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





I’m Asking You, Just One More MINUTE! – Armageddon

23 03 2016

Armageddon (Touchstone Pictures - 1998)

Throughout the pages of history, there have always been beliefs as to how the world might end. Many of these beliefs come down to religious or cultural beliefs, while there is also the more popular forms of the world ending ranging from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, to historical suggestions such as a meteorite similar to the one believed to have killed the dinosaurs, to ones presented in media forms of recent years suggesting anything from Giant Monsters to freak levels of nature to calendar’s. The thing is, unless founded by a religious belief (like I am), there is no telling what will end the world as we know it, but thanks to many movies over the last 20 years or so, at least we have found a way to entertain these ideas by producing many films that go on to suggest ways as to how it will happen.

Released in 1998 by Touchstone Pictures, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Michael Bay; Armageddon is an action/disaster movie depicting a possible end to planet Earth by throwing a massive pebble at it. Funnily enough, Armageddon was not the only film to be released in 1998 depicting the end of the world by a giant meteorite, as Deep Impact was released only 2 and half months before Armageddon, but Armageddon fared much better at the box office even surpassing Saving Private Ryan to become the highest grossing film of 1998.

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During a routine space mission, a space shuttle crew are attacked by a group of rogue meteors. The meteors rain down on New York causing city-wide damage. Under further investigation, NASA discovers that a rogue meteorite is heading to earth. The Meteorite dubbed a World Killer is so big that no matter where it lands will destroy all life on Earth. NASA director Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) and Dr. Ronald Quincy (Jason Isaacs) come up with a plan to blow up the meteorite from the inside. On an oil rig, Oil driller Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), considered the best of his profession is busy dealing with his mini protégé A. J. (Ben Affleck) who he finds having a fling with his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler). Harry is asked to go to NASA with his Daughter where they discover what is going on, he is asked to go to the Meteorite with a crew, and drill inside to drop a nuclear bomb in it. Unwilling to go with untrained NASA drillers, Harry demands that he takes his own un-trained astronaut crew of drillers. These include Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan), Chick (Will Patton), Rockhound (Steve Buscemi), Oscar (Owen Wilson), Max (Ken Hudson Campbell), Noonan (Clarke Heathcliff Brolly) and A. J.

Harry’s team is put through the ringer by NASA under the guidance of NASA Pilot Watts (Jessica Steen) and Colonel Sharpe (William Fichtner). It’s an uphill battle of wills as between NASA crews and General Kimsey (Keith David) against the oil drilling crew. While on Base, A. J. and Grace’s relationship heats up; rather annoying Harry in the process. As time goes by, the crews get into shape for the flight, but not before time. With just a few days left to go, a rogue projectile from the Meteorite crashes into the South Asia Sea, killing thousands. With the truth out, NASA prepare to launch. The plan is to send up 2 crews in highly modified shuttles, Harry leading the Shuttle Freedom, and A. J. leading the Shuttle Independence. The crews launch and dock with a Russian satellite to refuel, meeting Russian Cosmonaut Lev (Peter Stormare). The refuelling operation goes haywire, with the two vehicles departing as the station explodes, with Lev joining the crew of Independence. The two shuttles, having slingshot around the moon, converge behind the meteorite, however the Independence crash lands with most of the crew dying except for A. J., Bear and Lev. Freedom lands successfully, but miles off course however.

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The Freedom crew begin drilling into the meteorite but already encounter problems as the surface is made out of iron, and the machine is being run by a badly designed drilling program. Harry confronts Sharpe, but their exchange is seen by everyone at NASA who begins to worry that they might fail. Kimsey is ordered by the President (Stanley Anderson) to override the system and to detonate the nuclear weapons even though the hole has not been drilled yet. Truman orders his men to stop Kimsey, but it’s met with unsuccessful results. With the bomb ticking, Harry convinces Sharpe to turn off the weapon. Drilling recommences and gets off to a good start, however Rockhound having gone insane causes yet more problems that lead to the drilling operation failing, meaning that the team has failed overall. In the nick of time, A. J. and his team, having drove the Armadillo drilling vehicle from their crash site to the Freedom drilling site arrive and get back to work. With less than 2 hours remaining, the teams manage to drill the hole.

