There’s no question that a good science fiction film typically has to feature some highly intelligent and likable AI characters. For nearly a century now, AI on our screens has gotten more and more common, from a robot that is a good friend and sidekick, to those who chug beer and smoke cigars. All in all, artificial intelligence has gotten more commonplace in the cinema and even on our TV sceeens, so what is it that we love so much about our robotic companions? I decided to dig a little bit deeper into the sci-fi genre for a look into the history of AI in movies.
Oooooh, I’m in a good mood for an angry rant! Haven’t had one in a while, and this one has been preying on my mind of late.
Films – especially the big cultural phenomena – have a way of entering and shifting the social consciousness wholesale. This can be for the better, allowing film makers to affect positive social change when such change is needed, or it can create a culture all of its very own, as fans turn into gatherings turn into societies. Sometimes that change can be negative, be it a kind of misinformation, unintentionally spread by a work of fiction; or an idea so potent that it spreads despite the negative impact it can have.
This might have actual, real world consequences, but most of these are ones that just get on my nerves… (more…)
Here’s the same thing about a year later. (more…)
Found footage horror gets a bit of a bad rep, despite the iconic Blair Witch Project blazing one hell of a trail nobody seems to have captured the same magic. I’m always keen to see what new efforts directors put into the format, successfully or otherwise. It’s a subgenre that has seriously divided opinions, those that love the claustrophobic feel that throws you right into the perspective of the victim, or if you just want to see what’s happening and for the camera to stay still.
While Blair Witch popularised the style, it’s increasingly famous for the over-done Paranormal Activity franchise, the nauseating Cloverfield, a collection of hammy exorcism videos, a few other rather crappy examples too numerous to mention because of how easy it is to make on a low budget and imply everything without ever really showing much more than a prop-blood soaked limb. But it’s the low budget that I think really makes the good films better, the classics never had the blockbuster budget or the incredible special effects that make superhero, fantasy and sci-fi films better and better every year.
Anyway, long story short here’s some good found footage films and the reasons why the format worked for them. For each I’ll break down the justification for the hand-cam in story, and how well it works.
Paranormal Activity (2007)
The other eponymous found-footage film, a couple move into a new house and start documenting all the strange and terrible things that start happening to them, specifically the horrors that have followed the girl since she was young. Over the course of the sequels and prequels we discover more and more of the truth amidst the trouser-filling jump scares.
Why the camera? It starts fairly rationally, a young girl beset with woe wants to find answers, but other entries into the series seem more narcissistic, or grasping for purpose when there really shouldn’t be any. Security cameras to watch for burglary, recording moving into a new house, the cameras we have on us every day, so on, so forth. After… six films by my count, ideas start running thin, as does the effect from what I’ve seen.
Does it work? For the first film it certainly had plenty of shock value, the use of cameras was good but didn’t make up for an overall lack of story. Again, later films become less and less potent for over-saturation but the original film made fair use of the series of fixed cameras, giving the feeling of helpless witnesses rather than putting us in the shoes of the victim.
What starts as a local news fluff-piece for an aspiring young Spanish journalist turns into a nightmare as a zombie outbreak centres on an apartment block in which the firefighters she’s documenting are called to help. She, and all the residents are quarantined, trapped in a nightmare.
Why the camera? Putting a journalist and her cameraman into the situation means that at least two of the characters are compelled to record and document everything. It’s perfect justification, and as things get worse and worse, people start dying and men in gas masks wrap a building in plastic, their need to have everything on camera intensifies.
Does it work? In the close confines of a cheap tenement building the hand camera certainly feels more immediate, especially as the undead start leaping on their victims in narrow passages and down the tight staircase. Was it necessary? I don’t think so, but it certainly helps, and I don’t know if Rec would have been so effective without it, and certainly wouldn’t have received a weak Americanised remake.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident (2013)
Also known as Devil’s Pass, a group of students go to investigate the infamous mystery of the Dyatlov mountain pass in the Ural range in which nine hikers died in mysterious circumstances after fleeing their camp hastily, most of hypothermia, some with head injuries, one missing her tongue. As the students delve deeper they naturally run afoul of the same fate.
Why the camera? This is a student project first and foremost, so half of the focus is on keeping track of the most important details whenever they might be encountered, and the rest is just a bunch of kids having fun on holiday. After a while the need to document is forgotten and it simply becomes part of the film.
