Archive for ‘Movies’

February 21, 2010

The Doctor Will See You Now

by daverj

Last night I finished watching a 2005 BBC show “Doctor Who: Series 1“.  That title that struck me funny in two ways: the first being called “Series 1” because this 2005 incarnation was, in fact the 27th season of a show that dates back to 1963.  The second thing that amuses me about the title “Doctor Who” is, here in America, the reaction you might get when mentioning this science fiction series…”Who??”

So this got me thinking about the popularity and respectability of science fiction in the U.S. of A.

This is where it all began.

Science fiction has certainly gained a broader audience in the past couple decades.  What was once reserved for Saturday morning b-movies, childhood comic books, and incomprehensibly complex paperback novels evolved into mass market.  While many thank the 1966 TV show Star Trek as the beginning of mass acceptance of sci-fi in this country, I think it could be argued that the true turning point for science-fiction-as-popular-entertainment was in 1977 when George Lucas took us to that galaxy far, far away…. The reason was simple: this happened at the movies.  With Star Wars, Lucas didn’t dwell on the silly campiness of Gene Roddenberry’s TV show, and removed the too-serious or confusing statements of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  He just had a fantasy action-adventure with fun yet identifiable characters.  Crowds lined up at the box office, and Hollywood took notice, honoring the movie with a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

That same year, Steven Spielberg continued the popularization of science fiction with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Everyone, young and old, nerd and non, wanted to go with Richard Dreyfuss on his amazing journey into the musical space ship to meet alien life forms.  And it didn’t stop in ’77 – through the 1980s, the Lucas/Spielberg combo continued to draw in huge audiences with the Star Wars sequels and ET, the later also being nominated for the Best Picture.  That same decade a young James Cameron carried on the box-office boffo with the low-budget The Terminator, followed by the big-budget Aliens, both elevating audiences’ expectations of stories about other beings and/or worlds.

At the start of the 90s, Cameron continued to blow all box-office expectations with his sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, once again gaining a huge American audience with a story of time-traveling robots. The following year was Spielberg’s return to form with Jurassic Park – not really hard-core “robot-and-laser” science fiction, but still geeky, popular and very successful.  Sci-fi seemed like an unstoppable force in American cinema.

…but then, nothing.


Science Fiction didn’t disappear from American cinema as the 21st century approached, but the popularity certainly leveled — and the quality dropped.  For every Matrix or Fifth Element, there were plenty of duds, or at least less popular attempts.  James Cameron seemed to abandon sci-fi with True Lies and Titanic, Lucas’ continuation of the Star Wars “prequel trilogy” left many underwhelmed,  and Spielberg’s science-fiction attempts ranged from bad (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, later War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull) to mixed (A.I., Minority Report).

It only got worse for sci-fi in 2000 and beyond.  As the calendar approached 2001, the particular year that was supposed to be “the future” if we were to believe Arthur C. Clark, science fiction was on the way out of the theaters.  Did the attack on 9/11 sober up mainstream America and push “silly” science fiction stories back to the domain of the nerd?  Unlikely – a better explanation is that tastes changed, and movie fans in this country traded in the spaceships and lasers of sci-fi for the dragons and magic wands of fantasy movies like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, or the rise of popular superhero movies like Spiderman, Batman and X-men.

Back to TV

That’s not to say quality sci-fi wasn’t around in the ’00s, it just moved back to TV.  One shining example came in 2004: Battlestar Galactica, a updated version of a 1978 TV show that was spawned from the popularity of the original 1977 Star Wars. (See where I went with that?)  Yet, even though “BSG” was a quality science-fiction TV show and had many fans, being on TV limited it from reaching the mass mainstream.  It was looking like this was the decade where science-fiction stories were forced to return to the smaller roots of comic-books, pulp novels, TV, and the new video-game medium.

But in the midst of sci-fi’s rise and fall of popularity in American theaters — the Star Treks, Star Wars, Terminators, et al… England had a delightful gem of sci-fi television.

Mostly unknown in America, yet popular culture across the pond, Doctor Who (the title character is actually identified simply as “The Doctor” – the “Who” part is a running gag of the mysterious last name) was successful enough to spawn over 750 episodes of the show!  And judging from the 13 I have just watched, it has everything popular science fiction should have: engaging characters that George Lucas would love, alternate pasts, presents, and futures that would intrigue Steven Spielberg, and the show’s best element — time-traveling aliens called the Daleks that could EXTERMINATE James Cameron’s version.

Take THAT, Governator!

