Only One Thing Worse Than A Dragon; Americans! – Reign Of Fire

7 12 2016

reign-of-fire (Spyglass Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures - 2002)

For what must be decades now, Movie Directors and Producers have been trying to come up with imaginative new ways to bring about the end of the world. Disaster and Post-Apocalyptic movies as they are known don’t really have much of a definitive start, I mean on the one hand you can consider Planet of the Apes to be a post-apocalyptic film, but ever since the ascension of Computer Generated Imagery, more imaginative films that really depict a sense of the End of the World have come to light. If you were to start from what I consider to be the ultimate disaster movie: Independence Day, the world has been invaded by aliens, had asteroids and meteors thrown at it, had the weather engulf it, had nature attempt to reclaim it, had hordes of zombies march across it and even had Monsters just wanting to smash it. Despite all the different forms of ending the world however, it is somewhat surprising that only one Director has thought about using Dragons.

Reign of Fire Dragon

Released in 2002 by Spyglass Entertainment and Touchstone Pictures Directed by Rob Bowman and produced by Richard D. Zanuck; Reign of Fire is a Post-Apocalyptic Disaster film set in a future England (four years from now) where Dragons have re-awoken and claimed Earth as their own. It’s up to a few survivors (including a bald Matthew McConaughey) to try and reset the balance of the Food Chain.

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In London during the early 2000’s; a young boy called Quinn (Ben Thornton) goes to see his mother Karen (Alice Krige) who is working on a London Underground construction site. While having a quick look into a supposed ‘void’, Quinn awakens a Dragon sleeping in the tunnels. He and his mother try to escape, but his Mother is killed just as the Dragon escapes the tunnels. Through a series of Newspaper clippings, a narrator divulges that soon more dragons appear and are the species responsible for killing the Dinosaurs. It is speculated that the creatures were in hibernation, waiting for the world to replenish itself with food for them to eat. The military responds to the threat, but only help the creatures destroy the earth, and humanity is brought to the edge of Extinction.

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In 2020, the now grown up Quinn (Christian Bale) is leader of a community of survivors in a Northumberland Castle. Although most trust Quinn’s leadership, others are defiant, and a small group of survivors led by Eddie (David Kennedy) want to pick some tomatoes as they are starving, and steal a pickup truck, they are attacked by a Dragon however which leads to the death of two members of Eddie’s family. Quinn with the help of his young ward Jared (Scott Moutter) and good friend Creedy (Gerard Butler) rescue Eddie and the rest of his family as the Dragon sets about reclaiming the ash off the burned field. The following day, community communicator Ajay (Alexander Siddig) and Falconer Barlow (Ned Dennehy) discover that a group of American Marauders are on their way to the castle. The community prepares to defend itself, and Quinn is introduced to the Marauder leader Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) who claims to be some kind of Dragon Slayer; he also happens to drive a Chieftain Tank. Quinn decides to let them in cautiously and is impressed that they have access to an AgustaWestland AW109 Helicopter piloted by Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco). True to his word, Denton Van Zan goes after the Dragon that attacked the castle’s tomato plantation, and with the help of Quinn manages to kill the creature, at a loss of three of his own men.

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Back at the castle, Quinn still has issues as to why a platoon of American soldiers is in Britain. Van Zan and Alex say that all the dragons they have killed are female, and believe there is only one male and that they are going to London to kill it, believing killing it will kill the entire species. They try to enlist Quinn’s help, but he does not want to go back, knowing that his mother was killed there by the Male. Van Zan tries to enlist Quinn’s community by force, but Quinn believes that if they find the male, it will trace them back to the castle. The two of them fight with Van Zan nearly killing Quinn until they are split up. Van Zan and his men head for London, but when they are still 66 miles from there, they are attacked by the male who kills most of Van Zan’s team in mere seconds. Van Zan and Alex survive, but true to Quinn’s word, the Male arrives at the castle and sets it ablaze. Some of the community hides in the basement with the children and Quinn, but as he goes to rescue the others; Creedy is incinerated by another attack from the Male.

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The following morning, Van Zan, Alex and the remainder of his team return to the castle and dig out Quinn and his survivors. Quinn comes up with a plan; to go to London just him, Alex and Van Zan in Alex’s chopper. Remembering what Van Zan said about Magic Hour, the point in which the Dragon’s eyesight is at their weakest, they go in to take out the Male. They arrive into London via the Thames, and find lots of smaller dragons being cannibalized by a much larger starving male. They enter into the underground construction site, where Quinn finds the cage his mother died in, and come out onto the surface, where they launch one final attack on the male. Their plan involves using crossbow heads which carry an explosive head, hoping that if they fire it at the right time, the dragon will detonate it and kill itself. Van Zan attempts this at the top of an old chimney, but the attempt fails, and he is eaten by the dragon as he attempts to go at it with his axe. Quinn and Alex lure the Dragon down to the ground, and after a lengthy staring contest, Quinn fires just at the right time. The arrow flies into the Dragons throat, explodes, breaking the creature’s head clearly off its neck. Sometime later, Quinn and the rest of his community build a radio tower, and receive a signal from France. There has been no dragon sighting for three months, and Quinn makes Jared the new community leader, while he and Alex dedicate themselves to rebuilding.

I really like this film. I remember seeing posters for this film when it first came out, the vivid image of the Houses of Parliament ablaze and a mighty dragon as big as the building high above. Unfortunately I did not get to see it until a VHS release the following year, but ever since seeing it, Reign of Fire has remained one of my most enduring films. I easily count it among my favourites, and even if it’s no longer on any of my Top 10’s, it’s a film I refuse to regret, nor never watch again, as one way or another I will always find a time to watch it again. But why exactly do I like it; well that is a question that is actually very hard to answer as I don’t have much of a definitive reason. You don’t necessarily need a reason to like something, if you come away with a positive and enjoyable feeling that should be fine, but to analyse and review a film, I still need to answer the question as to why I like it.

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Reign of Fire is pretty unique, I mean how many films are there that involve Dragons taking over the world? Well thinking about it, there are 2: this and Dragon Wars, however the latter does not hold much in comparison to this as that was more an adventure based film (and only actually has one dragon in it), this is more of an action orientated disaster movie. The unique selling point of this film is of course the dragons, but simply putting a Dragon in something doesn’t make it gold. In a recent video, Alan Partridge debated the use of Dragons in Game of Thrones, stating that the beasts were “used to advertise mouthwash in the 80’s”. Simply using dragons in something is not enough. Like all good Movie Monsters, they need to have a purpose, a reason for existence. Now if this was a fantasy adventure movie, they would be like a beast/tyrant that needed defeating. Reign of Fire is a completely different story as it’s not an adventure, nor is it set in the decadent past. The purpose of this movie is to take the world we live in, and bring us down from off our high chairs and to below down on our knees. To do this, we as a race needed humbling, we needed threatening, and in a big way. Yes it could be aliens, it could be weather, but what is more terrifying than not just one giant fire breathing monster, but lots of them. We needed something that was primitive yet deadly, something that could take it all away from us, and in one sweep moving action. Dragons are a perfect fit, as Dragons by folklore accounts are fast flying creatures that can breathe fire. Not only are they hungry beasties, but volatile ones too. So instead of a Tornado laced with Sharks, we got flying fire breathing monsters who want to do nothing more than eat us. Not take over us, enslave us or anything else: just eat us. It’s a simple idea, one that doesn’t require much thought but in turn can still create a lot of depth.

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But this film is called Reign of Fire, not Reign of the Ravenous Flying teeth; so there needs to be devastation, one that works on 2 counts. The first is that these Dragons can breathe fire and set about threatening the human race while also using their breath to set fire to as much as possible. The dragons themselves have been given a very unique biology, and though while they could be seen as being like European Dragons, these have been branded and created as to be the most dangerous, devastating creatures imaginable and come with a back story to boot. They killed off the dinosaurs, and had brought the world to extinction once before, the other key ingredient though is that their breath is not just fire, but Napalm. In turn we have a pretty devastating species on our hand, but as to the rest of the planets devastation, the Dragons did not need to do that on their own. Humanity gave them a hand. It’s the double-edged sword philosophy that while we do have an almighty arsenal at our hands, they are destructive pieces of equipment also and though while could be very useful, we do need to take care as to how and when we use them. So equally the Dragons did bring an end to the world, but with a little help from our great Nuclear Weaponry. Into this we are left with a damaged world. A world crippled under the true devastation of nature’s great secret, and along with this we get further vivid imagery to boot. The film’s setting for the most part is taken in the area of Northumberland where the landscape and skies are nearly completely black. Everywhere is just grey and miserable, no light to awaken the heart, no real sky to inspire, just a depressing reminder of the world the survivors have been left with. But if Northumberland was bad, that’s nothing compared to the state of London (“TAKE THAT SOUTHERNERS”). London is a ruin, it looks melted. You look at the buildings, close up and afar, you see vehicles, the water’s edge, the tunnels, the distance, even iconic buildings, and it all looks Melted black. Some form remains, but not much are left, the world has quite literally burned during the reign of the fire beasts (ha ha).

