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Origin Wars and the Best Original Sci-fi of 2017

To tie in with our latest podcast where Owen reviews Lionsgate’s new sci-fi adventure film, Origin Wars, we take a look at what else the genre has to throw at us this year.
The content of this post is courtesy of @LionsgateUK.
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Warcraft: The Beginning

warcraft

“A new warrior for the horde.”

May 2006, nerds across the world jizz in their pants as they hear that Blizzard have finally decided to sell the rights to undoubtedly their most profitable product, Warcraft.

Years and years of development hell and being on the brink of cancellation has haunted film and game fans to the point we’d all given up on ever seeing it hit the light of day.

Then, in 2013, cult director Duncan Jones (the man behind Moon and Source Code) announced he’d be taking on directorial duties and even I got a little bit excited for the seemingly imminent release of the fan favourite adaptation.

May 2016, I’m finally sitting in one of the UK’s earliest general release shows for the third video game adaptation is half as many months with those same fans, wearing the same spunk encrusted pants from ten years ago, having barely mustered up the will to turn their computers off and the energy to leave the house. I’m sat with these sad fools, hoping that the film I’m about to watch isn’t a massive bag of wank.

Disclaimer: I am a former Warcraft player. I gave up right around the point that Blizzard stopped supporting Warcraft III and instead focussed on their subscription based RPG. So while I may have once had some knowledge of the lore of this series, I have gone in as a film-fan – and not a fan of the series.

With their world dying and their race on the brink of extinction, the fearsome Orcs utilise the powerful magic of their sorcerer leader, Gul’dan, to open a portal to another world. Powered by dark magic that needs life to fuel it, the portal can only be opened long enough to allow the Orc’s best warriors through to the peaceful land of Azeroth. There, they will build a settlement and create another portal to bring the rest of their race through. As the Orc army start to cut a path through the lands they’ve invaded and collect prisoners to power their new portal, word gets to the leaders of Azeroth of the invasion.

With news of the invasion comes panic. As the rulers and commanders of the land mobilise against this unknown enemy, King Wrynn (along with his friend and advisor Lothar) plan to tackle the Orcs head on and try to purge them from their world before too much damage can be done.

Plans go sideways on both sides of the battle and as the plans of all parties are revealed, both the humans and Orc clan chief Durotan – along with a few of his smarter clansmen – realise that the best (and indeed only) way that this war ends well for anyone is to work together to try and find a solution to their troubles.

Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin….

Warcraft isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be going in. That’s not to say it’s good; it’s pretty crap. But it has a few almost redeeming features that almost make it worth going to see. But unfortunately the bad points certainly heavily outweigh the good.

The film seems completely unfocused in its attempts to tell a story. The problem with having more than half a dozen “main” characters, all with their own story to tell and fighting for screen time means that no one really gets to have a decent crack at making me care about them. There’s no time to get invested in anyone’s predicament and no time to get to know anyone before your smash-cut to the next guy that wants to try for your attention.

And when you’ve got such a rich lore and such a well put together world as your source material, to not give it a chance to be on the big screen for us all to see is a real shame. Warcraft spends far too many of its opening minutes flicking between a whole butt-load of different locations, seemingly just to give the filmmakers an excuse to flash a bunch of in-game place names to prove that the guys making the film know what they’re talking about. “Please guys. Believe us. We have read a Warcraft wiki and the back of the game box. We can prove it.”

Almost as much of a travesty is just how much talent is wasted by this film. I’ve been a fan of Vikings‘ Travis Fimmel for a long time; but as Lothar he just seems like a cheap version of the Ragnar character that I love so much. And even when the big, significant character arc pieces happen, I simply don’t care because I haven’t been given the appropriate amount of time with characters to care. The same can be said for Dominic Cooper’s King, a man that somehow looks like a teenager dressing up like a Shadow of Mordor character for Comic-Con and has about the same amount of range.

Yes, I’m bringing up Lord of the Rings. Tell me this wasn’t greenlit after LOTR was a success, I dare you.

With Toby Kebbell unrecognisable on voice duty for Durotan; Ben Foster as super-duper human wizard/guardian Medivh; and Clancy Brown and Daniel Wu bringing up the rear as barely recognisable, wasted voice casting, Warcraft has a shit load to answer for.

But it’s not all bad. In fact, some of it is rather good. Front and centre of this piece is of course the CGI and how it’s used. Durotan and his Orcs look absolutely amazing, the attention to detail in the character design is flawless and everyone looks like an individual. Closely tied to that are the couple of immense battle scenes that look superb. Filmed from an awesome angle that makes it look like any of the massive in-game battles players could have seen in the decades of playing Warcraft and taking control of game after game after game.

Basically, what I’m saying, is that it’s like that bit in the Doom movie where the camera went first-person. But not utter shit.

