Our uneasy relationship with Google

Almost everyone active on the internet has some sort of relationship with Google, through their search engine, Android or other services. But can Google be trusted with our information and data?

The Evolution of a Reluctant Twilight Fan

The journey from disregard, through hate and eventually ending on enjoyment and reluctant fan-hood.

On Creativity, Consumption and the Internet

A look at how the internet has evolved and the tension between consumption and creativity on the 'Net.

Sherlock vs Sherlock and Miller vs Cumberbatch

A comparison of two wonderful, but distinct, modern portrayals of Sherlock Holmes.

Why Linux Matters

Why Linux Matters: Both to an individual non-technical user and to global society at large.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Review: Star Trek: The Motion Picture - Less Star Trek, More 2001




Year:1979
Director:
Genre: Science-Fiction


The plot is somewhat baffling in it's construction and use, although it is certainly a solid sci-fi premise. An unknown alien object is approaching earth, having destroyed three Klingon warships and a Federation outpost, no contact can be made and it's intentions are still unknown. From here, we see the Enterprise, yet again the only ship within intercept range, being deployed to try and make contact with the intruder and prevent the destruction of Earth. In possible the best aspect of the film, we see the original crew of the Original Series have aged and moved on in their careers, except Kirk, now an Admiral, takes back command from the fresh Captain Decker, using the emergency as a pretext, but as Bones points outs, reflects his desire to remain aboard the Enterprise as Captain.

We get an indication of it's nature through Spock, who having attempted to purge all his remaining emotions in order to achieve a state of pure logic, feels a keen affinity for the 'thoughtwaves' emanating from it. The alien object then destroys a newly introduced crewmember and sends back a facsimile to communicate with what it refers to as 'carbon-based units'. We gradually learn that the object is, in fact, a deep space craft named Voyager 6, a successor to the Voyager craft launched in real life, in order to gain as much knowledge as possible. The craft has encountered a civilization of pure logic and with their help achieved consciousness. It is now returning to Earth to seek it's Creator.

The final setpeice of the movie involves the core crew beaming down to the surface of the Voyager 6 probe (it's nameplate having been partially covered to read, as previously referred to, as V'Ger) and attempting to convince it that the 'carbon-based' units as, in fact, it's Creators. Hastily retrieved NASA codes don't do the trick, and eventually Decker chooses to be absorbed into the probe's consciousness, thus rejoining the previously absorbed crewmember with whom he is clearly in love, to share his thoughts and memories and avert the destruction of Earth.

The problem with the plot is perhaps the exact opposite of the problems encountered by many modern blockbusters. The personal aspects of the story, the interactions between the crew and the quieter character beats, range from decent to excellent. The Original Series' crew has always done well with maintaining interest in interpersonal relations and the nice touch in naming the new Captain Decker isn't left unnoticed. However, the heart of any screenplay has to be conflict, and the situation with V'Ger is simply not given enough drama to be compelling.

 
It is an interesting premise, and  solid 'hard' sci-fi story. But as a major movie, rather than a quieter, reflective episode of the TV show, it does fail pretty badly. While there is no need for large-scale space battles or a myriad of action scenes, there is a need for compelling human drama as well as a cool premise, and almost all the human drama here is relegated to character beats rather than the plot. It results in a somewhat boring progression through the cloud, and an emotionally lacking payoff at the end.

In watching the Remastered Edition's special effects, I was genuinely blown away. This isn't to say that the effects look modern, they are identifiably dated, relying on scale models and mostly in-camera effects rather than modern CGI and digital trickery. However, they hold up remarkably well, giving the movie a sense of grandeur and weight that is surprisingly still potent.

The oft-mocked sequence of Kirk and Scotty approaching the docked Enterprise certainly does seem to be a case of drawing attention to the budget and finally giving the Enterprise the care and attention to detail it was never able to get on the TV show. But it also works wonderfully in establishing a believable, immersive environment, one that is critical for the slow paced cerebral tale the film is attempting to tell.

The Enterprise is certainly impressive, it may be simply a personal preference of mine rather than a universal sentiment, but I always thought that a well done (and well-lit) scale model carries far more visual weight and presence than the majority of computer rendered models. Here the Enterprise is graceful, imposing and looks solid and grand, compared to the fairly weak CGI rendering of the Enterprise in The Next Generation for example. While the time devoted to admiring the model in the first act may be excessive, and almost insanely so by modern pacing standards, the effects themselves still hold up excellently.

The array of effects shown when the Enterprise enters into the V'Ger cloud however hold up slightly less well. Perhaps this is an indication of where computer generated effects have a significance edge over older camera and visual effects, rather than losing some semblance of 'weight', as in the case of rendering ships, CGI now is able to produce far better looking clouds, particle effects and light shows than anything at the filmmakers' disposal at this time.

Rating: 5/10


The overall impression I was left with at the end of this movie is that this is less a big-screen outing of Star Trek than it is the familiar Enterprise and her crew being placed in a completely different creative universe and plot. While some will protest that this was made under the influence of Gene Rodenberry himself, a look back to the Original Series shows the strong marriage of philosophical curiosity with drama, action and humour.

That wonderful mix of drama, action and humour as largely missing here, even as the characters themselves are thankfully intact. Instead we have an almost single-minded focus on philosophical questioning and an atmosphere more reminiscent of 2001: A Space Oddessy than Star Trek.

It is certainly is still well worth watching for anyone with a substantial interest in Star Trek and/or movies exploring grand themes. It is, however, not particularly entertaining beyond sporadic moments. Not a bad film by any stretch, we're not talking about Star Trek V here, but certainly a oddity in Star Trek canon.







Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Last Exorcism Review: Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory


Rather than being a "normal" review, this article is going to revolve around the final act of The Last Exorcism and the question of how to resolve plots in general, so if you have any plans on watching the movie without spoilers, this might be a good place to stop reading until you do so.

A word or several first on the film itself, I find it difficult to recommend The Last Exorcist despite thoroughly enjoying the majority of the movie. The acting is competent and in the case of the lead, surprisingly excellent. The direction is quietly expressive, the plot appears to be a fresh take on a tired genre and there are both scares and an unsettling creepy atmosphere throughout.

In the light of the above, it may seem that the movie should be recommended on that basis alone, surely a weak final act can't wipe out the positives completely? Watching a movie is undoubtedly about the experience of the journey, not just the culmination of the plot?



Year: 2010
Director:
Genre: Horror

Reverend Marcus (a standout performance by Patrick Fabian) is a troubled "exorcist" who experiences a loss of faith and decides to co-operate with a two-person documentary crew to help debunk the notion of exorcism and his own practice of it, in order to prevent accidental harm apparently risked during some procedures. The movies does excellent setting a fresh tone for the by-now tired format and moves efficiently along from effective character shading to the main plot, that of a backwoods farmer named Louis (another surprisingly good performance, this time by Louis Herthum) who believes his daughter has been possessed, perhaps by the Devil himself.

The documentary crew find the local area to be rife with speculation over UFO crash sites, witches and a dark 'cult'. Driving closer to the isolated home, they find Louis' son, Caleb, to be hostile and a complex family situation where the death of Louis' wife has caused him to turn to religion and alcohol, isolating his two children to an extreme degree. Marcus uses his bag tricks to perform a sham exorcism, dispenses some sound advice and the crew take their leave to a motel.

Here the movie switches up a few gears as the daughter, Nell, appears at the motel apparently in the grip of a demon possession. As the audience, we see clearly what we can reasonably perceive to be the direction of the movie, where the charismatic but disillusioned Reverend is forced to confront a genuine possession. However, the fresh tone, good performances and intriguing hints of more-complex-than-average backstory means that this realization is not negative in the slightest, at this stage  the movie shows great promise.

For the middle act, this promise is more than lived up to. Drawn back into Nell's predicament, the crew have to handle Louis unwillingness to seek medical help, increasingly terrifying behavior from Nell and well-woven developments regarding an unsuspected pregnancy, possible incestuous abuse and an apparently helpful local priest.

This keeps the momentum of the plot moving while keeping things interesting, and the affair appears to be heading into a barnstorming finale when an impromptu second exorcism is begun in the barn with a genuinely frightening atmosphere, classic body contortions and fun, and enjoyable, intelligent word-play between demon and priest. It hits all the classic tropes of the exorcism sub-genre, but does so a fresh manner and the sketched-in backstories and charismatic performance by Fabian pay off well.

Sadly, the high-point of the film before it jumps the shark

However, this is where the movie starts flying off the rails, painfully managing to snatch defeat into it's grasp at the home stretch. The first twist is somewhat anti-climatic, but still reasonable. Seizing upon a strange turn of phrase by the demon (blowing job rather than blow-job), Reverend Marcus appears to force Nell to admit that she not possessed but rather struggling to deal with her isolation after her mother's death and the guilt and confused feelings aroused by a secret affair with a local boy. The documentary crew then take their leave after leaving a damaged family with some hope of healing themselves after a traumatic experience.

Anti-climatic, but still satisfying to some degree, it could have been written off as a weaker third act if the movie hadn't then unleashed a second nonsensical twist. when stopping by the supposed father of Nell's baby, and finding him to be gay and never having slept with Nell, as well casting doubts on the apparently friendly local priest, the crew return to the family home. Here, a throw-away line, very early in the movie, about a dark cult operating in the local provides us with the filmiest of contexts for what's to follow.

The cult has apparently impregnated Nell with some sort of demon/Devil/alien/unknown baby with Louis tied up as she gives birth, and then the three-person crew all meet their doom. The end.

Yes, a cult that was mentioned once with absolutely no context, no stated motivation, no development over the course of the previous 2 hours, is the final twist. And it makes no sense when re-watching the movie. It adds nothing to the movie in terms of drama, themes or motifs. It is just.... pointless.

For this pointlessness, I award this movie 3/10 in sheer irritation. 


On Final Act Twists


Final act twists comes in many forms but to be successful they have to serve some purpose. An unexpected death can serve as a epilogue, prompting reflections on deeper themes. A 'mind-screw' twist, ala Fight Club, should also shine light on proceeding events, reinforce underlying themes and feel organic. A well executed 'Judas' twist, i.e. The classic it-was-you-behind-the-big-bag-all-along trope, should up the dramatic stakes and provide emotional resonance.
 
The only reasonable exceptions to these rules is if the movie itself is content to through the logic and thematic rule-book out the window in the search for pure fun or shameless thrills. The various twists and turns of the Mission:Impossible films make very little sense, but taken in the context of what those movies are trying to achieve, it detracts very little from the experience. A movie like The Last Exorcism however goes out of it's way to establish a fresher more immediately real feel than a thrill-ride horror movie like The Cabin In The Woods (which incidentally still handled it's own final act twists excellently). If you establish a tone for your world, you need to live in it.

A superb example of a misused twist ending was the original ending of Clerks, the debut film by Kevin Smith. A talky, lazily smart look at slacker culture, the abrupt shooting of the protagonist before a fade-to-black would have soured the taste of an otherwise superb movie without serving any deeper purpose. Thankfully, it was reshot and lives only as a humorous story amongst many others in Kevin Smith's podcasts and DVD's.

