Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Better than Star Trek

Ok, that's an easy target since there hasn't been a good Trek movie since First Contact. Never the less, I really liked Serenity.

It compares pretty well with Revenge of the Sith, also.

Even though the movie is a continuation of the TV show, it works quite well as a stand-alone feature. My wife never watched the TV show and enjoyed the movie.

The plot revolves around River, a 17-year-old girl who was the subject of some experiments. We saw some of this in the TV show but a couple of new things are revealed - River is a living weapon and she might have picked up some vital secrets through telepathy. This is why she and her brother are on the run.

The movie starts with a quick re-cap of River's background. This is followed by a typical Serenity "mission" (heist) which has some major complications (also typical). Things get more complicated when River goes apeshit.

Unlike most TV-show-to-movie translations, this one has no problem killing off cast members.

The special effects are spectacular. The big space fight near the end is shot much more realistically than the Star Wars opening sequence. The whole movie has the sort of natural-looking shots featured in Battlestar Galactica. In a just world, this movie would get a nomination for best effects but it will probably be overshadowed.

Many TV shows have a problem trying to find a plot big enough for a movie. Babylon 5 had several made-for-TV movies and most of these were disappointments. The first Star Trek movie was held up for years because the studio executives kept rejecting plots as "not big enough". That is not a problem here. River's plot is big enough and ties into other character's backstories well enough to justify the bog-screen treatment.

Update: I got a link from Instapundit! It is the 14th link to Serenity reviews so I don't expect much of an Instalanch but it's still cool.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Serenity and Battlestar Galactica

I have a tenuous personal connection with the upcoming movie Serenity. The man who did the special effects is a guest instructor at the Dave School which my daughter just graduated from. Also, some graduates from the Dave School worked on the movie.

This is the official synopsis:

Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family –squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.
The TV show was treated poorly. It was given a bad time slot and the pilot was the last episode shown. It was probaby not what the TV executives expected. After Buffy and Angel, they were probably expecting another hip, stylish, action-packed show. Instead they got cowboys in space. The pacing was much slower than Buffy and the resolution did not revolve around winning a big fight. It was also an ensemble cast and each member had a backstory - some of them secret.

It made an unusual science fiction show, arguably the best since Babylon 5 and better than Battlestar Galactica.

While this may not have been what TV executives were looking for, it did inspire a dedicated fan following. Joss Whedon was able to get his hands on the movie rights - not surprising for a show that was cancelled quickly, but the DVD sales were big enough to justify a movie.

The movie is using a unique marketing campaign. They are inviting bloggers to an advance screening. Because of this blog, I get to see the movie Tuesday. I will be writing about it after that.

Battlestar Galactica spoiler.....

The 2nd season finale featured the Pegasus - a second battlestar. The original series had a two-hour special featuring the Pegasus which appeared long enough to attack the Cylons then vanished again, possibly destroyed.

That is the basis of this episode but there are lots of differences (of course). The Pegasus is more advanced and its commanding officer, Admiral Helena Cain, is Adama's superior. Cain quickly assumes command and decides to blend the crews. The people from the Pegasus are openly contemptuous of Galactica and its facilities (probably with reason).

We quickly find out that Cain is a bit over the top. The Pegasus also has a captive Cylon. The crew has been allowed to beat and rape her at will. When some of the Pegasus crew is transferred to the Galactica they decide to rape Galactica's captive Cylon. The Chief who had an affair with one of her copies pulls a crewman off of her, knocking his head against a bulkhead and killing him. Cain skips court-marshal and gives him a death sentence. As the episode ends, Adama orders an attack on the Pegasus to recover his crew members.

All of this captures the series as a whole. On the one hand, its characters act like real people. On the other hand, they are not very nice people. I'm not sure that there is an admirable character in the whole show. Adama comes close but he has made it plain that the whole civilian government exists at his pleasure. Plus he lied to the fleet from the beginning about Earth. The President is a mystic which is always bad in a science fiction movie. Adama's second n command is an incompetant drunk who should be relieved of command. It goes downhill from there.

Also, the show is slow-moving. If the writers have a destination they are slow about getting there. I'm not sure that the quest for Earth has started in earnest yet.

The crisics love it but I prefer a show where the characters are better than their faults.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Corpse Bride

The bad news - it probably will not be a classic like Nightmare Before Christmas. It doesn't have the holiday tie-in, the music is not as memorable, and the plot is rather light.

