Star Trek

19 05 2010

“Space: the final frontier…”

So goes the opening monologue for each episode of Star Trek (1966-69), a TV series that paved the way for every serious science fiction series in its wake. And yet, for a show that was so fresh and innovative at the time, its brand has become stale and repetitive over the years, turning into a shadow of its former self.

Enter the cinematic reboot Star Trek (2009), an attempt to revitalise the franchise some 43 years after its debut. Helmed by J.J. Abrams (the man behind Alias (2001-2006) and Lost (2004-2010)) and written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who also brought us The Island (2005) and Transformers (2007)), this is obviously not going to be deep or thought-provoking. With those names behind it, you can bet on things being fairly fun, however, at the very least.

The approach taken seems to be akin to recent Marvel origin films such as X-Men (2000) and Spider-man (2002): keep the fans happy while playing-up the novelty of seeing familiar characters meeting, all while adopting a light and breezy tone. And then throw in a few curve-balls to shake things up a bit.
Read the rest of this entry »


30 11 2007

BeowulfNote: Beowulf is being screened in select venues in 3D; this review is of the regular theatrical presentation.

Ever since 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Robert Zemeckis has increasingly relied on CGI technology in making films such as Death Becomes Her, Forrest Gump and Contact. But it was his animated adaptation of The Polar Express in 2004 where he pushed so-called “motion-capture” technology to its limits, and now, three years later, he revisits it with Beowulf.

The film is, of course, based on the epic poem of the same name, but screenwriters Neil Gaiman (MirrorMask) and Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction, The Rules of Attraction) have crafted a modernised, coherent narrative out of the ancient source text. Here they assume an unreliable narrator in the source, and so Beowulf, originally a singularly heroic character, becomes a flawed man instead. Whether this works for or against the film is open to debate, but it’s hard not to admire the attempt to craft a thematically-unified three-act screenplay out of a poem that was never designed for such.

What deserves greater discussion, however, is the motion-capture technology itself. In The Polar Express, we had a situation that seemed like the worst of both worlds: too artificial to be fully convincing yet too lifelike to think of it as pure animation — it was as if Tom Hanks’ zombie twin had started dancing in Toontown. In Beowulf, things are greatly improved, but it often looks like a videogame cutscene rather than a bona fide film. (This technique would be perfect for a Warcraft film, perhaps.)
Read the rest of this entry »


16 11 2007

TransformersMichael Bay is not the most hated filmmaker amongst film geeks — that title goes to the hapless Uwe Boll — but it’s a close call. Bay is the man who brought us such cinematic gems as Bad Boys and The Rock, both of which are the sort of movies that are slick but empty, providing the focus group-driven ingredients for blockbusters without supplying any kind of soul or vision. In short, Bay’s style epitomises crass commercialism at its most artistically bereft.

So it’s an incredible irony that Bay seems to have redeemed himself with Transformers, a film based on a line of toys of all things. Bay’s film not only delivers on its promise of a fun popcorn movie, it revels in its frivolity; this is the film that the abysmal Independence Day wanted so desperately to be, all those years ago.

As the Transformers mythology goes, two warring factions of giant alien robots — the benevolent Autobots and the evil Decepticons — left their homeworld of Cybertron for Earth, where their eternal battle continues. Here they take the forms of ordinary vehicles and devices: leading the Autobots is Optimus Prime, a heroic figure who transforms into a truck and gets to pontificate about freedom and the virtues of humanity, while heading the Decepticons is Megatron, who used to transform into a gun but in the film appears as a jet.
Read the rest of this entry »