Replicants are like any other machine?

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I first watched Blade Runner in about 1992 around the time of the Director’s Cut from Ridley Scott. It was an interesting revival for both the film and for me. I was aware of its imagery, I wasn’t sure if I had really seen the original theatrical release but it was part of my DNA on some level. For those who don’t know, the theatrical release from 1982 featured the sardonic voice over from Harrison Ford and the ending was a blunt romantic one borrowing outtakes from Kubrick’s The Shining. Panned on release, largely buried thanks to E.T. but found a new life thanks to VHS. And then came the Director’s Cut in 1992, which did away with the voice over, used outtakes of a unicorn from Scott’s Legend and utterly changed the ending to something more open ended and ambiguous.

Interestingly, the beautiful Vangelis soundtrack was also trapped in some form of copyright hell and didn’t receive its formal release on CD till the early 90s as well. So, for me, my Blade Runner baseline is that Director’s Cut version.

Blade Runner is a very special film for me, one I have watched countless times all the way up to the Final Cut from 2007. I studied it during a film studies elective on Ridley Scott films during university in 1996. From the breathing hums of sound in Deckard’s appartment, to the weird reflective light in character’s eyes, the fug of smoke from those cigarettes, the existential questions of what it means to live and dialogue such as Tyrell saying to Roy Batty that “the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long and you have burned so very brightly Roy, revel in your time!”. Its a film which exists in the higher echelons of my collection and one I hope to watch many more times hence.

So, here we are in 2017 and facing Blade Runner 2049, intriguingly the story is set 30 years in the future (the original Blade Runner was set in 2019). I’ve been burned by so many trailers in the past, but the official teaser immediately took me right back to 1992 and I was so pleased with the ambiguous feel to it, but also the question of which Blade Runner version is this following. Only time will tell.

Denis Villeneuve is a major film making talent. Someone who understands the language of cinema and film. You only have to watch films such as Sicario or Arrival to get a glimpse of what he is capable of. The first film of his I saw was Enemy, which starred Jake Gyllenhaal as man who is haunted by a doppelganger. A bonkers, but clever film that flirts with reality and perception, I can only imagine what Villeneuve will bring to the Blade Runner universe. And of course, in an actor such as Ryan Gosling we have an intriguing proposition.

It will certainly be a gorgeous looking film, Roger Deakins is the best in the business and has worked with Villeneuve on a number of films together.

All the right ingredients are there (including Ridley Scott producing and Hampton Fancher returning as writer), but I’m hoping that this isn’t a lazy JJ Abrams approach to rebooting, I do not want to see another Force Awakens please…instead I hope this extends and pursues its own path forward.

These films should not be like any other film…

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An ode to The Road

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It’s weird how things turn up and how interconnected context can be at times. There I was watching a Screen Wipe video from Charlie Brooker on YouTube last night, when I caught a tiny piece of music he had used in one of his scenes. It bugged me and bugged me then I remembered it!! Gentle piano, poignant atmosphere painting a canvas of loss, a piece of music from John Hillcoat’s The Road (based on the Cormac McCarthy novel). Which got me curious about who wrote the music for that film, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis no less, on to Google Play I went and I’m now listening to that soundtrack as I write this. That is how my brain works.

This post goes further though and I’d like to share how wonderful the novel and film is (I’ll get into debates about the difference between film and movie another time), although I will base this more around the film than the book, simply because it is my media of choice.

Set in what I always think is a bleak Pennsylvania landscape, the film contrasts between a peaceful, warm life to a harsh, damp existence. The thesis of this story being that our world could (and has changed many times in the past) change in a relative instant. The cause of this bleak future is never spelled out and it never really matters, although the film alludes to some catastrophic event where the man (Viggo Mortensen) and his pregnant wife (Charlize Theron) are awoken during the night to screams and fire. My suspicions lie around a volcanic or asteroid event, given the continual seismic activity throughout the film. In puzzlement the woman (we never know their names) asks why he is running a bath, his answer being “I’m not”, his immediate instincts being survival and he is running the water for drinking purposes.

