Kapitar

Adventures in Arts

Thoughts on Elysium

ElysiumThere aren't that many films I look forward to seeing, especially with the recent spat of pre-teen friendly superhero movies, but I was pretty stoked when I saw the trailer for Elysium. Wow, an intelligent science fiction action story with a great concept, from the guy who did District 9! I was on board.

Then I saw the film. It was.. ok.

Then I saw the trailer again, and it actually annoyed me. The film didn't deliver on it. Seeing the trailer again just rammed that home, cause I still want to actually see that film.

I don't want to rail on all the things I didn't like, and there was a lot I did like. Instead I was going to think about how I would have done things differently. This film is right up my alley, its my genre, hell its something I would have written myself, so I wondered why I didn't enjoy it. I decided to press all the books I've been reading into service and see if I can come up with a story I think I would have enjoyed more..

These are just some basic thoughts on the concept, all the action set pieces can be hung off of this, but that's all just flash in the pan if there's nothing behind it..

  • I would drop the illegal immigrant angle. Elysium is a place where you can go for treatment if you can afford it. This makes the plotting a lot more straightforward, and less 'in your face' allegorical.
  • The hero is not a recovering criminal, he's a recovering soldier. His disease is something chronic, something you can live with. But "boy Imagine if I didn't have this, everything would be roses!".
  • Elysium is paradise, sure, but the thing isn't getting there, its belonging there. That's the crux of the story. Acceptance.
  • Getting cured isn't going to get him what he wants, we could even get that over with in the first 10 minutes. Now we meet The Girl, a resident of Elysium.
  • The Hero wants to be accepted, firstly by a family, then by a society. Elysium is an unnatural society, built not on acceptance, but on rejection. The main romantic story plays that out as they back-and-forth. The story is done when they get together, because the original premise of Elysium itself will be disproven.
  • The villain. This is someone who wants to enforce separation, so he's at odds with our Hero. I think this guy is a terrorist. This guy represents the thing that actually does keep people apart - fear.
  • He arrives on the station, causes mayhem, and then things kick off. He has an agenda, he's not just a loose cannon. Most of the action then takes place on Elysium (which delivers on the trailer more).
  • During the fun and games, we learn that Elysium is a novelty that wears off quickly. People here are more isolated than those on Earth. There are a lot of cracks and decay up close.
  • The villain is defeated, the Hero doesn't die, and he does get the girl. This is the movies after all!

Iapetus: 1996 to 1997 - Origin

It's 1996, and I'm 15 years old. Back then, I spent all of my time dreaming up stories, and drawing, constantly drawing. I drew on envelopes, newspapers, schoolbooks, even exam papers. Iapetus arose on one of those exam afternoons.

It was an English exam, on a really nice sunny afternoon. The exam hall, imaginatively called The Green Carpet Room - even though the carpet was now blue - was huge and fairly empty. This day it was rather peaceful, with the sunlight streaming in through the oppressively high windows. I finished the exam early, and instead of leaving the exam hall, I stuck around and started writing out a story. By the time I was ushered out with the rest of the students, I had furiously scribbled out 3 foolscap pages, the examiner was confused when I left without submitting them with the exam.

When I got home, I typed up the pages and started expanding upon them. This was going to be a science fiction story, and the one thing that fascinated me was that it would be set in the distant future, thousands of years into the future. In this time, the Sun has started to 'break down'. Now, this was about 5 billion years too soon, but like Sunshine I didn't bother coming up with a good reason - the Sun just stopped working right. This was going to have all kinds of bad effects on the Earth and the inner planets, and the idea was to escape the dying solar system in some kind of ship. It's all very clichéd, but then, as now, I was more interested in the characters and the action.

I didn't have a title yet, so I dug out a battered old book on the Solar System, and started pouring through the index looking for interesting words. Iapetus was the only one I felt was pronounceable-ish, but obscure enough to not be basically just the name of a planet.

A battered old Space encyclopedia I've been lugging around all my lifeThe index at the back of the book where I discovered the name Iapetus

Even though I was intending to do a comic, I started writing out the story in a little notebook, the kind policemen use. I took it everywhere, and any chance I got, took it out and just kept writing where I'd left off. I typed it all up, all 20,000 words, and printed it out. Now it didn't make a lot of sense because I just made it up, in tiny 5 minute chunks in between class. In fact, it made no sense at all, but it did have some over-the-top violence that amused my classmates, so I had a small audience waiting for the continuing instalments.

I scribbled in this notebook any chance I gotWhen I read over it later, I realised it made no sense!More random scribblings

I didn't think much about how to structure a comic, I just figured I'd draw the pages as I went along, one at a time, like this one:

page_one

I only managed to get a single page drawn though, because I had discovered 3D graphics, and I was already wondering how Iapetus would work as an animated film. It would open with a night-time attack in a vast cityscape. I began to design the centrepiece, a glass and steel skyscraper in the heart of futuristic Europe...

Sometime last summer..

…I saw the trailer for C and I found it inspirational to say the least. Not only because it was an independent film, but because it had integrity and vision, and because its being made right now. I admire this.

Soon after seeing it, I wondered why I couldn’t do something similar for Iapetus, my own science fiction film concept. I set about writing a short screenplay and thinking about ship designs. I also decided to use miniature photography instead of CGI.

Some  of the (film related) things that I remember most about my childhood were space sequences in science fiction. Sure I loved the whizzing adrenalin of a Star Wars dogfight, what kid wouldn’t? – but what I remember most was the Enterprise leaving dry-dock in Star Trek II, or similar sequences in Star Trek III. The scale and volume of the ship as the camera very slowly moved past it were awe inspiring, it’s reality seemed beyond question.

This has been lost in recent years with the proliferation of CGI. The hard limitations of physical miniature photography: physics, time, optics and budget, made sure that every shot was extremely well planned and executed. Here, the story was king. If a shot wasn’t helping, it was dropped because it was so expensive, and because it was relatively inflexible all the thinking went in at the start.

With CGI the focus seems to have shifted from story telling to shiny effects reels, perhaps because of the enormous flexibility. I still think Jurassic Park is the finest execution of cinematic CGI to date. It’s no surprise that they spent a long time studying animal movements. Walt Disney did the same thing for Bambi, bringing in all kinds of artists and experts to try to capture the natural movement of wild deer. What strikes me in both films, is that the medium was exactly that, a vehicle for the story, not the other way round.

Unlike the creators of C, I’m not adverse to using green screen or digital compositing for these effects, and in fact the approach I’m using demands it (more on this later). Next time I want to post some more detail about the film in it’s current format, as well as some test shots for the space sequences.

Filmlog: Battle: Los Angeles

Battle Los AngelesIts a good film, but its not a great film. I've noticed that some films are mirroring video games and going for the experiential "it's like being there" angle, I haven't seen it work yet (explicit first-person plots like Cloverfield excepted).

Like most modern high budget games, the set pieces are really impressive conceptually, but I never really felt like I got to appreciate them. Things move too fast, the camera whip-pans all over the place. I get the sense of driving quickly by an elaborate shop window display, I'm sticking my head out the window trying to get a better look, frustrating.

Oddly enough, in the action parts I was waiting for a character pause, and in the character pauses I was waiting for more action. Character pause is the right term here because that's literally what it is, stopping for a few minutes to exchange some dry plot-fuel before ramming instructions for the next sub-quest at the audience. Normally I'm ok with that, but here it's unsatisfying (see the postscript for why that is).

Thing's aren't helped at all by the accursed PG13 violence and language, which makes all the dialogue even more strained (forget believable troopers who don't swear like… well, troopers). There's no real sense of peril here, when you don't see any blood, you don't feel any danger.

I never really dropped out of my seat and into the world, I was always aware of being in the cinema. That's hard to get right, but isn't that really what you want when you go to the movies?

PS: This post really sums up one of the major flaws here, another expensive lesson learned for the cost of a ticket.

Filmlog: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau PosterSaw this film last night and I have to say it surprised me. Totally enjoyable experience. The casting is spot on, Matt Damon has the charisma to pull of the romantic humour as well as the integrity and willpower to fight the system. Emily Blunt manages to create a character that you can imagine wanting to beat the odds for.

Thankfully, very little time is spent on explaining why the 'Angels' are here, even the one or two lines of exposition are a little off putting. Instead they decide to focus on the meat of the story, should you accept your logical fate or fight for your gut instincts.

What it made me realise was that getting the emotional punch right cancels out any of the fancy pants special effects: even the really subtle ones here were extraneous (like smart-paper schematics on the notebooks). I think it was also wise to drop any complications to the plot. All I cared about was what the Hero was going to do next, that's what a good story is all about.

PS: How many filmable Philip K. Dick short stories are left?

Favourite Scenes #5: The Chronicles of Riddick - Teacup

The Chronicles of Riddick I'm a night owl and while I work away into the morning hours I like to play movies in the background. There's a certain type of movie that fits the bill. It has the be action focused, with a good visual style and more importantly, strong audio and dialogue, as you listen more than you watch. Any smouldering tension or complex storylines are a no go, they are too distracting. A film like Chronicles is a perfect choice, and it's in the regular rotation.

