A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 529 – Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone

Neon Genesis Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone – August 11th, 2011

Honestly? I’m not even sure how to start to review this. Mostly because it’s a re-do of a series that I would never have attempted to sum up in a short space. But also because I feel like there’s no possible way I have anything new to say about this. The series this is based on has been around for a while and it’s rather famous for its bizarre ending and heavily allegorical plot. What could I possibly say that hasn’t been said a million times before by hundreds and thousands of anime fans? Nothing, that’s what.

It just feels silly, trying to recap the plot here, but then that is something I do have to say about this. It’s been a very long time since I last watched the Evangelion series but while watching it I remember feeling like there were always things I was missing. Meaning I should have gotten but which turned out not to be revealed until much later on. At first it’s basically a monster of the week sort of deal, and only later do we find out that there’s a hell of a lot more going on. In this movie remake the same events take place, but with more of the overall plot incorporated into them. Or at least that’s what I’m assuming. Like I said, it’s been quite some time.

I first watched the Evangelion series when I was in college. I’m fairly sure it was during my sophomore year, because I can remember the apartment Andy was living in at the time and the way it was set up. We grabbed the episodes two at a time from the video store we were working at and watched them every night for a while. It’s not one of those series that went on and on forever, but it’s not a concise miniseries either. To be honest, it’s very much like The Prisoner to me: Full of lots of allusions and messages and purpose, then ending in a blaze of what the ever loving fuck. And I don’t dislike what-the-ever-loving-fuck endings, but the series seemed to have spend so much time on the build-up that it just felt odd. I can’t speak to how this movie series will play out, but at least the beginning feels a bit more cohesive.

As in the series, our hero here is young Shinji, who’s been away at school for a while and is pretty convinced his father doesn’t care about him in the least. He’s wrong, but not in a comforting sort of way, because his father does care but as far as this portion of the plot is concerned he only cares that Shinji has the ability to pilot a giant mech called an Eva. And the Evas are needed in order to defeat a series of giant attacking monsters called Angels. So Shinji’s father cares that Shinji is now useful, but other than that he’s pretty distant. Which leads to the immense amount of whining Shinji does throughout the story. Shinji is famous for his whining. And you know, if the fate of the world wasn’t at stake, I’d be a lot more forgiving of his daddy issues. His daddy is a remote jackass and at least in the series it becomes clear he’s also pretty creepy. So I’d totally let Shinji’s whining go, but it’s so ever-present that it feels egregious, and this is not something that this movie fixes. Even knowing that a lot of what Shinji is whining about is perfectly valid, I still rolled my eyes.

So Shinji shows up in Tokyo and is immediately told that he’s not there for a loving reunion with his father but is needed to pilot a giant mech he’s never seen or heard of before and oh yes, he needs to do that right now because an Angel is approaching the city. The only other Eva and pilot in the area are disabled due to an accident and so it’s up to him. Is it any wonder that he has trouble piloting the damn thing? The Angel kicks his ass, at which point his mech goes berserk and freaks out, giving us a clue that maybe the Evas aren’t really just big suits of armor. There are other clues by the end. It’s made clear that there’s a much deeper game going on, with something imprisoned deep down under the city, even below the fortified underground space where the city exists when it’s all been retracted during an attack. It’s clear that Things Have Happened and will continue to happen. And it’s clear that there’s a lot that isn’t clear.

Really, I’m not sure what else to say here. I’m watching this movie somewhat tainted with a years-back experience watching the series it’s based on. Of course that’s bound to color how I see the movie itself and I freely admit that I am a biased viewer. I know a lot of what isn’t revealed in this movie, so perhaps my knowledge of what’s to come is affecting how I see what was revealed. I know the natures of some of the characters a little better. I know the ending, such as it was when I watched it way back when. Ultimately, I came out of this movie having enjoyed it, and it was certainly nice to see a good quality version with what were likely updated effects. But I also came out of it wanting to rewatch the series to check myself and my perceptions of it. I don’t know how someone with no prior knowledge of the story and universe would react to it. Perhaps it would be an easier sell than the series. Or perhaps it’s just as incomprehensible, just in slightly different ways, and if you’re going to enjoy it you’ll enjoy it either way and likewise if you’re not going to enjoy it. I wish I could review it better, but like I said, I’m sure other people have already done so.

August 11, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 494 – Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 – July 7th, 2011

After the drama of last night, plus a long day for me, we decided it would be best to watch something sweet and fun and ultimately tear-jerky. Which really could be any Pixar film. It’s what they specialize in, after all. So Andy gave me two choices: Toy Story 3 or Up. You mean I have to choose? Yes. Because there wasn’t enough time to watch both and we only have one box of tissues in the apartment. So in went the latest (last?) installment of the Toy Story saga to get a theatrical release. And we braced ourselves for the tears that we knew would hit by the end.

By now in the series we’ve met the toys, seen them deal with issues of jealousy and abandonment and learned that most of all they just want to be played with by their child. They want to be loved and treasured and always be there to have fun. Sure, being a collector’s item is okay – better than being tossed aside – but playtime is the best time. Coming into this movie we’re supposed to be familiar not only with the characters of the toys themselves, but with the world they exist in. Because being familiar with the world will make this movie that much more wrenching.

The first movie introduced the characters and pulled them all into a team. The second movie presented them with a sinister threat and an unpleasant reality. The third one? The third one tackles growing up. We zip forward through the opening credit montage, through the childhood of Andy, the owner of Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang. He gleefully plays with his toys over and over and over until the montage and credits end and we find that he’s 17 years old and headed off to college and the toys are patiently (or not so patiently in some cases) waiting for him in their toy box. They try a last-ditch effort to get his attention by stealing his cell phone, but it’s all for naught. As Andy packs for college his mother tells him to toss what he doesn’t want in the trash or box up things he wants to keep either for the attic or for college. And through a series of understandable but unfortunate events, all the toys but Woody end up in a garbage bag on the curb instead of in the attic where Andy meant them to go.

Even without the eventual horrors of daycare, the scenario of the toys being left out for the garbage truck is a horrific one for the world that’s been presented to us. The toys all panic, certain that this is the end for them. Jessie’s already been cast aside by one kid, and now another! They escape in the nick of time, but clearly it’s time for them to go elsewhere. Andy doesn’t need them anymore. So off they go to the magical land of daycare where every day is a day full of playtime and the kids never cast you aside because there are always new kids! Things don’t go as well as they want, however.

