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As good a job the movie does at world-building, setting up warring factions and dealing with two external factors to Mars and revealing things at reasonable beats to our audience proxy, we never get a good sense of geography in this far-out Barsoom place. They juggle a lot of things while they push the honestly pretty sluggish story forward, but it’s difficult to be invested in that most important thing — the planet — when we barely know what it looks like. John Carter is suffused with desert, and we see some areas in the Thark territory (the green alien-looking aliens), but we only get glimpses of the big cities that are eventually attacked.

John Carter is a lot like Avatar, and that’s — I know, I know — because Cameron was inspired by the Burroughs series in the making of Avatar, and by extension his career, Avatar being a project conceived in the mid-80s. In Avatar, James Cameron built a world, and wasn’t about to not show it, so we got a whole hell of a lot of Pandora. There were jungles and flying mountains and tangles of trees where the Na’vi hung out. As ridiculous as the Na’vi culture is, I felt more comfortable with their world than I did with Barsoom.

This is a complaint I didn’t expect to have, especially after seeing the movie, in 3D, by the way. Real-D 3D, in fact. It’s apparent that director Andrew Stanton and company were set to do the material and its legacy right and make an epic. Not only is the original story a big sweeping tale, it’s inspired some of the biggest names in science-fiction film, from Star Wars all the way up to Avatar. Their movie, called John Carter for whatever reason, needed to be huge in scope and scale.

I appreciate what this does for storytelling to some degree. As much as I thought it dragged in a few places, the treatment of the narrative’s formulaic nature really harkened back to traditional storytelling I always enjoyed out of Disney animated movies. By comparison, Tron Legacy very nearly seems complex. This A to B style is a welcome change — and in John Carter, there are heroes and villains, and heroes fight villains and the darkness inside the hero is quelled as he’s redeemed and overcomes his past. This is good old fashioned science-fiction fun, exactly what you’ve heard from critics.

What irks me about this decision to go epic, which for the record, was the only option, is that omce again, the runtime was too long. The story isn’t overly simple, but there are recognizeable steps in the narrative that every once in a while make the viewer feel like a precog — we know John’s gonna come around and help out. There wouldn’t be much a movie if he didn’t, so why’s it taking him so long? There’s anxiety and frustration there, as if the writers are holding the big action ending over our heads and making us wait. Well, not as if — that’s exaclty what it is, and the only explanation is that they feel compelled to hit these story beats in such a story template.

So it’s the story template, the same thing that killed Avatar nearly does in John Carter, though the excuse here is that Burroughs set the goddamn template with John Carter of Mars a hundred years ago. But this is an adaptation, lest we forget. With that said, the A Princess of Mars story seems to make a pretty successful transition to the screen, though I haven’t read the whole thing. And while the movie couldn’t have been called A Princess of Mars, there was no reason to call it John Carter over John Carter of Mars, which I assume is what it was throughout it’s unreasonably long development cycle, a saga in itself. The title screen (which shows up at the end of the movie, a new trend) even says “John Carter of Mars,” but that’s perhaps a reflection on the character’s arc more than miscommunication between creators and execs.

I left the theatre yesterday feeling a little confused. I enjoyed some parts, was impatient through most of it, and kind of missed the world when the movie was over, but wouldn’t really want to return. The characters were charming, but there’s an interesting dynamic going on here — there characters spend the movie figuring each other out. They don’t operate on the same plane, which makes dialogue interesting, but different. I don’t know how I feel about it. The acting was good all around. I’m a big fan of Dominic West, but he didn’t get too much play here.

So in the end, unfortunately, one of the key highlights of John Carter was the 3D trailer for Prometheus at its front. It’s good however, to have such a pulpy story given a mature, modern treatment, as this is Hollywood afterall. I remember seeing a still from Avatar of Col. Quarritch holding a futuristic pistol with the alien planet in the background and thinking Christ — this could be a still from fucking Saturn 3 or something. But it was actually from a Best Picture-nominated (not that that makes much of a difference to me, personally, it’s more a reflection on the popular audience), billion-dollar making movie. I appreciate John Carter and Avatar as signs of things to come — people are taking the genre more seriously, and getting recognition for it. Indeed, Children of Men is an incredible and important science-fiction film, but it’s downright underrated. When the next Children of Men came out just three years later — District 9 — it wasn’t as overlooked, wasn’t overlooked at all that is.


Official trailer for Prometheus dropped yesterday. I’ve been plenty aware of Prometheus for a while now, being pretty enamored of The Sci-Fi Movie Page because I think that guy does pretty well with the news for movies of years down the line, but I guess it never occurred to me that Ridley Scott’s scifi would actually come out. To me it was similar to Metropolis, the Blade Runner sequel, or James Cameron’s Battle Angel. Too good to be true. But no, it’s actually done and here’s a trailer. I just about peed in my pants when I saw that post on The Movie Blog, and the trailer did not disappoint.

How could a trailer possibly be disappointing? Well, I don’t remember what I said about the first Avatar trailer either recently or in 2009, but that first trailer was pretty underwhelming. It was the art design that didn’t jibe, but because HR Giger’s on board for Prometheus — and it shows — Prometheus was immediately stunning. The cast is also amazing. I had known ahead of time, but Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Charlize Theron are in this; that’s great, and really speaks to not only Ridley Scott, but where we are right now in terms of science-fiction film.

