Space Quest

Space Quest
Written by Bertie Gilbert

Two reviews of Space Quest on Letterboxd describe it as a piss take of Star Wars/Star Trek and the hype over their next films, the most anticipated of these being Star Wars: the Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan), which Abrams has directed. And he deserves it. Looking back at Abrams’s Star Trek reboot films, Star Trek (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) and Star Trek Into Darkness (OrciKurtzman and Damon Lindelof), the story isn’t the strongest element, but Abrams directs them with a vision, almost like Star Wars: the Force Awakens test footage. Say what you will about the Alternate Reality – which I regularly criticise – but it’s not entirely Abrams’ fault.

A director might have creative authority over a film (apart from the producers), but what Abrams did was to not alter elements that clearly weren’t working, rather than create those faults himself. And yeah, those new films did cause a rift in the fanbase, and it’s for a good reason, but it shows that Abrams, when applied to something that already works on its own, can make it even cooler. Look no further than the final shot of the first Star Wars: the Force Awakens trailer. That shot on its own could be a whole trailer by itself.

To be honest, it looks more “realistic”, in the visual sense, than any of the other Star Wars films. That’s not just because of advances in digital technology, but because of the choices made in using it. Already, I’m sold on a franchise that didn’t really appeal to me before. I do like Star Wars, but the matte boxes and jump-cut/crossfade explosions were always a bit weird.

But I’m not going to judge a sci-fi film on its special effects – pulp appeals to some people. And, as someone who used to think Doctor Who was pretty neat – especially the Classic Series – I’ve come to see special effects as simply a story-telling mechanism. So Space Quest, then. And not the video game series, either.

Space Quest is a television series within the short film Space Quest, and is clearly an homage to Star Trek. And I do think it’s an homage. Why? Because making a film so accurate in spirit yet also with such a precisely-controlled Roger Corman-esque B-movie feel to what inspired it takes so much INSANE passion for that subject that dismissing it as a piss-take would be to accuse the film-maker of having instead an insane hatred.

There’s that shot of the door closing, which I guess was done through rota-scoping? And the simulated English dubbing of what’s supposed to look originally “foreign”. The reason genuine B-movies include these production methods is because of low budgets and unimaginative film-making. But with today’s access to technology, none of that comes-up unless done… deliberately.

There’s a myth that film-making is difficult. But it’s not. Making a film is easy. What’s difficult is making a good one.

And what takes even more skill is making a film resembling one that isn’t. A film so good it doesn’t look it. My previous review acknowledged the fun pulpiness of a film otherwise terrible – but the difference was, that was supposed to be good. Whereas Space Quest is a step-backwards to a more primitive style of film-making.

In an age of going forwards, going backwards requires more creative acrobatics than simply making a good film with special effects that aren’t laughable. So in creating special effects that recall cult sci-fi, when it’s easier to make them professional, they’ll actually not laughable at all. They’re applaudable. Abrams has been openly promoting his use of practical effects when making Star Wars: the Force Awakens, rather than digital effects.

One can only hope so. It makes “Episode VII” aesthetically consistent with its preceding instalments. Even though there’ll still be digital effects, simply because it’s more convenient in some places. Every mainstream film uses digital effects. Even genres that wouldn’t obviously seem to require digital effects use digital effects.

They’re shooting it on film, too. Actual film! Which means that Star Wars: the Force Awakens isn’t just called a “film”, but really is one. And I care about film more than digital, because it’s less convenient for shooting.

Yes, there’s a better picture quality, and every other reason you can find listed in Mark Kermode’s The Good, the bad and the Multiplex, but apart from that – it requires more care and precision. Which means, if a production’s using celluloid, it tells me the film-makers are of a certain mindset that ensures at least some immediate quality. There’s that question of – so if Space Quest didn’t emulate B-movies, would Space Quest be any good? But that’s question’s invalid.

Because, if Space Quest didn’t emulate B-movies, Space Quest would be pointless. I think. But that’s how I’ve read it. Just about every Bertie Gilbert film is about contrast in some way – contrast between the sane and the insane, contrast between one time period and another, and in some ways, contrast between between two ends of an infinite spectrum.

The contrast here is between digital and film, with digital being a bookend to the “main event”, like old cinema programmes that would present the feature with a shorter, less impressive piece, a… “B-movie”. And although the digital scenes are more presentable, ticking the boxes of YouTube’s video player, the Space Quest film itself is a better achievement because there was more to get right. It’s easy to reassure yourself with the knowledge that something can be added later, but it takes real balls to say “We’re doing it NOW!”. There’s a reason Gilbert’s considered the new Wes Anderson.

Anyway, point is – if these were two films, the Space Quest act in the middle is obviously the bigger achievement, because mimicking a specific style takes a certain kind of skill that requires a film-maker to go inside their own creativity and emerge on the other side having proven they can do minimal. And if I come out of Star Wars: the Force Awakens impressed with it, it’ll be because it looks like the Episode VII that should’ve already been released thirty years ago. The reason Star Trek Into Darkness is so controversial is because, even though it’s a good-looking film, it’s got “Star Trek” in the title, but doesn’t try to actually justify that on screen. And that’s the story here.

More reviews

Star Trek Into Darkness — screenplay, story, structure

"Screenplay, structure, format", in-which single dramas are analysed for their pace and narrative.

Theoretical structure:

Duration: 118 minutes

  • Act I: 0 – 30 minutes
    • Introduce Kirk: 0 – 5 minutes
    • Introduce Khan: 5 – 10 minutes
    • Establish conflict: 10 – 25 minutes
    • Plot Point II: 25 – 30 minutes
  • Act II: 30 – 89 minutes
    • Conflict: 30 – 85 minutes
    • Plot Point II: 85 – 89 minutes
  • Act II: 89 – 118 minutes
    • Conflict resolution: 89 – 115 minutes
    • Ending: 115 – 118 minutes

Actual structure:

Act I (1 – 54 minutes)

Introduce Kirk (1 – 9 minutes)

Kirk’s the first character we meet, being chased through a forest on Nibiru with McCoy. We learn he’s captain of the Enterprise, and that he’s violated the Prime Directive by interfering in the development of a primitive species.

Introduce Singh (11 – 12 minutes)

Singh’s first seen in London offering to save Thomas Harewood’s daughter.

Establish conflict (26 – 28 minutes)

Kirk’s amongst the starship captains assembled at Starfleet HQ when Singh attacks before beaming away.

Plot Point I (43 – 54 minutes)

The Enterprise, armed with untraceable torpedoes but a malfunctioning warp core, arrives at Qo’nos and orders Singh to surrender. Kirk travels to the surface, followed by Klingons. Singh intercepts the negotiations with the Klingons, and surrenders to Kirk when he’s told there are seventy two of the torpedoes.