Now, this is what I really love about this movie. I love the tearjerker ending too, but what I really love is the horrific world of Sunnyside daycare. The older kids are a dream come true for toys. But as Buzz and the others find out, the toddlers are another story entirely. The scene with the toddlers rampaging through their playroom is at the same time one of the most hilarious and one of the most horrific things I have ever seen committed to film. And the movie does it deliberately. This is supposed to be a terrifying and threatening ordeal for the toys. They’re bent, licked, painted, stomped, thrown, bashed and broken and left reeling after the fact. As the toys themselves say, they are not age-appropriate for these kids. It creates this brightly colored and incredibly cheerful toy dystopia, ruled by the fuzzy fist of Lotso, a sinister fuchsia bear who smells like strawberries. He and his cronies have decreed that only they and their favorites get to live in the “Butterfly Room” with the older children. The new toys? They have to earn their places by spending time in the “Caterpillar Room”. Any toys that protest spend the night in the sandbox.

It’s a fantastically clever way to create peril for the characters of this world. I love how every aspect is playing upon this community of toys, with Lotso riding around in a toy dump truck and the toys playing cards for Monopoly money and AA batteries. The spa at the daycare is a repair spa, where toys can get cleaned and restitched. Ken, who shows up as one of Lotso’s cronies, has “his” Dream House, full of clothes he loves to wear and is just itching to try on, leading to a fashion show for Barbie. It’s all a wonderful and inventive environment for the toys to explore and cope with and it’s handled wonderfully. So too are the new additions to the cast, both good guys and bad. They’ve all got wonderful personalities and exhibit what I’ve always loved about these movies: toy-specific movement. The Army Men skip from side to side instead of walking because their legs are molded to their bases. Woody flails when he runs because he’s a soft-jointed toy. Barbie and Ken’s movements are stiff and posed, which anyone who’s ever owned one or the other or both knows is pretty spot on. It’s a great world and I love that the third movie takes everything to an entirely new location – one that makes perfect sense – and it all fits just right.

Of course, there’s going to be more danger, with he toys ending up at the town dump and almost getting incinerated, but they survive. That’s not the tearjerker moment, though it does have some pretty strong friendship and loyalty vibes going on. But really the whole breakout from Sunnyside that comes before the dump? Is wonderful. The toys all work together to get out, having Potato Head stick all his pieces into a tortilla so he could sneak around, and Barbie taking charge with Ken and forcing him to help them out. By the way? I love Barbie in this. She’s cute and fun and perky and she will kick your butt. There are lots of little nods and winks in this movie, but the whole thing about Ken’s horribly dated clothes just cracks me up and makes me really question the intended audience here.

I know kids like these movies. I know that because I work with kids. Lots of kids. And these movies, the third one included, are very popular. They don’t stay on the shelf for long and it’s usually kids who pick them out. But I honestly think that while kids clearly enjoy them, these movies were made to prod adults right in the cockles of their hearts. I’m sure parents experience a special twinge with this one and its whole theme of growing up and moving on, but it hits me too. The movie ends with such an uncliched poignancy that I don’t think it would do it justice to describe it. So on top of all of the jokes that only adults will truly get, the movie is speaking to us as former kids and in many cases as the caretakers of kids. This isn’t tossed in as a bonus to keep the grownups entertained when taking their kids to the movies. This is meant for us too. And I will freely admit that while watching it both Andy and I pulled over stuffed animals we keep nearby. He had my old teddy bear, Rufus, and I had my stuffed Triceratops and I went and said hi to my stuffed dog, Minna, and Uni the Unicorn (wasn’t I an inventive child?), saved from the donation pile when I moved out of my parents’ house. It’s a kicker of a movie, that’s for sure. In all the best ways.

July 7, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 487 – Immortal (2004)

Immortal (2004) – June 30th, 2011

Last night when looking through our list I asked Andy about this movie and he gave me a brief description and I thought to myself “Well, that sounds really bizarre.” And then I said we should watch it tonight because it was under two hours and tonight was going to be one of my later nights at work and we’re running low on those. We really need to make an effort to watch our longer movies on nights when I don’t work late so we don’t end up with a list full of things over two hours long. But hey, that meant we had tonight’s movie all picked out. Easy, right? If only it had actually been enjoyable for me.

I didn’t hate this movie. But I also didn’t really like it. I like the concept and I like a lot of the worldbuilding and I like the main character and I like the visuals but I didn’t really like the movie as a whole. It has one very significant flaw to it that bothered me immensely, and I’ll elaborate on that in a moment. But it also just never quite delivered on a lot of the potential it had. Part of the problem there is that I think this movie bit of way more than it could chew. The end credits mention that it is “loosely based on” a series of comics. And I’ve got to wonder if the comics it’s based on are any more lucid than the movie is, because the movie has a hell of a lot going on and not a whole lot of explanation for it all.

Granted, I’m glad that there isn’t a boatload of voiceover, which there could have been. There’s some, and it introduces some concepts, but then it’s done. But at the same time, when you decide to make a movie set in a world as outlandish as this one is? With Egyptian gods running around and non-humans and mutants and sewer hammerheads who can come up through drains like the slime in Ghostbusters II? You need to make sure that the important pieces of your world and plot can be understood through dialogue and action. I could blame some of this issue on the fact that it’s a French film in English and it’s entirely possible that some terminology just doesn’t translate well enough to get the meanings across. But at least some of the blame lies in the writing itself, because whole important bits and pieces seem to have been mentioned maybe once or twice and then tossed aside.

I’m running on a long day at work and a bad night’s sleep so I’m going to try and piece together some semblance of a plot here and hope it makes sense. I can’t guarantee it. It wasn’t entirely coherent in the movie and that’s not helpful. It’s the year 2095 and clearly it is The Future because there are flying cars all over New York City and people are walking around with some seriously modded looks. There are a lot of CGI Igors here, is what I’m saying, with skin patched together from what are clearly a number of sources and people have all sorts of funky stuff going on with their faces and hair and heads. Half the cast of the movie doesn’t actually exist. At least four fairly important characters are pretty much completely CG. So, you know, there’s that.

Enter two of our leads: Jill and Horus. Jill is a young woman who’s been picked up for some reason or another. Suspected genetic meddling, which is apparently an issue in The Future, but that’s one of the things that’s touched on and then tossed aside. We get a hint that genetic engineering is frowned upon and that there are mutants and non-human beings that aren’t accepted, but then the movie gets bored with that idea and moves on to something else. And that something else is a giant hovering pyramid that’s been floating over the city for a while. We get snippets of newscasters theorizing about it but we know for certain that it contains three Egyptian gods: Anubis, Bast and Horus. And Horus has been sentenced to death by the other two. They give him a week to go poke around on Earth before they execute him. And he’s intent on finding two things: A host body and Jill.

