Blimey. Okay, given that I’m not going to be seeing the prologue for at least the next few days, this is my first proper glimpse of Christopher Nolan’s upcoming third Batman film The Dark Knight Rises, a blockbuster for which the phrase ‘hotly anticipated’ is an insane understatement. Nolan set himself a huge hurdle to leap with The Dark Knight, and it’s perfectly possible that the ludicrous levels of expectation may in some terms end up working against the film – but the trailer has gone live over at Apple (and is available in an embed below, which may or may not get yanked soon…) and what we’re seeing so far looks pretty damn impressive; certainly a massive improvement over the “Oh crap, we’d better throw together a couple of shots along with a sequence of Gary Oldman mumbling incoherently in a bed” teaser trailer we got a few months ago:
From advance reaction to the prologue, it looks like one of the more divisive elements (unless there’s some serious fiddling happening in the next few months) is going to be Bane’s voice – and the one line we get here isn’t exactly the model of intelligibility, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
And while we don’t get a full look at that controversial costume, we do get to see Anne Hathaway in action as Selina Kyle (including an oh-so-appropriate mask), and as I suspected, whatever she may be wearing, it looks like Hathaway is going to be giving a seriously impressive performance as Catwoman. There’s eye-candy here, and spectacle (which promises to be pretty amazing in the IMAX format, especially considering the film will feature almost fifty minutes of IMAX footage) – although, as with the first The Dark Knight trailer, and almost all the publicity for Inception, there’s very few signs of exactly how this all fits together – but what’s really surprising is exactly how political that speech from Selina Kyle feels. It’s one of those moments where art accidentally coincides with real life (after all, the screenplay for The Dark Knight Rises would have been finished long before the Occupy movement got going), but it certainly looks like Nolan isn’t backing away from melding real life issues with superhero action in the same way he did with The Dark Knight. On top of everything, there’s some very interesting hints at how time has moved on for all the characters, and a general sense that whatever happens, even if The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t top The Dark Knight, Nolan is currently at the top of his game and would probably have to really try hard to completely mess this up. Whatever happens, July 2012 feels like a very long time away right now…
If you haven’t heard of The Hunger Games yet, treasure that feeling – it’s unlikely to last very long. With the Harry Potter series having come to an end, and the death-rattle of the Twilight Saga already beginning with the release of Part 1 of Breaking Dawn, Hollywood is desperate to generate another hugely popular multi-volume teen franchise. Given the excitement that already exists around teen dystopia series The Hunger Games (and its two sequels), the upcoming movie adaptation isn’t much of a surprise, and anyone following movie news websites for the last twelve months will have been deluged by reports and rumours about casting of the various characters, making it pretty certain that even if The Hunger Games isn’t the next Twilight (in terms of impact), it’s going to be pretty damn close.
Now, the first trailer is out for the movie adaptation, directed by Gary Ross (who hasn’t directed a film for nearly nine years (horseriding drama Seabiscuit in 2003), although he’s had a major reputation as a screenwriter ever since 1986’s Big)… and I’m actually kind of impressed. The story of teenagers chosen by the government to compete in a fight to the death, it’s essentially a teen-centric fusion of The Running Man and Battle Royale, and there’s certainly a healthy dose of kookiness in the costume design and general appearance of The Hunger Games’s future world (especially in the wonderfully eccentric names – with everything from Peeta Mellark to Haymitch Abernathy). The trailer certainly isn’t without its cheesy moments, but the casting looks pretty strong – especially Jennifer Lawrence, who was exceptional in the drama Winter’s Bone and did a wonderful job as a youthful Mystique in this summer’s X-Men: First Class – and the restless, hand-held visual style actually looks like it’s going to give the film a healthy amount of edge. The fact that it’s aiming at the Twilight-related market means there’s going to be a number of people lining up to rip the hell out of The Hunger Games at the first opportunity, but I’m now genuinely interested to see how it turns out. The only question is – do I read the books first to see how it measures up, or leave myself unspoiled? Only time will tell…
2 September, 2011 / saxon / Comments Off on Movie News: Oops, He Did It Again – Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray, “NOOOOOO!” and the ever-changing mind of George Lucas…
He almost had me. I was wavering. I’ve recently bought a Blu-Ray player, and despite my better nature, I was finding myself looking at the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-Ray and thinking “Hmm… maybe.” It’s not like I didn’t know what I’d be getting – I knew there’d be no sign of the treasured original versions of the classic trilogy (still only available as non-anamorphic DVDs, mastered from the 1993 Laserdisc Editions), and that it’d essentially be giving us spangly High-Def versions of the prequels and the 2004 DVD versions of the original trilogy (complete with the less-than-welcome addition of Hayden Christensen’s mug edited into the final sequence of Return of the Jedi). After all, there couldn’t be anything left for Lucas to tamper with, could there?
