Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

“Starship Troopers” reboot loses violence, adds B.S.

Oh, Hollywood – is there no end to your cowardly, money-grubbing idiocy?

“So, we just hug them to death, right?”

Empire magazine‘s new issue has an interview with Toby Jaffe, producer on the new and entirely unwanted reboot of “Starship Troopers“, which ageing geeks will remember as a pretty decent, absurdly gory sci-fi actioner (fans of the original Robert Heinlein novel will probably remember it less fondly, what with director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Edward Neumeier reinterpreting the book as a giddy joyride through a fascistic future).  And it doesn’t make for good reading.

If this version of the book does make it before cameras, we can look forward to a less violent (what now?), less satirical, straight-up bug hunt with all hints of complexity safely jettisoned and gee-whiz cgi effects replacing anything potentially disquieting (i.e., less likely to make the box office tills ring).

So, Selena Gomez and Taylor Lautner in a PG-13 shoot-em-up with a song by her boyfriend on the soundtrack and nothing likely to tax the brain of anybody with a driving license, then?  Where do I sign up for that?

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A literary update…

As detailed in previous posts, I have been devoting much of my leisure time to reading of late – games and films have taken a back seat (although I did play through the “Mass Effect 3” demo on 360 and loved it).

To bring you entirely up to date, this week I have somehow found time to read…

“Triumff – Her Majesty’s Hero” by Dan Abnett (Angry Robot books), “Nekropolis” by Tim Waggoner (Angry Robot) and “Changeless” by Gail Carriger (Orbit books).

Triumff - a swiss army knife of a book...

“Triumff” is best described as a ‘Blackadder’-like, alternate history swashbuckler with the titular hero inadvertently and grudgingly fighting a conspiracy to kill the Queen in a Britain where the Empire never quite ended, magic is very real and puns are as lethal as a good blade.

Dan Abnett knows swashbuckling and is – I would argue – without peer when it comes to large-scale action sequences.  He’s also genuinely funny and possessed of a gift for the pun which staggers the mind and emboldens the heart.  This is a great romp – in the very best sense of the word – and is highly recommended to you if you enjoy adventure, invention (there’s a prodigious hit rate of ideas and some very cool world building in this novel), comedy and character.

My limbs are falling off - your argument is invalid.

Tim Waggoner’s “Nekropolis” is the first in his series of supernatural detective novels featuring former human cop and reluctant zombie P.I., Matt Richter.

This is a book where the cover directed me to take a punt with it and I’m glad that I did – this is a really enjoyable tale of mystery, murder, drugs and mayhem in a world of the dead so off-kilter and matter-of-factly strange that it makes Tim Burton’s films look like an episode of “EastEnders”.

Richter inhabits the titular city of Nekropolis, where the dead, the undead, the uncanny and the archetypal creatures of the horror genre exist in an uneasy détente – everybody wants to rule the place, be it vampires, werewolves, ghosts or the otherwise living-impaired, but no one creature can gain full control.

If you like your horror fiction scary but not gross, your detective hard-boiled but essentially decent with it and your romantic lead to be steadily decomposing, you should think about giving this book a try.

If you have engineer's goggles, prepare to don them...

Finally this week, I read Gail Carriger‘s second instalment of her ‘Parasol Protectorate‘ series, “Changeless”.

When talking about the first novel in the series, “Soulless”, I did raise some minor misgivings that I had regarding the contemporary idioms used in the book, which I felt took me out of the otherwise delightful world that Ms Carriger has created.  Those issues still remain in the second book – would it kill the editors of the UK edition to replace the word ‘stoop’ with the word ‘step’ when a scene depicts somebody waiting outside a house? – but I was able to put them firmly to one side and concentrate on enjoying the second steampunk romantic adventure for Alexia Tarrabotti, the now Lady Maccon and erstwhile preternatural at large for Queen Victoria.

Some reviews of this book took issue with storytelling decisions which separate characters for large sections of the narrative and with an ending which left me feeling oddly bereft and exclaiming to the delightful Mrs Rolling Eyeballs “You can’t end a book like that!  That’s like the climax of  “The Empire Strikes Back”, that is!”.

I know why people feel like that – by this point, you don’t want anything too terrible to happen to Alexia, Ivy, Lord Maccon and the cast – but I feel that the decisions that Carriger made with her second novel were very much for the best and ultimately made it a far more compelling tale than the first book was.

