November 28th, 2010

Kill It With Fire

When "Rewrite" Becomes "Rehash"

The Weinstein Company has needed a hit movie for a while now.  Inglorious Basterds just barely made budget, and that was promptly swallowed up by 9, last year's end of the year cheeseball musical extraveganza. They need a hit.

The Weinsteins, when they founded Miramax, were known for seeking out bright new talent, from Kevin Smith to Quentin Tarantino (my dislike of Tarantino is really beside the point right now).  They built the studio with a boutique approach.  Check out the excellent book Quick And Dirty Pictures to really get behind the scenes.  I have commented to friends that my problem with screenwriting was that I started at the worst possible time, just as indie film was being co-opted by major studios and redefined not as something unique that was done but as its own genre with the pretension that comes with such a thing.  In other words, there's no room for people like me, you have to be plugged into an already existing compay that already has an in.

Here's the proof:  the image here on the right is for the new movie poster for Apollo 18.  For those who don't know, the Apollo 18 mission is the stuff of urban legend.  Supposedly, the flight did actually occur, and astronauts found evidence of alien life or visitors, ran like hell back to Earth, and the whole thing was hushed up.  Using a little logic, the kind that reveals "moon landing hoax" believers to be a bunch of idiots, this is obviously bullshit.  However, it does make a neat set up for a movie in a Capricorn One kind of way (a movie that has lots of detractors but I actually enjoyed it).

So what's my bitch?  The movie is going to be shot faux documentary style.  The narative will be told with that horrible new hoary cliche, "found footage."  Folks, I loved The Blair Witch Project (yeah, yeah, go ahead and laugh, I'll wait).  I also got a kick out of last year's Paranormal Activity.  But...

You want to know what the problem is?  'Cause I'm gonna tell you what the problem is.  "Found footage" is a gimmick, and no one gets what it takes to make it work.  Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity used it to create an atmosphere of "in the moment," that events are happening around you.  But for that to work, you have to buy in.  You can't be aware you are watching a movie for it to work.  Without being sold on the illusion, the whole thing falls apart.

In writing, there are two ways to hit the audience.  One is to dazzle them, the other is to connect with them emotionally.  The clearest distinction is the programming on Lifetime ("Television For Women") and Spike ("The First Network For Men").  These two know their demographics and what they want to watch.  Lifetime shows movies that try for emotional undercurrents, bringing viewers into the stories with, "I know how she feels, I'd react the exact same way".  Spike shows movie that feature awesome shit, either through stunt spectaculars or what we movie buffs refer to as "The 4 B's" -- bullets, boobs, bombs, and Bruce Willis.  As Ken Begg points out, any of these things can make for an entertaining movie, as long as they don't become the singular, obsessive focus.

This illustrates the problem with found footage movies.  You have to really suspend your disbelief that characters will behave the way they do, complete with how they operate the camera.  One of the things that ruins porn movies for me is when the actress, in the middle of a scene, moves her hair aside so that the camera and not the guy she's with can see her better.  It's one of those moments that screams awareness that it's just a movie (once again, it's never so who she's with can see her better, it's for the viewers).  The subtler shocks and quietly building panic of The Blair Witch Project used this perfectly because of its tropes, including one character using the camera to verbally attack the director for getting them into this.  Paranormal Activity sidesteps most of the problems because it's basically one of those YouTube "ghost caught on tape" videos writ large -- using a security system set-up, it's just a question of finding out what is happening at the moment and disregarding the rest.  Other films blow this (I made it partway through Cloverfield before I left.  I just couldn't take all the 9/11 metaphors and references.  It's the same thing that chased me out of Spielberg's War Of The Worlds).  But the bigger the event, you start asking question.  And the project, like Apollo 18, starts taking on aspects that you aren't sure they can pull off.

Now, it is possible, if they do their focus right.  H.G. Wells' War Of The Worlds is a classic, but not of sci-fi.  We now know how scientifically inaccurate it is, from launch travel through space instead of propulsion to the aliens somehow being unaware of bacteria.  No no no, what makes the story so great is the fear.  The despair.  That not only is there nothing that can be done to stop mankind's extermination, mankind is still ultimately helpless, saved not by its own spirit and ingenuity (Independence Day) but by a simple quirk of nature.  War Of The Worlds is a horror story, and is why it still resonates today.  It's not the science that he got right, it's the hopelessness and terror.

But to make such a thing work takes talent.  And movies are not being made with talent anymore.  They are assembled from a list of things that test well with audiences so that the studio that is coughing up a kajillion dollars for this turkey will at least get its money back.  And also, if possible, to jump on the bandwagon or show so and so that they were wrong to think they didn't make something a hit (this is why Percy Jackson And The Olympians became a Harry Potter retread.  Seriously.  Watch the movie and count how many similarities you can find).  It's not about good stories anymore.

