What kind of thoughts keep the strange minds at chez AddAltMode up at night? Well, we have relatively few skeletons in our closet, and no strong phobias, so it’s mostly the eccentric stuff; by which we mean musings on 30-year-old movies about robots.
In The Transformers: The Movie, the planet-eating monster Unicron appears to be able to traverse interstellar distances very quickly and with great ease. It is clear that Unicron possesses some sort of faster-than-light (FTL forthwith, due to laziness) engine.
Unicron devours the planet Lithone. Presumably, he got to where Lithone was from where we was previously at faster-than-light speeds, or else they’d’ve seen him coming and evacuated earlier.
AddAltMode’s cinematic Creepy Countdown choice
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston
Guillermo del Toro is a director who is remarkable for his strong artistic vision and for the unbridled passion he displays for the various genres in which he works. His latest film, Crimson Peak, is no exception on either count. A beautifully macabre treat for the eyes, I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched a movie quite so visually sumptuous. It’s also a work that really embraces its genre, although that isn’t perhaps the genre some filmgoers may have been expecting…
Mia Wasikowska in Legendary Pictures Crimson Peak. Screencap from Official Trailer
Or, where is my goddamn
“To be or not to be — that is the question…” As we all know, in this speech Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was pondering the fate of the proposed sequel to Guillermo Del Toro’s 2013 movie Pacific Rim. The “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” clearly represent the uncertainty surrounding this project: initially it looked like Pacific Rim wouldn’t perform well enough in the box office to assure a sequel; it didn’t recoup its costs in America, but after a strong performance in other countries, especially in China, a follow-up film was finally greenlit and scheduled, only to face further delays and now – if last week’s reports are accurate – a question mark over whether it’ll happen at all. In the next line of his soliloquy, Hamlet mentions “a sea of troubles” the Pac Rim influence here is not in doubt, but scholars are divided over the precise focus. Did Shakespeare intend the line as a reference to Breach – the ocean rift through which the film’s Kaiju antagonists ascend? Or if it is rather an allusion to “Maelstrom” which has been the working title of the troubled sequel? Either way, prescient Bard that Will. Trust me, I’m a doctor.
Alas poor, uh… PPDC badge
Ok, so I made up a lot of the stuff in that opening paragraph, did you notice? Although someone totally should write a thesis on Del Toro and Shakespeare… hang on… *Googles* someone already has, day made! But some truths remain. I do genuinely have a PhD, and there is currently a hell of a lot of confusion and uncertainty over the future of Pacific Rim 2. Here’s my unasked for soliloquy on the situation…
You may have heard that Lionsgate now have the rights to develop a Borderlands movie. So what was your first reaction to the news? Excitement? Apprehension? As someone who has played all the games and is currently knee deep in foam, fabric and paint working on Borderlands cosplay, I have to say it was certainly an announcement that made me sit up and take notice. The sci-fi frontier world of Pandora is a distinctively cinematic one and, done right, the franchise could make for a fantastic big screen experience. But done right is a fairly weighty qualifier. Let’s not kid ourselves, video game movies in Hollywood do not exactly have a stellar history and the producer tied to the project, Avi Arad, has more than a few misses on his CV. So I’m more intrigued than excited at this point.
Just two of the things we should expect from a Borderlands movie. The third is guns. Screenshot from the Borderlands The Pre-Sequel intro sequence.
I thought I’d take a few moments to share some of the things about this franchise that I’d like to see done justice on the big screen, as well as my initial concerns on the “danger zones” – that is, the things I fear Hollywood is most likely to ruin.
So, there’s a brand new Pixar film on the horizon: Inside Out. I say “on the horizon” but it’s actually already been released in the States. Here in the UK we have to wait a couple of weeks longer: it will be landing on July 24th apparently. As a minor, gripey aside, why do a lot of Disney releases still keep on with the staggered release dates? In these days of online connectivity it seems ridiculous to make some countries wait weeks when a film is already out elsewhere, it just seems a recipe for spoilers and / or piracy. I haven’t forgiven Disney yet for making us wait MONTHS for Wreck It Ralph. I was so excited for that film but while the States got it in, I think, October / November, it was something like February before it reached our side of the pond and I’ll admit my enthusiasm was waning by that point. So a couple of weeks delay here is a vast improvement, but why any delay? We get Marvel films simultaneously (indeed, we got Age of Ultron first!) I just don’t understand the logic.