These are all incredibly talented actors, and they take this space romp totally seriously. I think that’s one of the good things that Avatar did for our perceptions of the genre in film. I remember seeing one picture from Avatar of Col. Quarritch holding a futuristic looking gun and thinking, man — that could be from anything. That could be a still from Saturn 3… or Virus (note that there was only sky for background). How far we’ve come, that movies like Avatar share the lifeblood of its shameful forerunners, and garner mainstream and critical attention.

2012 is shaping up to be a good year for scifi movies. You got this, you got John Carter, there’s Total Recall… well not much else after that but hey even one is good. Just like this year, and better than last year. But. Prometheus worries me for several reasons. Even though the trailer is undoubtedly Alien-tastic (it’s now very easy to decipher all that marketing speak about having “Alien DNA”) and super wow, this has Avatar written all over it. There’s a reason why I brought that partic title up twice before — not just because it festers in my mind minute-to-minute — this is the return of a great director to a genre he started in.

When Avatar was coming out late 2009, it was James Cameron’s first scifi movie since his best, Terminator 2. It had been over sixteen years, and I know because I was born shortly after T2. That’s a long freaking time, man, but Ridley’s been out of the game for exactly thirty, by the time Prometheus will be released, unless you count that classic Superbowl ad. True, he never took any extended breaks from making feature films, but I have yet to see a movie of his after Gladiator that approached passable. I hated Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven, and Body of Lies — they were just mystifying to me. It got to the point where my roommate and I were literally contemplating who was the better director, him or Tony Scott?*

We went with Ridley, because even though Tony’s got… Domino, Ridley does have a holy three that are some of my all time favorites. But it’s been so long. Scott followed Alien, one of the most important movies in science-fiction, and the powder-keg that led to everything from The Thing and Aliens to Event Horizon and Dead Space, with Blade Runner, which is the most important movie in science-fiction, and the powder-keg to everything. Blade Runner is so goddamn good it’s hideous. It did have a source material though, and I wonder now if that’ll help Prometheus

From where I’m standing Prometheus will be a prequel, but in a weird way. It’ll be like the Alien movies are spin-offs of a much larger property that just so happened to come out ten years later. This is fine, but the Alien movies were very quiet in terms of their mythology. You know, like why robots? What’s Weyland-Yutani all about? And of course that immortal question that inspired this movie — what the hell is that dude in the Alien ship? There’s something poetic going on here, and I like that every filmmaker involved in the Alien series proper handled the world-building the same way, which isn’t to say they didn’t. The universe is in the details, and nobody’s going around talking about FTL and Xenomorph morphology.

Not only would they logically just not be thinking about those things or even know them, the film is a medium quite unlike the novel. In a scifi novel, world-building is key, and sometimes king. Movies only have 90 minutes, not hours of your time. The vaginal and phallic designs on the walls and in the creatures — that’s the world-building. In time, we may have explanations to everything, and it isn’t so much I don’t want to know these things, but the impact this movie will have on the Alien series is yet to be known. Those four movies are very important to me, so c’mon Ridley. Don’t fuck up. Don’t make me wait for the action sequel, Prometheuses

I’m just kidding. Prometheus looks great, I heart hard for it. And the last time I concerned over a movie, it was The Thing ’11, and that one turned out excellent. Of course, there were low expectations going in…

*I actually do like some of his stuff

Editing is the unsung hero of film. It’s also the unsung hero of selling film, and I figured to honor that fact by listing off what I feel are the most effective, manipulative, or just downright cool scifi trailers to come along. Sometimes it’s the music, the dialogue over certain images, the action editing, or maybe that it’s just a good movie, as in District 9‘s case–I love these trailers, and I love trailers in general. That’s half the reason why I go to see movies nowadays. Except, they had a trailer for something really weird in front of The Thing (not a movie I went to see for the trailers, just so we’re clear, that movie kicks ass), some teenage comedy…


5. District 9 – Badass

D9 was considered to be a sleeper hit, and word-of-mouth plays a big part of that, which is a good thing. Movies should be rewarded on their standalone merits, rather than merely the merits of their marketing. Of course, this had pretty good marketing, too. I never saw any of the physical stuff, the signs and shit, but I also live nowhere, so never mind. I did however see the trailer, and I’m not one who goes on and just sits there watching trailers (if I did, I’d be lost to the Internet in the lamest cyber-addiction yet), so when I did for this one I was skeptical at best. You better be good…

Boy-O, man. This trailer is good mostly because they had an excellent source to draw from. I bet that all the D9 trailers are good. What a great flick…

4. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Cinematic Trailer

This one gives us a taste of the game’s requisite cyberpunk philosophical tendencies, and segues quick into a tour of the world complete with robot spiders and arms that turn into guns–draws us in, and we haven’t even seen a lick of gameplay. We won’t, and that’s fine because they had my money when they announced this damn game. That’s irrelevant. This trailer, and the Gears of War trailer and the one for Bioshock are analogous to the greater video-game industry’s push toward the big and the cinematic. The movie-like Uncharted 3 just came out and BLEW EVERYBODY’S FUCKING MINDS. I’ll never play it; Uncharted 2 wasn’t my speed, but I think this is a good and bad thing. Who knows if I’ll cook up an excuse here to talk about video-games further–time will tell.

For now, let’s say this. This trailer is really good stuff. Cheesy voice acting and somewhat histrionic lines, “the body will heal, but the mind is not so resilient,” works in tandem, and works quite well for some odd reason. I love the guy who’s like “They cannot stop us. They cannot stop the future.” Since when was “can’t” not good enough? Doesn’t matter–sounds cool.