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It is in this world we have our plucky band of survivalists. Reign of Fire’s cast is a nice pool of talent ranging from some of Hollywood’s most experienced and well known talent, to people you have more than likely not heard or seen of but still deliver fun roles. This film does a good thing of making interesting tertiary as well as somewhat extra cast who create some fun and interesting moments that are while maybe not pivotal to the film’s being, still are quite fun. These range from some of the films more diverse female cast who hardly speak a word. People like Eddie’s family member’s girlfriend, the day care staff to one woman who does not speak at all but is always brandishing a rifle. From there we get the defiant and annoying Eddie who is more of a hindrance than a challenge, who tries to act as someone who is more trying to speak the truth rather than be a villain, to people like Gideon (Terence Maynard) the Archangel who has some great vocal moments, to people like Ajay, Jerry (Gerry O’Brien) and Barlow who do real jobs within the community to help work and service the community, but in general provide some enjoyable if not completely in-depth roles. The same could be said of Alice Krige’s character and Jason (Dessie Gallagher), who while don’t survive act as a good feeder for important plot points, and in the case of Jason, some early comic relief.

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Which brings us neatly round to the film’s main batch of cast. Jared as a character I feel is not implied strongly enough for him to take much of an effect, but it does give Quinn a sense of hope and someone to include, if not executed perfectly. I really do enjoy Gerrard Butler in this film. It was the first time I got to see him in a role of any kind and thought he was a strong personality and also played out the part of being a good friend as well as the sense of reason for Quinn to work with: someone who tries to talk sense into Quinn and acts like a second in command. He is genuinely funny when he wants to, but equally dead serious too and has some brilliant one liners ranging from the funny, to the dead serious. It just feels like a shame that he was not given a much bigger role as he genuinely deserves it and I want to see more of him and Quinn, and only those two. Equally I don’t think Alex was given much of a part neither. She acts like the love interest, but a practical one at that, and who skills impress, but she spends most of the time being very dreary. She is rather glum in every situation and at times can appear to be rather clueless if not in the way and just added for effect. Her pilot skills make her an important part of the film, but from the moment you see her, you want to jump in and tell her to lighten up. It doesn’t make sense about the love interest as it is more or less added before the credits and suggested everywhere else.

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It is pretty weird to see Matthew McConaughey without any hair, and with Muscles, and Tattoos. You see him in films like A Time To Kill or Interstellar and see this blond-haired thin man, not necessarily a muscled, tattooed bald-headed soldier. Matthew McConaughey’s role in this film I find is similar in essence (if not in execution) to that of Robert Shaw in Jaws. He is a man with a history, one who is knowledgeable about killing Dragons and believes in military discipline. He acts like a ‘rogue marine’ and shows off power by driving a tank. He is filled with volatile aggression and feels that force is the only option. On the other hand though he has a lot of compassion, he feels greatly for the loss of his men and does work to try and redeem himself for his actions, even if not completely. When he shows compassion, it’s hard for him to stop that whispered panting he does, as though when he shouts he shows his true self. It’s a hard character to really pin down. It kind of filters into this thing of America believing how good they are. America, believing they are the centre of the world, that they are in charge, and only they are in charge. So speaking as a UK-man it is rather pleasing to see them and Van Zan get their comeuppance in this film, America’s last general believing he is unstoppable only for him to be defeated. McConaughey’s last few moments in this film are pretty good though, as we see him try hard to redeem himself, and see not the soldier, but the true warrior, and who he really was.

Matthew McConaughey Reign of Fire

Christian Bale on the other hand is less can do attitude, more about knowing how to survive. He has a dark past as it was him who unwittingly released the Dragons and whose mother died minutes later. This carries heavy on his conscience and knows he has to work hard to keep others alive, and does this with a passion, even if he comes across as a tyrant. He is the opposite of Van Zan, and has knowledge of the Dragons and what they are capable of. He is looking for hope, but is cautious of false heroes and prophets. He works hard for his community, even going as far as to put on amateur dramatics of the Empire Strikes Back. He has good friendships, and people to rely on, but is brought to logger heads as Van Zan arrives. While Dragons are the main enemy, Van Zan’s arrival stirs up the community in a bad way and has to deal with that. Quinn though is not entirely cautious and will fight his corner.  I do however think a golden opportunity is missed when after the Male attacks, that Quinn does not threaten Van Zan with an Execution. Importantly however it is up to Quinn to save the day. Spurred into action by the death of both his mother and the loss of Creedy by the same creature, Quinn goes to London to carry out the Execution of the male. Christian Bale is an amazing actor, and here plays a character that while is a leader, is still just like you or me, and plays a character that is a representation of what it would be like if you or I were in the same position.

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Reign of Fire of course requires a large depth of special effects. These range from practical effects like fire and vehicle usage, to more computer orientated effects as well as clever set dresses. The main effect is of course the dragons, which are just fabulous. The designs for the dragons look amazing, possibly the best movie dragons in cinema history. The close up points of them eating people looks realistic but also terrifying, and the final scenes when faced with the monolithic male are just impressive, ranging from them staring Quinn in the face to the point of even the creature’s head rolling and rocking off its own neck. But Special Effects aren’t and don’t have to be everything as Reign of Fire is supported by a brilliant soundtrack (composed by Ed Shearmur). The soundtrack is very tense in its nature and the tension really does not disappear from any of its pieces. The theme of the arriving Marauders for instance is of course very tense and does sound very military in its style, but it’s also rather crazy and jumpy, trying to showcase a level of new fear and a lack of understanding in an increasing threatening nature.

This military theme does continue as the army enters the castle compound, showcasing a theme of might and strength, looking like military heroes coming to save the day (even if it’s a little confusing as to why they are here in the first place). Then as the film continues it returns to the silent tension, such as when the convey heads for London, to stark scary moments as the male dragon attacks the castle, back to more action orientated scenes as the helicopter and the trio walk into London, to of course the final preparations before the big battle moments of battle, all drawn together with a nice, gentle but still pretty rocky credits theme: Burn by Mad at Gravity.

While it does have its moments where it could have explored further, and moments where execution lacked: I really like this film. It’s idea, it’s themes, it’s characters, it’s Dragons, it’s effects, it’s music, all of which come together to create a near completely unique experience. Some cast members could have more and less in places, and other bit and bobs could be a tiny bit clearer, but through its ideas of a world dominated by dragons, and humanity brought to the edge of extinction by myth, when brought together create an exceptionally enjoyable film, and one I still love to this day. Its effects and setting are beautiful, its music but more importantly its design are magnificent. It’s not just a Dragon Movie, it is so much more, and does a lot more than most.: it shows the raw destructive power of these creatures and also shows that there could be a lot more truth to myth than the Bayeux Tapestry is letting on. A real classic of its generation that is really worth a watch while at the same time teaches an important lesson which is that: if you are using the London Underground, don’t shine a torch in a ‘Void’.

GENEPOOL





If You’re Going To Kill Somebody, Kill Them! Don’t Stand Around Talking About It! – Van Helsing

26 10 2016

Van Helsing (Universal Pictures - 2004)

Are Heroes Overrated? You know, some evil thing is stalking the planet, only for the hero to come in and save the day, as they do. It is all rather common at the moment, and it appears that there are a lot of heroes out there that can do the same, so is it all a bit overrated? I mean, if there are many who can do it, why do we bother putting so much faith in one Super Hero when chances are there is someone else out there equally qualified to do the job of ‘saving the day’. Why do we need to worry if something evil comes along, when we all know too well right now that someone is likely to come along at some point to solve the problem. Maybe we should all just get on with our lives, in the fullest knowledge that there are heroes out there tackling things that go bump in the night, and in the meantime we can all sit down, flick on the TV and drink Hot Chocolate!

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Released in 2004 by Universal Pictures, Directed by Stephen Sommers and Produced by Bob Ducsay; Van Helsing is a Fantasy Action-Adventure film which intends to pay tribute to the Universal Horror/Monster films of the 30’s and 40’s released by Universal and based on the works by Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. Set in the horrifying (maybe not in real life, it may actually be really pleasant, who knows) area of Transylvania, the film follows the adventures of Monster Hunter Van Helsing; inspired by the character of the same name from Bram Stoker’s book Dracula. The film endeavors to include other monsters in it story too alongside Vampires including Frankenstein’s Monster and Werewolves.

