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.

Izabella Scorupco

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





Sleeping Queens

11 11 2015

Sleeping Queens

Sleeping Queens is a card game for between 2 – 5 players released by Gamewright and designed by Miranda Evarts. In Sleeping Queens, players have to wake up Queens who are currently in a long slumber using a variety of different cards. The first player to wake up the required number of queens (dependent on how many people are playing) or score the required number of points, Wins. In the middle of the table, there are 12 queen cards laid faced down. Each Queen has a different name and picture. Some are worth more points than others.

Sleeping Queens Setup

On a turn, a player plays a card onto the table. There a number of cards and options that they can do. Some of the cards they have in their hands are action cards, and have different effects. If a player plays a King card, then they can wake up one of the queen in the centre of the table. If they play a Knight card, then they can steal a queen from another player, however, if that player has a Dragon card, they can play that dragon to prevent the knight from stealing the queen. If a player has a Sleeping Potion card, then they can put another players Queen back to sleep, unless that player however has a Magical Wand card, which prevents the potion from taking effect. In the pack there are also some Number cards. These don’t have much of an effect other than allowing players to get rid of them to draw more and hopefully better cards. Players can discard these number cards in one of 3 ways. One, they can just discard a single number card. Two, they can discard two number cards of the same number. Three, they can sell 3 cards that make up an addition equation, so for instance they can discard a 2, 5 and a 7 because 2+5=7. Once the number of cards have been discarded (so 1, 2 or 3 cards) the player then immediately picks up that many cards.

Sleeping Queens Number Cards

There is also another card of mention, the Jester card. Jester’s work like chance cards. Basically, a player can play a Jester into the playing area, doing this they immediately draw a new card. If that card is an action card, then the player keeps that card and has another go. If however the card is a number card, then starting from themselves, the player counts each player around the table the number of times it says on the card. The player that the final number lands on immediately gets to wake up a queen. At the end of their turn players draw back up to the hand size and play passes round to the next player.

Sleeping Queens Jester

As far as the rules of the game goes, that’s it. Although there is some special rules regarding some of the other Queen’s. If a player picks up the Rose Queen, then that player immediately gets to pick up another. The other Queen rule is that there is a Dog Queen and Cat Queen, and much like both cats and dogs, these two don’t like each other, so no player can have both these Queens. But apart from that, that’s the rules, nice and simple.

Sleeping Queens Action Cards

Sleeping Queens is a nice fun little game. It is easy to play, and can be relatively straightforward the first time you play it. It has been nicely created with an assortment of colourful cards with lovely pictures on them. The Kings and Queens themselves have nicely been created too by having not just some generic King or Queen, but have names like Sunflower Queen, Starfish Queen, Bubble-gum King or Turtle King. The number cards too have nice little pictures on as well, maintaining that they are not just numbers, but all cards have their own special little extras. It doesn’t get bogged down neither with lots of little extra rules, it really is a game where you can simply just take your turn and instantly know what to do. Altogether, Sleeping Queens is a nice fun little game. It’s easy to understand, play and has been nicely created to bring as much fun to the table as is possible.

Sleeping Queens Kings and Queens

GENEPOOL





They Were Trying To Kill It (Part 2) – Godzilla 2014

2 07 2014

Godzilla 2014

Following on from last week of my review of what is at the moment The Best Film this year, which by all counts is going to be hard to beat, at least to me, but the previous post looked at the human side story of the film, cast and soundtrack, but really this is the big one as I will be looking at the BIG G himself. From special effects to both Godzilla and his new companions to comparisons in story with another monster movie series as well as how this new film compares in not too much detail with the original monster and also why I think it is not just the best film this year, but one of the best film’s in the series, and that comes with evidence.

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The film’s special effects are really well done, and I mean really well done at that. The film’s producers have obviously taken great time and effort into not just making Godzilla look like, well himself for a start, but also both believable and naturalistic as in the viewer being able to see what is in front of their very eyes and believe that the creature could exist, like your eyes do not deceive what you are seeing. But the detail is also in the close up. For several parts of this film, Godzilla is seen to be in the state of minimalistic. So you may not see his entire shape or size for the most part, but even those scenes show a level of detail that is perhaps not as explored. I mean these are giant monsters, obviously and the film takes the standing point of the viewer on the ground, the human element, seeing it through their eyes. So you naturally jolt your head back to look up at them, but because of their size and depending on how far away you are from them, you may not see all of them, but when you are close up the little details are not forgotten, they are included. Godzilla’s hands on the Golden Gate Bridge (anyone else notice that it’s not the first time the same bridge has been attacked by a Giant Monster in less than a year?), close up details of the MUTO’s when on the ground and really close for comfort, Godzilla’s irradiated damaged flesh, and the detail in the shape, form and material of all three monsters from head to toe. Not only does all of this exist, and in such great detail, but it is also terrifying; and if the special effects achieve such a thing on something that (as far as we know) does not exist, then the effect has been achieved.

