It’s probably time for me to cave and stop complaining about present-day remakes of classic (or at least older) films.
Things have just gone far too far.
According to several movie sites, upwards of 50 (yes, five-zero) movies remakes / reboots have been green-lighted for production between 2013 and 2016. These movies make bank and there’s no use trying to stop Hollywood by crying foul that they’re defacing original works of art by replacing effect makeup and animatronics with CGI.
Blasphemous as it may sound, CGI can indeed take films that were somewhat “conceptual” 30 years ago and make them insanely realistic today. That’s not to say this is better, just different.
And success has landed all along the spectrum; with blockbusters like Star Trek at one end, whose reboot was admittedly cool and embraced by the fans, to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, whose high-tech remake was spectacularly rejected by fans (rightly so) and which slunk off into obscurity in favor of the low tech but brilliant original.
Sometime more just isn’t better.
Which brings us, in a rather convoluted way, to today’s topic.
During the Legendary Pictures panel at San Diego Comic-Con last Saturday, the production company announced plans to bring King Kong back to the multiplex in the form of a prequel.
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I have a real weakness for board games, and especially large-scale space strategy games. It’s one thing to punch that Pop-O-Matic bubble and move your little green marker around a Trouble board; it’s something else entirely to stealthily assemble an unstoppable fleet and launch them en masse towards the unsuspecting alien armada in orbit around Sirius. Ah, I get a thrill just thinking about it.
Sometimes a great space game will sneak up on me. It’s not my fault — I can barely keep up with all the fantasy books that show up at Barnes & Noble every week. I’ve totally given up on keeping track of new sci-fi board games.
This one snuck up on me at the Games Plus Spring Auction back in March. I’m sitting there in the front row, minding my own business, when the auctioneer suddenly hefts this big heavy box unto his shoulder, says something like “EVE Conquests, a strategy game set in the world of EVE Online. Opening bid: one dollar,” and starts the bidding.
So I blink a couple of times, and think, what the heck is this thing? I thought EVE Online was an online game? Oooooo, it looks cool, whatever it is. And heavy. Like it’s packed with beautiful starship miniatures and mounted boards and strange artifacts of alien civilizations… I want it. I shall bid on it.
Well, not for long I won’t. Twenty seconds after the bidding started, it moved well out of my price range and remained there for some time. Screw this, I thought. I can find a cheaper copy online. Famous last words.
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With Wizards of the Coast gearing up to release their latest incarnation of Dungeons and Dragons, it took me back to 1978, when I first encountered the game.
I was eight years old, browsing a hobby shop in Ohio with my family, when I saw this blue box with a picture of a dragon sitting on a pile of gold and jewels on the front cover. A warrior and a wizard were preparing to attack. What was this???
I took a better look and then promptly asked my father to buy it for me. His first reaction was a bit negative, telling my brother (who now wanted the game, too) and me that Dungeons and Dragons was for college students and we wouldn’t understand it. But the more he explained the concept, the more I wanted to play. Finally, he agreed, and we went home with it.
Shortly afterward, we ran our very first D&D session. My brother and I were the players, and Dad was our first dungeon master. I remember I played a fighter named Brandon the Bold, and my brother played a magic-user. (No fancy titles like Wizard or Mage for us!)
Together, we delved into the crumbling catacombs under a sorcerer’s tower, where we encountered goblins, animated skeletons, and a clan of pirates operating out of the ruins. Much evil was conquered and a bit of treasure won, and finally we emerged from the catacombs victorious.
We were hooked.
It wasn’t long before I had recruited my friends and was DMing games for them. Over the next few years, I created new worlds, original dungeons, and complete campaign storylines with which to entertain my victims…. er, players. And it’s continued for more than thirty years to today.
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I’m going to break from the chronological record I’ve been keeping of the Fantasia Festival to write a bit here about a movie I saw last night. I’m going to do this on the off chance that my doing so may help some of you decide what you’ll be doing with a couple hours of your upcoming weekend. On Tuesday at 7:30, Fantasia presented the Canadian premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy and I was there.
It’s a fun, fine movie. It’s not a great movie, I feel, and not even the greatest Marvel movie — I didn’t think it was as good as The Avengers or Captain America 2. But it’s another solid entry in Marvel’s growing filmography. That said, it’s not really a super-hero movie, but space opera: a group of ragtag adventurers in outer space come together when the retrieval of a mysterious artifact from a dead world leads to the emergence of a threat to the galaxy. Directed by James Gunn from a script by Gunn and Nicole Perlman, it moves swiftly and easily over familiar terrain, primarily using ideas and concepts from Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s excellent run on Marvel’s space-oriented comics — notably Nova and Guardians of the Galaxy.
