The Future of Cinema… Monochrome?

Last night the Stupor collective teamed up to watch the excellent but bleak and harrowing “The Mist”. A very well made, gritty film that could be loosely categorised as horror with a pinch of Sci-Fi. Adapted from Stephen King’s short story by director Frank Darabont, this quality movie seems to have gone rather unnoticed by most, even it’s target audience and not least by two thirds of that evenings audience (Gazz and myself).

The only reason it came to my attention, I now recall, was because it was mentioned in a podcast I listened to over my Christmas break of the BBC’s flagship film review show (the Wittertaining Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review Show in fact). They interviewed one of the stars, one Toby Jones (ironically, the guy who’s name I couldn’t remember during the showing). “The Mist” was a remarked on by Mr Jones and the interviewing Mark Kermode as a top draw, having an ending the director had to fight the studio tooth & nail to keep and being originally planned to be released in in black-and-white.

It would appear these three things stuck with me as I spontaneously quizzed this parish’s Mr Holmes on the movie this Monday and mentioned the other two facts during our discussion. He confirmed the veracity of the comments on both quality and ending, and took to investigating the black-and-white point further.

On arriving at my house with his DVD in hand (yes, of course I had to watch it as soon as possible) he confirmed that, from his research, the movie was “even better” in black-and-white, with the effects looking “nicer and less plasticy” too. With this in mind we sat down to watch the movie but, as Neil DVD didn’t have the “Special Edition” black and white edition on it, we unanimously decided to turn the saturation down to zero. Simultaneously turning the 47” HD panel into a monochrome set and allowing us to watch the movie the way the director intended.

Argh!! The Black &White Tentacle Got The Sherminator!!

125 minutes later and we’d witnessed a revelation. Not only was I sat there completely aghast at the beyond-brutal ending but seeing this film in shades of grey really added something. As reported, the special FX looked darn good (in a kind of fun but horrifying way) and, most surprisingly, the picture quality looked comparable with a decent BluRay transfer. The best bit, however, was how the whole thing felt. It was absolutely wonderful. If anything it seemed almost more real and only on a couple of occasions did I even realise we were watching in black and white. We were all very impressed, so much so that we agreed with Gazz when he voiced the opinion that we should watch future horror films with the colour removed too.

So, there you have it, revelation shared!! Go watch things in black-and-white, people. Just give it a go and see what you think…

Sure it won’t work for everything but anything that’s intimately filmed and has a good story won’t suffer and, if anything, may be improved by a manual decolourisation.

As an aside, it also served as quite a good counterpoint to the current 2D (twoD) verses 3D (threeD) debate too. At no point did I wish it was in threeD and, yes, there were quite enough frames per second for me too. This completely confirmed what I guess we already know; attach all the bells and whistles you want, you can’t beat having a good, well written story and, if you don’t have that, then the rest is just meaningless, superfluous fluff.

A Cinematic Quest of Rediscovery

I used to be very “into” going to the movies. So much so, in fact, that I can remember one occasion when my now wife and I went to the local picture house (a horrible chain multiplex, but it’s nearby) and, after looking through all the listings of movies to be shown later that evening, we couldn’t find a single film we hadn’t seen. These were the good times. The features were much the same as they are today; some good, some bad, most pass the time well enough and will be forgotten in six months.

The differences from today’s experience of the cinema are the price, which has almost doubled, and the audience, which has massively declined in manner and increased in the number of light-emitting personal devices on constant show… Oh yeah, and they never turn the bloody lights off anymore. This is not the distant past I speak of but a mere decade!! Anywho, these factors combine have served to put me “right off of” going to the movies anymore.

The glasses I use to view my old cinema-going days

Partially in an attempt to resurrect my love for the movies, a few months ago I tried the new fangled IMAX screen that had opened up at the slightly less local horrible chain multiplex. This, however, turned out to be something of a disaster. Besides sitting through 2 hours of Ridley Scott doing to Alien what George Lucas so successfully managed to do to Star Wars ten years earlier (FYI; That’s not a good thing), I found the whole experience even more off-putting. The screen is massive, but not in a cinematic ratio, the sound is massive, but so loud it physically hurts and the price tag, you guessed it, is MASSIVE. £13 per ticket! Are you bonkers? I will certainly not be returning to one of those screens any time soon.

In between times I’ve visited the cinema now and then but have come away largely disappointed. I did happen upon the excellent “Sightseers”, a real “must see” for anyone with a dark sense of humour but, in the main, movies such as Captain America, The Avengers and, most recently, Skyfall have been seen but were all very blah.