Does it work? Again, not entirely but it helps. The environment starts out a lot more open and becomes enclosed later, so a lot of the tension building from the point-of-view camera is quite abrupt. It’s a good horror film, and nothing is lost for the camera style, but I don’t think it really gained a lot from the choice.
Mr Jones (2013)
A couple look for a distant retreat from the world in order to work on their relationship and make a documentary of the wilderness. In the middle of nowhere they stumble across the secret hideaway of the anonymous artist who makes haunting scarecrows under the pseudonym Mr Jones, and strive to meet the artist, only to fall down a rabbit hole of eldritch horror.
Why the camera? The need given for the camera is tenuous. It seems a little odd for someone to just decide to record a documentary, and even then they don’t seem too committed to the bit. It all changes when they stumble onto a real story and suddenly they’re glad of the camera.
Does it work? Yes. For a change the camera is entirely necessary. It not only emphasises the mysterious nature of Mr Jones, his art, and the secrets beneath his house, but eventually becomes an integral but unintrusive part of the horror as the couple discover footage they never recorded, and start capturing mysterious happenings during the night.
As Above So Below (2014)
I recommend most of these films, none more so than this. I loved this film, and will bring it up repeatedly.
A girl’s search for the Philosopher’s Stone leads her to the secret workshop of Nicolas Flamel beneath Paris, only accessible through the packed catacombs under the streets. She and her cameraman employ the help of a group of urban explorers to lead them through the sealed tunnels and forbidden depths. The deeper they go, the more and more evil things they encounter, as if they were descending into hell itself.
Why the camera? The opening scene shows us the crazy extremes our protagonist is willing to go to for her research, giving us some real character motivation for the camera style, as she races through a hidden tomb to discover an artifact that is about to be sealed away by explosives. The urban explorers all come equipped with head-mounted cameras because why explore if you can’t show people? It’s all so well justified that you don’t question it for a moment.
Does it work? The intensity is brought home as the group crawl through spaces made sickeningly tight by the stacked bones, and the head-mounted cameras give a direct point of view in most cases, making their panic yours. The jump-scares are close and intense, and in the few instances where we see what our victims don’t those moments are brilliantly delivered.
A few other quick recommendations if you’re a fan, some of these don’t exactly fit, some are not so great but in every case I think they’re worth a watch:
- Dead Set – A zombie apocalypse from the perspective of the Big Brother House. Isolated and oblivious, the housemates are left wondering why the cameras have stopped moving.
- The Pyramid – Mixed normal and found footage, a documentary crew follow archaeologists as they uncover an impossibly old pyramid, with only three faces.
- Apollo 18 – The reason we never went back to the moon. It’s been a while since I watched this but I remember enjoying it, but wondering afterwards, “how did they get the film back?”
- Unfriended – A different take on the notion, filmed entirely within the confines of a computer screen utilising Skype, YouTube and others.
- V/H/S – On the to do list, never watched it. I welcome reviews.
We know it all, we’ve seen it all happen over the last few years so I’ll skip the spiel and get into the heart of the matter. It fails in both directions:
Now the problem here is a matter of timing. Licensed titles are designed to be released shortly before the film upon which they’re based, but because the projects start roughly when the production of the film is well under way it cuts deeply into the production time, leaving us with rushed messes filled with glitches and lacking any kind of innovation as the development team try their hardest to cobble together something that will roughly match the feel of the film or the general themes.
And that’s the other side of the problem. It’s very difficult to take a fixed and flowing narrative and wedge in some interactivity. It’s easier to take the characters and the world that they occupy and put them into a more game-oriented story than it is to try taking a story and gamifying it. For example, American McGee’s Alice took the characters from Lewis Carroll’s surrealist story and made a modern day classic. Telltale’s Walking Dead and Game of Thrones series have both taken the worlds and themes and created original adventures within them.
Uwe Bol may be bringing down the standards, but he’s really only adding to a far larger problem. Paul W.S. Anderson too, but it’s not exactly his fault.
Half of the problem is the exact reverse of the licensed game issue. The appeal of games is the interactivity, and the fact that a game can reveal a great deal more through the hours of gameplay than it can in those periods of time dedicated to story-telling. Much like a book adaptation, much of a game’s content is condensed or removed altogether to allow for time constraints, leaving fans unfulfilled. Doom and Max Payne appear to have suffered most heavily under this issue, both films demonstrated at the very least a respectable attempt at bring their games to big screen, but felt clumsy and lacking (right up until Carl Urban’s FPS scene in Doom).
