October 31, 2011

We Have Such Sights to Show You: A Dissection of the Hellraiser Franchise

Previously published at Hope Lies.

The Original

Exploding onto the horror scene in 1984 with the first volume of Books of Blood, Clive Barker didn't wait long to make the transition to film, writing the screenplays for Transmutations (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986). Dissatisfied with how the films, both directed by George Pavlou, ultimately turned out, Barker decided to take his own turn in the director's chair. He settled on an adaptation of his novella, The Hellbound Heart, pulling together his own funds and additional income from a distribution deal with New World Entertainment that left him with a budget of around a million bucks.

Hellraiser (1987) is about a man named Frank (Oliver Smith and Sean Chapman, respectively in and out of makeup). Frank is a pervert and a sadist who's traveled the world looking for new thrills and sensations and acts of depravity. One day, he arrives for his brother's wedding only to deflower the bride on top of her wedding dress. He leaves before the ceremony and the indiscretion is never discovered. During another adventure, Frank comes across a puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration, which opens a portal to the dimension of the Cenobites (led by Doug Bradley in an unnamed role that's never referred to as Pinhead within the films themselves), priests of the art of taking pain and pleasure to such extremes that both fuse together into a single eternal sensation.

October 29, 2011

[Unfulfilled Hopes] Deader

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Last month, fellow Hope Lies contributor Rob Girvan wrote a great piece about the direct-to-video market and the occasional gems that can be found within. One of the more interesting aspects of the direct-to-video system is how completely original projects can be retooled under a brand label. Sometimes a completed film will simply have its title changed, as with 8MM 2 or several of the Wild Things entries. Sometimes, as with a few of the American Pie spinoffs, scripts will be bought that can easily be revised to tie them into the franchise. Heck, this isn't exclusive to direct-to-video, as none of the four existing Die Hard films featured the character of John McClane in their original incarnations.

[Short-Lived Showcase] Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light - Final Thoughts

Check it out here.

October 11, 2011

[Unfulfilled Hopes] The Early Drafts of Star Wars, Part 3

Previously published at Hope Lies.

In the first installment of this article, we explored George Lucas' March 1973 outline, where he used Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress as the springing point for what would become The Star Wars. In the second piece, we looked at the first full draft, written over a year later in July of '74, where he poured all of his thoughts onto the page in a massive, rich, sweeping first draft that, as amazing as it is, would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to film at the time. So it's with his second draft, dated January 1975, that Lucas started to strip things down and find his focus.

The Adventures of the Starkiller

Episode I

The Star Wars

October 1, 2011

[Unfulfilled Hopes] The Early Drafts of Star Wars, Part 2

Previously published at Hope Lies.

In my previous installment, I explored Lucas' original outline for The Star Wars, where he used the plot of Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress as a springboard for his ideas. Now it's time to dig into Lucas' first full draft, written five months later in July of 1974.

We open on a desert world where Akira Valor lives in hiding, teaching his sons Justin and Bink the ways and philosophies of the Dai warriors. The Dai were instrumental in spreading the reach and influence of the Galactic Kingdom before it turned on them, declaring them a rebel cult and all but wiping them out with a rival sect called the Legions of Lettow. One such Lettow warrior, clad in a black cloak and face mask, tracks the Valor clan down and attacks. He's defeated, but not before little Bink is slain. The teenaged Justin tells his father he's tired of hiding and the two decide to return to the front lines.

[Short-Lived Showcase] Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, issue 3 "The Star Stone"

Check it out here.

September 22, 2011

[Unfulfilled Hopes] The Early Drafts of Star Wars, Part 1

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Discussion of the origins of Star Wars must, of course, begin with Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, the tale of a bearded General and a young Princess, both in the guise of peasants, trying to sneak across enemy lines while pursued by the clan who overthrew their kingdom and having to work with a bumbling pair of lowly goons who keep shifting between helping the leads and trying to sell them out and make off with their gold. It's very common to hear comments along the lines of "Star Wars is totally a ripoff of The Hidden Fortress!" but these are overblown and are often made by people who haven't even seen Kurosawa's film. There is a bearded general in Star Wars, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a feisty young princess, Leia, but not only has the plot of them fleeing across enemy lines together been removed, they never actually meet on screen, and Leia is never disguised as a peasant (these elements would, however, pop up in The Phantom Menace). The scene of the droids R2-D2 and C3P-0 arguing as they wander through a desert is almost identical to the two goons in the opening of The Hidden Fortress, and both pairs are quickly rounded up by slave traders and then freed, but they otherwise have no connection in terms of persona or story. There's also a duel between old allies and the frequent use of wipe cuts, but the point I'm making here is that the influence of The Hidden Fortress was so diluted by the time Star War came to be that claims of how much the final film owes to the earlier work can seem a little unfair.

