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SFFH in Film, TV, and other NonTextual Media
Tuesday 28 August 2001
Stephen Farber suggests that a film's success lies largely with its ending--what audiences leave the theater thinking about--and discusses A.I. and Planet of the Apes as examples of films undercut by unsatisfying endings.
A sample of reviews of Ghosts of Mars...
Rita Kempley: "Dumbed-Down 'Night of the Living Dead' Creeps Along"
Andrew O'Hehir: "not a good movie by any reasonable standard"
Elvis Mitchell: "Showdown at O.K. Corral, With Zombies"
But Roger Ebert sorta liked it; three stars.
Also opened last week, so far only in New York City, is Happy Accidents, a romantic comedy...
The story of a cuddlesome time-traveling rebel from the year 2470 who plunges back in time to woo a disenchanted single New York woman could even be taken as a parable about New York's perennial man-shortage: if there are no good men left in Manhattan, why not import one back from the future?
Tuesday 14 August 2001
The Others and Horror Films
Anthony Minghella (director of The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley) comments on the new Nicole Kidman haunted house film, The Others, written and directed and composed by Alejandro Amenábar, and on horror pictures in general.
Stupidity is an essential trait for any character in a horror film, unerringly heading for the darkest corridor, pursuing the most alarming noise, entering the least inviting room, venturing alone into fog-bound forests. Here that willful vulnerability is modulated by courage; the story takes place immediately after the privations of war, and there is something ferociously maternal in Grace's determination to keep life at bay, to protect her precious children, who are then stifled in the process. There is a clear metaphor about parenting. ...
It's a relief to watch a contemporary horror movie that restores innocence to the genre, making its mark without irony, exploitation or reflexiveness, or by investing in the knowing audience of the postmodern horror movie. "The Others," at first sight old-fashioned, set in the past, is actually much more ambitious and original, exploring the complex psychological caves of myth and superstition.
A Salon reporter asks a bookstore clerk for help finding Pierre Boulle's novel Planet of the Apes, basis for the current film by Tim Burton.
She led me to the film section, where I found "Planet of the Apes Movie Novelization" by William T. Quick. At first I thought it was a joke. Then I realized I was looking at an entirely new literary genre: the novel based on the screenplay based on the novel.
Of course this isn't an "entirely new literary genre", as Paul T. Riddell, "Alex Jablokow" and others replied in a page of letters... Riddell:
Unfortunately, though, most of [the reason for this] goes directly to the studio, which honestly figures that the audience might be confused by a novel that conflicts with the carefully focus-grouped film.
Wide Openings and A.I.
Several commentaries recently on how Hollywood studios are obsessed with opening-weekend box-office returns. Almost every film is opened "wide" these days in hundreds or thousands of US theaters right away one result of which is huge drop-offs, of 50% or more, the second weekend.
Another result, pertinent to more subtle or complex films, is that audiences are able to react only to hype. Entertainment Weekly's August 17th issue offers "If We Ran Hollywood" advice [not online], such as
BRING BACK THE PLATFORM RELEASE. The pump-and-dump mentality makes sense for quick-cash cows, but it harms smaller films in need of word-of-mouth supportsome of which, like Fox's Monkeybone, attract more of a following on video. The complex A.I., for example, might have avoided being tagged DOA if it had been given a few weeks of buildup before taking the 3,000-plus-screen plunge. If only studios could follow the Memento model: collect a huge return on investment, expand gradually, and start off slowly. Or maybe it's the other way around.
Speaking of A.I., the film is reviewed by Geoffrey O'Brien in The New York Review of Books, with numerous cultural references
Now that we have the technology, what are we going to use it for? Perhaps to makeunder the guise of children's adventure storiesallegories exploring the philosophical dilemmas elicited by digital technology. The suggestion of allegory pervades A.I.; we might be reverting to that fin de siècle symbolist world of Maeterlinck's plays, Ibsen's Peer Gynt, Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten, works in which the characters would be identified only as The Father, The Mother, The Human Child, The Mechanical Child. It was only a step from there to the early android fantasies of Karel Capek's R.U.R. (1920) and Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926). What keeps A.I. from feeling like an exercise in aesthetic retrospection is that, in the interim, the robots have become real. They may not have feelings yet, but they have already been entrusted with a good part of the running of the world.
and an astute reading of the film's conclusion.
July Media Refractions