And that's the disappointment.  I used to love Miramax films, and knew that, more often than not, I would enjoy a movie with their brand.  But now, I see what they are planning for Apollo 18 and wonder what happened to them.  They are making a movie like everyone else.  A great company and a great concept.

And a lot of missed potential.
Peter G

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Movie Making

According to legend, Disney had started working on The Wild.  DreamWorks liked the idea and pushed Madagascar through to beat Disney to the punch.

So, next March, we will have Apollo 18, which posits that moon landings didn't stop with the Apollo 17 mission, there was one more, but they found extraterrestrial life.

On October 18th of this year, Warner Bros. greenlit a movie called Dark Moon, written b y Olatunde Osunsanmi (writer/director of The Fourth Kind) and to be produced by Akiva Goldsman.  It posits that moon landings didn't stop with the Apollo 17 mission, there was one more, but they found extraterrestrial life.

You know what I love about movies?  The originiality.

Quick, Watson! The Black Capsules!

Just read an interview with the writer of Neon Genesis Evangelion, my choice for the most overrated piece of crap anime ever made (when the creator of the series told the creator of Astro Boy that he inspired him, Astro Boy's creator instructed him to not blame him for NGE).

The writer stated that he had a completely different ending in mind, but it was changed because it was "overkill".

Folks, I have been staring at that line on my computer screen for a couple of minutes now.  It really boggles the mind.

Even worse, the possibility of a new End Of Evangelion "WITH THE ENDING AS IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN!"

They're still milking NGE with everything from toylines that have nothing to do with the show (charming though I find them, did we really need Asuka and Rei as mermaids?), video games, and every few years, a movie that purports to explain the ending clearly and concisely and only succeeds in wasting an hour and a half of my life.  Please, let this particular direction go unexplored....

People Won't Have To Blow Bubbles Anymore (And He's Not Happy About It)

I remember being a kid and watching some sort of science show.  A scientist was demonstrating a liquidfied breathable medium.  He had a beaker of the stuff.  He took a white mouse by the tail with a pair of tongs and dunked the mouse to the bottom of the beaker.  The mouse didn't die, it continued, long after when it could have conceivably held its breath.  He pulled the mouse out, holding it upside down so the liquid would drain from its lungs, and set the mouse down, which immediately began crawling around on the tabletop, apparently none the worse for wear.  It was billed at the time as the future of deep sea diving.  Being a science nut, I wanted to know more.  What was it?  How did it work?  Was there a finite amount of oxygen in there?  Tell me more!

Never heard anything further, so no idea if the whole liquid ventilation thing turned out to have a fatal flaw or not.  All I know is I never heard anything further.  And I simply figured something this intriguing, if there was more to the story, we'd have heard something by now.  After all, the American Free Press managed to dig up the Stealth bomber and the CIA comic book for the contras, I figured they'd find out about this.  Navy SEALS experimented with it in the 80's, but I'm guessing nothing came of it.  Doctors do use a version of it for premature babies (highly oxygenated perfluorocarbons, or PFCs), and it featured in the movie The Abyss.  But beyond that?  Nothing.

What's the big deal?  Allow me to drop some mad science on yo ass.  As water pressure builds, it tends to make certain gasses dissolve into the bloodstream.  Nitrogen is the biggest problem with this, given that it comprises most of our atmosphere.  Now, shallow depths, you don't have to worry about it, the pressure never gets that high.  But the deeper you go, the gas starts to bubble.  Surfacing too quickly results in decompression sickness or "the bends", which can be excruciatingly painful and potentially fatal if those bubbles are, say, in your brain cavity.  How can you avoid it?  No, singing won't do it.  Slowly rising is the only way.  To put this in perspective, the deepest dive on record is 318 meters, or 347.769 yards a.k.a. about a fifth of a mile (South African diver Nuno Gomes in June 2005).  It took him 14 minutes to descend to that depth.  It took 12 hours for him to safely reach the surface.  Jesus, any longer, you'd think a cabbie had him on the meter.  This is where liquid ventilation is getting all the fuss.  Because its liquified, there is no gas to change to bubbles under extreme pressure.  No bubbles means decompression sickness is a thing of the past.

Arnold Lande is an American surgeon and inventor.  And he has developed a scuba suit that uses liquid ventilation.  Just like for Ed Harris' character in The Abyss, the suit would be filled with the liquid that the diver would have to learn to breathe.  "The first trick you would have to learn is overcoming the gag reflex, but once that oxygenated liquid is inside your lungs, it would feel just like breathing air."  The suit has a mechanical gill that attaches to the femoral vein in the leg to remove the carbon dioxide waste gasses from the bloodstream and expell them outside the suit.

I'm sure he'll have no trouble finding someone to test it, but I'm very curious if it does exactly what it says on the tin.