The host body is taken care of when he finds Nikopol, a convict whose cryogenic prison pod fell off of its storage blimp. Since he’s got little to no genetic modification, Horus can possess him just fine. So he does! Fab. And here’s one of my major issues with the movie. We never really get to know Nikopol. We know he comes to hate Horus and the things Horus has him do, but when Horus makes his offer, Nikopol says sure. We’re told, through signs and some talk, that Nikopol was imprisoned for starting some sort of revolution against the government and it has to do with the treatment of genetically modified people, I think? But since the genetic modification plot is given so little time and importance, so too is Nikopol’s part in it. And thus his character gets very little in the way of development. Is he a bad guy? A good guy willing to go to bad lengths for his goals? Who knows! Certainly not the movie.

We spend a lot more time finding out about Jill, a mysterious young woman who seems to not be entirely human but who knows little to nothing about herself. She has pale white skin and blue hair and lips. Her blue tears stain skin and her organs aren’t in the right places. The trouble with Jill as a character is that since she knows so little about herself, we know little about her too. Even when we get some information about her background the character who tells her who and what she is says that he doesn’t really know where she came from. And who is he? A traveler or something. He gets a monologue but it’s rambly and not terribly easy to follow. Suffice it to say that he brought her here and is giving her medication to turn her human and make her forget her past. You know, because she can’t possibly have any say over what she experiences or remembers.

Which brings me to my major criticism of the movie. Jill could have been a fascinating character but instead she is an object. Many of the other characters have things happen that are out of their control, and Nikopol certainly doesn’t get to exercise a lot of agency, but Jill is little more than a doll to most of the rest of the characters. To Dr. Turner, who becomes fascinated by her, she’s a curiosity to be tested and studied. She’s given tasks to perform and record the results of and she’s told what to do. To John, the mysterious man who brought her to New York, she’s a package to be delivered and set up. He gives her pills and tells her to take them and she does, never once questioning him even though the pills are changing her and making her forget everything. And to Nikopol and Horus? Yeah. Ick. Because Horus wants to have a child and Jill’s capable of carrying a divine baby, but Horus can’t knock her up himself. So he takes over Nikopol’s body and makes him rape her. And that on its own? Distinctly unpleasant, but as a plot point I can see where it’s going. Horus here is meant to be a nasty piece of work who sees humans as disposable. But again I have to wonder about Nikopol’s character. At times he berates Horus for making him do this but then he’ll lean in close to Jill and suggest that they have sex again because she owes him for defending mutant rights or whatever (to her credit, she points out she’s not what he thinks she is). And the worst part of it all is that the movie depends upon Jill becoming enamoured of Nikopol and wanting to care for him knowing that he’s raped her but not knowing the nature of the force that made him do it. I mean, if a man says “Sorry I raped you. I couldn’t help it. There’s another part of me that made me do it,” I don’t see that as mysterious and romantic and alluring. But the Nikopol and Jill romance is clearly supposed to be a thing here. Dark and unsettling, yes, but a thing nonetheless. And I find that to be so thoroughly off-putting that I just can’t run with the rest of the movie.

There’s a whole subplot with a CG senator and his secretary and he’s using this shark thing to track down Nikopol since Nikopol knows things and started a revolution. You know, the revolution the movie spends almost no time on. But I find it hard to get invested in that bit. There are no actual human actors involved and the plot it’s dependant on is all but non-existent, so it’s just plain easier to focus on the Jill and Nikopol and Horus bit. And I haven’t even gotten around to talking about “The Intrusion”, which is some sort of dimensional rift in Central Park that no one’s allowed near but which John can use to leave Earth and by the time we got to it I just couldn’t care. I was too irritated with the senator plot that went precisely nowhere and the rape-as-romantic-interlude/female-lead-as-walking-incubator plot that made me retch. This movie gave me so little to actually latch onto, which was such a disappointment. It looks so interesting and has such an odd mesh of ideas and concepts, but I just can’t seem to care.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immortal (2004)

June 30, 2011

Immortal

Last night Amanda asked me “What’s Immortal?” I had to think a bit to remember the movie she was referring to then I replied, “Oh, yeah, it’s that utterly bizarre French sci-fi film with all the digital people.” Really, how do you even describe this film? You could say that it’s an odd visit to the Uncanny Valley. You could talk about the great art design and outlandish look of the film. Or you could address the somewhat disjointed plot and its disturbing undertones. No matter how you look at it this is one of the strangest movies in our collection (and we do have a lot of strange movies.)

We’re told in the opening monologue of the movie that the Egyptian god Horus has been sentenced to death (though we’re never told what his crime is) and that he has only seven days left before he will be stripped of his immortality. Do you know what? Good. I wanted Horus to die in this movie because he’s a total dick. I think probably that’s the reaction the film maker was going for – Horus doesn’t really see any of the people he interacts with as worth anything except as tools for his own ends. He doesn’t comprehend or care about life or human emotion. He’s just in town to do something to preserve himself.

The town he’s in is New York City in the year 2095. It’s a sort of blend of Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell and Brazil. In this future New York there are aliens living in a kind of ghetto called Level 3. There is also a strange inter-dimensional Intrusion in the place where Central Park used to be. Practically the entire human population have been modified and enhanced by a company called Eugenics. For no reason that is ever adequately explained this corporation is in the habit of rounding up aliens and mutated humans for experimentation.

At the start of the film they have rounded up a mysterious pale skinned woman named Jill who has tinfoil for a scalp and cries blue tears. A doctor with connections in Eugenics notices Jill when she is being processed and for some reason decides to take her under her wing so to speak. Doctor Turner soon discovers that Jill is not human, and indeed has a physiology unlike any known species. Her cellular structure suggests that she is only three weeks old, her organs are all wrong, and she has no memory (perhaps because she is being heavily medicated with unknown drugs.) So Turner offers Jill legal papers and puts her up in a hotel room if Jill will in exchange perform experiments on herself to help Turner study her.

Meanwhile there is a serial killer in town, or so the local hard-boiled investigator believes. Turns out that all these guys exploded from the inside are just folks that Horus has attempted to merge himself with so that he can have a mortal vessel. He seems to be incompatible with all the humans in town because of their extensive genetic meddling, but he gets a lucky break when a pod breaks off of a passing prison zeppelin releasing a convicted criminal from thirty years of cryogenic stasis. Nikipol, the criminal, is a perfect fit for Horus, who moves right in. By odd coincidence Nikopol is a renowned rebel who once battled the founders of Eugenics. Local digital graffiti is all signed with “spirit of Nikopol” in his memory. So a corrupt senator and Eugenics board member spends most of the movie sending various nasty hit-men out to find and kill Nikopol before he can discredit the company.

Jill, meanwhile, has as little idea what’s happening to her as the audience does. Her only friend in the world, besides Dr. Turner, is a faceless man in black called John who came from the strange Intrusion in Central Park. He’s the one who has been providing her with mysterious narcotics. He has some kind of plans for her it seems. So does Horus (now possessing Nikopol.) This is when Horus turns from just an out-of-touch and uncaring god to an actively evil being as he has Nikopol repeatedly rape Jill. Yeah – the movie goes in some really unpleasant directions about halfway through. Jill, it seems, is almost unique in the universe in that she can pro-create with a god, so Horus is desperate to get her pregnant. The movie takes this really disturbing turn, and it just never comes back. Really – it is nasty and ugly and things don’t ever really have a satisfactory ending.

