Tag Archives: Aliens

Edge of Tomorrow: why video games are not the future for Hollywood

2 Jun

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If Edge of Tomorrow was just a big, dumb, popcorn movie about mankind’s last desperate battle against alien invaders, with only Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt to save us, I’d probably have enjoyed it more. But it also throws in a potentially intriguing time-loop in which every time he is killed Cruise repeats the same day, again and again and again, until he gets it right.

If you think this sounds like a sci-fi take on Groundhog Day, you’d be right. If you pointed out that, er, Source Code already delivered a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day, you’d be right again. So you’d expect Edge of Tomorrow to delve deeper into the psychological and philosophical ramifications of this premise – eg what does it do to you to die in agony day after day? If you die and are “reset”, are you the same person or a new one? And what happens to the other “yous” who died and where does their consciousness go? But no. Instead it turns it into a pure video game.

The movie is basically a series of “levels” in which Cruise tries and dies, tries and dies, each time progressing a little bit further as he learns from his mistakes. I Googled this, and discovered that director Doug Liman has indeed done this on purpose: “I’ve tried to bring the best aspects of video games, the most immersive aspects of video games, into my movies,” the director of The Bourne Ultimatum, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Jumper explained to games site IGN.com.

There’s a problem with this: if you’ve ever waited for your turn while someone else plays a video game, you’ll realise they do not always make great spectator sports. And where’s the jeopardy if our action hero is indestructible? Nevertheless, it’s intriguing that as video games get more filmic, films are getting more videogamey.

The creators of Lost admitted that they constructed the series like a giant video game – eg you find a hatch; you finally work out how to open the hatch; and that takes you to a whole new subterranean level. My favourite example of the genre is Gareth Evans’ brilliant action movie The Raid, which involved the hero climbing up through various (literal) levels of an apartment building, defeating a host of baddies on his way to the climactic confrontation with The Boss.

Tom Cruise is excellent in Edge of Tomorrow, reminding us why he’s such a plausible and likeable action hero after the snoozefest that was Oblivion. Emily Blunt, who’s become one of my favourite actresses, makes the most of a one-note role. The dialogue is sparky, thanks to the writing combo of Jez “Jerusalem” Butterworth and Christopher “The Usual Suspects” McQuarrie. And the action scenes are brilliantly edited, even if the Normandy beach invasion scenes (yes, this is Groundhog D-Day) suffer in comparison with Saving Private Ryan.

But the ending – and I won’t give any spoilers here – is particularly dumb. Not only is it too easy, there is a time problem which I can’t discuss (because spoilers) but which is so glaring I thought I must have missed something till I Googled “stupid ending problem” and found a thread of puzzled fans scratching their heads over the exact same thing.

So if you like killer aliens and Tom Cruise kicking ass in an exo-skeleton – and I do, I do – you will surely enjoy this. But if you hope to exercise the little grey cells over a time-twisty sci-fi pic – and I do, I do – you will be sadly disappointed.

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LSF #9: Stuart Hazeldine on writing Blade Runner 2, and running naked in traffic

6 Nov
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Big in Hollywood: British screenwriter Stuart Hazeldine

Of all the “how-to” seminars at the London Screenwriters’ Festival, the one I got the biggest kick from was The Epic Spec: How to EXPLODE on to the Hollywood Scene. It was given by British writer Stuart Hazeldine (left), and though his IMDB credits may not seem that impressive, that’s a lesson in itself. The regular money comes from optioned spec scripts that remain unproduced, and rewrites and polishes that may never generate a credit.

So you won’t see this on IMDB, but he’s recently written the screenplay for Paradise Lost, which got him Spielberg’s attention to write his (now dropped) Moses film Gods and Kings, which got him Michael Mann’s attention to write Agincourt.

Not bad.

Here’s Stuart’s advice on starting out in Hollywood: “Sometimes, to get noticed, you have to take your clothes off and run in the traffic.”

He means this metaphorically. I hope.

And here’s how he did it: he wrote a sequel to Blade Runner. No one asked him to do it. He didn’t have the rights to do it. But he loved the movie and had an idea of where it should go next, so he did it. And because every Hollywood exec knew Blade Runner, and wanted to know what happened next, that was the spec script they all asked for.

Stuart did the same with Aliens, and that even got recommended to the people actually making the third Aliens movie, though for legal reasons they couldn’t read his version at the time. Afterwards, when the film was made, Stuart met with the exec responsible… and told him he’d screwed it up and his script was better. The exec was not amused. But it did add to Stuart’s notoriety in Hollywood.

With hindsight, Stuart wouldn’t exactly recommend these routes to success. Knowing better now, he advises taking an existing property that’s out of copyright but which everyone has heard of. Think of The Taming of the Shrew remade as 10 Things I Hate About You; the Theseus myth updated as The Hunger Games; and all those fairytale reboots like Jack The Giant Slayer or Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

Stuart pitched Paradise Lost (which I always thought, when studying it for A-Level, would make a great graphic novel – at the time I thought it was unfilmable, but special effects may have caught up) to the studios as “sci-fi set in the past”, or as “Genesis meets Lord of the Rings”. Milton’s epic poem describes the archangel Lucifer’s war against God which led him to become the Devil – “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven” is, as Stuart rightly says, the keyline. I hope it gets made; I would love to see it.

A final few pieces of advice from Stuart. A) “The buying seasons in LA are roughly from the end of Sundance till the beginning of Cannes, and from Labor Day to Thanksgiving; these are the best times to go out and pitch.” B) “Think of yourself as your own agent. If you have an agent, they can be your support team, but ultimately you have to look after your own career.” C) “Write what you are passionate about. I do think passion is detectable on the page. I’ve written things I thought other people would want, and they didn’t sell.”

Now, whatever way you can find to take your clothes off and run in traffic, go do it.

Pacific Rim: putting the “armour” into “Armageddon”

13 Jul

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Let’s get one thing out of the way first. “Pacific Rim” is not, in fact, a scatalogical sexual practice performed in an extremely calm manner. It is the edges of the Pacific Ocean, which are threatened with annihilation when a gateway opens up underwater to another dimension filled with giant monsters. Oh no! However can Mankind fight back? But of course. WITH GIANT ROBOTS.

It’s basically the climax of Aliens, where Ripley straps on an exo-skeleton and kicks Alien ass, magnified a hundred times and stretched to a whole movie. Or think of it as Godzilla crossed with Transformers, except good. And if that doesn’t strike you as ten shades of awesome, this is definitely not the film for you.

It’s admirably single-minded. There is a love interest; there is family to avenge; there is noble sacrifice. But only up to a point. Guillermo del Toro apparently stripped an hour of character stuff out in the edit, so there are practically no sub-plots or back-story. In one of the film’s many great jokes – albeit one that only scriptwriters are likely to slap their thighs over – the grizzled commander (Idris Elba) snaps, speaking for grizzled commanders in pretty much all movies, “You have NO idea who I am and where I come from, and I’m not about to tell you my whole life story. All I need is to be a fixed point.”

So if you’re expecting character development, or any real plot other than “robots smash!”, you are, as the American expression quaintly has it, s**t out of luck. But if you like some armour in your Armageddon, and if you can hoot at lines such as “Guess who’s back you one-eyed bitch, and you owe me a Kaiju brain!” or “I’m cancelling the Apocalypse!”, Pacific Rim is an instant classic.