August 26, 2011

[Unfulfilled Hopes] King Conan: Crown of Iron

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Conan the Barbarian, raised as a slave and gladiator after his village is slain, who gains freedom and seeks vengeance against Thulsa Doom, the sorcerer cultist who took his father's sword. Conan the Destroyer, who cut down the wizard Toth-Amon and led a band of warriors to kill a god and save a sacrificial princess. One of these films has sunk into the public conscious as an often poetic pulp exploration of freedom, what is best in life, and the riddle of steel. The other is a hacked out two-fisted sequel. Yet both left the promise of something greater to come with their shared final image of an aged and bearded King Conan brooding over his destined throne. There were attempts at a third entry, the longest of which, Conan the Conqueror eventually gave up on the return of Arnold and settled on Kevin Sorbo and the name of another Robert E. Howard hero as it was retitled Kull the Conqueror. It wasn't until John Milius, writer/director of the first, decided to return to the series he had to abandon for Red Dawn that another chapter seemed like a very real possibility.

August 17, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (2011 film)

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Daniel Craig is the man with no name. Really, he wakes up in a desert with no idea of who or where he is. His only clues are a wound in his side, a photo of a beautiful woman, and a strange metal device clamped on his wrist. After beating down some stray ruffians and stealing a horse and some boots, this man rides into the town of Absolution, where he meets the usual western fare. You've got the weathered old Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine made up to resemble Jason Robards) and his rambunctious grandson (The Last Airbender himself, Noah Ringer); the befuddled local saloon owner with bad aim, Doc (Sam Rockwell), and his soothing Mexican wife, Maria (Ana de la Reguera); and the fatherly old Preacher, Meacham (Clancy Brown), who's always there with advice, liquor, a sewing needle, or laugh lines about how holding your gun compares to holding your pecker.

June 29, 2011

The Hinges of Destiny #1: Determination

2011 novel. Written by Angelle Tusa.

As the opening of oh so many superhero stories go, Elizabeth is your average young woman. She's a small town girl in the middle of LA for college, who's dealing with a new roommate, her best friend's band, and that handsome guy who saved her purse from a snatcher. Oh, and she has superpowers.

There have been numerous attempts in the past to explore comic book superheroics from a grounded, everyday point of view, but I've never before seen one quite like this. Elizabeth and the other members of the Achiever's Club aren't in a School for Gifted Youngsters (though we hear those do exist) or some other elite training program, they're in a normal college. There's no costumes or megalomaniacs or world-shattering threats, there's just kids dealing with homework and relationships. Even when Max, their most idealized member, suggests they start going out on patrols to clean up a bit of rampant crime, it's in the form of petty carjackers and thieves, and the biggest threat they encounter are a speedster and an esper looking to steal some test answers. It's mundane. It's slice of life. Take away the powers, and the story still mostly works as a group of kids trying to do the right thing in a place that's a little desperate for help.

Unfortunately, the problem I have with the story is that it's almost too mundane. There's big hints of a broader world out there, of the aforementioned gifted universities, foreign governments that draft powered individuals into their armies, and well established superheroes that now write books or give self-help seminars. I like how author Tusa peppers them into the background to give the setting a little weight, but their impact is too thinly felt.

And on top of that, there's far too little actual conflict. There's a sharp division between the good side and the bad, but there's no real drama going on among either group. Both Elizabeth and Jessica (super vision) have the hots for Max, but the angry glares are left behind a few chapters later when he picks one, and it's never again an issue. We learn that Elizabeth's human roommate had a troubled past with a superpowered being, but they talk it out in a couple of pages and are total BFFs. J is struggling with her inability to touch people because she's frequently electrified, but when the guy who has an eye on her learns about this, he wraps her in a huge hug. There's so many times that we hear about the hardships of these characters, their embarrassment when their power slips out of control, the perceptions of their peers, their struggles with friends and family, but we never really get to experience any of it first hand.

