Arrival, and how sometimes the little things are even more important…

I’m pretty sure that, on Friday, I saw one of my favourite sci-fi films of all time, and in no way was I prepared for it.

arrival

Arrival has leap-frogged so many classic films to get to the head of the queue (or almost – I can’t quite decide if it’s top spot or not).

For a start, regardless of genre, it is streets ahead of your average Hollywood filmmaking, in pretty much every category:

It is beautiful – the sight of the alien crafts just hovering above a shroud of mist, so matter-of-fact, yet so full of gosh-darn-it wonder, gets you every time.

The scale – it somehow manages to be both a global epic and a keen micro-drama, balancing both with a deft nuance. The world was at stake, but I’m caring about the little things. It’s a grand feet pulled off with aplomb.

The acting – universally superb, real and personable, with much more accurate-feeling portrayals of scientists than in other films of the genre.

The detail – nothing has been fudged here. The filmmakers have taken something that seems more of an inevitability in some ways (the discovery of alien life) and adopted a real world approach  to how it just might go down. It lends the film a level of authenticity that again the genre seems to struggle to usually provide. For an in-depth look at just how far the filmmakers went to make sure things were as realistic and well-thought out as possible, do watch this great piece by Science Vs Cinema:

It’s fresh – in sci-fi, aliens usually only ever visit to dole out bad things to us poor humans. I won’t spoil a thing, but everything about the aliens, their motivations and how we perceive them, is almost entirely new to me as a viewer. I loved it.

It’s hugely affecting – I think this represents the biggest departure from the usual reach of films of this type. I found not just the story, but its delivery and revelations, to be hugely affecting in ways that you have to discover for yourself. It will live with me for weeks. Desperate to expand on this, but so much of the joy to this film is about going in unprepared and unknowing – but the film poses questions that I find myself asking myself repeatedly. It isn’t trite, it isn’t cheap – this is real provocative, thoughtful filmmaking that pushes the audience into uncomfortable corners, through sheer force of reason and authenticity.

It was completely excellent. It is elegant, unexpected, affecting and challenging, and is definitely worth your time.

 

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My wife is a horror nut. Absolutely loves slasher films, ghost stories, generally anything where people get scared and/or chopped up – but she never gets scared of them. Ever. Until The Babadook.

Unsettling, superbly executed, original and wonderfully acted, it’s an utter treat – if you like your treats to keep you up deep into the night chattering to yourself.

‘Jurassic World’ Teaser Trailer Geeksplosion

It’s pointless me warbling on about how much I love Jurassic Park – I think anyone who was aged between probably 7 and 16 when the first movie came out in 1993 probably holds it somewhere close to their heart. It is hands down my favourite film, and always has been. Dinosaurs and cinema have always been catnip to me. One of my other favourite films as a kid was Valley Of The Gwangi (1969), which features awesome stop-motion dinosaurs versus cowboys. So when Jurassic Park came out, and fused the modern world with dinosaurs in such a dramatic and realistic way, I was blown away. As the trailer was released for Jurassic World, or Jurassic Park 4, I was desperate to be excited by it and not have my fantastic memories dragged deeper into the commercial cesspit of sequeldom.

Today, I am delighted. My inner 10 year old is electrified. There is so much I love about it.

Family. Jurassic Park films are always a family affair, and they are placed front and centre of the trailer. And the little prophetic line Judy Greer gives the kids? Wonderful.

The park itself… this place is fully operational! All those nights lying in bed staring at the ceiling wondering all the what ifs proposed by the setup of the first film, had at all not gone so spectacularly awry. I can now see it – it is massive, commercial and living. All what I dreamed.

This appeals greatly to the kayaking enthusiast in me, but doesn’t that look just gorgeous? Floating down the river like in some cotton-wool Lost World. It’s a beautiful image, that harks back to pure fantasy.

The films are famous for jaw-dropping moments, and such are the advancements of visual effects that I find such moments fewer and further between these days, but here is the build up to one that genuinely took my breath away…

And I’m almost destroyed now. It’s just awesome. All the little details are so great – the shark as bait, the Sea World style show and amphitheatre, the baying crowd. It’s the park come to life in ways I’d never even dreamed. Giddy.