I think maybe that this is the point. This isn’t a “love conquers all” kind of feel good movie. It’s a movie about the capricious and uncaring nature of the universe and how powerless we mere humans are. It’s about how little real control we have over our lives. It’s about futility and ugliness and it seems to suggest that perhaps we should accept the little victories life offers us in consolation. It’s pretty bleak, I have to say.

I stress, however, that this is only my own interpretation of the movie. It doesn’t really try to hard to provide answers. Indeed it doesn’t much concern itself with being lucid or coherent. Much of the plot summary I just wrote is just my interpretation of events displayed on the screen, because by and large the movie doesn’t make many attempts to connect the various disparate things that keep happening.

I think this movie is more about creating a mood and showing a bunch of pretty pictures than about telling a story. It has a very strange aesthetic to it, with a largely computer generated cast and only a very few human actors. There’s Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Turner, Thomas Kretschmann as Nikopol and Linda Hardy as Jill, but aside from a few extras virtually every other character is all digital. In some cases the digital aliens and people look fairly real (and in a couple cases I’m still not sure if they were actors in extensive make-up or computer generated) but in most cases there is a cartoonish look to the people that makes them seem odd in comparison to the high-fidelity world around them. All the futuristic flying cars and VTOL hovering machines in the movie are digital of course, as are most of the sets and locations. It’s all very pretty and intricately designed.

In the end though a lot of pretty pictures strung together don’t necessarily make a movie. This film comes off as more of an experimental tech demo than a feature film. Its general incoherence, combined with the very disturbing plot about the non-consensual impregnation of an innocent and drug addled alien, make it kind of hard to watch. Which is too bad, because it’s so very strange and cool looking. I like the look of it – I just wish it was a different sort of movie.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 483 – Metropolis (Complete Restored – 2010 – 148 min)

Metropolis (restored – 2010 – 148 min)

The story of this movie fascinates me. Not the story within the movie, which is mostly a big deal because of when it was told and how it was told, but the story of the movie as a piece of art. Made in 1927, it originally ran at well over two and a half hours. Then it got cut. And cut harshly. Surviving prints ended up around an hour and a half and that’s what people saw for decades. There was a two hour long version out there, but from what I’ve read, each version put out was missing different things. Some countries cut some scenes, some cut others, and what remained was a fragmented work. Until just recently, when versions in Argentina and New Zealand were found to contain a relatively huge amount of what was missing from everywhere else. And so here we are, with everything currently viewable. Yes, there’s still some stuff missing, but we’re talking about eight minutes as opposed to half an hour. That’s significant.

This movie is important for a number of reasons. It’s a well made movie that tells a good story, but it’s also impressive not only due to its preservation and restoration history but also its technical merits. It’s been years since I took a film class, but I remember enough to be impressed by many of the techniques apparent in this movie. Things we take for granted like dolly shots and composites. Composites done now are relatively easy. Then? They involved taking the film and re-exposing it while filming something new. What always struck me about these older techniques is how risky they were. Film stock was and is pricey stuff, and to risk what you had doing shots like that? Amazing. When you think about what was involved in making a movie in the 1920s, then look at this movie, it is simply astounding. Because to put it bluntly, it holds up. It holds up remarkably well.

Oh, sure, it’s silent. No spoken dialogue, reliant on intertitles and the emoting done by the actors on screen. Of course you know right away you’re looking at an older movie. Black and white, silent, that tell-tale silent movie makeup with the ultra pale faces and ultra dark lips and rimmed eyes, and the title cards, obviously. But forget that. Don’t think about the time period it was made in. Think about the story and the acting and the sets and the cinematography. Because they all hold up.

The story is straight up sci-fi dystopia with a message. There’s this amazing city, you see. The city of Metropolis. And it is a wondrous place, full of wonderful people who create and learn and spend all day goofing off. But down below the city, keeping it running and allowing all the people above to do as they please, there is another city. The lower city is full of machines and the people who spend all day every day running them. And reaping no reward for their work. If you guessed that the message here is about the risks of class differences and capitalism, you get a banana sticker. Congratulations. And you know, I get that such an obvious message will turn some people off, but I’m not one of those people. Because I love when a message that’s really pretty clear and obvious is told so well. And the way this movie is told is fantastic.

The leader of Metropolis is a man named Joh Fredersen. He’s very firmly in favor of keeping his two populations separated and maintaining a blissfully privileged life for his son, Freder. But then in comes Maria, a young woman from the Worker City who’s managed to bring a group of Worker children up to one of the gardens. Freder is fascinated by her and follows her when she’s kicked out. And so he discovers a whole new aspect to his world that he never knew existed. Maria is all for a peaceful meeting of the people above and people below, believing that there needs to be a mediator between the two. And that could be the story right there. A simplistic way of telling it would just work with that material, keeping it with Freder, Maria and the two cities. But no, this movie has more.

It would just be an alternate world dystopia if not for the introduction of Rotwang, an inventor in the upper city who has built an automaton. Joh goes to him in hopes of gaining his help in subduing the workers. But Joh and Rotwang have a history involving a woman they both desired and Rotwang wants revenge on Joh for winning her. He kidnaps Maria, transforms the automaton to look like her, then keeps her prisoner while the automaton is sent out to both cities to stir up the people against each other. Because while Joh wants to crack down on the workers, Rotwang wants Joh to lose everything he holds dear. Now that? That is a great way to take the message and wrap it in something more substantial and specific.

I could probably go on for pages telling the story, and one reason I’m tempted to do so is that it really is told well and it’s detailed. Amazingly so for something that depends on intertitles and visual actions. And I’m just so pleased to see so much of what was missing the last time I watched it. The background between Joh and Rotwang is more expanded, as are a few more bits that set the tone for the whole movie. And I love that. Then again, even without the expanded footage this is a wonderfully immersive movie. The sets are enormous, giving a wonderfully deep sense to the underground city. I actually find the worker city underground to be more convincingly done, largely because it’s meant to be contained and enclosed, even when you’re out in the streets. The upper city is supposed to be towering into the sky, but due to restraints on locations to film from obviously most of the upper city scenes are indoors. Lush and expensive and clearly different from the worker city, yes, but I get less of a visceral feel for the city itself. Still, they are amazing sets.