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In 1887, Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Samuel West) has successfully created a monster with the help of Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh). Dracula though wants to use the creature for his own evil plans and Kills Frankenstein. While his castle is raided by the local villagers, Frankenstein’s Monster takes his creators body to a nearby windmill which in turn is burned down by the villagers. In Paris one year later, the renowned monster hunter Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) is wanted by the police, but before he leaves he quickly dispatches the elusive Mr. Hyde (Robbie Coltrane). He returns to the Vatican in Rome, where his superior; Cardinal Jinette (Alun Armstrong) tasks him with yet another mission: to go to Transylvania, and kill Count Dracula. The mission being to help the last bloodline of the Valerious family, who may not enter Heaven until Dracula is killed. Jinette also suggests that Helsing may find out answers to his nightmares and forgotten past there too. Before setting off on his mission, Van Helsing gets weapons and gadgets from Friar Carl (David Wenham) who also accompanies Helsing to Transylvania. Meanwhile in Transylvania, Velkan (Will Kemp) and Anna (Kate Beckinsale) Valerious try to kill a rogue Werewolf, but Velkan is seemingly killed in the pursuit, leaving only Anna left.

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Van Helsing and Carl arrive in Transylvania, where they get less than a warm welcome from the townsfolk, especially the gravedigger Top Hat (Tom Fisher). Anna arrives and tries to get their weapons off them both, but then Dracula’s Brides Verona (Silvia Colloca), Marishka (Josie Maran) and Aleera (Elena Anaya) attack. After a quick attack Helsing manages to kill Marishka, which makes the other two flee. Back at his castle, Dracula orders his remaining brides and his little minion Dwergers with their supervisor Igor (Kevin J. O’Connor) to prepare Castle Frankenstein for an experiment. Back at her home, Anna is knocked out by Helsing determined to protect her, only for her house to be broken into by Velkan now a Werewolf.  Anna and Helsing track him to Castle Frankenstein where they discover Dracula is trying to give life to his dead-born children using Velkan’s Werewolf DNA to power Frankenstein’s lab. The experiment fails however, and after a brief confrontation with Dracula; Helsing manages to escape from Dracula, rescuing Anna in the process. The two then stumble into an underground cave where they find Frankenstein’s Monster (Shuler Hensley) who tells them that without him, Dracula cannot successfully give full life to his offspring. Believing the creature not to be evil, Helsing tries to get the creature to Rome with the help of Carl and Anna. During the night they are attacked by the Brides and Velkan, now fully consumed by the curse. Verona and Velkan are both killed but Helsing is bitten by Velkan, meaning soon he too will turn into a Werewolf. To make matters worse; Aleera kidnaps Anna and takes her to Budapest, and informs Helsing that Dracula will trade her for the Monster.

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At a Grand Masquerade ball, Van Helsing rescues Anna from the clutches of Count Dracula, but watches on in horror as Igor manages to capture the Monster. With only a few hours left until Van Helsing transforms into the Werewolf, and Dracula manages to put his plan in motion, Carl reveals that Anna’s great ancestor was the father to Dracula. Dracula was murdered but in turn made a deal with the Devil. Not wanting that on his soul, Anna’s ancestor makes a pact with the church, for his entire family and bloodline to go to Heaven as long as Dracula is killed, but was unable to do so as he could not kill his own son. He did leave messages however as to how they may be able to accomplish it, and in turn are able to find the location to Dracula’s castle. All three go there, and find out that Dracula holds a cure for Werewolves, because the only thing that can kill him is a Werewolf. Anna and Carl head off to get the cure, running into and a foul of Igor in the process, while Helsing tries to save the Monster. Too late however, Dracula’s offspring are born. Aleera tries to kill Anna, but with help from the Monster and Carl, Anna is able to kill her and proceeds to get the cure to Helsing. Meanwhile, Helsing runs into Dracula, and at the stroke of midnight he turns into a Werewolf, strong willed enough to attack Dracula, eventually killing him. Anna arrives and is about to inject the cure, but Helsing attacks her. Just as Carl is about to kill Helsing, he notices that Anna managed to get the cure into Helsing, who takes the dead body of Anna in his arms, howling into the night as he slowly becomes human again. The following morning, The Monster is given its freedom and rows out to sea. Meanwhile Carl and Helsing hold a pyre funeral, but then Helsing sees Anna and her family’s spirits finally ascend into the clouds.

Now just to be clear in case anyone got confused by my introduction, this is not a Super Hero based movie. It does not feature anyone in brightly coloured flamboyant costumes nor does anybody wield any amazing super powers that they use on and off willy nilly. In all honesty this film actually has more in common with spy films along the lines of James Bond. Yes, it is at heart a fantasy adventure film with lots of interesting well designed monsters and creates some interesting ideas in its story, however I do get the feeling that more detail could have been provided. When watching this you will be forgiven for thinking it’s a cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones, lots of near swashbuckling adventure scenes like those of Indiana Jones (or at least I think so) while also containing a gadget based scene not too similar to Q Branch in the 90’s and 2000’s. Once you get past those near comparisons however you can finally get in-depth with this film. It’s adventure style works quite nicely and the action is well done, but what this film tires to do is create a fun fantasy film, incorporating creatures and stories of the kinds that modern Gothic fairy tales are known for, continuing to show a real sense of peril and danger, while also making it light-hearted enough to be enjoyed to the full, and not needing to hide behind your seat.

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When looking at the film’s plot, it is quite interesting to note that this film is near two hours long, but the lack of thorough detail makes you think otherwise. Don’t get me wrong; it is beautifully crafted and creates some ideas and goes on to generate incredible twists, it just doesn’t feel all that smooth, more blocky and jumpy, like as to say they could have included a bit more detail here and there. The ending is rather anti-climactic and it feels like it is trying too hard to move onto the next scene throughout. I just feel that in the end it could have revealed a lot more; it feels like there is some stuff that is mentioned, or answered little bit but not fully. This whole history between Dracula and Van Helsing especially, the idea that there was history between them, but as to exactly what that was goes relatively unanswered, more suggested. When walking away from this film you’ll begin to wonder if Helsing is the Arch Angel Gabriel and the one responsible for Dracula’s death in the first place, something sort of suggested but again; not really answered. It is something of a shame that there isn’t enough bite, there is a squeeze of teeth and the story does try to wrap up everything neatly but I think it just tried to do too much in the end, and couldn’t wrap it all up either; however the history of Dracula is still a pretty interesting scene.

Van Helsing is made up of a rather interesting selection of cast members, all who do their role well. Well when I say well, there are a few who just fall short of the mark. While you do have people in much smaller parts like the Gravedigger who is a rather nice addition to the cast, and whose appearance be it all a bit small, he is the kind of character you want to see more of; whereas the brides of Dracula are rather annoying. Not annoying because their villains, but annoying because they are annoying! While it is fair to say that the vampire voices are rather generic and possibly a bit camp, all three brides are just over the top. Their look in Vampire mode is definitely over the top and their human presence is far more interesting, but to me their look is too, sort of, Sultan. They look like extras picked from a movie version of Arabian Nights. What did it for me is that Marishka is the better performing of the three, but when you take in all their voices together, plus a brief moment of Marishka posing off in the village, they look and sound a lot like the actress Valeria Golino in Hotshots! Part Deux. It’s just off-putting and rather unnecessary, they don’t even make good villains. With those 3 are out of the way though, the rest of the cast are pretty good. Although I would say that I think Velkan is rather over used, not as much as the three brides, but is sort of toyed around with a bit too much to the point where it is not really necessary anymore. To begin with he is, and it is a great way to show how the Werewolf curse works for the sake of the story, I just think for someone who is meant to be a Werewolf, there is a lot of human scenes.

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The film does struggle with some moments of casting I feel, especially when you consider having Alun Armstrong in a part and only have him on-screen for about five minutes. The same could be said for Robbie Coltrane as Mr. Hyde, a very interesting character that you just want to see more of, but is more used as an introduction. It’s just a shame that not one, but two high-caliber and very experienced actors, are not used in a much longer or greater position; I mean I could understand more if you had lesser known or relatively newer actors in those parts, but why the other way around. Just want to point out though that both Stephen Fisher and Samuel West do good jobs, if very minor ones for the roles of Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Victor Frankenstein respectively.