Act II (54 – 95 minutes)

Conflict (54 – 92 minutes)

Singh’s arrested and incarcerated in the Enterprise. McCoy takes a blood sample, while Singh shows his knowledge of the Enterprise’s malfunctioning warp core and claiming a connection between the seventy-two torpedoes and specific coordinates. Kirk considers whether to open one of the torpedoes while the warp core’s damage reports are returned. A torpedo’s opened, revealing a three-hundred year-old man inside. Singh explains to Kirk that all the torpedoes contain a person, which he placed. He and his army were genetically engineered to lead the world to peace, but were exiled in space before he was awoken by Starfleet to be used as a weapon. Admiral Marcus planned to use Singh to destroy London, who would then beam to Qu’nos. Kirk’s intervention would trigger a war with the Klingons, without Kirk being able to escape due to a sabotaged warp core. Marcus arrives in the Vengeance and demands to take Singh and his army prisoner. Kirk pilots the Enterprise into warp, at risk of further damaging the core. Marcus peruses and knocks the Enterprise out of warp. Kirk turns to Singh for help, whose regenerative blood is being tested. Singh and Kirk jump from the Enterprise to the Vengeance while Spock assesses Singh’s personality. Kirk and Singh take over the Vengeance, but Singh turns on Kirk and Marcus.

Plot Point II (92 -95 minutes)

Singh takes Kirk hostage and blackmails Spock into lowering the Enterprise shields. Singh beams the torpedoes into the Vengeance and Kirk back to the Enterprise before proceeding to attack it. The torpedoes explode, destroying the Vengeance.

Act III (95 – 118)

Conflict resolution (95 – 154 minutes)

Singh gains the upper hand when the Enterprise loses orbit and falls toward Earth. Kirk enters the engine room and repairs the warp core. The Enterprise regains altitude, but Kirk’s dead. The Vengeance crashes into San Francisco, levelling Downtown. Singh survives and heads for Starfleet HQ. Spock personally apprehends Singh and Kirk’s revived with his blood.

Ending (115 – 118)

Singh’s resealed in cryo-freeze. Kirk speaks at the memorial a year later, and recites the Captain’s Oath. The Enterprise is rechristened and begins its five-year mission.

Star Trek Into Darkness — single drama review

Premièred by Paramount Pictures
Star Trek Into Darkness
Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

Star Trek Into Darkness represents the fear I have with any of my favourite fiction franchises. I say this as someone who likes all science fiction, but also anything that’s popular and has a lot of money in it. First, there came Star Trek‘s reboot, and that naturally meant following it up with a dark and gritty reboot sequel. Star Trek‘s been dark before. It can be done. And the Star Trek franchise is all about pulling-through and remaining optimistic. But what this instalment seemed to want is to take the franchise itself into a dark place, rather than just the characters.

I won’t deny that J. J. Abrams is a visionary science-fiction director. Visually, he’s good. But that’s where it ends. His Star Trek films may look the most realistic, but they lack anything beneath the surface. Which is unfortunate for people like me who prefer that films don’t patronise them or treat its audience like they’re idiots. And Star Trek Into Darkness does this unlike any film has ever done, because it’s directed in such a way as to make you forget that none of it makes any sense. Because the cinematography makes the world look so exotic, and because the production design is not only consistent and imaginative but also presented by a director that can use it all to his advantage, that the film, as it plays is trying to district you from the fact that it has no confidence or understanding of how to tell a good story.

And the greatest offender is that none of the characters have any consistency. For instance: Captain Kirk. He’s a womanising wise-cracker who’s shown to be an incompetent captain. Not only does he begin Star Trek Into Darkness by violating the Prime Directive in such a blatant way with motives that are never explained, but he manages to escape tricky scenarios through coincidence. “They’ve taken the Enterprise away from you”, says Admiral Pike. But when he next see Kirk, it’s been given back to him. I could never really grasp why, except that it seemed to be for the plot to advance, which asks the question of, if you’re going to insert such a quick solution for an otherwise seemingly-unsolvable problem, why bother inserting the problem at all? It’s not that there’s no character development, it’s that none of it’s addressed. If Kirk is such a risky choice for a Starfleet captain, play into that. You can’t just acknowledge it and then ignore it, because that’s wasting your own potential.

And then there’s Commander Spock. While I understand that Spock struggles to balance his two Human and Vulcan sides, the switch from a logical strategist to a vengeful action figure didn’t feel natural. It’s saved until the end, and then he transforms suddenly. I get that it’s an outburst of anger, but it didn’t feel like it. Instead, it felt like a dramatic shift in tone purely to have a dramatic shift in tone.

Now, Doctor McCoy. Karl Urban clearly understands his role, and I’ve gotta say – McCoy’s the most consistent character in all of this. He feels like a genuinely caring person who’s also a good doctor, and he alone demonstrates what Star Trek Into Darkness could’ve been – through everything that happens, he remains fundamentally the same person. He’s still clearly in a dark place, but McCoy I actually understand to be who it was that was in that dark place, rather than him just becoming a generic “dark hero”. What perplexes me is that none of the other characters were recognisable, especially when McCoy was clearly developing naturally rather than just shifting in style.

Of all the problems with the way the characters are handled, Lieutenant Commander Scott’s the worst. The problem seems to be that Star Trek Into Darkness has too many characters to know what do with, so it was figured that one of them needed to be written-out as soon as possible. So Scott’s the one that randomly quits for reasons that do play into the rest of the film, but are just arbitrary at the time. When Scott resigns suddenly, the reaction I had was “that was really rushed”, as if there was no time to explain why it was happening or to justify that storytelling decision. Or was it because a character needed to be on the Vengeance during the confrontation, and he was somehow suited to it best? Either way, it felt forced, and makes me wonder if there was a plan that had gone into the story.

Another character that troubled me was Lieutenant Sulu. Kirk and Spock are both absent, which means he’s in charge now? When he was used for the scene on the drill during the destruction of Vulcan (in aforementioned reboot), he was there because officers were needed who had hand combat training. See? A little explanation for why he was there. Here, he fills the captain’s chair for yet another arbitrary reason. Orci even admits to writing characters like action figures. Sulu shows how individuality of character isn’t important in this universe, where they can all fill-in for each other perfectly, which therefore makes none of them important. You know what would’ve been dramatic? If Sulu struggled with such a large responsibility of becoming captain all of a sudden. It would’ve at least it made it more acceptable.

With regards to Lieutenant Uhura… I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist blogger. There are others out there who’ve written far more detailed, legitimate and authoritative pieces on the Star Trek reboot’s treatment of female characters, but even to someone like me, Uhura is clearly a problematic storytelling piece. I find myself inclined to ask yet another question about an element of her character: why? A lot of fans have a problem with Spock and Uhura’s relationship, but I don’t, surprisingly. This is an alternate reality, these characters are in a different situation, they’re going to react in different ways. And if Spock and Uhura are going to be a thing, surely an alternate reality’s the best way of doing it? What I do find troublesome is the way it never seems real. We get it. Spock’s sad because Vulcan’s gone. He’s sensitive. But is that the only reason he’s with Uhura? Because the basis of their relationship never feels established. It’s just “there” for an arbitrary reason. And it’s not as if a Vulcan/Human relationship can’t work – that’s a fundamental element of Spock’s character, that he’s a Human/Vulcan. But this particular relationship never felt real to me, and I suspect that’s because Uhura doesn’t feel like a character with enough depth to be in a relationship with any character and it feel real in the process. Not to mention Carol Marcus’ underwear shot, which was just gratuitous. Not to mention the thing about her character that troubles me the most – that she contributed nothing to the story. Why was she there? What did she do that lead to the final scene? The fact that I can sum-up her character in a few sentences with the only other female character here is another problem. And yes, I know it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. I personally don’t think the Bechdel test is of the Biblical importance that others consider it to, because that leads to both it disrupting the story and the story being judged entirely on that one thing. But I’ve already acknowledged my lack of authority when it comes to speaking about these kind of things, especially when those that are more validated than myself also debate its important. That said, Star Trek Into Darkness‘ failure to pass the Bechdel test does back-up my criticisms of it in this instance.