The performances are also wonderful. Yes, they’re exaggerated in the silent movie style, but not in every scene. Freder does a hell of a lot of emoting, as do the rioting workers and rampaging rich folks as well as Rotwang. But Joh and Freder’s good friend Josephat? They’re far more restrained and their performances still work, playing well against the dramatic Freder. Every scene has someone getting visibly emotional and someone holding firm. And then there’s Maria. And not just Maria, but her doppelganger, the automaton who is given Maria’s face and body so she can incite both classes to violence. Brigitte Helm really got to strut her stuff here. She gets to play the sweet and earnest Maria and the sinister automaton (as well as a host of other masked characters – she is thoroughly amazing) and she nails both characters. It’s a truly fantastic set of performances from her and she really does make the movie.

There’s no way to watch this movie without seeing it as a part of film history, so I don’t recommend trying to divorce it from its roots and place. But it’s not just a classic because it’s survived. It’s survived and been restored this much and so much effort has gone into it because it is so amazing. It is an excellent movie and I’m thrilled that we own the most complete version currently available. Maybe some day that last eight or so minutes will be found in good enough shape that we can see them.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Metropolis (Complete Restored Version)

June 26, 2011

Metropolis (The Complete Restored Edition)

It is nearly impossible, watching a classic film produced on this scale and with the weight behind it of this movie, to separate the film itself from the historical significance of it. Particularly a restoration project like this that attempts to re-create a long lost original from bits and pieces found in old records and ancient film archives. To a certain extent I find myself watching the restoration and not the movie.

When I first saw this in the eighties it was as a colorized VHS with a soundtrack by Queen. Even so I knew I was watching an influential classic film that had become a part if the pop culture lexicon long before I was even born. From that first viewing there were certain images that were indelibly burned into my memory. The colossal city-scapes of the towering skyscrapers surrounded by freeways, raised rails and biplanes. The creepy Machine Man being transformed into Maria’s doppelganger and its subsequent bizarre behavior. The denizens of the city below being fed to the machines. The movie might be somewhat overbearing and blunt in its message and some of the visual language of the day might not translate to modern viewers (although it’s impressive to see how much more modern the cinematography is than the Douglas Fairbanks Thief of Bagdad, which we have already reviewed) but there’s no denying how powerful these images are.

This movie is a parable. It’s a tale of a (not too implausible) future where the elite rulers of society live in pampered luxury atop mighty skyscrapers while deep below the earth teeming hordes of downtrodden labourers maintain the colossal machinery that keeps the city running. Think Modern Times but less about the dehumanization of mankind in general and more about the power struggle between the haves and the have-nots.

When the son of the lord of Metropolis, the callow youth Freder, encounters a woman from below who is trying to show the children of the plebes how the other half live he decides to follow her into the worker’s city and is appalled by the conditions he discovers there. He trades places with one of the workers and soon finds himself attending a secret meeting of the proletariat led by that same woman, Maria, he first saw in the city above. She tells the masses that a mediator from above will come to them soon to find a way to bridge the gap between management and labour. (This is a particularly amusing scene to me because the way she explains this to her congregation is by relating a version of the parable of the tower of Babel. It’s a fairly meta scene to have a character in one parable telling another one.) Unfortunately Freder’s father Jon Fredersen witnesses this gathering and commands the fairly mad inventor Rotwang to discredit Maria using his newly manufactured artificial man in her guise.

There’s a lot of big action scenes after this. Rotwang kidnaps Maria and unleashes his automaton to incite both the elite and the downtrodden alike using Maria’s appearance. The workers revolt, destroying the machines that run the city and flooding their underground homes. Maria and Freder, with Freder’s compatriot Josaphat, rescue the children that the workers had absent-mindedly left behind in the flooded city. Ultimately there’s a fight atop a cathedral between Rotwang and Freder which seems forced and cliche to me, but might have been less so at the time that the movie was first released in 1927.

It’s a gorgeous movie. Not just for the time when it was filmed – it’s a beautifully designed movie for any time period, filled with colossal sets and action involving hundreds of extras. Some of the special effects are so far ahead of their time that I simply don’t know how they were accomplished at all. (Like the rings of light during the transformation sequence – were they hand animated – drawn right onto the negative? Were they filmed as an extra element as a second pass on the film? I honestly don’t know.)

The acting, too, is fantastic. My particular favorites are Alfred Abel as Jon Fredersen, with his wise and aloof mien and the great comic performance of Heinrich George as Grot, the head of the labourers and the only one who seems to understand what the result of their revolution will be. Far and away the best performance, in her many roles, is Brigitte Helm. She really gets to act crazy as the evil doppelganger and it’s rather astonishing to watch.

The version we’re watching tonight is the most complete version currently available. The original cut of the film was deemed by many theater owners to be too long and so the only versions available for many years were severely truncated with entire plot arcs missing. (There’s a rivalry between Rotwang and Jon Fredersen over Freder’s mother Hel for example which had been in the script but didn’t exist any more in the footage available up until about 2002.) Then a few longer prints were discovered in various film archives which allowed film historians to put together this version which is only missing two brief scenes. The film quality of some of the restored footage is very noticeably worse than the digitally re-mastered portions of the film which had been restored back in 2002. As a result it’s extremely obvious when your watching bits of the film that are newly re-discovered. I found it both fascinating and distracting. I’m delighted that a version of the film that is almost completely restored to the way it was in 1927 is available now on DVD, but it’s difficult to enjoy the movie for itself when the blend between old and newly discovered footage is so jarring.

This movie is required viewing in most film classes, and it’s clear to see why. It’s an astonishing accomplishment and filled with iconic images that have been often imitated down through the years. It even has a couple unexpected camera moves that must have been experimental and revolutionary at the time. There’s a dolly shot when Freder and his father are talking. There’s a POV push in when Freder sees a discarded piece of Maria’s clothing while he is hunting for her after her abduction. There’s a shot during the escape from the flooded city where the camera swoops madly (because it was mounted on a swing.) Not to mention all the huge vistas, composite shots and special effects. It’s a significant investment of time to sit for 148 minutes of silent movie. You can’t really look away or become distracted when you might miss title cards with essential dialog. But I think it’s an investment well worth making if you can get this version of the film. Academically and aesthetically it’s a fascinating way to spend a couple hours.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 481 – Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation – June 24th, 2011

There is something to be said for going into movies with low expectations. I mean, I didn’t really think this movie would be worth my time. When we put it in we found that it had something hideous: Unskippable previews. But then it turned out the previews were for awesome things, like Sherlock Holmes and the videogame Batman: Arkham Asylum. And I mentioned to some friends that it was as if the DVD was trying to tell us to go do something better with our time than watch the movie on it. Put in a different movie or play a game. Anything but this. Turns out? I was wrong.

