One of the previews that screened before last night’s Boston premiere of Blade Runner 2049 was for next year’s monsters vs. robots actioner Pacific Rim Uprising, an inevitable if somewhat tardy sequel to Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 original. Based solely on this trailer, it’s evident that Uprising centers on the son of the first film’s protagonist, alludes heavily to that first film, and possibly just revamps the plot with slightly louder explosions. I was reminded, regrettably, of Independence Day: Resurgence, which gave off a similar reek of franchise desperation.
I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?
Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.
To my mind, two things played a major role in spawning a resurgence in post-apocalyptic storytelling in the past decade. The first is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a bombshell of a novel from 2006 that depicted an ashen, desolate earth struggling to grasp the faintest glimmers of hope. It became a decent John Hillcoat film a few years later, but the craze spun off into more than just that: The Book of Eli, I Am Legend, Tom Cruise’s Oblivion, last year’s brilliant Snowpiercer, last year’s crappy Young Ones, that crappy now-cancelled NBC show Revolution, etc. etc. They’re not all directly borne of The Road, of course, but the genre itself certainly received a huge boost from McCarthy’s novel. That’s why the time was right to revisit Mad Max with Fury Road, and why the likes of Blade Runner is getting a new treatment as well. Heck, just this week there’s talk of Christopher Nolan being involved with the long-awaited Akira adaptation.
The second influential piece of post-apocalyptic storytelling is The Walking Dead, the massively popular AMC show that launched a thousand other zombie-related things and an official spinoff of its own (Fear the Walking Dead, which is pretty good if almost exactly what you’d expect). The thing that pushed TWD ahead of the pack was the format of a television series: movies and books are comparatively finite, but the long-term storytelling at hand in a TV series (or a comic book series, like the one TWD is based on) serves the genre in the perfect way. In both cases — Road and TWD — the aim was to create a new world out of the old one, to watch characters deal with the differences, to play witness to what fantastic and terrible things might arise after something alters life as we know it.
The upcoming Star Wars movie won’t mark the first time Harrison Ford and J.J. Abrams have crossed paths. As the 1980s became the 1990s and Harrison Ford traded in Han Solo, Deckard and Indy for a string of lawyers, doctors, politicians and playboys, the young writer Jeffrey Abrams was just getting his start. His first singlehanded script was Regarding Henry, a story about a heart-of-ice lawyer who is irrevocably changed by a horrific accident, and he scored big time with Ford and director Mike Nichols coming on board to bring his script to the screen.
Thankfully, even though Ford’s ’80s history is repeating itself with returns to Star Wars, Blade Runner and possibly Indiana Jones, Abrams has matured out of his Regarding Henry self and doesn’t appear to be looking back. A solid cast and crew does not a solid movie make, and Henry is far more by-the-numbers than you might expect from the Ford/Nichols/Abrams triumvirate. There must have been something in the water in Hollywood in the ’90s, as Henry takes a prominent station in the decade’s prized Overly-Emotional Tearjerker Oscar-Bait category.
It’s no coincidence that Michael Crichton’s name is a popular one on the earliest portions of the timeline of CGI in film and television. After his 1973 film Westworld pioneered 2D computer animation in a feature film, the television spinoff Futureworld continued the trend with the first use of 3D computer graphics to animate a hand and a face. Crichton’s 1981 venture Looker — which he wrote and directed — claims a similarly important milestone: the first CGI human character. Her name was Cindy, and she’s kind of the digital australopithecus that ironically enough seems only to have evolved into Andy Serkis playing bigger monkeys.
So why are Tron and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan lauded to this day for basically doing what Looker did a year earlier? Simple: because Looker is awful. END OF REVIEW.
It’s cool that It Follows is getting the hype it’s getting. A lot of it is overboard, of course, as tends to happen sometimes when one good review snowballs until such claims as “It Follows is the best American horror film in decades” become commonplace. I’m all for lionizing good indie flicks, but it’s also important to let the thing stand alone for a while too, right? Anyway, that said, yes: It Follows is damn fine cinema. Technically a 2014 release, the film is just now gaining traction through an extended cinematic run.
