“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much.” “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS” — George Lucas.
“THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie.’ Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least.” — Peter Jackson
“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.” — Terry Gilliam.
“I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.” — James Cameron
Hello all. So, yes, it’s been quiet again, and the movie reviews I’m behind on are piling up (I’m three back now, going on five.) In the excuse department, work has been even busier than usual, of late, and, obviously, the political scene has been depressing. So there’s that.
Anyway, in partial recompense, here’s my first entry of a fun meme I saw at Cryptonaut-in-Exile a few weeks ago: “100 Things I Love About My Favorite Movies. The rest will follow in a leisurely fashion at some future point.
Here’s the rules: “Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies…[I]nstead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are ‘objectively good enough’ to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends.“
And, so, without further ado and in no particular order:
“‘We’ll use many of the same characters as we have all along, and we’ll be introducing some new ones,’ Nolan said cryptically.” Lots of big doings on the fanboy front recently: First up, the next Batman movie has a (lousy) title: The Dark Knight Rises, and Chris Nolan has announced the Riddler will not be the villain. (He earlier wrote off Mr. Freeze.) So whomever Tom Hardy turns out to be, it’s not Edward Nigma. (My current guess is he’s Killer Croc, with a yet-to-be-cast Catwoman as the main villain.)
Riddles may not feature in Gotham, but they will soon be spun in deepest Wellington: In happy news, New Zealand will be returning as Middle Earth for the upcoming Hobbit films. “‘Making the two movies here will not only safeguard work for thousands of New Zealanders, but will also allow us to follow the success of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy in once again promoting New Zealand on the world stage,’ [Prime Minister!] Key said.“
Those are the two big upcoming guns. But, also on the docket, James Cameron officials signs up for two more Avatars for 2014 and 2015. Well…ok. I can think of other worlds I’d rather see him tackle than Pandora again.
And, with Black Swan opening very soon, Darren Aronofsky announces his next project (after, um, Wolverine 2), will be called Machine Man. “Machine Man, not to be confused with the Marvel Comics character, concerns a tech engineer who, tired of going through life average and unnoticed, replaces parts of his body with titanium upgrades of his own design. He then discovers that he isn’t the only one with plans for his new body.“
This may just seem like King-of-the-World hubris, but Cameron is a smart and demanding technical innovator who has spent a great deal of time over 25 years studying deep-sea technology.) I’d at least hear what he had to say. “‘The government really needs to have its own independent ability to go down there and image the site, survey the site and do its own investigation,’ he said. ‘Because if you’re not monitoring it independently, you’re asking the perpetrator to give you the video of the crime scene,’ Cameron added.“
Sorry Coolio…After some consideration, director Paul Greengrass opts not to take a Fantastic ride with James Cameron. (Suffice to say, the pedigree of the script — Shane Salerno of Armageddon — is not great.) Instead of Fantastic Voyage, the new rumors are Greengrass is thinking of heading for a remake of Treasure Island instead, although that too seems like a weird fit for him.
Not set in stone yet, but it sounds like director Paul Greengrass (Bournes II and III, United 93, Green Zone) may be talking with producer James Cameron about a 3-D remake of Fantastic Voyage. Not sure if the Greengrass shakicam would translate to 3-D very well, but it’s definitely an interesting pairing…and about a thousand times more intriguing than the long-rumored involvement of the hackmeisterly Roland Emmerich.
Y’all are probably on top of this by now, but the 2010 Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and the big fight of the evening looks to be blue cats versus bombs: Avatar and The Hurt Locker led the pack with nine nominations each. (Before the meme sets in, it should be noted that former married couple James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow have been very supportive of each other’s films from the start.) Anyway, some quick thoughts:
“Webb said, ‘This is a dream come true and I couldn’t be more aware of the challenge, responsibility, or opportunity. Sam Raimi’s virtuoso rendering of Spider-Man is a humbling precedent to follow and build upon. The first three films are beloved for good reason.’” Well, actually, not many care much for Spidey 3. In any event, the post-Raimi reboot of Spiderman at Sony has found its director in Marc Webb, previously of (500) Days of Summer.