3. Star Trek – Fan Trailer

Something about this one that I really dig. It echoes the romantic vision of space adventures (but with that modern spice) of the 2009 movie, and has the great sweeping camera moves and energy that make Star Trek stand out from every single one of its predecessors. In particular, I really like that shot of John Cho ready to fight, the way it flows with shots of other characters and you get that big music overlaying the whole thing (Freedom Fighters, by Two Steps from Hell) and dialogue from the gang and Romulan Villain Nero.

2. Avatar: The Aliens Trailer

They played this exact trailer (there are other TV spots like it) during some football game, which my dad was watching on a big, projected screen. I just about wet myself when I saw this trailer, because I, like everyone else, wasn’t 100% sold on the first few trailers for Avatar. This showed a movie that’s exactly what I want to see: Aliens. Not only Aliens, but like, Mega-Aliens. The marines are all OOH-RAH and they’re shooting their future guns and riding their robot suits and it all looks so pretty and violent and all about the space military…

God bless and also screw you to the editor who compiled this. God bless because it’s a great 30-second piece of entertainment, but screw you because you sold me the wrong movie. I would’ve seen Avatar anyway, but this got my hopes up to levels totally unecessary. Somehow, in the context of the movie, the lines, “We got movement out there,” and all that aren’t as exciting.

1. Blade Runner: The Final Cut – The Fountain?

The song, Tree of Life, I believe, is really awesome, very intense, and there’s no better movie to compliment it (aside from, you know, The Fountain) than Blade Runner. If only The Final Cut wasn’t a poop version of The Director’s Cut, this trailer would be perfect, but as it stands, we got all the Blade Runner trappings, snippets of classic dialogue like: More human than human is our motto, and I want more life sprinkly this ominous and foreboding little ad. They somehow made one of the boringest movies on record seem exciting, and for that, I give you five stars.

This was super easy to compile, I’ll do this again.

When I was a kid there were three things that scared me: Ghosts, demons, and aliens. I didn’t really know what exactly a demon was, so I got over that one quickly. Ghosts are still scary to me. Please, refrain from asking why. I reversed on aliens almost instantly, and I cherish the opportunity to watch alternatively green and grey-headed aliens doing their green and grey day-to-days.

There remain, however, a few aliens. A few aliens indeed, that continue to scare the piss out of me. Let’s count down (eight, really), and just in time for Halloween…

10. Tralfamadorians (Slaughterhouse-Five)

Kurt Vonnegut’s aliens have a neat perception of life and death. And yet, they still die…

9. Na’vi (Avatar)

The idea of somebody putting their dingle into a giant blue cat makes me shiver in the night.

8. Martians (Mars Attacks!)

The fear I felt over the comedic aliens from the comedy Mars Attacks! ran so deep, I still have yet to see the film. That’s definitely the prime reason, though my general dislike of Tim Burton (outside of Ed Wood) doesn’t help. These aliens, which probably shook me the most out of any on the list, rank lower for a number of reasons, but the chief among them is, simply, I haven’t even seen Mars Attacks!. And I won’t let them control me.

7. Grant Grant (Slither)

Yes, mouth mutation will get you pretty far. It’s a little freaky; the cherry on top of this fleshy, pink blob from outer space–or your local podunk town. It’s Grant Grant, who’s been recently transformed by a tiny alien needle into a zombie hivemind.

Kill me Pardy.

6. God’s Very Own Aliens (M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs)

I’m a painful Shamhammer apologist. Granted, I haven’t seen too much of The Happening, skipped The Village, and will never touch The Last Airbender, but… well, that deflates my argument. Lady in the Water was good, that’s all I wanted to say. It’s not a horror movie, it’s a fairy tale–oh, I don’t care.

Signs on the other hand is very much a horror movie. It’s also a great scifi movie, and a solid story about faith and God. Here to help Mel find the word of the Lord are aliens, and they like to hide in scary places, like the TV. Look out

5. Tripods (The War of the Worlds)

Spielberg’s The War of the Worlds is a highly effective movie. The aliens, high and mighty in their damn tentacle-tanks, destroy everything. If they see you, and they emit that horrible fog-horn, you’re as dead as fried chicken. Chase scenes see buildings shattering like fried chicken, and boats topple over like they was made a paper. The scope of these creatures is immense, and I was held in high suspense of the reveal of the actual aliens. They weren’t as scary as I had imagined, but whatever.

The thing about The War of the Worlds is that when I first saw it in the theatres, I was very ignorant. In this case, ignorance paid off, based on some perspectives. I believed that The War of the Worlds, probably written by Jules Verne, found everybody killed by aliens at the end. Obviously this was before I Am Legend came out in 2007, where the idea that screenwriters might adapt a book’s story–or ending–faithfully was fully out the window.

So I was sitting there the whole time expecting aliens to win. When they didn’t, it actually felt pretty triumphant of them humans. Maybe that’s why I have such a favorable opinion of this movie. It’d be like seeing The Sixth Sense in the year 2000 and not knowing the end. You’d be watching from under your rock, but it’d work.

4. The Xenomorph (Alien)

While personally not frightened by the classic Drone/Warrior/Alien/Xenomorph, I was. Back when I was five and thought maybe aliens were real, I went to a Planet Hollywood, and on display they had a massive Alien Queen display. For some reason (perhaps I was ten) I could identify it as an alien, and was horrified: this is an alien that’s tangible, I thought. But since, I’ve made peace with the Aliens, and have seen every Alien movie, even the last one, AVPR: Aliens versus Predator Rated-R.

