Saturday, September 03, 2011

Films - Convince me

Films are an interesting medium for telling a story. Whereas a book can be more descriptive, allowing the reader to interpret and imagine as they see fit, film must do all of that for the viewer and hopefully capture the feeling that the story is trying to portray.

It would be foolish to say that certain films, or indeed TV shows, are "easy" to film - nothing is "easy", but certain types of film are going to be easier overall.
For instance - a film about relationships, set in the now is going to be far easier to film than, say, something set in the far future, or a period piece. This isn't just because we have to invent technology that doesn't yet exist, or try to source clothes and vehicles from times past, but because these things have to be convincing.

The last word there - convincing - is probably the most key. Go back and watch a good (in your eyes) Sci-Fi film from your past. Lets say, if you're a little older, 2001. That still stands up in most respects because it shuns most technology to tell a very much human story. Now lets look at something a little more recent, like the Matrix. That was filmed in 1997/98 and is still a fantastic movie (some would say, the perfect Sci-Fi movie) but how convincing are the effects; the technology? Pretty good?

Okay, lets move on. Both of the movies I've mentioned fit a certain aesthetic. 2001 goes clean and white to show us, perhaps, not a real future, but an ideal. The Matrix, a complete opposite. In this case, there is technology we don't have (the hovering ships, and the Matrix itself) but the rest is more in line with what we have, or have lost.
If we think of something purely fantasy, then perhaps Star Wars - or Star Trek (both compete for fans affections). Now, Star Wars is based on technology invented thousands of years prior to the story line we're told through film - and for reasons not explained, it plateaued. The big bad has new tech and it's very shiny and dark and very "futuristic".
Star Trek on the other hand is set in our future and there is almost nothing in it that we have today (let's be honest here, we're talking the movies, not the series and we don't have phasers (posh lasers), transporters or warp capable vessels).

Do either of those age well when it comes to being "convincing"? No. Not really.

Case in point is the up coming Star Wars Blu-ray trilogy release. I don't need to go in to details here but Star Wars has had more lifts and tucks than any aging Hollywood star (and, honestly, it doesn't need it - it looks it's age and is better for it).

Star Trek on the other hand is far harder to forgive.

The first films were made in the 1970s and early 1980s and it shows. The model making for the ship sequences was hugely involving (not to say Star Wars was not, by the way) and expensive and meant that some shots were reused - perhaps "mirrored" or coloured to change the focus - but reused none the less.
The hair styling, costumes and sets screamed their age and the technology was a look forward 300 years that, in some cases, we've already surpassed. Bad Star Trek!
Now, some would say I've missed the point - Star Trek was about us - as people. The Enterprise was a metaphor for the planet Earth and it's crew, the United States. So, okay, I'll concede - but it still had people fighting on lava planets and ships throwing plasma at each other (okay, not plasma... photon torpedoes).

Leaving Trek behind - this has been a problem for a long time. Computers now replace models, and actors now have to stand in empty, green rooms or, worse, become avatars instead. Our obsession with making these other worlds look real has meant that whilst they do on the day of release, they age very quickly and the gap between reality and the uncanny valley is narrowing all the time (google the uncanny - it's interesting - if you want an example; Neo fighting the masses of Smiths in the Matrix Reloaded. One second it's actor Keanu Reeves, the next it's a PlayStation animation).

So, to my point. (Yes, I was getting to it).


We probably relate comics to comic books and comic books to super heroes. Originally, and most prominently, they are indeed about super heroes, but more recently, films and TV have gone the other way (think Buffy or Firefly). Comics very rarely make a good transfer to film... mind you, neither do Computer games (perhaps a topic for another day).

The last 10 years has seen a very real resurgence of comic book movies. They didn't exactly go away - the likes of Superman and Batman have always been there (and with almost no exception, they've been terrible) but with the 2002 version of Spider man we finally got a good (for the time, great) interpretation of a comic book. Were the sequels as good? Well, the second was actually really good - probably better than the first, but the third was panned for good reason.

You may be thinking "Oi, Willis, what about X-Men? That came out in 2000!". Yeah well that sucked too. So did it's sequels. And Wolverine. Sorry - I love them too - but come on, they sucked.

So, Spidey probably had the limelight in most cases (opinion being what it is, you may disagree.. hell, you might have like Ghost Rider or Daredevil)... until 2008.

In my humble opinion, John Favreau's Iron Man was a turning point in comic book movies. Not only did it establish a character that wasn't quite so mainstream, but it also made it believable. Big difference.

