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A Wrinkle in Time (2003)
Too slow for kids, too childish for adults, who is it for?
A Wrinkle in Time tries hard to be a thoughtful, original, family- friendly science-fantasy. But so hard does it try, it ends up self- aware, genre-confused and slow. Hindered by poor acting, the film will satisfy only the most patient and simultaneously uninvested of viewers.
While I applaud any film confident enough to take its time setting a backdrop and building characters, this film just takes its time. Largely this is down to the wooden acting, even though the source material (it is based on a book) must also bear some of the blame.
With character names like Mrs. Whotsit, it's clear the story wishes to be charming and maybe even childish. But this is then mixed with extended, shallow expositions about human nature or the Universe, ridiculously precocious (and arrogant) youngsters with a budding but lacklustre mature romance, and quotations from classical literature (plus a splattering of pop culture). It's hard to see who the story could appeal to.
So much time is spent trying to establish an emotional connection, if they'd even spent a fraction scouting for decent lead actors and rewriting the script, they might have succeeded. As it stands, it's simply painful to watch the lead actress rattle off pretentious speeches, inane colloquialisms and emotional exclamations each with the same expressionless face and measured voice. Against stirring piano and violin.
I don't know whether it's the filmmakers' or the original author's fault, but infecting a mediocre kid's plot with an adult's intellectual indulgence - or is it an adult's intellectual indulgence wrapped in a mediocre kid's plot? - can only result in the dilution of each part with the other: the dull smudge that results from the child's fallacy of a more exciting hue created through colours smeared together - which, coincidentally, is the visual image on which the film ends.
Stargate: Continuum (2008)
Thoroughly entertaining story concludes Goa'uld plot arc with finesse
You may find reviews of 'Stargate: Continuum' inflated because of its contrast to the preceding 'Ark of Truth'. Whereas 'Ark' was in many ways, but not completely, a huge disappointment, 'Continuum' is and does everything 'Ark' failed at: the plot genuinely grips you, and is in no way linear; it surprises you, twists unexpectedly, rolls back on itself and weaves several arcs together, just like any good story should; there's genuine, fantastic character development; and a deepened attention to detail and realism. Take your pick on one of the best ever 'Stargate SG-1' episodes, and imagine it being given the royal, feature-length treatment. 'Continuum' finally realises this notion without the symptoms of a clumsy transition between 42-minute episodes and an attempted epic that 'Ark' suffered from.
For any of you who are new to the Stargate franchise, I will provide a brief explanation but thankfully 'Continuum' doesn't make 'Ark's mistake of being incomprehensible for someone who hasn't watched Stargate for 10 years. The Goa'uld are a snake-like race of aliens who implant themselves inside humans, thereby taking total control of their bodies. Some of these aliens have amassed huge power, controlling vast fleets of ships and armies of "Jaffa" warriors, by using various technologies to give the impression that they are gods. Known as the System Lords, they have been conquering the galaxy for millennia. Near the end of 'Stargate SG-1', the System Lords were all but defeated except for the most cunning, Ba'al, who managed to clone himself in an attempt to render himself unstoppable. 'Continuum' picks up after our heroes, SG-1 the primary five-strong team taking orders from the U.S. Government to counter such inter-galactic threats believe they have the last Ba'al remaining.
But Ba'al is tricky as ever and, as ever, Cliff Simon plays him with a delicious mix of scheming genius, elaborate malice and exuberant vanity that has made Ba'al the villain we love to hate and hate to love. Indeed, Cliff Simon gives his singularly best performance of Ba'al to date, and is without a doubt the star of the show. In one dedicated, extended, excruciatingly well written and delivered sequence, Ba'al's character is really given a playground with the feature-length treatment he's always deserved: if you know Ba'al already you won't be able to stop grinning; if you don't you will fall hopelessly in love. This scene is rivalled only by one of the tensest hostage sequences I've ever seen on a film.