A solid choice, although two things give me pause: 1) It’s hard to escape the sense that Webb was picked mainly because the studio suits think that, unlike Raimi, he’ll be more malleable than a lot of the A-list names floating around (Fincher, Cameron). 2) The ramifications of the following sentence might just end up being terrible: “The touchstone for the new movie will not be the 1960s comics…but rather this past decade’s ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley where the villain-fighting took a back seat to the high school angst.”
Hotter than reality by far? Well, maybe…I’d say more just (a) totally super serial. A decade in the making, James Cameron’s Avatar, for all intent and purposes, basically turned out quite a bit like Peter Jackson’s King Kong. (I was going to say The Phantom Menace, but I think that’s too harsh.) The movie looks absolutely amazing, and…uh…well…did I mention it looks amazing? So if you’re the type of person who can enjoy a ravishing visual feast on its own terms (and I am sometimes — for example, Speed Racer), then I think you’ll probably flat-out love it, and it’s definitely worth seeing in 3D.
But — and there’s a big but — if you’re someone who can’t get by on a feast of technological wonders alone, and for whatever reason I was that guy last night, then Avatar leaves something to be desired. It’s got cat class and it’s got cat style alright, but for all the visual inventiveness on display — bioluminescent forests, hammerhead rhinos, insectile gunships, and the like — Avatar is also a gorgeous three-hour cliche: The action may take place in three dimensions, but the story, alas, barely has one. As a result, Avatar has a bit of that too-much-frittering-around-the-edges feel of the Star Wars prequels. Yes, the six-legged equines and mercenary sidearms seem remarkably well-designed…but good god man, what about the plot?
About that plot, we’ve seen or heard the basic contours of this story a dozen times over, albeit not with blue felinoids: Warrior goes undercover, falls in love, goes native, and turns on his former and erstwhile masters. It’s Lawrence of Arabia, Little Big Man, The Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, and Dune, just to name a few variations of this theme. (If you’re a WoW player with avatars of your own, Avatar also goes like this: Guy levels a night-elf and/or draenei in Zangarmarsh, really loves his flying mount, and eventually gets caught up in a lot of guild drama.) Now, I don’t begrudge Cameron for retelling a hoary tale here. This story may be as old as the hills, sure, but, it’s all in the execution. But execution-wise, Avatar doesn’t really cut it in a lot of ways. It’s just too broad and ham-handed most of the time. And there are too many absurd plot points (say, all the formerly Na’vi-eating animals turning into the eagles at Mordor in the third act) and reversals (say, all the Na’vi being so awed into submission — after being screwed over and run out of their World Tree — by an apparently easy-to-tame dragon. The Kwisatz haderach never had it so good.)
To be honest, I’m not really sure what happened here. I mean, the dialogue in Titanic is admittedly clunky as all hell, but damned if I don’t feel right there on the boat every time the iceberg comes around. Terminator 2 also has a lot of “hasta la vista, baby” and “why do you cry?” drek to wade through, but it definitely works in the end. And I’d say Cameron’s three best films — Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss — all benefit from quality writing, memorably punchy dialogue, and well-rounded, believable characters. But somewhere here, it feels like Cameron got lost in his sea of pixels. The result is visually impressive to be sure. But — at least for me — it’s not particularly engaging on any emotional level.
I’ll give Avatar this — the problem is not the CGI-rendering. As a feat of technology, the Na’vi characters here are, like almost all of Pandora, the next order of Gollum. They all look and act as photo-realistic as ten-foot-tall blue cats ever could. (In fact, they seem more lifelike than Sam Worthington, who turns in a mostly forgettable performance here — As his respective military and scientific handlers, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver, both looking extraordinarily well-preserved, resonate more.) And when the Na’vi are traipsing about their bioluminescent world like it’s an alien nature docutmentary, Avatar is as good as it gets.