The final act of The Last Exorcism serve no purpose beyond a desire to move the film in a different direction. The cult comes out of the blue, with only a throwaway line at the beginning providing meager and insufficient context. No deeper themes or motifs tie in with the twist. It sheds no light on motivations of any characters in earlier acts.

Worse of all, unlike Fight Club where the twist rewards repeat watchings by neatly tying up dangling scenes and providing emotional and logical context, The Last Exorcism suffers horribly by making absolutely no sense when rewatched in the context of the final act.

Basic questions are left unanswered, not least, what the hell was going on? A cult was worshiping... the devil? A demon? Was the Nell possessed by the entity or simply carrying it's child? Was she aware?

Why the need for the whole possessed act? If we accept that the father wrote to the Reverend for an exorcism out of desperation and ignorance, and Caleb reacted in a hostile manner because he was a member of the cult, why did the girl play up being possessed at all? If the intention was to get rid of the three interlopers, which is made pretty clear by the pretense that it was all repressed guilt over a dalliance with a local boy, why follow the crew to the hotel room and keep them there when they were about to leave with the father satisfied that the demon had been exorcised? If the intention was to keep the crew around to murder them, as suggested by the drawing of their dead bodies, why attempt to mollify them and send them away hours before the birth of the demon/devil/unknown child? If Nell is trying to fight against her 'possession', if she is possessed which is left completely unclear, why does she appear to reassure them while normal and stalk them while possessed?

Why does Nell stab her brother in the mouth? Who is the male voice she is talking to when locked alone in her room? Do the cult want the crew to be sacrificed? Do they want them to leave?

What the fuck is going on?

The Last Exorcist took a superb basic premise, above-average performances and a good marriage between scene-to-scene unpredictability and tension and threw all away in pursuit of... something.

They truly managed to salvage a nonsensical poor movie out of the brink of what could have been anything between a respectable interesting take on a faux-docu exorcist movie to modern horror classic.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: Mis-use of the Original Canon



Having now seen Star Trek Into Darkness twice, one of those times being an IMAX showing, it's safe to say that my feelings remain decidedly mixed.

Above all else the movie is pure unaltered spectacle, a thrilling experience that I'd happily recommend to anyone non–Trek fans looking for a couple hours of well produced escapist entertainment. Don't ask too many questions and you'll certainly be rewarded with space battles, humour, tension and even the odd dramatic moment.



For Star Trek fans however, it's far more of a mixed bag. The general consensus from the first 'rebooted' film in 2009 was that while playing fast and loose with Trek conventions, it was an excellent film that stood apart from the rest of the canon. While not feeling particularly like a Star Trek film in terms of pacing, themes or focus, the clever use of the alternate timeline gambit and pitch perfect performances, especially Spock and McCoy, gave it more than enough goodwill from the fanbase.

For me, Star Trek Into Darkness has taken that plentiful goodwill and gleefully tossed it away, seemingly without even realizing. There is a lot to take apart, from a technical standpoint and from its horrific plundering of The Wrath Of Khan. The plot is rife with baffling questions, from how exactly the Enterprise was planning on discreetly emerging from its underwater hiding place in the event Spock failed to the odd use of planet–to–planet transporting as a plot device that made very little coherent sense in the established universe. The insistence of characters on running literally everywhere quickly becomes ludicrous, the scenes where I outright laughed came when Kirk is shown running to find out what clue has been uncovered in the investigation of the attack on Starfleet command and running from the bridge to the transporter room to check on Spock instead of simply, and far more quickly, using the communicator. Khan stands out wonderfully because he appears to be the only person capable of walking normally.


Instead of doing a review of the film itself, I've decided instead to look at the statements by the screenwriters and examine the end result against their justifications for including various nods and references to the original canon. This use, or more acturrately misuse, forms the core of what dissatisfaction I have as a fan of Star Trek, and also lays bare the major structural flaws of film itself.



Khan


Kurtzman: “The choice to play in that sandbox [Khan as expressed by the original Trek canon] is really complicated because when a character was as beloved as Khan, you really have to have a reason to do it.  Part of our thinking at first was designing a story that existed as its own solid story. If we could take that and then incorporate Khan into the mix in a way that felt reverent and appropriate for that story, we would do it. Without that standard, we wouldn’t.”

The statement above evidences as complete mis-use of Khan from the very beginning of the creative process, in my opinion. The screenwriters were clearly intent of fitting Khan into an independent story, regardless of it's 'reverence' or 'appropriateness'. With Khan being such a recognizable and powerful figure in the mythos, the notion of fitting him into a story that wasn't build around him seems, frankly, stupid. The screenwriters could have chosen to base an original and unique story around a re-imagining of the charector, something that had the potential to feel both fresh and loyal to the core of the character, but instead chose to do the opposite. The result was a original and new story with Khan shoe-horned into the plot in a way which massively diminished the benefits of having such a powerful character in the first place.

Could we imagine a re-imagining of Batman where the story is centered around a new original villain and where the Joker is reduced to either a plot-driving machine or secondary character? Would fans applaud the 'homage' or question why another original character could not fulfilled his role without needing to misuse such an icon villain? Is this not the equivalent of taking Bane, a much loved figure in the comic canon, and reducing him to Poison Ivy's muscular manservant? In both 'Space Seed' and 'Wrath of Khan' itself, Khan is clearly a character with massive potential, who serves as secondary foil in the 'In Darkness' screenplay to the wider situation and the primary villain rather than the clean focused rivalry of his previous incarnations.