Favreau had said on numerous occasions that he wanted the technology of Iron Man to be ahead of ours by "a couple of generations". He was talking about the computers, and general day to day stuff. The suit itself is doable, but the Arc Reactor is complete fiction. That's another story though.

I'd very much enjoyed Spider man and even X-Men to a degree - but Iron Man, well, I loved Iron Man. There are few films I'll buy more than once (DVD, Blu Ray etc) but other than Back to the Future - it's only Iron Man (and perhaps Serenity).

Iron Man was such a big hit that our subtly anti-hero Tony Stark appeared in "The Hulk" and his universe was expanded with "Thor" and "Captain America". Next year we'll get "The Avengers" that heavily features our favourite Avenger and, most likely, the Mk VII suit. 2013 will even follow with "Iron Man 3" if the rumours are to be believed, albeit without John Favreau - most likely because 'America, Thor and The Avengers leave the tech behind and go almost totally in to the realms of fantasy (it works mostly but makes things seem less believable).

Will we see more Iron Man beyond 2013? Most likely given the audience reaction - perhaps with more Avengers if Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, FireFly, to name but a few) can pull it off. It is less likely we'll see Robert Downey Jr continue the roll as he's likely to want to move on after four appearances (and with Iron Man having relaunched his career he now enjoys rolls such as Sherlock Holmes).

So I'm happy that these films are making the fantasy, believable once more. Long may it continue.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Halo Anniversary

If you haven't heard of the title, or have heard of it and think nothing of it - stop reading. It's fairly pointless an endeavour to continue.


If, on the other hand you call yourself "geek" or enjoy games - then Halo fill feature somewhere in your past - or indeed, future.

This year marks the 10th (yes, tenth) anniversary of Halo. More so in the US of A and related areas of the planet as they got the US spec PAL XBox before us UK'ers - but my brother and I, well, we were front of the line. Actually, I was in Canada and was at the midnight launch in November ;)

To say that Halo had some impact on myself and my lil' bro is probably an understatement. He, and he reminds me of this fairly frequently, completed it - twice - in black and white (before we could get the correct NTSC/PAL adapters of the then-new Microsoft toy), so I think it's fairly safe to say he liked it.

Halo did something no game had ever done previously. It brought PC-style FPS shooters to the console. Yeah, sure, we'd seen them on consoles, but they sucked (and largely, still can). Halo managed to bring that to a wired, but analogue controller that felt right. It's no secret that the reason I still have that Xbox, it's sequel (and another), a PS3 and several other consoles, comes directly and solely down to those few months with the Xbox and Halo.
All this from Microsoft.. who would have thought it?

Anyway, I digress.

Halo comes full circle in a few weeks with Halo CE. The anniversary.
This is the original, 2001 game, built by Bungie (yes, we love Bungie) but brought up to "HD" standards (I hate the term, as it's not even that high a resolution), with wide screen support and.. and.. the best bit.. a button to revert the graphics back to 2001 (very much like the Monkey Island games of recent years). I love this.

Halo - or "Halo: Combat Evolved" as Bungie hate to call it (and old story surrounding Microsoft not liking "Halo" on it's own.. so they subtitled it.. not Bungie) was the best game in the series - it was the first.

It wasn't the best because it brought the universe to my attention - no, it was the best because.. well, it was simple. It worked. It dragged me in and told me a story almost over - and had me gagging for more. I wanted to know about the forerunners, the reclaimer, these covenant and even Guilty Spark 343 couldn't put me off (the sidekick.. think Jar Jar but not as bad). Ah Halo.

Of course, Halo 2 and 3 were good - 2 in many ways the strongest game in the series except for the end and ODST has become my favourite soundtrack and most real of the games since it has you being human over super-soldier. Reach is the most recent and well, it is a fantastic, hugely emotional game that has more holes in it's plot than an early James Bond movie (but, I love those too).

So if you don't know Halo. Go find out. The fan fiction is superb - and with Karen Travis on board - it's about to get really technical and it's nice to know John wasn't always 117. If that doesn't work for you go to one of these sites:

Halo Waypoint
or even the recent Halofest site (yeah it even has it's own shows now!)

In closing - it's been a hell of a 10 years. Here's to 10 more!

Note: Despite me saying the original game was built by Bungie (and it was), the update is 343 Studios and nothing (publicly) to do with Bungie now that they've moved on to new and, hopefully, bright things.