Partly this could be because a large part of the action is set in Scotland, which I love dearly.  Partly it could be due to the fact that the steampunk elements in this book are really well-balanced and cleverly integrated into the story – there are gadgets and stylistic inclusions which add to the sense of the world being drawn before you and don’t detract from the story moving along.

And move along it does – this is a book which is pacy but never breathless and leaves you absolutely needing to start the next book in the series as soon as you put “Changeless” down.  I venture that for some folks this will absolutely be a ‘one-sitting’ read and no higher recommendation can I give it than that.

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New “Riddick” picture – Fun, Furyan and Fabulous!

What every stylish, messianic anti-hero is wearing this season...

If you want to know something about the next “Riddick” movie, there’s only one place that you need to be – Vin Diesel’s Facebook page.

I’m quite keen on this approach of sharing information, I have to confess – is it better to just send the picture out to the usual snarky film bloggers who are going to talk smack about a film that they have no interest in or to send it directly to the people who care about the latest updates and are, you know, eventually going to buy movie tickets and Blu Rays?

Makes sense to me.

Not much in the way of additional detail other than my supposition that this picture does seem to show His Dieselness in a variation of the Necromonger gear which he sported in “The Chronicles of Riddick”.

Just an observation – don’t shoot the (geeky) messenger.

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Damon Lindelof talks “Prometheus”

Behind you!

J.J. Abrams‘ homie and uber-nerd writer Damon Lindelof talks “Alien” prequel powerhouse “Prometheus” over at Hero Complex.

 

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A Season of Vamps – “Priest”

As part of the build-up to the January 20th release of “Underworld: Awakening”, a movie which I feel like an ill-advised, one-man-band cheerleader for (don’t ask me why I am, just be aware that I am so afflicted and aim your sympathy accordingly), I thought that it might be fun to run a series of posts which look at recent, classic and current vampires in pop culture and discusses what we think about them, why we watch them and why they persist as a horror staple when so many other fictional monsters fall by the speculative fiction wayside.

To get things going with a resounding “Hmm…”, I’m looking at 2011’s Franchise Which Wasn’t, the Korean comics adaptation “Priest”.

On the face of it, this is a can’t miss premise: disgraced religious warrior is pitted against super-powerful vampire hybrids in a dystopian future.  It’s a simple high concept which has a lot of scope to talk about faith, fear, politics, the self, and all manner of interesting subject matter and juxtapose that against a fast-moving tale which hits on our enduring love of the undead and our uneasy relationship with religions and their place in contemporary society.

I can’t speak to the Korean manhwa (comic) by Min-Woo Hyung but the film which results from his work is a disappointment on a couple of levels – some of which it takes sole responsibility for, one of which is resolutely the result of my own (not realistic) expectations.

To the latter – when I watched the trailers for this film, I was honestly expecting the “Judge Dredd” film that we didn’t really get with Sylvester Stallone and director Danny Cannon, back in the mid-1990’s: a world in which we had surrendered  personal freedoms to live in a none-too-welcoming future of grim, impersonal super cities, presided over by a ruthless warrior police force whose remit was more based on a more binary morality than interested in anything resembling justice.

It’s fair to say that we do at least a visual sense of that world in the finished film, but the representation is brief and doesn’t really extend to a convincing, detailed depiction of what it might be like for people to live in it.  Like much else in the film, the film’s universe is a purely visual creation, where things exist to be cool and look striking – if aspects of the world in “Priest” don’t seem to make too much sense, the viewer frequently gets the idea that we’re not meant to be looking at them with too much scrutiny.

What was hinted at by the advanced trailers for the film is fully depicted in the end product – this is more of a sci-fi western than a horror picture and in that respect it at least manages to subvert expectations by largely eschewing the dark and dingy territory that you might expect from a story where the antagonists are vampiric creatures and setting much of the action in a bright, sun-drenched, sandy, lawless badlands environment.

Think “Mad Max” with a hint of the Man With No Name and you’ll get a sense of where the film makers are aiming at but don’t quite manage to hit.

The actors are good  – Paul Bettany doesn’t play down to the material or do anything less than his best work in this film.  He’s a muted, tortured presence as the titular character, but I wonder what kind of effort he was exerting to stay with the American accent that his role demands here – is there any real reason this particular protagonist in a ruined future absolutely has to be from the States?