Cutting back to the present tense of the narrative the bulk of the story follows the journey of the man and his little boy as they navigate across this forsaken landscape, scavenging for scrapes of a lost civilisation. Their only hope is to reach south, where they believe life is starting over. Unfortunately groups of hungry robbers and cannibals lie between them and their destination.

Both the book and the film are not easy to consume. The book has no dialogue and the film has a slow, cold (you feel cold watching it) texture to it, which makes for uncomfortable watching. Particular note is the cannibalistic “meat locker” scene which serves to remind you the lengths that humans will go to survive and really, we are three meals away from societal breakdown.

It’s a story that serves to remind us all how precious this current moment in time we are living in really is. It fascinates me that a natural upset like a super volcano or asteroid impact could knock us into a nuclear winter and global dystopia over night, so while we squabble over man made climate change, mother nature laughs on behind the scenes. This is a story that makes me wonder about how well we could adapt to such change, the man running the bath at the start of the film is an interesting, subtle character reflection. It’s no surprise that he makes it through to the final few. Even he doesn’t fully escape the horror and fate of the situation.

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The Force Re-awakens

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I thought about writing this post fairly recently as the idea came to mind when I was talking to someone about why Star Wars means so much to people from a certain generation.  The conversation I was having at the time caught me off guard, someone born in the seventies who hadn’t seen the films. I was racking my brain to figure out why and then wonder what life would be like without that experience at the age I was and era that I grew up in without the Star Wars experience.

If, like me, you were born in the mid seventies then you were born amongst the dying embers of Apollo and the early beginnings of the Space Shuttle. My early memories were of hope, space travel, the future, flying cars, 2001, white walls, a clean and sensible society. I even thought (when I was young) that when it turned from 1999 to 2000 in the flick of a switch everything would become futuristic….

In 1977 I was barely one year old as Star Wars (later rebadged as Episode IV) was erupting all around me. It took till I was about 5 or 6 years old (which is a crucial point when I get to it later) when I saw it for the first time on the TV in the early 80s and combined with and thanks to early VHS it was on heavy rotation.

Weirdly the initial order I watched the original trilogy was Star Wars (circa 1982) followed by Return of the Jedi (1984) and then Empire Strikes Back (after 1985).  In fact, I thought the Death Star in ROTJ was actually the remains of the Death Star from the first film….it was a couple of years after seeing ROTJ at the cinema that I found Empire (pre-internet and we didn’t have video rental just then).

I drank that world in with huge gulps, bought the toys and made Lego shapes based on it (before Lego was part of the franchise I may add)

When I think back to the late nineties and the dreadful prequel trilogy as objectively bad as they are; I think there is an element of me being in my early twenties at the time.  On some level I probably couldn’t re-capture of associate myself with those films.  A big part of this, is that trilogy does not feel or look like Star Wars films.  To call them a facsimile is only scratching the surface.  I had no connective DNA tissue with them on an emotional and biographical level.

Which brings me round to Episode VII; it is fascinating to see how much The Force Awakens (TFA) has re-captured the love, joy, youth and cultural significance of the trilogy I love. And how little the promotion of TFA refers to the prequels, it is as if they never happened, no one is mentioning them….ever.  The fact that TFA looks like original canon and the lengths of which J J Abrams is going to in order to re-create the connection with the original three (shooting on film, using John Williams, practical sets, original cast members………and the fact that it is a direct follow on to that story) means that I feel the force again…..

This connective tissue then takes me to my own daughter who is now six years old.  In the last 12 months she has become obsessed with Star Wars (the original three only I may add).  Her favourite is Empire Strikes Back and she is aware of and looking forward to The Force Awakens in December this year.  I personally feel like I have come full circle and re-enjoying the original three and looking forward to the embryonic new trilogy.  I hope it has as great an influence on her as it did on me.  She is certainly just at the right age…..

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Thoughts on Interstellar…

This has to be the best film I’ve seen in 2014. Simple.