It’s filled with adventure and action scenes. It’s also filled with humour, and largely successful humour at that. The characters are engaging, with each of the heroes distinctive and developed as individuals — though the villains of the piece are underplayed. There are moments of real strangeness, though I’m not sure the richness of the ideas in the original comics always come across. And the worldbuilding — or galaxybuilding — is so minimal that the scope of the film feels limited as a result. Still, this is a tightly-constructed high-velocity movie with a surprising amount of warmth. It’s a story about outcasts coming together for the common good and learning to be better as a group than they could have been apart. There’s nothing revolutionary about that, but Guardians does the old idea well.
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Ah, the excitement in the theater is palpable as we near the end of our journey and today’s eleventh chapter in The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Valley of Death,” begins to flicker across the screen. Because the seats are largely filled with sweaty elementary school children, something else is palpable too — whew! Baths and showers are definitely called for when you get home, kids…
Today’s title cards summarizing Chapter Ten will, as always, enlighten the enlightenable and confuse the confusable. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) “Malcolm — Is shipwrecked on a reef off the coast of Siam.” “Captain Marvel — Rescues Malcolm’s party and the crew from the S.S. Carfax.” “Betty — Is left aboard ship by the Scorpion.” Now it’s time for the word we’ve come to know so well, though I’m sure only a few of you remember exactly what the letters mean. Me? Of course I know… but, uh, we’ve no time to waste with trivia… Shazam!
A flashback to the previous cliffhanger puts us with Billy and the unconscious Betty on board the sinking Carfax (and if the title card says it’s the Carfax, that’s good enough for me). As the ship goes down and water pours into Betty’s cabin, Billy gets himself and Betty off the doomed vessel (a judicious cut ensures that we don’t quite see how) and manages to swim to shore with the buoyant secretary in tow. It’s a good thing he decided to skip band camp last summer and take those swimming lessons at the YMCA.
Once on dry ground, Betty relates how an unknown assailant struck her from behind. “Why would anyone want to kill you?” Billy asks. “He must have been after my section of the map; he took my handbag,” Betty replies. Everyone seems satisfied with this explanation. This is 1941 and it won’t do to entertain the idea that the Scorpion just wanted the purse. But what of the map? It wasn’t in the bag — “It’s in a waterproof envelope pinned inside my jacket.” At this news, Bentley looks like a kid who wanted the big new Hot Wheels set for Christmas and instead got one of those last-resort toys that isn’t even really a toy, like a grip-strengthener.
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I’ve mentioned before that the Fantasia Festival has, logically enough, programmed what look to be their most popular movies in the big Hall Theatre. That often means unabashed genre movies — movies that aim at telling a certain kind of story a certain kind of way. A genre’s a set of conventions and a storyteller can play against those conventions or use them to get at whatever they want, as they see fit. And, especially as genres become better-known by audiences, there’s a natural inclination to mix conventions, to set genre against genre within a single story. The trick, of course, is that whichever angle you take, you should try to do it well.
Last week from Monday (the 21st) through Wednesday, I saw three genre movies at the Hall: Cold in July, directed by Jim Mickle from a prose story by Joe R. Lansdale; The Fatal Encounter (originally Yeok-rin), a dark, violent period piece from Korean director Lee Jae-kyoo; and The Huntresses (originally Joseonminyeo Samchongsa), a much brighter period piece from Park Jae-hyun. They all aimed at a certain target, and to various degrees hit what they were aiming at. They were all working in different genres, producing different effects. But they were all intensely conscious of how genre worked.
Monday was Cold in July, scripted by Mickle and Nick Damici from Lansdale’s 1989 novella. I haven’t read it, so I can’t speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation; but the story on screen did some interesting things, starting out as a certain kind of thriller, then changing tones, then changing tone again. It begins with a man in a small town in Texas in the late 1980s, a picture-framer named Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall), who surprises an intruder in his home and accidentally shoots him dead. This leads to the dead man’s ex-con father, Ben Russell (Sam Shepard) swearing revenge. But then Dane makes a discovery that throws into question what he thinks happened, and suggests that the authorities are lying to him and Russell. A private investigator (and pig farmer) named Jim Bob Luke (played with tremendous humour by Don Johnson) enters the picture. The plot thickens. Ultimately, things resolve in a violent third act mission.