In 'Continuum' SG-1 probably faces the toughest trials it ever has, causing the usually gentle-mannered Daniel Jackson to exclaim in profanities twice throughout the film. Initially this shocked me, as care is usually taken to ensure Stargate productions can be watched by all ages but actually this elevation of maturity really added some welcome grit to the story, and is matched by a handful of graphic, gory killings. This grittiness is enhanced by the aforementioned attention to realism that a full-length movie allows time for. In your typical Stargate episode, being stuck in an ice cavern isn't all too bad you'll find your way out soon enough. In 'Continuum' this entails that there's no light, you can't light a fire, your fast, hard breaths billow visibly through the air, you're shivering uncontrollably and eventually you'll get frostbite with dire consequences.
At its heart, 'Continuum' is a time-travel story a staple of science fiction and certainly of Stargate but handled much better than usual. Whereas the 'SG-1' episode 'Moebius' thought it could hush the time paradoxes it generated aside, 'Continuum' deals with them head-on. However, like the best sci-fi, it doesn't attempt to deliver you pseudo-scientific explanations, it just highlights the puzzles for your attention they're interesting issues as questions alone. Of course, the time-travel itself is no real focus of the film, but more of a device to shake things up; in a sense, 'Continuum' is one, big, Stargate-themed "What if?" Characters are tested to extremes, are forced to interact with completely different roles, and the opportunity is seized to throw in more guest appearances of old characters than you can count.
Besides all this praise there are some things 'Continuum' really lets itself down with. Some very awkward dialogue between the SG-1 members at the beginning reeked of the writer not really knowing what else to say although there is an extremely bold speech from Vala, which is impressive purely on account of the boldness of writing it in. Some crucial plot moments are swept over far too quickly how quickly do you think you could be persuaded that your mortal enemy is actually your friend if you'd never met him before? Well, pretty damn quickly, 'Continuum' seems to think although again there is enough material for the hardcore fan to "explain away" this kind of problem. It was also disappointing that Joel Goldsmith's score was disappointing many scenes that really needed a strong sense of drama are overplayed by bright, bouncy music, which slightly jars; one thinks, "Aren't people dying here?" That said, it equally has its moments of grandeur.
'Continuum' seems to have proved that both Stargate, and science-fiction as a whole, have moved on for the better. Whereas 'Ark' was written and directed by veteran Robert C. Cooper, 'Continuum' was the work of original developer Brad Wright, with the direction of the more recent Stargate talent Martin Wood. And it really shows - watch out for an extended tracking shot in the first few minutes of the film that climaxes with the entrance of the heroes, and which would give 'Atonement' (Joe Wright, 2007) a run for its money. Whereas 'Ark' doesn't at any point seem to know quite what it's doing, 'Continuum' really takes you for a ride, with perfect pacing and just the right emphasis placed on every part of the plot: the people behind this were right on the cutting edge of what Stargate is today.
Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008)
Deus Ex Machina concludes the Ori plot arc without finesse
'Stargate: The Ark of Truth' closes the story left open after the series 'Stargate SG-1' was cancelled. What we must bear in mind however is that the story it closes only began in SG-1's ninth season, and only lasted 40 episodes. The main storyline of 'Stargate SG-1' was already closed at the end of Season 8, after 174 episodes; and I personally would have preferred if the show had ended there. The last two seasons of SG-1 suffered a severe dip in quality that runs straight through into 'The Ark of Truth'.
The film makes absolutely no compromise for new viewers, so I will provide a brief backdrop (although even this will be insufficient to understand the film fully). The Ori are beings living on a higher plane of reality posing as Gods, and the more people who worship them as such, the more powerful they become. A set of similar beings, known as the Alterans (or Ancients) are the only defence against the Ori taking over the Milky Way. However, neither beings are able to directly interfere with physical reality, and hence the Ori use their religion, "Origin", to have their bidding done by humans. A huge army of followers has created a "Supergate", a teleportation device, that they will use to send a fleet of starships and troops to Earth - where they will convert its inhabitants to "Origin" by force. SG-1 is the primary five-strong team taking orders from the U.S. Government to counter these inter-galactic threats.