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With 30 minutes remaining, the team are attacked by a meteor storm, which causes detonation problems for the bomb. The team draws straws to decide who stays on the meteorite to detonate the bomb, with A. J. drawing the short straw. When he goes outside however, Harry pushes him back on the shuttle, taking up the job of staying to detonate the bomb. Harry makes a final tearful farewell to his daughter and says how proud he is of her and his crew, especially A. J. with less than 5 minutes remaining, the Shuttle has problems launching off the Meteorite, but thanks to some quick bodging from Lev, manages to take off. With less than 1 minute to go, Harry slips up, but manages to detonate the bomb with only seconds remaining. The Meteorite explodes into two pieces, which fly and miss earth by miles with the crew back on Earth being hailed as heroes.

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Upon thinking of how Armageddon stands out on its own compared to other Disaster films of its kind, it’s really hard to start off. Compared to many other disaster movies of its kind such as the aforementioned Deep Impact, it seems nearly the same. Meteorite comes towards earth, and people go out to destroy it, sounds very similar doesn’t it? Well yes, and it is easier to compare the film to Deep Impact in comparison to the load of straight to DVD releases from companies like The Asylum and many other, cheap knock offs of films like this which attempt to do the same thing. However, Armageddon stands out more. Yes, it is a story of a Meteorite coming to Earth. Yes it will Destroy Earth if it gets here. Yes a Space Agency of particular mention send out a team to destroy it before it gets here. It all sounds like same formula used over and over again, however in the meantime, Armageddon does something different. Usually with science fiction films like this, there is great need for scientists and specialists in astrophysics to do the job, but it’s the case here, that the people asked to do the job instead are blue-collar working class men. People who aren’t geniuses at school, but people who know what good solid hard work is and how well it pays off when done well and right. These guys are not your average heroes, but from their way of life are people to look up to. Armageddon therefore does 2 sort of things at the same time to stand out more. One, it takes real people, real underdogs and puts them in a terrifying situation which they are not trained for to use their craft to save the world. And two, it takes space travel, out of the hands of the experts who started and hogged it for their own needs, and gives it back into the hands of those who on any other occasion would never go up in a shuttle, but provides them with the ultimate dream. It sets up the ground work quite well, and maintains that while the Earth is coming to an end, these working class heroes need to be trained up. It doesn’t ignore the issue; it keeps it in mind to prepare those who are going to solve the issue to be able to do it. It’s sort of like The Hunger Games, the training up of contestants to fight in a horrific battle, but doesn’t automatically start there, first they have to train.

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However this is a film; and films are never that simple. This is a full powered, 2+ hour film, and they are not going to fill it with an easy fix. So, things are added to spice up the plot. You have an unapproved relationship taking off; you have the animosity between the trained NASA crews who believe hiring the crew is a mistake, while the crew more sort of admire them, but don’t respect the treatment. Things then just get worse. From this I have this sort of belief as to how Michael Bay makes these films, and it all stems from this film: the idea that things just keep getting worse. This does not really spark until the crews finally go into space, where the space station blows up, one shuttle crashes, the drilling equipment has problems, a platoon of soldiers try to take over the operation in a mindless act, the equipment fails, a storm happens which causes problems for more equipment, someone then has to stay behind to blow up the bomb, and then the shuttle doesn’t take off. It makes everything that happened in the first hour seem easy in comparison. But all of these things, are directed in such a magnificent way that they cause real feelings to the Death of characters, the mindless act of a country leader thinking he owns the world into jeopardising the mission, trying to dig a hole in space (which turns out to be quite suspenseful), to both launching off a rock and then detonating a bomb in space with only seconds left. This film’s synopsis, setting and direction is done with such fluidity that there is always something going on that grabs you by the throat and pulls you ever closer to the screen as the film reaches its ever building climax, even if it’s still 30 minutes away.