Please don’t get the point of this blog wrong — I have no illusions of Doctor Who becoming the next blockbuster in the United States. If this quirky show is not mainstream in America after almost 50 years, it probably will never be.  It’s silly, campy, and very British.  My Yankee ears had, on occasional, a hard time with the accents and references.  And the special effects (very important in popular sci-fi), even for 2005, look terribly cheap and fake compared to that same year’s Battlestar Galactica.  But I think that’s the point… it IS silly.  And charming.  And the characters are the purest, human, most accessible science fiction personalities I’ve seen since…well, that galaxy far, far away.

Let's bring this back around!

So now it’s 2010, and James Cameron has brought sci-fi back to big screen with a love story between Pocohontas a blue alien and John J. Dunbar a soldier fighting the military for control of spice valuable mineral.  Good for him for bringing science fiction back to the masses, and once again Americans are heading to the theater in droves to watch science fiction.  Hollywood also seems to be welcoming sci-fi’s return — Avatar, along with the superior District 9, have both been considered “Best Picture” nominees for this year’ Oscars.

So after a decade-long slump, the future for theatrical Hollywood sci-fi is looking good again for 2010 and beyond.  And maybe James Cameron’s story, like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg before him, might bring a slightly wider audience to other, non-theatrical science fiction.  Hopefully some of that new audience might pop on the telly and check out the silly, heartfelt, and very British gem Doctor Who.  Flatulent aliens, time-traveling spaceships, zombies, ghosts, and evil over-sized salt-shakers yelling “EX-TERM-IN-ATE” await them!

“Doctor Who Series 1” is available on DVD and streaming via Netflix.


January 21, 2010

Daybreakers: a nice view, but the window has crap all over it

by colemauer

First of all, take a gander at the trailer for those of you that haven’t seen it yet.

Next, allow me to say that if you’ve ever been to a movie theater that nobody goes to on a Tuesday night to see an underscored movie, then you might know how amazing an unplanned private screening is. I was all excited when the “please silence your cell phones” screen came up, considering myself among the ballerest of rappers and socialites, thinking to myself “i ain’t gotta turn nothin’ off.” I had considered several avenues of fun to take advantage of the current setting: the first of which was mystery science theater, only i had never seen the movie, thus making it pretty tough to properly rip it apart. Second, throwing overpriced foodstuffs at the screen and demanding my money back, only to realize that I had no such snacks. And lastly to try to augment the complete lack of romanticism in the movie by making sexy time, but the people that came in 15 minutes after the previews rolled kinda ruined that when they sat 2 seats behind us.

On to the movie.

Sam Neill is in it: score 2 points. Any movie that pulls Dr. Grant out of what can only be called an early retirement has at least got that going for it. Ethan Hawke plays a very . . . Ethan Hawkish character in that he has very few lines, looks confused and concerned a lot, and ends up almost having a really good performance. Nothing particularly wrong, but not exactly out of the park; a solid B game, I’d say.

The premise itself is actually very exciting. Very seldom do we hear of a vampire movie from the other side of the tracks. The nuances of this side of the story are quite intriguing with many moments leaving you feeling envious that you hadn’t considered the difficulties of a world of vampires entrenched in a world that spends half of it’s time bathed in poisonous sunlight. Daytime driving windshields, subwalks, blood-spiked coffee, and overly seductive toothpaste ads, just to name a few.

Without spoiling anything too much (not that M Night sharoshashamaland sat in on the storyboarding or anything), the sub 100 minute movie does a good job of setting up the world itself, as it is probably the most interesting and dynamic character of the movie. After that it takes an instant jump to bullet speed to try any make up for the precious 45 minutes it spent getting you up to speed on the fact that people . . . sorry, vampires are yes, still deathly allergic to the sun.

If the movie had a twist, I’d say it would be that Willem Dafoe seems to be getting younger as time passes. Here we are in 2010 and good old Willem isn’t looking so bad compared to the scene in Spider Man when he decided to rip off his clothes and jump on his glider…or maybe that was just all around kind of creepy . . . who knows, I’m pretty sure the best part of that movie was the Macy Gray cameo.

I’m ranting. Back to the movie

Good: lots of blood, no cheesy romance awkwardly thrown in to try to justify this to anybody other than the target audience, Sam Neill, more blood, a cool soundtrack (OST), and the fact that we almost had the theater to ourselves.

Bad: the audio – it sounded like the entire movie took place inside Sam Neill’s mouth. I’m not sure what it was, and it didn’t happen with anybody else, but I feel like the entire movie counted as receiving oral favors from Dr. Grant. Next – rushed plot, probably due to the next point, 98 minute running time – not that it needs to be anywhere near the gargantuan 162 minutes that avatar boasts, but i feel like I got slightly screwed.

All in all I was, like I said, very surprised at the effort put into showing how vamps are getting along night-to-night avoiding sunburn, and the story fit somewhere in between a gore thriller and vampire noir.

3 velociraptors out of 5

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