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SFFH in NonTextual Media

Tuesday 31 July 2001

Skiffy Flix: Reactions to Planet of the Apes

§ Unenthusiastic reviews for this not-a-remake by director Tim Burton.
[ official website | IMDb ]

Elvis Mitchell, New York Times:
The first "Planet of the Apes," perhaps the most ingenious sci-fi film ever made, was a landmark: the first B-picture with a major motion picture budget, setting a new tone for a genre synonymous with laughable chintziness. The movie was adapted from a first-rate allegorical novel ("La Planète des Singes") by Pierre Boulle, who used it as a way to slap around European class consciousness; the book is part Jane Austen, part Jules Verne and part Céline.

This new version tries to preserve the class warfare in the novel and to incorporate ideas from "Planet of the Apes as American Myth," Eric Greene's resourceful 1996 social analysis of the film and its sequels. Mr. Greene thoughtfully examined the racial politics that made the pictures both tough minded and slightly repugnant.

When Mr. Burton's "Planet" fixes on being entertaining as single-mindedly as the gorillas bearing down on homo sapiens, it succeeds. But the picture states its social points so bluntly that it becomes slow-witted and condescending; it treats the audience as pets.
Slate's Summary Judgement:
Though everyone lavishes praise on makeup artist Rick Baker's lifelike and believable creations ("The primates are primo," Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today), the movie's script comes under fire as being lame, "over-plotted and under-dramatized" (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times).

(Slate also justifies the film's surprise ending (not the same surprise ending as the 1968 film's) in this Culturebox entry.)

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times (2 1/2 stars):
Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" wants to be all things to all men, and all apes. It's an action picture and a satire of an action picture. It's a comedy and then it gets serious. It's a social satire and then backs away from pushing that angle too far. It even has a weird intra-species romantic triangle in it. And it has a surprise ending that I loved ...

The movie could have been more. It could have been a parable of men and animals, as daring as "Animal Farm." It could have dealt in social commentary with a sting, and satire that hurt. It could have supported, or attacked, the animal rights movement. It could have dealt with the intriguing question of whether a man and a gorilla having sex is open-mindedness, or bestiality (and, if bestiality, in both directions?).

It could have, but it doesn't. It's a cautious movie, earning every letter and numeral of its PG-13 rating. Intellectually, it's science fiction for junior high school boys.

§ Slate also posted, a week before the new film opened, this analysis by Alex Abramovich of The radical political history of Planet of the Apes, recalling Boulle's novel and Rod Serling's adaptation of it...

Boulle's point was that, for all the progress, ingenuity, and enterprising spirit he saw in his fellow men, monkeys would do just as well. But in an America rocked by race riots and sinking deeper into the quagmire of Vietnam, Rod Serling set out to make a different point: Maybe the monkeys could do better. Serling's experience with The Twilight Zone had taught him that "it was possible to have Martians say things that Democrats and Republicans can't say." His fantastically misanthropic treatment for a Planet of the Apes film shouted those things from the rooftops.


§ Meanwhile, here's another version (see Letters) of the story told by A.I.: it's all about the public's attitude toward technology, says this business analysis of the film's disappointing box office returns.

New York Times 30 July

§ With outdated animation and an incoherent story, why is Akira -- just released on DVD -- a classic?

Slate 20 July

§ And here (if anyone still cares) is a long article worrying whether the new Star Trek series, Enterprise, can recapture the liberal optimism of the original.

Prospect August/September 2001

Friday 20 July 2001

Skiffy Flix: Reactions to Jurassic Park III

§ Good reviews for the third of the series. [ official website | IMDb ]

Elvis Mitchell, New York Times:
[a] cruel-to-be-kind sequel that's a lot more fun than the previous "Park" excursions.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (three stars):
Jurassic Park III is shorter, cheaper and with fewer pretensions than its predecessors, and yet there was nothing I disliked about it, and a lot of admire in its lean, efficient story telling.
Stephanie Zacharek, Salon:
Another saving grace of "Jurassic Park III" is that it captures some of the wonder from the first picture. Director Joe Johnston ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," "Jumanji") is much more low-key than his predecessor Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two pictures in the series. Thankfully, he's out to set us rambling and bumping on a scary-funny amusement park ride; he doesn't hammer on the whiskery old theme of man-playing-God, nor does he seem to take much pleasure in the requisite bloody chomping, even though he of course has to include some of it.