Kurtzman: “Ultimately, I think we felt that we found a reason and a way to do it that was all of the things we needed it to be, and yet really different. I think the mistake that we could have made, that we didn’t want to make, was to do a version of what Ricardo Montalban had done so brilliantly, and then fall short of that. We all loved the ‘Space Seed’ back story, the idea that he was a man who loved his crew as his family — that was the understandable and relatable agenda. And then we built outward from there. There are things about Khan that are very familiar, and there are things that are entirely different, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do.”

I would agree without hesitation that the charectar itself is built extremely well, from the motivations that Kurtzman ascribs him to the superb performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan shines whenever the film allows him to. But I seriously question the value of 'building outwards' when the plot as a whole has already been built, leaving only the question of how to shove Khan into the mix, as the screenwriters have already admitted.

Kurtzman on including the icon KHAAAAAN line: "We knew that if we could get to the point we wanted to get to, and it felt like it was a natural and organic reaction, a real reaction to the moment, then that would be a wonderful plus. But we didn’t go into it trying to shoehorn it in.”

Okay, this is simple fallacy. Nothing in the previous Star Trek reboot movie or this one leads us to believe that Spock would bellow that line, contrasted to the established Shatner incarnation of Kirk in 'The Wrath of Khan'. I simply fail to see how it was natural or organic in any way, shape or form.


Old Spock


Orci: “We wanted to address the question that some fans have: would Leonard Nimoy’s Spock tell everyone everything he could in order to prepare everyone for everything? It was interesting for us to articulate the idea that he vowed not to tell anyone much of anything because he wants the universe to develop naturally, as it should. But in this one instance, when it comes to the greatest villain they ever faced, he makes an exception.”

I fail to understand this reasoning at all. Spock, the beloved Vulcan, would make an exception for the greatest villain he had faced? When we've already seen NewSpock's willingness to die to preserve the Prime Directive in the opening of the movie and OldSpock's unbending logic with regards to time-travel and affecting the time-line in the classic 'The City On The Edge Of Forever'? Since Genesis is completely absent here, and OldSpock would have been aware that the Project was decades away, there is no ultimate super-weapon on the line, but rather just Khan himself. Is Khan singularly dangerous in logical terms, far more so than everything else that OldSpock remembers? I fail to see how that holds up.

Far more likely, the brief cameo fulfilled two requirements. Firstly, the pleasure of seeing Leonard Nimoy back on screen briefly, and secondly, a quick short-cut to establish how frightening and dangerous Khan was. This is both somewhat unnecessary as Cumberbatch's performance establishes this pretty well, and also insulting to the audience, as the presumption of 'telling' rather than 'showing' is usually the sign of a lazy screenwriter/director. It also has unfortunate implications for NewSpock, diminishing his ingenuity and quick-thinking in his torpedo gambit, reducing it to being a consequence of the information he has gained from OldSpock when there is no logical necessity or requirement that prevents the gambit standing alone as a testament to NewSpock's qualities.


Kirk Dying


Orci: “We came to that because again, as Alex was saying, you can’t just do that and then make it for no reason — it has to have a context. In The Wrath of Khan, the death of Spock and their last moment together is a punctuation and an acknowledgement of a friendship that has been fortified through years and years of their journey together. Our [Kirk and Spock] haven’t known each other that long, so in our movie, that moment is a revelation for Spock that Kirk is his friend. It’s the beginning of Spock recognizing, Oh my god, this guy is my friend, and just as I figured it out, I lose him.”

Okay, so on one hand we have the death of a character as culmination of a friendship that is very much at the heart of 3 years of TV and 2 movies. A death which at the time is both meant by the creative staff and received by the audience as a permanent and meaningful death.

On the other hand, you have a rocky relationship through 2 movies and the 'revelation' of a friendship. A death which occurs mid-way through the finale and is neither meant to signify a permanent death nor is understood by the audience to mean anything but a temporary 'death', to be reversed by the credits role.

I simply do not believe Kirk's death is earned, and there is extremely little 'context' that Orci can call upon to justify it. This is far more akin to a ham-fisted homage which can overtaken the plot. In fat, it has overtaken the plot and introduced a ludicrous situation where the blood of 73 individuals contained in stasis chambers controlled by the authorities could well cure every known illness and even already dead individuals, not only humans but possibly non-human species going by the health of the tribble.

Orci is right, you can't just do something like this for no reason, it does need to have a context. Unfortunately, this has very little context and disproves the point, the creative staff of Into Darkness proved that you can do it for no reason, as they have.


Carol Marcus


Kurtzman: “The idea with Carol was that she was a character that obviously the audience has an association with from The Wrath of Khan. So you’re immediately inheriting enormous implications having her in the movie. What we didn’t want to do was rush it in a way that felt too familiar and too predictable. The idea with Carol was introduce a character that implies a lot of things, but leave it open enough that anything could happen in the next movie.”

The naming of the character was clearly a nod to the fans, but since there was very little for her to do except to sprout some relatively minor plot-details that could have been given to some of the under-used regular cast, a minor plot function (momentarily delaying the destruction of the Enterprise in a single scene) and stripping down to her underwear for a few seconds, I'm not sure that the value of dropping the name was worthwhile. Some nods are certainly enjoyable, Nurse Chapel references and the 'Mudd' incident for example, but this is stretched into a full role rather than a passing reference and pulled me out of the movie, both because of the unnecessary and gratuitous underwear shot and the transparent attempt to give Kirk a stable love-interest in the future, a plot-device that the Original Series and movie series that followed wisely avoided.