There was a lot that could have been done with a Stargate film - something that hasn't been seen since 1994 - and the fans of the TV show were certainly expecting a lot. This is perhaps why the film begins so badly it's like they couldn't think of anything good enough to match the anticipation, so for safety they picked something completely nondescript. That is, a full 2 minutes of mountains; and literally nothing to go with the mountains other than music. I do not exaggerate - there aren't even titles or credits. It's like it's trying to be the epic introduction to 'The Two Towers' (Peter Jackson, 2002) - which begins by gliding through the snowy peaks of a fantasy land - but lacking the brevity, grace, grandeur and beauty. The only thing epic about 'Ark's beginning is the anticlimax.
The ultimate downfall of the film is encapsulated in these first 2 minutes: the production team behind 'Stargate SG-1' had spent ten years making 42-minute episodes - they just didn't know how to handle the scale of something feature-length. The whole film feels like an early Season 10 episode with 60 minutes of padding, as exemplified by these opening fly-bys. Why mountains? As the plot reveals, the mountains have nothing to do with anything. I can easily imagine a brainstorming session the creative team went through, where someone suddenly shouted, "Mountains! Mountains are epic! Just look at the start of The Two Towers!". Any entertainment production needs to grab you from the outset, and 'Ark' crucially fails to do this.
What is perhaps most annoying about the introduction, besides its sheer tedium, is that Joel Goldsmith did indeed provide the film with a grandiose score, and it completely fails to make use of it. In the overture, a subtle, multi-instrumental build-up leads to the familiar but deeper and richer Stargate theme tune which, as anyone who has heard it will know, has a very clear "moment of climax". Indeed, in every Stargate production made to date, except one or two early episodes, this climactic musical note signalled the moment for the display of the title. 'Ark' ignores this and continues flying past its unimpressive selection of mountains.
Immediately following the introduction we have a short discussion between some Alterans, set millions of years ago when they were human in form. They decide that they cannot use the eponymous 'Ark' as a weapon against the Ori as it is too unethical. Immediately we skip to the present, and SG-1 is searching for the Ark to use as a weapon against the Ori. Have I missed something, or has Stargate quite simply thrown away the very thing that made it stand out from the crowd of sci-fi productions; i.e. philosophically and ethically troubled protagonists? This notion is dealt with very lightly; the main character throws some lines at the screen a few times about how the use of the Ark is the better of two evils, or that they are in desperate times, but this pales in comparison to the Season 5 episode where he literally gave his life to save a civilisation. Why the change? The answer is simple: the writers couldn't think of a better solution to the Ori threat, and so they needed their characters to be okay with it.
Because ultimately, what could the solution have been? The show had spent 2 years reiterating that the Ori were a force impossible to reckon with, that their technology was superior to Earth's by light-years, and that if Earth ever came into any kind of combat with them they'd be frazzled before they could don their uniforms: this overbearing power was a necessity both to create tension and also to make the Ori an even more potent foe than the mega-enemies that had just been defeated at the end of Season 8. So when Season 10 concluded, and the Ori were on the brink of invading Earth, what could the solution have been? War would have been out of the question, 40 episodes had demonstrated that negotiation or reason was impossible we were doomed. Enter the Ark. It is a Deus Ex Machina solution of dizzying proportions, and a McGuffin that sends SG-1 on a padded hunt for 90 minutes, interrupted with improbable enemies. I would have appreciated more creativity than what is effectively looking for a device that has a button reading 'Click Here to Beat the Ori'.
Underwhelming sequel still has some moments of greatness
'2010: The Year We Make Contact' (1984) is the sequel to the classic film '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968). However the only claim it has to being called a sequel is that it is based on the book that was a sequel to the book '2001' was based on ('2010: Odyssey Two'). Other than this link, the film shares none of the glory of the original - it had a completely different crew, which is manifested in the poor quality of its art, and it had a generally lower production quality, manifested in its poor effects, music, and execution.