And he offers us one extraordinary panorama that looks as if it had been lifted straight out of those softly colored educational picture books of the '50s and '60s, a group of peaceful vegetarian apatosauruses against a purply pink Maxfield Parrish sky on the banks of a canal, chomping placidly on the plants they so love to eat.

Unkind Cuts

§ Any claim to the status of TV as art might have trouble accounting for the fact that old "classic" TV shows are routinely cut to allow time for additional commercials, even by cable stations that already charge viewers for access -- and no one cares. Including, for example, Classic Trek.

[C]uts aren't invariably the fault of the broadcasters; in some cases, distributors don't even bother to make the uncut version of a show available. For years, Paramount offered only cut versions of many original "Star Trek" episodes (though the uncut versions were usually available on "Trek" videocassettes). But when the uncut series was finally remastered a couple of years ago, and broadcasters could choose between the original and edited versions, it was interesting to note the differences between the Sci-Fi Channel in the United States and its Canadian counterpart, SPACE. For a short time, the Sci-Fi channel did indeed show the uncut "Trek," in a special 90-minute slot filled out with documentary material (and with plenty of "extra" commercial breaks in the middle of acts). A few months later, however, Sci-Fi switched to a version that in some cases was shorter than the old syndication version. SPACE, on the other hand, continues to show uncut episodes of "Trek" every day in a regular one-hour time slot.
There's an episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" where Murray becomes furious upon discovering that the station manager has cut the best joke out of a Marx Brothers movie to make room for more commercials. If cable channels keep slicing out bits and pieces of classic shows, we might not ever see that scene again.
Salon 17 July

Tuesday 17 July 2001

Reactions to A.I.

§ The Los Angeles Times has an industry analysis piece by Patrick Goldstein examining the divergence of opinion between critics and the public to Steven Spielberg's A.I.. Many initial reviews were positive...

So when real people finally got to see the movie, they were in for a rude shock. As I made the rounds of Fourth of July parties, my non-show-biz friends rushed over to vent and complain, saying in essence that film is a stinker. Several reported that theatergoers were giggling during the film's final half-hour. As New York magazine's Peter Rainier, who gave the film a largely negative review, put it: "People I talked to didn't just say they disliked the film. They hated it." ... If nothing else, "A.I." has the distinction of being the first Spielberg movie to be generally beloved by critics but generally loathed by the public.

So, asks Goldstein, are critics out of touch? Or have they simply learned how to grade on a curve?

Los Angeles Times 17 July

Sidebar: Is the film bad, confusing, or merely misunderstood?

Los Angeles Times 17 July

§ Meanwhile, the identity of the creatures at the end of A.I. may have been apparent to some viewers, but so many others got the wrong impression that authorities have issued clarifications...

(Another appears in this week's Entertainment Weekly.)

Monday 16 July 2001

Skiffy Flix: Critics React to Final Fantasy

§ Reviews for the new animated film Final Fantasy, based on a video game and notable technically as the most ambitious attempt yet to computer-simulate human beings, have been, from mainstream critics, about what you'd expect for a film based on a game...

For every advance in the world of special effects, narrative is pushed back a few squares on the game board or, in this case, the circuit board.
But aside from its spooky [technical] ramifications, "Final Fantasy" is as monotonous as Muzak, and when it comes to the plot, both bewildering and trite.
  • Stephanie Zacharek in Salon:
Computer-generated characters aren't like you and me. Their jawlines are stronger, their hair is silkier. They look really great in even the most form-fitting jumpsuits. And they have a higher tolerance for increasingly circuitous and hard-to-follow plot developments.

...Except for the review from Roger Ebert, who's always had a soft spot for SF, and for great visuals; he gives it 3 1/2 stars (out of 4).

I have a love of astonishing sights, of films that show me landscapes and cityscapes that exist only in the imagination, and ''Final Fantasy'' creates a world that is neither live action nor animation, but some parallel cyberuniverse. ... In reviewing a movie like this, I am torn between its craft elements and its story. The story is nuts-and-bolts space opera, without the intelligence and daring of, say, Steven Spielberg's ''A.I.'' But the look of the film is revolutionary. ''Final Fantasy'' is a technical milestone, like the first talkies or 3-D movies. You want to see it whether you care about aliens or space cannons. It exists in a category of its own, the first citizen of the new world of cyberfilm.
(See also Locus Online's review by John Shirley.)


§ If you haven't already heard enough about the background of Brian Aldiss's involvement with Stanley Kubrick and the long history of A.I., here's yet another recounting by Aldiss...

The Sunday Times, 15 July

§ Locus correspondent Michael Davis also alerts us to a series of archived articles in The Guardian by Aldiss. This one is about Kubrick--

Kubrick: The Writer, 14 March 1999

And this three-part series concerns working with various filmmakers; the last part focuses on Kubrick.
I have worked with or against four powerful American directors and producers, Cy Endfield, Roger Corman, Ileen Maisel, and Stanley Kubrick, without changing the course of history or their minds -- if not for glory, then for fun and profit.
Part One 25 June 1999
Part Two 2 July 1999
Part Three 16 July 1999

§ And, back to A.I., don't miss this piece by Screw-Sorting Robot X-43:

Spielberg has offended all robots, not just those of us that are programmed to sort screws. Still, I would have gladly forgiven this slight had he included just one scene of screw-sorting. There were several points in the film where screw-sorting, or at the very least the use of screws, could have been incorporated.

Tuesday 10 July 2001

SF vs. Sci-Fi

§ Here's a gratifying article by Lewis Beale that recognizes the gap between written SF and media SF, with comments from Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Gardner Dozois, Michael Cassutt, and Richard Paul Russo...

Despite the number of "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" spinoff novels in the nation's bookstores, science fiction as a literary genre has transcended its pulp origins and gained an enormous amount of credibility over the last 25 years. But the science fiction film seems trapped in a time warp. Science fiction writers like Ms. Butler, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson are delving into issues of race, gender, sex, religion and technology's effect on humanity. But filmmakers continue to be obsessed with "Star Wars"-like space operas and alien- invasion movies featuring a wide variety of slime things.
New York Times, 8 July


§ The wizards and witches in the Harry Potter books and film are riding the brooms wrong-way round, according to a high priest of British White Witches...

Yahoo/Reuters, 9 July


§ Lots more articles about A.I....

  • This article in the Washington Post addresses the reality of intelligent machines, with comments by Ray Kurzweil and others.
  • This Salon article explores the idea that child actor Haley Joel Osment "instinctively has a better idea of what A.I. is about than its director does"...
  • Here's an excerpt from Entertainment Weekly's cover story for July 13, with comments from Frances O'Connor, Jude Law, and Steven Spielberg.
  • Here's Entertainment Weekly's review by Lisa Schwarzbaum.
  • And here's another truth behind A.I. article from Wired.
  • This New York Times article suggests what future technological devices might really be useful....
  • And this New York Times article confirms the prediction that the A.I. websites would be more interesting than the movie...
  • Whereas this essay by engineer and novelist Bart Kosko echoes the reaction that A.I. is about issues that are obsolete....
    So forget "A.I.'s" vision of lumbering machines that simply mimic our pre-computer notions of speech and movement and emotions. Brains and robots and even biology are not destiny. Chips are.

§ Meanwhile, here's an article about the threat to human movie stars of digital actors -- as in Final Fantasy, opening this week -- with reactions from Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and others.

Monday 2 July 2001

Skiffy Flix: Critics react to A.I.