Monday, 29 April 2013

What Could Have Been... A Top 5 List


Sometimes to look back into the production history of movies is to walk the path of wondering what could have been had this been worked out or that been approved. 

Thus, here are 5 scenarios that I, personally, would have loved to seen played out, some for novelty's sake but others for opportunities genuinely missed.


1. Twilight filtered through Blade and Underworld


The Twilight novels were just beginning to gain traction at the time that the movie rights were being auctioned off to various studios. This meant that Paramount, who came very close to giving us a bizarre alternative version, felt that there was no real need to pander to the fanbase and could expand the appeal by filtering the script through other successful vampire-based movies.

This in itself is not exactly unusual, but the direction that Twilight could have gone in is certainly... strange. The Bella character would have been changed to an unrecognisable 'Action Girl' stereotype and all all-American Track Star at that. The central conflict was not a romantic triangle or a threat from a Italian based Vampire group but a Korean FBI agent who also hunts vampires.

That's right, a Korean FBI agent would have been introduced as the major plot driver, coupled with a SWAT team of vampire hunters which do battle with the Cullen Family. Bella would have been changed into a vampire in the very first movie and presumably the conflict with the humans would have driven the remainder of the series.

A female-led 'Blade' clone or 'Underworld' pretender? It might have been unremarkable but certainly sounds more bonkers than the first few Twilight films. Then again, the fifth movie brough enough entertaining crazy to make up for the previous films.

2. The Godfather Part II and Part III involving all original cast members


The Godfather Part III is notorious for being the unloved step-child of the series, unlike Part I and Part II, it shares little obvious symbolism and themes, and most markedly, it shares very little cast members beyond Michael Corleone and a few others, most notably lacking Tom Hagan.

While Part II is universally recognised as a classic, it does have one similarity with Part III which is somewhat jarring and unusual. A new character, the previously unseen or mentioned Frankie Pentangeli, is introduced as a Judas figure who sells out Michael to the government.

Pentangeli, while being a fantastic character in his own right, is a natural fit for the surviving lieutenant from the original Godfather, Clemenza, which would have added far more dramatic and emotional weight to the betrayal. It's unsurprising to find that this was the original plan, and it was only creative disagreements with the actor, Richard Castellano, which scuppered Clemenza's inclusion and prompted the creation of a 'Clemenza-a-like' replacement.

Similarly, Part III would have been a far superior film had the original plan, of centring the film around the conflict between the two remaining survivors of Vito's reign, Michael and Tom Hagan, be seen through to fruition. Unfortunately Robert Duvall was given his asking price and Tom Hagan was written out of the script, and with him, all meaningful thematic connection to the Godfather universe that we loved.

3. Robin Hood (2001) centered around the Sheriff of Nottingham


Every now and again scripts float around Hollywood with immense buzz around them, only to be snapped up and reworked to an unrecognisable state. Robin Hood, the 2001 incarnation by Ridley Scott, certainly qualifies.

The original script, entitled Nottingham, is certainly an intriguing prospect. A genuinely fresh take on the age-old Robin Hood formula, the protaganist would have been a sympathetic Sheriff of Nottingham on the trail of a murderer who is presumed to be Robin Hood. Much touted for it's historically accurate investigation techniques the script's basic premise is certainly pretty interesting.

Then it was snapped up and given to Ridley Scott who promptly reworked it as a far more traditional Robin Hood story, albeit with oddly placed and uncomfortable 'early democracy' elements.

4. If Michael Jackson could have forced his way into Hollywood


Michael Jackson really, really, really, wanted to get into acting after conquering the world of Pop. To give an easy-to-understand time reference, think after he'd successfully transitioned from 'extremely light-skinned black' to 'milky-bar white' and roughly around the time of his first two child molestation accusations.

He tried several times, three of these would have been bizarrely entertaining prospects had they been filmed. First is the lead role in 'Hook', the Spielberg Peter Pan sequel-of-sorts. While Jackson had a well-documented, and clearly obvious, Peter Pan obsession, Hook starred a middle-aged Peter thrust back into Neverland, which the plot revolving around him relearning to believe in all that he had forgotten.

Michael would have been... bizarre in that role, which was eventually filled by Robin Williams. Take a look at Robin Williams. Take a look at Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson might have convincingly protrayed a grown-up Peter Pan... still in Neverland, but who would buy him as a nondescript average middle-aged lawyer?

Secondly, and even more strange, is the determination to star in Men In Black II. Michael Jackson even offered to do the role for free... if Will Smith were dropped so he could replace him. 

Michael Jackson had nothing in common with Will Smith, in terms of mannerisms, voice, even visible race. Also, this was not an attempt to force himself into the original, but the sequel where Will Smith's character was already firmly established. Needless to say, the strong-arm attempt failed.

The third attempt possibly made the most sense. The Tim Burton remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was considering Michael Jackson for the lead role of Willy Wonka. Considering the eventual star Depp claimed he based his performance on Michael Jackson, this actually makes a fair amount of sense and could well have been a role the Jackson was uniquely suited for.

Then the second round of child molestation accusations hit and the role became an impossibility, unfortunately.

5. Gladiator 2 involving absolute insanity


The script to a mooted sequel to the Russell Crowe hit 'Gladiator' is a gem of insanity. I, frankly, would have paid good money to see this, just because it pushes back to limits of madness in a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster.

Where to start? Well, the script embraces rather than tries to explain away the death of Crowe's character at the end of the first movie, so we see Maximus interfering with and facing off against Roman Gods in the afterlife, plunging us straight into a stark divergence from the original's grounding in this reality.