Ensign Chekov. At this point, I’m running out of new criticisms, so I’ll cover this quickly. Chekov has the same problems as the other characters – he’s used as a plot device. Yeah, he was upgraded to Chief Science Officer in Scott’s absence, but why? Because he’s an ensign? Why him in particular? Kirk never bothered to explain. I suspect it’s because he’s also driven by arbitrary reasons rather than his character.

But then there’s Commander Singh, my biggest problem with Star Trek Into Darkness. Here’s the thing: including this character from the original version of the franchise was the worst decision made, because it meant certain things had to happen, based on Singh’s character. But that itself dictates parts of the story, so that the characters end-up being warped around what has to happen, rather than everyone fitting into it naturally. Because Singh was included, there had to be an origin story, there had to be a reveal of his identity and he had to have certain motivations. And that was handled here by directly lifting scenes from it, rather than adding something. Abrams denied that “John Harrison” was Singh, even though everyone already knew that he clearly was. Kurtzman said this:

“It’s so easy to fall into the trap of doing something because you think people are going to love it. You must come up with what the movie can be on its own and then, if it turns out the villain maybe can be Khan, then you can do it. But you can’t start there.”

This statement alone exposes the mentality taken toward the story. Because it’s effectively admitting to making it up as the story progresses. That is not the way to tell a story. You have to know where you’re going, you have a plan first. As soon as the character of Harrison was decided to be Singh, it meant that everything had to be altered around it, at their own expense. So much so that when he reveals his real name to Kirk, anyone unfamiliar with Star Trek wouldn’t have reacted in the intended fashion, because they don’t recognise the name. And it’s not as if Harrison doesn’t work as his own character, because he does. But as soon as it was decided that he’d be the alias of a previous character, any value about him was lost because everything he is suddenly becomes a very long-winded excuse to do something we’ve already seen. That’s why the homages to previous, iconic Star Trek scenes don’t work – normally, with an homage you’re supposed to add something, rather than just recycle what’s come before. Because it tells me that nobody had any ideas for how to use this character other than in exactly the same story as before. I don’t like to accuse films of being “pointless”, because they all are. None of them need to exist, but when I see a film that eventually becomes a remake of another film, rather than just being honest about it, I do feel inclined to ask why it exists. If this film was so intent on being a gritty reboot sequel, why couldn’t it just be that? Instead, it was so desperate to replicate a previous film – despite denials of it, that’s what it ultimately turned out as being – that I get the impression of it being unable to stand on its own. It lacks so much confidence that it relies on a previous instalment to do the story. But they can do their own action. It might mean sacrificing characters and insulting your audience’s intelligence, but the action’s all original. If only the heart of it were, too.

“I think the article above is akin to a child acting out against his parents. Makes it tough for some to listen, but since I am a loving parent, I read these comments without anger or resentment, no matter how misguided.  And frankly, your tone and attidude make it hard for me to listen to what might otherwise be decent notions to pursue in the future. As I love to say, there is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don’t. You prove the cliche of shitty fans. And rude in the process. So, as Simon Pegg would say: FUCK OFF!” – Roberto Orci

Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan — single drama review

Premièred by Paramount Pictures
Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan
Written by Jack B. Sowards

Is Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan the best of the Star Trek features? It’s considered and accepted to be by fans, but critically, it’s only the third highest-scoring. Nevertheless, it’s still extremely popular, and has inspired the most homages in popular culture. Whatever one subjectively thinks of it, the creative industry has looked to the second Star Trek feature for material more than the others. Which is both interesting and ironic, given that the story is essentially Moby Dick; or, the Whale in space, inspired by Herman Melville‘s novel. That was the approach taken by director Nicholas Meyer – it’s a modern day ocean adventure with a science fiction dressing. That’s when science-fiction is at its best – when it’s telling a universal story through a particular style. Is science fiction even a genre? A genre is a category of an artistic medium based on form, style or subject matter.

The form in this case is a motion picture feature. Using moving images to tell a story, based on a written blueprint that follows the composition of others to make sense to the other artists involved. Whereas a style is just a “manner of doing something”, which is more attributable to the director than anything else. The auteur theory suggests that each film-maker has their own, unique style, but then that’s obvious, because the director’s the principal artist. Every artist has fingerprints on their works. So in that sense, Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan is simply “a film by Nicholas Meyer”, which is just a factual statement. It even says “a film by Nicholas Meyer” in the credits. But then subject matter is really where the meaning comes-from. And in that sense, Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan is the best of the Star Trek features because its subject matter is the most substantial. Science fiction is so popular because it raises questions and tries to answer them by creating fantastical analogies that all relate back to the real world.

But it’s not “just science fiction”, it’s Star Trek. And the core of the Star Trek universe is Leonard Nimoy as Spock. He’d been hesitant to reprise his role based on confirmed suspicions from previously, but was persuaded to do so by the plot point of Captain Spock dying. This, Nimoy figured, would be a way to finally put the role to rest with a definitive end. And Meyer embraced that element of the story as the strongest character moment. The reason Spock’s death works so well is because it resonates with the rest of the narrative in perfect synch. The story was crafted around the concept of killing a character like Spock, which gives Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan a thematic overtone that other Star Trek features simply don’t have.

Spock’s death became the key scene in a story with themes relating to it, but that meant those themes had to be developed. Death is finite in storytelling, and often impacts the story less because a character’s now absent, but because other characters will be affected by that absence. And there was never going to be anyone more affected by Spock’s death than Admiral Kirk. Which meant that, if Kirk were to be affected by Spock’s death, Kirk’s own feelings about such things had to be established. That lead to the scene in Kirk’s apartment in-which Doctor McCoy visits Kirk and their conversation brings-up those themes. Kirk’s next strongest bond after Spock was to McCoy; therefore, using McCoy to establish Kirk’s own feelings about death would be a more subtle way of giving his reaction to Spock’s own death meaning than having Spock be the one with whom he discusses those feelings. This scene in particular is the second most important in the story, and shows how Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan uses storytelling-by-numbers to create something artistic, substantial and meaningful.