That brings us pretty much up to date and to the reason for this piece. Tomorrow, my lovely wife and I will be attempting to simultaneously reignite our love for the movies and make best use of a (n Orange) Wednesday we both have off by going to the cinema to watch three movies in a day. It’s something neither of us has done before but it seems like something we should have. We won’t be helped by the fact that one of our planned features is the almost-three-hour The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but it is so rare to find three films you actually want to see that we’ve thrown it right in there. The others are: Life of Pi 3D, I’m not really into threed but this is supposed to be very well made and my wife loved the book, and Safety Not Guaranteed, which I stumbled upon last week and is an indie film about three reporters investigating a guy who’s put out a small advert in their paper asking for a volunteer to go back in time with him.

We’ve worked out our schedule, allowing for trailers, and we should be able to work it to see The Hobbit at 10:45 first then run straight into Safety Not Guaranteed after which we have just over an hour break for dinner and finish off with Life of Pi 3D until about 19:55. That is, of course, if all goes to plan and we don’t get Deep Vein Thrombosis for our efforts.

I ought to get off now, as tomorrow has turned into later today, but I wanted to share with you all the peculiar adventure the Wifflecopter (TM) and I will be going on.

Wish us luck and see you on the other side…

UPDATE:
Well looks like we’re back on the cinema horse now, we had a really good time watching three very good & completely different movies with well behaved audiences. Couldn’t have asked for more.

We had to reorganise immediately on arrival, as the 10:45 showing of The Hobbit was sold out (we found out later this was probably because the 2D showings were in very small screens!) but the reschedule worked out best for us, giving us 50 mins between each film instead of the first two following through immediately.

I think three films in a day is definitely our limit but, that said, enjoyed every second spent reacquainting ourselves with our love of the pictures.

MAXed out

I went, I saw and I’m here to report back on my IMAX outing.

I’ll start off with an aside but something that may prove of interest to those of you who may wish to follow my tracks to a Cineworld IMAX screen near you. After a little research it became apparent it’s possible to use Orange Wednesday 241 codes for IMAX showings. I must admit I doubted this slightly, but thankfully it worked! We still had to pay two lots of the supplementary fee (in our case £4.50) but only one original ticket price. So this took the admission down from an eye-watering £13.10 to an almost acceptable £8.80.

So, once we’d paid our reduced rate we took our place near the front of the queue to enter the 580 seater venue. We’d deliberately arrived over an hour early as this was the first Wednesday “Prometheus” was out and it was only showing once each day in IMAX. The first surprise came when the 3D glasses were handed out, peculiarly this was done in the queue. On receiving the specs, they felt much more solid and were significantly chunkier than the usual ones, that tend to put me in mind of the free sunglasses McDonald’s gave out in the 1980s. Still impressed by this, we were then ushered into the auditorium and I was immediately struck by the size of the screen. Words can’t describe how huge it is, standing at the bottom then looking up to the top you almost fall over backwards it’s so massive. Now, positively buzzing with excitement, I bounded up to the front row in the top level and held the very centre seats against all comers, so we’d have the best view in the house (only fair if we’re reviewing the thing, right?). After a short wait, the lights went down and show began… well the trailers at any rate but the feature followed soon enough.

There I am and there's most of the screen... (photo courtesy of Sanch)

During the trailers we were initially in 2D and the picture was very impressive, the extreme resolution on the concave screen draws you in beautifully, combine this with the unobstructed view from the stadium style seating and you feel a bit like you’re in your front room but you’ve managed to afford that 70” LED screen and are now sat about 3 feet away from it. The surprising disappointment for me was the sound, it’s just so relentlessly loud, especially in the trailers (where I assume it’s deliberately amped up anyway) the audio was so over the top at points it seemed as if the speakers were giving up and the dialogue became quite tinny. I’d go as far as to say it actually hurt at times, which can’t be a plus in anyone’s book.

We then moved to the 3D trailers and these were horrid, particularly the Spiderman reboot effort. While the players were still, everything was alright, but any kind of fast movement (i.e. Spidey swinging action) it all dissolved into a blur. This was most off-putting but I sat in hope that it may abate when we moved to the feature presentation and I wasn’t disappointed, the image was very clean and the 3D was of a good quality.