Writer/Director David Robert Mitchell has a premise that nearly defies explanation because of its simplicity: there is this thing, slow-moving but not dumb, and if it’s “passed” to you then it will follow you. It can look like anyone, even someone you know. If it catches you it will kill you. Respite only comes from passing it along to someone else, and even then you’re still only next in line. That’s simultaneously an awesome premise — elementally terrifying in how simple it is — and yet one that’s been done a thousand times before. “Slow-moving thing inexplicably stalks people” is a staple of the horror genre, from Halloween (which we’ll discuss in a moment) to Alien (which we’ll discuss in another moment). Most “horror” flicks nowadays are really just slasher flicks with that premise mixed in. Thankfully, though, even though the premise of It Follows has been done before, it’s never been done quite like this.
– The legendary Leonard Nimoy passed away this week, spawning many a Star Trek marathon. We’ll have a logical time in his honor.
– Denis Villeneuve, auteur behind the dark and moody Enemy and the dark and moody Prisoners, is being touted as the director for the likely dark and moody Blade Runner sequel. It’s a weird prospect having Villeneuve direct such a massively commercial movie, but then again it’s kind of a weird prospect doing a Blade Runner sequel at all.
– Leonardo DiCaprio joined The Crowded Room, in which he’ll play a man with 24 different personalities. We don’t know much about the story, but it’s an awesome title at any rate.
This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.
So: is Deckard a replicant? This is the question that most everyone comes to after seeing Blade Runner, especially if the version in question is Ridley Scott’s 2007 Final Cut. There are seven distinct version of the film — including the U.S. and International Theatrical Cuts (both 1982) and the Director’s Cut (1992) — each of which is evidence of a continued preoccupation with this dystopian vision of our future. Granted, the broad strokes of all seven versions are more or less the same. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, an android-hunting policeman quite different than most other Ford heroes. Regardless of which version you’re watching, Blade Runner is about Deckard’s brush with dehumanization after he’s assigned to track down a band of escaped androids (“replicants”) and terminate them before they discover a way to extend their own lifespans.
But the Final Cut is the only version to place emphasis squarely on that question: is Deckard himself a bioengineered replicant? The original versions certainly leave little reason to doubt the humanity of the protagonist. Deckard and Rachel run away at the end of the theatrical cuts and presumably live happily ever after. Along with a completely restored picture, a restored sound mix, removal of Deckard’s voiceover narration and addition of several improved effects shots that simply weren’t possible in 1982, the Final Cut also subtracts that happy ending and includes a few key scenes that had been cut from the initial releases.
I think of Ridley Scott as a badass. Chalk it up to me being a little tyke when Gladiator and Black Hawk Down came out, or to his most famous films being the sleek and surefooted sci-fi flicks Alien and Blade Runner. I watched his most recent film Exodus: Gods and Kings, in which Moses is played by Batman, and the reaction was more or less the same: this dude just made the Bible badass. Let’s be clear in stating that Exodus is a pretty poor effort, and so I don’t mean “badass” as a full compliment. But that sleekness and that direct, immediate pacing holding a healthy amount of action is what I associate Scott with, and if nothing else Exodus certainly was a spectacle.
Then I watched 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Gérard Depardieu plays Christopher Columbus, discoverer of America, fighting to explore what he knows to exist past the European horizon. The film opens in 1490 or so, as Columbus gathers a head of steam for his royally-financed expedition — the always-superb Armand Assante plays the nobleman Sanchez, and Sigourney Weaver plays Queen Isabel. Columbus pushes for his dream. Sanchez and Co. conspire to gain from the ambition of the explorer, and there’s an overwhelming sense in this opening half-hour that — for lack of a better descriptor — shit is about to go down. Maybe Sanchez will plant a spy on the Santa Maria, or maybe he’ll do something even more dastardly.
This isn’t the first time that Amazon’s pilot season — which sees the simultaneous launch of a dozen or so opening episodes of a variety of new shows — has been mostly a waste of time. Most of these shows don’t deserve a second episode. Finding The Man in the High Castle, the diamond in this season’s rough, might not be an altogether uncommon occurrence either; Amazon’s Transparent just took home a fistful of Golden Globes, so the streaming service is slowly catching up to Netflix when it comes to quality series.
But make no mistake: The Man in the High Castle is anything but common. Like any great what if? story, only one thing has been changed here. This could easily be our world, the exact one we live in today, if not for this one change; though the America of The Man in the High Castle is utterly unrecognizable, that revisionist tectonic shift was borne entirely of the initial tremor, the single change. That change, admittedly, asks the grandfather of all what ifs: what if the Nazis had won the war?