By having established Kirk’s evasive personality to matters such as death, a character flaw’s established. The Kobayashi Maru test is explained in the plot as being something Kirk cheated to win his captaincy, despite being rewarded for it. The character development as such follows a natural pattern: Kirk confronts his own fear of death, then has to deal with it when it confronts him. But for that second element to make sense (the first being explained with the death of Spock, Kirk’s oldest friend), it must be presented as a challenge. Kirk, in the Star Trek series, was presented as a great space hero, a man who could overcome anything. Gene L. Coon and Carey Wilber created Khan Singh in the episode Space Seed, which ends with Kirk banishing Singh to Ceti Alpha V, which is referenced in dialogue. That episode was very much in keeping with Kirk’s status as a flawless hero, which fit the period for 1960s television being very pulpy but no less entertaining. Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan‘s status as a Star Trek: Space Seed sequel also makes it, in that regard, a sequel to Star Trek itself. As arguably the protagonist, Kirk’s development as understanding himself to be a flawed hero is the franchise itself coming to understand itself as it reaches its age. The Kobayashi Maru test presents us with a man who can’t be beaten, not even by a dictator, who then has to understand that inevitably he’ll be defeated by time, in the same way as Singh – the aforementioned dictator – being defeated himself.

This also makes Singh the other side of this. He’s the figure from Kirk’s past – the embodiment of everything he was during that time. Kirk finds himself facing Singh, and this is the reason he finds himself reflecting on his past. The two characters are fixed against each other ironically – Singh has thought about Kirk constantly since his exile, but Kirk’s forgotten Singh until he sees him on the view screen. Singh made the decision to reveal his identity to Kirk in order for Kirk to know who’d beaten him, but finding himself faced with his past is what made Kirk able to defeat him, as it helped him address the mid-life crisis he felt he was having, and to finally move on from it. But the cost of that was Spock’s death, which presented the next challenge to Kirk. Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan shows an example of an effective storytelling technique – if the protagonist’s experiences are to change them, the story must end with them facing their next challenge, which fits with the challenge they’ve just overcome. Spock’s death prompted Kirk to finally understand that he was flawed, and the next stage of his life is to tackle the problem of understanding those flaws, and the conduit for that is how he’s to live without his oldest friend.

But Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan succeeds as a story because it allows the audience catharsis. Kirk’s acceptance of the challenge to live without Spock presents the audience with the possibility that he may yet become heroic again, an exciting prospect. It’s often said that science fiction serves as an analogy for real life, and the inclusion of a major character’s death is the closest it can come to reality, because death is the one thing everyone must eventually face. By having a fictional character face that universal prospect, it’s the most accurate mimicry of real life, and the one to which everyone can relate the most. Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan is not the only Star Trek feature to include the death of a major character, but it’s the only one that shows death for what it is by having another major character with some connection to them be affected by it. Kirk dies in Star Trek Generations (Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga), but nobody from the original Star Trek series was with him, so it wasn’t as impacting. When Lieutenant Commander Data was destroyed in Star Trek Nemesis (John Logan), he was only an android anyway. When Lieutenant Yar died in Star Trek: the Next Generation – Skin of Evil (Joseph Stefano and Hannah Louise Shearer) , that didn’t have an impact either because she’d only been a regular for one season. In fact, the only other Star Trek franchise character death that works is considered to be Lieutenant Commander Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Tears of the Prophets (Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler), because she’d been a regular for six seasons. And when Commander Tucker died in Star Trek: Enterprise – These are the Voyages… (Rick Berman and Brannon Braga), it was considered forced and unnecessary. Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan‘s the only Star Trek death to actually have both impact and cultural resonance. So much so that it was even famously recreated in Star Trek Into Darkness (Roberto OrciAlex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof), to much criticism, which also noticed the way the Alternate Reality’s death had been cured when Captain Kirk’s revived using alternate Singh’s blood.

What Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan gives us is an ordinary story with added elements for style to make it unique. A man faces something from his past –> realises he isn’t indestructible –> must face the death of an old friend –> accepts the challenge and goes on living, being a changed person. And it takes place within the Star Trek universe, combining elements of it in such a way as to still make sense, and developing them to have a greater meaning than previously. It takes a lot to use elements from something already existing and transform them into something more. And the fact that everyone involved did that should show other storytellers how a story should first be universal, and only then, unique. Contrary to popular cynicism, there’s nothing wrong with franchises if the story has some substance. The reason Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan‘s often cited as the best of Star Trek is – get this – because it’s got the best story. All people want from Star Trek is a good story that makes sense and means something. And, based on the given analysis above, it’s clear Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan does that the most.

Chronicle — motion picture review

Written by Max Landis.

In writing Chronicle, Landis has created the film character I personally find the most relatable. Andrew Detmer is an enclosed, anti-social school student with power fantasies and inappropriate sexual desires. There’s even a scene where, with his newly-found telekinetic powers, he accidentally spunks all over a girl. It goes in her hair, everywhere.

When people talk about “superheroes” – or in this case, just people with advanced capabilities – they often talk about the dark side. People say Jennifer Lee‘s Frozen is about the dark side of having superpowers, or that David S. Goyer‘s Man of Steel was trying too hard to be. But just because a story explores the dark side of abilities, that doesn’t mean they’re actually showing us the darker side of that character. People only think they are, because often characters become defined by what they do. Instead, what Landis and Fantastic Four director Josh Trank do is to introduce us to this corrupt Hobbit of a teenager, and then put him in a situation where you know he’s going to become upgraded. This isn’t as if Peter Park decides to use his identity as Spider-Man to help people, and then in the third act, the dark side of his powers start to show – instead, we’re shown how truly disturbed this person is, so that it becomes ironic and dangerous for him to then be blessed with the power of flight. Rather than seeing his development into a supervillain, you can already see that he’s one cliched lab accident away from actually being one to start with, which makes the story less a tragedy and more of a sick comedy, as if the situation happened to the wrong person. Fate was aiming for the school photographer, but instead it accidentally zapped Lex Luthor, if you look past Dane DeHaan also being Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Alex KurtzmanRoberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner). If only he could spunk into my hair, too…

There’s a tradition of “superhero” films (although there’s some debate about whether this is one of them) entering a revisionist “post-comic” era, where characters are dark and realistic. And gritty. The problem with this is that they end up doing what Arrow does – taking on a certain style as to appear dark and gritty, but actually just being a bit pretentious. Storytelling is about the mind, and its condition, and what some people are capable of if they’re given the right circumstance. Rather than shoot everything at night in the rain and have the characters talk in muffled voices, instead the first act decides to just establish who they are. So before anything even really happens, we can see the world as being set-up to be three different worlds for each character, before bringing them into the same story and following each of them to see what happens. It’s like a scientific experiment, but without the need to have any actual scientific experiments.

Yes, parts of it are very dark. But that isn’t brought across in the visual style or by having Michael Caine explain the themes of the story in one monologue instead of threading it into that story, it comes from within. When Detmer starts pulling someone’s teeth out and dismembering a fly, and crushing a car, it’s personal actions he chooses to take. But they make sense, because we already know who he is. This is not an origin story. Origin stories are about how aliases come to exist, using characters as conduits for them. This is about taking three different characters from three different worlds and inserting the element of the “superhero” genre and seeing where that takes them. The realism is only there because it is, and not because it’s trying to hail a renaissance in filmmaking. The found footage concept – Trank’s idea – does contribute to the story in an atmospheric way. It makes it more grounded, so the style doesn’t have to be forged.