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The monsters themselves have been beautifully crafted, but there is more to a monster than just what meets the eye to which the filmmakers and the audience have an unfair advantage over the people in the film who are too busy running away. The Muto’s are the newest edition of a long line of monsters to tangle with the king, so let’s start with them. The Muto’s are nicely well designed and have essences of real life animals in them presenting themselves as creatures that are definitely of the world and not from space. I do like how there are major differences between the two. The male is smaller and can fly and whose body structure makes him look like a praying mantis on the ground and a bat in the air. Whilst the female is much larger and while exhibiting the same mantis like look, has more in common I would say with a spider as in she is reliant on walking and so perhaps needs to walk as such. They of course share the same features in the face and the look of the MUTO’s is nicely made to make them look sinister. During the night shots this works to their advantage and when the let out the under voice almost clucking, it sounds like a measurement of laughter but it could just be more the sound of the wind passing through their immense bodies. Little things such as the facial features really help to cement their positions as the real villains of the film. this idea also is used to great effect by having them the first monster that truly gets revealed. TO begin with you believe that Godzilla is the one responsible for the attack on the power plant, so far he’s the only creature been mentioned, but by revealing that it was actually the MUTO’s not Godzilla, it adds that emotional connection and presents them as the actual ones to do the damage and as such become the villain and it means that you as an audience member want and need a hero, and it cements Godzilla’s role in the film from the moment he is fully seen for the first time, to the point that he leaves. It is interesting use of both perception and suggestion from the film makers that gives a very big surprise early on and one that hooks you as you wonder, If that is a MUTO, what is Godzilla?

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The thing is though, look and sound and abilities are not enough and the thing that makes the monsters in a Godzilla film stand out is personality. Godzilla as a monster and as a series has survived on several key structures and points but one of those core elements is personality of the monsters themselves. If you look at other past American Monster Movies, they have all been referred to as “it” or “the”, they are all things. But if you give something a name, its presence means a whole lot more. You could just call your family pet (if you have one) “the cat” or “the dog” but you give it a name and refer to it by name and as such it feels more like a friend and part of the family and as such you discover the pet’s personality. The same is true for Monsters. By referring to Godzilla by it or the, it could be any one of a number of things but because of the description, it requires an explanation every time it is talked about. But now that you have labelled him, given him right to a personality, you just need to say the name, and people know who he is. For the MUTO’s it really is more of an it or a thing as MUTO is technically a designation for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. While the word does sort of become a name as the film goes on, they are still these things and even though they show signs of care towards each other and their young as well as a level of passion, they are just still designated creatures or animal. So while they definitely have a level of passion and character for such well-designed and thought out animals, they are unable to come out of their shell fully due to their possibility for personality restricted, which is a general shame because I really liked them.

Godzilla on the other hand actually looks like Godzilla (something that did not work out at all 16 years ago). Great care and attention has been taken to make him look like the monster we all know and love, but also to have his own spin so that he is not too much like his Japanese self and so this look can be more independent as well and as such does not need to rely on those films and allows this film to work on its own merits. So his size in this film (the biggest to date, and possibly a bit fat) belongs to this film, but attributes such as his scales, dorsal spines, head and tail are like that of the original Japanese monster. One such item is easier to see also now thanks to the film’s point of view and that is of Godzilla’s broken skin which is supposedly caused by the damage done to him by nuclear weapons testing. This goes to show that Godzilla is invincible to man’s most powerful weapons and supports the idea of him being the force of nature and as such unstoppable, but shows a more human element too showing that he still has those scars from long ago battles which on top of that could be emotional ones too but decides to wear them than think about them. His overall look particularly in the facial features when he is first revealed in the Hawaii airport scene makes me think of dragons. You get a brief second or two to look at his face, you get this overall feeling of terror like you are looking at a destroyer, a creature of such great magnitude and ferocity and while his features make him look like a cross between a dog and a lion, the essence of the dragon like nature is there and this helps with the tales of myths and folklore that surround him, and from this he isn’t just a monster, he feels and looks like a dragon too, and this gets your heart racing.