This carries over into the powers, as well. Much of the story is told from Elizabeth's point of view, and we hear about her issues with controlling her psionic abilities, either picking up the thoughts of others or projecting her own. Again, we never experience this. She goes through training over the course of the story which strengthens her abilities, but she's already got a pretty strong grip on them from the start, so we, again, only hear about issues that we never get to witness for ourselves. The same goes for her retractable claws, which we hear (in the past) are responsible for many a wrecked shoe. Because I guess she can't just wear open toed footwear? And how do the retractable claws work? Where do they go when they retract? There isn't much room in the tip of a finger for something that isn't a nub of bone, and how does she still have normal fingernails on top of the claws? Wouldn't it be one or the other? Wouldn't the ends of her digits be visibly different so as to accommodate? And we see them cut through a metal rod at some point. How are they this strong? Is there some bizarre tactile connection between them and the bones of the fingers that prevents them from tearing loose when they hit a substance like metal? If so, why aren't these ligaments throughout her body? And wouldn't that give her the same strength as Max who has the same powers except for the strength that she should logically have, too?

I'm sorry, that was something I had difficult time wrapping my head around. What I do like is that both Elizabeth and Max, through having multiple powers each, stand out even among other superbeings. This is a rare, but increasingly common development, and the mystery behind it seems to be a driving thread that a future volume will build upon. And I will be there to read it. There are some really rough patches in this book, but for a freshman effort, it was a surprisingly gripping and thoughtful read, populated with distinct characters that I'd like to explore again.

The novel is currently being serialized at http://thehingesofdestiny.wordpress.com/. The author was kind enough to provide me with a complete manuscript for this review.

June 14, 2011

[Kubrick] The Space Odyssey Is Worth Continuing in Peter Hyams' 2010

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Let's get this out of the way up front: 2010 is not 2001. It just isn't. It's not an artistic experience that challenges the mind while painting for people an amazing future that never before felt so real and raises questions about existence and creation and why are we here and what else is waiting outside the fence of our atmosphere that will make our greatest most miraculous achievements seem tiny in comparison. It's not a film that's more about an experience than a narrative, nor a film that redefines a genre, a style, effects techniques, hell, cinema itself for decades to come.

But it is a good film, a very good film, one that's been a personal favorite since I first discovered it and its predecessor in my early teens. It doesn't sweep me away as much as 2001, but it still captures my imagination and challenges me to think and ask, and gives me the drive to seek out the hard questions, but still know when the price of knowing an unknown might not be worth it.

May 25, 2011

[Kubrick] I Am Spartacus: The Film Stanley Kubrick Was Never Able To Claim As His Alone

Previously published at Hope Lies

Ah, Spartacus. The lone wolf. The odd man out. The "one of these is not like the others". Ask a fan of Kubrick what they think of the film, and they'll usually be disappointed because it's done in a much more commercial style than the rest of his work. Ask someone who's not a fan of Kubrick what they think, and they usually quite like it... because it's done in a much more commercial style than the rest of his work. Out of all the films of Kubrick's career, this is the only one that he didn't personally select and build and nurture from the earliest outline to the final edit. This is a film directed by Kubrick, but it's not a Kubrick film.

May 5, 2011

Why Is Pirates Of The Caribbean My Favorite Film Trilogy? Sea Turtles, mate.

Previously published at Hope Lies.

Being a member of the geek communities that I am, the question often arises of which trilogy I prefer: Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings. To the puzzlement of many, I always answer with Pirates of the Caribbean. But Star Wars is a classic, you say, that revolutionized filmmaking and technology while hearkening back to the theme of classic legendary storytelling. Yes, but other than the middle entry, The Empire Strikes Back, there's little depth beyond the surface archetypes. It's all spectacularly well put together, but it's almost iconic to a fault, lacking much to chew on beyond what's clearly there. And then there's The Lord of the Rings, equally revolutionary, and filled with depths and layers as it adapts a fully fleshed tribute to the lore of ancient times. Marvelous films, all three, but extremely heavy and ponderous at times, particularly in the never ending third entry. There are moments I treasure, and moments that feel like wading through mud to get to those moments I treasure.

And then there's Pirates of the Caribbean.