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Armageddon’s stellar cast of characters carry a lot of the film’s tension and motion too, it’s not just down to the directors action/disaster talent. Some of these though are rather hit and miss. Now I don’t want to necessarily compare the works/talent of Michael Bay with that of Roland Emmerich, that fight will require some real thought. No, all I meant was how much difference there is in the choice of acting talent as to who gets bigger roles than others. With Armageddon though, there is a lot of room for comedy given its early premise and into this fold we do get some comedy acting from people like Owen Wilson delivering some punchy one liners, Michael Clarke Duncan being a real softy despite his size, Ken Hudson Campbell showing how hard he is despite being more of a big teddy bear, and Steve Buscemi being rather daft in a sexual innuendo way. These guys do serve the film’s wit and comedy section while also providing time to show off a more serious and poignant side, however, despite being pretty good at the end, I feel Michael Clarke Duncan could have delivered more early on. Wilson and Campbell I thought were more like comedy fillers, but Duncan was only briefly shown early on, and doesn’t really show much throughout this film until the Shuttle crashes, which think is a shame because he was pretty good in my opinion. But this is a very serious situation, and to this end we need people who are deadpan serious and in no way funny; which we do. This is what I meant when I mentioned Emmerich above.

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Disaster movies carry a lot of characters because big disasters affect a lot of people; and while the big stars get the big roles, you also get lesser known actors (or at least of the time) who become stars in their own right, despite that here they fill rather small roles. For starters there is someone like Quincy played by Jason Isaacs. A competent scientist who for most of the film acts like a bumbling fool, but given a shot gives off his own small but still powerful performance not as an expert or fool, but as a very serious and intelligent specialist. We then have Jessica Sheen as Jennifer Watts. Watts acts like a trainer before doing a more pilot role later in the film. She shares very little dialogue compared to those around her, however she is a very strong and likeable character. She is very serious about her job and works hard, but she is not bullish like Sharp or Kimsey, she is rather likeable on the whole suggesting a nice person deep down if it wasn’t for her job. Keith David meanwhile plays something of a secondary antagonist as Kimsey, someone who doesn’t believe in the plan and wants to be as bullish as possible. He talks like a man without a conscious and thinks the way he talks and acts, in the process becoming someone who is very unlikable. This comfortably leads onto Sharp. Sharp is something of a side antagonist until the later parts of the film. Much like Kimsey he is rather bullish and believes he can do anything by himself and his own techniques. He is rather miserable to watch as he feels more like a hindrance than a help, but deep down he has genuine worry and feelings towards the mission, and it’s not simply through being a grunt that he acts this way, but from his own personal worry. In the third act he comes out as a really likeable character as he comes to trust those around him instead of trusting just himself. Even in the last few moments, he worry’s but has more faith in someone who began as his enemy.

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Armageddon does also carry a lot of tertiary characters who only get a few fleeting appearances, but who’s acting in their self is still pretty good fun to watch. You have people like the NASA flight director (Chris Ellis), the bloke at the end saying “1 Minute” as he watches the meteorite coming ever closer to earth (unfortunately could not find out what he is actually called), then there is people genuinely on the mission and more upfront with the cast like Noonan, and the NASA communications guy (Matt Malloy). To this we get someone like Lev. Lev is more of a comedy character but with a serious bite. He is more human than anyone else in the film and serves as both light relief and a human connection to the audience creating terrific moments such as how an ordinary person would react up in space, and how too they would fix a busted space shuttle.

A5

I don’t really know what to think about Willis in this film. He lays a working class hero and is obviously a man to respect, it’s just he seems not to be in the depth of his more action based roles. Here he plays something specialist and organiser, but still with the vocal range of an action star. He definitely carries that level of respect the role carries, and also the commanding presence, but for me just doesn’t feel like it works, or at least stand out enough. He does of course make the final stand and ultimate sacrifice, but I just don’t know what to really say about him (sorry Bruce). Billy Bob Thornton stands out a little more as he is both a very respectful guy and is something like Bruce’s equal in an opposite way of life. He however carries something of a burden on his shoulders, as he is a man who has worked hard to get where he is, but at the same time regrets the direction he has taken, and so feels the need to work harder to prove that his chosen direction is as worth it, but more for him than anything else. As a role, he was one to look out for and enjoy, not necessarily a man of action, but more a man with a brain to bring it. Ben Affleck is in a similar situation to Willis I think. He stands out as being more of a rogue or maverick, to Willis’s tough but serious and professional way. But much like Willis, I just don’t find that he stands out all that greatly to be enjoyed fully. It’s probably more the dynamics and confrontations between the two that really make both parts work and the earlier situations between the two are really funny. However, it’s more of a father son relationship story, with the Son seeking guidance and acceptance from the father who considers him something of a disappointment, but then grows to liken him, and accepts as well as love him, and the same the other way round, with the son, showing a higher level of faith in the dad upon his acceptance. Liv Tyler meanwhile plays a more adult based role compared to the two people flanking her. She plays a more professional, more knowledgeable based role to that of Willis, while also having a rebellious youthful side to allow her to fall for Affleck. Her moods change quite a bit though. Sometimes she can be very feisty, and angry, while others are very emotional. It’s hard therefore to recognise what age she is supposed to be playing as she seems to get younger and older consistently in different scenes throughout. This constant change can be quite annoying as you see someone’s character change; however her emotions and strength are what really make her.

