Archive for Jurassic Park

Bayou Kill Me

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 3, 2021 by dcairns

Fiona’s emotional reaction to Walter Hill’s SOUTHERN COMFORT was so extreme I’m a little scared to show her any other Hill films. From jolting and gasping at each bit of violence, to demanding I hold her hand for the suspenseful climax, this was more the kind of thing I expect from the missus when we’re out at the movies (the loud “SHIT!” during JURASSIC PARK when surrounded by small children was a good moment).

The other reaction I think of is my friend Paul Duane’s, who sees the movie as a brilliant riposte to Boorman’s DELIVERANCE, a film he has big problems with. I can understand those problems — DELIVERANCE’s mountain men can be seen as xenophobic caricatures, unmotivated evil forces embodying a wild otherness in contrast to the citified heroes — but I have a harder time seeing Hill’s film as the antidote.

But let’s consider: Hill’s troop of national guardsmen are a flawed bunch — they’re the cause of their own misfortune, provoking the Cajun backwoodsmen in a number of ways, and escalating the situation at every turn, until it’s too late to back down. True, the two main characters, Keith Carradine and Powers Booth, gradually become very sympathetic, but it’s easy to see their opponents’, admittedly extremely hostile, point of view.

Still, I always felt Boorman was somewhat critical of his macho holidaymakers. They don’t DESERVE their fates, but they seem to be presented as trespassing fools, quite ignorant of the forces they’re trifling with. Boorman is pretty weird — he told Michel Ciment that nobody who was in tune with nature would break his leg the way Burt Reynolds’ character does in this film. I always found that a peculiar attitude: you hit a rock, you break your leg, is the way I see it. But at any rate, Boorman doesn’t wholeheartedly take his heroes’ side, and I never felt he expected us to view the rustic characters entirely through their eyes. Their attitude to the banjo-playing kid is unpleasant: “Talk about genetic deficiencies-isn’t that pitiful?” In fact, he then surprises them with his musical skills, the first of many surprises they’re in for, and the only pleasant one.

Hill and cowriter David Giler go all-in making their national guard goons dumb and nasty, to the point where they risk the viewer disengaging. We were happy to see most of them killed, except it was so unpleasant. And their attitude to their enemy is to persistently underestimate them.

Of course, Hill & Giler set their story in 1973, eight years before its release date, for a reason. It’s a Viet Nam movie that avoids certain controversies by avoiding Viet Nam. But the mistakes/crimes committed by the guardsmen relate quite closely to the mistakes of that war. Going where you have no business going, for a start. Using the locals as a resource, regarding them as subhuman, failing to communicate with them, terrorising them, torturing them. Also, making a war film in which Americans fight Americans is certainly interesting. You could say the film is simultaneously provoking and dodging a series of questions about its meaning.

All this is presented via Hill’s unconventional coverage and cutting, which has a lot to do with the film’s striking intensity. A bear trap is triggered, and snaps TWICE, for emphasis. Hill doesn’t neglect the atmospheric landscape, but he tends to fragment the conversations into disconnected heads — but he maintains coherence. His style seems like a precursor to the later, shittier action films, but looks refreshing now. (You can see Hill’s influence as exec producer on ALIENS, I think, which has a lot in common with this, and the presence of Franklyn Seales also reminds us of Carpenter’s THE THING from around the same time.)

During the film’s last section, the surviving “heroes” wash up in a Cajun town, where the suspense builds around the question of whether they’re safe here. The sequence last long enough that we become pretty sure they’re not, although the prospect of the whole citizenry going 102,000 MANIACS on us is floated then abandoned. In fact, we never see what the reaction of the locals would be to the murderous attacks by the original gang of wild men would be, which is very slightly a cop-out. Having stoked our paranoia about these friendly-seeming but othered folks, Hill leaves the question hanging. Probably they’re fine, but I think it’s best we leave…

SOUTHERN COMFORT stars Wild Bill Hickock; Alexander Haig; Gus Grissom; Jimmy Smith; Nauls; Perfect Tommy; Bufe Coker; Keys; Slug a tough; and Leon Kowalski.

The Spielberg Transition #1

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2019 by dcairns

One of the things Steven Spielberg vocally admires about David Lean is his imaginative scene changes, of which the most celebrated is the “match cut” in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Spielberg has emulated the technique a fair bit, often with enjoyable results. But sometimes he gets it wrong.

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK is the kind of thing Spielberg is supposed to do well, but it’s an oddly confused film, from its back-asswards title on down. I don’t think his heart was in it.

How do you know when there’s a tyrannosaur in your tent?

The first JURASSIC PARK is, on the whole, really good (haven’t bothered with any of the non-Spielberg sequels). It’s fairly faithful to Michael Crichton’s page-turner, though most of its departures are disimprovements. And while the novel is very clear that bringing dinosaurs back to life would be a disastrous idea, you get the sense that, even though this plot point is ported over from the book, deep down Spielberg thinks it would be awesome (which is why the park’s creator doesn’t have to die, despite being responsible for all the other deaths). I don’t necessarily disagree (there’s a weird meme in popular culture, particularly Doctor Who: whenever dinosaurs get revivified, the wonderment is promptly quashed by a sentimental death scene. Dinosaurs can come back, but only for a few minutes. It strikes me like giving a kid a toy and then taking it away again.)