But, while they may be more Siamese than Sioux, the Na’vi are also somewhat condescending and even vaguely embarrassing noble savage stereotypes, particularly Zoe Saldana’s character and her intended betrothed. (I didn’t catch the name, and thought of him basically as cat-Billy-Zane.) This would probably rankle more if most everyone else in the story wasn’t a caricature too. Giovanni Ribisi (overplaying it) is the weaselly corporate lackey. (He’s Burke, a.k.a. Paul Reiser from Aliens.) Michelle Rodriguez (in her wheelhouse) is the tough-as-nails military gal with the heart of gold. (She’s Vasquez, a.k.a. Jenette Goldstein, also from Aliens.) And so on — Not one character does or says anything surprising over the course of three hours, and so Avatar, for all its visual grandeur, just plays out like an eye-catching, extraordinarily expensive, and maddeningly familiar Saturday morning (super-)serial.
Not to lose the Hometree in the forest, Avatar looks, really, really good. Beautiful, even. And, amid the shock-and-awe references and Zen-tastic Earth mother philosophy, there are glimpses of some interesting ideas interspersed throughout the cornball stuff. I get the feeling there might be some meta-commentary going on here about actors and “avatar” technology — Sam Worthington the actor is stepping into a ten-foot-tall cat suit just as much as his character Jake Sully is — although I could be over-thinking it. And a late moment involving Sully (in human form) and one of the Na’vi — the Pieta scene in the trailer (which, by the way, Stephen Lang fell conveniently close to… and what happened to the nerdy sidekick guy who should’ve been in there at the time?) — plays out like the Urtext image of much of Cameron’s output over the years. (From Ellen Ripley to Sarah Connor, Cameron does love his warrior-goddess mothering types.)
Nonetheless, while probably worth catching for the 3-D ride experience, Avatar fell well below my expectations of the King of the World’s vaunted return. More than most — some might say all — of his contemporaries, James Cameron has always had the knack for giving his technological marvels a human pulse: The Terminator, The Abyss, and Titanic are first and foremost love stories; In the midst of all the kick-ass, T2 and Aliens are also movies about (adopted) parents and children. But that gift for keeping humanity front and center in his sci-fi failed him this time — For all its visual splendor, Avatar sadly falls into an uncanny valley of the heart. Simply put, it just feels a bit hollow.
The King of the World? Director and documentarian James Cameron announces, for a forthcoming Discovery Channel special, that archaeologists have discovered the tomb of Jesus…and his son. “‘How possible is it?’ Pfann said. ‘On a scale of one through 10 — 10 being completely possible — it’s probably a one, maybe a one and a half.’”
“The Banshees and the other creatures are going to be about 90% or 95% animated. And with the humanoids hopefully we’re going to be coming down to 95% capture with the exception of ears and like I said clothing and hair and stuff like that.” I’m behind on this one — Sorry, I’ve been saving up links to space out the flurry of movie reviews, and then overestimating how much I can actually get written on a given day — but James Cameron has announced more details about Avatar (not to be confused with M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar, which I couldn’t case less about) and granted AICN’s Harry Knowles an extended interview on the performance-capture project. Set for a 2009 release, the film will “star” Sam Worthington (recently in the Aussie Macbeth update) and Zoe Saldana (late of Pirates of the Caribbean II.)
More James Cameron news: Harry of AICN has a wide-ranging conversation with the director which, if you can get past the usual Knowlesisms, reveals that Project 880 is in fact Avatar, and that Cameron has been working with NASA on a “Live Video Stereo Motion Image” (3-D) camera for the next Mars Rover.
The King of the World adds another project to his very full plate: Apparently, post 880, James Cameron will take on The Dive, “the true, tragic love story of freediver Francisco “Pipin” Ferraras and his wife Audrey Mestre.“
Sorry, Battle Angel Alita and Aquaman: James Cameron announces the secretive Project 880 will be his next film. “‘We’ve moved “Project 880″ into first position,’ Cameron said. ‘It’s as classified as the Manhattan Project.’ Many believe it is actually a version of Avatar, the director’s oft-rumored love story set against interplanetary war.” Both it and Alita (to follow) will be filmed in high-definition 3-D.