2010 isn't so much the year we make contact as the year the Space Odyssey story continues. After the USS Discovery spaceship was lost near Jupiter with its computer malfunctioned and its crew missing or dead, a joint US-USSR mission is sent out to discover what happened. Their only clue is the last transmission of the astronaut David Bowman - "My God, it's full of stars!" The story begins with the enigmatic atmosphere of the original and manages to maintain it, but with a lot less style. Despite there being plenty of room for the making of a powerful cosmic mystery, 2010 ploughs linearly through a step-by-step revealing of 2001's secrets in a way that betrays the depth of its questions by delivering overly simplistic answers. We discover why the HAL 9000 computer malfunctioned, and some of what happened to David Bowman - but thankfully the film leaves several questions open - and this is better than it answering every question in the same overly simplistic manner.
Directed by Peter Hyams, the film has clearly attempted to be a commercial success of its own - it comes with an original subtitle, and doesn't even pretend to be making an attempt on the original, but rather focuses on getting the plot across in an easily digestible manner whilst tossing in some low-budget special effects. But Hyams was no fool - he realised that the attraction to the Odyssey stories lies in the mystery of the Monoliths - strange alien objects with an unknown purpose - and that it would be theatrical suicide to say too much about them; ultimately all he reveals is their dimensions - 1 by 4 by 9 - the squares of 1, 2, 3.
The film still has its own moments of greatness. There are some incredibly tense scenes of difficult EVA manoeuvres, some poignant shots of the Monolith, and the iconic final transmission that literally echoes with mystery. Unfortunately the film still uses the "Thus Spake Zarathustra" title music - this is unfortunate only because it uses it to bad effect. Rather than the incredible title sequence of 2001, "Zarathustra" simply plays over a slow fade-in on a shot of a satellite dish. The rest of the music of the film is originally composed and utterly underwhelming, sounding like every other low-budget sci-fi movie.
Rather than the grand cosmic themes of the original, 2010 focuses on the Cold War. The US and USSR must cooperate on the mission if it is to succeed, and even when they do their efforts are stifled by political strife back down on Earth. Ultimately the film's thematic climax is peace, not cosmic awakening or evolution. But whilst this may be less involved, it is still nevertheless satisfying, and not too far removed from 2001's ideas; global unity and peace is a clear next step in human evolution, and indeed in the '2001' book the final act of the Starchild is to destroy Earth's nuclear weapons.
If you are looking for 2001, 2010 will disappoint you. But if you are looking for an enigmatic story in space, 2010 will deliver. Bypass the low-quality visuals and the low-quality music, and what you have is a story of a mission under pressure from political tensions whilst in the background a cosmic mystery unfolds, culminating in "something wonderful". The film closes on a satisfying climax that is nonetheless completely unexplained - the purpose of the Monolith remains unknown, and it is with the open question of its purpose that the film cuts to its credits.
Neco z Alenky (1988)
Terrifying nightmare explores the reverse of the classic Alice story
This film mixes the live action of just one actress - Alice - with a ghoulish array of stop-motion animated characters and objects. Whereas Lewis Carroll's original "Alice in Wonderland" story is a celebration of childhood innocence, fantasy, and magical belief, Svankmajer's "Alice" tells the reverse - the loss of childhood innocence through the pain of coming to terms with a less-than magical world. Inspired by the original tale, Svankmajer uses Carroll's idea of a childishly implausible and wild dream to symbolise an escape from a tormented childhood, rather than a daydreaming fantasy in the sun.
With very little dialogue at all, Alice's job as an actress is restricted entirely to responding appropriately to the puppets - which involves no more than recoiling or widening her eyes. This takes nothing away from the film, however; Alice's muteness is a reflection of the classic "children should be seen and not heard" oppressive school of parenting. Indeed, Alice is seen throughout the film to, despite the hellish surroundings, still wipe her feet on doormats, remove her shoes before entering rooms, and do as she is told. She has been brought up through a harsh discipline that keeps her mute, polite, under control and unquestioning - indeed the very first scene of the film shows her older sister wordlessly slap her for being curious as to the contents of a book. This oppressive discipline is part of what makes up Alice's dismal reality, and hence is part of what she is both trying to escape and rebel from by dreaming.