Well, Crichton wrote a follow-up book that wasn’t worth filming, so screenwriter David Koepp threw it away and came up with a story that flatly contradicted the thrust of the earlier film: now Jeff Goldblum, the anti-dino rock ‘n’ roll chaos theoretician of the previous film, wants to save the poor T-rex, just about the scariest threat he faced (it ate a man on the toilet, ffs). The last tenth of the film abandons the titular location to run amock in America, a clear violation of the Platonic unities as well as various traffic statutes.

But the rot sets in early on: with the introduction of the hero, in fact. The threat is set up efficiently in scene one. Spielberg had listened to the criticisms of little kids (really?) who didn’t want to wait so long to see the thunder lizards, so he brings on some miniature CGI beasties to attack a child right at the outset (maybe he didn’t really take too kindly to the criticism?). Mom runs up and sees daughter in trouble, and SCREAMS ~

And we CUT TO Jeff Goldblum yawning against an unconvincing tropical palm background. The scream continues but now it’s something else: the roar of a subway train.

Goldblum steps screen left and the pan takes us away from his backdrop, now “revealed” to be a backlit holiday advertisement, and we learn he’s in the subway.

These kind of gags, where a background turns out not to be real practically never work, because the background practically never looks real. Our initial reaction is likely to be “That looks cheap and fake as hell,” and though the reveal provides an excuse for the phoniness, it fails to provide a pleasing surprise.

And the yawn? It’s hard not to see it as a gesture of contempt towards the material or the audience or both.

But the worst thing is the fanciness. Remember, the LAWRENCE cut has only a few elements, really. Lean doesn’t try to align the match with the rising sun, pictorially. The connection is merely conceptual: the desert is, in some way, like a flame that can burn you, and a man like Lawrence might enjoy that. The sound of Lawrence’s breath extinguishing the match carries across the edit. And that’s it.

Whereas LOST WORLD has the audio transition of the scream/subway, the visual match of the screaming woman/yawning man, and the fake background of blue sky and palm trees. It’s all busy, and all ugly, and all ineffective and fighting against itself. In the words of Dorothy Parker, “This isn’t just plain awful. This is fancy.”

There’s maybe an actual artistic principle here: the more artful a transition, the more simple it needs to be.

More Spielberg awful soon!

Red Dead Resurrection

Posted in FILM, Interactive, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2016 by dcairns

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We’re quite enjoying Westworld, the HBO series derived distantly from Michael Crichton’s fun film, the original Jurassic Park only with robot cowboys instead of dinosaurs.

No spoilers, unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to know anything, in which case you ought to have stopped reading by now.

The TV show, created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, attempts to spin the concept out by splitting the narrative among multiple characters, and putting the robot revolt into extreme slomo. The accretion of plot developments is glacial in pace. This is partly because of the numerous plotlines — just as something interesting is happening, we tend to cut away (J.J. Abrams is also involved, and those who lasted a season of Lost will recognize the strategy.) It makes the series compelling yet slooooowwww. Which is no bad thing in itself, although the regular inclusion of sex and violence is working hard to convince us that in fact this is an action-packed thrillride.

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But very little of the violence in Westworld itself counts for anything, since it’s all a mechanical simulation. There’s one massive plausibility hole, by the way. Crichton’s movie made its theme park seem vaguely like fun, until it all went wrong, but it was a movie made when video games consisted basically of Pong. A holiday destination where you could play dress-up and shoot Yul Brynner seemed vaguely desirable. This new series comes on the back of video games like actual western bloodbath Red Dead Redemption, and might not even be possible without that example. Nobody plays cowboys and Indians anymore.

But video games offer us more sophisticated narratives than Pong, and in order to engage us, they work on a reward-punishment system where the player’s skills determine how successful they are. In Crichton’s concept, continued here, robots are programmed with Asimovian restraints that prevent them shooting the guests. So you seemingly can’t lose a gunfight if you’re a guest. Seems to me this would get rather boring. Some kind of paintball scenario where you can get fake-injured and lose points/privileges could have been concocted, but this park is short on rules and explanations. Introducing one main character who is new to all this, who has a friend who’s played before, should have allowed the writers to dole out information in a dramatically pleasing manner, but seven episodes in I’m still unsure how the park is supposed to work on the most basic level. Turns out the robots are allowed to punch guests. I wouldn’t go on a holiday where robots punched me, not even Thandie Newton robots.

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Oh well, maybe just a little.

There’s another thing that doesn’t make sense — taking their cue from vidgames, the writers have imagined lengthy and complex narratives that the guests can get involved in. These are designed to be as believable yet dramatic as possible. But wouldn’t these be necessarily compromised by the fact that everybody who gets killed comes back to life the next day? A scenario like this would require the dead to stay dead until their narrative is over, and until the guests they’ve interacted with have finished their vacation.

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Despite all this, we’re hooked. Good actors like Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins (de-aged by CGI to appear in flashbacks), Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie. An AMAZING scene with a guy called Louis Herthum as Wood’s malfunctioning dad. Uncanny in all the right ways. The Abrams connection suggests it may not ultimately prove to be satisfying, while the Nolan connection suggests it may not be as clever as it thinks it is (see above). But it looks great and keeps throwing out good scenes.