being adapted, adapting a film from games was always going to be aiming at a niche audience, something which still holds true today.

I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive so forgive me for generalising them, but gamers are going to be less concerned that a film is adapted from a book, than readers towards a film from a game. In terms of storytelling at least, books have a centuries old reputation of being grown-up, even cultured, and moving. Video games on the other hand were looked down upon just for being what they are, games. Not only this, but generally speaking, the less sophisticated the game (ie: mere running and jumping), the younger the audience they are seen to be aiming for. Whether this is the case or not, its fair to say its how they are perceived.

Added to this is the fact that the more an audience enjoys something the more critical they will be of its film. After watching one of their adaptations you can instantly tell who’s read a Harry Potter book, simply because the first thing they’ll say about it is everything that was missed out. Mario’s job of pleasing audience members is an uphill struggle even before the outline becomes the screenplay.

A screenplay with which you also have to acknowledge the compromises made to contemporary Hollywood. Between a choice of Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, it was always going to be Leguizamo taking the romantic lead in a film aimed at the kids to twentysomethings demographic, so I’m afraid the switch of Peach for Daisy is somewhat justified. The dinosaur being called ‘Toad’ on the other hand, isn’t.

And that’s where the next problem comes, Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper. Obviously I’m not saying I have a problem with Hoskins and Hopper, far from it, just that I’m agreeing with them when they say they regret having done it. Kids watching the film in cinemas, may have recognised Bob Hoskins as Smee from 1991’s Hook, Dennis Hopper probably not at all, but their accompanying parent’s would obviously recognise them a lot more. The Long Good Friday, Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, all are respected films that bestow upon their actors a sense of class, which in turn give audiences expectations. Expectations that this film was never going to live up to.

Script and cast aside though, lets look at the production values. Not the worst certainly, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Mario’s Dinohatten was actually a hand-me-down Mars from Total Recall. As for the CGI, it’s no surprise that co-directors Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton’s only other recognisable creation (then, and even now) was Max Headroom, which would explain their being chosen to attract the MTV generation. Gripes notwithstanding, its two Saturn Award nominations for best costume and make up were well founded.

Like the games that preceeded it, Dead or Alive focused heavily on the visuals.
Like the games that preceded it, ‘Dead or Alive’ focused heavily on the visuals.

Weighing up the pros and cons, it’s fair to say that twenty years later, Super Mario Bros. is still a bad film, but that doesn’t matter. And even if it did, that’s precisely the reason why it’s brilliant.

Yes, the fact it makes me feel old does add to it’s nostalgia factor, simply by reminding me of being a kid, but more than that you have to remember it’s primarily a kids film. Adaptation or otherwise, kids films are always going to stand the test of time better, not just because they’re silly, but because they’re meant to be silly. Script and casting are always going to be hard hurdles to jump, and that’s where the majority of video game films fall down. But if you can look past those, the dated effects only add to its charm, and while it may not have had D.O.A.: Dead or Alive‘s forethought to not take itself seriously (disclaimer: not a kids film), when looked at in the same vein I don’t think you can deny that Super Mario Bros. is pop corn munchingly, brain meltingly, silly.

And that’s why I love it.

Transmedia storytelling: Where do we tie-in from here?

Having been around almost as long as cult film and television itself, tie-in media is now serious business. Star Wars alone includes over 20,000 years of “Expanded Universe” history to support only six (so far) canonical feature films. But how do you go about creating such a detailed background, and what exactly is this background in the first place?

Firstly, you don’t have to. Tie-in media is generally anything that takes an already established story, usually a TV show, and tells another story using those characters, settings, etc, and it doesn’t have to be part of an epic sci-fi saga. Something as simple as the novelisation of Snakes on a Plane, or even the Dad’s Army stage adaptations could also fall under this category.

Starting at the beginning, perhaps one of the earliest pieces of original tie-in fiction was 1968’s Mission to Horatius, a young adult Star Trek novel by Mack Reynolds. Like the episodes of the series itself, the novel told the story of the Enterprise crew on an outer space adventure, thrills and danger were experienced, before everything is heroically, and not to forget neatly, concluded. Returning everything to the status quo meant that viewers and readers could dip in and out of adventures and not get lost. Everyone knew the central relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, knew that Uhura would be there to take the messages, and the Klingons were the badguys. As time went on however, things changed.

