Tag Archive: Steven Spielberg

Movie Review – Jurassic Park 3D

jurassic-park-3d-posterSteven Spielberg had a huge 1993, between the awesome spectacle and box office bonanza that was Jurassic Park, and the destined for Oscar gold, emotionally powerful Schindler’s List.  One of these films would make a great candidate for 3D conversion, and one has Nazis.

It was no surprise that Jurassic Park was given the go ahead.  Spielberg himself has admitted that he really has no desire to see any of his “classic” directed films get the treatment (so no rolling boulder from Raiders in 3D) but that he did feel JP was the one exception.  And while I breath a sigh of relief since I do NOT want to see Jaws, or Close Encounters or the Indiana Jones movies get 3D paint jobs, I was very curious about Jurassic Park, as I agree with Spielberg’s sentiment that this is definitely one film that felt right for it.

3D still holds an interesting stigma for me.  Part of me knows that it’s a gimmick.  A very lucrative (from the studio standpoint) gimmick, but still a gimmick none-the-less, on par with a flea circus.  It’s poke you in the eye fun, but not cinema.  Now I like to be poked in the eye every now and then, so I do partake, but I also usually try to reserve these forays into films that really warrant it.  Avatar and The Hobbit, having been shot in 3D were fantastic.  Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace was a disappointment, as the slapping on of 3D effects seemed very haphazard. (And REALLY?  I mean, 3D was practically INVENTED for Star Wars.  These are movies that absolutely should be phenomenal in the format! C’mon guys, get it right!) Yes, I went and saw Titanic up-converted, (which was done very well), Clash Of The Titans was NOT.

So Jurassic Park held both fascination and worry for me.

I am pleased to say that it holds up very well not only as a 3D convert, but also as a 20-year old (and now I feel ancient) movie.

The story based on Michael Crichton’s best selling novel (if you didn’t know) deals with an amusement park with genetically engineered dinosaurs getting loose and wreaking havoc on a remote island.  The film stars Sam Neil, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern as an intrepid group of scientists who arrive to put a stamp of approval on the park, and instead fight to survive it’s deadly wonders.

The 3D conversion was done with care.  I was amazed the opening pieces of the film look as good as they do, individual trees pop and stand out against the background and the whole film has a definite feel of depth to it, not so much poke you in the eye, but real immersion.  I admit to loosing that sensation later in the film, which could have been a result of getting lazy with all those complicated special FX, or just that I got wrapped up in the story all over again and forgot to be looking for things that popped.

It was amazing to see the film on the big screen again (yes, I’m old enough to remember seeing it in theaters upon first release) and a lot of fun to watch the audience react to laughs and surprises we knew were coming.  We all laughed at the “if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists” joke, and all jumped at the velociraptors in the kitchen.  Those moments are all here, all preserved.

Unless of course, you’re one of those unfortunates that has never seen Jurassic Park, in which case… what are you waiting for?

A Madman With A Box

The following is a reprint of a blog post I did for my school blog…

This week, something extraordinary happened.

I’m not referring to a successful preseason game for a football team, or the reuniting of a loving couple, or even a political rally, thou those things too undoubtedly happened. I’m talking about the return of Doctor Who.

For the uninitiated, Doctor Who is a British science fiction series that started all the way back in 1963. Keep in mind, 1963 was not exactly a bumper year for science fiction. The heyday of films like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, FORBIDDEN PLANET and EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS was long past, Star Trek had yet to air an episode, and the juggernauts like STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS were far off in the future. So, without a built in audience, this was considered quite the gamble. Add to the mix that Doctor Who started (and in many ways remains) a children’s show. Dedicated to tossing in some education with it’s entertainment, many early episodes traveled back to historical Earth, and encounters with The Aztecs, or The Romans were common place. The show enchanted, captivated and scared the little ones.

And it’s been doing it for nearly fifty years.

