Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

“Transformers 4”, Latvian art house cinema nil.

Another day at the office...

In news calculated to cheer the hearts of every salesman in every Ferrari dealership in California, “Transformers” director Michael Bay is close to signing on to direct a fourth movie in the franchise for Paramount.

Fans of tight close-ups on Supermodel butts and respected character actors turning up and cashing their cheques will be delighted to know that work on the film is intended to start towards the end of 2012, after Bay completes work on his long-gestating, bloody true crime pic “Pain & Gain” – which now stars Dwayne Johnson, per Empire’s story on the matter.

The idea of Bay working on a small-scale is interesting – he’s now synonymous with the kind of summer movies which routinely cost $200 million and change – but I don’t see him staying away from the popcorn fare which has made his name for too long.

Another “Transformers” movie isn’t exactly what I need to be seeing any time soon – would it be too much to hope that Shia LaBeouf has decided that it’s time to move on, even if his director hasn’t?

 

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“Lock Out” trailer – new Sci-Fi action from Luc Besson’s genre factory

Guy Pearce, doing sardonic in 2012 sci-fi action pic, "Lock Out.

Thanks to those quick-on-the-draw types at NeoGaf’s Off-Topic forum I was able to find the first trailer for the latest sci-fi actioner from producer Luc Besson’s gallic B-movie assembly line Europa Corp, “Lock Out” .

And it’s looking okay.  The tone of the trailer’s opening first half, with Guy Pearce taking a beating whilst snarking at his captors reminded in no small way of Bruce Willis’ performance in Tony Scott and Shane Black’s neo-noir nineties classic, “The Last Boy Scout”.  For those in any doubt, that is A Very Good Thing, Indeed.

"Touch me again and I'll kill ya'..."

This film, meanwhile, sounds for all the world like a big old riff on the glorious John Carpenter/Kurt Russell eighties sci-fi “Escape From New York”, taking the premise of a down-at-heel loser getting a chance at redemption by rescuing the president’s daughter and setting it in space, with the rescue mission set on an orbital prison overrun by its inmates.

Set in the space year 1997, fact fans...

It’s due out in the spring of 2012 and seems to have just the right measure of self-aware humour to mentalist sci-fi action – this is one genre pic that I’ll be keeping an eye on.

 

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Reboots I don’t want part 2,347 – “Starship Troopers”

Look - sweaty men with tennis balls on sticks! Kill 'em all!

I seem to remember writing something about this not too long ago, but it seems that cooler egos have not prevailed and we must yet again suffer the ideas of fools with more cash than smarts – “Starship Troopers” is being rebooted.

Producer Neil Moritz – he of the hilariously ill-named production shingle ‘Original Film‘ – proposes a new version of Robert Heinlein’s classic slice of reactionary military SF, this time written by the fellows who brought you “Thor” and one of the drafts of “X-Men: First Class”.

My snark aside, there is a reason to do this – and it is, of course, financial.

Director Paul Verhoeven’s gloriously icky, gruesome sci-fi bug hunt cost a lot of money to make in 1997 and made a pittance back in return.  In the ever-predictable world of Hollywood, the brand recognition of a high-concept (can you get any higher concept than the title “Starship Troopers”?) means that much of the hardest work is done and it’s time to go back to code and see if a second swing at the book can treat it more seriously and get rid of all that pesky European satire and  nudity and NPH as a psychic Nazi (NSFW arachnid bug-busting at the link).  The good stuff, in short.

This, to me, is one of those remakes that really doesn’t need to be pursued.  The original movie has its flaws and may have slightly dated effects work but its core satire is still undeniably effective, the cast of blank-faced young things spouting fascist justifications for their genocidal actions can’t be improved upon (terrible actors, yes, but terrible actors expertly directed to give a human face to some fairly repugnant ideas) and the tone of the film would probably be summarily jettisoned to make a crappy, ideas-free shoot-em-up for the Taylor Lautner generation.

No NPH? No sale.

 

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“Ender’s Game” movie happening, whether you like it or not…

Don't let Keith Vaz get his paws on this book...

Empire is reporting that the long-gestating adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s “Enders Game” novel might be getting some serious star power.

Harrison Ford starry enough for you?

The film has been in proverbial development hell for a good few years now – I believe that I recall hearing talk of an adaptation back when Card’s novelization of James Cameron’s “The Abyss” was published back in 1989 – but technology seems to have caught up with the novel’s themes and can now do Card’s future world justice.

Ignoring some of Card’s predictably Conservative politics and focussing instead on the film to come – which already has a release date in March 2013 – what can we expect of this tale of small children being trained to wage war against an alien menace?