The sad result is that even Alice's dreams are tormented. Children can only dream about the things presented to them in reality. In the first scenes of the film, the camera pans across Alice's room and displays all the junk carelessly surrounding her - a keen viewer will notice that these are the very same objects that Svankmajer later animates inside Alice's dream. It is precisely because Alice's real world is so abysmal that her dream reflects it. Her house seems devoid of life - we never see any parents, and the sister is still out by the riverside - and the house itself is claustrophobic, dark and utterly unfit for human habitation. The ornaments are stuffed bugs, the only visible food is being pickled in tightly clasped jars, and every single surface is smothered in brown grime. The lack of any other life in the house and the lack of any form of homely care, all depict a tragedy of childhood neglect - Svankmajer blames the nightmare entirely on the parents.
Within her dream, Alice suddenly finds that her room expands outwards into an endless muddy plain. This expanse, a dream of freedom, is tragically desolate and uninviting. Nevertheless, she follows one of her now-animated "toys" (the white rabbit) out into the field. Over the course of the film she will meet with a sailing rat, a truly insane depiction of the Mad Hatter and March Hare, and the murderous Queen of Hearts. But ultimately these are only the dream-animated versions of toys Alice detests. The truly sinister characters in her dream are those that come directly from her house, her life. The pickled jars of food turn out to be mixed with drawing pins, the "Drink Me" and "Eat Me" potions and cakes are bottles of ink and nondescript tarts, a mousetrap spells the demise of the sailing rat; when left on her own in a room, its contents attack her - slabs of meat slither around, bread turns to a porcupine of nails, food cans turn out to contain the stuffed beetles used as ornaments in her house (now living).
It is in this scene that Alice first starts to experience some symbolic victory. Throughout the film we see Alice begin to show more curiosity, begin to learn, begin to rebel against what she is told to do, and begin - most importantly - to come to terms with her surroundings. She is ultimately locked away in a dark room - the culmination of all the negative forces around her - trapped inside a doll of herself. Nothing could be more symbolic of the repressive upbringing that has spawned this twisted dream. She has realised that she's been made into a doll - inhuman. It is with this realisation that Alice achieves her first rebellion, tearing her way out of the doll and - through unhindered curiosity - discovers the key to leave the room by.
We are constantly reminded that the dream is a learning process for Alice. Every single time there is dialogue within the film, we immediately see Alice's lips say the words "...the March Hare said", or "...Alice thought to herself". These metatextual scenes suggest Alice is fully aware that this is all a story of her own imaginings. At bare minimum, it suggests that Alice has a level of awareness that oversees the story as a whole - she is looking upon these events with some purpose.
Alice wakes from her dream a changed person. She has grown up the hard way - her last vain attempt at a childish fantasy built from her sordid life has led her to come to terms with how reality really is. She has learnt that we cannot be mute and polite little girls - the world will attack us, and we must defend ourselves. It's a sorry world-view she ends up with, but one necessary for her to be able to live in the neglected environment she's been brought up in. Thus the film ends with her own decision and dialogue - "the rabbit is late again" - she snaps a pair of scissors - "perhaps I'll cut his head off".
Svankmajer's "Alice" is a masterpiece of stop-motion animation. Puppets come terrifyingly to life, and the surreal dream Alice undergoes is an intensely striking barrage of disturbing images. It is no film for children.
The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Good entertainment - don't expect much else
The Da Vinci code (the book) is a clever story. The film makes excellent work of a clever story in a well-directed way. It cuts out the unnecessary sub-plots and complications (e.g. instead of solving a puzzle-within-a-puzzle, they just solve a puzzle), and adds to a somewhat drab book a certain elegance, grandeur and ethos. For worried book-fans, don't worry - it follows the book pretty faithfully, with obvious licenses necessary for a film.