It ran continuously on BBC from 1963 to 1989, when it was put on hiatus… and never returned. A co-produced TV movie for FOX television was made in 1996, (Steven Spielberg had a hand in bringing it back) with the idea of a new series launch, BUT, it was up against the episode of Roseanne where Dan had a heart attack. Viewing figures were not kind in the states. But it did well enough that hope remained for the show to return. Finally, it did in 2005. Not a reboot, but a continuation from where we left off, though with a faster pace and better effects.

This is the longest break between episodes since the show was revived. Partially because of the summer Olympics in London, partially because current show runner Steven Moffat has something planned for the last half of this season, which will actually air NEXT year in 2013 for the show’s 50th anniversary. Current episodes air Saturdays on both BBC and BBC America. So naturally, there’s a huge amount of hype built up right now, and many people are wondering, why?

The show is pure magic. Unlike Star Trek, which almost prides itself on it’s techno-babble, there are times when the Doctor just gives up. An example: “We’re just entering conceptual space. Imagine a banana. Or anything curved. Actually, don’t, because it’s not curved or like a banana- FORGET THE BANANA!” and then the matter is dropped. Most episodes deal with the Doctor and his friends landing on Planet X to discover Problem Y which must be solved by Time-Frame Z. The odd thing, is that at any point in time, the Doctor could just climb back into his ship and fly away. They’ve made jokes about it. But he doesn’t, because he’s curious, and because we wouldn’t have a show if he did. A hero who runs from trouble just isn’t all that exciting.

I co-host a Doctor Who Podcast, Traveling The Vortex (www.travelingthevortex.com) so I’ve been talking to a lot of newbies about the show, which is riding a crest of unprecedented popularity at the moment (last season it had the highest number of downloads from iTunes). I frequently find myself repeating some of the same things (not that I mind). So here’s my list of the 5 things you MUST know about Doctor Who, and the 5 things you MUST know before you sit down and try to delve into the new Series 7:

5 Things you NEED to know about Doctor Who

1) The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, a race who understands, and can travel through time and space. He does this via his TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. It’s bigger on the inside, and its outside appearance is locked into that of a 1960’s London Police Box thanks to it’s cloaking device–called a chameleon circuit that disguises itself as something in the environment around it–or it would before it got stuck in that form.

2) Time Lords have two hearts and the ability to Regenerate their bodies depending on the extent of the injury, resulting in a new body (although sometimes the process is unpredictable). To date, 11 different actors have played the Doctor (Matt Smith is the newest), each bringing a unique set of quirks and personality to the role, but it’s always the same man.

3) The Doctor usually travels with one or more companions.

4) The Doctor is beyond intelligent, often making “Sherlock Holmes” like deductions with very little available information. Sometimes these are explained, sometimes you just roll with it.

5) Yes, there are nearly 50 years of history associated with the program, but don’t let that deter you. For the most part if you really need to know, they’ll let you know, and there are always plenty of fans to ask!

5 Things you NEED to know before you start Series 7…

1) Amy and Rory are the current companions, and are married.

2) The Doctor is presumed dead by most of the universe at the moment, which he is only too happy to play into, believing he’s gotten too big for his britches as there are legends about him.

3) One of those legends is about the First Question “It’s all still waiting for you. The fields of Trensalore, the fall of the eleventh, and the question. The First Question. The question that must never be answered. Hidden in plain sight, the question you’ve been running from all your life… Doctor… WHO?” The legend says that silence will fall when the question is asked, leading many to believe it will be the Doctor’s REAL death.

4) The show is unpredictable and quirky, and unlike most science fiction, the “WHOniverse” has things that may not be explainable. Roll with it.

5) The show is British; yes they have accents, yes sometimes they talk fast and are hard for the untrained ear to understand. Just roll with it and stick with it!

If you are really interested but afraid to jump into the middle even with the primer, then I suggest “series one” or the 2005 relaunch as an excellent jump off point to familiarize yourself with the show. And since British shows run shorter seasons, there’s only thirteen episodes for you to digest in a block.

In the words of the first… “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”

Welcome back, Doctor. <>

Check out this awesome tribute video from LastWhovian on Youtube…

Movie Review – Real Steel

Caught this one at the dollar theater last week, and I must say, wow.

No really, I must say it.  Wow.