And yet, Chronicle‘s real triumph is the way it makes you wish you could unleash you inner supervillain. Torturing defenceless creatures and blowing a cheerleader’s skirt over her hair – tell me you too haven’t fantasised about these things. Were I to acquire those abilities, I’d probably make creepy videos of me showing my tooth collection, too. I’d put them next to the dead months on my windowsill. Seriously, if I had X-ray vision… damn. I’d be a twenty-four hour tripod, undressing people with my eyes. What I suppose I’m trying to say is that Andrew comes from a place deep inside us, a force within, that nature wants to unleash. He’s the Human condition, the primal instinct to survive. And he’ll commit any unorthodox acts to do so, because that’s just the advantage he has.

Apart from the shitty domestic background, I so wish I could be like Andrew Detmer…

The road to… Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

This weekend was the opening of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, but the franchise began 17th September 1996 as a television series on Columbia Broadcasting System.

Inspired by the film Topkapi, the series followed the cases of the Impossible Missions Force, a division of the Central Intelligence Agency, that would complete the tasks no one else had been able to. Episodes used minimal dialogue, music to create suspense, and involved a team of people – in this case the Impossible Missions Force – to complete a task to exact timing – all elements borrowed from Topkapi.

Creator Bruce Geller vetoed any character development to keep a focus on the missions themselves. He felt that having characters not change and work as plot devices would say more about the characters than if they were elements of the narrative. In each episode, they’re only seen together in what The Complete “Mission: Impossible” Dossier author Patrick J. White called the Apartment Scene: at the end of the first act, the Impossible Missions Force would meet in the Leader’s apartment for debriefing. The set was designed to have a grey tone, despite being videotaped in colour. Here, characters would mention what they’d do during the execution of their plan, but in vague terms so as to tease the audience. This would help establish the equipment that would be used, and the roles of guest characters. It’s here that Jim Phelps would sum-up the deadline for mission completion, as well as take any questions from characters so as it fill potential plot holes.

Another decision taken to minimise character development was to not explain absences. Characters were never killed or released from duty, yet any actors departing the series would be unexplained, with their character just not appearing in future episodes with no acknowledgement of it.

In season five, producer Bruce Lansbury decided to scale back the budget, and moved the setting to be internalised within the United States of America, fighting an enemy known as “The Syndicate”, who were described as outside the reaches of “conventional law enforcement”. Such methods as manipulating targets into removing each other were replaced with obtaining evidence against them and tricking confessions using recording devices. These changes may have altered the methods by which the Impossible Missions Force tackled The Syndicate, but each episode still maintained – generally – the formula from previous seasons.

The final episode, Edward J. Lasko‘s Imitation, brought the count to 171 – the most episodes for an English-language espionage series until 24: day 8, 7:00 p.m – 8:00 p.m (by Chip Johannessen and Patrick Harbinson).

In the 1980s, the series was revived for another shot. The 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike prompted American Broadcasting Company to find written, but unproduced, scripts. This lead to the production of a new Mission: Impossible series, shot in Australia, which was twenty per cent cheaper than Hollywood. The only character to carry-over was Phelps. Everyone else was new. Though the plots were updated, American Broadcasting Company were worried that some episodes would need remaking due to lack of new material. The strike was resolved quickly enough for only four episodes to be modernisations of original stories. It’s for this reason that the new series is considered a continuation of the previous. Although the series wasn’t a success, the Australian tax credit was low enough for it to still generate a high profit margin, and it lasted for two seasons, when it was cancelled for low ratings due to a new time slot.

While the formula was still used, the scale was pushed more than before. One character was killed-off – as Geller was unable to veto the decision by being dead – and posthumously disavowed, the first for the Mission: Impossible franchise. Some of the gadgets used were also much closer to science fiction than the hard science of the original run, with the Impossible Missions Force now being a global force rather than a small operation. Some original cast members made appearances, but as new characters.

As a continuation of the new series, the premise was created that Phelps’ former protege is killed in action, prompting him to be called out of retirement to form a new Impossible Missions Force and, in the first episode, track-down the killer.

One fan of the show was actor Tom Cruise, who’d recently set-up his own production company, Cruise/Wagner Productions. Paramount Pictures owned the rights to the series, and had been trying to make a feature for a long time but hadn’t found the right treatment. As a producer, Cruise persuaded them to give him $70, 000, 000 to make Mission: Impossible. After several drafts of a story and screenplay by David Koepp and Robert Towne, production began and Mission: Impossible became a feature, disconnected from television continuity. Infamously, original cast members reacted harshly to this version. Phelps actor Peter Graves disliked the treatment of Jon Voight’s version of the character – the only one carried-over series used for the feature – who’s revealed to be a traitor in the final twist. Original cast member Martin Landau also considered it not true to what Mission: Impossible is – getting in and out without leaving a trace, not a generic action-adventure. With the widest release of any feature yet given, the highest-grossing opening Wednesday, and sixteen days and two weekends at the top of the box office, Mission: Impossible grossed five times its final $80M budget with $457M, prompting Paramount Pictures to greenlit a sequel.

Only Towne returned for Mission: Impossible II, which had 1.5 times Mission: Impossible‘s budget of $125, 000, 000, this time only grossing four times its budget, but still grossing higher than previously at $546, 000, 000, making it the highest-grossing of the franchise so far with a profit margin of 4. Its opening weekend grossed $57, 845, 279, making it not only number one at the box office – where it would stay for three more weekends – but the highest grossing domestic opening weekend of 2000, and the highest grossing worldwide opening weekend of 2000, with $546.4 approx. This once again lead Paramount Pictures to greenlighting a threequel.

Mission: Impossible III went through six years of development through three directors. Cruise had been watching Alias, and approached J. J. Abrams about writing and directing. Abrams brought with him his team of Alias writers – Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. This had the highest budget yet – $150, 000, 000. But it had the lowest profit margin so far, only returning two times that budget with £357, 000, 000. It spent fourteen days and two weekends at number one in the box office, despite an opening weekend of $47.7M. But Mission: Impossible III was still profitable, and that lead to a third sequel.

Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec were hired as screenwriters after Abrams declined to return due to other commitments. Due to the underperformance of Mission: Impossible III, the budget was reduced to $145, 000, 000. But the total worldwide lifetime gross of $694M and foreign gross of $485M – the two highest for the spy genre – generated a profit margin of nearly five times that amount, a return to performance for the franchise. It remained at number one in the box office for fifteen days and four weekends, the first of which grossed $12M – the highest-grossing opening weekend for a limited release. With a domestic gross of $209M, it became the highest-grossing domestic spy feature. Its second domestic weekend grossed $29M, a drop of .5%, the lowest second-weekend drop for a spy feature.