The soundtrack is fantastic and atmospheric - although not so much so that it becomes over-the-top. The director must be commended for pulling off the story without taking it all far too seriously. Epic is not overdone and is sparse, mystery is not blown out of proportion but is gripping. It is very delicately handled by Ron Howard in light of the obvious success of the book: a very good adaptation; in my mind better than the book.
The film introduces (or emphasises) certain motifs and themes not as strong in the book, for instance putting more of an influence of the visual motif of a rose. This adds a certain style and director's license to the film which makes it more than just a book-to-film transcription.
Despite certain poor performances (odd extras, and Sophie Neveu), Hanks and McKellen, plus particularly Bettany, pull off their characters very well indeed. Silas (Bettany) is done extremely well.
Overall I feel this film was an enrichment to a good story, certainly worthy as a counterpart, if not as a replacement altogether. Grand and visually rich, it was certainly worth watching - but maybe only once.
Dark comedy belies this painfully corny family film
This is a perseverance story about a boy named Connor who risks everything to protect a horse named Flash, with whom he has developed an emotional relationship. Could a deeply disturbing bestiality tale underlie this family film? I do doubt whether director Simon Wincer had it in him to execute such a subtle self-parody, even if he did live up to his name when he read the script. But whether or not the overtones of this film are deliberate, they are thoroughly amusing.
To see the dark side of this story, you need to take a step back and appreciate the asinine stupidity of relating emotionally to an animal. Unlike in Disney, animals don't possess the required anthropomorphic characteristics. Thus the very basis of the film - that the characters treat the titular horse as special, emotional and human - can only leave us guessing as to what mental instability or paraphilia the characters suffer from.
The plot of the film is little more than a succession of sacrifices that the humans make for the horse. Whilst this is portrayed sentimentally, you can decide for yourself at which point it goes beyond the suspension of disbelief, passes the stop at sanity, and ends up simply humorous. To begin, Connor falls in love with Flash but needs $1000 to afford him. So Connor's father takes a perilous five-month job at sea to raise the cash, intentionally landing Connor in the solitary care of his weak grandmother. Without the father's income, the grandmother goes to work in a factory, and this leads to her death from fatigue and a heart attack. Living alone, Connor now decides that he must buy his grandmother a top-notch coffin, but lacks the $1000 to buy the nicest one - see where this is going? To raise this cash, he sells the majority of his worldly possessions to the sum of $500. And finally, he sells Flash. It's almost like the plot itself is poking fun at this idiocy.
The truly interesting thing about this film is the depiction of Flash himself. In a mocking realisation of the characters' delusions, Flash is actually portrayed more humanly than the humans. Several close-up shots on the horse's eyes emphasise the horse's sentience, consciousness and intelligence. Unlike the humans, Flash is always elegant, upright and clean - and knows better than to attempt emotional connections with any of the other horses in the area. Furthermore, he stares with nothing but disdain when the humans attempt to saddle, ride, cage, buy, sell or communicate with him, as if he understands both the foolery and the injustice of such treatment.
Consider the following scenes. When Connor begins to attempt riding Flash, Flash eludes him with a turn of the head that says "Get the hell away from me." Connor laughs it off, as if the horse is being playful. Making a second approach, Flash kicks Connor into a pile of manure. When finally Connor makes it onto Flash's back, Flash escapes his pen, runs wildly towards a lake, halts suddenly, and throws Connor into the lake. Again, this is taken to be playful; but the close-ups on the horse's eyes tell rather of impish mischief, and a revelry in the fact that, whilst the humans take him to be so simple, he is actually the more intelligent of them. Indeed, Flash connects with the viewer more directly than the humans do. Not only does his eye stare straight at you through the fourth wall, he also shares our incredulity at the strangeness of the humans' equestrian obsession.