He’s more than matched by Maggie Q, whose turn in this film suggests an actor familiar with the traditions of the ‘Martial Chivalry’ genre – she’s grave, restrained and capable in the face of the unstoppable Vampire foe, here epitomised by Karl Urban.

Urban is one of those reliable actors who lends even fairly straightforward material like this a bit of quirky individuality and energy.  He’s particularly fun in this film as a mysterious bad guy who has a history with Bettany’s hero and a revenge motive which is quite neat and mean-spirited.

The vampires in this film, you see, waged war against humanity for centuries until they were bested by a resurgent human race banded together under the banner of religious faith.  The surface of the planet after the war is a scorched hell – the excellent animated prologue movie by director Genndy Tartakovsky fills in some of the back story in eye-popping style – and vampires are consigned to reservations far away from the Walled Cities which house the survivors of the conflict.

When a report of a vampire attack on his estranged brother reaches Bettany’s character, he rejects his religious order’s call for calm and sets out to arrest what he believes must be a resurgent vampire populace before it can again overrun the new cities and what’s left of humanity.

If any of that sounds a little ordinary and entirely devoid of innovation, that’s because it really rather is.  Again, I can’t say how this reflects on the source material, but the adaptation is – charitably – based on archetypes and lots of things that you’ve seen before in other media.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as with many B-movies part of the joy of them is in noticing the homages and allusions to what’s gone before.  Director Scott Charles Stewart openly homages John Ford’s “The Searchers” during the film and that’s nothing if not ballsy – this vampire actioner really doesn’t have the story or stylistic chops to live up to the legacy of that celebrated Western.

It’s a pacey and concise film – the running time is a brief 87 minutes – but it could also have benefited from more of a sense of humour.  I’m not saying that Bettany’s tortured hero had to quip wise after each vampire fight, but some levity might have lifted a story which takes itself rather more seriously than is probably good for it.  We’re not dealing with the angst of a tale like “Let the Right One In”, after all – this film doesn’t have much more to say than ‘kung fu priest beats up mutant vampires – repeat’, for cripes sake.

In the pantheon of throwaway horror action pics, this is a little bit more throwaway than most, but your enjoyment of it may increase relative to your love of Paul Bettany, Karl Urban and Maggie Q.  If you happen to be a fan of any one of those actors, you can consider this a three and a half star to four stars out of five film.  Everybody else should consider this as one of those films that you watch on an otherwise unoccupied evening and enjoy despite yourself if you’re any kind of SF geek.

 

 

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“Terra Nova”? No thanks.

What if you had a great idea for a tv series and did nothing with it?

For me, the Steven Spielberg-produced “Terra Nova” is one of the most disappointing tv series of the last few years – it’s a prime example of having a great, compelling sci-fi idea and then irrationally deciding that the best thing to do with it is to ignore all of that complicated sci-fi guff and just tell uninteresting stories about the world’s dullest family and their inane soap opera relationships.

Over at Hijinks Ensue, Joel Watson has been thinking about the same series and has a few ideas on how to fix things…

 

 

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Franchises that never were: “Demolition Man”

In the Nineties, kids, this stuff was cutting edge...

I’ve always had a warm gooey place in my heart for many of Sylvester Stallone’s Nineties films.

After a period in the Eighties where his brand of earnest, knuckle-headed action films fell slightly out of favour and the more comedic likes of Bruce Willis (and, to a certain extent, Arnold Schwarzenegger) took the lead in critical plaudits and box office takings, Stallone seemed to regard the Nineties as prime reinvention time.

This decade saw enjoyable mountaineering action adventure “Cliffhanger” (love that dialogue-free, Beethoven-scored trailer), the “2000 AD” adaptation “Judge Dredd”, NYC tunnel cave-in drama “Daylight” and most intriguing of all, the low-key crime drama, “Copland”, which saw Stallone not playing a kick-ass action hero or blue-collar warrior but a very human,  quite believable small town sheriff presiding over a small town inhabited by corrupt cops.  It also saw “Oscar” and “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot”, but let’s draw as discreet a veil as possible over those latter two flicks (actually, I quite like “Oscar”…)

As the picture and post title suggest, I’m going to waffle on a bit about his 1993 action flick “Demolition Man”, which saw Stallone exploring a variation on the blue-collar, distrustful of society, anti-heroic tough guys which people much of his filmography.  Set in 1996, then a couple of years into the future, Sly plays tough as old boots LAPD cop John Spartan (crazy name, crazy guy) whose obsessive chase of sociopathic criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) and game of one-upmanship results in a tragedy which sees both parties cryogenically frozen.

Yep, it’s that kind of film – there still isn’t a cryogenic freezing process which works in the way depicted in this film but for the purposes of the plot not only is there one, but it works perfectly and eventually decants an out-of-his-era Spartan into mid-21st century Californian metroplex peopled by sandal-sporting, kaftan-wearing, mung-bean munching hippies.

So, not a sub-set of society best placed to handle the duelling male egos unleashed on them, then?

Nope, and the resulting clash of ideals – Stallone’s alpha male who doesn’t care what’s in his way as long as he gets his hands on whichever criminal he’s pursuing and a society which regards the unfrozen Spartan as a barbarian exemplar of a cruder age – is what fuels the film’s comedic sequences.  His exasperated reactions to this demi-paradise of healthy lifestyles, diminished physical contact and profanity-free social intercourse are clearly designed to be the stuff of audience identification – thank God we don’t live like that! – but I can’t quite get to that place as the right-wing politics behind those sentiments are so far from my own that there really isn’t a meeting point.

As much as I enjoy the film, I have to view it as a silly action flick with some occasional neat ideas underpinning it and not as a film which has anything more valuable to say than ‘cool practical stunt sequence, bro’.   The reactionary aspects of the film – society would be so much better if only poor, oppressed Republicans were given carte blanche to carry concealed weapons, ignore judicial due process and generally mould the world in their image – are there if you look beneath the surface but don’t impact too much on your enjoyment of this sci-fi actioner, a truism which applies to many action movies of the era.

Stallone is typically effective in the lead role – he’s at his best when he gets to embody the physical brawn he’s renowned for and employ just a little ironic comedy too, so as to assure the audience that he’s in on the joke and he knows how ludicrous much of the action in his films is.   And the action in “Demolition Man” is another thing which makes this film something of an old school treat as it’s mostly practical and performed by stuntmen rather than being rendered in post-production on a server farm.

What a nice thing, too, to see Wesley Snipes when he was in his prime, with his antagonist being not only a credible threat but one who seems destined for much of the film to be the character who’ll emerge victorious from the inevitable head-to-head collision – heck, even this AMC movies blog agrees with me about Simon Phoenix’s dubiously hair-styled, 90’s buzz word-spouting awesomeness.

You can’t really talk about this film fully without noting that Sandra Bullock steals the whole film from under Stallone’s feet in every scene that they share – he knows what kind of film he’s in and calibrates his performance accordingly but Bullock is  on another plane entirely and manages to be convincingly tough, charming without being cloying, funny without mugging and cute without being in any way self-conscious

As I’m currently over 800 words on this post, it seems appropriate to try to wind things up before I start talking about the glorious sets, Nigel Hawthorne’s pitch-perfect performance as the playing with fire social engineer Dr Cocteau or the idea that an oldies radio station in the future will just play advert jingles.

It’s a fine film which isn’t as clever as it would have you believe it is.   It’s a film which makes you yearn for practical action sequences in films, actual sets and the other stuff which gave sci-fi action films in the 80’s and 90’s a sense of physical heft and odd plausibility even when barking mad things were happening.  It’s a film which has so much unexplored satirical possibility within its basic premise that I might actually welcome the prospect of it being remade one day if a good enough film maker were to take it on.

My wife watched this with me and felt that, for all it’s bone-crunching, macho stupidity and weird moments – why does Dennis Leary’s character and his army make such a big entrance near the end only to subsequently do nothing whatsoever? – it was the kind of film that we don’t see examples of any more.   It’s only when you have a dearth of these kinds of action movies that you realise that you used to quite enjoy them in the summer time – witness the popularity of Stallone’s own retrospectively styled homage to his past career, “The Expendables”, to see that a decent chunk of the movie going populace are quite keen on action movies which side-step the complexities of the modern world for a few hours of car chases, bare knuckle brawls and pension age men doing implausible things in the name of abstract concepts like truth and justice.

I’m now totally going to watch “Tango & Cash” for more daft 80’s/90’s action cheese:  I can feel the brain cells dissipating as I write…

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