Yes, there could.
The rumours have been flying around for the last couple of weeks – and while it looks like we’re not going to have full confirmation until the release in a week-and-a-half as to whether or not there are any other ‘surprises’ in store, there are a handful of big changes that we already know about. For a start, there has been some audio ‘tinkering’ – some of that is just remixing the original audio, punching up a few elements (and getting right a couple of music-mixing issues that affected the 2004 DVDs, especially the original Star Wars). There’s one major visual change – to Episode I: The Phantom Menace, where the puppet of Yoda has been replaced with a CGI version of the character:
This isn’t exactly surprising, and actually looks pretty good – it’s probably a mark of how little general Star Wars fandom actually cares about The Phantom Menace that nobody seems particularly upset about it (that, and the fact that the Phantom Menace puppet was weak, and somehow looked less convincing than the one used in Empire 19 years previously). If that was the only change, I don’t think anyone would be worked up right now.
Well, thank goodness that George Lucas is on hand to prove me wrong:
Words fail me. They really do.
I can see the thinking behind it – connecting Vader’s final moments with the Emperor to his first moment with the Emperor back at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – except that the completely daft Frankenstein-stagger and scream of “NOOOOOOO!!!” in that film is widely regarded as one of the few moments where the otherwise fairly good Episode III (and about the only of the prequels to be artistically valid as a movie) is genuinely, diabolically awful. The thinking may be plain, but the execution of it, and the fact that Lucas is once again going back in to a film that was finished in 1983 and going “It’s okay guys – just one more change…”, and mucking around with such a critical section of the original Trilogy… it’s breathtaking. It really is. The level of clueless arrogance it takes to do this, and not in any way provide an alternate version of the movie, beggars belief. It’s not even as if I care about Star Wars that much any more, and I’m still kind of speechless.
The sad thing is that there’s no reason whatsoever for this. Multiple film versions are a fact of home entertainment life – the recent Alien Anthology Blu-Ray is a masterclass in presenting differing editions of films, while the granddaddy of them all is the 2007 Blade Runner special edition, which gave us every single version of the film available (a newly tinkered one, and the originals). Hell, if the Star Wars Blu-Rays just had the 1997 versions of the Special Editions versus the newly tinkered versions, that’d be a start – or an option to switch to the original, less-tinkered with audio. But that’s not the way Lucas rolls.
I’m a little sad. I’m a little vexxed. But, most of all, I’m glad I knew in advance so I can save myself some money. I’m sure 97% of Star Wars: The Complete Saga will look gorgeous on Blu-Ray, but I’d rather not have to mentally edit the terrible, terrible 3% out of my brain while I watch them. I’ll stick with the DVDs, thanks very much, and the sad fact that while it gave me some very good times in my formative years, Star Wars really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.
So thanks, Lucas. Thanks a bunch.
(EDIT: There’s an interesting article over at Entertainment Weekly which makes some good points (even if it also overdoes the ‘kids are stupid, and anything aimed at them is generally rather silly and infantile’ theme) especially that while the Star Wars films are great works of popcorn cinema, they ain’t perfect. It’s okay to enjoy the hell out of them, but it’s also okay to grow up, realise their deficiencies, and that there are much better films out there. I think it says a lot that Empire is still widely counted as the best of the bunch, when it seems that the pulpy energy and vitality in Empire was a happy accident that Lucas made damn sure wouldn’t happen again (I have a major fondness for Jedi, but you can already see some of the flatness and woodenness that bedevilled the prequels creeping in in multiple sequences). It’s mainly as a film lover that this tweaking annoys me – as I said, if Lucas just made the originals (or as close to the originals as we can get) available, he could fuck about with new editions to his heart’s content and I wouldn’t mind in the slightest. The original Star Wars (none of this ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ nonsense) is a significant work of American cinema, and the fact that the director has gone psychotically out of his way over the last twenty years to prevent anyone from seeing it in its original form… well, it’s rather sad. But I’m not really raging about this. I think my days of raging over Star Wars are well and truly over.)