Flash is not only mischievous but hateful too. When Connor and his father begin to build a fence to cage Flash in, the music is exaggeratedly glorious, bright and happy - so happy, in fact, that it makes us question the notion of caging the horse in; for his eyes tell of nothing but disdain. If Flash is anthropomorphic - and the humans clearly treat him as such - then why are they caging him up? Not only does this reveal the contradictions inherent in the humans' warped minds, it actually paints them as villains. As a sentient creature, Flash is entitled to be very annoyed about his captivity, and we can see not only mischief but vengeance when Flash kicks Connor away.
All of this gives us a fresh perspective on the plot. Not only are the humans behaving with animal stupidity, sacrificing everything for a horse they've now sold; the horse is behaving with humane intelligence, desperate to be free of his captors' oppression. With this as the backdrop, the second half of the film continues with further foolishness: Connor leaves home to live with Flash's new owner, who ultimately wants to put Flash down. At this point, Flash finally starts acting friendly towards Connor, which is a frighteningly intelligent thing to do, and the two of them escape.
But let's not forget that this is theft, which is the least of the crimes Connor begins to commit as he sets off on a "rightful" journey to New York - with police on his tail, a criminal record on his head, and Flash between his legs - where he hopes to meet his father on return from his five month seafaring job. It's a great distance and time is short: finally the story becomes just a little bit gripping and gritty, but no less contradictory. If Flash and Connor are friends, why does Connor always tether him - would Flash run away? Because our answer would have to be yes, this completely undermines the strife of the remainder of the film.
The film ends weakly, with Connor reuniting with his father, becoming a national Hero, somehow not being prosecuted, and being given Flash back. But the icing on the cake is the climactic freeze-frame of Connor stroking Flash, which is perhaps the most disturbingly romantic image of the entire film.
Lucas: a toymaker who sometimes makes movies to sell his toys
Stunning visuals, breathtaking CGI sequences, hardcore light-sabre battling, but ultimately unimaginative, unsatisfying and - worst of all - boring.
Lucas just isn't a director like his buddy Spielberg. He's a dreamer, a storyteller, a screenwriter if he tries very, very hard - but the novelty of his fresh and unique directorial ideas has worn very thin now we're on the 6th installment. The once-genius transitional wipes now are beginning to look as random and childish as they always were, the multi-coloured laser beams are beginning to complement the toy-like appearance of his sets and ships, and the poorly imagined, highly implausible evil aliens just no longer carry the charisma of Jabba the Hut.
Of course, the previous paragraph might come off as an attack on science fiction as a whole, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The truth is that Lucas does science fiction a crime with this film, because the magic of sci-fi comes from a suspension of disbelief that Lucas has clearly lost himself. He isn't taking himself seriously anymore, he no longer loves his story, and he just wants to get it finished. His plot is thin, his action contrived, his love scenes bring vomit to the back of even the soppiest girl, and his villains make comic books look like legal documents. Lucas didn't put one ounce of creative energy into this film.
And that shows throughout. The entire film has absolutely no plot, and consists entirely of the good guys killing the sub-sub-sub-bad-guy, the sub-sub-bad-guy, then the sub-bad-guy, and then finally the bad-guy. It feels like laboriously watching what you already know is going to happen, in the light of the fact that this film is closing the gap towards the 4th film that millions of viewers know off by heart. And it doesn't even do it in a surprising or interesting way. In fact, the preconceptions one brings into the movie about how it will draw out the story are better than the laser-like linearity of what one receives.
If we set these sorts of complaints aside, of course, we may enjoy the film purely in virtue of its action sequences. But these too become boring within a few minutes. The problem is that Lucas seems to have imagined that if he simply made the fights faster than ever before, we'd be thrilled more than ever before. In actual fact he's made them so fast that you can't appreciate what's actually going on. Instead you receive incomprehensible swirls of light-sabre light without any artistry or grace. Indeed, because each fight is so incomprehensible, it feels as if they are dragged on arbitrarily. And likewise, each fight ends abruptly with the sudden loss of an arm, head, or limbs otherwise. It makes every action scene a drag because you can't follow it, and on top of it deprives you of a satisfying climax as every single confrontation ends with the sudden loss of a limb without anticipation or suspense.