Despite feeling kinda rotten, I did venture out to the movies on Saturday night (armed with a hefty bag of throat lozenges) for an impromptu double feature. At the top of the bill was James Cameron’s IMAX extravaganza Aliens of the Deep and, all I can say is, if Cameron wants to make Battle Angel Alita using this funky 3-D technology, hail to the King. Granted, I haven’t seen a 3-D movie since the days before Captain Eo. Nevertheless, the effect was much improved, and made what could have been a staid underwater documentary comprised of what look to be outtakes from The Abyss into a riveting, jaw-dropping wonder.
I’ll admit, I was also fond of Cameron’s central conceit here, which is that our best bet for finding life in this solar system — at Europa, say — would be of the kind inexplicably thriving around thermal vents in the darkest, deepest parts of the ocean, where the sun never shines (and thus photosynthesis never takes place.) And what strange life it is! Innumerable swarming shrimp scuttle between ice-cold and boiling-hot water with nary an antenna twitch. Strange symbiotic tube worms ensnare food for their inner bacteria, which digests for them. Ethereal jellyfish float by, improbably yet undeniably alive. And, thanks to the 3-D, it seems you can reach out and touch all of these creatures just before your eyes — in fact, you can see them better in their natural habitat than any human being possibly could. It’s really quite amazing.
Like I said, I don’t know if Aliens of the Deep would be everyone’s cup of tea — most of the film just involves young astrobiologists and underwater explorers enthusing over their wild and crazy jobs in tiny little subs. But, whenever a strange new animal popped up on the screen, and particuarly when the camera hurtles past the moons of Jupiter on its CGI-way to far-flung Europa, I thought to myself, “Now, that’s Edutainment!”
“A few years ago I started down this path of creating this 3D camera system and once I started working in that, I couldn’t imagine myself going back and shooting with the camera that I used before. It just seemed like going back from a car to a bicycle, and I don’t want to ride a bicycle again, so the question is, at what point can I use the kind of imaging that we’re able to do now for a feature film?” From the Rebel Billionaire to the King of the World, James Cameron (fresh off Aliens of the Deep), talks up 3D cinema and his next project, a live-action Battle Angel Alita.
The trailer for James Cameron’s IMAX-3D extravaganza Aliens of the Deep is now online. I wonder if Cameron’ll get the shakes like Michael Biehn in The Abyss.
In the movie bin, some some news of a Batman Begins teaser (and a first look at Liam Neeson), and James Cameron speaks about his top-secret 3D Sci-Fi project, now starring Brian Cox. If Cameron is really serious about resurrecting 80′s action film stars, one of his favorites, Michael Biehn, is probably waiting by the phone…
While Indy 4 flails about in Development Hell, Harrison Ford signs on for James Cameron’s Godspeed, which so far sounds like something between Solaris and Outland. Unfortunately, Cameron is only producing this flick, and so his much-awaited sci-fi 3D spectacular still waits in the wings.
Because noone demanded it, the new Alien v. Predator trailer. Man, talk about running a quality franchise into the ground. As James Cameron noted when he heard about this lame Paul Anderson project, why don’t we get Freddy Krueger or the Wolfman up in here too? I know this was a Dark Horse comic, but that doesn’t mean it had to be a movie.
It’s been a quiet January as usual for fanboy and fangirls, and particularly in the wake of the Grey Havens last month. But lots of news out and about today: Terry Gilliam and James Cameron both discuss their next projects (The Brothers Grimm and Untitled Big Idea CGI Sci-Fi respectively), USA Today looks at a number of fantasy projects (including Lemony Snicket, Narnia, Elric, Artemis Fowl, and The Hobbit), and a longer trailer premieres for Frodo (and Charlie Kaufman’s) next project, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, also featuring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo (previous trailer here.) Also, we’ve got a few more new Spidey II pics, some small Episode III tidbits, and The Ring‘s Martin Henderson possibly up for Superman. (Hmm…I hope not.)
The teaser trailer for Paul Anderson’s Aliens vs. Predator flick is now online. What a terrible, terrible idea. Both Ridley Scott and James Cameron have expressed interest in making another Alien film, and yet Fox greenlights this piece of hack garbage? Bleah.