Worse is the all-to-common issue of the writers, directors and producers not fully understanding the title that they’re working with. Boll may be a travesty of a director but at least he seems to enjoy games, whereas other attempts seem to be cobbling together plot from cutscenes or simply joining dots on what they’ve been told about it.
At least one film has been made that came close to a true representation of the game upon which it was based: Silent Hill. All the key elements were there, the fog, the horror, the themes, even the story came very close, but even that had it’s critical flaw. Where the games created nightmares from the innermost corruption of the main character, the film constructed a narrative where the young girl had created a private hell for those who had condemned her, sending away a better part of herself to drag someone new in so that the audience had someone to follow. Even then, Silent Hill was a good film, and not a horrendous sequel either.
And so to the future! Warcraft has a film incoming, and while we’ve seen promising trailers let us down in the past (looking at you Agent 47) we may yet have the beginnings of a revolution on our hands. It took a long time for the comic book hero to see proper representation on the silver screen, and games have a similarly long burn to get through, trial and error, lots of error, until finally we begin to strike gold.
Sidenote, I think Assassin’s Creed has potential to make a good film, but a lot of other games have had potential and failed hideously. There are some thing Michael Fassbender just can’t fix, and the lousy relationship between video games and films will take more than a couple of successes.
We’ve all watched Dicken’s Christmas Carol retold a thousand times in a thousand different ways, the same with It’s A Wonderful Life, which in many ways is the same film – guy gets a new appreciation for life when a supernatural entity tells him how great Christmas is. How many more times must Santa be saved? Must we all learn the harsh reality of the joyous fleeting moment by watching our magically animated friend perish beneath the sun’s paradoxically life-giving rays? Can the true meaning of the season be learned anywhere other than Charlie Brown’s piano?
There’s a lot more films out there than those that are brandished at us all December long. From the undervalued or apparently unseasonal, there’s loads of films that fill you with as much of the joy of the season. So let’s look at them, and then maybe watch a few while everyone else starts yelling about the Grinch. (more…)
“They don’t make them like they used to”, well maybe you just don’t appreciate them like you used to!
I’ve no doubt that I would have enjoyed Inside Out if I was seven, but I was a little bored by it to be honest, and looking back at the roster 2015 has not been all that great for films for kids, or at least didn’t have an awful lot of real attention grabbers. Except Minions, thanks for the fresh wave of merchandising, bad memes and kids talking gibberish, Universal Pictures. (more…)
Caped crusaders and righteous paladins leaping to save the day to the tune of victorious fanfares and screaming groupies, then they leap from the fray, utterly unscathed and twinkling everywhere a hero should twinkle. Doesn’t it make you sick?
Some do-gooders do so much good you start to wonder. Nobody’s perfect, so what’s wrong with them that they aren’t telling us. Or maybe their flaw is so obvious and insipid that no matter how many lives they save we just can’t bring ourselves to let them off the hook.
Welcome, you judgemental band of thugs, to our Top 10 hateful heroes!
10) Desmond Miles – Assassins Creed
Axed after only three of the… where are we now, seven games (not including the smaller titles). Alright so in his third appearance he was actually quite interesting, but the only purpose he’d served until then was to be the reason for telling the stories of assassins throughout history. Short sections of the game made to feel torturously long by the dramatic loss of action and sudden upswing in long dialogue in which your role is to get off one bed, go to another, and back again in the morning.
Desmond Miles may not be utterly loathsome in himself, but there’s no denying that his participation in the narrative seriously breaks up the flow of the action. For the bulk of the series he’s taken a back seat, his story being complete, and him being dead and whatnot. His DNA strand continues with a little narration every now and again to remind you why the later games are better.
9) Ash Ketchum – Pokemon
Get this: The opening theme to the original series of the Pokemon anime went and said words like “I wanna be the very best, like no-one ever was.” Then why, pray tell, do we have Ash Ketchum? He’s nowhere near the very best, in fact, he’s amongst the very worst in the whole of the Pokemon universe. Many people feel this way about him, that he wasn’t exactly the winning Pokemon Master that we wanted to see in our Pokemon anime.
In the manga, we had Red, who legitimately was a brilliant trainer. So then to be given Ash instead of Red, it feels like something of an insult. He might want to be the very best, but he’s only ever won one Pokemon League and that wasn’t even a main one. Bah, my character in Pokemon Black and White was a better trainer than him!
Also he hasn’t aged.
