Monday, May 30, 2005

see "Kingdom of Heaven"

It's almost out of theaters and this is one you really have to see on the wide screen. It's not Ridley Scott's best film, but it is by far his most vivid - and that's saying a lot.

Entering the theater, I passed posters for "Bewitched", "Mr & Mrs Smith", "Zorro," "Fantastic Four", "Willie Wonka", "House of Wax", "Star Wars", "Batman", "The Pink Panther", "War of the Worlds:... and several other ripoff-remakes that I cannot now remember. And it made me wonder what kind of chickenshit era we are in.

Sure, some of them will be cool or funny or well-made. But is there anybody OTHER than Ridley Scott who has the guts to try something new?

KINGDOM of HEAVEN may not have the world's most stunning script, but it is very evocative and the big battle is simply fantastic. A real breakthrough. You really felt you were there.

Get a ticket before it vanishes! Support originality.

35 comments:

Olivia Hicks said...

I couldn't agree more...With all the great stories available--including history--it's sad that movies are re-hashing past successes. "Kingdom of Heaven" was not only well done, but didn't take too much historic liberty (not as much as with "Gladiator"). I hope to see the same good story with "Beowulf", IF they release it in the US (which so far is still up in the air).
O. Hicks
olivia_hicks@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

David,

Thanks for the capsule review - may give it a shot, but more likely will wait for DVD.

In return, here's what John Philip Sousa had to say 99 years ago about dittoing. Kinda. ;)

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarge/articles/050606crat_atlarge

Just finished Kiln People last night, and it was on my mind when I read this today. The first two paragraphs are particularly striking.

Best,

Mario

NoOne said...

Dr. Brin said, "and several other ripoff-remakes that I cannot now remember. And it made me wonder what kind of chickenshit era we are in."

Add to this the recent tendency of making prequels: Star Wars, Star Trek (which is now thinking of making a movie set in the Earth-Romulan war period preceding TOS) and three hard sf authors writing three(!) prequels to Asimov's Foundation era :-) Have we lost the capacity to imagine something completely new and optimistic?

"Lost" isn't bad provided it turns out to have a plausible scientific explanation.

Adam Balm said...

Uh, I don't think the real argument to go see Kingdom of Heaven is based on originality. I couldn't tell if I was watching Troy/LotR/Alexander/Gladiator
or whatever through most of the movie, not to mention Liam Neeson has returned for about five minutes to play his faithful role of 'father figure who teaches sword fighting and dies tragically'.

You're right we're living in a chickenshit era in art/entertainment. If it's not a spinoff/sequel/prequel/remake/comic adaptation then it's an homage or tip of the hat to something. I don't think it's just that studios want to bet on a sure thing, I think unoriginality is everywhere and maybe it's a lasting trend. Everyone's so connected and homogeonized, in this information age of ours, is anyone ever isolated enough to have their own distinct voice?

Most likely Brin will think this is some anti-modernist reactionism, but I assure you it's not. And the real reason to go see Kingdom of Heaven? It's great 'enlightenment propaganda' and the first blockbuster movie that made me think in years.

Mark said...

and several other ripoff-remakes that I cannot now remember. And it made me wonder what kind of chickenshit era we are in.

Why can't they make movies like they used to!??! Everything is so much worse today!

See, we really are all romantics, aren't we? But the facts are against you, David. We are in one of the greatest periods of independent film making, ever. They may not be playing on the huge screen next to your home, but they are being made in large numbers and you can easily rent them a little later.

Some of the best movies of all time came from previous material. It has always been that way. Today, they are finding new forms of existing material -- nothing wrong with that. The only question worth asking is whether or not the movie is any good. Most movies aren't that great. Never have been. A few are fantastic, including a few remakes, prequels, book-based, comic-based, TV-based and original.

It isn't the directors that are being chicken, it is the studios. You don't give directors 100 million dollars to make a film without a pretty good idea you'll get that money back. That isn't an easy job at all.

Ryan Somma said...

We are in one of the greatest periods of independent film making, ever. They may not be playing on the huge screen next to your home, but they are being made in large numbers and you can easily rent them a little later.

Dang! You beat me to this point. Yes, we are in an era of fantastic independent filmaking. Check out your local art-house theater and ask your local video store to carry those obscure films with subtitles. There are tons of fantastically original films to enjoy out there, let the masses have their predictable tripe. : )

Frank said...

So what does it mean when Ridley decides to executive-produce a TV-series based on Crightons "The Andromeda Strain" ?

Adam Balm said...

Check out your local art-house theater and ask your local video store to carry those obscure films with subtitles.