These numbers were enough for Paramount Pictures to begin production on another Mission: Impossible feature, which is how Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation was greenlit. This shares Mission: Impossible III‘s high production budget of $150M, and is still playing worldwide. On 14th November 2013, Coming Soon first announced it as “Mission: Impossible 5“, with Drew Pearce screenwriting and Cruise and Abrams producing. The original release date was scheduled for 25th December. In a 15th November interview with Music Television to promote The World’s End, actor Simon Pegg confirmed he was to reprise the Benji Dunn role – his third appearance in the series, after Mission: Impossible III and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. On 9th May 2014, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Will Staples was rewriting Pearce‘s screenplay. He was replaced by director Christopher McQuarrie, with story credited to Pearce. In a 22nd May 2014 Yahoo! interview, Jeremy Renner also confirmed he’d been cast, reprising the William Brandt role, who first appeared in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. A week later, at the 29th May 2014 premiere of Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise told a Telegraph reporter that “Mission: Impossible 5” was to shoot in London. On 7th August, KTV also reported that Vienna was another location. After The Hollywood Reporter reported Alec Baldwin was in-talks with Paramount casting, on 9th July, Coming Soon reported Rebecca Ferguson had been cast as the female lead. On 16th August, McQuarrie tweeted that series regular Ving Rhames would return to the role of Luther Stickell. On 21st August, principal photography began, with initial set photographs released via Coming Soon, confirming that Baldwin had been cast. The following day, 22nd August, Express released more set photographs showing Cruise and Ferguson hanging from Vienna Opera House, confirming Vienna as a location. Principal photography continued through 26th August, with more scenes in Vienna, via more set photographs released by Daily Mail. On 28th August, Morocco World News reported the closing of Marrakesh Highway by National Company of Highways of Morocco. After one-and-a-half weeks of shooting, the crew departed Vienna on 31st August, which was revealed by Xinhuanet. More set photographs from Daily Mail showed them arriving in Rabat the same day. On 3rd September, Marrakesh Highway was used to shoot a chase sequence in the F80 BMW M3, which was broken by BMW Blog. On 4th September, Morocco World News again reported the closing of the stadium of Marrakech for more scenes. On 5th September, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Sean Harris was in negotiations for the antagonist role. On 26th September, Daily Mirror posted photographs of the same F80 BMW M3 being driven by Cruise in Kasbah of the Udayas. On 28th September, Daily Mail posted more set photographs of the crew arriving in London. On 2nd October, Variety reported that Simon McBurney was in negotiations to be Ferguson’s character’s boss. A week later on 6th October, actor Zhang Jingchu was spotted in London. Variety also reported this to be due to having been cast in a role important to a plot twist. The following day, 7th October, BMW Blog posted photographs of multiple damaged F80 BMW M3s being transported into London. On 11th October, the crew were spotted during an aerial scene using a helicopter in Monaco in more set photographs released by Daily Mail. Master Herald reported Ferguson had also been seen there. In yet more Daily Mail set photographs posted 3rd November, Cruise was seen at RAF Wittering atop a grounded aeroplane. Cruise was at times suspended from an Airbus A400M Atlas, rather than using a stunt double. On 8th November, Daily Echo reported that more scenes used Fawley Power Station. The 25th December release date was brought-forward on 26th January to 31st July. PR Newswire reporter on 13th February that Paramount Pictures were to remaster Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation for IMAX. According to Hollywood Reporter on 20th February, production was halted for McQuarrie and Cruise to work on the ending. Deadline reported on 5th March that Paramount Pictures has partnered with Lotte for South Korean distribution for release on Thursday 30th March. McQuarrie tweeted on 12th March that principal photography had wrapped. On 22nd May, Paramount Pictures debuted the first footage during a basketball tournament, which revealed the Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation title, advertising the full trailer debut the following day, 23rd May, and revealing that The Syndicate would be the target.

A second trailer was released 3rd June.

On 4th June, Entertain This posted an interview with Cruise where he revealed Fawley Power Station’s scene was underwater, where he held his breath for over a minute using training from Kirk Krack for a single long take. Hollywood Reporter reported on 22nd July that Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation was to be released in Dolby Cinema – combining Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos audio. The South Korean opening night on Thursday 30th July grossed $4M. The domestic opening night on 31st July grossed $20.3M. The full opening weekend is projected to gross $40-50M.

What the Marvel/Sony deal could, does and should mean…

Marvel Entertainment released a press statement today, confirming that, after a long series of negotiations with Sony Pictures Entertainment, who own Spider-Man’s live-action rights, the character was finally to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, alongside characters such as Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy.

First, it’s been confirmed that this Spider-Man will be a new incarnation, which will likely require a recasting. The top names reported are Logan Lerman – Sony’s second choice after incumbent Andrew Garfield – and Zac Efron, though America’s Matt Smith, Donald Glover, is a popular choice as well. If Glover were cast, it’s possible Sony would have chosen to start a new Spider-Man series with the Miles Morales identity rather than Parker. Personally, I find that unlikely, since it’s probably a soft reboot with little continuity than the basics, and that would mean the new Spider-Man will still be Parker. Which isn’t to say the series won’t develop into Morales being involved, but that’s only likely to happen once the new Parker’s already established. If Morales were to be featured eventually, I wouldn’t say no to Glover being cast. But I would protest to him being cast as Parker, because he’s much more suited as an actor to Morales. He’s a much more interesting character, and Glover’s probably a decent actor, so it would be a shame to miss that opportunity for combination by wasting the potential just to cast Glover as the de facto Spider-Man, rather than a character far more suited to him. Regardless of who’s cast as Spider-Man, there are a lot of actors capable of doing it. Someone we’ve seen before isn’t necessarily a stunt cast, but could help ease the transition to a new version. And a name we haven’t heard before could work, but Sony might not expect the audience to accept a completely new face. SPE Motion Picture Group President Doug Belgrad said,

“This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future”,

implying Parker will still be the cinema version of the character.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll have to experience his origin story for a third time. The press release states the new Spider-Man will first be seen in a Marvel Studios production as part of the Cinematic Universe. The implication seems to be that he’ll debut in the solo release of another character. The next MCU release, Joss Whedon‘s Avengers: Age of Ultron, has finished principal photography, so it’s likely this appearance will be in Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely‘s Captain America: Civil War. Leaked Sony emails reveal negotiations were already in place for Spider-Man to appear at that point, given his significant role in the comic book storyline Civil War. As these negotiations have finalised, it’s likely to still be the case, especially as it isn’t too late to rewrite the screenplay. Black Panther’s already been confirmed to debut there as well, as it was speculated that the character’s presence was a Spider-Man substitute. Would there be space to add Spider-Man as well? Maybe not and maybe so, but if it turns out to be true, it would be interesting to see how accurately it follows the source material. From what I hear, Civil War‘s major event is Spider-Man revealing his secret identity to the press, which would be a difficult event to reverse if Sony change their mind. What is confirmed about this release is that it’s going to happen before the 28th July 2017, which means, if not Captain America: Civil War, it would be either Jon Spaihts‘ Doctor Strange or James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Making his debut Doctor Strange would be a good idea, as Benedict Cumberbatch would already have attracted audiences, and that would provide maximum exposure. I honestly can’t see it being Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which takes place throughout the Milky Way and far from Earth. I like to think they won’t come to Earth because we already lots of other characters for that. Doctor Strange would be the most effective, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 would be the most unlikely, Captain America: Civil War would be the most likely, but there’s still the possibility of a post-credits cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron. If the MCU Spider-Man’s pre-established, he’ll have already experienced his origin story. But there should still be one for clarity’s sake, and a post-credits sequence would be the best opportunity for that. We’d be able to see it, it would officially introduce the character, but it wouldn’t take up any unnecessary time in his solo release.