The 34th Rule, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled in many gaps the on-screen 'Star Trek' to regarding humanities future 'Utopia'.
‘The 34th Rule’, by Armin Shimerman and David R George, filled many of  ‘Star Trek’s Utopia’s gaps.

Klingon peace treaties and the civil rights movement aside, Star Trek evolved, and its tie-in fiction along with it. The episodic TV series’ led to feature films with an ongoing story arc. The Voyage Home remains one of the most popular Trek films to date, but without a recap of The Search For Spock, those who haven’t seen it may be a little confused as to why there’s no Enterprise. Likewise novels were joined by comics that contained stories that could often have cliffhanger endings, leaving readers waiting with baited breath for next month’s issue.

Ten years after it’s initial cancellation, the other long running science-fiction series Doctor Who regenerated into audio adventures, reuniting cast members to portray their charcters, even if by only voicing them. With the series once again gracing TV screens, these classic Doctor tales are still going strong.

Following this, the new millennium began with The Matrix gifting the world with a new breed of tie-in, containing almost as much new storytelling as slow motion CGI. More than just new adventures however, The “Wachowski Warship” as the Wachowski ‘Brothers’ are now known, utilised comics, short animation films, and even a computer game, in order to tell the same narrative story, only from different perspectives; While the audience watching The Matrix Reloaded would witness Niobe imparting news of how a ship called The Osiris discovered a Sentinel threat, those who have seen the aptly named Final Flight of the Osiris would witness that discovery first hand, but only Enter The Matrix players would know how the story, and indeed the intel would be picked up and delivered by Niobe after Osiris’ drop off.

While The Matrix fleshed out a story that fans already knew, the TV series Lost would take this one step forwards (or possibly backwards?) throughout the show’s six season run. Although maybe not producing as many tie-ins as other series, what was produced put a twist on traditional elements, such the ‘in-universe’ tie-in novel Bad Twin (whose ‘author’ was also on flight 815, and the manuscript to which was read on-screen by Sawyer), and merged storytelling with mere merchandising, thanks to a collection of four “Mystery of the Island” Jigsaw Puzzles that advertised “exclusive new insight into TV’s most puzzling drama series.”

Jigsaw Puzzles were an original but laboured piece of 'Lost' transmedia story-telling.
Jigsaw Puzzles were a unique, but laboured piece of ‘Lost’ transmedia story-telling.

But despite such originality in their storytelling, they gave at best only the merest hints towards any further information regarding the show’s many unanswered questions. Meta-fiction aside, the puzzles themselves were just collages of screenshots and images from the show itself, each one only showing a quarter of the completed “insights” which were not only hidden on the back of the completed puzzles, but were written in both code, and glow in the dark ink (the cypher for which was only found on the fourth puzzle). As if this weren’t confusing enough, those that solved everything would only be asked further questions by script co-ordinator Gregg Nations; “I’d have to say yes, they can be considered canon. But keep in mind who wrote those coded messages to begin with — Radzinsky and then Kelvin. What were their states of mind when creating it? And can they really be trusted?

Even worse than Bad Twin‘s duplicity however, semi-canonical storylines set on the island itself, Lost: The Video Game for example, only served to complicate ideas even further by leaving players wondering what should be separated as Lost ‘fact’ from Lost ‘fiction’. Frustrations aside however, you can’t help but admire the planning that went into such a tie-in effort, orchestrated by writers and producers of the show itself.

With the advent of serial-arc based TV drama however, a concept that even Star Trek adopted, tie-in media encountered new problems, but which were relatively easy to overcome. With such a vast universe to explore, Star Trek: New Frontier was created to boldly go where no tie-in had gone before, featuring a completely new ship and crew. A short lived series of novels also looked at how the exploration that epitomised Star Trek was conducted by Starfleet’s Klingon counterparts. Needless to say, conquering was involved.