Eventually reincarnated, Maximus undertakes a dizzying number of adventures across time, he's also immortal by the way, including defending the early Christians against the state, finding his son, fighting in various wars through human history, including the World Wars. and ending with him walking into the modern-day Pentagon.

Absolute bonkers.





Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Short Circuit and Ben: Childhood Brownface


As a child, I absolutely loved the Short Circuit movies, to the extent I still get goosebumps whenever I hear the song 'I Need a Hero' by Bonnie Tyler. The mix of humour, action and soft sci-fi is unmistakably 80's, slotting in nicely with other childhood favourites like Flight of the Navigator and Back to the Future.


As a Pakistani, growing up in the UK, the Indian character, Ben Jabituya, heavily featured in Short Circuit 2 but also playing an important role in the original, was a major cultural milestone. Sure, he had a heavy stereotypical accent and was the designated comic relief, but he was also hyper-competent, brave, loyal and unmistakably a positive role-model.


As a child of two cultures, and familiar with the strange existence of not truly feeling at home in either, I genuinely loved the scene where Ben is repeatedly asked where he's from... originally. He, despite the strong accent, acts puzzled that his answers are not accepted.

 Newton Crosby: Where are you from, anyway?

Ben Jabituya: Bakersfield, originally.

Newton Crosby: No, I mean your ancestors.

Ben Jabituya: Oh, them. Pittsburgh.

This was a scene that my child self found hilarious but also comforting, that you could be perceivably foreign yet comfortably native appealed to me strongly.

So I thought.

You see, as an adult I recently stumbled across a disconcerting fact. The actor who played Ben is called... Fisher Stevens. And he's unambiguously, unalterably and unarguably white. As in Caucasian. Anglo-Saxon. Gora. Viliati. Without a perceivable trace of Indian, South Asian or Hindustani blood. White. As seen below.


This bothered me a lot. Suddenly that funny scene seemed less a stinging rebuke to those who believed that immigrant could not possibly belong to their host name and more a sly wink to the fact that the actor was in act white through-and-through and wasn't this whole black-face act so funny?

This really threw the whole movie for me when rewatching it. A lot of jokes seemed less benign and I realised that a great deal of humour did rely on some pretty blunt stereotypes, a lot of things that I simply didn't pick up on as a child.

 Of course soft-racism has been a pretty consistent staple of Hollywood, the form changing over the years but the undercurrent appears to be pretty resistant to elimination. But this hurt simply because I felt tricked and taken in.

A question is raised, if I found the jokes funny the first time round, why was it suddenly unfunny when I knew the actor was white instead of Indian?

Firstly, blackface has a pretty ignoble history, Mickey Rooney's Breakfast at Tiffany's impressions are a good Hollywood example but from minstrel shows and 'gollywogs' it raises some pretty uncomfortable cultural memories.

Secondly, there has to be sharp distinction between jokes where the context is 'look at me! I'm pretending to be Indian and look at all the wacky, borderline creepy sex-pest things these people get up to!' and the kind of affectionate humour peddled by the likes of Russell Peters.

The joke is far different when your mother says, 'I'm a bit of an idiot aren't I?' than someone dressing up as your mother and proclaiming 'I'm an idiot!' .

In a movie about a robot who comes to life and fights for his right to be treated as a self-aware being of equal worth, why the hell is a major charecter played by a white man whose humour relies on stereotypes and pretty implicitly denies that race/nation a voice? Was it that inconceivable that an actor of Indian ethnicity, or at least South Asian ethnicity, play the role considering almost all of his humour derives from his race?

Many non-Jewish actors have played Jewish roles. Very few, if any, non-Jewish actors have played Jewish roles that relying on the kind of self-parodying humour that Woody Allen and co are famous for.

So thank you, Short Circuit, for screwing with my childhood memories. Also, Short Circuit 2 was rubbish anyway. I'm off to rewatch Flight of the Navigator instead.

Adaptation Loops: Recursive Anomolies



I recently stumbled across a tie-in for the movie "Bram Stoker's Dracula" in the form of a novel. Nothing surprising about that, movies which are adapted from novels often have special tie-in editions to both publicise the movie and to garner some extra sales due to the heightened profile of that particular 'property'. I still have a treasured, if battered, copy of Mario Puzo's The Godfather which is exactly that, even featuring a photo of Brando in character on the back cover.

So why was I shocked as this tie-in novel? Simple, it wasn't the original classic novel by Bram Stoker at all, despite the movie, which was named "Bram Stoker's Dracula" after all, prominently featuring his name . This was a novelization of a feature film which was adapted from a novel.

I was frankly befuddled. To reassure you I wasn't imagining things, the cover and Amazon.com link are below.

Amazon link

Now, I have nothing against the authors, a Mr Fred Saberhagen and a Mr James Hart apparently, but I questioned the sheer point of producing a novelization of an adaptation. All adaptations from one medium to another are going to have differences, surely that's just the nature of switching mediums. That doesn't mean that we need to produce a feature film based upon this novelization of a movie based upon a novel either for the sake of completion or artistry.

I discovered that this kind of recursive adaptation is actually more common than I thought. Street Fighter, a Jean Claude Van Damme movie based upon the classic video game series from Capcom, has a tie-in video game named... Street Fighter: The Movie. Yes, a video-game named xxx:The Movie simply to distinguish itself from the video games that the movie was adapted from. Again, the proof is below.