Which is what the 28th July 2017 date’s now reserved for, shunting future MCU releases along futher into the future. There was a five year wait between Sam RaimiIvan Raimi and Alvin Sargent‘s Spider-Man 3 and Steve VanderbiltAlvin Sargent and Steve Kloves‘ The Amazing Spider-Man. Following Alex KurtzmanRoberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner‘s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, there’s now a five year wait again. As it happens, we’ve only discovered this with two of those remaining, so that’s something. Plus, Marvel Studios are very efficient at manufacturing an assembly line of releases, and two years seems like a good length of time before releasing it, because that’s the average between announcement and release.

What’s pleasing is that Spider-Man‘s being produced by Marvel’s Kevin Feige and Sony’s Amy Pascal. They tend to be the equivalents of each other in their respective companies, and actually having a face to the discussions is comforting. I already know them, and respect them, and the fact that this blog post is even being written is testament to their ability to work together.

That being said, Sony still own the character’s cinema rights, and will be financing and majorly controlling future cinema releases for Spider-Man, which is slightly worrying. Sony aren’t as big a company as Disney, and from the way the agreement’s worded, it sounds as if Disney legally can’t fund any Spider-Mans because of Sony’s ownership. If Disney fund it, that gives them a right to grossing shares, and that changes their agreement. The last thing that needs to happen at this stage is for Marvel to violate that agreement, even in a small way, because that would give Sony the power to revoke their agreement. And the fact that Sony still own the character is quite disappointing, but then that’s how it would inevitably turn-out. Spider-Man’s the highest-grossing fictional character, and the MCU’s the highest-grossing cinematic series. It makes sense to unite them. But it’s for that same reason that Sony wouldn’t want to just give up the character, so them coming out of negotiations still owning him makes sense, even if I wish they’d just leave it alone and let Marvel use him how they want without having to stick to any guidelines. It’s this same agreement that says Marvel can’t fund it. And even worse, there’s Sony’s ability to overrule Marvel on any decisions made regarding the character. How Marvel expect to ingratiate the character into their own continuity while also letting Sony have the final say on that character’s releases’ creative decisions is worrying. Can this really work? I don’t know. But I’m just hoping it does. Generally, I think, since Sony need this investment, but Marvel are better at handling their properties, Sony’s only interest will be in making money. So that should mean that the only decisions they’ll be overriding are ones they think will compromise a Spider-Man‘s grossing. But given Marvel’s also a part of it, I can’t see them making the kind of decision that would do that. Hopefully, this will be a case of Sony letting Marvel do their own thing, but overruling them whenever they consider it necessary. And that kind of relationship works for me. If Sony are wise, they’ll use their major creative control to let Marvel do what they know they should.

Interestingly, the agreement specifies that Sony will only have that control over the new Spider-Man series. What that sounds like to me is that whenever Spider-Man appears in a non-Spider-Man, Marvel can use him how they like. So when Spider-Man appears in his debut, which will be part of another series, Marvel have full control. The solo release will then be controlled by Sony, but if Spider-Man then goes on to feature in Avengers: Infinity War — Part I, Sony won’t be involved in that. Which also works for me. A character in the MCU is two things – their own character, and crossover potential. Marvel are likely to care about the crossover potential more than that character’s own solo outings, which makes their compromise more satisfying than it could have been, and also more realistic.

The release also states other MCU characters will appear in the Spider-Man series. How this works between Sony and Marvel is anyone’s guess, but it could be the reverse of what we already have here. Meaning that if Sony wanted to include Antony Stark in Spider-Man 2 (which would be a good move, he’s the MCU’s highest-grossing individual character), he’d only appear on Marvel’s terms. I don’t really see that being a problem, since this agreement has already happened, and I believe in the combined power of Feige and Pascal. They’re like the Infinity Gems and the Infinity Gauntlet – put them together, and you unlock literally endless possibilities.

BAFTA Film Awards – 2015 Original Screenplay nominations

The BAFTA Film Awards airs tonight at 21:00 on BBC One HD, and will announce, among other things, the winners of the Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay awards.

Wes Anderson‘s The Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson’s screenplay for The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place, for the most part, entirely within the titular building, where a murder occurs, prompting concierge Gustave H. to prove his innocence, which takes him through the various parts of the hotel. Inspired by the writings of Stefan Zweig and his real-world travels, Anderson planned the story with Hugo Guinness, which is divided into six acts: PrologueM. GustaveMadame C.V.D.u.T.Check-point 19 Criminal Internment CampThe Society of the Crossed KeysThe Second Copy of the Second Will and Epilogue.

The character H. was inspired by someone Anderson and Guinness both knew. When creating him, the original screenplay draft was a short, and not set in the past or a hotel. Anderson was inspired to revise it when discovering Zweig’s writings. Beware of Pity influenced the opening scenes, which Zweig used in his other writings, in-which a character living on the edge of society meets an equally interesting character, which is how The Grand Budapest Hotel begins. Zweig’s further influences in the screenplay involve the decline of an empire, developing division and declining independance.

Anderson’s previous nominations include The Royal Tenenbaums with Owen Wilson.

Damien Chazelle‘s Whiplash

Chazelle’s Whiplash was nominated by The Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, whereas The BAFTA Film Awards have nominated it for Best Original Screenplay. To encourage interest and funding, Chazelle produced a short film from an extract of the screenplay, which The Oscars determine to make the finished product an adaptation. The BAFTA Film Awards determined it to only be an adaptation of itself, and therefore be considered an original screenplay.

Artistic inspiration behind Whiplash can be found in Chazelle’s previous work, Grand Piano, in-which a pianist will be killed by a sniper if he plays a wrong note. This situation is threaded through Whiplash, with playing out-of-time causing music teacher Terrance Fletcher to become violent and aggressive. Writing Whiplash began as reaction to writing another screenplay, which wasn’t working. Chazelle instead began focusing on his other idea of being a jazz drummer, based on his own experiences with a real teacher. It was for this reason that he initially didn’t want to share the screenplay, which felt “too personal”, and for a long time it was in a drawer. It eventually gained interest from producers, but not enough for any to fund it. The Black List ranked it among the top unproduced screenplays of the year, leading to it being greenlit.

This is Chazelle’s first nomination.

Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler

Gilroy’s aim with Nightcrawler was to write a screenplay with a “moral darkness” that would highlight Los Angeles’ best aspects. In that way, it counterbalanced the sociopathic tendancies of Louis Bloom with news media’s own sociopathic nature. It works as a form of alternative psychology, by presenting sociopathy as a scale, and presenting the numerous ways it can manifest in all people. The vulnerability of the characters is another key element to it, which also balanced the sociopathic themes, which both bring-out each other.