8) Captain Amazing – Mystery Men
The great and mighty guardian of Champion City, swooping in to save the day whenever it’s in peril and he’ll get good publicity out of it, for himself and his many, many… many sponsors. How else could he afford all of the arms, armour and the cool jetpack that just keep him so very amazing? I mean, he’s good friends with billionaire philanthropist Lance Hunt, sure, but Lance has his own life to lead, doing… come back to that one.
Anyway, this is the man who intentionally allowed super-villain Casanova Frankenstein back on the streets in order to raise his public profile; apparently the multi-storey statue wasn’t cutting it any more. It may be a little bit of a cheat, including the hero we’re supposed to hate on this list, but Mystery Men does such a good job of setting up this loathsome little fall-guy that it really makes you really think hard about the heroes you blindly accept as “the good guys”.
7) Wrathion – WoW
I was recently introduced to this character having dropped out of World of Warcraft… And I can’t find a single redeeming feature about him. He’s childish, he’s brash, he’s arrogant and he’s a god damned child hero. This is never a good mix. The only plausibly redeeming factor he has, is he may one day grow up… And the world (of Warcraft) will rejoice in unison at this little scamp when he stops being such a poor, typical character.
It’s all well and good wanting to draw in younger audiences, which this guy will easily do. He’s likable in that you know he means well but does so in arrogant ways. It caters well to a younger, more rebellious audience. But to the rest of us, he’s just a spoilt brat of a kid who doesn’t actually understand the direness of the situation the world is in. Urgh.
6) Alice – Resident Evil Films
“Alice? Who’s that?” says the fan of the Resident Evil game series who rightfully avoided the films, “OH!” They continue, “You mean that character who doesn’t exist in the games, has no personality, and was basically just an excuse for Paul W.S. Anderson to wiggle his wife into six films? Sure, I know Alice.” This is followed by a look of withering sarcasm.
Milla Jovovich is a more capable actress than the Resident Evil series would have you believe, and clearly she’s enjoying the whole mutant/zombie slaying rush that the role of the mysterious and ~cough~ enigmatic Alice offers. But while it’s always more fun to watch an actor in a role that they like than it is to watch an actor bored blind, there comes a time when ego stroking and self-aggrandizing gets seriously dull. And yet somehow they keep making money! At least the next one’s called “The Final Chapter”
5) Mario – Nintendo
Hear us out here. We all love Mario, this is undeniable is it? However he really is an utterly contemptible little man, because there’s another man in this equation… And several peaceful individuals are also ruined by his constant presence and his corny catchphrases. Let’s take the obvious route first and talk about his younger brother, Luigi. Mario is the poster boy of Nintendo: Super Mario Bros, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine; you get the point. What does Luigi get? An admittedly cool vacuum cleaner, but it’s still a vacuum none-the-less. Mario gets to chase the princess whilst Luigi gets to be haunted by ghosts.
So even if his brother doesn’t like him, what about all of the Goombas he’s running around and stomping on? Don’t forget all those shrooms he’s taking. Mario, you’re one pitiful, nasty little slime ball of a plumber and I hope you DO wear a tie (bonus points to anyone who gets this reference. Comment on the reference below.)
4) Scott Summers – X-Men
So on the list of loathsome slimes with superpowers, introducing the guy who cheated on his telepathic wife with another telepath! Really smart move there Cyclops. The ability to shoot force blasts out of your eyes does not make you useful and the shades make you look like a douchey frat-boy. And someone put this idiot in charge of a school? Nope. He vapourized former head of the Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters, Charles Xavier.
Officially the lamest of the entire Summers bloodline, which includes Cable, Havok, Vulcan and the power-mimic Hope Summers. Poster-boy for the X-Men and devoted pupil to Xavier, Scott may very well have recruited hundreds of kids to the sanctuary of the school and the safety he never had as a child. He then proceeded to turn the place into a super-soap-opera.
3) Shinji Ikari – Neon Genesis Evangelion
Whine and whine, this is all this little boy does… But the thing is, we hate him for it. He’s not a compelling character and the worst part of all of this is that we don’t hate him just because he whines. We hate him because he is what we all hate about ourselves.
Think about it. If you’ve been faced with perils of the entire universe, that only you in your limited knowledge of this ship that no one else can control. So pray tell, why is it that the first thing you think isn’t “I must stop the baddies” but more “I must curl into foetal position and cry this nightmare away”? The reason we hate Shinji so damn much isn’t because he’s whiny, or pathetic or even weak… But he’s an accurate representation of the vast majority of humanity in a nutshell. Many of us, even the proudest, will not find the inner strength to save whole worlds.