This lack of appreciation for the notion of a climax is reflected in the entire film's climax, too. It doesn't have one. Just when you're sure the film's about to go somewhere and finally be interesting, just when you're sure you've finally got to the good bit, it ploughs through a quick montage of movements bringing the main characters positions up to those they are due to have at the beginning of Episode 4, and then - the film cuts to the credits. It doesn't even do you the justice of letting you know you're about to get that feeling of having wasted 2 hours of you life - it just gives you it straight off.
The final Star Wars film is good in light solely of its context. It's the concluding chapter of a huge saga six films in length, and for this reason alone it should be watched. But unfortunately the magic of Star Wars is contained in 5 or less of the other films, and Episode 3 is a disgrace to the series and genre.
Deep-thinking vampire searches for meaning in eternal life
'Interview with the Vampire' is an atmospheric, highly gripping "film involving vampires" - not a "vampire movie". Whilst the latter would describe a film that focuses on its vampirism and might be judged on the sharpness of its fangs, this "film involving vampires" has all the merits of the very best cinema, and at its core is nothing but a fantastic story carried by compelling, believable characters.
For those who may not be able to overlook the vampiric content, look again. The vampirism herein is a plot device, a way of presenting characters who cannot die or age or be harmed, so that the philosophical questions of life itself can be explored. But equally, for those who will be interested in the vampiric content, this film presents a rich mythology backed by a trilogy of books, which fleshes out the concept of the vampire in a much deeper way than any other production.
Every person has their own world view, their own way of living and thinking. People can be brooding, contemplative, cautious, reasonable, carefree, hedonistic, optimistic, emotional - and every shade in between. But these are all world-views based on the knowledge that life is short. What would happen if told their lives would never end? Who would be happiest? What would they do? How would eternal life affect each person? And most importantly, if a way of living was bringing meaning to a person's life, would that still work once life was infinite? All of these questions help us explore philosophical ideas as old as time, and that exploration is the focus of this film.
The story is propelled by vampires Louis (Pitt) and Lestat (Cruise), each representing a different take on life. Whilst Louis, who began as a depressive wanting to die, thinks of eternity as an extended curse; Lestat, who seems to live every second as it comes, barely even considers the future three minutes hence. Told from Louis' viewpoint as he struggles to find some meaning in a life he knows will never end, we are taken on a ride across the centuries, as Louis' outlook and happiness undulate whilst characters and relationships come and go.
Alongside Louis' turmoil in coming to terms with his (now eternal) life, a secondary theme is explored, which is the notion of survival. Even though Louis is clearly dissatisfied with life, he never attempts to end it, despite this option being open to him. In other words, surviving, in and of itself, was a motivation that outdid any other. Most importantly, survival outdoes Louis' trouble over the fact that his only source of nourishment is now the blood of living animals, preferably humans. Despite attempting abstinence, and then attempting to drink only the blood of rodents, this basic feeding instinct proves too much for Louis. And yet, as Lestat points out, what is the problem? The fittest always survives, and whoever is lower down the food-chain will be eaten. Humans eat animals, and vampires eat humans - it's all natural. But nonetheless, are there moral limits? Even if you have to kill a human, is there a more moral way to do it? "Monstrous," Louis exclaims, as he watches a group of vampires murder a defenceless girl. Yet might survival require the forgetting of moral consciousness, like Lestat?
'Interview with the Vampire' explores all of these deep, important issues whilst delivering an incredibly powerful story populated by charismatic characters, haunting and diverse settings and immortal dialogue. Gripping from start to finish, you will be enamoured at the vampire-world opened up to you; and by the end, you are left wondering what choice you would have made, given the one that Lestat never had...