I’d heard bad things about this movie. The only thing I was looking forward to was seeing Christian Bale be a badass. But I was also curious about the cast, because there were names I recognized and liked, so that seemed a tiny bit promising. And this was going to be the first Terminator movie that didn’t involve someone or something coming back from the future to the “present day” of the time the movie was released. But since the last movie ended with the war, well, that wasn’t going to happen. The timeline of the movie has passed us by. So, set entirely in the future, without the time travel gimmick that made the franchise. And no Arnold (though his digital likeness does make an appearance), so this is definitely a departure. I was led to believe this would be a failed departure, but I was wrong.

Now, I won’t say that I think anyone who disliked this movie was wrong. I’m sure people have their reasons and said reasons are good ones. But for me personally, it holds up. Better than it has any right to, given the number of people involved in writing the damn thing. This is a movie not written by committee, but apparently passed around like a basketball. There is simply no way it should be as coherent and cohesive as it is, and yet. The story splits between two groups, then comes together and that can be a risky thing. I’ve criticized it in other movies before because when it fails it fails spectacularly and makes a movie painful to watch. But for one, this movie actually links the two leads from the outset and for two, it keeps them in contact for a good chunk of time.

It’s half past the future and John Connor is an adult. He’s one of the Human Resistance’s military commanders, leading a group of men and women in strikes against Skynet’s forces. But he’s not up in the top ranks. The actual Command staff are all professional military, or seem that way, and send their orders remotely. When a strike on an underground facility leaves Connor’s team dead he demands to know what’s so important and it turns out to be this magic radio signal that can disrupt the machines and whatever, that’s not the important bit. The important bit is that down in that facility there was a cybernetic organism and John knows it but can’t go find it. And that organism is actually a man named Marcus, sentenced to death before the war and then resurrected by Cyberdyne’s genetics lab after donating his body to science. He has no idea what’s going on or when or where he is. Or what he is, which it turns out is half machine.

So now we’ve got two people to follow: John and Marcus. John is waging a battle with Command after finding out that Skynet has human prisoners – lots of them – in the facility they’re aiming to attack. He’s also sending out periodic broadcasts to the pockets of militia-level resistance fighters and they hang on his every word. The movie makes a good case for him being a great potential leader who hasn’t come fully into his own yet and still has a lot to learn. Which I like a hell of a lot better than last night’s whiny twerp. On the other hand we’ve got Marcus, who I hadn’t expected to care much about but who actually carries a lot of the movie. What he knows of himself isn’t great. He was a murderer and he’s very aware of his crimes. He wasn’t looking for redemption when Cyberdyne asked for his body. So waking up in a post-apocalyptic world was a little startling to him, to say the least. And his path through the movie is to find out not just what he is but why he is. And along the way he meets a young Kyle Reece, hiding out in what’s left of Los Angeles and taking down T-600s with traps.

It’s a nice little bit of storytelling there. Because Marcus isn’t a character we know and he’s not a Terminator as we recognize them. He’s not all machine. He’s not a shape-shifter. He’s not an unstoppable villain. He’s an enigma, and having the father of the hero of this world’s story under the protection of an enigma is very interesting indeed. So once Kyle is in peril – of course – and Marcus and Connor come together there’s going to be conflict. Connor doesn’t trust machines and he has good reason not to. I was nervous about the whole prophet angle going on with John Connor, but it wasn’t nearly as heavy-handed as I’d feared. Instead it’s not universal. People aren’t sure what to believe from him. And I like that. I like that he’s still dealing with the effects of his whole life being determined by time travel. I like that whenever he faces off with Skynet tech he knows that they’re developing the T-800 and the T-1000 and the T-X. Every model he fights is already obsolete in his experience. And I think this movie works that in, which is very cool.

Truth be told, I expected to watch this movie for Christian Bale and I ended up watching it more for everyone else. Oh, he’s fine in his role and there were certainly some moments when he was kicking ass and being every bit the paranoid leader I expected him to be. But Sam Worthington as Marcus, Anton Yelchin as Kyle and oh my fucking god, Moon Bloodgood as the kickass pilot, Blair? They were all fantastic. I would have liked more Blair, but hey, every second she got was fantastic, so I’ll take it. I liked that they all got moments. Kyle gets to both learn new tricks we’ve seen his adult self use in the first movie and know enough old tricks to have kept himself and another survivor alive for a while now on their own. Blair is certainly the most kickass female character the franchise has had since Sarah Connor herself. And Marcus has a character arc I hadn’t expected but ended up fully believing. Which, along with the fact that the split plots come together over and over, makes the movie.

I’m laughing at myself while writing this review. Here I am praising this movie and giving it the most loving of tongue baths. And it’s been panned by more than a few. But I’m honestly just so shocked that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It doesn’t spend too much time talking at us. It’s got strong lead characters and a good sense of its own history and mythology. It’s got a good cast who give good performances. And I felt like the action scenes were well done and purposeful instead of just in there for visual kicks. It’s got an aim – to bring Kyle Reece to John Connor, get Connor into a high level of the Resistance leadership and deal with a new threat from Skynet. It’s not the same sort of chase movie the first one was, and it doesn’t have the amazing Sarah Connor to drive it like the second one. But it’s definitely not the aimless mess that the third one was. It manages to both introduce a new threat that’s believable and different, and explain why it wasn’t a threat in the earlier movies. For that alone I’d applaud it. But it’s also fun. I can’t believe I’m saying this after last night – when I thought the franchise was dead – but now I’m looking forward to seeing what the next movie has in store.

June 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 455 – Equilibrium

Equilibrium – May 29th, 2011

I’ve got to admit it, I really like Christian Bale. Okay, I know next to nothing about him as a person, but as an actor I’ve always enjoyed his stuff. Yet somehow I’ve missed this movie. I remember seeing ads for it when it came out and thinking I would very much like to see a movie where Christian Bale wore a long dark coat and was a total bad ass. These are the sorts of shallow things that I have no shame in admitting to. Of course, I also enjoyed him singing and dancing in Newsies, which we still don’t have for some reason. My enjoyment of Christian Bale on my television screen is not limited to bad assery. But he does bad assery so well.

In this movie he starts out as a sort of fascist ubercop and ends up an antifascist uberrebel. The society he lives in, Libria, has been built following World War III. In an effort to eliminate the perceived root of all human cruelty and suffering and war, Librians are not allow to have emotions. To accomplish this, since it’s not something that’s easy to just do out of will, all Librians dose themselves with an emotion suppressant called Prozium every morning (and possibly multiple times a day). And that is the movie’s first major failing and unfortunately it’s part of the foundation for the whole plot. This entire society is based on enough government brainwashing to keep people taking this drug, voluntarily, on a daily basis. Children are trained to dose themselves. Everyone carries around these little hypodermic guns and sticks themselves in the necks when a city-wide buzzer sounds. And the plot of the movie depends on people ceasing to take the drug and starting to feel again, so there had to be this mechanism that they could circumvent. But that circumvention seems so very easy. Why isn’t it more widespread? Do people keep dosing themselves out of fear of being caught and incinerated? But fear’s an emotion, so, no. They do it because they’re brainwashed. But some people don’t. It’s really just very hard to buy as a serious premise.