I'm not saying I enjoy it 'cause its bad, on the contrary I admire this film. Wikipedia tells me the budget is USD 105 million, and I believe every cent is up there on the screen. Some of the sets are awe inspiring, and are very reminiscent of Dune, the action set pieces never feel small. I also like the running time, its got a pleasing number of arcs. That's very important when you don't want to be distracted thinking of what film to play next.

As for Vin Diesel, well its the part he was born to play, so its no surprise he's so fond of the character. Which leads me on to the scene I want to talk about today.

The Setup

  • Riddick is on the prison planet Crematoria reuniting with an old friend Kyra, who is running into some problems with the resident rape gang
  • He advises them to depart while they still can, unsurprisingly, they decline..

The Characters

  • Vin Diesel plays Riddick, the archetypal anti hero
  • Alexa Davalos plays Kyra, a tough girl with abandonment issues

The Scene

  1. Riddick calmly advises the rape gang to departGenerally, as a bad guy, when someone is this nonchalant, you should be asking yourself why
  2. They quite rightly point out that he's only armed with a soup cupIm pleased to see theres a wide choice of food and beverages
  3. Riddick informs them that its actually a tea cup, and yes, that's all he needsAlso surprising that some of the most dangerous prisoners in the solar system are given jagged metal cups
  4. He places it on a suspiciously convenient ledge shaped rockYou'll notice in the film thats theres actually a perfectly shaped bump to splay the lip of the cup open when struck from above
  5. The classic 'ragged metal cup to the chest' moveDidn't From Dusk Till Dawn address the challenges of successfully pushing objects through the bone and muscle of a human torso
  6. Riddick shows them the next improvised killing instrumentI can see how you could injure someone with this, but I'm curious to see how you could deal a death blow with it
  7. They key from a sardine tin, niceI suspect the bad guys returned later for this, its a nightmare opening a tin without one
  8. The bad guys get the messageI like the practicality of leaving the corpse behind

Amusing deaths and witty one liners are the staple of a solid action movie, and here Chronicles does not disappoint. A character like Riddick is perfectly fit to deliver both, which is a big part of this movies appeal.

Oh I almost forgot..

The fantastically bizarre Lensors..One of the odd touches that helps set the film apart from the standard military sci-fi muster

Favourite Scenes #4: 2010 – Ku-RRit-sa

2010I may have simple tastes but I prefer 2010 to 2001. I saw the sequel first, when I was about 10 years old, and I was keen to see the first film for some answers to the many questions I had. Perhaps as a child I was too young to appreciate 2001, but I found it unsatisfying. 2010 always seemed more accessible to me, the kind of film I would want to experience time and again.

I love the balance between accuracy and entertainment on show here, tipped just enough towards realism to be engaging, but not so much that you lose the excitement of the movie. This is a film first and foremost, and the story takes centre stage. The depiction of space travel may not represent how it will actually be in about 30 years time, but its how I imagined it would be, and to me, that’s more important.

And nothing conjures the imagination more than a space walk, which is the scene I want to talk about today.

The Setup

  • Following the events of the first film, the abandoned vessel Discovery is in orbit near the Jovian moon Io
  • A Russian vessel, the Leonov, is dispatched carrying American crew members attempting to salvage the Discovery and determine why her mission failed

The Characters

  • John Lithgow plays Dr. Walter Curnow, an engineer who is afraid of heights
  • Elya Baskin plays Max Brajlovsky, a friendly cosmonaut

The Scene

  • After reaching the vicinity of the Discovery, they must now execute a space walk to enter the rotating ship
  • Curnow is an engineer and is terrified of heights, he's having a difficult time composing himself for the ordeal
  • Max on the other hand seems very relaxed and helps Curnow throughout the walk, this is nicely contrasted with a role reversal shortly after they breach the Discovery

Over the eerily alien planetscape of Io the two men set out across the hundred or so metres between the two ships.

  1. They leave the Leonov and start toward the Discovery kuritsa1
  2. Curnow’s pulse is a little high, he starts fogging up kuritsa2
  3. 50 metres.. I love the planetscape below, inspirational
  4. Time for some small talk, Curnow asks Max the Russian for ‘chicken’ kuritsa4
  5. Ku-RRit-sa All the Russian I've ever needed I learned from this movie
  6. 10 metres.. kuritsa6
  7. Touchdown the shadows are moving as the ship rotates making the clinging action seem more reasonable

The weird sounds coupled with the ragged breathing, that’s what really sells this scene. The blend of Curnow’s rational humanity, and the completely alien environment beneath, and around him. I always felt this depiction of space was a good middle ground between the soundless vacuum of hard science fiction and the whizzing engine noises of video games. Its hosts some elements of humanity, but it still feels quite alien and barren.

Oh I almost forgot..

The disturbing image of the floating foetus..

The completely freaked me out when I was a kid, I watched through my fingers :)