But the main problem came when the series ended. Often tie-in media was the place to go for fans who were hungry for more, but with the number of television programs adopting story arc’s now being the vast majority, there are more than one in which the final episode concludes its story through what would be a major game change in the characters lives. With tie-in authors unable to make any significant contributions to the development of character’s audiences loved, this was often the last they ever heard from them.

Whether boosted by the example set by Lost, or by their own enthusiasm as fans, producers of cult shows have begun to take transmedia storytelling more and more seriously, and continue to tell their stories themselves, after the shows have been cancelled. Something which comic publishers have been keen to capitalise on, releasing stories that not just continue a TV show’s narrative, but do so to the point where they are considered canonical, and even released in mini-series corresponding to the original show’s seasons. Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight is an early example of this, and it has just been announced that The X Files will be the latest, with “Season 10” due to be published over a decade since “Season 9” was broadcast. Obviously great news for fans of cult franchises whose cast and crew could not be reunited, but more importantly, those that studio executives are no longer willing to risk money on.

But in the current climate of “Brand Recognition” (the idea that particularly in a recession, audiences are less likely to take risks with unknowns, and spend their money more on franchises they already know), this also comes at a price. As Buffy was a popular money maker throughout it’s seven season run, I’m sure Fox have no problem in allowing Dark Horse to license it’s intellectual property for as long as the royalties will keep on coming in.

Firefly on the other hand, also written and produced by Whedon, is a series that Fox doesn’t generally like or understand, and so was cancelled during it’s first and only season. Unable to establish the widespread fanbase it deserves, what the show lacks in quantity of fans it more than makes up for in quality, and with only fourteen episodes and one feature film produced, they are always eager for more. Joss Whedon’s time management aside, surely I’m not the only one who considers Fox’s dismissal and consequentially the the series’ lack of money making ability to be an important factor in it’s lack of comic production, a mere fraction of the titles set in the already heavily established ‘Buffyverse’.

The slayers' Scythe appeared in 'Fray' before 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'
The slayers’ Scythe appeared in the comic ‘Fray’ before ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’.

Although transmedia has gained popularity and acclaim throughout it’s lifetime, I can think of only one instance in which a piece of tie-in fiction has influenced the TV show which had born it. When writing a comicbook mini-series, Whedon (I know I keep mentioning him, but do so not through choice, but simply due to the prolific and various natures of his work) assumed people would only want more slayers from him, and so obliged accordingly.

Even when considering this is just a very brief overview of its history, it is no wonder that tie-in media is increasingly now referred to as ‘transmedia’ storytelling. These new stories are no longer being written to tie-in with bigger storylines, they now often are the bigger storylines.

Before commenting on the current emerging trends of where it is taking us next, it is important to remember that new developments of transmedia do not always mean the end of the traditional, which are still important in their own right. Whilst Star Trek‘s on-screen adventures may have returned to an alternative view of Kirk & co, with the films writers and producers involved with the parallel and prequel comic series, brand new adventures of Picard, Sisko, and Archer (not so much Janeway) are still recalled through a plethora of novels. Novels which do not just keep characters alive, but which allow newer and previously unpublished writers to be read.

Una McCormack for example, has gone from writing internet fan-fiction, to pretty much holding the fate of Cardassia itself in her hands. More than just Hollow Men and The Never-Ending Sacrifice being two of the best Star Trek novels I have read (and I’ve read more than a few) writing tie-in fiction has given a writer the opportunity to not only contribute to series she loves (she has also written books for Doctor Who), but this has also lead to her own original fiction being publisd as well.

But just as with all evolutions, it seems the tree of transmedia is again spliting into two separate branches. Whereas previous divergences occured from prose to comic to audio however, this one is at the heart of on-screen media itself.

One thing it seems, is that with a rise of adaptations and series such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, transmedia has come full circle. Whereas tie-in material published through books were previously used to supplement on-screen adventures, now it seems that what we see on screens, is more and more filing in the gaps and producing it’s own additional narratives to supplement books and comics. Somehow creating three longer than average movies from a single children’s paperback, The Hobbit immediately springs to mind.

The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only "Phase One" of the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe'.
The Avengers Assembled. Six movies that form only “Phase One” of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’.