In terms of my top 5 sci-if films, I went into watching Interstellar with the following in my back catalogue:

– Bladerunner
– 2001/2010
– The Fountain
– Contact
– Gattaca

I’ll admit I was forever pre-conditioned to love this film.

Set in a near and unspecified future, mankind is dying. Food production is breaking down and humans have turned their back on the future and the stars. They no longer dream, but are content with their caretaker role of the planet. Except for Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-NASA test pilot who was born either “40 years too early or 40 years too late”. He is given his destiny in one major swoop, his purpose in life brought into priority. Cooper is the Chuck Yaeger of this story. Cool under fire and a pragmatic voice.

What Nolan has done, is construct a narrative bending time, space and physics around an emotional father/daughter story. There is scene in the film where Cooper has to make a devastating choice between his family and the future of his family. It is a wonderful piece of cinema.

The score by Hans Zimmer is cathartic. One that is as emotional and awe inspiring as the film.

For classic science fiction readers, anyone who has read and loves the following: Songs of Distant Earth, Starmaker, 2001, Forever War, Childhood’s End and of course Rama will love the themes Interstellar is riffing.

Go see, go forth…

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The Culture by Iain M Banks

I haven’t read this post for so long and I’m so glad I found it again.  If you like the Culture series by Iain M Banks, then this is a wonderful essay by the man himself, dissecting his own creation.

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Man of Steel thoughts

So, Man of Steel, before anyone reads further watch the film first 🙂

A lot has been made of this Superman re-boot.  Is it a Nolan film or is it a Snyder film?  I think for me it is a strong mixture of both, but not necessarily the best of both – there isn’t the ingenuity of Nolan and neither the dynamism of Snyder unfortunately.  At the heart of it, it is very much a David S Goyer script and in reality the film could have been called Superman Begins or even Clark Kent Begins – either of which follows a similar path to Batman Begins (also scribed by Goyer).  The parallels are strong between both films, each character dealing with parental issues, identity issues and destiny issues – and each films deliver a very strong 2/3rds of a movie, but falters with an lesser final 3rd.  In this, Kal-El (aka Superman, aka Man of Steel) is an alien-child from a long-destroyed planet (Krypton) with the perspective of what it means for humanity discovering they are not alone in the universe.  Kal-El then represents the Red of Krypton and the Blue of Earth, hiding his powers as best he can afraid of what man would do if they found out………that is until General Zod (Michael Shannon) turns up.

The plus points include excellent performances from Russell Crowe and Henry Cavill and the big thing I liked about this take on the classic superhero is that it is a science fiction film.  It isn’t a re-tread of Donner, it is its own beast.  I think it sets up a number of really interesting avenues and possibilities for this version of Supes for the next film – perhaps a Dark Knight-esque perspective on Superman with perhaps Lex Luthor playing the crazy villain next time round (similar to Ledger’s off-the-wall Joker) as this new franchise needs a greater edge.

The possible negatives, I would have liked to have seen more of that visual splendor of Synder, but sadly I felt it was lacking.  On the other side, Nolan’s discipline to realism and logic comes off the rails slightly too.  The final third punch-em-up breaks the Supes rules and I would agree that it lacks the wit, intelligence and emotion of the Donner Superman/Zod battle.  Superman shouldn’t have allowed half of Metropolis to be obliterated and as a result it would have made a more engaging battle between two Gods – when the punching fails to make an impact after 5 mins should they not change tactics rather than carrying on for a further 25 mins? Plus, after the film making big noises around the effect of ET life on Earthlings, no consequences fell out of the back of the Zod battle.  What happens to religion?  What happens to science?  Instead, the world goes back to the Daily Planet as if nothing had happened.

If viewed over the whole, this film is an enjoyable slice and a really interesting take on a well-trodden story and character.  The use of flash-backs in the narrative works well and the well placed easter eggs (spot them if you can) are a joy to find.  I’m excited to see what they do next with this character and perhaps focus on the wit rather than the brawn next time.

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SOA S90.09 passed (retrospective)

Bit of a late post on this one, but I did pass my final part of the SOA schools certification. So, I am an official SOA Architect (with honours!).

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