2) Superman – DC
What? How did this happen? Number 2?
Yes, DC’s Swiss Army Super Hero may be one of the most irritating retcon engines in comic book history with a battery of powers so complete that the possibility of him losing in any situation seem as laughable as wearing your pants on the outside (underpants for our American readers). He’s not without his weaknesses of course, not just the shiny green rocks that are so rare that only billionaires and people who really want it can find it. He’s also quite vulnerable to magic and a lack of vitamin D.
He died once y’know! Just popped right back up again. That’s the top of a list of disappointments: glasses as a disguise, cape, powers “because aliens I guess”. It’s so bad it’s practically a meme! Most of us are still waiting on a decent reboot but with Zack Snyder at the helm that’s not likely to happen for another decade or so. So how did the All-American-Boyscout get beaten to the number one slot?
1) Bella Swan – Twilight
Here is where I deeply crack my knuckles.
I have read excerpts, wikis and summaries of Twilight, its’ sequels and unauthorised spin-off, and that’s about the limit of investiture I’m willing to put into it. I’m prepared to give the quality of the writing, the weaving narrative, the supporting cast of characters (who I hear are actually fairly interesting) the benefit of the doubt. But I am utterly stymied by the sparkly vampires, weirdly predatory relationship behaviour, and above it all the unabashed, sickening and utterly characterless Mary-Sue “protagonist” Bella Swan.
Loathsome? Certainly, but how do we derive hero? It’s the name we often falsely ascribe to those people around whom the story revolves, and Myers – sorry – Swan does nothing heroic to speak of. She does obtain an array of powers after her transformation into a vampire, but here’s the interesting thing: As a mortal she’s noted to be clumsy and a bad liar, afterwards she becomes uncommonly agile even for a vampire, and she also has the ability to shield herself from psychic powers, and therefore hide her thoughts.
Thus completing the role of blank canvas that any girl can pretend is really her, and super mysterious guys with rippling everything will love them. Lesson for everyone, male or female: Interesting is attractive, cardboard cutouts are not.
We have never meant the word “Honourable” less. You can leap to the rescue as much as you like, you can’t win ’em all, you’re not winning us, and you didn’t even win a spot on the list! You’re just sad.
Here’s a couple of schmucks we decided to throw a bone to. You’re welcome.
Anakin Skywalker – Star Wars
We once did Top 10 Sci-Fi Cliches. When we did that article, we listed Child Geniuses as one of the Sci-Fi Cliches that we feel is done to death and is just not fun. So Anakin fits this mould perfectly and is one of the most cookie cutter characters created. Honestly, if you watch Episode 1, he’s far too young to be doing anything of the sorts that he does… But hey, he brought in a young audience right..?
Is that really such a good thing, though? I mean apparently, this little kid built C-3P0!? Sure, he later on becomes a cool character, in the name of being a brilliant bad guy. However the young Anakin in Phantom Menace is an inexcusable mess.
Romeo, o Romeo, where for art thou, Romeo?
This dude is really just out there man. I mean, the whole tragedy could have been avoided if he wasn’t such a crazy guy who likely had attachment issues. Honestly, think about the story for a minute and you’ll come to realise that if he had literally waited for a bit and mourned his “loss”, then not all would have been lost. But then all was lost, because he goes ahead and offs himself. Don’t question why I gave such a massive spoiler there, this is Romeo and Juliet, everyone knows the “spoiler”.
Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies. Only this time, Juliet falls, Romeo (then Juliet) dies!
Ok, we’re done hating for today. Next week, no super heroism! Maybe super-heroism, but we’ll try and cut down, we promise. In order to remain on your good-side, and keep ourselves off this very list – or worse, the honourable mentions – get to voting for our next Top 10!
Didn’t see your most hated hero? Disagree with our ordering? Disagree with us in general? Or maybe you just want to chat? That’s ok, we’re here for you buddy, take a seat, I’ll get the kettle on. Join the discussion in the comments down below, and on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Season 2 continues!
It’s been a while since we had a “normal” Marvel introduction film. Guardians Of The Galaxy was a bit more full-on sci-fi (what with being up in outer space and all) and Daredevil getting a full TV series to his name, that means it’s been fully four years since Captain America: The First Avenger, and that’s about the closest comparison I can make here.
Let me start by saying that I find Ant-Man is perhaps my new middle point for quality in the film series, sitting snugly between Thor: Dark World and Age of Ultron. It was, by the standards I now find myself holding them to, exactly medium. Here’s why: (more…)