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But while the look of him is amazing and is true to the Japanese Monster, there are more new editions to the creature but these are more in what he does than what he looks like. But at least one of the things he does isn’t new and has been with him since 1954, any guesses as to what they would be? You got it, his Atomic Deathray. Yes, we were promised a Godzilla true to the Japanese monster and a monster that all we wanted to see but come the final fight I was lost wondering where the Deathray was. Everything was perfect but no sign of that. But then, in the darkness, a shadow grew with a long blue light drawing upwards, I was on the edge of my seat, hoping it was what I thought it was going to be, and then, when his Atomic Breath blasted across the screen, I was so happy, I jumped forward (sort of, more like leaned, not much of that can be done in a cinema seat) and thrust my arms and fists forward and down in a hammer like motion in a gesture of celebration. It was great. It’s not that it’s just there, but the characterization of Godzilla with the power rising up through his scales and then also being the right colour meant that I was so happy and the scene was amazing. I really did enjoy the use of the dorsal spines like shark fins as even after the reveal in Hawaii, it meant that Godzilla still had some screen time but in order to keep something’s under wraps, he could keep that mystery about him but also have that extra element of something huge is coming, and it’s sightings in the water have their own power behind them being seen as you know something big is about to happen. The new roar is really good; it really helps to give this new film its own sense of credit, especially to Godzilla himself. Instead of doing what Emmerich did 16 years ago by taking the classic roar and just extending it, the filmmakers here have created their own unique sound. The sound he produces is still very much like how a Giant creature would, it shakes the ground and produces a lot of noise thanks to the huge inner spaces within its own vocal chords and while it kind of makes me think of perhaps an elephant or other large mammals instead of reptiles (which can’t actually roar)and is overall very well produced to make an absolutely great sound.

Godzilla’s personality exists brilliantly in this film but his characterization which adds to this is different in many respects to what he was when he first started but these changes are not a bad thing in any way, shape or form. Godzilla is made out to look like a super predator, the alpha male top dog of the natural world. This is presented with the idea that should a creature like the MUTO’s arise, therefore threatening his turf, the predator comes out to play to reassert his dominance over the natural world. This idea may sound a bit corny in that sense, but it is a great way of bringing Godzilla into the story in a way that actually makes sense. This animal like approach helps him to fit more easily in the position of him still being a creature of nature even if he is definitely more than that. This comes even more into the fray come the battle sequences where; when rises out of the water his body movements represent that of something which is more gorilla like. While he fights and acts more like an animal now or at least something that is believable to the natural world, attention has been made to how such a creature could fight if say a giant lizard could stand on two legs, had a big tail, big head (Atomic Deathray) and large arms. But making him like the world is not the same as placing him in it. While it has been stated that his build up to appearance is like that of Jaws with the Dorsal fins in shot and no major reveal for a while, this idea does work splendidly, so while you can see him, you still have no idea what he looks like. Much like the original 1954 film as described by Enthusiast Tony Luke for a BBC Documentary in 1998 said “As the film progresses over the next hour, you just get hints of something big and dark and evil smashing its way through northern japan”. Now while the creature in this film is not like that in characterization, he is like that in the sense that you know something is coming, but even when it is first spotted, you don’t know what it is, and can only see a small portion of it. Another form of characterization and personality was thanks to the opening screen credits. Now while the 1998 film did something partially similar, this time around, it was very clever how they pulled it off. There was still the connotation with the use of Nuclear Weapons, the extra points of A) seeing Godzilla to begin with if only in his submerged form meant that he is at least mentioned from the start along with that great soundtrack, and B) the relation with sea tales of Giant Sea Monsters including sightings of sea serpents and the Kraken which represents his connection to the sea and world but also shows his connection to mother nature herself for always being there when he is needed to be. This use of old folklore tales is very well done and a nice technique by the filmmakers.