Release schedule grumbling aside, let’s talk Pixar, then.
They’ve produced some of my all time favorite films over the years, especially during the period of the late noughties, which – looking back – seemed a bit like a Pixar golden age. Yes, there’s a retrospective, possibly even nostalgic, tone to that statement, because I have to say I haven’t been so impressed with the studio’s output since 2010. It felt like the magic was lost when they started churning out too many sequels and prequels. But my interest has been rekindled a little by Inside Out: an original story – their first for a while – and, from what I’ve seen and read about it so far, an interesting choice of subject, set inside the mind of a young a girl and featuring her personified emotions. The film’s overall message, that a little sadness is necessary in life, seems a brave and important one to emphasise in a family film. So I’m reasonably interested to see it, although I’ll admit the scene in the trailer which showcased Dad’s inner emotions (which mostly consisted of ignoring his wife and tactlessly misreading the situation) felt a little too much like it was playing up to crass stereotypes. I hope the rest of the film is a little more nuanced than this scene, but you know, even if it isn’t, at least they’ve released this and not Cars 3.
The imminent release of Inside Out seems like a good time to reflect on Pixar releases of old. So after some chin stroking, I’ve put together my Pixar Top Five. I think most of us have a Pixar film or two that inspires particular fondness, so comparing lists is a good way of comparing tastes. I’ve love to know how your preferences stand against mine….
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard
So here we go then, one of the swathe of massive movie resurrection pictures hitting our screens in the next few years. And in before The Force Awakens, in before Ghostbusters III, we have this – the very definition of a franchise “de-extinction.” Which is interesting, of course, because the Jurassic Park films have always questioned if science should do things just because it can, and whether some fossils really ought to be left in the ground.
Trevorrow’s Jurassic World is a ‘soft’ reboot of the franchise: its world-building remains playfully respectful of Spielberg’s influential 1993 original and largely ignores the two underwhelming sequels. The film also chooses to anticipate and grapple head-on with the questions of how a 90s cinema classic will fare in the post-3D, post-Imax, CGI for breakfast cinemascape of 2015. “Twenty years ago, de-extinction was up there with magic” notes Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the steely operations manager of Isla Nublar now a well-established theme resort which has managed to recover, expand and prosper since the unfortunate dino-rampage incidents of the original movie. But since then, the magic has mutated into the mundane, Claire continues: “now kids look at a stegosaurus like it’s an elephant at the zoo.” Plotwise, this is the rationale for the creation of Indominus Rex, a T-Rex spliced with DNA from various other creatures (Frankenstein’s shopping list is gradually revealed throughout the action as more of I-Rex’s capabilities come to light) who has been designed to be bigger, cooler, have “more teeth” and to wow the jaded smartphone generation. Clearly, this also raises a flag of cinematic intention for Jurassic World.
The creation of such a beast as I-Rex is problematic on so many levels, not mention the fact that it’s just downright, dumb, reckless idea. But as a new powered up dino rampage ensues (come on guys, that’s hardly a spoiler, what else did you expect to happen, this is a Jurassic Park film after all) viewers get to enough enjoyably tense action sequences to make us glad of that stupidity. My reaction to the ‘birth’ of I-Rex encapsulates my feelings on the film as a whole fairly neatly: there are some troubling issues, and it’s not something we really needed, but since it’s here I’m happy enough to enjoy the ride. And there is plenty to enjoy here although the plot’s own lesson that bigger isn’t always better is one that remains perhaps more pertinent than the producers would have hoped.