More than this however, is the new tradition that has developed in which feature films now seem to be produced at a rate to rival TV episodes, something seen particularly with the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is well worth noting here, as what is being described as “Phase Two”, the continuation of films that culminated in Joss Whedon’s (told you, prolific) recent blockbuster The Avengers (Assemble), will constitute not just Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World et al, but also a S.H.I.E.L.D. Television series.

While it remains to be seen exactly how much this new series will link in with the films, with the inclusion of Agent Coulson who was seen dying in The Avengers (Assemble), filling in the backstory of how the S.H.I.E.L.D. organistation was created cannot be ruled out.

But regardless of the stories the TV series will tell, it seems that where TV has traditionally been the primary narrative with tie-in stories from ‘lesser’ media supplementing them, the twentyteens have not just followed Star Wars’ lead and promoted the primary narrative to cinematic heights, but with S.H.I.E.L.D. alongside The Clone Wars, promoted the supplementary stories to the ‘lesser’ medium of Television.

Although these phases of transmedia are still emerging, it is interesting to speculate who will take them up, and where they might go with them. Not forgetting of course, in the years to come, what other changes might come next…

Is apathy towards on-screen sexual violence irreversible?

'Irréversible', Gaspar Noé, 2002.
Theatrical poster for ‘Irréversible’, Gaspar Noé, 2002.

A few months ago, roughly ten years after its release, I finally caught up with watching Irréversible. Infamous for it’s graphic depiction of violence and rape, it is a film with a Special Edition DVD cover proudly quoting Jonathan Ross that it “should not be missed”, but wisely omitting other descriptions suggesting it “might be the most homophobic movie ever made.

Irréversible is a French revenge movie, in which the rape of Alex (Monica Bellucci) prompts Marcus (Vincent Cassell) and Pierre (Albert Dupontel), her current and ex-lover respectively, to hunt down those responsible. A story told in the reverse style of Memento, where we witness the murder, the hunt, and then the rape, with the second half of the film showing us the relationship of the three protagonists earlier on in that fateful day.

However it is viewed, it is nearly always preceded by its reputation and the responses it garners are as extreme as the film itself, which left me feeling like my own may be somewhat alarming in its own right.

Basically, I was bored.

So what does this mean, and why am I writing about it? Does this mean that desensitisation of on-screen violence is inevitable? Are different members of society more susceptible to certain kinds of violence than others? Or more simply, am I just a broken human being? Allow me to explain…

For all its violence, Irréversible begins with a calm dualogue between two never to be seen again characters. Obviously designed to reflect on the film’s themes with the line “Le temps détruit tout” (“Time destroys everything”), French philosophy is something I have attempted to grapple with on previous occasions, but with little luck. After this we are shown Marcus and Pierre to be bashed, broken, and surrounded by police upon leaving the “Rectum”, a gay S&M nightclub. A scene which quickly shifts back into the prolonged sequence in which they continually ask what seems to be every patron if they are “Le Tenia”, or “The Tapeworm”.

This right here is the first problem. The subtleties of philosophy aside, the film’s opening is just so tenuous. The search for Le Tenia is just too long, arduous, dark, accompanied by the most mind numbing drone, long, and repetitive that by the time Le Tenia is found, the caving in of a man’s skull by fire extinguisher, more brutal than even the film’s choice of names, only left me thinking ‘Ooh, that’s clever, I wonder how the film-makers achieved that.’ After the chase to find the club (this time with prejudice against race and transsexuals joining that against homosexuality, but at least there is more diversity of action to keep your interest), we finally meet Alex, who now we have known her for all of two minutes, suffers the vicious attack we have just witnessed the vengeance of.

And like the unknown but specifically placed extra in the background, I too just felt like walking away. Not because of fear, or disgust and horror which I’m sure spurred many other viewers, but, as I mentioned before, because I was bored.

Whilst briefly searching (unsuccessfully) for the Guardian quote describing it as “A Masterpiece” (again from the DVD case) I found only reviews that described the overall film as nothing worthwhile, but still described the pivotal event of Alex being “unwatchably raped.” Yes, the act itself is undeniably savage, but I just fail to see how the way it’s presented by Irréversible has that effect.