The Low-Down: It may have an attention-grabbing concept and a star-studded cast and crew, but summer blockbuster hopeful Cowboys & Aliens has to go down as a major damp squib, stymied by huge tonal misjudgements, a lack of purpose and a shocking paucity of actual fun.
What’s it About?: In 1873, brooding gunslinger Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) awakens in the middle of the Arizona desert with no memory, strange injuries and a mysterious metal band shackled around his wrist. Journeying to the local settlement of Absolution in search of help, the stranger learns that he’s a wanted fugitive, falling foul of local law enforcement and the ruthless cattle baron Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). But all of these problems are soon to become academic when otherwordly lights appear in the sky, and Absolution comes under attack from extraterrestrial forces – ones which may hold the key to Lonergan’s forgotten past…
The Story: You’ve got to give the makers of Cowboys & Aliens this, at least: it’s a bloody good title. It’s commonly said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do it anyhow, so it helps if your cover has a name on it that’s as immediately and concisely communicative as this one. “Cowboys & Aliens” – a neat and playful subversion of the age-old cowboys and Indians trope, and a title that’s pregnant with the promise of two iconic fictional worlds meeting in a pulpy collision. More elaborately conceived movies, such as Inception and Green Lantern, have required four or five trailers to explain what they’re actually about, or why we should care: Cowboys & Aliens does it with three words.
Unfortunately, that’s about where the good omens for director John Favreau’s movie end. Certainly, that title – taken from a graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, which was only at the conceptual stage when the movie began development – created some decent initial buzz around the project, but despite an extensive marketing campaign, the film has underperformed thus far both in the US and internationally, at least relative to its budget and blockbuster aspirations. Undoubtedly, this will lead to assessment of the way the film has been sold, the bankability of its leading players, or the commercial viability of its chosen genre(s), but the explanation may be a lot simpler than that: essentially, Cowboys & Aliens just isn’t a particularly good film, squandering the highest of high concepts in what turns out to be a bland and largely joyless experience.
Certainly, you don’t get the impression that the failure of this movie is down to a lack of trying, at least from an investment perspective. An absurd number of studios – including heavyweights like DreamWorks, Paramount and Universal – have thrown money at Cowboys & Aliens, allowing an almost comical embarrassment of creative talent to be corralled together. In front of the camera are acclaimed stars Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde; behind it is well-liked Iron Man helmer Favreau, shooting from a script credited to two of Hollywood’s most in-vogue writing duos (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby), plus Lost’s Damon Lindelof; meanwhile, backers and producers include the likes of Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Steven Spielberg. Add into the mix a reported budget of $163 million, and you get the impression that the makers of Cowboys & Aliens took this project very seriously indeed.
Ironically, it’s seriousness that proves to be this film’s most prominent undoing. The filmmakers have gone on record as saying they wanted to avoid taking an overtly broad and jokey approach to this material, which is an understandable and potentially sensible decision; however, there’s a difference between avoiding flippancy and avoiding levity altogether, which is the approach Favreau and co appear to have bafflingly settled on. What results is a handsomely-mounted, competently made but staggeringly solemn experience, which resists almost every invitation to have any fun with its concept whatsoever. Characterisation is limited to a few variations on “scowling”, the visual palette is dark and muddied, and the world of the film is generally a cold, dour and dreary place to be.
This approach hardly plays to the strengths of the director, who was surely hired on the back of his brash, boisterous and jovial Iron Man films; it certainly doesn’t work in favour of the material, which was surely crying out for a more playful treatment than this. Part of the fun of a typical mash-up is watching the well-defined conventions and tropes of two different genres colliding and feeding off each other; Cowboys & Aliens takes Western and sci-fi elements and grinds them up into a consistent but utterly flavourless grey mush. This would be more forgivable if the film had gained in gravitas what it lost in humour, but that can’t really be argued as being the case either, as none of the constituent parts are sufficiently developed enough to be of much interest without the neutered novelty of the mash-up framework. Cliché-shackled characters, unmemorable aliens, pedestrian mystery elements and curiously underplayed twists wouldn’t really be anyone’s idea of good building blocks for a light, frothy film; they certainly don’t pass muster in a movie that fancies itself as a brooding drama.
