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.

 

It’s Wednesday morning, so that usually means I end up ruminating on our Tuesday night movie. Essentially, near enough every Tuesday, my wife, father-in-law and oftentimes brother-in-law also all assemble for a nice meal, catch up and movie. We are a myriad of tastes, so it often throws up quite a few varied choices, but we always have fun. And we often laugh and joke our way through a movie, commenting as we go.

Last night was the first time I can remember when all off us were stony silent from start to finish, while we watched Blackfish (2013), and it wasn’t because we were in a bad mood or anything like that. We were hooked, appalled and gripped from minute one.

It is a superb documentary, first and foremost. It tells the story of Tilikum, one of the performing killer whales at Sea World, from desperately sad start to present day. It is told through talking head interviews of ex-employees and archive footage, but it deftly tightens around you, gradually unfurling the beats of the story in such a way that is damning, heart-wrenching but always compelling.

I always think that the best documentaries feature the other side to the story, including the viewpoint of the antagonising parties. In this case that is Sea World, and it seems they were offered all manner of invitations to appear in the film to clarify events or their position. The fact that they don’t only enforces the appearance of the Sea World executive hierarchy as faceless suits only concerned about the bottom line – essentially rendering them the perfect villains. 

What the film does very well is carry the story of the orcas in a way that educates and informs. I was dumbfounded by some of the facts in the story, and amazed. And it only raises eyebrows further at the barbaric treatment these animals have been subjected to. 

There is far more to say, and far more to tell. But please watch it to feel it for yourself. 

I went to Sea World as 16 year old in 1999, and was mesmerised. It was really something special, but now that sure leaves a sour taste in the mouth. I probably even saw Tilikum before, which sticks in my craw something awful. Eighteen months ago, I went with my little family to Disney, and chose not to got to Sea World because I didn’t think my two year old would sit through the shows. Had I seen this film prior to my trip, I would have had a whole host of reasons not to go. 

See it. Now.

NB: The film came out last year, and I was interested to know how Sea World’s profits have been affected since release. Daily Mail say that their second quarter revenue for this year is down $42million (source), while Huffington Post says that so far this year, Sea World’s stock has dropped 31% (source). Although this is far from conclusive in proving some sort of ‘Blackfish effect’, it’s certainly worth thinking about.

‘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.

Caught Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) last night, and went in with no assumptions or predictions or opinions whatsoever, aside from loving the cartoons and movies as a kid. And call me a massive, nostalgic, forgiving nerd, but… and whisper it… I loved it.

Take the film totally for what it is, and for what it is most not supposed to be. It is supposed to be a fun romp through much-loved territory, not courting cinematic mastery and Oscar attention. On this front, it succeeds completely. 

It’s not perfect, but what are you expecting?! This is the story of mutant turtles living in the sewers under New York, who just happen to be outrageously good at Ninjitsu, and are somehow humanoid and in their teens. I think suspension of believe, and forgiving a bit of fantasy, is a given on even contemplating watching this film. 

Critics have argued that there is no soul there. I would disagree – the soul of the 1987 cartoons is completely there, not to mention careful nods and homages to the cinematic and comic book incarnations in, around and since that time. The film is funny, and action packed – while maintaining a sense of brotherhood. Yes, the four turtles behave like brothers, and have a bond that reflects that. It worked for me. 

The effects… I don’t know what will impress critics anymore. They were amazing. I didn’t feel like I was watching a video game, nor did I feel that I was constantly aware a lot of stuff must have been CG. It’s photorealistic so much of the time, that I was immersed and sold. The turtles design has irked some, as has the tweaking of the origin story, but… come on. Isn’t interpretation, in light of what we can achieve these days with effects, allowed? Aren’t the greatest things we can achieve based on taking what others have done and moving forward with advanced iterations of it, learning, testing and tweaking? So what if there are changes? It never stopped it feeling like a ninja turtles movie for me. 

Like I said, it is not without flaws. Splinter might as well have been called Sensei Exposition, for all the explaining he has to do. April O’Neill could have done with being fleshed out a bit more. And the motivations of The Shredder were extremely sketchy and fudged to say the least. 

But… I don’t care. I really enjoyed it. It ticked a lot of boxes for me in terms of spectacle and excitement, and was a breath of fresh air in the world of dark, stuffy, gritty reboots. I can’t wait to show my little one.

PS Massive special mention for this film including Careless Whisper by George Michael. I was always going to like it the minute you see Will Arnett preparing a sandwich with that on in the background.