And oh, oh does this movie take itself seriously. It starts out with a raid on an illicit building full of paintings and poetry books. Since emotions are forbidden, so is art and anything that might cause an emotional response. Guess Prozium only works so long as you’re not exposed to anything that might make you question the brainwashing that makes you keep taking it. The initial raid shows us the destruction of the Mona Lisa, and no, it isn’t meant to be cheesy or over the top. This is supposed to show just how dire things are and how nasty the guys in charge can be. I think my problem here isn’t necessarily the serious tone, but that the world building is too sloppy to support it. So the tone ends up coming off as far too heavy and it tips into silly.

Fortunately it wasn’t too hard for me to shove all that aside once the action started. Because once the action started it became clear that there is no way to actually take this movie too seriously. How could you when it involves Christian Bale’s character managing to kill an entire room full of men with guns – while standing in the center of said room with all of them aiming at him – without a single grazing on himself? Bale’s character, John Preston, is a Grammatron Cleric, a sort of Secret Service agent in charge of leading raids on “sense offenders” who hoard art and the like and who don’t take their Prozium. Clerics are also pretty damn deadly even without a squad of armed soldiers at their beck and call. There’s a bit in the movie where it’s explained how a Cleric can use some sort of fancy statistical research to calculate the best place to stand in a room full of armed men and how to kill them all really fast without getting hurt. But the truth of it is that it’s just plain movie gun fight magic, so why even bother having a technobabble explanation for it? Clerics are super well trained at killing people and not getting hurt. There you go. All the explanation you need! Preston certainly displays some impressive fighting skills through the course of the movie, with a gun and without one. So that right there is the draw for the movie.

Through the course of the movie Preston becomes disillusioned with his fascist government, eventually making contact with the very underground resistance he was assigned to find and eliminate. He stops taking his Prozium, starts feeling, avoids his Cleric partner, avoids his creepy son (who’s studying to be a Cleric as well), and talks to a young woman who’s been imprisoned for sense offense. There are plot holes galore here (why is she still wearing what must be her own colorful clothes and make-up even when imprisoned? why isn’t she incinerated sooner? who knows!) but it does allow Emily Watson to give some nice performances in the few scenes she gets. It’s sort of Logan’s Run-ish in its overall story arc and I can run with that. Bale gets to be all tortured and stoic at the same time, which he does fairly well, and there’s plenty of action to watch to distract oneself from the wobbly plot.

I think I liked this story better when it was part of A Wrinkle in Time or The Giver. Or, you know, when people who didn’t feel were Vulcans, who are awesome. Okay, those are cheap shots, but wouldn’t Christian Bale make a great Vulcan? In all seriousness though, if you can swallow the conceit of the movie then the rest of it follows fairly well. It had perhaps one too many twists near the end, but none of them were implausible. The action was fun and the acting was fairly decent all around. I liked Taye Diggs in the role of Preston’s new partner, Cleric Brandt, and while Sean Bean’s not in the movie for long he does a nice job with what he’s got. I wish there had been more solid worldbuilding. I wish the holes in the plot hadn’t been so big. Because the movie itself is a nicely stylized dystopia with an engaging main character. So watch it for the action and the acting and look elsewhere for serious commentary on human nature.

May 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Equilibrium

May 29, 2011

Equilibrium

It’s funny how one’s perception of a movie can change. My recollection from the last time I watched this, shortly after I bought it on the recommendation of customers who really enjoyed the shooty action of it, was that it was a dark and gritty film with some cool gun fights. That was eight or nine years ago. As I watched it tonight I found myself somewhat startled by how flimsy the plot is, how brutally heavy handed the message, and how ultimately silly the whole movie is from start to finish.

If you were to go by my more impressionable Blockbuster patrons this movie would be the be all and end all of gunfight movies, and I can’t deny that it has a certain charm. Part of the premise of this movie is that the highly trained clerics that act as the secret police for the fascist regime that rules the world (or at least the one city we see) in this dystopian future have mastered a kind of gun-fu. They call it the “gun-kata” and there’s some mumbo jumbo about how their training allows them to fire into areas that have been statistically shown to be the more probable locations for their targets to be. The end result is that the clerics have a super-human ability to walk out into a gunfight and wave their arms around magically hitting every hapless person around them. It looks very cool, but it’s hardly realistic.

Indeed I think that could be my summation of this entire movie. It’s a cool, cheesy, meticulously produced action movie with not much plot to speak of and more holes in it than Albert Hall. It also clearly thinks it’s a movie with something important to say. It’s exceptionally pretentious and heavy handed in its attempts to appear to be something more than simply a movie with some cool fight scenes.

Right from the start it is a movie that would rather tell us in no uncertain terms what it is about than bother to try and show it to us. The opening monologue explains how after World War Three humanity decided that the only way to end all conflict was to outlaw the one thing that caused all hatred, andger and violence: emotions. To that end everybody is prescribed a daily dose of a powerful mood altering drug that must have made the lawyers for Prozac itch to claim libel. All art, music, perfume, prose or anything else that might elicit an emotional response is contraband, and the police, led by the clerics, hunt it all down and burn it. Think Fahrenheit 451 with a broader net than simply books. The most efficient and emotionless of the elite clerics is John Preston, played by Cristian Bale.

Right from the beginning it is established how powerfully emotionless John is. His own wife was incinerated for sense crimes at some point in the past. He kills his partner when he discovers that he has been rescuing books from incineration. His children are well dressed automatons with slicked back hair and are trained to rat out any classmates they see showing emotion. Then one day he accidentally misses a dose of not-Prozac and everything comes crashing down.

This is not really a movie with many twists or turns. There are a couple attempts at misdirection near the end and some machinations on the part of “The Father”, the talking head that runs the whole society, but for the most part this is a straight forward tale of a man deciding to overthrow the system that created him. The ultimate warrior.

If I were to level any complaint at this movie it would be that it tries so darned hard. It’s okay, movie, you don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. It’s alright just to be a very slick and cool looking action film. My biggest complaint would be that the action scenes, cool as they are, are too few and over too quickly. There’s a lot of style and class to this movie, and the shootouts have a look to them that is pretty much unique. (The closest I can think of to compare it to are the bullet-curving firefights in Wanted.) The aesthetic of the emotionless society is great. Full of blacks and greys with the evil troops all decked out like Nazi SS troopers with their long black leather jackets. When the movie reaches its inevitable conclusion however it feels, well, insubstantial. It is implied that the great revolution is begun, but I didn’t really feel that the short action sequences right at the end brought any closure to the film.