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As for the films main sightings after the above, they all do really good jobs in the roles they have been asked to do. Igor for instance does well of being conveyed as the foolish and simple Igor, who at times shows some level of his own will and even levels of grumpiness toward Dracula. It is meant to be a more comedic role, but as the film progresses you can see more of his strengths, and even who he really is as he begins to talk more sadistically and even gets into a fight, and that voice is pretty chilling too. Frankenstein’s Monster similarly has a wonderful voice; more operatic which makes me think of Dynamo in The Running Man (but thankfully not all the time). The monster is very much like the creature he is based on, at least in the popular media light fashion, although is seen to be more physically active, and a real fighter. But deep down he is not muscle; but a man wanting his right to be alive in a world that will not accept him. A lot of work has been put into his back story, and he shares some brilliant quotes with the rest of the film’s cast, especially the line: “I Want to Live!” He is a great addition to the cast, and a very entertaining one, maybe a little over dramatic in places but a real good entertaining character while also not being in any way, shape or form; the comic relief. That is more handed down to Igor and Carl equally. Carl is something of an assistant as well as a librarian, not much of a fighter, but more like Willow in Buffy. He is a researcher, someone who shows the important side and value of good research. He is something of a minor fool, who sounds like someone trying to responsibly not get into trouble, but does. In the end though, he shows his true strength, and even a little attitude, as without him they would never have been able to defeat Dracula, as in the end it came down to reasoning and understanding as well as a touch of philosophy too.

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The film’s main trio are made up of some really fine acting talent. For many years now, I have said that Richard Roxburgh’s performance as Sherlock Holmes is my favourite, and still do. Here we get a rather more different performance with him as Dracula. Yes the voice could be considered Generic, but I would not say the passion was. The way he can just say the right things in the right fashion of voice is amazing. Sometimes he could be sorrowful and sad, others he can be mysterious and cold, and others he can be grand and excited. He too has some really good quotes from talking about his lack of heart, to his lack of ring in the final fight with Helsing. Richard Roxburgh delivers in what is a rather fine and fun role, making sure that Dracula lives up to the vampire we all know and love (I know) while also making sure that we know he is the villain and why he should always be the villain; a very enjoyable character, possibly also my favourite depiction of Dracula. Kate Beckinsale meanwhile plays not a damsel in distress, but a brave and confident vampire hunter. She does possibly overplay the accent a little too heavy, but for everything else that she does, she too, like Roxburgh is rather enjoyable. Be it living up to the Indiana Jones like performance, to the voice of reason unlocking the true person of Van Helsing, to of course being the ruthless lady of vengeance. It is hard to really see her in a role like this; however I cannot see anyone doing a better job than she does. She is very Countess of Monte Cristo like in how she performs and how she talks, but in that essence she is rather cool and fun to watch. It’s hard to really pin her down as to whom she is and what she does and what makes her so good. It’s another one of those je ne sais qua moments, where she is/doing something really quirky and cool, but you don’t know what?

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Hugh Jackman is of course playing the titular character of Van Helsing. Here he plays the Vampire Hunter of course who at least to begin with is rather cold and callous, more being a simple Monster Killer than anything else. He is a man with a history, and much like Wolverine (weirdly) is a man whose history is currently not well known (and as explained in the plot section above is still rather unknown to the audience). As the film progresses however he begins to learn more about compassion, first showing it to the Monster, and then learning it through desire for Anna, who helps him see more. In her part, she is more of a secondary object, but he too begins to learn and realize more and begins to see her in a different light (although I feel that him immediately coming onto her by the end is a bit clichéd and could have been developed more). This new character though is definitely different to the one who first appeared in the streets of Paris, although his search for his missing past definitely takes something of a back seat and it seems as in the end he does not really care. One thing remains though throughout is how cool a character he is. This ranges from the way he acts to how he talks, but one thing that certainly helps is this Undertaker like look: The Hat, Jacket and standing in the shadows with a pistol.

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Van Helsing, much like many other fantasy films comes with a whole castle full of visual special effects, some of which are absolutely gut wrenching. The effects on the whole are done quite well and are mostly visible in monster designs. The Dead Born vampire spawn are really icky and creepy while also hanging around in those pulsating pods which are near stomach wrenching. Mr. Hyde is a nice little effect although be it not a long one, as too is Dracula’s Mirror Scene and the Transylvanian Horses scene. Dracula’s monster form I would say is ok, but all of these effects really tremble under the majesty of what has to be the most impressive Werewolf in movie history, that of Van Helsing’s transformation. The transformation is quite creepy, especially where the skin appears to fall off (similar to another icky effect early on with Dracula’s healing burned face), and to begin with he looks more like a gorilla than a wolf, but then when his snout takes form, and as you see him standing over Dracula, it is such an impressive sight (I keep wondering why on earth Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban couldn’t create one just as awesome), and the fight between the two I feel is not as long as it could be, and nearly wastes this amazing Werewolf. If I was a Werewolf, I would want to look like the one at the end of Van Helsing, who wouldn’t? For me that is the whole highlight of this film.

Which is more than can be said for the soundtrack! The soundtrack composed by Alan Silvestri does actually sound rather pleasant and for the genres that this film is trying to convey is a suitable fit. It’s just it’s rather overused. Not as much as The Last of the Mohicans (which I am certain only has one piece of music in it); but still quite a lot. It does have some nice pieces of music, the End Credits is good, some of the battle scenes, the funeral, the Masquerade ball, and the adventure style theme tune used prolifically throughout are all pretty cool; however, there are two pieces of music which sound near exactly the same (unless they are just one piece) which is used nearly every minute during the last great battle, and it is so noticeable (like Last of the Mohicans) as it is used prolifically in scenes that suggest Indiana Jones like action: Like swinging on a rope for instance. It’s not exactly annoying, just irritating, because the music on show is pretty good but nearly let down by one (or two) piece used too much.

On the whole though, I think this is a really cool film, maybe not the best or the greatest of Fantasy Adventure films, but overall I think it’s a really cool, fun film. It has an interesting story, a cast made up of categorically worthy actors but not overplaying their roles; keeping their roles fun and interesting, some cool special effects helping to create some certainly breath-taking Monsters and one of those soundtracks that is now rather recognisable for certain pieces used elsewhere. Yes, it does have its issues: Some cast members are near gratuitous, the plot is a bit sketchy with bits not even answered and there are a lot of uncivilized bits as scenes and effects go. Though for everything that does not work, there is more than one that does altogether creating an entertaining yet very cool and sincerely engrossing film.

GENEPOOL





Well, Here’s To The Big One – King Kong (1976)

8 06 2016

King Kong (Paramount Pictures - 1976)

Do you ever get that dream where you go to a faraway island in search of oil only to eventually discover that the oil is not ready yet; and while that is going on, your potential girlfriend gets kidnapped by a very large hairy bloke, so you go into the jungle to rescue her, and then decide to take the hairy bloke to New York who then decides that New York isn’t really his thing and so runs amok, climbs one of the two tallest buildings in the world before being brought down by a squadron of Helicopter gunships? Well you can stop dreaming, because it really did happen.

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Released in 1976 by Paramount Pictures, Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Directed by John Guillermin; King Kong is a remake to the legendary monster movie of the same name originally released in 1933 by RKO Pictures. This film, like the original features a Giant Ape known as Kong who lives on an island, has women sacrificed to him, gets captured and put on display in New York City before running amok. While based on the original screenplay of King Kong by James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; this version of King Kong does things differently, by placing the world and setting of the film in the modern era of the 1970’s (as compared to its original modern setting of the 1930’s) and instead of a film maker looking for an island and animal of legend for his next movie features an oil company exploring new ground to find something completely different.

King Kong 1933 Log

In Surabaya, the ship Petrox Explorer captained by Captain Ross (John Randolph) sets sail en-route to an undisclosed location. Executive to the Petrox Oil Company; Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), basing his idea on an infra-red image of an undiscovered island hidden behind a fog bank in the Indian Ocean, believes he has hit the jackpot with possibly the largest untouched reservoir of oil on the planet. During his briefing though, he is interrupted by Primate Paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) who stowed away on the ship. Jack states that the island may have been visited in the past and that the fog bank may be caused by an undocumented giant beast. Believing him to be a spy, Wilson has him locked up. While being escorted away, he spots a life raft. On the raft is Dwan (Jessica Lange), a young aspiring actress who was on a boat belonging to a director which sank. Wilson does some digging into Prescott, discovers he is telling the truth as to who he is and appoints him the expedition’s official photographer. Eventually, the ship reaches the fabled island surrounded by a fog bank. Wilson along with Dwan, Prescott, oil expert Roy Bagley (Rene Auberjonois), First mate Carnahan (Ed Lauter), sailors Joe (Jack O’Halloran), Garcia (Jorge Moreno) and Boan (Julius Harris), land on the island to have a quick explore, and discover a giant wall made of tree logs. Wilson still believes the island to be deserted, but then the group hears music.