Spoiler olert… I liked it…

3. Killer Klowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space)

It’s not necessarily their design, because they’re essentially just trolls in clown costumes/makeup. It’s what they do, all the twisted perversions of classic carnival imagery–which itself is benign but strangely dark. Klowns use their silly ray guns to encase people in flesh-melting cotton candy, throw flesh-melting pies, and eat flesh. A pattern.

The rescue mission at the end of the movie is shockingly suspenseful, because there’s been an established balance: how much we know about the Klowns, and how unpredictable they are. The team of intrepid heroes enters an incredibly hostile environment, and we simply do not know what to expect, but we do know that it’ll be horrific.

Killer Klowns is a horror/comedy. While it is very funny, I wouldn’t necessarily rank it up there with Shaun or Return of the Living Dead (or Tremors 2, if I ever get around to revisiting that one). It’s just a little too… eerie.

2. The Thing (The Thing 1982)

I’ve already spoken at length about The Thing, so I’ll say this in addition: the two Thing movies offer a whole to me as a fan of science-fiction film. In terms of the monster, The Thing ’82 satisfies the film fan half, while The Thing ’11 satisfies the sci-fi fan half. Because the movie guy appreciates spidery-heads and twisty dogs that make people go crazy, but the sci-fi fan loves a good monster.

Also, the blood test scene, the defribulator scene, and the dog scene are all extremely intense. The Thing is such a good freaking movie.

1. The Friends of E.T. (E.T.: The Ride)

If you’re wondering why there’s no picture of aliens for this one, I couldn’t bear to enter “ET the Ride,” into Google Images. This is an interesting one, because it’s very rare that images in a movie will legitimately frighten me (most recently this happened in Naked Lunch, with the parrot cage ‘sex’ that looked like a cruel mixture of Dante’s Inferno and Videodrome), but when you’re strapped into a ride, it’s a different dynamic.

First of all, you go into a building called “ET the Ride.” The scariest ride you’ve been on so far is T2 3D: Battle Across Time, because you’re now convinced that that twelve minutes you just spent were better than the 677 minutes of Terminator 3. You’re in Spielberg territory now, and you know what that means. ET is his most lovable creation, the candy-eating little bugger who just wants to get on home.

Whatever you do, don’t follow him there.

On ET the Ride, you and your group takes a bike ride through the forest to evade the government, who pops through the trees every once in awhile in their cars. A neat little diversion, and what I imagined to be the bulk of the journey. Then you fly over the moon, look at how high you are over the city, like Peter Pan.

And then you go to ET’s homeworld, and I think my father said it best: “I didn’t realize ET lived in Hell.”

There are aliens that have wrinkly holes for eyes, aliens that look like rotted pumpkins that got just so rotten they started spontaneously growing half-formed near-human faces, as if pumpkins, in some horrible far-flung Lovecraft universe, did that. It would be scary enough if there were two of these things, but they line the walls–for a long time. Orange steam is blowing and you’re touring slowly as they chant in unison how happy they are you’ve brought their friend home.

How happy they are he’s brought dinner.

Seriously intense stuff. I didn’t know if I was gonna make it, and if you think I’m joking–or a pussy–I shall pay for your roundtrip tickets to Orlando.

Feel like you’re getting the better end of that deal….

I was gonna do something more thoughtful for my 100th post, but I don’t have a job right now and can’t buy the entire David Cronenberg library from Amazon, or the Dollars Trilogy on Blu-Ray. Those posts will have to wait.

Two things were zapping through my head as the lightcycles and disccs passed across the screen: Avatar, and – strangely – Mamoru Oshii. For the former, this movie is its little brother. It creates a world, and populates it with characters created digitally. For the latter, I wished earnestly during the first half that a movie this visually dazzling was more cerebral, slower. It wasn’t until later on that I realized that Tron Legacy shouldn’t be an Oshii picture, that it’s a great film even without that meditative bent.

Having never seen the 1982 original, my only familiarity with the universe is vicarious through fellow nerds on the Internet and scifi history books. It’s the movie that revolutionized the use of computer graphics in film, and established a distinct look. It also came at a price for fans – the movie, from what I understand (and can infer from from Legacy), is totally goofy. Truly nobody believes that this is what the inside of a computer looks like…

No, it’s not cyberpunk by way of Gibson, but it’s a family movie. Kids, as we know, are ace at suspending their disbelief. Assumedly then the theory is ‘turn your brain off, sit back, and enjoy.’ Have your mind blown – one half of it, anyway.

Tron Legacy does the same thing: it numbs the skull as it blows the mind. It’s a battle between A to B storytelling and character and a devastatingly beautiful world. For me, the victor of this struggle was undeniably the visuals. In the end I suppose that this movie stands where Avatar falls, and it becomes one of the best scifi action movies in recent memory. The story and characters aren’t stellar, but they aren’t stultifying or offensive like most action contemporaries like The Expendables and Machete.

We find the son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges’ character from the original), Sam, the daredevil bad boy type, returning to Tronworld, better known as the Grid. There he meets his father who’s been trapped for twenty years, and one of the few non-hostile inhabitants of this strange world, Quorra. Together, they journey back to the Real World, and must contend with Clu, a doppleganger of Flynn who’s trying to defect to the Real World for nefarious Bond villain reasons. Blow up the ocean, probably. Father and son will reunite, good will fight evil, there will be betrayals, there will be chases of all kinds.

On paper, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. So how did something like this get greenlit? Well, that’s a question that has more to do with the Tron brand than anything, but it works because of the product on screen. It can’t help but feel fresh. I’ve seen stills and a trailer from Tron, and this is very rather different – they definitely embodied the J.J. Abrams philosophy of design, where everything has that Apple Store shine, right down to the lens flares themselves. The polygonal cyberspace of Tron has been given quite the update – I believe on critic described the world as “Blade Runner after gentrification.”