Irréversible is a cinematic feature film. A motion picture, in which the notorious sequence at the epicentre of the whole film, essentially has no motion. Lack of editing aside (each scene is a single continuous take) the entire rape, in which Alex is pinned to the floor and endures the most basic of thrusts, is shown from one single, unmoving view point. I have no doubt that the filmmakers’ intentions were to confront you with its brutality in an attempt to illicit both shock and empathy, the unflinching camera forcing you to helplessly suffer, mirroring the very invasion that Le Tenia is committing.

'Baise-Moi', Coralie Trinh Thi & Virginie Despentes, 2000.
DVD cover for ‘Baise-Moi’, Coralie Trinh Thi & Virginie Despentes, 2000.

And that’s not to say I don’t find any depiction boring. It is far from the only film to depict such an act, although perhaps the most comparable is the just as self-assertive Baise-Moi, another French offering in which it is the victims themselves who take their revenge on any men they can lure. Released two years prior, the film with two female co-directors depicts rape in the only way which can do the horror of actual rape any justice, realistically. Baise-Moi, whose title literally translates to “Fuck Me” combines images of violence, blood, and unsimulated sex in a graphic depiction that I amongst many others found shocking, because it comes across as taking the idea of rape seriously, not as a gimmick.

Admittedly unsimulated sex onscreen is not for everyone (it has lead to many countries naively classifying it as pornography), but when you consider that Irréversible features only the threat of accompanying violence, and that both Alex and her assailant are as fully clothed as possible throughout to the extent that the only “nudity” is obviously CGI, it made me wonder why a film so seemingly out to shock (an effect I believe any film trying to explore such ideas should try to achieve) wouldn’t try to follow at least some of its predecessor’s example.

Again, not that sheer brutishness is needed in order to achieve this shock, as shown by the unexpected events in the office of Män som hatar kvinnorThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to you and me, but known as “Men Who Hate Women” in the original Swedish. Surprise should never be underestimated, but is something the film-makers decided to exclude through the inherent nature of a well publicised, narratively backwards rape-revenge flick.

Two different approaches from two different films in which rape is treated in as serious a way as it should be. To me, Irréversible doesn’t, resulting in me watching a ‘rape’ which made my eyes leave the screen out of boredom, not disgust.

But I have to admit the film itself is only half of the equation, myself being the other. Although I have finished both my university courses and am no longer registered at any institution, it is fair to say that I will always be a student of film. More than just my own appreciation of the medium, I have spent years of my life being formally trained to analyse it, and to pick it apart like a watchmaker in order to see what makes each specimen tick. This is something which I cannot unlearn. That is not to say that I can no longer be swept away into the world presented on-screen before me, but I am now not just more aware of how I am being swept, but importantly, much more critical when I’m not.

The tedium of the initial search through the club was all this film needed to take me out of its world (if I was ever there to begin with), and make me all too consciously aware that what I was watching, fictional characters within a fictional scenario, just wasn’t real. Additionally, in order to concentrate on its brashness, Irréversible had not taken the time to allow me to get to know, and consequently care for, its characters as individuals. I describe it not as rape but ‘rape’ (note the inverted commas) in the second to last paragraph because as far as I was concerned, I was only watching actress Monica Belluci, who was no more Alex than she was ‘that French girl’ in ‘those Matrix sequels’.

As someone for whom film plays an important part in my life, neither Irréversible nor Baise-moi were the first times I have seen such violence on screen. I watched A Clockwork Orange during my first year of university when discussing what my lecturer, Martin Barker, called the “Pornography of violence”; The idea that as audience members, perhaps worse than mere apathy, people enjoy watching violent acts depicted on screen. We may not like that we like it, but nonetheless, we (and more importantly, film-makers and distributors) recognise that we do indeed like it.