In this kind of unfertile territory, the film’s starry cast comes across less like an asset and more as a crippling waste of resources. Craig probably comes out of it best with a typically intense performance as amnesiac protagonist Lonergan, but the material barely tests him as an actor; still, he fares better than Ford, who was probably hoping this film would restore his movie star status beyond Indiana Jones, but who ultimately fails to bring any real interest to Dolarhyde, a half-baked semi-adversarial role that feels like a leftover from a previous draft. Wilde continues to content herself with turning up and looking striking in another sorely underwritten female blockbuster role (see also: Tron Legacy); meanwhile, vastly overqualified supporting cast members such as Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano and Clancy Brown tussle for scraps on the periphery, making no impression. It says a lot that the cast member who makes the biggest impression is the one who isn’t there: namely Robert Downey Jr, who was originally cast in Craig’s role and would have made an infinitely more interesting foil for Ford (rather than the sour-faced Craig/Ford pairing we get here), as well as adding some much-needed lightness, spark and purpose to proceedings.
In the final analysis, it’s a sense of any actual function that’s the quality that Cowboys & Aliens most demonstrably fails to provide. It’s an uninteresting, middling film that simply sits there, inert, failing to engage any particular audience to any measurable degree; not a big or spectacular enough a disaster to derail the careers of anyone involved, but never doing anything to warrant a place as anything other than a minor, forgettable footnote on a few CVs. For all its potential promise, all Cowboys & Aliens really achieves is showing how easy it is topple off a high concept and fall flat on your face.
The Verdict: Failing to capitalise on the pulpy promise of its title, Cowboys & Aliens is a dreary slog that squanders the talent and money at its disposal, and makes the spectacle of 19th-century outlaws fighting frog-men from outer space seem dry and dull. And I can’t think of anything more damning than that.
10 August, 2011 / saxon / Comments Off on Movie News: Selina’s Big Score (Thoughts on the Catwoman costume in The Dark Knight Rises…)
Ah, the predictability of Comics Fans – they complain bitterly if a comic or a character remains the same for too long, and then they complain even more bitterly when someone comes along and does something different. I’ve been largely away from the internets for the last week, but it’s safe to say that there’s been a certain sense of “Huh?” in reaction to the first officially released picture of Anne Hathaway in the role of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, from Christopher Nolan’s upcoming ludicrously anticipated third Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises. It’s no surprise to find some people are going “I don’t like it!” and “It looks cheap!” and “Betrayal!” amongst many other reactions – and I have to admit, my first reaction to the picture was (a) good lord, Anne Hathaway looks wonderfully bad-ass in that shot, and (b) It doesn’t look tremendously Catwoman-y, does it?
After all, this is Catwoman we’re talking about – a pretty-much iconic role, one of the major parts of the Batman mythos and a character who’s been the subject of more absurdly sexy and over-the-top comic book art than the brain can comfortably encompass. From the moment it was announced that Selina Kyle was going to be appearing in The Dark Knight Rises, there’s been massive speculation about what sort of look they’d go for, with most people expecting something along the lines of the relatively recent costume redesign courtesy of artist Darwyn Cooke:
It’s a look that’s much more practical than the original skin-tight Catwoman suit (and which the Hathaway look actually sticks relatively close to, apart from the fetishy helmet with the cat-ears); it’s a look that’s stuck in the comic books ever since, and is also strongly featured in the upcoming Batman computer game Arkham City (along with a truly insane amount of cleavage). There’s also the jaw-dropping and iconic art from comic artist Adam Hughes, that’s pretty much cemented the idea of what Catwoman’s supposed to look like – (in short, Audrey Hepburn with bigger cleavage):
And that’s the version of Catwoman everybody’s used to – confidant, daring, riding the line between heroic and ever-so-slightly-amoral, and unashamed about using her sexuality to get what she wants. A woman who can get away with wearing a catsuit complete with tail and ears, because she’s so goddamed sexy she can get away with it. A woman who’s so cool, that instead of trying to defeat or arrest her, Batman ends up dating her. An icon.
I can understand people looking at the Hathaway photo and being disappointed. I can understand that Catwoman is one of those iconic characters who audiences have major, major expectations for, and if their expectations aren’t met, there’s going to be trouble. And yet, I like the photo. I like the look. I’m still just as excited about The Dark Knight Rises as I was before, and it’s partly because we’re not getting the version of Catwoman we were expecting.