No matter what you call it, it’s still pure visual stimuli. It’s the kind of thing one watches scifi film to see – I feel like we’re glimpsing a rare thing here, the climax of cinema dreams thirty years old. I’d advise you to turn the sound off and just take the world in, but that’d be doing everybody a disservice. Yes, the dialogue is flat – though never poorly delivered – but the real kicker is the sound effects and score. Daft Punk’s thumping soundtrack looms with foreboding swell or pops with electric energy when the scene calls for it – layer this on top of some of the movie’s action scenes and you’ve got a recipe for gold.

It’s an action movie where the story doesn’t bother me; in movies in the mold of Bond or Bourne, the budgets are high, giving the action scenes the filmmakers’ attention. They may be entertaining, but much less focus put on the characters, premise, and storytelling shows. So in between car chases we must slog through dead characters and poorly told story that was bland to begin with.

The argument can be made that Legacy is the same way. But it offers something new in these hard times between the action. The characters don’t gather into the Pentagon or in a hotel room or outside the White House to move the story along, they sit on a floating laser train in an electrical sky, or on the neon streets of the Downtown area, where fog and light dance in the background like classic Ridley Scott.

Of course, the action scenes alternating the obligatory plotforwards are so good, they make the movie. Fighting with discs may sound idiotic, but it’s elevated to aesthetically violent pleasure by the art design of the costumes, the environments, and the weapons themselves, all of which light up and react when touched. Everything’s streamlined and coupled with the slick energy and movement of the choreography and cinematography. The director comes off as an expert here, despite this being his first – and rather ambitious – feature film. He establishes rules for the action and then lets the situation run wild. Everything feels logical as it flows by us.

There is also that great sense of invention pervading these sequences. I know that the trailing light was a product of the first movie, but it’s a great idea, and lovingly applied to the new film. For offense and defense, the characters find many inventive purposes for it, and it feels like something that would be difficult to handle. Every time a vehicle would emanate with that light stream my interest would pique, the suspense would ratchet up – how are the heroes going to maneuver this challenge?

As inventive and dizzying as everything was, there was one major issue I have with the action scenes, and with the movie in general, and her name is Quorra. Olivia Wilde’s character is terrible, an absolute joke that makes the movie feel like it was made in 1982, an era where genre women had to be punched in the gut by the hero for him to move on, like in the otherwise awesome Streets of Fire, or nearly raped as in Blade Runner: the women that make Ripley look like a fucking saint. Remember the little girl from The Matrix Revolutions? The one Neo meets in Mobil Station? That’s Quorra. A program who doesn’t quite understand you humans, only twenty-something years old, just like all the naive alien babes out there who you can totally have sex with.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate Lloyd, from the other update of a 1982 classic, may have been a simple imitation of the aforementioned Alien heroine, but she was proper in the form of the Strong Science-fiction Female Character arehetype. These women don’t get kidnapped – and by extension don’t get rescued – they kick just as much ass as everyone else, whether that means fighting Agents in the Matrix or Renaissance knights in the post-apocalypse, and probably looking good as they’re at it, because there’s nothing nerds like better.

It wouldn’t be a problem (I can handle weak females just like I can handle weak males), but it didn’t match up with expectations. Wilde, in some of her press interviews, discussed how little girls these days don’t really have movie role models anymore – obviously this doesn’t mean women a la Kill Bill, but certainly not this. I did assume that her perception of Quorra was pure marketing speak, but in my heart, I hoped. Cyberpunk is generally pretty good about tough, well-to-do women, but alas.

One minor fumble aside, Tron Legacy is great fun. It’s an exhilarating marriage of image and sound – there’s nothing that looks or sounds like it, not even Tron. Maybe it could’ve been bettered if there was no dialogue (same solution to Wall-E), and if it was ninety minutes of straight action, but as it stands, it’s a delightful entry in a cult favorite franchise. My appreciation of Tron Legacy was as a nerd. I liked the flashbacks, the moments where we find that Tron had fought to save Flynn from Clu during the creation of the Grid – I don’t know, something about that rang right with me, the history of this world. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with the original mythos, so named for a character and not the world itself, a fact I always found odd, but it was interesting to me nonetheless. I look forward to this story being furthered.

For more, be sure to check out the Review Index

In the aftermath of watching Scott Pilgrim for the first time, I found myself in a strange situation. After watching movies like Hard-Boiled and Serenity, things I was very fond of, I immediately wanted to share them with everyone, and was fairly sure they’d like them. Scott Pilgrim was another, so I contacted various people and found that they had already seen it and ranged from being lukewarm on it to disliking it outright. During this summer, I’ve discovered that certain Internet circles I see myself as associating with don’t think much of the movie either. So here was a movie I loved, and nobody to share that appreciation with, which is why I wrote Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: An Appreciation rather than talk about it in real life with some person.

I’m not going to make this about some self-pity cry for help, but I will say that the movie’s poor reception on local and general levels (made no money, but hey – I didn’t see it in theatres either) has affected my perception of the film in this post-mortem period. The personal faults I have with the movie feel more glaring, like some of Michael Cera’s line delivery and a lot of the jokes, and I have had to accept that obviously this movie isn’t very well liked, but I do like it for reasons that are very personal and unique to me as an appreciator of motion pictures.