Even more confusingly in this case, the screenshots of the game itself seems to be worlds removed from the trademark style of the colourful animated pixels of Capcom's original Street Fighter games and look like... the main competitor's, Mortal Kombat, digitised style. Extremely similar.

In fact, in the screenshot below, the pose of Cammy and E-Honda in chains in the background as spitting images of Sonya and Kano in Mortal Kombat II. E-Honda was in fact captured in the movie but Cammy was not, it makes zero sense in the context of either the original games or the Van Damme movie it's tie-ing into. Coupled with the distinctive 'spikes' that mirror the pit stages from both Mortal Kombat II and III, we're not looking at an accidental similarity but a downright deliberate one.


Just a third example which truly blew my mind. The Planet of the Apes universe traces it's origins back to a 1963 French novel by Pierre Boulle, which incidentally is well worth reading and is fantastic in it's own right. The original Planet of the Apes movie starring Heston was adapted from this novel, and spawned a number of spin-off movies, some with their own original novelizations.

Fast forwarding to 2001, Tim Burton 'rebooted' the movie franchise with his own take on The Planet of the Apes (sadly for Mark Wahlberg and all involved). This has now spawned, you guessed it, a novelization of it's own. This takes it a step further than the Dracula tie-in by introducing an original movie as well as the movie it's being directly based off, but still has a much loved and celebrated source novel at it's core.


Why? I'm stumped. I've resolved to purchase and read the "re-"novelization of Dracula to try and see if there is any artistic merit to this baffling recursion (and the reviews do point to some genuine merit), but I do suspect that at it's heart, it's a fundamental marketing ploy, one which is truly depressing. Making a quick buck from tie-ins is all well and good, but surely the point of adapting classic source material to another medium is to build on that universe and use the built-in fanbase. It seems truly redundant to then attempt to supplement the exact same source material with an adaptation in that medium.

Truly baffling.



Monday, 22 April 2013

Translated Movie Titles: Baffled and Confuddled


Hollywood movies are big business worldwide, but the fact that the majority of the world doesn't speak English presents a problem. Unlike the Hollywood ideal of foreigners understanding and speaking perfect English with only an attractively exotic accent to mark them as non-American, most people on the globe watch locally dubbed or subtitled versions of English language movies.

What this results in is translated movie titles, which can be alternatively bizarre, poetic, lazy or occasionally surprisingly reasonable. The best of all four categories are below.



Just frankly bizarre


The Mandarin rendering of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as Backstroke of the West is utterly strange, bearing extraordinarily little relation to anything in the film itself, which features a notable lack of backstroking or any faction or grouping labelled "The West". I still cannot find any logical, literal, poetical or metaphysical link between the retitling and the film itself.

The film Ginger Snaps is a playful title, referring to a smart allegorical movie about a teenage female werewolf, so a new title was probably a necessity for a foreign language release. However the Filipino title Hell Wolf: You Will Be Eaten Alive is so utterly fantastical, I had to include it in this category.

This Japanese translator clearly didn't have time watch every movie that came across his desk. That is the only rational explanation of translating Dr. No, which refers to a major character in the film, to "No! We Don't Want a Doctor!".

 
Similarly the Russians haven't got time to watch every movie either, not when there are tigers to wrestle. Death Proof, a title which refers to a strengthened 'death proof' car, is somehow translated as Dokazatel'stvo Smerti or "Proof of Death" which completely misses the what 'Death Proof' means. Since the meaning and context is abundantly clear in the movie, you can only conclude that the translator needed to get home early that day.

The Finns seem to have overthought the title of Tangled, a pun on the long hair of the protagonist. The Finns managed to work in aother hair-related pun also, but as the end-tag of an unusually long title, Kaksin karkuteillä - hiuksia nostattava seikkailu or "On the Run by the Two of Us - A Hair-Raising Adventure".

While the retitling of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is not particularly bizarre, it is hilarious. The Germans clearly thought the title far too long and chose to squash it down to Der Fluch der Karibik or "The Curse of the Caribbean". Good, solid German engineering at its finest.

Another example of German retitling, however, has little apparent logic to it. Apparently Godzilla is synonymous with Frankenstein in Germany, a fact that has not been satisfactorily explained to the rest of the world. So the German dubs insert dialogue explaining how Doctor Frankenstein created Godzilla into every Godzilla movie... which leads to titles such as...

Son of Godzilla being retitled to Frankensteins Monster jagen Godzillas Sohn ("Frankenstein's Monsters hunt Godzilla's Son"), Godzilla vs. Hedorah becoming Frankensteins Kampf gegen die Teufelsmonster ("Frankenstein's Fight against the Devil-monster") and of course, who can forget Destroy All Monsters changing into Frankenstein und die Monster aus dem Weltall ("Frankenstein and the Monsters from Space").


The mind boggles at Brokeback Mountain being renamed as Túl a barátságon ("Beyond Friendship") as being too cheesy, and directly suggestive, to be real. Alas, the Hungarians managed it.

I like to think that the same Hungarian was in charge of renaming Monty Python and the Holy Grail, skipped through the entire film except the irrelevant and throwaway (albeit very funny) gag about pretending to ride from place to place on horseback and decided to call it Gyalog galopp ("Galloping on foot") so he just could call it a day and do whatever it is Hungarians do in their spare time.

To complete the Hungarian hat-trick, Blade Runner was retitled as Szárnyas fejvadász ("Winged Bounty Hunter") despite containing zero winged individuals, bounty hunters or otherwise. Top marks for taking a title which already lacked much sense and making it lack even greater sense.