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While the use of him being an alpha predator is well done, in story terms, I feel like I have seen this before, in another monster movie starring another Japanese cultural icon; Gamera. Last year, I reviewed Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. The first in the Gamera Heisei Trilogy. Now for those un-aware, Gamera is another giant movie monster, but taking on the guise of a fire breathing, rocket-propelled flying turtle. Gamera first appeared in Japanese Cinema in 1965 and thanks to a growing popularity which particularly after the Heisei series has gone on to become an icon himself (please refer to my What is Gamera post). In Guardian of the Universe (rephrased to GGOTU) an ancient species of bird comes to life and wreaks havoc in Japan (like all other monsters do) only for them to suddenly have to deal with the appearance of a Giant Turtle. The two then fight with Gamera acting like the superior creature being sent out to take care of the appearance of a new threat. While a brilliant film, I can’t help but feel that the same story structure has been applied to Godzilla. Big creature comes out of the woodwork, bigger creature comes to deal with it, they fight, bigger one wins. I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing but I do feel that it is sort of weird that this new film has been almost based on the story from and even the characterization of the lead monster (and even some of the design of the MUTO’s look a bit like Gyaos) comes from the series biggest competition.  Mean Gamera himself in that film is an ancient creature created by a lost civilization, much like Godzilla’s ancient history. This is more of something that you may need to make your own minds upon. If you have not seen the Gamera Heisei Trilogy, I do highly recommend it (particularly the last one). But for those who have already seen GGOTU, what do you think?

GGOTU3 (The film is not in Black and White, it's just that this is a Good Picture)

As for the main part of the story itself, there is a lot of talk in it about the want and urge of man to control nature. After going to see this a second time with a friend, she mentioned that it is a lot like Jurassic Park which does use a lot of the same elements. I myself recently read the book by Michael Crichton which shows an urgent need to control nature as well as the refusal to admit when you are wrong and the ignorance of man who just wants to continue. This film uses ideas like that a lot of the time but does show the learning side as come the end, at least for now there is no real want to control Godzilla. But knowing how the American Military is usually portrayed in films, I bet there could be the possibility of them wanting to find some means of control over Godzilla in future films. Also on the nature note there is also the amazement and sense of discovery that occurs when something amazing has been discovered and shows that while we do live on this planet there is still a whole lot more that we don’t know about and perhaps our strive to find it and control it could lead to the end. I do find myself thinking a lot about Blake Snyder’s book; Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, which talks about how films are written to connect with the audience through the use of primal urges, and one of those early settings is described by Snyder as “Monster In The House” to which he further describes by stating that “It’s not about being dumb, it’s about being primal. And everyone understands the simple, primal commandment: Don’t… Get… Eaten!”. This is very much true with this film as the point of view of the audience is that of the people on the ground during the events and the urge to survive the power of the super predators. Much like a Japanese Godzilla film as well, there is a lot of mentions about the use of Nuclear weapons, from the beginning to the end and I particularly enjoyed the scene between Stenz and Serizawa when Serizawa shows him his watch which stopped on the day of the Hiroshima Bomb. It showed a sense of understanding from Stenz about the use of nuclear weapons as well as a possible sign of regret showing that the world has moved on and understand such power more and don’t take things so lightly, but connected with that is the lesson of not being able to control nature too and the understanding that comes with that. And much like how stories in cinema work with the characters having to grow and change, the same is applied here while also showing the growth in the human mind over the last 60 or so years with mentions to Nuclear dominance being one of them.

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I absolutely love this film from the ground up. It gives a well-deserved new light onto a character whose reputation was dented back in 1998 and corrects everything that the said film did wrong. It respects the design and meaning of a character that has been on-screen for about 60 years now and is beloved by millions of people all around the world. Using a great amount of new expertise in film making including special effects, lighting, shooting and even a soundtrack of extremely high qualities and added to that a film’s cast who each have their own loveable quirks and then Monsters whose design and characterization is of such a high standard, all coming together to make one fantastic film, a film that I have fallen in love with from start to finish. This is the film that I have been waiting to see and while it may have taken somewhere between 4 to potentially 10 years to produce, in the end it was worth waiting for and the confirmation of a sequel just means there is more to look forward to. In part 1 I said that this film is one of the Best films in the series, a comment I stand by, and while it is not my favourite, I do believe that the quality of this film really does make it so. And one other thing on that. A couple of days after seeing this film for the first time, I watched one of the all-time classic best films in the series; Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster, one of the ones I like a lot, and I did not enjoy it as much as this one. So while its place in the film series and general cinema is still probably going to be debated; if it is able to make a Godzilla fan as big as me happy and not disappointed, it has succeeded. And that is why I love this film, and shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal of films? To Be Enjoyable. Thank You Godzilla.