Yes, I was one of those who scoffed initially at the trailer. “They’re making a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots movie?” I asked incredulously.  “Gee, can’t wait to see Hungry Hungry Hippos.”  But I’ll admit I was curious.  Mel, more so than me, and she’s been pestering everyone to go see it while it was still in that so-affordable-you-cant-complain-if-it-does-suck price range.  So we went.

Admittedly, the story is very formula, about a dead beat dad who abandoned his son early on, and now only wishes to scrape enough money together to purchase a new fighting robot, by waiving his fatherly rights for a price.  Of course the kid has to spend the summer with him, and they take their budding relationship on the road, going from one robot boxing match to the next.  Mix the basic story of OVER THE TOP and ROCKY with the truck stop atmosphere of ANY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE and throw in generous helpings of robots mashing each other to a pulp and you get the basic idea here.

But the surprise factor is how good the film is.  Hugh Jackman is his usual self.  Good, but doesn’t act much. (Nearly an identical character to SWORDFISH with different motivation) but I have always liked Jackman and am willing to let that slide.  The film sports an impressive pedigree, based on the short story Steel by I AM LEGEND scribe Richard Matheson, which was previously adapted as an episode of “The Twilight Zone”.  The idea that in the near future human boxers are replaced with robots–which can take even more brutal poundings and thus create more spectacle–is an intriguing and believable one.  It seamlessly bridges the worlds of boxing and WWE and “Battle Bots”.  The film is executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, has a fantastic score by Danny Elfman (but doesn’t sound anything like Elfman), features boxing scenes supervised by Sugar Ray Leonard, and is aptly directed by NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM helmer Shawn Levy.

“Sometimes you go into a  movie with low expectations and are pleasantly surprised” wrote Roger Ebert about this one.  And he’s totally right.  REAL STEEL hits all the right moments to be effective, has just enough characterization to flesh these beings out into real people, and of course, impressive special effects and robots.  It succeeds as great family entertainment, and would be on my top films of 2011 list just for how enjoyable it was.

Got me all excited to see BATTLESHIP now. (not really, no.)


Movie Review – Transformers: Dark Of The Moon

I’m a little late on this one, as I didn’t watch it till it came out on BluRay.  Having said that, there may be some spoilery info here for the random few of you who haven’t seen it yet…

I like Michael Bay.  I really do.  I think he’s an immensely talented director who doesn’t deserve the tons of crap heaped upon him most of the time.  Let’s face it, if you want to film something explode–have it rise into the air and begin rotating on fire, in slow motion–then he’s the guy you call.  Period.  I’ve never been a huge Transformers fan though, (the show was to be avoided by me and my brother growing up in favor of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe.  And don’t you DARE cross-pollinate my G.I. Joe with these giant robots.)  But the first film was an enjoyable fun romp.  The second one was an unmitigated disaster.  Anytime something was fighting or blowing up it was cool, but everything else just kinda sucked.

I’m sad to say the trend continues in the third installment.  It opens promisingly enough, with the exciting tidbit that much of history is in fact, a coverup for something else.  The Apollo landing on the moon was actually a secret mission to explore a crashed Transformer ship.  The Chernobyl explosion was actually a failed Russian experiment on a Transformer power source.  Okay, cool.  I like it when history is twisted to meet the needs of my Sci-Fi.  We meet Sentinel Prime, a brilliant scientist and leader of the Autobots in days long gone.  And of course, there’s LOTS of things exploding and rising into the air on fire in slow motion.  One of my favorite sequences involves special ops guys “squirrel flying” their way through the buildings of downtown Chicago)

But as with REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, anytime something isn’t exploding the film just drags.  We spend WAY too much time with Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebeouf becoming more whiny with each installment.  I like him as an actor, but think maybe he needs to pursue some different projects that actually require some acting.  Maybe re-invent himself like DeCaprio) and his EMPLOYMENT PROBLEMS?  Really?  We’re gonna focus on his attempts to get a JOB in a movie with GIANT ROBOTS?  Jon Turturro, star of a number of brilliant Cohen Brothers films like THE BIG LEBOWSKI (and one of my personal favorites, BRAIN DONERS) is back as a former special agent turned author, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley made a fine replacement for Megan Fox, (and there’s Michael Bay’s Victoria’s Secret commercials coming into play).  She’s hot, and a better actress to boot, but really?  We’re gonna focus on Sam’s romantic issues in a movie with GIANT ROBOTS?  Other casting surprises include Firefly’s Alan Tudyk as a German… hitman?, John Malkovich, and Leonard Nimoy, but did we mention this movie has GIANT ROBOTS?!?