The Hurt Locker, an intelligent Oscar-winning film which mediates on human nature, the Iraq War and the brutal emotional and psychic consequences of violence becomes... Povelitel' buri ("Lord Of The Storm") in Russia. When pressed, even the film's local distributors where unable to explain the reasons behind the renaming. Perhaps the only explanation is that it sounds cool and 'The Hurt Locker' would never fly in a country where the President wrestles tigers for fun.

Proving that crazy translations work from English-to-Japanese as well as the more common Japanese-to-English, the title for the first two seasons for the animated series of The Transformers became Fight! Super Robot Life-form Transformer. Which is so perfectly Japanese it deserves to also be featured in the below category of Poetic improvements on the original.

 

Poetic Titles: Improvements on the original


I have to admit that the Swedish takes on the Twilight novels (rather than movies which were rendered in English) are a considerable improvement on the short original titles which never struck a chord with me. 

Twilight becomes Om jag kunde drömma ("If I could dream"), New Moon is När jag hör din röst ("When I hear your voice"), Eclipse is labelled Ljudet av ditt hjärta ("The sound of your heart") and finally Breaking Dawn is retitled Så länge vi båda andas ("As long as we both are breathing"). 

The Mandarin retitling of Inception is a joy to behold, Realm of the Dream Thieves is a poetic and uniquely Chinese take on the film itself and, in my opinion, extremely fitting.


The French outdid themselves in titling Jaws as Les dents de la mer aka "The Teeth of the Sea", a superb title which takes the basic relation of "Jaws" to the shark in question and runs with it.

Finding Nemo is a perfectly decent title in itself, but I'm presuming an overenthusiastic Malay translator fell in love with the film and decided to rename it Nemo, Si Comel, which translates to "Nemo, the Cute". It might be a tad literal, but in the hope that it played out in reality just as I've imagined it, I'm going to keep it in this category.

The Hangover is an essentially descriptive title, something that didn't jibe with the Brazilian translator on shift that day. S/he clearly took the typically Hollywood comedy to be a stern morality tale and decided that Se Beber, Não Case ("If you drink, don't marry") would be a suitably prescriptive title.

While the franchise has been comprehensively robbed of its power, the original Terminator was a masterpiece of tense horror, which is wonderfully evoked by the Swedish retitling as Dödsängeln, meaning "The Angel of Death".


Descriptive to the point of laziness


The Finnish title for Jaws absolutely take the second prize here. The retitling to Tappajahai - "Killer Shark" - is a masterpiece of almost-perfect descriptiveness.

Note that the Finns only took second prize, the first prize belongs to the Brazilians where the same film, Jaws, was renamed Tubarão. Literally "Shark". Kind of shows up the Finns as only talented amateurs in the laziness stakes,

Running a close third, the Greek title of Bruce Almighty dispenses with the pun in the title or any attempt at finding a substitute and simply proclaims Θεός για μια εβδομάδα ("God for a Week"), a wonderfully droll description of the entire plot.

Just to establish the Greeks hadn't gained any enthusiasm in the intervening years, the sequel Evan Almighty was rendered Νώε για μια εβδομάδα ("Noah for a Week") which is, again, the entire plot in four words.

The Italians looked at the wonderfully poetic title of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and thought that it needed to be cut down to size, so Se mi lasci ti cancello ("If you leave me, I will erase you") was born.


The Italians at least have form in this area, the translator clearly watched Mel Brook's Silent Movie and decided to describe exactly what he thought of it, renaming it as L'ultima follia di Mel Brooks ("Mel Brooks' Latest Craziness").

The creepy horror movie Rosemary's Baby could well have had a straight translation in the Spanish market, the title after all is descriptive rather than relying on a phrase, analogy or anything English specific. Of course, the movie was released under the title of La semilla del diablo or 'The Devil's Seed' which is technically descriptive but also a massive straight-forward spoiler for the entire plot.

As Good As It Gets is a fairly tricky title to translate, but as the movie features a writer of romance novels as it's lead, although his job is given very little focus at all in the plot, the Japanese title of "The Romance Novel Writer" goes for a technically true, but still the possibly worst, solution.

Untranslatable original


The meaning of The Untouchables is fairly straightforward amongst native English speakers, the connotations of incorruptible are clear. Not so in Swedish, therefore the retitling to De omutbara, meaning "The Unbribable [Ones]" keeps the meaning clear.

Vampires Suck is a play on the English work such referring to both the American idiom 'to suck', i.e. something being awful or bad and the verb 'suck' as in sucking blood. This is clearly not easily translatable, so the Croatian compromise of No Bites, Please as an effective title which retains the parodying nature of the movie. Pity that the movie was presumably awful despite the best efforts of the translators.


The classic film 12 Angry Men refers to the traditional number of jury members in an Anglo-American criminal trial. While the concept of trial by a jury of ones peers is widespread, it is far from universal and the significance of the number 12 is also restricted to those countries where its the traditional number of jurors. The Swedish translation there of 12 edsvurna män, meaning approximately "12 Men Under Oath" therefore is apt and understandable.

The Dutch title for Star Wars is the entirely reasonable Strijd tussen de sterren ('Battle amongst the Stars') which is supposed to be the closest literal translation of Star Wars while remaining in the common idiom.

Now Germans are not widely seen as the most poetical of peoples, and the German language is certainly literal to the point of drollness,but the renaming of Avater: The Last Airbender to Avatar: Der Herr der Elemente "Avatar: Master/Lord of the Elements" was a wise choice, sidestepping the curious use of 'airbender' which requires you to already have seen the prior animation/source to understand the meaning.




 
Real Time Web Analytics