GENEPOOL





The Ronin, The Shogun And The Outcast – 47 Ronin

8 01 2014

47 Ronin (2013 - Universal Pictures)

I love Japanese culture as you can probably tell from my extensive knowledge particularly in their film industry as well as Video Games. I love the setting of it all, the beauty in their gardens as well as the historical culture particularly that of the Samurai. But for all this interest, the tale of the 47 Ronin is one I don’t know that much about. The tale of the Forty-Seven Ronin is one of the most famous in the country’s history:

“Described by Japanese historians as a ‘National Legend’, the revenge of the 47 Ronin took place in Japan and is the ultimate expression of the samurai code of honour, Bushido. The story began on April 21st 1701, when Lord Asano Naganori, the Daimyo of the Ako Domain was forced to commit ritual suicide for attacking Kira Yoshinaka in Edo Castle, a rude and arrogant Master of Ceremony under the Tokugawa Shogunate. The loyal 47 Ronin took over a year to planned their raid on Kira’s mansion. On a snowy December night, they strike on Kira’s home, taking everyone by surprise.  After killing Kira, they went to their Master’s Grave, and turned themselves in to the authorities. For committing such a vendetta, the 47 Ronin were requested by the Shogun to commit seppuku, ritual self-disembowelment. During the Meiji era, the rapid modernization of Japan forces people to return to their cultural roots and values, giving tremendous popularity of the 47 Ronin’s tale.” – 47 Ronins.com

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While waiting for the film to come out though, I have heard almost nothing but bad press about it. While there was initial excitement about another film on such a famous and popular story, after other people looked into the new film, their initial thoughts were that of disappointment. I of course did not understand as I had not any full understanding of the original legend.

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The film opens with a small tale of a child being discovered with marks upon his head. A local lord takes pity on him while everyone else in his clan believe him to be a demon. The boy strikes a friendship with the local lord’s daughter Mika (Kō Shibasaki) and waits for the day that he can repay them both. Many years later, after being trained in samurai culture but still living as an outcast, the Halfling (as he is called) boy named Kai (Keanu Reeves) saves the life of one of the villagers by taking down a giant beast that was being hunted. Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) uses the creature as an offering for the Shogun who makes a visit later that evening. When the Shogun (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) arrives, Kai spots a woman in the crowd he believes to be a witch. He goes to Lord Asano’s head samurai Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) to tell him this, but Oishi does not take interest believing that Kai must be a demon if he can spot a witch.

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The following day a tournament is held in the honour of the shogun. The Shogun’s master of ceremonies, Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) is in attendance and presents his fighter, a giant man all clad in steel to fight Lord Asano’s fighter, who has been bewitched. Kai secretly takes the fighters place until he is discovered. He is forced into taking a beating. That night Lord Kira tells his witch servant Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi) to possess Lord Asano, this works and Lord Asano, blind to his daughter’s distress attacks a defenceless Lord Kira. Kira survives but is forced by the Shogun to commit Seppuku. His now Master less Samurai become Ronin and are forced to depart from the land and Kai is sold into Slavery. Kira is made head of the land and Mika is forced to marry him in one years’ time. Oishi meanwhile is forced into a pit by Kira.

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One year passes and Oishi is finally released from the pit. He heads home and makes plans to get his revenge on Kira. He tells his son Chikara (Jin Akanishi) to go and amass his former warriors and meet him by a river in a few days’ time. Oishi meanwhile travels to a Dutch port to get Kai back. Kai shows great skill in fighting many strange beasts at the pirate port. Oishi enters a fight with him and tells him of what is about to happen. Oishi and Kai manage to escape the port and meet up with the other Ronin. The group split up, Chikara goes to find information from the drunken guards near Kira’s palace. A few others head off to find more men while Oishi and Kai go to get more swords. Their search leads them to going to find the Tengu, a mystical group who hides in the forest, the ones who trained Kai and raised him. Kai and Oishi go in the temple and Oishi’s will is tested as Kai confronts the head of the order and takes his sword. As a reward, his men get the swords they need.

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At Kira’s palace, Mika is being prepared for her marriage but gets repeatedly tested by Mizuki and Kira. Kira heads off to a temple to pray as the Ronin plan their attack on Kira. They travel to Kira’s encampment and launch a surprise attack. It proves to be a trick though as Kira is Mizuki in disguise. Thinking that the Ronin are now dead, Kira goes ahead with his wedding. The Ronin manage to survive the encounter but with some loses. The Ronin decide to use their deaths as a surprise and plan a new attack on Kira’s castle. At the cover on nightfall, the Ronin secretly enter the castle and are mostly successful in taking out the perimeter guards, until one of them manages to get a stray shot off. The palace falls into battle. Oishi’s men are successful in taking out the Kira’s fighter and Oishi engages Kira. Kai rescues Mika and manages to kill Mizuki. Oishi meanwhile beheads Kira. The Ronin travel back to their home and surrender to The Shogun. The shogun says though that because they did what any Samurai would do despite disobeying him that they may die with honour by committing Seppuku. They begin the ritual but the Shogun allows Chikara to live and become the new lord of the region. Kai meanwhile says that he will wait in the afterlife for Mika.