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Venturing inside, they find a ceremony taking place with a man dressed as an ape (Keny Long). The island villagers though spot the group and demand they hand over Dwan. The group beats a quick retreat, but that night a group of villagers steals Dwan from off the boat. Finding evidence of the villager’s presence, Prescott runs to get help, and soon the sailors arrive on the island. Too late however, Dwan, under some kind of drug is put into the same ceremony the group saw earlier, with the villagers chanting the name KONG. Eventually the big doors are opened and she is tied to an altar beyond the wall. With the villagers still chanting, something big approaches the village, smashing and pulling down trees in its wake. Eventually, it appears in full view to be a giant Gorilla. It snatches Dwan and takes her into the jungle. Prescott and the others arrive too late to save her, but after Wilson falls into the creature’s footprint, Prescott, Carnahan and some of the sailors head into the jungle to rescue her.

The following morning, Dwan tries several attempts to get away from Kong, but besotted with his new bride, Kong won’t let her go. He begins to soften to her constant ramblings and when she falls into some mud, he takes her to a waterfall to get clean and uses his great lungs to blow her dry. Prescott, Carnahan and the others continue to look for Dwan with no luck. Wilson meanwhile finds out from Bagley that the oil in the pool at the village needs roughly another 10,000 years before it is anywhere near ready to be put into people’s cars. Wilson annoyed with this takes inspiration from an Esso slogan and decides to try and capture Kong to be the company’s new mascot. While still out searching for Kong, Prescott and the others encounter Kong who dispatches most of the team dropping them into a large ravine. Prescott survives and continues looking for Dwan, while Boan reports back to Wilson. Back at the village, Wilson puts the men to work building a ‘monkey trap’. At his mountain lair, Kong tries to undress Dwan, but is then attacked by a giant rattlesnake. While Kong battles the Snake, Dwan is rescued by Prescott who both then flee to the village. Upon defeating the creature, Kong follows them back to the village where he falls into the pit and is knocked out by chloroform.

Jessica Lange

Kong is locked away in a large tank on a Petrox Oil Tanker and causes trouble for everyone on board. Dwan though manages to calm him down. In New York, Kong is put on display and Dwan is cast as his bride to be. Prescott however has had enough and leaves, but stays round long enough to watch the show. The show opens with a giant petrol pump containing Kong held in a cage and with a crown on his head. Upon seeing Dwan harassed by reporters, King Kong breaks free of his supposed ‘escape proof cage’ and runs amok. Everyone attending the show runs for their life, several of them, including Wilson getting crushed under his huge feet. Prescott and Dwan manage to evade Kong, although the Ape’s attempts to find Dwan nearly get them caught. The military begins closing off the bridges to Manhattan and Prescott and Dwan manage to cross over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan before going into an abandoned bar. Prescott, realising that the Twin Towers look a lot like the mountainous terrain of Kong’s Lair calls the mayor’s office and tells them where Kong is heading so he can be safely captured. Kong however finds Dwan and takes her out of the bar and heads for the Twin Towers. Upon reaching the World Trade Centre buildings, Kong climbs to the top with Dwan. Prescott chases after them taking the lifts, but is however unable to get onto the roof. The military pursue Kong up the building and attack him with flamethrowers. Kong jumps across to the roof of the other building and dispatches the guards. He is however then attacked by a squadron of attack helicopters. He puts up a fight, but in the end its pointless and he collapses before falling to the ground. Dwan goes down to comfort him, but he dies from his wounds. The crowds surround the carcass of Kong while Dwan is harassed by reporters and though he attempts to help, Prescott is unable to reach her.

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It may not come as much of a surprise to either the people I know or the readers of this blog, that I am a fan of Monster Movies. It is a pretty solid fact with plenty of evidence. King Kong as a Movie Monster is not one I think regularly about in comparison to say Godzilla; however, this film in particular is real close to my heart. Ok, yes, it was the first time I had ever seen a King Kong film back when I watched it in 1998. Since seeing this film several times I have come to love it with a passion and consider it one of the very best Monster Movies of the lot. I have of course seen the other 2 versions of King Kong, but the thing is the one I talk about the most, and have enjoyed the most remains to be this one. Could it be that it was the first one I saw; perhaps, but the thing is, I truly love this film every time I see it.

King Kong (RKO Pictures - 1933)

King Kong 1976 is a very different film compared to its original predecessor; however there are snippets to the original one plus things that have not changed at all. Starting with the obvious, it’s set in modern times. Now while it may have been set in the New York of 40 years ago, the look of New York City hasn’t really changed all that much since. It’s still as modern then as it is now. The setting is modern, the vehicles are modern. What it’s basically doing is grabbing a classic story form the 1930’s, and doing it all over again but setting it in the here and now. It’s not like Peter Jackson who just remade the original film (although how he was able to make a 3+ hour-long movie out of what was originally an hour and forty minutes remains a complete mystery) in the same period. This film, remakes, but puts it in a time that is easier for the audience to connect with and believe, and feel like it could happen to or around them. It makes 2005 look just like a film, whereas this feels like an experience. Out goes the story of the film maker, in comes the greedy oil tycoons. Yet another piece of modern belief; out goes exploration, in comes discovery but only when it sort of latches onto a more profound statement of the world today. The need and desire of energy in a world that is losing it, Man’s Greeds and Needs in a dying world only to find something completely primitive but still incredibly dangerous. The story of greedy oil tycoon’s works in quite well and is constantly mentioned; even to point out the marketing campaigns of other companies and how this inspires the film’s dodgy oil executive. Other major changes of course lead us to the use of not the Empire State Building, but the now non-existent World Trade Centre buildings. Why these buildings instead of the Empire? I think it’s because that at the time those buildings were brand new but also far taller than the Empire, and so to continue to amaze the audience, who are already amazed by the figure of a Giant Ape, amaze them more with having said ape climb to the top of the Tallest buildings in the city instead. The incorporation of these building’s is of course handled in the story early on, but does not lead anywhere until the film’s final act. These changes are of course worked into what is basically the same story as the film that precedes it but are once again adapted into the story, so that in its bones it is the same film; but on the surface, it is technically very different in the raw core if not necessarily in the already visible flesh.

World Trade Center

The setting of this film is not held down to just New York of course. King Kong as an idea is not one to come knocking on your roof. Kong is always a creature that needs to be discovered, his original appearance came about in a film that was before the time that Monsters started coming to cities instead of brought. One, Kong is less a force of nature but still not technically just an animal, and why on earth would he want to go to the city if he is happy where he is, on an island worshipped as a God? To this end, we go to an island, an island in the middle of a giant fog bank that keeps the island a secret until someone finds it. On which we find a tribe, a lost tribe, one who has no knowledge nor care for the outside world. The tribe has its own culture, beliefs, and ethos. Once though that this is threatened, they demand some form of penance, and go out of their way to get it. They then use this to their advantage to pull off a major marriage ceremony by putting this form of penance against an outside tribe in a relationship with their God. This God is part of their world, one they fear, but one that they believe carries a level of Magic and belief and brings them down to a real humble level, when he gets captured. From there the island does not look like much, until along comes 1: A Giant Ape, and 2: A Giant Snake. Apart from that, the island looks like some kind of haven like it would be a nice holiday resort (and one I have seen in at least one film since, it’s so obvious it’s that location). This island though has character to it. It’s a lost part of a planet that we have already covered and know so much about. It has a very primitive but still well thought out tribe with a deep culture, and on this hidden island, are hidden secrets. From the lost tribe to the island’s great King, it has a lot. But maybe it was hidden and lost for a reason, because the island contains special elements, special things that we have come to squander and take for granted, in as such this film is not just showing us the raw power of nature, but also shows us what we have lost, and that maybe we don’t deserve any of what we have, and that for the sake of history, one small bit should remain preserved for all time.