Even after all this time, I watch Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and I marvel every time and in the same magnititude. I marvel at the technical superiority employed by director Edgar Wright and Director of Photography Bill Pope, the mastery of craft that I find easy to both watch repeatedly and study (as an aspiring movie guy), the beauty of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who’s one of those people I just really enjoy watching in movies, and the crappiness of some of the jokes. It’s a movie that means a lot to me, the one movie that I could literally never stop talking about, but won’t devote the site to like I will with its flagship movie, Blade Runner. The film has so taken me, a power I thought I would have attributed to a darker, more thematically serious movie like Apocalypse Now or Oldboy, which are both amazing, but don’t match up with Edgar Wright’s PG-13 actioner for me on a personal level.

The movie has actually had the power to push me to read more books, because I couldn’t quite find what I found with Scott Pilgrim in the other movies I’d seen this summer; movies that people really like sort of fell upon glazed eyes: Mulholland Dr., Pi, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (the best of the bunch), The Wild Bunch, The Thin Red Line, Green Zone, and Brazil. None of them matched the bizarre and difficult-to-pin-down effect Scott Pilgrim had on me.

But for how long? Assumedly when I’m 35 I won’t give a shit about a romantic comedy about 20 year olds, so maybe I feel like I have to enjoy this fleeting movie as much as I can while I still do. Or maybe, and this was something that struck me while making my way through the James Cameron biography, The Futurist, maybe Scott Pilgrim was the Avatar that never was.

Of course, the two movies have absolutely nothing to do with each other, but I expected to fall in love with James Cameron’s biggest movie to date (for now), which by his own admittance, was the wrong way to go, “I think if everybody was embracing [Avatar] before the fact, the film could never live up to that expectation … Have them go with some sense of wanting to find the answer,” (James Cameron) and didn’t. Perhaps I’ve been waiting for that hole in my heart to be filled since it was punched into creation back in December 2009, and it finally was with Scott Pilgrim.

But that doesn’t make any fucking sense because last year I saw not only top twenty movies like Ghost in the Shell 2, Jin-Roh, and Jacob’s Ladder, but a movie I’d go on to consider one of my absolute favorites, JSA. Why didn’t those fill the hole or whatever? They’re complex, intense, dramatic movies, and three of them are exemplary in my “film as suduko” philosophy, where Scott Pilgrim does not. However, JSA is a drama ending on a note of tragedy, Ghost in the Shell 2 is beautiful but contemplative and not very fun, and Jacob’s Ladder is an intense journey striking with enthusiasm upon themes I find very frightening (but intriguing). With Scott Pilgrim, I finally found a movie that very simply, makes me feel good. It’s a conventional romance with action elements – light, funny, and highly entertaining. Exactly what I need sometimes.

I understand that where it lost audiences was in it’s conception, however. It’s a Kung Fu movie that doesn’t make Kung Fu a priority, instead opting for a musical approach, where action scenes are ignored after they’re over, like they didn’t even happen. It’s a movie taking cues from retro-games, trying to appeal to a very specific generation that prefers other things and is very picky. It’s a romantic comedy, but isn’t just for girls and isn’t just for guys. So who goes to see it?

Other issues I’ve come upon with respect to Scott Pilgrim are of course, Michael Cera. I agree that he’s not really much of an actor, and some of his weaknesses are evident here, but I think he was the perfect casting choice for the character: an awkward dude who’s skinny and would look funny Kung Fu fighting Chris Evans. One of the more jolting criticisms I’ve read was from a publication I enjoy quite a bit, ScifiNow. Basically they said that Ramona wasn’t a girl worth fighting for, so they couldn’t relate to motivations of our hero.

That’s absurd. I don’t want to talk any more or ever about Mary Elizabeth Winstead unless I have to again, but needless to say, I was pretty shocked to read that. Easily my favorite piece of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is Winstead’s performance as Ramona Flowers. Not only is she attractive and easy to watch, but she’s a truly wonderful actor who’s breakout role simply hasn’t come along yet. She’s a perfect fit for Ramona Flowers, the brooding, cynical, just-trying-to-get-by chick – and yet you wouldn’t think it based on her filmography up until that point. Edgar Wright saw something in the cheery young actress, and goddamn he was so right.

This is not something I wanted to write and certainly not something I wanted to post on Dreck Fiction; it’s the third in a series of posts about one movie, and a movie that only barely makes sense being covered here on this science-fiction/movies blog. My excuse is pretty lame, that essentially I’ve found the most wonderful and endearing cinematic experience in years in a movie that… kinda sucks? I shake my head at it but I think about it constantly.

People like to think that they have good taste, and pride themselves on it. I was always one of those people. The only reason I think Scott Pilgrim is lowbrow is because of its general reception by fans and non-fans of movies, video-games, and modern media culture. But it’s very important to me, and I feel like I need to mention it as much as possible here because I’ve found hardly anybody else to talk about it with.

I wish I could have written something more conclusive on my feelings about this movie, but it’s difficult – such feelings are more puzzling to me than with any deep science-fiction movie or book, so take this Final Assessment with a grain of salt, like the titles of the fourth and ninth Friday the 13th movies. I’ll get back to you when I’m a better writer…

I really like this shot

Spoilers for The Abyss, Avatar, my life

James Cameron is a champion of technology in film, and his latest thing is 3D. I’m among the majority that tends to scoff at 3D in movies and TV; there’s just too much about it I disagree with. But in the case of Avatar, 3D makes sense, and it is perhaps the only movie where the visually stunning gimmick has thematic significance, aside from maybe Friday the 13th Part III. It’s a movie where immersion is of the utmost import, such that it should stretch beyond the hero and onto the audience. We feel what he feels because it’s our journey of discovery too – he’s our avatar.