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While the film may not live up to the original legend, it is my understanding from research that I have done that almost no film on the legend lives up to the original story. What is noticeable though is that the film does follow the original story with elements of fantasy included. The film is therefore adding elements to make the story interesting to other audiences. In my opinion, the only chance of making a thorough adaptation true to the original story, the film would have to be made in Japan. Several have, but in order to please the rest of the world, it would need more of an international release. From a western point of view though, the film is made alongside the original tale but with elements that would appeal to those who request more than just reality, and due to the film’s ancient, mythical setting, there is some allowance at least for the western audience for some elements of mythological beasts.

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In terms of the film itself, so not much look upon the legend itself, I find myself comparing it in some respects to films like 13 Assassins and Zulu. Films on an epic scale such as these, it is easy to see the detail that has been put into those films compared to this where it appears to be almost minimal. The characters for instance in traditional Japanese epic’s such as Seven Samurai and 13 Assassins have a great amount of detail into each and every character in the main troupe. Now while of course it would take forever to do the same with the whole company of the 47 Ronin, but as only a few of them appear to have any character at all, it’s a shame we can’t see more of them, not even from the 12 main men in the company. If you were to take a look at this films detail on par with Zulu you can see that Zulu manages to keep large amounts of detail in its characters, though many but allows room for it.

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Though while it is very minimal on its characters, 47 Ronin’s main characters are a nice mix. But I do think that this film could have been improved greatly if it was a Japanese Language speaking film as it would look more authentic than them all speaking English, which I think is a definite weakness. Keanu reeves character holds a pivotal point but I think his character is only there to justify the western nature of the film. He is not the only one though as I think that the tattooed guy in the Dutch port, who appears in all the posters, only appears very briefly and I was expecting him to suddenly turn up, but he didn’t.

Keanu Reeves and Tattoo Man

The main draw in the film’s cast though are in the form of Lord Kira and Oishi. Oishi is a respectable samurai and a respectable samurai who holds up the codes of the samurai as displayed in the film with great authenticity despite not going that much into detail with it. He is very enjoyable throughout the film and you feel a level of safety around him. in many respects, Oishi is the real main focus of the plot, over Keanu Reeves’s Character. Lord Kira though plays the part of a rotter really well. His part is that of a devious and deceitful villain who wants nothing more than power and he is much of a schemer when he does this. This part is excellently played by Tadanobu Asano. Alongside him you also have the brilliant Rinko Kikuchi as the witch Mizuki. As a character she is as rotten as Kira, but this is not a bad thing as that is their part, they are the kind of character whose end you very much look forward too, as is their part.

Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi

The film’s special effects are well done and work well in tandem bringing the creatures in the film to life. Such other effects are used mostly for the creatures but also for the effects that could not be done by real life. It shows great respect to more recent Japanese film makers, particularly Takeshi Miike who only uses CGI if it is humanly impossible, such as can be seen in 13 Assassins.

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While maybe not holding up to the original legend completely, 47 Ronin is actually a very enjoyable film. While the story is scattered and somewhat quick to go from point A to point G, it is a story that does have a level of detail in showing the ancient culture if only a tiny bit. As a fantasy film though, I think it rivals many others but as it is trying to go in tandem to an original legend, it suffers as a result. If it were its own story it could have been very different, but don’t just write it off as a generic fantasy film as this film does more than those. Though in my opinion if you want to see a film that shows more of a foreign culture, I would highly recommend you see 13 Assassins or Seven Samurai instead.

GENEPOOL





Dragon Haikus

18 12 2013

Aeon

Aeon – The Eye of the Dragon

Beauty of a rose

Trapped in a puzzle of blue

The Dragon’s eye looms

Hermit

Hermit Dragon

A guide of the night

A protector of the light

A creature to trust

Lunar

Lunar Dragon

Terror of the night

The flying beast haunts the skies

Looking for its prey

Mist

Dragon in the Mist

A watcher of time

With a beauty long since gone

Flying misty skies

Olympus

Olympus Dragon

The king on his throne

With wings of glory and might

Ruler of his kind

GENEPOOL (All poems based on Artwork by Peter Pracownik)








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