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel
Chappie is the third film by South African director Neill Blomkamp after the superb District 9 and the uninspiring Elysium. It also happens to be my third robot movie cinema trip of 2015 (after January’s Ex Machina and February’s Big Hero 6) and by the far the one I was looking forward to the most. I’d been really excited about Chappie since I first heard it was being produced, and – especially – since I saw initial designs for its expressively bunny-eared mechanical protagonist. But it was with some trepidation that I settled myself in front of the big screen as the picture seems to be garnering an awful lot of negative reviews and few things make me madder or sadder than squandered opportunities to make a decent robot flick.
So, how much does Chappie resemble the sticker on its eponymous hero’s head?
One of the movie’s refrains is the desire of his creator for Chappie to be himself, necessarily shaped and influenced by his world (a grimly dystopian one) and by the people around him, but ultimately free to be unique. Basically a robotic child, Chappie soaks up stimuli without always knowing what he wants or how to respond. And in this respect the film as a whole does mirrors its protagonist. Blomkamp’s influences are never hidden: with Short Circuit and Robocop being the most obvious cinematic touchstones. The film evokes these, as well as a lot of intriguing ideas about human prejudice, artificial intelligence and the nature of consciousness but it doesn’t always seem to have a clear agenda or sense of what to do with these multiple threads, and I can see how this would frustrate many critics.
Yet even if it can feel muddled, Chappie, like its protagonist, should not be rejected but embraced as very much its own thing. And that thing just happens to be a violent, bubblegum sci-fi robot fairytale. Now that’s not a genre I even realised I needed in my life but now we’ve got it, I’m so glad it’s here. This film is not without its flaws but it still triumphantly pulled at my heart strings and sent my pulse racing.
OK, I noticed something abut my post content from the past week: I seem to be incapable of writing without finding a way to work in references to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. So today I thought I’d just run with it and actually post about that film, or more specifically, about the cosplay project it inspired a couple of years ago.
Pacific Rim was undoubtedly my favourite film of 2013 and it came as a bit of a surprise just how much it got me! I went in to the cinema just expecting a good time, and some geeky fun. I mean, giant mecha punching giant monsters and a computer voiced by GLaDOS, what’s not to love there? I got all the geeky fun I’d been hoping for but what I hadn’t expected was quite how strongly this film would put me in touch with my gleeful inner child. Sure, there’s some pretty awful dialogue in places and plot holes the size of the breach if you stop to think about them but none of that matters because it’s just such an earnest cinematic experience. Pacific Rim is made with real love and passion for the genre and that is wonderfully infectious. I mean we all know del Toro loves Kaiju, but there’s passion for the machines too: those awesome, lingering swooping shots of the Jaegers are the best kind of mech-porn. Plus there’s that Ramin Djawadi score, in equal parts rousing and rocking.
When I came out of the cinema I said two things:
1). “I wanna see that again.”
2). ”Cherno Alpha is the coolest thing ever and I want to be one of its pilots’
The Russian Jaeger Cherno Alpha. Screen shot from Legendary Pictures Pacific Rim
Year: 2015 (UK release)
Directors: Don Hall, Chris Williams
Starring: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter
Month number 2 of 2015 brings robot movie number 2, and a very different prospect from January’s Ex Machina. With Chappie releasing in March it would be amazing we could maintain mechanical momentum and have a new – and very different – robot-centric film every month this year. I doubt that will happen, but until the bubble bursts this robot-loving cinema-goer is planning on thoroughly enjoying it.
So then, on to Disney’s latest offering and, significantly, its first straight-up mouse-branded film drawn from a Marvel Comic. Disney’s version is a significant departure from its source, particularly with regards to the robotic protagonist Baymax, but the result is a film that – while it may not push any boundaries in terms of plot – manages to thoroughly warm the heart and to delight the eye.
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac
The theme of artificial intelligence is one explored time and again in science fiction, and it’s a fascination that seems to be only increasing as such ideas move into the realm of science fact. Just look at how the recent driverless cars debate has ignited responses in the media stretching from impressed excitement to apocalyptic dread. Alex Garland’s tense, cerebral film evokes precisely this mix of wonder and unease, making for an engaging cinematic experience.