On the good-side - the animation is amazing, even better than Nightmare. The movie is amusing and visually spectacular.

as far as the plot, this movie is closer to Beetlejuice than Nightmare. When you die you go to an afterlife as a corpse in various stages of decomposition. Some characters like the bride are fairly well-preserved (except for her left arm and right leg). Others are nothing but a skeleton.

The everyday world is nearly colorless while the underworld is full of color.

The plot revolves around Victor, the son of a social-climbing fishmonger. His parents arranged for him to marry Victoria, the daughter of a distinguished but penniless noble family. Victor is nervous about the whole thing and bungles the rehearsal. He goes into the woods to practice but the twig that he puts the ring on turns out to be the skeletal hand of a dead woman. Emily, the corpse, insists that this constitutes a valid marriage and takes Victor to the underworld with her.

After getting over his shock at being surrounded by the dead, Victor finds himself torn between the two women. Both have a passion for music that attracts him.

Of course, it all works out. The resolution even makes sense.

Few people go to Tim Burton movies for the plot. Burton's appeal is the whole Burton package of themes, characters, visuals, music, etc. This movie is pure Burton. It is also probably the best example of feature-length stop-motion animation ever produced.

Trivia - Christopher Lee voices one of the characters. This is the third time that he has worked with Burton. The first time was Sleepy Hollow. Lee credits this with reviving his career. After years of minor TV rolls, Lee got prominent rolls in both Star Wars and Lord of the Ring.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Lost - Season opener

Just a few observations:

When Jack was poking around the dome there was a painting with the number "128". That is the sum of Hurley's numbers.

Too bad Hurley told Jack about the numbers. Locke might have believed him.

And the island is the source of the numbers. The broadcast that brought Danielle was the numbers. Hurley heard them from someone who had been at a south Pacific listening post. He undoubtedly heard the same broadcast that Danielle did.

In the first season closer Kate mentioned that she had a connection to "23". Do other passengers have connections to the other numbers? UPDATE - the numbers appear all over the series.

Locke and Jack are approaching the island from very different directions. Jack's first experiences were fairly normal - death, injuries, helping people. Locke's first experience was being healed after being in a wheelchair for years.

Locke is the second person who has been miraculously healed around Jack. The first was Sara.

When Jack was agonizing about marrying Sara, did he feel guilty because she thought he had "fixed her" when he had not?

At the end of the first season Jack asked Kate if he could trust her to watch his back. He was worried about a "Locke problem". Since Kate went with Locke, he cannot trust her as much as he hoped. This goes along with the Kate/Jack/Sawyer love triangle - a Jack/Locke/Kate trust triangle.

The music, art, and technology in the dome are all from the late 1960s. Just how old is Desmond? He appears to have been born later than the dome was created but he is taking injections of some sort. Did he come to the dome later? Does he shuttle back and forth between it and the mainland?

Walt obviously used some form of astral projection. Did he need the dog for that? Is that why the dog left the camp? Can he project to more than one person at a time? Put it all together - did he make the dog leave camp so that Shannon would be alone and he could project to her?

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Best LoTR Movie

The Two Towers was on cable last night. Watching it reminded me why this was the best of the three Lord of the Rings movies.

Of course, Return of the King is the one that won the Oscar but it was understood that it was for the entire work.

Tolkien did not write a trilogy. He wrote one very long novel. The publisher assumed that it would lose money but wanted to publish it anyway as a prestige piece. In order to reduce the projected loses, they cut the book into three sections. The first division was natural. The first third of the book is one continuous narrative. With the breaking of the fellowship, the narrative is also broken, following the hobbits and Gimli (Aragorn, Legolas, and Gandolf are always seen through other's eyes) as they go their separate ways. This continues until the unmaking of the ring when the narrative settles back on Frodo and Sam. The second book ends on a cliffhanger, but this is a literary device to keep you reading.

The movies were always meant as three movies even though they follow one continuous plot. They were released a year apart and had to make enough money to support the enormous costs New Line undertook. When one of the movies ended, the viewer had to be satisfied until the next year. That required some tinkering with Tolkien.

The Fellowship of the Ring follows the book pretty closely. Some parts are cut for time but it is what you would expect.

The Return of the King had to wrap everything up. The theatrical release was very long, possibly too long. Even at that, it was missing a couple of key scenes.

The Two Towers gave Jackson the most leeway. In Tolkien's version it is simply the middle of the book but Jackson had to make it a movie that could stand on its own. He did this is several ways.

First, he shifted some parts to the RoTK. This let him set up Helm's Deep as the big battle. Rather than continue on to the cliffhanger of Frodo being prisoner and Sam disparing how to rescue him, Jackson had Gollum relieve his plans to betray Frodo.