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If you saw the 1963 version of Jason and the Argonauts, you probably remember this scene. It’s classic Harryhausen: stop-animation work that was looks cartoonish now, but was state-of-the-art at the time.
Like some of the other episodes in this movie (Skeleton battle!) you may have thought that this was all Hollywood. But Talos, the gigantic bronze guardian of Crete, was described in the Argonautica as well. Apollonius tells his readers that Talos was the last of the race of Bronze (mythical predecessors of modern humans), and that Zeus had set him to guarding Crete as a favor to his lover Europa. Since he was made entirely of metal, he was completely invulnerable, except for one spot on his heel where a thin membrane of skin covered his vein.
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Last Sunday, June 20, I saw four movies. I’ve already written about one of them, Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, which deserved its own post. But that’s not to say that all the other films I saw that day were poor. It was in fact an odd mix; out of the three other films I saw, I’m quite glad to have seen two of them, while the third at least had points of interest.
Things began with Takashi Murakami’s children’s fantasy Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no Kuragi in the original Japanese), which was followed by The Zero Theorem, both at the Hall Theatre. Then I went across the street to the De Sève to watch an utterly fascinating silent film from 1914, Edward Curtis’s In the Land of the Head Hunters, which mixed an early attempt at anthropological documentary into a fantasy adventure. My day concluded with Dan Bush’s intelligent low-budget sf film The Reconstruction of William Zero. Put them all together, and it made for a memorable cinematic experience.
That said, Jellyfish Eyes was something of a disappointment. Murakami’s an internationally-renowned artist, known in particular for creating or identifying the ‘superflat’ style of art — the word’s meant to refer not only to Murakami’s own style, but to the Japanese artistic tradition in general. Which emphatically includes popular art. Anime and manga artists have been exhibited in ‘superflat’ gallery shows, and Murakami’s own art has been said to be inspired by anime. The impression I get from what I’ve read is that it’s almost a take on the idea of pop art, combining Japanese popular culture with certain aspects of graphic design as a way of critiquing consumerism. So, all in all, it’s perhaps not entirely surprising that Murakami’s first film was an anime-inflected mash-up of Pokémon, kaiju, even a bit of Spielberg; nor surprising that its potential is largely nullified by a bluntness of approach.
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My friend Livia has recently released her first novel, Midnight Thief, with Disney’s Hyperion imprint. I first met Livia at MIT, where she was studying the brain science of reading. She blogs on the topic at her blog, A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing.
I’ve always been impressed with how much effort she makes to understand the how and why of what makes stories work (see, for example, this post on the anatomy of a death scene), and to use that in her own writing, so it doesn’t surprise me that she’s gone on to sign with a major publisher.
Midnight Thief is a YA novel set in a secondary world of assassins, barbarians, and demon cats:
Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs.
But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he is persistent — and darkly attractive — and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.
Midnight Thief is available now at Amazon ($13 hard cover and $9.99 ebook), Barnes & Noble (at an identical price), and independent book sellers.
Rajan Khanna has had a pretty impressive career as a short story writer, with appearances in anthologies like The Way of the Wizard and Dead Man’s Hand, and in magazines such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, GUD, and Shimmer. If his name is familiar, it could also be because he’s a blogger for Tor. com and has done podcasts for Podcastle, Lightspeed, and Pseudopod.
For his first novel, he spins a tale of a post-apocalyptic North America filled with zeppelins, a plague-ravaged populace, and an air city ruled by pirates. I don’t know about you, but he had me at “pirate air city.” I put my advance order in today.
Ben Gold lives in dangerous times. Two generations ago, a virulent disease turned the population of most of North America into little more than beasts called Ferals. Some of those who survived took to the air, scratching out a living on airships and dirigibles soaring over the dangerous ground.
Ben has his own airship, a family heirloom, and has signed up to help a group of scientists looking for a cure. But that’s not as easy as it sounds, especially with a power-hungry air city looking to raid any nearby settlements. To make matters worse, his airship, the only home he’s ever known, is stolen. Ben must try to survive on the ground while trying to get his ship back.
This brings him to Gastown, a city in the air recently conquered by belligerent and expansionist pirates. When events turn deadly, Ben must decide what really matters — whether to risk it all on a desperate chance for a better future or to truly remain on his own.
Falling Sky will be published by Pyr Books on October 7, 2014. It is 259 pages, priced at $17 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Chris McGrath. Learn more at Rajan Khanna’s website here.