"We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it."
“We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it.” – Kevin Spacey in Se7en, David Fincher, 1995

Whilst there are many films that have merely jumped on the ‘violence for violence’s sake’ bandwagon, I have been able to sit through Saw films (the first three at least, from what I have heard the following sequels are all aboard said bandwagon) and unflinchingly find them fascinating. Where Irréversible presents only an animalistic reaction, and an opportunistic crime in which the rapist seems only mildly interested in getting back at the bourgeoisie, Saw is just one of many films which presents us with a philosophical idea through the use of stark visual images rather than novelty camera work and complicated language. Less mindless but more mindful violence, people being tortured in horrific scenarios of, essentially, their own making. We watch it to see people come face to face with a twisted karma, and have even found ourselves appreciating the logic for doing so.

Even when pulled into the world in front of me, and the (subconscious) knowledge that what I am seeing is not real, there is another element to consider. Unlike a close friend who avoids even James Bond films due to his experiences in the armed forces, throughout my own sheltered life I have never even witnessed an actual, horrific and violent act that I can relate the onscreen images to. Throughout my film watching life I have seen a number of things that have made other people scream, squirm, and look away, some of which I have even laughed at (although I hasten to add this is mainly due to low budget special effects, and the reactions of others). Until, that is, one lecture where we were shown a clip from a film that I unfortunately cannot remember. A simple clip in which someone, in close up, with no apparent prosthetics, takes hold of their thumbnail, and slowly peels it from their skin.

This sent shivers down my spine and put my teeth on edge, because it is a pain that I myself am personally aware of. It got to me because, unlike anything else I’ve watched, it is something I can relate to. Unlike rape and torture, it is something I know.

This is something which leads on to the last, and perhaps most important factor when considering my reactions to rape, both on-screen and actual. I am male. Even after learning of events that involve people I know, as well as personally being attacked on the high street of even my sleepy home town, I have never walked alone at night in fear of such an invasion of my personal privacy, purely because simple statistics tell me that I am more likely to commit rape than fall victim to it.

So why am I writing this? Certainly there are those who may see this post and my unsympathetic reaction to be controversial, and to those people I say don’t just move on, but that any and all comments are welcomed, and actively encouraged. If after pleading my case the verdict is am a broken human being, this is something I need to know about. But before making your decision, also consider this:

A common banner at an anti-rape protest.
A common banner seen at many anti-rape protests.

There is a notion I agree with, that attempting to defend callous actions with “the way she dressed showed she wanted/needed/deserved it” only degrades men, promoting the idea that we cannot control ourselves and that rape is something that should come naturally to me. This is a notion which I wholeheartedly disagree with. Yes, the human sex drive is a strong urge, but that is so for both men and women. As much as I consider a vow of celibacy to be a noble pursuit of many religions, I can’t be the only one to consider that suppressing things in such a way is one factor that lead to the scandals currently plaguing the Catholic Church (amongst others), but that does not mean that rapist is a natural state; regardless of the circumstances, it is a choice that people should be held accountable for.

But this is far from the be all and end all however, and I leave you with one final thought. I say this not in an attempt to alleviate any personal blame but to acknowledge what I believe is an unspoken contribution of my apathy towards Irréversible, and an issue that needs to be further addressed if we are to solve the wider problem that is making headline news in countries all over the world.

Whether through statistics, the rise in “women’s” services and charities, or the very nature of the antiquated and self-serving patriarchal world we are living in, there is an element of society which has taught me, as a male, that rape just isn’t my problem, and that I should tell jokes down the pub before I worry about it.

On my way to a showreel

Having recently (5 months ago is recent, right?) finished my MA degree in Film Studies, I have begun to start work on my career within the Film and TV industry. Like pretty much every recent graduate out there, regardless of field, I would consider myself lucky to gain employment straight away, without having some kind of work experience placement(s) beforehand.

Admittedly I’m still fairly new to it all, but getting even placements does seem to be somewhat of an endless cycle, in order to gain experience, you need to have previous experience. And that’s where my showreel comes into play. Or at will, as soon I can get past the technological barriers getting in my way.

But while I’m still trying to actually transfer the short films I’ve been involved in in the past, as well as organise my latest one (and find any job that will help me out with the debt an MA generally inflicts on you), feel free to check out MA group film, 25.

25 logo

And feel free to let me know what you think.

EDIT: Possibly not for those of a nervous disposition.