Each Motion State Face Off pits two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
In hindsight, Michael Crichton’s 1973 film Westworld was an uncomplicated affair. Sure, the premise required a bit of explaining — there’s a Wild West theme park staffed by lifelike robots, offering full immersion for wealthy tourists looking for romance or violence — but the plot was deceptively simple and the characters were drawn without a trace of ambiguity. The humans were the heroes and the malfunctioning robots were the villains. As we’ve detailed in our Writer Series on the works of Crichton, lots of good science fiction operates in exactly this way: classic stories playing out in strange, unfamiliar settings or time periods. No matter how unsettling the concept, how futuristic the design, how far-off the entire experience feels, Westworld is still a movie about a killer robot. And this is hardly groundbreaking, even in 1973, considering that the very first robot in cinema (from Houdini’s 1918 silent serial The Master Mystery) was already wreaking havoc on its human overlords:
In some ways, Killer Robot Cinema (evermore an acceptable genre classification on Motion State) has progressed a great deal since 1918. The murderous machines went from stacked-and-spraypainted cardboard boxes to sleek metal automatons to, finally, looking just like humans, which is presumably the pinnacle of droid design both in fiction and in real life. In some ways, though, killer robot cinema has hardly moved an inch. Humans are still playing God, still inventing advanced A.I. in robot form, and those robots are still turning around and killing them for it.
Continue reading Face Off: Westworld (1973) and Westworld (Series)
- The great Alan Rickman passed away last week after a battle with cancer. We’ll be watching Die Hard in his honor, marathoning Harry Potter, and recommending is writer/director efforts The Winter Guest and A Little Chaos to anyone who’ll listen.
- HBO has reportedly halted production on Westworld, the Jonathan Nolan-helmed series adaptation of Michael Crichton’s seminal original film. That’s the latest in a long string of mysterious production shakeups at HBO, but it’s hard to get too rattled about it considering nearly everything they put out is of impeccable quality.
- A lightsaber with a crossguard hilt will apparently crop up in Star Wars Rebels, and it’s possible (although highly unlikely) that Supreme Leader Snoke will make an appearance as well. I’m all for bringing elements of The Force Awakens into the earlier-set parts of the Star Wars saga, but the lightsaber concept alone kind of makes Kylo Ren’s iconic weapon a little less special. I hope I eat those words.
- Can we talk about the impressive unveiling of 10 Cloverfield Lane? Consider how impossible it is to keep anything a secret these days. Consider how we only have to wait two months for the film, rather than two years. Consider how J.J. Abrams must have known that the Force Awakens marketing blitz would effectively serve as its own smokescreen, press outlets wrongly assuming that J.J. wouldn’t dare think of multitasking with a Star Wars film at stake (even if T.J. Miller sniped it). Trailer below.
Continue reading Film & TV News: January 18
1993 is very likely the pinnacle of Crichton-ness: Jurassic Park shot the writer to a level of stardom he’d only grazed with the likes of The Andromeda Strain and Westworld, and filmmakers scoured his existing properties for an opportunity to catapult themselves into Spielberg-level notoriety. This needed to happen fast, before anyone else jumped on a Crichton adaptation, but there were essentially only three of his novels that hadn’t yet been adapted. One was Congo, which featured super-smart gorillas, so that wasn’t much of an option (until it was, years later); second was Sphere, a really weird subterranean “imagination adventure” that couldn’t possibly be adapted (until…well, you know); and the third was Rising Sun, a relatively low-key murder mystery masquerading as a cultural economic diatribe (or is it a diatribe masquerading as a murder mystery?) that seemed to provide a perfect mix of commentary and storytelling. For quick kicks, the choice was an obvious one.
And as tends to happen with projects undertaken for such reasons, Rising Sun sadly marks the downward trend in Crichton adaptations sloping sharply away from Jurassic Park. Probably anything would fail to measure up to Park, but the tale of clashes that is Rising Sun failed thoroughly in every arena (except the box office — it rode Park‘s wave to a pretty good domestic haul). TGSC, baby. TGSC.
Continue reading Rising Sun (1993)
1973 was a hell of a year at the movies. Bruce Lee kicked ass in Enter the Dragon, Roger Moore debuted as Bond in Live and Let Die, and smalltown California got its romantic due in American Graffiti. There was Sydney Pollack‘s The Way We Were, Sam Peckinpah‘s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Robert Altman‘s The Long Goodbye. Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick announced themselves as filmmakers to be reckoned with upon the respective releases of Mean Streets and Badlands, and Michael Crichton made cinematic history with technological advances in Westworld. Then there’s The Sting, which I’m always willing to defend in a battle to the death as Greatest Film Ever. But these are more than just great movies — these are unique and fresh-seeming efforts, influential to this day because they all pushed the envelope.