Finally, and I am very aware that I’m harping on about the CGI, but it’s definitely worth talking about, is the couple of one-on-one fights in the film. Whether Orc vs. Orc, or Orc vs. Human, the fighting looks great. I won’t go far as to say that you forget that you’re looking at a computer generated monster, but it certainly looks good enough to immerse you in the moment, and that’s all that really matters.

Duncan Jones shows some real flashes of genius with Warcraft: The Beginning. But sadly it’s just not enough to quite break the curse of bad game-to-film adaptations. I’m very aware that this is likely to be one of those “for the fans” kind of films, and considering the veritable smorgasbord of complete fuckwits in the screening with me last night, I’m glad I’m not one of those fans – seriously.

I would love to review the collection of wet, lumpy farts I was sharing the screening with. I could get an essay out of tearing them apart! But when your film costs this much, you need to put more effort into not alienating general filmgoers and not just delivering fan service to those hordes of people that refuse to leave their damn computer desks.

Like I said before, Warcraft isn’t as bad as it could have been. Some poor character choices, worse story-telling decisions, and the part where it blatantly tees up a sequel (with an opening shot it refused to revisit and an ending that isn’t anything close to an ending) left me with a shitty taste in my mouth.

And the worst of this film’s crimes? Crimes against the film and against its legacy?

You want to guess?

It tries so hard not to be Lord of the Rings that it completely forgot to be Warcraft.

Into ‘stellar?

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Ever since man has first looked up at the stars, the question has been asked: What do you do when you see a space man? Yes, of course the correct answer is “you park in it, man” (please, please, hold your applause, you’re too kind).

However, for thousands of years, man has written Christmas cracker jokes looked up and wondered what lies beyond the blue skies of our planet’s atmosphere. For most people, it’s only led to further questions. How can “space” exist? Why does it exist? Why do we exist? From religion and faith, to science and theory, everyone seems to have their own opinion on what they like to imagine fills the vast expanse of the Universe and beyond. It takes people way smarter than this bozo to fully comprehend the question, never mind the answer. Luckily, it’s not just people cleverer than me who have thought about this question. There have been people with far more imagination who have been able to put their thoughts and ideas into film and literature.

Most recently Christopher Nolan did so with the terrific Interstellar. Which prompted me to create this article. What other movies are out there that deal with man’s exploration of space and time that are worth watching? Well, here are ten films that I would recommend you start with if you too are into ‘stellar (geddit?!) This list is by no means comprehensive, by the way. I’m fully aware big names such as the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises are missing, as well as this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. This is just 10 films I’d suggest watching if you enjoyed the adventure into space that was Interstellar!


event horizonEvent Horizon (1997) Paul W.S. Anderson’s best film, it tells the story of a crew comprising of captain Laurence Fishburne, doctor Sam Neill, (plus others) who investigate of a spaceship that went missing some years ago called the Event Horizon. It miraculously returned with no crew left on board. It transpires that what happened was not quite as simple as they might’ve first thought. Next to Alien, it’s the perfect example of how to create an intelligent, atmospheric, space-horror. Quotes seemed to be almost directly lifted from Event Horizon in Interstellar (particularly the discussion around wormholes). It also raises interesting questions around what Hell is (or could be?) Complete with great performances, especially those of Fishburne and Neill around the descent into madness. Think of it as Hellraiser meets Alien. A real gem of a movie.


Contact (1997)contact In 1994, Robert Zemeckis released what will probably be the film he is remembered for, Forrest Gump. Well, with the exception of Back To The Future, perhaps. But one film of his that seems to have directly inspired the story of Interstellar is Contact, with its daughter grieving for her father and potential contact with another as yet unidentified life form. Using the relationship between father and daughter, it tries to bridge a gap between science and religion, life and death, between hope and reality. The concept behind Contact and how / what that will be like with other dimensions or lifeforms is handled with grace, whilst Jodie Foster gives a performance worthy of a movie such as this. The cast also features Matthew McConaughey, the star of Nolan’s epic! It’s a shame the ending lets the film down a little, but the rest of Contact is well worth a watch.


europa reportEuropa Report (2013) After a crew are sent on a fact-finding mission to one of Jupiter’s moons (that would be the one called Europa…) they end up finding a bit more than they bargained for. I almost feel like I should disclaimer this movie to people as besides being a sci-fi set mainly in space, it’s also a found footage movie. If you can name another found footage movie set in space that’s better than this (Apollo 18 shouts will not be recognised) then congratulations, but I probably won’t believe you. It takes its time to find its feet, as the crew (Sharlto Copley, Karolina Wydra, Michael Nyqvist etc) slowly grow into their roles, but for a film that takes place mostly inside a tin can, there’s a fair amount of tension and drama to be found. The structure is slightly unsatisfactory and non-linear, but the ending will be what determines whether or not you’ll like this movie. Personally, I found the slightly existential journey surprisingly entertaining.