Okay, so the robots have problems too.  Optimus Prime is hands down, the baddest guy on the block.  The fact that they got Peter Cullen back to voice him front he cartoon speaks to his longevity.  But every movie they seem to remove Optimus from the proceedings for half an hour or more.  They give him the coolest toys, then take them away nearly as soon as they’ve introduced them.  Jet engines, wings, an axe and a REALLY big gun… just a few of the props that disappear on the way side.  Nimoy’s Sentinel Prime is a big problem, actually.  I love the fact that they got him, and I love the fact that they had a bit of fun with the idea of it being Nimoy.  BUT, since we’ve had multiple jokes to drive home the fact that STAR TREK exists in THIS universe as a TV show… (One of the Robots flips on the TV, sees Trek and comments “Oh, I’ve seen this, this is the one where Spock goes nuts” and multiple instances of Bumblebee communicating with Trek clips, “I have been, and always shall be, your friend…”) But then Sentinel is chastising Optimus and says, “You never understood that the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few…”   REALLY?!?  You’ve crossed the line from homage to rip off now.

And then there’s the plot.  Or lack there of.  It’s a convoluted mess that involves a transmit teleport bridge that will bring an army of Decepticons to Earth… from the moon.  Where they’ve been hiding for the last millennium or so, waiting for the signal.  Apparently at NO point during that wait did it occur to them to just FLY to Earth and take over the planet before the technology existed to possibly defeat them.  And worse, Hugo Weaving (who is always good in EVERYTHING) as Megatron is given the line “the only way to revive him: we needed Prime and his matrix.”  …So, you planned to loose that fight in the first movie all along?  Seems like a lot of effort to have your ass kicked by Optimus Prime for two movies BEFORE you brought in the big guns, but what do I know?

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is a flashy spectacle with a lot of eye candy.  It’s also a perfect, shining example of what’s wrong with Hollywood, and gets my vote for worst film of the year…


Movie Review – Super 8

*Spoiler Free Review

When a group of aspiring kid filmmakers just trying to enter a local film competition wind up recording an air-force train derailment outside a sleepy Ohio town, it sets a chain of fantastic and terrible events in motion.  What cargo was the train carrying?  Why is the air-force so desperate to keep it a secret?  A fantastic spat of performances by the child actors, (and truthfully, even the adults are pretty good) make up for the plot holes and bits of missing logic.  The Spielbergian feel is in full effect here, and the film is littered with simple pleasures of a by-gone era.  This is the Americana where it was okay to hop on your bike and peddle to a friend’s house, the sleepy small town that still has a steel plant, the community that bans together in fear of Russian invasion.  And it is into this setting that Abrams unleashes an X-Files conspiracy and potential close encounter.

For everyone who complains that “they don’t make them like they used to” you NEED to go see this film.  JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg have crafted a film from my childhood.  It feels like a product of the times in which it is set, the late 70s early 80s.  The films is a suspenseful rollercoaster ride harking back to classics like “Close Encounters Of The 3rd Kind” and “E.T.” with a splash of “Goonies”, as well as newer movies like “The Iron Giant” and “Cloverfield” but it’s much darker in tone, kind of like what those movies would be when they grow up.

It’s also a love letter to Hollywood and filmmakers everywhere.  For every kid who’s ever picked up a video camera and shot little action vignettes with their models, for every makeup artist who creates fake blood out of Kayro syrup and red food coloring, for every young director who set up a shot NOT because it was needed for the telling of the narrative, but because it would look f***ing cool, this film is for you.