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Now that’s the profound stuff out the way, let’s get to the characters. This film does hold something of a barrage of acting talent of people who were either already stand outs at the time of production to those who have become stand outs since. Now there is quite a lot of small tertiary and secondary characters who deserve some talking time, so that’s where we’ll start. Most of these (well, in fact I think all of these) were with the crew on the Petrox Explorer, but later on the film you do get one or two people. From an army commander watching Kong head to the final show ground (the bit where the lights come back on behind him, in some kind of old roman looking archway), to the rather entertaining helicopter pilot (George Whiteman) leading the attack on Kong, to the political governor character (John Agar) who shows no real sympathy, at least from me. But in turn you do get really good stand outs from the ship’s crew. Leading the pack is Carnahan who throughout his time alive in this film portrays this nice secondary and respectful character who is a real on-screen joy to watch. Along with him you also get sailors Joe, Garcia and Boan, with Boan being the only one to survive, however, all of these guys get a good time in and produce some really cool mini scenes even if most of these have nothing to do with the plot. Similarly, the ship’s radio operator has a nice early on scene but is not really seen since. In a similar fashion this leads us up to the ship captain. He is strangely very entertaining as well as a strong figure-head that consists to produce a level headed approach and provide some of the only real sanity this film has. Much the same could be said for Bagley who; one the one hand is the film’s scientific advisor but not in the sense of apes, more on the subject of oil. Both characters carry some level of wit but are not comedy installations, more the voices of reason to bring the film down from the high edges of ridiculous to the point of sanity once more. Although these two are sort of on other sides of the coin, the captain is more respectful, while Bagley is a little wild, but both carry a real enjoyment factor that they are two characters you do not want to ignore.

Charles Grodin

Then on to that we have our 3 main leads. Charles Grodin’s character of Fred Wilson is quite a fun character. He is not really defined as hero or villain. What he is really is something of a diva. Someone who desires and demands the spotlight and is to go far out to show how he needs wants and deserves more. He sort of gets more atrocious as the film goes on, but he carries this amazing presence throughout, so that even if he becomes a villain, he is too likeable and you just let it go. He’s like a nice chap, someone you could be really good friends with. He’s sort of like Dr. Cox in his funny wild moments, and sort of keeps that energy going despite the scene intentions. I don’t know if that was the intention, but it works and I like it. Which is more than can be said for Dwan! Dwan is something like a bottle of champagne. She is someone who has a cork that is itching to blow, but when it does, she can’t stop fizzing. I find it very hard to understand anything she says or does, and is in one sense like Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill, in that she is more a screech, not scream, Queen and doesn’t know when to stop. He place in the story though presents itself differently. Unlike her acting, she creates something of a double tragedy. A forbidden love between her and Kong creates an ending where his love for her brings him and her to a fall, and the real love of her life, is one that finds it hard to control or persist for. In turn, this creates a double tragedy; tragedy for her and Kong…..while Jack looks on. Jeff Bridges meanwhile is the film’s real anchor and lead. He is someone who’s just generally a nicely going guy who has an interest and knowledge of the island and persists to go. He makes friends quickly, even though he and Grodin tussle a bit, but quickly persists to help Dwan, not knowing what he is getting himself into. In the end, he has no idea what to do with her, and love does not win or succeed, it just sort of perishes under the weight of emotion. Throughout though, Bridges persists to provide a character who is fun-loving, but still a serious counter balance against the antics of those around him. One who understands the seriousness of the situation, and works hard to maintain a professional but still caring attitude. He is sort of a Jack of all trades in his chosen field of study, and in that, helms this film rather nicely, if in the end providing a dark temper as he goes.

Jeff Bridges

When I think of King Kong, just imagine him in my head the first thing that usually comes to mind is the scene where Jessica Lange is sacrificed to the great ape, and Kong walks through the forest, pulling down trees and yelling at his high voice. This for me is what King Kong is supposed to be like, not some generally big animal like gorilla, but something more God like, something that is not necessarily a force of nature, but still a powerhouse of a creature, one so special that he does not act like a normal animal. Here, we have one that stands and walks upright like a person. That scene at the wall is one I like a lot, as it is the first time we see Kong, and first impressions are important. So we see him, just his face or back of his head, then towering over Dwan, shouting and yelling before grabbing her then simply walking away. This first impression though gives us one important point of imagery; that in the way he is posing. By standing upright he looks big, he looks strong, he looks powerful. TO explain that further one could point to how George Bush (the recent one) used to put his arms out to the side, like a monkey of sorts, but it makes him look bigger and more powerful as a result. But the clearest way of saying that is to think of times when Animals are scared of things bigger than they are. By having Kong positioned like this, he looks daunting and un-nerving, but also makes you already consider that he is more than simply an ape. Kong though is not just about power. In here, we get a sample of behavior that he expresses which in turn shows what he is like deep inside. Yes, he is besotted by his bride to be, but he cares for her, even offers her a shower and blows her dry. Yet, his inner instinct is very man like as later on he tries to undress her, giving in to a more primitive man like temptation to desire what is underneath. Could it be that his signs off affection are selfishness, or could it be that he is looking for a way to connect to be closer to her? He shows great levels of defense for her too; even to defend her from a Giant Rattlesnake and even the Press, but this could once again be him, trying to keep hold of her for himself. However, this relationship is far more believable, as she can see it’s not going to work (where as for some reason Naomi Watts seemed to be actually falling in love with Kong, like that Simpsons episode). But that is not say that he does not understand that, but in the end, she does show a level of sympathy to his death, as it was really for her that he did die.

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King Kong as a film utilizes of course a large level of special effects to pull off what is a very big film. These could be considered relatively primitive to today’s output, but, for the most part, still work. Kong is of course a Suit, but a pretty good suit, in fact it’s very lifelike, and supposedly because the now legendary Rick Baker, (and Peter Cullen, and Will Shephard) a human is in the suit (Cullen did voice), the actions are very lifelike. All the scenes containing the suit are incredibly well done and really go far to present the image of an ape that big actually being in existence. Scenes such as tearing down the gate, bursting through the trees at the introduction as well as the chase aftermath, and even climbing the Twin Towers. It looks real, because it is a real suit, in a real shot and being performed (by evolutionary standards) by a descendant or at least relative of apes like Kong. Combine that though, with other stand out moments of special effects that were revolutionary for their time and you still gets some interesting perspectives that just enhance the film further. Things like the staging of people on a wall, looking down on a suit that is as big as the wall and is still tearing down trees. That shot only appears a couple of times but is a nice detailed shot that makes you think that you are really there.

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Similar moments of staging happen earlier on when Kong goes after Wilson at the first wall, or when at the second wall, Kong can be seen walking on and through the crowd from a low-level shot. Sadly, this is not continued throughout, why, because, well, for the sake of the film, a large full size animatronic was built for scenes where they felt that might not be achievable. But the thing with that is, is that it’s obvious when the scene changes to show the large animatronic instead, I don’t even need to point them out, just look for them, it’s easy. All though, I would say that the animatronic hand of Kong, is actually pretty good and is able to convey enough fluid movement to look real, and those scenes where it’s just the hand and arm, look fabulous, yet similarly terrifying. Altogether the design for Kong is fantastic, and at times can look incredibly terrifying when the scene demands it, but also rather humbling. While those effects are one thing, the film does have moments when it suffers from others. The only one that really gripes me enough is some use of fake backgrounds, which just look atrocious. The film especially in the New York scenes works hard to convey an empty city, one under panic and horror from the might of the situation, but some scenes sort of rid themselves of either set pieces or staging, and instead layout a near 2D image of an island view or city street. If it wasn’t for the content in the middle, the shots would be pure ugly. These moments are rare but also sadly noticeable, and even worse, as Kong climbs the tower, they use real shots of the beautiful city scape of New York in the background to provide real perspective. So why they couldn’t have done that earlier is anyone’s guess, because those shots are beautiful and in the end, more of those could have been great. But like I said, those situations are only rare.

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What isn’t rare though thankfully is the film’s soundtrack composed by the iconic John Barry. The film has different tunes all the way through, but manifestly it uses and carries three distinct pieces of music which it sort of adapts all the way through. Sometimes they are mixed in, but in the end, we get three rather interesting tunes. One is the Romantic Theme which is used in spots of light moments between Dwan and Kong and Dwan and Jack. It’s pretty simple but it sort of works and is positively not over the top, or camp. It’s more of a filler, but it’s used wantonly throughout. The second starts and builds from the islanders chanting. It stays this way for a bit, but then builds from that each time it’s used and becomes the main Destruction Theme for all rampages involving Kong, especially his arrival. The third though, is my all-time Favourite. The soundtrack does have its moments of irregularity. The main theme is a combination of most while trying to continue a sense of both wonder and amazement. On the other hand though you get things like the parade music which then leads into a sweet near electronic disco sort of piece which is a nice break, but rather bright compared to the scene of Dwan and Kong in the Ship’s Tank where there is a real Baroque heavy pounding tune probably from a brass section which really sticks in your mind and brings feeling to an even darker situation and is used again when Kong begins the climb. The third distinct piece though, is different to all the rest, as it’s this near replica to all villains residing in an inner sanctum playing an organ. This Organ Theme is used a lot, but I really like it. It’s on show the most when Kong arrives into the city arena and it builds, but for the brief few seconds that it plays, it has this real level of feeling about it. It’s not dark, it’s not bright. It’s chilling, like something is coming, possibly wearing a cape, coming, but taking its time, time for you to behold their presence before it brings you your doom. It’s a real nice theme, chilling, yes, but nice.