Now to my big gripe with the picture, my general opinion is that the extra dimension adds nothing to a film and the best you can possibly say about a 3D movie is that you forget you’re watching it in 3D. My issue is you can never say this about “An IMAX 3D Experience” as whenever you tilt your head slightly, reclining back into your seat or sideways against a loved one, you loose the effect and get a partially blurred image. The reason comes back to the different glasses you’re given on your way into the screening, they’re different for a reason… IMAX 3D works differently to the 3D you’d see in a regular screen, known as RealD 3D. The polarisation that allows the glasses to filter the overlayed images for each eye is linear instead of circular, this basically means that, if your head is not level the polarisation fails and you see the unfiltered image. The tolerance on this is very low and completely unlike RealD 3D, which allows the viewers head to move freely while maintaining the 3D effect. This destroys any sense of immersion because, as you relax into the film you move slightly off level and see the image smudge, pulling you back out of story never mind the effect.

In conclusion, I think I’d have to say IMAX is an OK but ultimately disappointing experience that I wouldn’t recommend or go out of my way to repeat. If you can go to see a 2D feature and get cheaper tickets, then it may be worth a look for a decent action based film. Otherwise I’d save some money, and your hearing, by visiting a modern digital projection screen for your regular movie viewing.

P.S. As for Prometheus, it was alright but made little sense. It was well filmed with good characters and was enough fun to justify watching, but it had nothing to hold the attention of a real Sci-Fi fan, with most of the plot falling over at the mere hint of a closer inspection. Catch it on a mate’s BluRay in six months… 7 out of 12.

‘t i’n’t in’t’ Tintin

Having just returned from watching the new CGI, motion capture, animated movie “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”, I must say I had a rather fun, if slightly unfulfilling, time. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly a film worth seeing, however it left me feeling a little like the characters on screen, pretty good on the surface but hollow on the inside.

French Live-Action Tintin
At a glance you'd think these were real people, but they're actually French.

As a child I was a fan of the Tintin cartoons and I enjoyed the occasional Hergé comic too, it was the adventure of it all that I loved. Ever since I’d heard of it’s inception I’d been looking forward to this movie. The knowledge that Spielberg and Jackson were on board only served to heighten my anticipation that this could be a classic. The trailers helped too but also made me a little fearful as, it must be said, the characters do look a bit odd. They’re right on the line between real and stylised, sinking to the deepest depths of the Uncanny Valley and freaking the willies out of you at a glance. As a disclaimer I’ll just say; This does fade during the action but every now and then your brain realises and does a little “Urgh!!” in your head to remind you.

I’d also like to state, for the record, that we were forced to watch the movie in 3D*. None of our party wanted to see the movie in any more than the usual two dimensions but the final 2D showing anywhere in driving distance was at 18:30 and that’s just a touch too early for us working folks.

So, with mixed feelings but high hopes (and 3D premium paid), I made my way in and settled down, wearing two pairs of glasses on my face.

The movie starts quickly, with a nice in joke and some incidental crime. We’re then immediately introduced to the plot’s MacGuffin, the titular “Unicorn”, and, seconds later and unmistakably, the villain of the piece. This is a good start and the breathless pace continues throughout the whole movie. Clues are presented, people appear, that piece of the puzzle is put together, action happens and it’s all done extremely slickly, with great style and flare. Some of the “one shot**” action sequences are especially well accomplished, flowing from one set-piece to the next with only the briefest of time to digest what you’ve seen before the next section of  beautifully rendered CGI slaps you around the chops and shouts “Boo!!”. It really is an irreverent adventure movie from start to finish, punctuated with some good jokes and a standout performance from Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. (When will they give that man an Oscar??)

My only real criticism would be that everything just seems to happen. I realise this is Tintin and, to a point, the only remarkable thing about him is that things just seem to happen to him all the time but we really could have done with a little more explanation or thought on the part of our protagonist before things dawn on him. Simply pointing skyward and connecting A to E without the intermediary steps of B,C and D comes off as far too convenient. Unfortunately this extraordinary instinctive ability to put clues together in an instant and then give the most cursory of explanations persists throughout the film. This does wane as the story progresses, but that’s more because action is thundering along with no need for connecting the dots than any conscious attempt to fill in the blanks.