Then we get some flavour of character and story, and here comes Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Turns out she has been tinkering with something in the lab, some genetically modified dinosaur that’s even more genetically modified than the one’s they have already created. People seem to have a problem with this, and I can’t for the life of me understand why. It stands to reason entirely that these scientists can add a little extra DNA in where they see fit in the dinos’ creation because THAT’S WHAT THEY DID IN THE FIRST PLACE. They used frog DNA to bridge the gene sequence gaps in the first movie to even get the dinosaurs built. I’m absolutely no pedant whatsoever when it comes to these things, because it makes absolute sense as a progression. Further to this, Crichton actually made this happen in his Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World – so much so that he even made them fused with chameleon DNA, which resulted in them being able to change skin tone to match their environment. the Jurassic Park world requires a suspension of belief in the first place, so if you are suddenly balking at the idea of them creating new dinosaurs with the DNA they have available, then maybe these movies, or perhaps fiction at all, is not for you. Have some fun and go with the story, please!

Slight little side note also – Chris Pratt is going to own this film. Just own it.

Oh dear. Seems something got out that perhaps shouldn’t, and it seems to be the big genetically modified dino they were talking about. That up there is the remains of one of the gyrospheres that tourists were rolling around in earlier in the trailer. Heaven knows what fun the filmmakers will have had with staging an action sequence involving one of those. 

And it’s going really wrong now, as Chris Pratt is finding out the hard way. Running from big fast things with sharp teeth is always fun in the movies, and here looks no exception.

Man, I love this. This is one big fat nod/homage to the the first film and Ian Malcolm. On following the production of this film, the director Colin Trevorrow seems so conscious of the legacy he is taking on, and so respectful of both the source material and the fans of the series. On seeing the above image, all fears were put to bed.

Agh! Everybody run! The park is in meltdown – yes! Yes! Dreams fulfilled left, right and centre.

The trailer closes with the above image, of Chris Pratt riding off into the night, tooled up on some awesome motorcycle, alongside a pack of raptors – wait, WHAT!?

This seems to have caused a lot of controversy, for a myriad of different reasons. I say, screw that, this is GENIUS. I’m sold, I’m all in. 

Why are people upset? Well, I think a lot of this is down to the success of their portrayal as intelligent, dextrous, frightening killers in the first three films of the series. They were TERRIFYING. And what better way to subvert that than to throw something new in there.

Again, this is not new in any way, in official cannon terms. The official comic book continuation had raptors being trained, so it’s not like this is some totally new outrageous idea. And again, it is surely about progression, and what could be deemed as acceptable and not. This is a film that is essentially in a pseudo-fantasy universe – it has grounds in reality, and science to a certain extent, and for it to work requires that same old suspension of disbelief we’ve already discussed. Surely, if they can build dinosaurs, they can try to train them, right? And who says it was successful? It looks OK up there, but what happens later?

Regarding the context of all of the above, we know so little – so it is surely far too early to judge. But there are enough fresh ideas to the fore here, that I find myself hugely excited. Roll on June.

Watched The Ninth Gate (1999) last night – that Roman Polanski film with Johnny Depp. 

Such a strange film – at times you feel like you are being guided tentatively by a cinema master, at other times it feels like I’m back at film school watching amateur hour. Not to be too negative, but I found these constant lurches so off-putting, and accidentally hilarious.

Take for example the above image – it could be horrible, but certainly in the context of the film, it isn’t. Especially considering that the above reveal comes complete with ‘dun, dun, DUNNN!!!!’ soundtrack, before something even more terrible befalls the tongue-wagging lady. It could all have been unsettling, but because of the lurching tone, it comes across as funny. Actually a little hilarious. And I genuinely guffawed when I saw the exact frame above.

There are moments of barbarically bad wirework also, which again, I’m sure were supposed to be shocking – in fact, they were just laugh out loud. 

So I was thinking, while watching, that maybe Polanski is more comfortable with more traditional dramatic scenes than action beats, but the film comes unstuck there too. For example, when Depp finds his mate has been killed (rather horribly I might add), his body dangling upside down from a stairwell, his overall reaction is ‘meh’. His face barely registers the discovery. And that ‘meh’ infected me – why should I care about this guy if he clearly doesn’t?

Overall, it was an accidentally hilarious piece of cinema, bolstered by a cripplingly great (and funny) turn from Frank Langella. At times lush, at times pure nonsense. Glad I’ve seen it nonetheless.

So relieved… finally saw Godzilla (2014). I am completely bemused by kicking it got in some circles – I found the film to be elegant, exciting, beautifully composed, well-staged and huge in scale. I really enjoyed it and found it streets ahead of its peers, whose reliance on the wham-bam money shot serves as nothing more than eye candy – whereas the massive visuals here tell the story first and foremost. Godzilla and co here are characters, not pixels, and it lends the film a grace that the genre rarely sees. Loved it. Perhaps modern audiences – and critics – don’t know how lucky they are at times.