2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)2001 I couldn’t really let the opportunity to recommend one of the greatest ever movies – not just sci-fi movies – pass me by without at least name-checking it. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, shot one year before the actual moon landings (that if you believe some conspiracy-nuts, the man himself shot in a studio) is more of an exploration of life and being than it is about space travel, but if there’s a sci-fi movie released post 1968 that isn’t at least in some minor way influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, I’d be very surprised. Cerebral, contemplative and exceedingly beautiful. If you want to hear me rave about this film yet again, check out our Stanley Kubrick Corridor of Praise podcast.


solarisSolaris (1972) For the more cultured film fan, Tarkovsky’s very – very – art-house science fiction film about a living planets attempts to contact a man orbiting it will be one of your favourite sci-fi movies. The problem is, of course, how do you communicate with something that you have no way of understanding? In my Decade In Film article for 1972, I mention Ludwig Wittgenstein who proposed that “if a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand it”. If our frames of reference are so far apart, so completely different, how could we possibly hope to even know when an alien species is attempting to communicate, never mind actually understand what it’s trying to say? The Fermi Paradox suggests that if aliens exist, why haven’t we heard from them yet? Well, perhaps they do try to contact us, but we don’t realise it. This is one of the driving principles behind Solaris, and beyond its 167 minute run time including lingering shots of ponds and motorways, and absolutely astonishing cinematography, it tries to answer some of these philosophical quandaries.


Moon (2009)moon A breakthrough semi-indie production in 2009, Moon stars Sam Rockwell as a worker on a lunar station coming to the end of his three-year stint. I suppose he has what can be described as a crisis of personality as his shift draws closer to an end. Atmospheric and remarkably well written, if at times a little bit silly, Moon is a very entertaining movie. Similar to one aspect of Interstellar, it deals with being in space and having no reliable means of contact with Earth. Whilst there’s a heck of a lot more to Duncan Jones‘ relatively low budget British BAFTA nominated movie than simply isolation, it would seem almost rude not to suggest fans of Interstellar give it a go. 


this island earthThis Island Earth (1955) The 1950’s heralded a new age in sci-fi movies. The likes of Don Siegel and Jack Arnold probably led the pack with films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came From Outer Space (in 3D no less!) However, This Island Earth by Joseph Newman was an incredibly ambitious project. It had a somewhat turbulent production history, which resulted in Jack Arnold himself being brought on board as an uncredited director. The sections of the film set on distant worlds and intergalactic battles became a bit too expensive and was shorter than planned, but it’s still admirable for the intention behind the film as well as its anti-war messages. It’s also a lot of fun in that cult-50’s sci-fi movie kind of way.


A Trip to the Moon (1902)trip to the moon There’s a huge amount of things one could say about this wondrous, imaginative, inventive and wholly original fantasy story made over 110 years ago by the inspirational Georges Méliès. From a technical point of view, Le voyage dans la lune is splendid. Suffice to say, it’s very impressive; from the special effects of the exploding moon people, to the incredible! science!-exclamation!-mark! The illusions Méliès crafted required true imagination and creativity. He was one of the first to create a movie such as this, of course! Even now, this short film is fantastic – in every sense of the word.


loveLove (2011) After writing my car off in February this year, I began the long commute to and from work via bus. During this time, BBC iPlayer kept me from grinding my teeth to stubs on my journey. I downloaded a lot of movies and documentaries to my tablet from iPlayer, some I’d heard of, some that were completely new to me, such as this mixed bag. I read the premise via the app, thought it sounded like it could be a really neat little indie sci-fi… and in part, it was. There’s strands that run throughout about isolation, human connection and indeed love, that are thought provoking and unique as an astronaut finds himself stranded on a spaceship. But, at the same time, it comes across as a meandering, dull, bewildering mess. You will either love or hate the soundtrack by Angels & Airwaves. It may have worked better as a short film as it does feel like a pop video, but it is atmospheric and definitely unlike a lot of other movies on this list.


Gravity (2013)gravity I’ve purposefully left Gravity until the end of this list for a couple of reasons. One, you’re probably sick of seeing comparisons between Gravity and Interstellar by now. They were after all released by the same studio (Warner Bros) on the same date (7 November) and are both about space and gravity. The other reason is, just about everybody interested in seeing Gravity has by now seen it. However, the second best film of 2013 (according to Sight & Sound’s readers poll) in many ways laid the foundations for Interstellar. A sci-fi story that was taken seriously by critics, particularly at the big award ceremonies, and features some mind-boggling special effects. The story may be pretty simple, threatening to hold back what has the potential to be an all-time classic, but it is one of the best modern sci-fi’s and if you get a kick out of Interstellar, then Alfonso Cuarón’s film (clocking in at just ever so slightly over half the run time of Nolan’s blockbuster) should tick a few boxes for you. Oh, and watch it on as big a screen as possible. In 3D if at all possible. Honestly. 3D.


And that’s that! If you have any suggestions of your own or think I’ve missed some vital inclusions, or even if you have any recommendations for me, just post them below. You can find Owen’s Interstellar review here, and he will also be talking about it with Carole and Steve on the upcoming Failed Critics Podcast!