The award-winning filmmaker has always upped the ante with each movie in terms of technology, diving into one of the most difficult and technically challenging shoots ever with The Abyss (which nearly claimed the life of Ed Harris), and diving further with those deep sea documentaries and that critical darling Titanic. It’s kind of ironic, seeing as how his iconic Terminator would theoretically make him out to be some kind of creative luddite.

Alas no, and Avatar is the next step in this evolution, and it’s hands down the best-looking film of all time. Best visual effects, besting Transformers and The Lord of the Rings and Pirates 3 and even Terminator 2 by miles. Is it the most beautiful film? That comes down to art design, and I still contend that movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell 2 achieve higher in that department. It’s something that can’t be overlooked or treated lightly – impressive doesn’t even begin to describe the quality of work here, so in the end I don’t think it’s entirely unfortunate that the visuals are the only thing the movie has going for it.

Now, for two years I had read every article online about Avatar, seen every production still and followed it closely such that the words Project 880 burned into my eyes; I had never been more excited for a movie. It was James Cameron’s return to feature films after a decade, and his return to science-fiction (more importantly) after nearly twenty years. Also note that the last time he made a science-fiction film, he made Terminator 2. Everything seemed to add up, and this was looking to be the most ambitious magnum opus attempted. It would be his first SF flick I’d be alive to see in theatres, so I was going opening night.

That decision came probably in 2007. Two years later, it was two days after opening night, a Sunday. Me and a friend of mine were able to see it at the IMAX, which was pleasant, as that screen was both huge and three-dimensional. Two and a half hours later I stumbled out. My friend was like, “Yeah that was pretty good. What did you think, Harry?” and I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it.

And I continued to think about it. I recall recording a podcast about it, but don’t remember what I said. Probably that it was good but not nearly as good as it should have been. Well it’s July 9th 2011 as I write this, it’ll probably go up tomorrow, and I’ll tell you one thing: I now understand what people feel when they hear the words The Phantom Menace. They cringe inside, they feel slightly embarassed.

As the months were drawing closer to December 22, 2009, the Internet was ablaze with a storm of “holy shit Avatar trailers… suck?” and I was one pissed off little nerdlet. That’s actually what made me break up with a podcast I had listened to loyally for like two years – Slice of Scifi. It was the very first podcast I had ever heard of, and was kind of a personal stepping stone into further nerdom, but when the first Avatar trailer was underwhelming and one of the guys said, “He should just stick to documentaries,” I couldn’t believe it. To be fair, I remember the other guys wrangling him in like “Hey. That’s too far,” but it was too late. I loved James Cameron. He had done only good for the world, unless you count those many ex-wives and one disgruntled Harlan Ellison (not JC’s fault).

I was like, “Have you people forgotten what this man has wrought?” Apparently T2 wasn’t like the greatest thing ever, and it kind of makes sense. I grew up watching the movie, and would only later discover the general consensus was that Aliens was actually his best film (this is in nerd circles, of course, where we don’t use the T word. No, the other one). My heart was broken; I felt betrayed, but my burning desire to confirm that Avatar would blow my fucking mind, man, burned all the brighter – and it burned for half as long, as the movie was nearing release.

In the aftermath, I still don’t want to hear commentary on Avatar, and fortunately have suffered only a minimal amount. It’s just hard because I acknowledge that it’s a bad movie, but I’m in denial. Also exacerbating my perception of the film is the fact that the visuals are out of this world. They elevate the movie, but it’s still a bad, bad movie. It sucks. Seriously, it fucking blows. Cameron took ten years to write this script? Should’ve been looking over Nolan’s shoulder – and I never thought I’d say that.

Apparently I can say that it sucks, but I won’t hear it from anyone else. It’s like if somebody is self-conscious, they can laugh at themselves nervously and say they’re weird, sure. But God forbid anybody else do the same. If I were in your position reading this (I hope somebody reads this) I’d be shaking my head and thinking, no, nobody should read this. It’s inappropriate.

But like I said earlier. It’s July 9th, 2011. It’s been awhile. I’ve had time to think, and I’ve come to my conclusions. I guess now I should tell you why. (Please God don’t let this be a Scott Pilgrim-lengthed post… it won’t be nearly as fun to write…)

The biggest problem I’ll always have with Avatar, and with James Cameron, is his treatment of the military in his movies. Aliens owes everything it is to Military SF like Starship Troopers – essentially Cameron pulled a Wachowski Brothers and said “I want to do this for real,” (preempting Verhoeven by ten years) referring to space marines, of course, who have never been seen before or since the 1986 movie. The military isn’t depicted unfairly or anything, but their ultimately being criticized in a Vietnam War allegory – situations occur where technologically advanced forces are beaten time and again by the lesser-equipped simply because they didn’t know what they were doing.

In The Abyss, the military once again dons the face of Michael Biehn, and they are spoilers the badguys. The Terminator actually offers an interesting view, one that I agree with – the marriage of technology and warfare seems to breed something we won’t be able to handle in years down the road, and here it’s depicted as Skynet. Isn’t it interesting that in order to fight this ungodly child we have to resort to warfare as well? That could have made an interesting study, but unfortunately that’s never what Terminator was about, and instead of something where we destroy ourselves with combat, we get Rise of the Machines.