Jackson also introduced a new element into Frodo's relationship with Gollum - redemption. Frodo was clearly disturbed by this vision of what the ring might turn him into given enough time. He wanted to believe that Gollum could be saved because it meant that he could be saved himself. Sam never realizes this causing the first rift between them.

Another element that is moved is Aragorn's relationship with Arwen. This is the third and final joining of elves and men, the first since the long war with Morgoth. Aragorn spent his adult life earning this honor yet Tolkien treats Arwen as a cameo. Most of their romance happens in the appendix. With no appendix, Jackson moves events and creates new ones.

Aragorn's personal growth is handled differently than in Tolkien. In the book, he keeps reminding the Fellowship that he is insufficient to replace Gandolf. He is relieved when Frodo separates. He no longer has to shoulder Gandolf's burden. After that, he seems perfectly at ease with everything that happens.

Jackson has Aragorn a lot less decisive at the beginning but he comes to his own at Helm's Deep.

All of this made the Two Towers a better movie but Jackson paid for it with the Return of the King. He felt that after Helm's Deep, the audience would want a quick resolution so he put off confronting Saruman until the next movie. This was a mistake. The scene had to be cut for time so the confrontation only happens in the extended edition of RoTK.

The confrontation between Frodo and Shelob could as easily been in TT and again, it was moved in order to wrap up TT quickly.

The effects of different cuts are cumulative. The extended edition of FoTR adds very little. The entire narrative is there. In TT, scenes are cut that are setting up for RoTK. TT does not suffer for the cuts but RoTK does. The scene that sets up the relationship between Denethor and his sons is a major example.

By putting off key scenes, we end up with an extended edition for RoTK that is almost as long as the theatrical versions of FoTR and TT put together. Even at that length, the characters of Gondor are nowhere near as well developed as the Riders of Rohan.

Not that RoTK is anything less than a great movie. It just means that TT was better.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Good Movies with Small Audiences

In the last couple of weeks I finally made it to Sky High and The Brothers Grimm. Both are last-Summer releases. Sky High did ok at the box office but should have done better. Brothers Grimm did really bad and should have done well. Here's a few thoughts on them (with spoilers).

In many ways, Sky High was what Mystery Men and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen should have been (good). All three feature a mix of people with second-rate super powers who have to band together to save the world/city/school.

Sky High is sort of a cross between the X-Men and Harry Potter, with the Incredibles thrown in.Will, tThe son of the world's two greatest superheroes is being sent to a school for young heroes. Everyone has high expectations for him.

The trouble is that he has no powers. He is quickly relegated to "sidekick" status (also known as "superhero support) along with a couple of his friends. He hides his status from his parents for a while - how can you tell your dad that you have no powers when he just gave you the key to his sanctum?

But, not long after, Will is in a fight and suddenly discovers his powers. Like his dad, he is strong. Will is reassigned to hero classes and starts hanging out with a pretty senior, turning his back on his sidekick friends.

Things come to a head at the homecoming when one of Will's parents' old foes attacks the school.

The heroes are turned into babies. Only Will and the sidekicks remain. Each sidekick gets to contribute. This part is a bit contrived. Some of the sidekicks have limited but useful powers such as the kid who can melt. Others were shoe-horned into the script (one guy glows weakly so he lights their escape through the ductwork). Plus, we already knew that Will's buddy Gwen was powerful and that she was with the sidekicks as a conscientious objector.

While some of the movie is predictable, there are some genuine plot twists. It is also tightly constructed. I don't remember any plot holes.

My wife thinks that was better than the Fantastic Four.

On to the Brothers Grimm. This is the latest movie by Terry Gilliam. The brothers are con artists taking villagers' money in exchange for ridding them of a supernatural horror. They are apprehended by Napoleon army and given a choice - someone is stealing children from a nearby town, possibly using trickery similar the Grimm's. The Grimms can end this or be executed out of hand.

Of course they agree. They are escorted by a sadistic Italian named Cavaldi and a local woman named Angelika. It quickly turns out that there are real supernatural events taking place. Jacob Grimm tries to solve them but his brother Willhelm is an unbeliever. Plus Cavaldi keeps threatening them and Angelika with imaginative deaths.

I haven't been to a Gilliam movie since the Fisher King. I found that one to be mainstream and depressing. This movie is a return to Gilliam's earlier works like Time Bandits. The plot mixes the light and dark. The heroes are less than heroic and evil turns out to be all-powerful. (Also, both movies have Napoleonic soldiers.)

I suspect that this movie will have a long shelf life on DVD.