Archive for Drew Goddard

Watney’s Red Planet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by dcairns


Matt Damon as Mark Watney became the second ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS in my birthday treat movie on Saturday, which turned out to be a bigger treat than I’d expected, and quite possibly Ridley Scott’s best film since the eighties.

THE MARTIAN — filmed in all three dimensions of outer space! 3D seems to be something directors get better at on repeated exposure — Fleischer, Dante, Arnold. Scott, speaking of PROMETHEUS actually said, “The 3D was no problem at all. We actually see in 3D all the time,” which one might charitably interpret as a senior moment, but Fiona says, “Ridley would still have said that in 1979.” One worried that he hadn’t given the matter sufficient study.

In THE MARTIAN, there’s far more exploitation of the gimmick, but not in a chuck-spaceships-at-the-lens way. PROMETHEUS’s best quality was its vivid and immersive environments, and here the planetscapes are more shapes and multi-leveled, with aerial shots that let the dunes and buttes roll past the lens. But Scott also gets great value out of little sprouts poking through topsoil, and the multiple rows of screens and workstations in NASA HQ. And in the Hermes, he’s gifted us a gyroscopic spacecraft that’s a sheer joy to observe as we fly past it or through its rotating rings. The sensual pleasure of moving through a deep environment becomes as rich as the use of smoke, rain, multiple little light sources, widescreen composition, long lens ECUs, and all the other features of the Scott visual style.


The dumbness of PROMETHEUS, its bad dialogue, and its mainly dopey, inconsistent and unappealing 2D characters, have all been replaced here with an intelligent scenario by Drew Goddard from Andy Weir’s novel, full of nice people working together to help each other. It’s astonishingly positive. This, along with the NASA mission control setting, has led to a lot of comparisons with APOLLO 13, which is a very good film, probably Ron Howard’s best, so the likening isn’t an insult, but I think this one’s better, because it has the same virtues plus some extra ones, mostly audio-visual.

Scott’s always been rather good at casting, though his background in ads would seem to equip him solely to flick through Spotlight and pick out faces he liked. But look at ALIEN — every one of the Nostromo’s crew is a wonderfully quirky thesp. When ill-health forced Jon Finch to drop out, Scott replaced him with John Hurt, which shows flexibility as well as excellent taste. For BLADE RUNNER, Scott’s masterstroke was Rutger Hauer, but he also saw something in Darryl Hannah that nobody else had recognized, and was one of very few directors to have tapped the potential of Joe Turkel (basically Kubrick and Scott are his whole career).

maxresdefault (1)

Here, Damon is a personable everyman, onscreen solo for most of 140 mins, and neither bland nor irksomely quirky. The quirks are left to the supporting cast, all briefly sketched in but suggesting the possibility of greater depths. For a while it feels like Kate Mara is going to do nothing but punch computer keys, but some more stuff eventually happens. Jeff Daniels, Benedict Wong, Donald Glover and of course Kirsten Wiig are often associated with comedies, which I guess equips them to be likable. Sean Bean seems like a stand-in for the director. And Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain and Michael Peña… it’s just such lovely company to be in.


In Bunuel’s THE ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE, when Dan O’Herlihy leaves the island he hears his dog bark — a dog that had died some years before. This is something I sometimes quote to students as an example of the poetic power of surrealism. Nobody needs to have the moment explained, yet it comes from a place beyond the rational. There’s nothing as elegantly imaginative as that here, but there is the power of realism. The design and performances and writing create a conviction that carries us along. We don’t need interpersonal conflict hyped up when the central situation works as a magnificent plot motor.

Robinson Crusoe is a tricky figure to make work on screen, since fictional characters feed off their interrelationships with one another to become real and engaging. Someone else has to care about them before we can. Watney is alone for ages, and we get very little interaction with his team-mates, but what makes us go with him is his relationship with US, via the vidcams dotted around his Martian “hab.” Implausibly, these all provide a 3D image, something I guess you just have to go with, but it’s worth it.

Saw the film with an actual botanist, who thought it plausible enough except that Martian sunlight would be rather weak for growing veg, and Damon should have swept the red dust off his skylight to help things along.


Great Big Feet Smell Something Horrible*

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 3, 2008 by dcairns

Headless Wonder 

We go to see CLOVERFIELD. En route, we pass a tiny boy micturating in the street. He calls to his family just as we pass: “Good thing them people didn’t see ma willy!”


As Manhattan descends into chaos and looters attack an electronics store, the protags shelter in the shadow of Sephora. “I’d be raiding Sephora,” Fiona remarked.

We dig the little monsters (little things — scarier than big things) and the noise they make, a sort of rapid Three Stooges attack cry; “Eing-eing-eing-eing!” The scariest sound heard in Manhattan since the days of Fulci’s THE NEW YORK RIPPER (who sounded like an angry Donald Duck. Terrifying, actually terrifying!)

Quite early on in this movie I figure out what it is. “It’s a 9:11 nostalgia movie,” I say to Fiona afterwards. “It harks back to the brief time when America could see itself as an innocent victim of an unprovoked attack by a completely inexplicable force.”

At the time, there didn’t seem anything comforting about that idea. But as the moment fades somewhat, it maybe becomes tempting to look back with yearning at that bygone innocence. Thanks to Mr. Bush’s policies, much of the USA has lost that sense of being on the side of righteousness, and more recent movies tackling the Iraq and Alghan wars head-on have tended to be at least somewhat critical of US policy. In fact, the first fictional treatment of the Iraq invasion, Joe Dante’s Masters of Horror episode Homecoming, used a B-movie zombie attack as thin camouflage for a visceral all-out assault on the Bush neo-con administration.

CLOVERFIELD manages to have its conservative cake and eat it, though, because there’s a suggestion that the monster is self-generated, a rogue government project. This is what Hud speculates late in the action, and it’s given a tiny bit of added weight by the title: is the “Cloverfield project” something set up to deal with the inexplicable monster, or was it a pre-existing project that developed the beast in the first place?

The film’s politics are enjoyably incoherent: is the headless Statue of Liberty a metaphor for something? Of course, the upper reaches of Lady Lib have been closed to the public since 9:11, so that’s suggestive. The attack on Manhattan, apart from being staged at night (Al-Qaeda don’t have Hollywood’s sense of showmanship), is of course ridiculously evocative of that day of infamy. I still remember pundits saying that exploding skyscrapers would never again be served up as light-hearted entertainment…

Manhattan malady

*Title: a line from CARRY ON SCREAMING.