A6

For me however, the film’s best character is that of Chick played by Will Patton. I have seen Patton in a variety of TV shows, but for me, this is his best performance. He plays something of a sidekick and loyal worker/companion to Willis throughout, and would be fair to say would probably even die for him. Patton though has a different backstory compared to everyone else. He has a major gambling addiction which has completely separated him from his wife, to whom he feels eternally guilty, and still loves and cares for as well as his son. Out of everyone, he receives the higher redemption, doing something which gives him a second chance at his family. He delivers strength, he delivers wit, he delivers emotion, he carries more than anyone in this film and has some of the film’s best lines, including the high-powered one which I used for this review’s title. A fantastic actor and an incredible performance.

Will Patton

Like many science fiction disaster movies that have come before and after; Armageddon boasts an incredible level of special effects. Effects ranging from the Meteorite, shots in space, explosions, the lot. There’s not much that can be said much than that, given the level of reality that the film is set in and the low-level of need for space based science fiction. Well, if you are going to have scenes on the ground you may as well use real stuff. However, for the lack of special effects other than the use of space, Armageddon does great work in all forms of its effects, and in particular creates one of the best pieces of movie magic in the history of cinema. Space based movies have been made before of course, however not many of these films have really shown the launch of a space ship. The only one previous I can think of is Apollo 11, and that Launch is pretty cool, but what Armageddon does has not been done before or since. The space program has always been seen as something special and exciting, and the space shuttle’s none-the-less. The point of this film is that ordinary blue-collar working class hero types go into space to save the world, but right now they are on the ground, so eventually, they will need to actually go into space, and so, to mark this moment, the film goes all out to capture the moment, to capture the feeling, to capture the excitement of both being there, watching it, and being in the space shuttle. Using great levels of effects that are either models or real shuttles, combined with camera cuts or repositioning’s it makes the launch themselves something proud to behold. But then, the launch is not enough, the ships then need to actually get into space. This is the moment when the shuttle’s become CGI models, but made with such great detail that they look near copies of the models used during the actual take-off moment. But it’s not just the special effects; Music plays a great detail in the scene. It begins with a sort of operatic vocal back track and a tune of awe and wonder, slow, like the initial launch. This then cuts just as it builds to go slow again just to show the significance of the opening launch. The music then builds one more time into a very patriotic, and heart wrenching guitar solo that just takes over from the start. It really does make you feel emotional, because you are witnessing a great moment here, one that is really hard to explain if you have not seen it before. Then as the tone changes from the launch to the flight, the guitar and mixers take over to produce less a slow operatic performance, to something more modern, but still delivering power. It sounds less like a wonder, and more like a mission. It still drives the tension and worry, but still packs in a level of action and power that on the one hand still brings a near tear to your eye, while also just enjoying the spectacle of a space shuttle launching. The Space Shuttle program may be over, but it has given us one pure moment of Movie Magic that will be cherished for decades to come.