And finally in Avatar we have the space military in all their glory – but they’re assholes. We have one qualifying line in the beginning where hero Jake Sully notes that these are sort of the rejects, a PMC squad working for a capital-c Company, think Weyland-Yutani. Alright, fine, they’re not really America’s military or Space America’s marines or anybody we should be rooting for, but the end product is still space marines are the bad guy. And that really rides me. I’m not some gun-nut who unconditionally praises American’s army, it’s just that my feelings about the military seem to conflict with Cameron’s various depictions, and goddamn it – it wouldn’t be so bad if the heroes of the tale, the Na’vi, weren’t so goddamn insulting.

I’m not even saying they’re disrespectful towards Native Americans – I’m saying they’re disrespectful towards me because they use the fact that they’re Native Americans, and nakedly so, to draw sympathy rather than use actual characterization. What does Zoe Saldana want? I don’t know, to save the trees. Oh so her character coincides with the message of the film. That means she’s a blank slate to which Cameron can paint his environmental theme – she’s like Mr. Exposition for the moral of the tale, and that’s bullshit. That’s not writing; the themes should come about in a more organic manner. We shouldn’t be tricked into getting the message, we should just get it.

Let’s look at these goddamn things, these Na’vi [from Zelda]: they’re interesting looking, but I don’t like them at all. Not only do they look like taller versions of Asari, they’re somehow worse, if that’s even imaginable. They’re cliche because they’re Out-to-Save-the-World Native Americans, and they’re uninteresting because Cameron thought that he didn’t have to write anything beyond that. Was that seriously your selling point? Did you actually think that that made these things compelling? That they liked nature? Are you fucking kidding me?

And we haven’t even touched upon the alien sex. I guess the most poetic way to show our hero becoming one with nature was to have him bump uglies with a nine foot tall cat, and (actually, does that even happen in the movie? I forget) I guess it’s just consistent enough with the other garbage going on that we don’t notice how zoophillic that is. It’s okay though – she’s hot. Look at that sexy tail… Well, at least Zoe Saldana is in real life actually very attractive, and – fun fact – another extremely good-looking woman, Yunjin Kim (Lost, Shiri) screentested for the same character. But anyways…

He tries to draw us into an unconventional romance through conventional means, and nothing could be more inappropriate or miscalculated. It’s true love and it has to be, as the message to stress with Avatar is be cool with everything and everyone. Cross-cultural boundaries should be breached, but more generally and more significantly, we need to have open minds if we want to save the world(s). Makes sense on paper, but in the film, it just does not work. Let’s look at some other unconventional relationships in movies, and the two that come into my mind maybe aren’t obvious examples of this which is itself not an obvious thing: JSA: Joint Security Area, an old standby on Dreck Fiction, and The Yakuza.

In JSA we have, and I hate this term, a bromance. What’s more, it’s a forbidden bromance, but let’s just call it a friendship. These guys aren’t supposed to be friends – it should be shocking that they’re even talking to each other. Their relationship develops very naturally throughout, and when it all comes crashing down, like they anticipated, it’s tragic. It works because we get a feel for these characters and we don’t want to see them fail.

With The Yakuza, we have an interesting relationship between two guys, Harry Kilmer and Tanaka Ken. What they have is both weaker and stronger than a frienship, because they share something important but can never just chill and hang out. Dialogue between the two is alternatively tense and poigniant, and it’s handled just as we should expect from such writers with pedigrees as Paul Shrader and Robert Towne.

So the fact that Cameron treats his odd relationship with normal terms – courtship, which is bizarre – is embarassing and kind of naive. There even could have been an interesting discussion there about cross-species relationships, but as it stands the Na’vi just persist in being no different from us afterall. This really is like Mass Effect, but that title – a video-game, mind you – makes up for it with surprising levels of characterization and a cool SF story.

Avatar has no such thing. Its story is template. Formula. Seen before. As much as those fuckings mountains in the sky are wowing and unprecedented (except for those wonderful Internet comparison photos, courtesy of a dozen beautiful minds), we can’t be entirely swept away because this story is so damn familiar. Story beats seem to be hit like somebody’s checking them off a list, and as a result, everybody is a stereotype or an archetype. There isn’t one original character in the entire movie. We have the tough-as-nails mentor with a heart of gold played by Sigourney Weaver, the tough-as-nails pilot played by Michelle Rodriguez, the guy who starts out antagonizing our hero until he becomes one of the People and then heroically sacrifices himself, the racist old guy (the only good character), the nerdy technician, and the flawless hero.

Star Wars is a similar situation, in that it used archetypes like the gunslinger Han Solo and the Hero’s Journey hero Luke Skywalker. But in the context of what Star Wars is, it makes sense and it works beautifully, which is why that movie is and will be remembered for being a good movie, but Avatar will be remembered for being pioneering. Unfortunately people and things that set the wheel in motion are forgotten when surpassed – think Willis O’brien when Ray Harryhausen came along.

The potential Avatar had was really the thing that pissed me off the most. It’s a science-fiction movie by James Cameron. It’s got dragons, it’s got space helicopters, it’s got war. How do you fuck that up? Big things and littles things. Big things like blank-slate characters, and little things like moments that just feel so out-of-place and immature, like when the rhinos pop out of the forest to victory music and overwhelm the enemy soldiers at the last second.

It’s a beautiful movie, and it will always look good because the art design will hold up, though I do think the mechs were better-looking in The Matrix Revolutions. The casting was good, the technology was in place, but the script needed work – about ten more years. And left in the center is one confused nerd, and I doubt I’ll even seek out Avatar 2 in the theatres. I just wish he’d drop this ‘trilogy’ bullshit and go ahead with Battle Angel. Maybe at this point in his career he needs established characters to work with, but who knows? Hopefully I’ll come to reneg on those words.

I’ve been wrong before.


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