And though the horror genre received more than a few landmark films that year — The Exorcist, The Wicker Man, etc. — Nicholas Roeg’s grief-stricken terror Don’t Look Now might be the scariest. It’s certainly the most engrossing. Envelope-pushing apparently wouldn’t cut it for Roeg and Company, as the incredibly intense Venice-set thriller does more to explode the envelope into a zillion tiny bloodstained pieces. The story follows John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) in the months following the accidental drowning of their daughter Christine. Paralyzed by anguish, the couple retreat to Venice. Soon, they encounter a pair of women claiming to have a connection to the deceased Christine.
Continue reading Don’t Look Now (1973)
- Hannibal gets cancelled by NBC just as I was starting to watch it. Hopefully Netflix will come to the rescue for this show as it has The Killing and others before it.
- Tom Holland was announced as the new Spider-Man earlier this week, and yes, we called it.
- Michael Crichton‘s posthumous novel Micro has been co-opted for a feature film adaptation, likely so whoever’s making it can cash in on the success of a certain dinosaur franchise.
- The great James Horner passed away earlier this week — few composers, not even Hans Zimmer or Danny Elfman or (dare I say it) the immortal John Williams have a filmography as varied and impressive as Horner. He will surely be missed.
Continue reading Film & TV News: June 28
- The limited revival of The X-Files begins shooting this coming week. A strange casting announcement came in the form of Joel McHale, who will apparently be playing a popular news anchor in a guest role. I’m a fan of X-Files and I’m a fan of McHale, but I’m finding it hard to imagine how they’d taste in the same recipe.
- Stephen King’s The Stand is set for an eight-part miniseries at Showtime followed by a feature film, which at this point is really only dredging up the heretofore-repressed memory of the abysmal 1994 Molly Ringwald version. Thanks, Showtime!
- The second season of Daredevil is allegedly courting Jason Statham for the role of the assassin Bullseye, which is one of the most perfect comic book casting rumors I’ve heard in a while.
- Speaking of comic book films, James Wan has been officially announced as the director for DC’s Aquaman.
Continue reading Film & TV News: June 7
One week from today is the wide release of Jurassic World, the highly-anticipated fourth installment in the dinosaur franchise that began with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Early reviews indicate that Colin Trevorrow, World‘s director, has delivered a more worthy successor to the original film than Spielberg’s sequel The Lost World or Joe Johnston’s follow-up Jurassic Park III. If that isn’t enough in and of itself, we might root for World to actually be as good as Park rather than just “better than the crappy ones”.
Short of having actually seen Jurassic World yet (I’d be so biased if I had!), the premise is already more akin to the original tale than to the rehashed visits of the second and third films. We won’t speculate too hard about World, and it will certainly need more than a cool premise to survive sequelitis; still, it’s already obvious that the storytelling mentality is focused on a particular point in time that falls between creation and destruction, and the importance of that theme in the Jurassic franchise shouldn’t be brushed aside. In fact, it’s an significant storytelling element of many of Spielberg’s films, and many of Michael Crichton’s works as well.
Continue reading Jurassic Park (1993)
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.
Continue reading Looker (1981)
If the worth of a film can be measured in the height of the protagonist’s hat, then The Great Train Robbery is one of the finest cinematic endeavors in history. Look at that thing! More than once I thought of this:
Even if we strike that particular criteria, Michael Crichton’s The Great Train Robbery is still one of the most unique and enjoyable entries in his long and storied career. We’ve discussed Crichton’s popular status as a “sci-fi writer” before, positing that although The Andromeda Strain and Coma and Jurassic Park certainly number among his finest works, Crichton also defied the genre to which he’d been assigned by the popular media on more than one occasion. In no single script is this more apparent than in The Great Train Robbery, adapted from his own 1975 novel, and the reason why isn’t simply because there’s no science fiction involved.
Continue reading The Great Train Robbery (1978)
Michael Douglas famously referred to Coma as the first time he was a part of something with a good story, a good cast, and a good director. The latter of those compliments, while true, was at that point based only on Crichton’s debut feature Westworld and his earlier made-for-TV flick Pursuit. The middle statement, about the cast, seems oddly self-serving considering Douglas is in the cast. The actor’s career was likewise young, and oddly enough Mike Crichton and his brother Douglas once published a story under a pseudonym that combined their first names: Michael Douglas.
Whatever conspiracy the Michaels and the Douglases have cooked up here, it probably isn’t as sinister as the conspiracy afoot in Coma. Based on the highly popular novel of the same name by Robin Cook (a friend and contemporary of Crichton’s), the story of Coma is as well thought-out as Douglas claimed. The pairing of Cook and Crichton is a match made in medical thriller heaven, and Crichton’s script treatment of the novel is accurate and respectful of the source material. Slight changes were made, but the overall sense of paranoia that pervades the book is very much intact in Crichton’s screen treatment.
Continue reading Coma (1978)