I don’t know. This is not a great movie, but it seems to think that it should be considered one. In the end it’s a little disappointing to me in spite of the style and the swagger and the very cool performance of Christina Bale (who does emotionally confused and tortured so very well.) I would have to say that for pure cheese and action fun I somewhat prefer writer/director Kurt Wimmer’s more recent film about a lone warrior taking on the religious demagogue of a dystopian future society – Ultraviolet. That movie at least knew just how silly it was and reveled in it somewhat.

May 29, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 453 – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the Apes – May 27th, 2011

Why yes, I am only just now seeing this for the first time. Strange, I know, but it’s one of those movies I’ve seen parodies of and references to for so long it always managed to escape me that I hadn’t seen it. There are so many other sci-fi movies out there that looked more interesting than a shirtless Charlton Heston running around screaming at apes. And besides, I knew the ending. Tonight when we put it in we realized that the cover for the movie and the menu background for the disc totally spoil it. Which is just one of those things, I guess. When a movie is as much a part of the cultural lexicon as this is, it’s hard not to spoil it. It’s like Rosebud or Darth Vader. So I never really felt much need to stop on this while I flipped channels or grab a copy from work. Still, we had an opportunity to buy it cheap and it was a sci-fi classic shaped hole in our collection. So here I am.

And I’ve got to say, it is an impressive piece of film. The ape make-up on the vast majority of the cast alone is amazing in its scope and realization. Not that I expected anything less. After all, this isn’t considered a schlocky classic like Plan 9 From Outer Space. It had a big budget and well-known actors. What I am impressed by is how well it stands the test of time. Sure, it has problems, but visually it still looks very good. Part of that is that there aren’t really any special effects. The ape costumes and make-up do all the work here. So there’s not as much to date the movie as there would be if we had lots of lasers and effects shots. The thing that dated it the most for me was seeing the main character smoking at the control panel of the space ship he starts out on. This was filmed only a few months after the tragic fire that killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee, caused by a spark in a pure oxygen environment during a launch rehearsal for the Apollo 1. Smoking on board a space ship? Now that’s fantastical. It’s the sort of thing that genre parodies like Amazon Women on the Moon poke at. But once that space ship crashes, well. Its timelessness is rooted in its plot.

The whole story is set on what appears to be a strange and somewhat primitive world. It’s sparsely inhabited, with vast stretches of desert before any hospitable land is found. And the inhabitants are both apes and men, with the apes in the dominant role. The humans are non-verbal and uncivilized. They seem to be pre-When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, even. The apes, on the other hand, are cultured, with their own laws and religion and scientific community. They use horses and horse-drawn carriages for transportation and know nothing of achieving flight, but they also carry somewhat modern rifles (apparently they’re circa WWII), so the state of their civilization isn’t precisely analogous to any specific time period of our own. Suffice it to say that they’re a good deal ahead of the humans and believe humans to be dirty animals, untameable and only intelligent enough to learn simple tricks. And then along comes Taylor, leader of the space expedition that crashed on the planet. He’s an intelligent human from an advanced human civilization. And that changes everything once the scientists who’ve captured him realize that he’s different.

Of course, to keep the tension up, his crew is rapidly dispatched. One dies on the ship and the other two are dealt with once they’re captured by the apes. So Taylor’s on his own, trying to convince the apes that he’s a thinking and reasoning being and not a lab animal. The drama here comes from the very clear references to our own culture and conflicts. The apes have some very firm religious beliefs that state that apes were set above all other animals and given souls and reason. These beliefs are all set forth in a series of sacred scrolls that are believed to be the entire history of the world. So a human who can talk and reason? That’s heresy. And to be honest? It was painful to watch the religious authorities (who are also the scientific authorities) run a trial denouncing proof of intelligent humans as blasphemy. I’d like to believe that this was meant to be an allegory for such people as Copernicus and Galileo, but let’s face it: There are people right now who still deny that the theory of evolution has any basis (and its inclusion in text books is challenged all the time) and that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. It was unpleasant to watch the trial scenes, and I think it was supposed to be, but maybe not to the extent I felt it was.

There is a bit of a saving grace to the movie, however, which is that the character so vehemently opposed to Taylor’s existence, Dr. Zaius, has more motivations than he initially claims. It’s hinted that he knows more than he’s letting on. Zaius is both a scientific and religious leader and everything he does he claims to do in the name of science. But once you know more of what’s going on you see that he’s figured a lot of it out himself and is trying to protect his civilization from what he perceives as an ancient threat. And given the ending and what’s implied about the humans who came before? He’s probably right to be so cautious. Which is damn depressing, if you ask me. But this is a dystopian look at things, so that’s not shocking. The thing is, while pretty much everyone now knows the basic story and the “twist” ending, at the time the movie came out it was likely a huge revelation that Zaius was right and while not a good character, perhaps not as evil as he appeared to be.

I do like that the movie turns in different directions that way. I like that by the end we’re presented with our hero as the alien and humanity as a scourge. Just ask Al Gore, I’m sure he’d whip up a slide show for you to support that. But I like it because it does what some of the best sci-fi does: It makes you look at things with a different perspective. It views the world from a different angle. And that it can still do that and not come across as horribly dated more than forty years after it was made is an impressive feat. Of course, the impact of it is lessened by everyone knowing the twist already. If you already know what’s going on when you start the movie it takes a little more work not to watch the movie with it in mind. But it’s worth it.

I did find a few other aspects of the movie quite interesting and I was curious about tham and a little disappointed that they weren’t explored in more depth. The personality of Taylor, for one. He gets some time to explain himself when he and his crew are walking through the desert after the crash. He’s pretty damn misanthropic, which makes sense for the mission they were on which would have meant the crew would never see their friends or families or homes ever again. But it also ends up setting him up as an interesting figure to be mourning the end of human civilization. Unfortunately, that aspect doesn’t get much time since it’s only revealed in its full form at the end.

The other thing I liked and didn’t get enough of was the ape civilization. We’ve got gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees all living together, but in what appears to be a caste system. The gorillas are all in security type roles. The orangutans are the authority figures. And the chimpanzees are the inquisitive ones, but somewhat looked down upon by the others. I’d have loved to see more of the civilization itself, but that’s not the point of the movie, so it’s more background worldbuilding.

Overall I wouldn’t say I necessarily enjoyed this movie, but I appreciated it. It’s very well made and well acted. I have to give enormous respect to everyone who acted in the ape make-up, which I’m sure was difficult as it covered their entire faces. And the movie itself was done in such a way that it can be watched today and appreciated. Obviously it’s been referred to all over the place, from The Simpsons to Spaceballs. It spawned a number of sequels and tie-ins and that’s because it’s got an interesting and potentially vast world that’s ripe for exploration. It’s a success through and through, so I don’t need to have been grinning through the whole thing or want to watch it in regular rotation to acknowledge that and agree with it.

May 27, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 1 Comment