Friday, June 29, 2007

Happy Birthday Ray

To the granddaddy of monsters, the godfather of visual effects, and all-around badass Ray Harryhausen, this blogger wishes a very happy birthday and many happy returns. Harryhausen studied under Willis O'Brien (who created King Kong), and later greatly surpassed his teacher's techniques and artistry. Virtually every major VFX person in Hollywood today cites Harryhausen as his/her greatest hero, and it's no wonder. Harryhausen's stop-motion work is the reason people remember Jason and the Argonauts, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Clash of the Titans, and my favorite, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. These are seminal films in geekdom, and their influence is all over Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Independence Day, etc.

What I find most notable is that Harryhausen was basically an auteur. His films were often his own brainchildren, greenlit based on the strength of his name and plotted by him. The directors of Harryhausen films (none of them as famous as he), tend to work around the FX sequences, which were all Harryhausen's design. His films are unmistakably Harryhausen films, not just because of his iconic creatures, but because of their pace, structure, and character. I can not think of any other technician in film history of whom this can be said. Sure, many cinematographers, editors, and designers have definitive and important styles, but no one ever said, "That was a great John Alton movie," or "Walter Murch movie," or "Edith Head movie" (you get the idea). But all of Harryhausen's films are known as "Harryhausen films." He's got two box sets and an "Early Years" collection in his name, plus several coffee table books. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I think this is unique.

No, his work is not photo-realistic by today's standards. The animated puppets are dated. But dramatically, they still work extraordinarily well. There's an indispensible sense of wonder in all his work. In his own words (I'm paraphrasing from memory here), effects that are too "real" are not interesting. There needs to be an other-wordly, slightly unbelievable quality in order to create drama. It shouldn't be too fake either, but his work always balances that fine line between the fantastic and the real (isn't that what movies are, at their core?). And so, to the ultimate filmmaker, Ray Harryhausen, I tip my hat. He's 87 today. Here's to 87 more.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dueling Goo Puddles

In honor of my going to see John Carpenter's The Thing on the big screen tonight, I offer to the public an age-old debate which has perplexed my mind for years, namely: who would win in a fight -- the blob or the thing? Howard Hawks' original Thing monster was a lumbering Frankenstein-type dude from a planet where man evolved from vegetable. No question there; the blob would turn him into carrot smoothie. But Carpenter's thing is a shapeshifter and assimilator. Both it and the blob work on a cellular level, the thing digesting and replicating cells in its own chemical composition, the blob simply digesting and converting tissue into its own goopy and ever-increasing mass. Both organisms are capable of surviving individually on a microscopic level, in small segments that can separate or rejoin at will. Both grow indefinitely.

In light of upcoming rumored remakes of both films (the third versions of each, not including several blob sequels), it is a timely debate. So which is it? Would the blob dissolve the thing into more pink slop, or would the thing eat the blob and convert it into more pink Kurt Russell? These are the deep, important questions that keep me up at night. These are the issues on which I base my support of political candidates. Someone solve this for me, so I can sleep.

One thing is certain: against the team of Blob and Thing stars McQueen and Russell, both creatures would surely perish. I mean, look at them:

Addendum, posted after the initial post: a chat with my friend G.

Is the blob acidic? It seems to be.
Strange Case:
I would say that if it is, that's a good point in its favor. Then again, who knows what neutralizing properties the thing is capable of imitating.
People inside the blob seem to be digested.
In the 80's remake of the blob (photo above), they suggest that it is viral.
How do they suggest viral? That almost doesn't make any sense.
It's been a while, but I recall them sending some viral experiment into space in a small satellite. It crashes back to earth and has become the blob.
It's vaguely cancerous.
Because it grows. But if it's a cancer, I say the thing imitates and replaces the blob tumor.
I'm having a real back and forth in my science here... I'm gonna have to grab a reference book.

Look for G's exciting and thoroughly-researched comment to follow.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Avengers Assemble!

We all knew this was imminent. IMDb Pro (sorry if only members can follow the link) says that Marvel Studios is starting work on a live-action film of The Avengers, using go-to comic movie scripter Zak Penn (why can't they branch out and try new people just once?).

I can only wonder at the inherent legal dilemma: Marvel farmed the film rights of all their major characters out to competing studios, so how on Earth-616 are they going to pull together a team that is supposed to include (at least at its core) Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Wasp, Giant Man/ Ant-Man, Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch, and possibly The Hulk? Half of these characters haven't even been introduced to contemporary audiences, so you know whatever they write will be bogged down in endless exposition and backstory, and may or may not have any connection to the other Marvel films that already exist (e.g. will Robert Downy, Jr. play Iron Man?).