Nightcrawler was inspired by Arthur Fellig. the first crime photographer to follow events with a police scanner in his car, who inspired others to do the same. Part of Bloom’s character was inspired by Weegee’s biopic, Howard Franklin‘s The Public Eye. Gilroy based Bloom on a coyote, nocturnal animals often seen around Los Angeles late at night that are never. From there, he wrote Bloom as never being fed spiritually, with his hunger extending itself with every feeding. Bloom’s addicted to the scenes he photographs. This hunger’s the catalyst of his success story, which Gilroy says made him not want to label Bloom with a label that reduces his character. He has sociopathic tendencies, but from a desire to be a self-employed business owner, which is also a very Human feeling.

This is Gilroy’s first nomination.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo‘s Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The majority of praise for Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has focused on its metatextuality within 2010 cinema. During the peak of the superhero genre trend, it presented the audience with an out-of-work Michael Keaton, who’s career was made with Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren‘s Batman and and Daniel Waters‘ Batman Returns. Here, Keaton’s Riggan Thomas attempts to stage a comeback through directing a production of When we Talk About When we Talk About Love. Along the way, he encounters Edward Norton of Zak Penn‘s The Incredible Hulk. In this version, Norton is an actor in a similar situation, not only being a further reflection of Keaton’s declining career as a former superhero, but as Norton’s own status as having been replaced as the character in Joss Whedon‘s Marvel’s the Avengers by Mark Ruffalo (also nominated for Best Supporting [Male] Actor as Dave Schultz in E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman‘s Foxcatcher). Also appearing as Sam Thomas is Emma Stone, who’s most famous role – arguably – is Gwen Stacy in James VanderbiltAlvin Sargent and Steve Kloves‘ The Amazing Spider-Man, before being killed-off by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It’s Stone who’s nominated for Best Supporting [Female Actor], due in part to a scene in-which she talks of how nobody really matters. It’s this theme of being dispensable that makes it a story of people who are existing on the edges of their own existence. It may be a meta-parody of the superhero genre, but more than that is it a Human interest.

This is their first nomination.

Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood

Though showing the life of a family over twelve years, Boyhood was scripted and followed a pre-constructed narrative that was altered with every year’s filming in collaboration with the cast. Linklater called it a document of time, though it resembles a documentary to show the indistinction between fiction and non-fiction. The screenplay’s a compilation of smaller screenplays written every year that follow-on, like an inconsistently-lengthed serial. But it still feels like one story, with each year’s segment remaining part of the same thing, rather than seguing into tangents. This was largely a result of the collaboration with the actors, who also began to know where the characters were themselves going. Linklater wanted each year not to noticeably transition, but to only exist through perception, with the effect of the film being emotion created by realising the passage of time. It relied on the audience’s nostalgia, and the emotion that comes that hindsight.

This is Linklater’s first nomination.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — review

Adapted by Alex KurtzmanRoberto Orci and Jeff Pinkner from The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Gerry Conway.

 

Not gonna lie, I think The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is underrated. No, it isn’t on the level of The Amazing Spider-Man, or Spider-Man 2, but then no Spider-Man is on the level of Spider-Man 2, and a lot of fans seem to be upset about the reboot and are being, in my subjective opinion, too harsh.

For a start, we have Andrew Garfield, who’s a terrific actor and one that deserved a Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Social Network. In a story about Spider-Man, it’s important that he’s likeable, and the initial scene featuring him is the best short form presentation of a Spider-Man, because it’s the most fun and thrilling sequence of them. Marc Webb seems to be the first director to realise the potential of using perspective shots while swinging between buildings, and the way he enters after the prologue is a masterstroke – to have the logo appear on screen, and then become a part of a shot in-which Spider-Man descends from the sky, following him through the action. It’s perfect.

The story does try to be too many things, that can be said, and it wouldn’t be wrong too. At times, there are very uninteresting divulgences to Harry Osborn, Max Dillon and other characters, and those scenes reak of Garfield’s absence. Quite frankly, we don’t see enough of him, because this is his story. A lot of the problems I’ve read of it could be mostly eliminated if the story were experienced through his perspective. It would be more compact, more personal and have a better through-line; the constant repetition of “hope” became annoying after only a few times – a repeated word doesn’t make it a theme.

The tangents from Peter Parker’s storyline involves Osborn discovering his hereditary disease, and Dillon’s transformation into Electro. These scenes are relevant, but badly executed logically and believably. The Amazing Spider-Man established a universe of science, whereas Dillon’s transformation comes-about because of what’s almost fantasy. It feels out of touch in a story otherwise dominated by a world that at least looks realistic. In fact, it’s difficult to tell why Dillon’s there. All he does is transform into Electro, cause trouble for no real reason (Parker forgot his name once) and then be destroyed in the climax in a way that looks as if he’s just teleporting away again. And then there’s Alexei Systevitch, who’s seen as Rhino in the final scene, bookending his appearance at the beginning. Again, a character with no real reason to be here. The only one who has any sort of interesting qualities is Osborn, and even then he becomes Green Goblin in a sequence that looks brought-forward from a sequel, and who’s only there to fulfil one purpose: kill Gwen Stacy. And only Green Goblin can do that, because – one of the phrases I hate the most – “that’s how it is in the comics”.

As I often mention in Spider-Man reviews, the best theme each installment has is dualism. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks to be continuing this theme, but it fails to put the right pieces together. Story-telling often works by removing irrelevant parts and creating something that could only exist in such an order. Instead, there’s baggage that should have been done-away with, but that’s because there is a good story here. It’s just not given the spotlight it deserves.

The good parts of the story are Parker’s relationship with Gwen, the revelations about his Father, and his life with May Parker. Osborn’s the villain with the most impact, despite his reduced screentime. Had Dillon, Systevitch and other attempts to launch sequels and spinoffs been removed, we could have had a moving love story between four starcrossed people, brought together in the most unlikely of circumstances, that would have also given time to develop Osborn’s transformation into Green Goblin, rather than it just happening. Everything here could have worked, had it been edited differently, which is surprising because the launch was preceded by stories of other parts being cut anyway, such as Shailene Woodley’s presence as Mary Jane Watson. Honestly, this would definitely have been a bad idea. It would have just complicated matters, and taken Parker away from Stacy. Really, Watson should be introduced in The Amazing Spider-Man 3 as a friend of Parker’s and see if any relationship comes of it, which is unlikely as Marvel Studios are probably about to get the rights back, and – if reports are correct – would reduce the romantic side of the character.

Really, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 interests me so much because of what wasn’t done with it, and is an important lesson in filmmaking. Yes, there is baggage. A tonne of it. And yes, the important parts that felt as if they actually should have been there are overshadowed by the parts included just for the franchise. But the things to like about it outweigh the things to dislike about it, even if it’s only by a bit.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: excessive plotlines, no less likeable. 6/10

Screenplay by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner