Saturday, July 25, 2009

War of the Worlds: Goliath


War of the Worlds: Goliath
This has all kinds of excellence written all over it! A sequel to H.G. Wells' classic story, with steampunk and dieselpunk influencing the production design!

Director Joe Pearson sent me this:

Nice to hear from you and great timing as we actually have news to announce.

We (Tripod) are going to be hosting daily signings and giveaways of tons of material—posters, 24 page art books, and t-shirts on "War of the Worlds: Goliath" at the SDCC next week!

We'll be operating out of the Heavy Metal magazine booth (look for our large banner above the booth) and hosting daily autograph signings and giveaways.

And here's a new Blog which I've written for our Heavy Metal magazine micro site...

It's got a production update, announcements and some screen shots from our finished footage.

Make sure to check out Epoch Ink's blog for great sneak-peeks at the great art, design and updates on this exceptionally cool project! And if your anywhere near San Diego Comic Con make sure to stop by their booth! They are very nice people!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Hollywood and the Remake Machine Part II

"The War of the Worlds"

I love the H. G. Wells book "The War of the Worlds" and it is a shame that we haven't had a proper visual adaptation of the book.

The original George Pal movie version is considered a classic of sci-fi cinema and deservedly so. It isn't particularly faithful to the book, but the constraints of budget and studio pressures are mostly to blame for that. The inclusion of a love story (at the insistence of a studio exec) does not, in my opinion, detract for the overall theme. Changing the setting and the period were necessitated by the budget as was the replacement of the Martian tripods with the manta-like war machines. The War Machines, brilliantly designed by Albert Nozaki, are timeless and unforgettable. They are sleek and elegant but also exude enough menace to be instantly threatening on sight. Where Pal had to make concessions, he tried to make up for in subtle nods to the book. Because of the lack of tripods (though the WMs are said to glide along on three invisible beams, like legs), he gave us a creature with a three-sectioned eye, three fingers and when Forrester finds Sylvia, it is in the third church. Pal also used the subliminal trick of having the Martians always advancing from right to left for the initial invasion. This is opposite to how we read and write, so the impression is there of something moving against the grain or against the normal flow. The heavy religious tone of the film was a reflection of Pal's own faith and the tone of the end of the book. Overall, the original film has a decent plot, cast and special effects and works well to get the main gist of the book onto the screen. Though a bit hokey by modern film audience standards, if viewed as a product of its time, it still holds up as a great bit of film making.

I've read a lot of criticism of the Dreamworks remake of WOTW and can't say that I agree with most of it. It seems to be cool to trash Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise these days and although I have no love for Cruise or his personal beliefs, in WOTW he delivers what is probably his best performance of any of his films. The only real problem I have with Spielberg's work of recent years, including this film, is the insistence of sticking kids and the "joys" of parenthood into nearly everything. The book focuses on a lone man (and separately, his brother) trying to survive an unimaginable series of events to a less than exciting conclusion. That's not to say it's a bad conclusion, because it isn't, it just isn't bombs exploding and the bad guys being machine-gunned in slow motion. The fact that neither film version alter that ending much proves how powerful, if cinematically unexciting, the original ending is.

The inclusion of the "hero" scene where Cruise's character, Ray Ferrier, takes out a Tripod single-handed was, in my opinion, unnecessary. I understand that Spielberg is trying to change how the daughter views her father, but if she hasn't gotten the message that he's taking care of her by the end, she never will. The whole sequence strikes me as being a concession to Cruise's ego more than real character development. The same can be said about Ferrier being the only one who notices that the Tripod shields are down. I don't think I would have minded that as much if the earlier sequence hadn't been there.

Where this film really falls short is, for me, in the design work. The tripods look okay but don't really strike the sense of dread that the original film's machines do. They look more run-of-the-mill anime (as do most things these days) and resemble a jet engine wearing a hat and a sad expression. The design of the creatures themselves is unremarkable and bland. Fairly similar to the aliens of "Independence Day", they fail to instill the same sense of fear as that film's aliens or the original Pal aliens. The Pal creature was small, slimy and ALIEN looking, void of what we would recognize as a face. The aliens in Spielberg's film look more like emaciated people with big summer hats. The other-worldliness of having three legs and short arms on their undercarriage is trumped by having a very humanoid face. They should have gone back to the book for inspiration, but since Spielberg has repeatedly stated that his aliens are not "Martians" one has to wonder why call it "War of the Worlds"?

Problems with designs aside, the DW film is a decent adaptation of the book and remake of the Pal film. The scenes of mass panic and the heat ray, the feelings of despair and loss are very well executed and the inclusion of Tim Robbins' character hearkens to the Curate character of the book and goes a long way to help develop Ferrier from a deadbeat dad into a responsible adult. I think the change from cylinders falling to the 'they've always been here' lightning bolt jockeys was a mistake, but as the method of arrival only serves to start the action, it can be overlooked. The effects are well handled and realistic for the most part and I think that although it won't replace the Pal film in SF history, it can stand up with it to be counted along with it, if not beside it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hollywood and the Remake Machine

Firstly, let me start off by saying that I’m not immediately opposed to the idea of “the remake.” Though there should be plenty of books, comics and original ideas out there to keep the film market alive and fresh, I don’t mind if someone wants to remake a previous film. The main problem is that studios choose to remake films that have nothing wrong with them and don’t need to be remade/reimagined/regurgitated to begin with. Take the too-many-cooks approach of today’s filmmaking, add a heaping tablespoon of a movie-going public who won’t sit still for anything but eye candy, and simmer in an atmosphere of ‘if it isn’t a guaranteed blockbuster, we don’t want to make it’ and you have a recipe for failure. I equate most films these days to a fireworks display. Lots of bangs and flashes and when it’s over, I take nothing away and the film fades from memory as fast as it burst before my eyes. There are, of course, always exceptions but not too many in recent years.