Well, the fact that Gavin Hood is directing it may give some pause for thought.  He last brought you the not especially well thought of “X Men Origins: Wolverine”.  I know, not a good outing but not entirely his fault – that film was anecdotally micro-managed to the point of absurdity (repainting bits of the set to make them brighter, anyone?) and was probably not the movie that anyone – fans or creative folks – wanted to make.  His other work – which includes “Tsotsi” and “Rendition” is better and more representative of him.

It’s a brave man who takes on a movie project like this – Card is not celebrated for his ability to keep himself to himself and the violence in the book would make this an untenable film unless it was significantly toned down – it’s a movie focussing on genocide, with predominantly child actors beating the crap out of each other in a hellish military school.  We’re talking R-rating territory here.

I’ve seen more unlikely pitches for movies, but none that were on quite this scale.  Time will tell, I suppose.

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New “Riddick” back on, money woes averted, ‘death-by-teacup’ solution unconfirmed…

Yep, that's the guy who locked us out of the studio. Where's my teacup?

TMZ were all over this story at the weekend, but as they’re a somewhat icky gossip site I didn’t want to post about this story until I had confirmation (so here’s a story from Collider, instead) – it appears that the new “Riddick” movie’s cash crisis has been sorted out and the film can head back into production in Canada at the end of December.

Phew.

What the movie blogs are telling us is that this “Riddick” is a smaller-scale, neo-Indie production, which is closer to the tough-as-nails, small-scale original “Pitch Black” than the galaxy-spanning, operatic “Chronicles of Riddick” sequel.

Much as I would love to see Riddick leading his newly acquired Necromonger army on a dark and strange trip across the “Pitch Black”-verse, it might be best for Diesel and writer/director David Twohy to scale things back and tell a smaller-scale story which values thrills and bleakness over spectacle and gigantic FX sequences.

Just as long as we don’t begin this movie with Karl Urban and the rest of his Necro-posse having been summarily dispatched off-screen, a-la Newt and Hicks in “Alien 3”.  That would, I need hardly remind you, suck somewhat…

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Disney cranking up the “John Carter” hype train…

A new franchise for a classic literary character...

Disney have strongly hinted that we can expect to see a full trailer on Thursday – there’s a teaser here at Apple’s trailer site – so it appears that the hype train for their sci-fi blockbuster-in-waiting, “John Carter” is beginning to build a head of steam.

Various journos were invited to see 20 minutes of footage at Disney’s London office recently – SFX’s Dave Golder’s piece is here whilst Den of Geek’s Ryan Lambie’s story is here.

Nascent sci-fi franchises are ten-a-penny, but there are reasons to be excited by this latest would-be contender – the presence of Pixar director Andrew Stanton behind the camera is but one.  He directed “A Bug’s Life”, “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” for the digital animation wizards and that’s reason enough for me to be at the cinema on opening weekend.  “Wall-E” is probably in my top ten films of all time – “Finding Nemo” certainly is.

If he can translate his obvious storytelling gifts from one medium to another, we’re in for a treat – initial word says that he may have done just that.

My hope for this film is that it manages to make a more than decent fist of translating Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp sci-fi hero the screen and prompts studios to realise that there’s more to summer blockbusters than just superhero adaptations – there’s a wealth of classic sci-fi fiction which can be realised now in the digital era.

Of course, this could be a recipe for disaster if Hollywood lets the likes of McG and Michael Bay loose on the Golden Age of sci-fi novels.

Involuntary shudder in 5, 4, 3…

 

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Bonfire of the Nerderies – “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy”

Mos Def and Martin Freeman in "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy"

Where do you start with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”?  Do you talk about its place in the great tradition of pomposity-puncturing, absurdity worshipping British Sci-Fi?  Do you try to decode the almost dizzying cross-continuity which exists between differing versions of the story?  Do you mumble something about always needing your towel and then move on?

It’s a tale which has seen iterations on radio, as an increasingly inaccurately numbered trilogy of novels, a fondly remembered BBC TV series, stage plays, comic books, a beloved PC game and this most recent of adaptations in 2005.

There’s something about it, a unique selling point which survives translation to different forms of media, in different decades and manages to appeal to generations who weren’t even a blip in their parents DNA when Douglas Adams began writing the BBC radio show in the 1970s.  It’s always potent, slightly counter-culture, wonderfully humane and surprisingly moving.

A Vogon demolition squad, pictured next month during the inevitable end of the planet…

At its core, “The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” is a simple tale of friendship, intergalactic travel, planetary strife, adventure, universally translating fish and invaluable towels.  The tone and humour of the stories is quintessentially British, but manages to be reasonably accessible and doesn’t require a hard-won degree in science fiction arcana to be able to understand it – it’s a common misconception, I think, that the “Hitchhikers” series requires the audience to do a lot of heavy lifting to follow things.

The story’s hero Arthur Dent is very much an Every Bloke and, therefore, an audience identification figure.  He’s a not terribly successful, unlucky in love but generally decent.  Arthur’s previously unadventurous and stultifying  path through life is rudely interrupted one morning by his best friend Ford Prefect who rocks up just in time to save him from the planet Earth being demolished to make way for an interstellar bypass (on that last point, I’m sure that some would say ‘not before time’…).

In the film, which I’m primarily basing this post on, Dent is played by Martin Freeman, an English comic actor most recently seen in Steven Moffat’s update of “Sherlock” but still perhaps best known for his role in Ricky Gervais’ doc-com, “The Office”.  I say ‘perhaps’ here as I’ve never seen “The Office”, in either the Gervais original or the American Steve Carell-fronted version.  Seeing this film was really the first major exposure that I can recall having to Martin Freeman, and I feel that he made a difficult role his own.

‘Difficult’ in this context as to a certain generation of Brits, Arthur Dent is Simon Jones, from the BBC TV adaptation.  He’s so ingrained in my consciousness that I tend to hear his voice, or David Dixon as Ford, when I go back to reading the Douglas Adams books.

Arthur Dent, in the British gentleman's armour of choice, a comfy dressing gown.

Freeman captures Dent’s bemusement at the incomprehensible world that he’s forced to leave and his wonder at the wider galaxy that he finds himself hurtling through.  He’s not an actor who mugs desperately to wring laughs where none exist but one who finds the funny in quiet moments and expertly conveys Arthur’s slightly creepy neediness when he meets the proverbial dream girl who got away, Trillian  and tries to win her back.

Trillian, played by Zooey Deschanel. If you just marked off "Intergalactic hipster glasses" on your bingo card, congratulations!

A tough job normally but one which is made exponentially difficult by the fact that Trillian is travelling in the presence of errant Galactic president and twin-headed alpha male Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell, channelling equal parts David Lee Roth and Bugs Bunny).  He’s  the kind of guy that will seduce your girl/boyfriend, steal your spaceship, kidnap himself and generally do his best to destroy your life, sometimes for kicks, mostly because he’s bored and hey, that seems like kind of fun thing to do.  Pan-cosmic sociopath or excessively fun dude – I’ve never made up on that one.

Arthur, then, is roaming the galaxy in the company of a gang of weird-beards, a depressed automaton, the girl of his dreams and knocking heads with the Vogon race who initially destroyed his planet.  Along the way, there’s a bit with a galactic religious cult leader (John Malkovich) which isn’t in the books (and doesn’t really go anywhere – perhaps a set-up for the sequels which should have followed this film?) and a visit to the smartest machine in the universe, Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren).

My favourite bit in this adaptation?

Hey, hey! It's Bill Nighy!

Yep, Bill Nighy plays Slartibartfast – slightly hippy-ish builder of the Earth and other planets (So, Bill Nighy and a quiet big-up to Atheism in the same scene? No, I can’t think why I like this part of “Hitchhikers” so much…) and takes Arthur Dent  to his shop floor…

Arthur & Slartibartfast go to work...

…which results in one of the more underrated bits of (literal) world-building in recent science fiction cinema.

to quote another favourite film of mine, "They should have sent a poet..."

It’s this part of the film which has my favourite moment in the film – and possibly in pop culture – which hinges around Slartibartfast’s philosophical approach to some of existence’s more difficult-to-grasp vagaries:

“Perhaps I’m old and tired, but I think that the chances of finding out what’s actually going on are so absurdly remote that the only thing to do is to say, “Hang the sense of it,” and keep yourself busy. I’d much rather be happy than right any day.”

Those, my friends, are words to live by.  There’s nothing to look forward to after this comparatively short life  ends, much as we might want to believe there is.  There’s only the here, the now and how we treat each other whilst we’re fumbling around for meaning in a world which resolutely defies any attempts to understand it.  And that’s what this movie gets so right,  in my opinion – though this film was in development for decades, with countless script drafts and iterations discarded to time, so much of Douglas Adams’ singular voice and humanity survived the process and made it through to the final film.

Though the film wasn’t successful enough to justify Disney subsidiary Touchstone Pictures green-lighting further adaptations of the novel series, director Garth Jennings and his producing partner Nick Goldsmith can be justifiably proud of what they achieved here.

The S.S. Heart of Gold. Ain't she purty?

The span is galactic, but the characters are very human.  The story zips about all over the place but never really loses focus.  Changes are made to the core story but the story’s concerns and truths are not jettisoned to make things more accessible to a mainstream audience.

I love this version still, and was more than happy to watch it again as I wrote this piece.  Here’s hoping that some upstart film maker manages to build on this foundation in the future and revive the stories for a new generation – I really, really want to be able to see Disaster Area rock out on-screen one day…

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