Another point I’d like to raise before rounding off is that some things did literally just happen. Two examples that immediately spring to mind; The first being when Tintin, for no appreciable reason, goes to a “deserted mansion” that just happens to be the Haddock family home and where the main villain, unbeknown to our hero, is in residence. The second is when a tank chases Tintin, Haddock et al though a Middle Eastern city. It just happens to appear right behind them half way down the hill and, bizarrely, encase in a hotel’s entrance hall. Both of these glaring examples lead me to believe that an extended cut (similar to those of the Lord of The Rings movies) may be on the cards for the DVD/BluRay release. Jackson at least has a history of such things and it might help resolve my earlier criticism too…

In conclusion then, this movie is bags of fun and visually spectacular. Just let the pace of the film to you, don’t think about things too much and you’ll love it. Score = 7/12.

*Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 3D added nothing but a few pounds to the cost of our evening’s entertainment.
**These are presented as “one shot” but, due to the nature of the movie, are simply effects shots without cuts, so don’t really count. They look very nice though…

 

5 Films You (Maybe) Didn’t Know Were Based on Graphic Novels

American Splendor #1Hollywood seems to have picked up a new habit; that of adapting comic books into films. There’s Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman, the X-Men… OK, so I jest about the unfortunate name legacy left to some of these franchises, but a lot of them have translated successfully into high grossing films.

Now you may be seeing a trend in these movies, there’s a large showing for Marvel and DC’s finest, but there’s still a lot of love out there for the more obscure, more adult comics. I’ve already mentioned the WE3 movie on these digital pages and works like From Hell, Sin City, V for Vendetta and 30 Days of Night have shown that the graphic novel format can translate just as well.

I have to admit I’m not a fan of superheroes in comic books, the trappings of the underwear pervert have formed a gestalt of ideas it seems hard to break out of (with the exception of Animal Man.) Don’t get me wrong, I like the films that have grown from these established characters, but I’m more of a Transmetropolitan kind of guy. With this in mind I went to see The Spirit last week and was thoroughly disappointed; with Frank Miller, a man with an amazing eye for using shadow contrasts, and the source material from Will Eisner, the father of comics I expected a triumph, instead I left the theatre bored and bemused.

To this end I’ve decided to list, for your delectation, 5 movies that you may not know were based on comic books…

A History of Violence

Based on the graphic novel of the same name, A History of Violence tells the story of a cafe owner trying to escape the repercussions of a horrendous crime he committed as a youth. The comic was written by John Wagner, one of the creators of British comics icon Judge Dredd (which also became a film, but a truly abysmal one) and drawn by Vince Locke, famous for his work on the Brief Lives run of Sandman. the film holds an 87% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for two Oscars, one of them for Josh Olsen’s adaptation of the original comic’s script. The film differs quite a lot from the graphic novel, but the central themes and tone are retained effectively.

Road to Perdition

The original Road to Perdition was written by Max Allan Collins, an insanely talented writer of novels and script, as well as directing and writing for a band. The bast. The art for the books was drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, an old DC/Marvel hand and now Middlesborough FC’s resident artist. The books themselves tell the story of a disgraced mafia enforcer trying to raise his son in a world of violence, a theme which is retained in the film version. Sadly David Self‘s treatment of the adaptation was tinkered about with by a rotating group of writers at the behest of Spielberg and resulted in the dilution of the film’s message.

The Crow

Perennial goth posterboy Eric started life as the main character of J. O’Barr‘s The Crow. As the writer and artist James created The Crow as a way of dealing with the death of his fiancée at the hands of a drunk driver, a fact mirrored in the fiction as Eric’s fiancée is killed in the book. In this case I feel the film outshines the comic. O’Barr’s personal misery is evident in the book, but comes across as a little too goth for my tastes. The film was directed by Alex Proyas, director of the fantastic Dark City, and the production of the film famously led to the death of it’s star Brandon Lee.

American Splendor

Yeah, if you’ve seen this then you know it’s a biopic of autobiographic comic creator Harvey Pekar. the film takes aspects of Pekar’s life and mixes them with the elements of his American Splendor series to tell the story of Pekar’s life and the creation of the series he’s famous for. Drawn by different artists, including legendary underground comics genius R. Crumb the comic series is to my mind one of the best examples of exactly what can be done with the graphic novel medium. The film currently enjoys a 94% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. See it, its bloody good.

Ghost World

Not strictly its own comic book, Ghost World was a story arc from creator Daniel Clowes‘ alt comic Eightball. It tells the tale of two 90’s high school graduates and the decline of their friendship as they transition into adulthood. Directed by Terry Zwigoff the man responsible for Crumb, a documentary about the life of R. Crumb (which I’ve not managed to see yet) the movie garnered Clowes an Oscar nomination for his treatment of his own work.