And really, when you stop and think about it, why is anyone surprised by this? The ‘classic’ version of Catwoman is a ridiculously distinctive character, but she’s also very definitely the kind of character who fits best in a comic book universe. In a world where people like Superman, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter, it doesn’t seem too unconvincing that a girl might dress up as a cat to aid her life of crime. The most recent version of Catwoman’s origin has her as a prostitute who turned to a life as a costumed criminal to claw her way out of a life she hated, and eventually got herself into the world of the super-rich. She’s even, of course, been a mousy secretary brought back to life by cats and turned into a demented vigilante, in the frankly rather bonkers Batman Returns. And let’s not even talk about the insanely awful horror that was the 2004 Catwoman movie…
But I don’t think any of these iterations of the character would work work comfortably if you just dropped them down in the middle of Christopher Nolan’s version of the Batman mythos. Love them or loathe them (and I know there are plenty who don’t care for Nolan’s Batman movies), both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight give us a rigorously thought out and incredibly grounded version of Batman, to the extent that The Dark Knight frequently feels like a Michael Mann crime thriller where Batman keeps wandering into shot. There’s a deliberate attempt to keep things as real and believable as is possible, and not to throw chunks of the mythology and iconography of the comics in just to please the fans. From the way the Batman costume is introduced to the use of the Joker in The Dark Knight, these are films that are going about their business in a real and serious way – the kookier members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery were automatically out of bounds (Could anyone really see the Mad Hatter or the Riddler making an appearence?), and even the familiar ones were going to be reinterpreted (It’s worth remembering that Heath Ledger’s scar-faced Joker is a bit of a leap from the way the character is normally portrayed).
Basically, I think it was pretty damn unlikely that the wildly sexy, ‘look at me, I’m dressed as a Cat and making sexy cat-noises and I JUST DON’T CARE’ version of Catwoman was ever going to turn up in a Christopher Nolan movie. For better or worse, this is going to be a realer take on the character – it may not be as attention-grabbing or iconic, but it’s what happens when you build a costume to fit the character, rather than moulding a character in order to fit a costume. Plus, it’s what happens when you drop a character like this into a world that’s already strongly laid down after two films – sometimes, the character has to be shaped to fit the world. Another thing that’s important thing to remember – we still have absolutely no idea what kind of Catwoman character we’re actually getting in The Dark Knight Rises, and from the look of this they’re deliberately avoiding the attention-grabbing sexiness, and instead going for what they think a supercool female thief would wear for practical gear (the fact that, as confirmed in other paparazzi-taken photos of a stunt double, she’s wearing flat boots rather than stilleto heels is a very good thing). I’d hazzard a guess that we won’t hear Anne Hathaway say the word “Meow” once. My own personal speculation on this is that this may even be a version of Catwoman who doesn’t even call herself Catwoman – she’s a female cat burglar in a city where a bloke dresses up as a bat; I think it’s perfectly possible a tabloid Gotham newspaper could run a very grainy picture of her crawling across a rooftop with the headline ‘CATWOMAN!’ (A theory I expect to be completely wrong, of course). The point is, anything goes. And they wouldn’t have gone with that costume if there wasn’t a specific reason for it.
Is it as sexy or iconic as the classic Catwoman costume? No it isn’t. But I suspect it’s going to work brilliantly for the character that we are getting in The Dark Knight Rises. Honestly, my first reaction to the costume was similar to my first reaction to Matt Smith’s costume as the Eleventh Doctor Who (a guarded ‘oh’ and a ‘Hmmm… maybe it’ll work’), a look that grew on me to the extent that I now can’t imagine the Eleventh Doctor any other way. Comic fans are a little too used to the ‘But it’s got to look EXACTLY like the printed page otherwise it isn’t real!’ approach – I’ve noticed a similar level of grumbling relating to the new Judge Dredd movie adaptation and its costume redesign, with fans complaining “The helmet looks too big!” and “Hmm, I’ve seen better cosplay costumes”, when Dredd is a $20-30 million indie-produced movie that’s going for a grungier, looser visual adaptation, and simply doesn’t have the budget to make the entire film look exactly like a 2000AD strip. It’s also worth remembering that slavishly following the comic is an approach that doesn’t always work (most recently, in the case of the rather ridiculous Green Lantern costume). Nolan and co are doing something different – and whether or not it works in the final movie, the fact that they’re being daring enough to steer away from the iconic look of a character like Catwoman is something I think should be applauded.
And, finally, there’s two other things to bear in mind:
1: Anne Hathaway still looks damn cool in that picture.