Such questions may be beside the point. The only important thing is that they make a good movie. But I've been so disappointed by the sometimes good/ usually awful history of recent Marvel movies (peaks of X-Men and Spideys 1&2 interrupted by vast valleys of nearly everything else), that frankly, I doubt they'll pull their s%#* together. I suspect that Warner Brothers' Justice League of America stands a much better chance of being a good movie based on nothing more than the central ownership and administration of the intellectual property. That may sound nitpicky, but in the few years this blogger has worked lowly jobs in film production, I've seen enough to know that when expectations are too high, with too many cooks in the kitchen and too many people to please or let down, the result is usually bad. DC kept all their eggs in one basket, are owned by WB, and to completely generalize, have presented their characters with what is -- to my tastes -- a far better track record than Marvel. Bad exceptions are when we get into sequel territory, where too much money becomes involved (I'm looking at you, high-numbered Superman and Batman movies). Whatever... this is a pointless ramble until the trailers come out and we can complain all over again.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

They're here! You're next!

The upcoming Kidman flick, The Invasion, marks the fourth time that Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been made -- more if you include ripoffs (I mean homages) like The Faculty. What's remarkable is that all three versions so far ('56, '78, '93) have been very good movies. From the red scare era came this perfect formula: alien invaders replace our loved ones, turning the human race into an emotionless species of automatons.

The beauty of this sci-fi premise is that it can be used to talk about all sorts of issues. The original is widely regarded as a pro-American take on the spread of godless Communism. But other interpretations hold that the spreading disease is actually the mindless hysteria of red scare itself, and that Kevin McCarthy is the only sane, free-thinking man in a world gone mad with 1950's conformity. The Sutherland version is largely a film about organic food and obsession with health and decontamination. Maybe that's a stretch, but this is a hot topic in '78. Abel Ferrara's film is probably the scariest of them all, and although it's been a while since I've seen it, I seem to recall the notion of virus and disease (HIV maybe?) being a big part of it.

But this is all pseudo-intellectual jargon that may well be beside the point. The bottom line is, this premise will always be horrifying. The zombie film is a formula not far off from Body Snatchers, but these invaders aren't mean. They don't bite. They look and sound just like us, call us by name. They are calm and calculating, not malicious, doing what they do only because of their biology. They simply spread. Dress it up with whatever social context you like. Watching the new trailer (below), I realized that we've seen all of this before. Each version is largely the same movie set 10-20 years after the last one, with the same key scenes and familiar situations and dialogue. But even in this trailer, I'm scared. So maybe this will be about terrorism (the title alone seems indication of that), who knows? It's set in DC, so I'm sure there will be plenty about a passive, non-thinking government. But more importantly, it's about a couple people in a world of apathy, detatchment, and intellectual vacancy. It's scary as hell, and somehow, I never mind that they're remaking a classic over and over.

P.S. Sigur Rós? WTF?

P.P.S. My favorite alien impostor film ever, John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, is playing at the Aero in LA on Friday, June 15th. All in the area, be there.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Let Hish Armiesh Be the Birdsh in the Shky

It's official... no Connery in Indy 4. Apparently, "retirement is just too damned much fun." Besides, he really wanted to go out with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Who wouldn't right? (gagging, heaving, etc.) Hollywood rumors say he's eyeing public office in Scotland, to push for Scottish independence. No, I'm not citing any sources on that. It's hearsay. I heard it, so I'm saying it.

Oh well, Shia LaBeouf will have to suffice.

Monday, June 4, 2007

The World's Biggest Snowcone

Danish artist, Marco Evaristti, announced plans to paint the summit of Mont Blanc red to raise awareness for environmental issues (he previously did this with an iceberg, above). He also wants to declare the peak a sovereign "pink" state. Is anyone else reminded of that episode of G.I. Joe (or was it just one of the comics?) in which Cobra used depth charges to raise land masses in the ocean and claim them as a sovereign state so that they could no longer be attacked as a terrorist cell? Evaristti is setting up a dangerous precedent. Next thing you know, Christo and Jeanne-Claude will t.p. the Reichstag and mandate that anyone without orange hair is part of a lower race. Heck, I'd eat dye pellets and piss all over Hawaii for my own private island. But really, how much money is this going to cost? What if that cash went towards finding an alternative energy source, or Katrina relief? How many defilers of Mother Nature, truly, are going to become more aware of the environment because some dude paints a mountain (something most of the world will see in what might as well be a Photoshopped image)? I guess my frustration at the b.s. that was Christo's "The Gates" is shining through here. If I want a red mountain, I'll stick with Kurosawa's "Mount Fuji in Red," from Dreams (which, granted, looks more orange below).