I regard this film as one of the all-time best Monster Movies. Its many things really, all of which I have gone into. Many of the people involved in this film I have found were either successful when it came out or have gone onto become successes in their field not forgetting the Prolific John Guillermin, the Powerhouse Dino De Laurentiis and the Iconic John Barry. It contains a nice select and enjoyable group of actors, which together with the filmmakers produce one of the best adaptations of classic film making to date. Posting it in a more believable modern and realistic setting and in turn make it feel like something that could really take place in our world; all the while, not forgetting the true star of the film, in turn bringing new life and a new audience while also creating new memories that are still true, as today as it did 40 years ago. King Kong, remains one of my favourite Monster Movies, and is one that I will always cherish and give time for when it is shown on TV, and more bizarrely is a film I end up having dreams about on a more consistently regular basis. I love this film; with as near a passion as King Kong loves a beautiful lady, and for me, at least for the time being, will remain, the real and true; King Kong.

GENEPOOL





Steel Heroes or Monsters (Part 2) – Pacific Rim

5 08 2013

Pacific Rim (Legendary Pictures - 2013)

One of the more standout features of Pacific Rim was the Special Effects in the CGI department. For many years I have consistently stated that Jurassic Park had the best Special Effects to date, even after Avatar was released. But now, for me anyway that has changed to Pacific Rim. Pretty much all of the Robot and Monster Scenes were CGI except for patches where it was more on a level with the human cast. The effects are most apparent in the Hong Kong fight. The effects used for the Giant Stars were not clumpy in their look or movement, they looked real and had a more fluid motion in what they did, be it punching or throwing or something else. The movement was most fluid though for the Kaiju as they are a more organic life form and when they moved it looked more like an animal than a big robot.  The lighting also worked brilliantly with light not only bouncing off the Iron/Steel Jaegers, but also off the rain. The fire and water effects were lovely altogether even if the scene took place underwater, you could see what was going on clearly in a dark setting but it did not just look like some kind of blank void.

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When I went to see Pacific Rim, I went to see it in 3D. At first I was unsure of seeing it in 3D at first given my past experience with 3D films. I have previously seen a couple of films in 3D since this sort of new wave of 3D films. One was Up which featured two noticeable scenes where 3D was used and the other was the new Clash of the Titans where the only bit of 3D was in the trailers. When I went to see Pacific Rim however, the 3D effects actually worked. In this case though, there were almost no scenes that didn’t have a piece of 3D about it. From the start of the film where stars are moving around past your eyes, to points part way through when you could see a blue monster brain at the corner of your eye, and it felt like it was right next to you. While 3D does seem to be diminishing, Pacific Rim shows that it can be done properly and effectively providing that the production team work to do it effectively. Current 3D presentation at best is when it is a frequent occurrence in a film and not just every (Unnoticeable) now and again as well as pulling off the right effect.

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A great lot of work has gone into the detail of the films main point, the Giant Robots. Shortly before the film’s release, Legendary released a couple of videos showing off how the team went on about designing both the Kaiju and the Jaegers. The Jaegers do have a look about them which is reminiscent of the machines seen in Japanese Anime but are not copies of them. To me, the designs look a lot like the Megazords from Power Rangers and Super Sentei as they do have a human look to them. A surprising amount of detail has also been added to the smaller parts of the machines as well. It’s as if the producers of the films designed manuals for each machine as if they were actually built. The design of each Jaeger also have a sense of steam punk about them as they do look very industrialized while also showing off some connection with the country they come from. The American machine (Gipsy Danger) is very tall but does not look lumbering and is clearly designed for good old hand to hand combat, something it shares with the Australian Jaeger (Striker Eureka) while the Chinese Jaeger (Crimson Typhoon) on the other hand is more like a lumbering brute but has a martial arts sense about it with its combat style, spinning blades and its three arm advantage and one eye look makes it look menacing. The Russian machine (Cherno Alpha) meanwhile is an ancient machine and looks the part; this in turn is represented by its style which looks more like it was designed for defence first with its big head and then attack second with the idea that strength is everything.

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The Kaiju in comparison are more animal like. The Kaiju have many traits about them which relate to those of animals in the real world. One of the early Kaijus looks like a Crocodile as well as a Goblin Shark, while the big bruisers later in the film are more like Gorillas while keeping a reptilian appearance. This gives the big monsters their own independent look instead of just randomly produced or just the same creature over and over again. When designing the Kaiju monsters, the production team tried to make their appearance similar to those of Japanese Kaiju films with the idea being that you have to imagine a man being inside the creature, like a Monster suit. This is achieved brilliantly and makes the fight scenes, while completely CGI, more fluid in their fighting and more believable as result. The slightly humanistic look of their fighting styles also raises tension due to the uniqueness of it and less animal like which is more random. The more animalistic part of the Kaiju comes into it when they are moving about and stomping/crushing on buildings. Like the Jaegers, the Kaiju have had a lot of detail done to them on the smaller scale to including scales, the hands, wings, legs and arms and even more so to the face which includes emotions. It is also not the design of the creatures that have subtle hints towards Japanese Kaiju films, but also in the Kaiju theories. The Kaiju in the film are rated in categories depending on their overall size and power. This category system is named the Serizawa Scale which is a nice little tribute to the original Godzilla film as one of the characters in the film was named Serizawa. I think that’s quite nice.

You may be thinking that with this level of detail for the monsters and robots that the human may have been shunned to one side in production. Well they haven’t, a lot of detail has been put into the human part with elements of Monster religion as well as other things. The main bridge for this is through the use of the Kaiju Black-market which also introduces these other elements as well as show off smaller elements about the Kaiju.

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Pacific Rim’s soundtrack (Produced by Ramin Djawadi) is one of the standout points for me personally. The soundtrack has a nice range of themes for such an epic scaled film with pieces that are best used when they are in a large open space to show the size and scale. The soundtrack though gets better on the human point of view when the Jaegers are in shot. The film’s main theme is used a lot when Gipsy Danger is in shot. it comprises of lots of brass sections with some electric guitars and gives a hero element to the machines, it shows that they are not just weapons, they are heroes. It’s just like if Superman or Batman were to arrive on scene, you know that things are a bout to change in the face of conflict, you feel safe and secure; something that the main theme for Pacific Rim does well.

The best part of the soundtrack though is when the Kaiju are in the foreground. When you see the monsters, particularly during the Hong Kong scene the soundtrack gives out a loud low note or element. It is the kind of sound produced by heavy brass sections of an orchestra and traditional Asian drums. The soundtrack in this instance sounds a lot like a Japanese Kaiju film. In professional wrestling there is a wrestler known as The Undertaker who has a very familiar entrance where the bongs of a bell can be heard before he makes his appearance. It is the same here but with a more traditional Asian feel. It’s the entrance of the Kaiju if you will, it gives them their own unique soundtrack from the rest of the film, and it feels amazing. It brought back moments for me of Monster films like The Host when the monster surfaces for the first time. But more than that, it felt a lot like a Godzilla film. Instead of just making a run of the mill Monster Movie, it showed the commitment and passion needed into making a Good Monster Movie.

Pacific Rim also did something extra special which is not done as regularly as it should be done in Cinema. Many films these days have an extra scene in the credits, a spoiler for a sequel usually or maybe just a funny extra scene. Pacific Rim however did not do this, it did something extra special. It had a dedication, a dedication to two of cinemas greatest film makers. The Late Great’s Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda. That is something which does not happen a lot these days which is a real shame, they appear not to take time to say thank you to those who have helped to shape and build cinema by doing things that captured the eyes of those that they entertained. Ray Harryhausen is of course the Special Effects master who produced many Monster Movies including The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and the original Clash of the Titans. Ishirō Honda (my Favourite Director) is the man who produced many Japanese Kaiju films with films like Atragon and Mothra but was best known for his work in the Godzilla film series as the director of 8 films in the series including the original 1954 film. Pacific Rim is a fitting tribute to the careers of these two Amazing people.

Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda

Pacific Rim is an Amazing film. I am so pleased that Travis Beacham proposed the film in the first place and that Guillermo del Toro joined the project, because if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have had this Amazing film. Films of this scale and size are rarely produced these days, which is a real shame, because they are absolutely incredible. But Pacific Rim does show films like these and Monster Movies in particular still have the power to WOW audiences of all ages and can adapt without losing their integrity. It is now less than a year to go until Legendary Pictures release their new Godzilla film, so while we wait for that, we have another Amazing Monster Movie to enjoy here and now. Pacific Rim is the best film so far this decade.

GENEPOOL (Pacific Rim is practically perfect, there is only one thing that the film is missing).





Steel Heroes or Monsters (Part 1) – Pacific Rim

29 07 2013

Pacific Rim (Legendary Pictures - 2013)

It has been consistently evident in Monster Movies that the human race is powerless in attacking Giant Monsters. If you take a look at any Godzilla film (except for the obvious one) that Tanks, Planes and even weapons in general come off second best against the monsters. It is more likely that Tanks will be crushed or in some cases melted against the might of the monsters. In many cases outside the Godzilla series, more ingenious methods have had to be employed in order to achieve victory. Some examples of this include Atomic Isotopes (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), Freeze technology (Atragon) and even traffic poles (The Host). One of the more suitable options though would be to build weapons as big and as powerful as the monsters. However, though this idea has not really been implemented as often as you’d think (Except for 5 Godzilla films and 1 King Kong film). However that may change as Pacific Rim does that, and it seems to work very effectively.

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I have known about Pacific Rim as a film for well over a year now, but my discovery of it was mostly by accident as I was looking up the actor Idris Elba. After reading up on the idea, I was hooked but it was not until this past December when the first trailer was released just before the End of the World. The trailer looked Amazing, the scale, the beauty, the machines and the monsters. Every now and again I would watch the trailer again and again until the next trailer was released. As the film approached its big release, more and more stuff was announced, then it came to a point when I saw the film on opening night, in 3D, and the first thing I want to say after you have read that is that this is the first, proper good new wave 3D film. But I also want to say this; Pacific Rim is the best film so far this decade.

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The film does not waste any time getting into the main plot and opens with an introduction from the films lead character Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) describing what has happened in recent years. The monsters called Kaiju came from a large portal called breach at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. The first Kaiju appeared in San Francisco and it took 3 days to kill it. But a few months later another one shows up. In response weapons are built to combat the colossal creatures, Giant Robots called Jaegers, giant robotic fighting machines, and eventually the human race starts winning. Raleigh Becket is a co-pilot of one of these machines as the neural processes required to use the machines cannot be done solo. He is dispatched to fight a Kaiju in Alaska in his machine Gipsy Danger. However things don’t work out, he loses his co-pilot (also his brother) and beaches his Jaeger in Alaska. Five years later faith in the Jaegers is starting to dwindle due the experience of the Kaiju with the machines gets better and so a Wall is being built to protect humanity instead. Becket works on a section of the wall when Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) who runs the Jaeger Program asks him to return to active duty.

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The Jaeger program and all remaining Jaegers are moved to Hong Kong which has no current Wall section. In Sydney a Kaiju attacks and breaks through the wall in one hour. The creature is subdued by one of the best Jaegers despite it being moved to Hong Kong. Becket is introduced to Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who is in charge of putting Gipsy Danger back together after what happened. Pentecost has a plan to destroy the rift that the Kaiju use with an “Acquired” nuclear weapon. The only problem for Gipsy Danger is that it needs a co-pilot. Mako really wants to do it but Pentecost does not allow her. While Becket tries to find someone to be his pilot, one of two scientists named Newton (Charlie Day) links up his brain like the drift for the Jaegers with a Kaiju brain to try and work them out. While this angers his colleague; Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) it is somewhat successful. After a lengthy process, Pentecost allows Mako to co-pilot Gipsy Danger and the start-up test sequence for Gipsy Danger appears to go well until one of Mako’s memories goes haywire and almost destroys the base. Gipsy Danger is grounded for the time being.

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Newton goes into Hong Kong looking for the head of the Kaiju Black-market, Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) to try and get another Kaiju Brain. All of a sudden, two Kaiju appear to attack Hong Kong. The Chinese and Russian Jaegers are put into action with the better Australian Jaeger put on defence of the city as it is vital to the plan to destroy the rift. Very quickly both the Chinese and Russian Jaegers are knocked out and the Australian machine goes into action only to be disabled. Gipsy Danger is deployed while  Newton goes into a shelter only for the Kaiju to find him thanks to the connection he made with a Kaiju Brain. Gipsy Danger is successful in defeating both Kaiju and Becket and Mako are cheered as heroes. In Hong Kong, Newton and Gottlieb manage to get inside the Kaiju brain and learn more about it and how the plan to destroy the breach needs to happen in order for it to work. Before they can properly relay the information, the plan goes into action with only Gipsy Danger and the Australian Machine. When they arrive at the breach they are attacked by two Kaiju and an even larger Kaiju. The Australian machine sacrifices itself to allow Gipsy Danger to get inside the breach unopposed. Newton and Gottlieb relay the information for the plan to work properly. This is achieved and Gipsy Danger falls through the rift allowing Beckett to set off the nuclear reactor powering the machine to destroy the rift. He along with Mako manage to escape from the machine before the explosion goes off.

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The film is of an epic scale that you just don’t see with many films these days. The size of the content and setting plus the story is huge to say the least and it is all brought together by Legendary Director Guillermo del Toro. He has built an incredible world of Monsters and Robots while also keeping it altogether and not exploding into one big mess. The film contains traits of great monster movies from the past while also doing something completely original also. The film’s special effects also work alongside his artistic style of film making. The amount of detail that has been made for just this one film shows his passion for both cinema and the Monster Movie Genre. Not only would it be interesting to see a sequel to this film, but also see him direct another Monster Movie.

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The film’ cast are an interesting point. In the past, when it comes to mainly American Monster Movies, notable actors of the time would be asked to appear but the acting would be moderate at best with most of the fame and attention going to the monster and little to the personal lives of the films characters. Pacific Rim does not do a reversal of this but more includes them on a more even standing with the monsters. Like the old American films, notable cast members are included in the film such as Idris Elba (The Wire, Prometheus and Luther), Charlie Hunnam (Cold Mountain and Sons of Anarchy), Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy, Blade II and Hellboy) and Rinko Kikuchi (Babel and the upcoming 47 Ronin).

Ron Perlman, CHarlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba

Beckett is someone who is trying to live with the consequences of bad choices made as his time as a pilot, while Mako is trying to distance herself from a horrible memory, one that almost causes chaos. The drift mechanism is a great way to introduce and show characters their personal lives as one thing could expose a horrible past. Pentecost is an amazing leader who is trying desperately to protect Mako, the reason why is later revealed but is trying to do this in a not so strict way becoming her adoptive father, but deep down he too is trying to hide something, he also presents one of the film’s best lines. The other main pilot characters are a nice mix also but it is interesting to see how the Australian pilots almost act like tough, rough Americans but this adds to the tension one poses between him and Becket. While many of the other pilots are pretty much silent throughout the film, they do show their personalities from several different ways including how they walk as well as fight. Newton (who to me looks like J.J. Abrams) and Gottlieb are a couple of stereotypical science nerds who bring a lot of humour to the film but are also an integral part also and not complete jokes. Hannibal Chau is one of my Favourite characters overall. While he holds the stance of a crime lord, Perlman plays the character in a similar style to Hellboy (Directed by Pacific Rim Director Guillermo del Toro) without becoming Hellboy. His scenes offer a sense of humour about them but also allow time to be serious.

Hannibal Chau and Newton

Returning to Mako briefly, her character begins almost like a scientific receptionist but turns into a warrior after she begins to pilot the Jaeger, much like someone growing up, you grow up with her as the film progresses and she becomes one of the best characters in the film. Her flashback scene contains a lot of emotion in her and it is a scary scene and you feel for her during it. While she is younger at the time, the young actress (Mana Ashida) is amazing and shows real human emotion, not just fake screaming or anything of that sort, but actual terror and fear.

Mako

The sets are brilliantly designed with a large amount of scale and size depending on where things are. One of the most detailed set features is the cockpits for the Jaegers which have a lot of similarity in them which show how the machines became standardized in construction techniques over time, but each separate identity of Jaeger has its own independent features. Also when the Jaegers experienced issues inside the control room, you would see the flames and water gushing all over the place and in some cases you would feel the shaking about thanks to clever use of the camera work.

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GENEPOOL (Click Here for Part 2).








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