What I endeavor to do here is pick some films that have been remade and compare them to the originals (and other source material, if any) and see where Hollywood went wrong (or right) with each production.

“The Time Machine”

The book by H.G. Wells is a favorite of mine but is, in my opinion, unfilmable as it stands. I love it but for cinematic purposes it is repetitive and drawn out. A direct film translation would smack more of a documentary than an entertaining adventure story. A rewrite is a definite necessity to make a watchable movie.

The George Pal film from 1960 was the first film adaptation of the book and is nearly flawless, certainly for its time of production. I’m not talking about the dated special effects or other technical issues. Those are all products of their time and the level of technology that was available to them and were very impressive in their day. If anyone watching the film can’t accept and get past that fact, they have no valid criticism to voice. Where David Duncan’s script departs from the book, it introduces aspects that were relevant to Wells himself or helped to legitimately move the story forward. George, the Time Traveler, is a self-proclaimed pacifist as was Wells. This was the impetus for his journey through Time rather than just as an experiment as in the book.

The script sticks enough to the book without being slavishly devoted to it and manages to improve upon the basic concept by introducing the idea of George stopping at different periods before continuing to the world of the Eloi and Morlocks. I imagine any scientist who possessed a time machine would be compelled to stop at intervals to see what changes were occurring as he went, wouldn’t you? The loss of the book’s social commentary is a missed opportunity to some extent, but to include too much would have been dull for most movie audiences.

The only real flaw in the film, for me, is that Pal (and possibly Duncan) apparently didn’t see the irony of their hero’s actions. George’s great desire is to escape the war and violence of his own time, but immediately launches a violent one-man war on the Morlocks in the future. If the filmmakers spotted the irony, it isn’t clearly presented to the audience and within the context of the film, the point seems lost. The omission of the Traveler’s journey into the hopelessness of the even farther future and the dying of the Sun as described in the book, likely didn’t fit into the film’s ultimately positive message. The inclusion of the romantic relationship between George and Weena is a necessary addition for a film of this and almost any period to widen its appeal.

The 2002 Dreamworks remake has many problems, the first of which is the lack of any real similarity with the book or the original film. Rather than use Duncan’s script as a starting point and building on it (this movie was announced as a remake and credits David Duncan for his original screenplay), Simon Wells and John Logan throw out everything that makes the story recognizable as The Time Machine, apart from the machine, the Eloi and the Morlocks. The first mistake is the introduction of a romantic tragedy for the hero, Alexander. I would imagine this was added because the studio execs couldn’t grasp the concept of ‘inner conflict’ and insisted on a clear-to-understand motivator for the hero, hence the tragic romance. The exclusion of the dinner party scenes present in both the book and the Pal film is odd. These scenes help explain the hero’s intentions and ideals and introduces us, though on a smaller scale initially, to the time machine.

Depicting the Morlocks as huge, hulking brutes instead of the small, creepy subterraneans of the book was a misstep as well. As much as I insist on being understanding about the technical limitations of older films, newer films have no such excuse when it comes to special effects. “Jurassic Park” set the standard high for CGI creatures and for filmmakers not to be able to maintain or surpass it years later is ridiculous. The Morlock suits created by Winston’s team are stiff and phony-looking from every angle. If this were a low budget affair or a first-time effects crew one could possibly understand or cut the filmmakers some slack, but in a big budget film like this, their unconvincing appearance is simply inexcusable.

The Uber Morlock is another curious addition, but Hollywood executives don’t think movie audiences can relate to a hero’s struggle without a single face for the villain. I personally find the idea of an uncommunicative horde more frightening than a single lead bad guy. The Uber Morlock also served to clarify the paradox concept to Alexander (and the audience).

By changing the Eloi from the free-loving, simple-minded loafers of the book and Pal film to a people of traditions, that possess engineering and artistic skills, this film ignores the point that Wells was trying to make in the book. Perhaps Dreamworks or Logan saw the human race divided into ambitionless, ADD-ridden layabouts and thugs that prey on the weak as too close to our own society.

Like the Pal film, the romantic relationship between the hero and heroine is an expected plot point, though it only serves to show how apparently unimportant Emma was to Alexander, since she seems fairly quickly forgotten once he meets someone new. Weena’s name being replaced with ‘Mara’ is another mysterious change and the inclusion of a little brother only aids the script’s journey from the source material into cliché.

The Dreamworks remake is still a watchable film and has an excellent score by Klaus Badelt, but overall, it is not a worthy replacement to or reworking of the Pal film nor a fitting adaptation of the book.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Test

This is a test of the blogging system. Had this been an actual thought, you would have been enlightened and/or refreshed by the wit and wisdom of the author. However, THIS is only a test.