The rest of the soundtrack (composed by Trevor Rabin) delivers quite well too. Yes while the film is known for the inclusion of the Aerosmith song I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, I think it is over used a little bit. I like Aerosmith, but this is not a favourite of mine, although that could be me preferring more a form of heavy rock than melody. There is another track of theirs in this film that I do like and does sort of prove the above point, but it’s nice to see Aerosmith in film form either way. Their song sort of provides a backbone however to most of the films melodious moments. My joy with the soundtrack (other than the above mentioned launch scene) though comes in the form of the films way of delivering a scene in the right way, by building huge levels of tension in strong tense scenes. The one that stands out is the last scene where the final few seconds tick by, and Harry Stamper tries to reach for the bomb detonator with very little time left. Yes there are other good pieces of soundtrack, including the scene at the Armadillo Testing area, the recruitment scene (which also happens to be another piece by Aerosmith), and the inclusion of the ZZ Top song La Grange; but simply picking up the score is hard to do, and can only be achieved through the really memorable moments, and this is one of those scenes.

Armageddon is a power packed Disaster movie that really works hard to put you in the situation and works hard to make it apply to you as much as possible. It delivers a realistic and believable setting for an end of the world scenario, and works really closely to the time limit to make it as tense and as action packed as possible. It features scenes of beauty and scenes that you will not be able or want to forget. It provides a cast of minor’s, majors and absolute stand outs and comes with effects and sound to boot. While maybe not likely to win awards despite being more popular at the cinema than those that do, Armageddon is in no way bad, rubbish or pants. It is an incredibly enjoyable film that packs a consistent punch that will have you gagging for more and more while also hoping for a breath of fresh air. Armageddon is as powerful as the name suggests and deserves a spot in the Disaster Movie Hall of Fame (if one exists?) as much as its peers and contemporaries.

GENEPOOL





A Fire Every Thursday

29 01 2014

Fire Alarm

You know that feeling when you are in bed and suddenly the fire alarm goes off? No? Well I do. When I was at Teesside University there would be a fire every Thursday. Why? Because that’s when they as in the people who managed the residence would test the fire alarms. An ideal thing to do yes, but not at 7:00 am when you’re trying to sleep.

TU

When I first went to Teesside University, within a week of moving in, there was a fire alarm going off. At first I thought it was the alarm clock, so I covered my ears, and the sound drowned out a little. Then (a couple of minutes later) I realised that it was still night time and that the sound was louder than the alarm clock. So I got up (with only some pants on) and tried to leave, but then I was told by a flat mate to get some trousers on, which I did before the head warden urged me to get out of the building, the alarm still going off. Eventually the sound finished and all was clear, no explanation as to what happened. A few minutes later it went off again but that was due to it not being turned off properly, but that didn’t stop people running for the door. The following Thursday it went off again at 7:00 am, so me and my house mates bolted for the door to be told that it was just the time when the alarms were tested. And it was the same for the next few weeks until I got to the point that I could have a mini lie in and not notice it, something that was probably not a good idea to do at the sound of a fire alarm. But we could rest assured that Fire was an impossible eventuality on Thursday’s, and even if there was one, it was nothing to worry about as it was only a test gone wrong, so back to sleep.

Bed

My halls of residence, well the whole university was weird but that’s a story for another time, but I will say this. The common space in our block had one of the world’s greatest inventions in it; a shopping trolley.

Shopping Trolley

Well a couple of weeks after the first fire alarm, there was another one, thankfully at a better time, so that’s at least one thing, however it turned out to be a drill, So I don’t know what the one ‘TWO WEEKS EARLIER’ was about? I remember what the woman said after the drill, “Next time, it will be real”. Well that was not exactly the case. We still got the fire every Thursday, but the next 2/3 times we had a fire alarm going off it was mainly mistakes made by students (sorry, residents) who couldn’t do the ironing.

Halls Of Residence (Teesside)

It was about January when the last one (back in 2011) took place. It had been snowing outside recently (I think it was January) and when the alarm went off at about midnight, you instinctively knew (unless it was Thursday) to get out of the building. I was wearing nothing more than a t-shirt, trousers and shoes and I had to cross my arms in hope of keeping warm, while everyone from the upper floors thought that when the alarm went off you took your time to put your dressing gown on instead of running out of the building. They were there, all nice and warm while I was freezing in the snow at about midnight wanting nothing more than to get back inside. In the end this one turned out to be almost real as it was indeed someone leaving the iron on. Disaster averted and then there were no more fire alarms for the rest of the year……….except for Thursdays of course.

Freeze-side University

GENEPOOL








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