§ Critical reactions to Steven Spielberg's new film A.I. have been mixed, with many reviews focusing on the conflicting styles of Spielberg and the project's originator Stanley Kubrick. Locus Online has a review by Gary Westfahl here, and will post other reactions from SF critics shortly. A sampling of reactions from general critics follows:

Slate's Summary Judgment:
The brainchild of the late director Stanley Kubrick and grown-up Wunderkind Steven Spielberg, this futuristic sci-fi fairy tale about a lovable robot's Pinocchiolike desire to become a real boy stirs critics. The reviews reflect a complex response...
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
"A.I." is audacious, technically masterful, challenging, sometimes moving, ceaselessly watchable. What holds it back from greatness is a failure to really engage the ideas that it introduces. The movie's conclusion is too facile and sentimental, given what has gone before. It has mastered the artificial, but not the intelligence.
Stephen Hunter, Washington Post:
[T]he classic science fiction movie that Steven Spielberg's "A.I." most suggests is "The War of the Worlds" [the worlds being those of Spielberg and Kubrick] "A.I." is a strangeness: a technically brilliant '00s film full of annoyingly ancient '50s ideas. The movie is full of answers to questions that are seldom asked anymore.
David Denby, The New Yorker [temporary link]
As a director of fantasy, Spielberg puts to shame the hacks... Whatever is wrong with "A.I." -- and a great deal is wrong -- it's the first American movie of the year made by an artist.
David Edelstein, Slate
There is nothing like the sound of a small child crying "Mommy!" in the night to remind you -- with a single stab -- of your origins, your species' origins, your species' future. And that's why it's hard to be stoic in response to A.I., which mingles despair for the direction of human society with the plaintive, unanswered, broken-record call of "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!" ...

Because the work of these two often-great directors is so wildly different in tone, I'd never before considered their similarity-their shared longing for machines that will deliver humanity from unhappiness. (It's amusing to imagine these super-directors' reportedly "intimate" collaboration, which happened not in person but via a "private" fax line.) Kubrick is obviously more clinical in his gaze, while Spielberg can barely contain his passion for the extraterrestrial intelligence that can supply the kind of love that Mom and Dad weren't capable of mustering.
Paul Clinton, CNN
"A.I." includes the best of both Spielberg and Kubrick. It also embraces their worst traits as well. The sensibilities of these two filmmaking icons are night and day, black and white. Spielberg wants to reinforce our belief systems, tell us truths we already know. Kubrick wants to disturb us, and show us things we don't want to face. The result is an "A.I." that is neither fish nor fowl, hot or cold. At best it's brilliant, but lukewarm -- lacking Spielberg's emotional heat and Kubrick's icy intellect.
Paul Tatara, CNN
"A.I." is easily the best big-budget picture to be released so far this year. Spielberg has made better movies, but he's never challenged his audience so deeply in what appears to be an utterly commercial setting. For once, you're encouraged to ponder complex questions while enjoying an amazing ride.
Patrick Lee, Science Fiction Weekly
A.I. is one of the clearest examples of hard science fiction ever filmed, extrapolating a future based on real science and employing its intriguing premise as a potent metaphor for the human condition. ...

Like 2001 before it, A.I. is likely to generate heated debate and little agreement about its mixed messages of love, responsibility, faith, redemption and what it means to be human--and that's all good. Ambitious, audacious and original, A.I. is bound to become a science fiction classic.
Mike Clark, USA Today
Both distant and sentimental, it's too cozy for Kubrick and too chilly for Spielberg, who hasn't fashioned a movie this frustrating since 1987's Empire of the Sun.

Like that film, this is a movie to be knocked, chewed and gummed, but not dismissed. It's the first 2001 release I've rushed to see twice. There haven't been many this year, and we'll be lucky if we get another one this summer.

§ Definitely to be read only after you've seen the film is this very long, scene-by-scene critique at Ain't It Cool News by "Moriarity".

§ Other reviews:

§ Background links:

TV and Identity Politics

§ On another subject entirely is this long article about the lack of presence of gays in the Star Trek universe, recounting the history of Gene Roddenberry and David Gerrold, describing the varieties of "slash" fiction, quoting comments from Cecilia Tan and Franklin Hummel, and asking Why does this matter? and Does it matter any more?

Salon, 30 June

June Media Refractions

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