You're right! I've been putting it off, but I'm gonna go down to the arthou-

...oh wait, that's right. The only arthouse cinema in our city (population of 500,000) got put outta business last year. The cost of an independent film has gone up by ten fold and the number of art house cinemas in this country have taken a hit in the last decade.

This fact was recently brought up during the Weinstein split from Disney. People started to re-examine if independent films are really better off. Everyone said that the rise of the megaplexes would open up diversity and allow more independent films, but all it really meant was that they show the big money makers on more screens. It has to be said though, that the emergence of services like netflix have probably helped though.

Are the films themselves actually better? Hard to say, that's a subjective thing which no one can say for sure.

Ryan Somma said...

I don't think independent films are better so much as different. IF's are willing to experiment, break molds. When one works, Hollywood buys the rights to remake it and it becomes a standard.

I love the German New Wave ("Run Lola Run"), the recent bunch of Japanese Horror flicks ("The Ring"), China's fifth-generation directors ("Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"), Woody Allen still produces completely different material with each of his new films, I think Charlie Kaufman's the first writer-only box-office draw ("Adaptation"), Anime keeps raising the bar for animation ("Appleseed"), and, although I have not seen many of them, Bollywood, India is churning out fantastic-quality musicals and dramas.

There's greats stuff everywhere, but you are correct that most people don't care, they want to see the expected, not dive into something challenging. I also agree with the sentiment that multi-plexes have more harmed than helped IFs. Multi-plexes are top-down athoritative architectures, telling people what's worth seeing.

I think Netflix and others like it, emergent systems that give people choices, will help combat this trend.

Nate said...

This isn't directly related to the movie, topic, but. I was thinking today, having in the fairly recent past watched some foriegn horror movies, about happy endings. Obviously, being horror, they didn't have happy endings as such, butthe foriegn ones seemed much happier than US movies in general, including horror movies, to end with everybody dead.

Now, I know it's trendy to bitch about Hollywood having to have happy endings, but it occured to me that it might be part of a different dynamic. There's been a bunch of popular action-adventure horror-ish movies lately in the US. Since it stops being horror once the hero has a gun that can hurt the monster. Maybe this is sorta related to some of the things that we've been discussing. Comparing people who're at the whims of the world and powerful things they can't understand and fight to people who're able to change and resist things.

Or maybe I was just bored and thinking to much at work, but I still like the second type better. If you find some kind of evil altar in your basement, that's when you go get the dynamite.

Okay, maybe I'm just too much of a gamer. Heh.

Mark said...

Nate said: There's been a bunch of popular action-adventure horror-ish movies lately in the US. Since it stops being horror once the hero has a gun that can hurt the monster... If you find some kind of evil altar in your basement, that's when you go get the dynamite.

Not, to be too geeky (hell, who am I kidding? Just to be geeky...), but this really reminded me of that famous scene from Buffy:

Judge: You're a fool. No weapon forged can stop me.

Buffy: That was then.

Xander hands her the weapon from the box, and she raises the anti-tank rocket launcher to her shoulder.

Buffy: This is now.

Judge: What's that do?

Sean from DocintheBox said...

Kingdom of Heaven was the best movie I have seen this year, saw the prescreening of it in January then again when it came out, still in awe. While Star Wars wasn't bad, it wasn't in anyway shape or form a great film.

Frank said...

David Brin said:
"But is there anybody [...] who has the guts to try something new?"

Define "new". How new does a story need to be to make it interesting enough ?

Perhaps originality lies in the details considering that all the Big Original Ideas are becoming scarce. And maybe that's the
future fate of all originality in art. People will have to look more and more into the details to find something never before conceived of. Infinity is quite a long time and a challenge to any artists creativity.

Anonymous said...

I have high hopes for "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", because (1) it's directed by the best contemporary director of cartoon-like movies, Tim Burton; (2) it stars one of the best contemporary actors who can actually act, Johnny Depp; and (3) it's not so much a remake as it is an attempt to make the original book into a film, which means a much less musical and much creepier Willie Wonka.

Now, that having been said, your comment about Hollywood being completely bereft of ideas is dead on. I'd gladly give up a brilliant remake, if such a thing was possible, for a mediocre NEW concept. I blame this problem on the nepotistic nature of Hollywood writers... sure, writers aren't the only factor in making a movie, but considering they're the guys that lay the foundation for a movie, they seem to be much overlooked lately.

=Palliard

Ambi said...

I doubt it's the writers' fault; among the many scripts in Hollywood there are surely many new, original ones, but the producers aren't buying; they prefer variations of what already proved successful.

Btw, the local cinema here, with one big screen and two smaller ones, has 'Art Film Wednesdays' with a different art film every Wed 8 pm, and is probably part of a ring of cinemas sharing art films (others have 'Art Mondays' and so on). Do cinemas where you are have this?

Ambi said...

Another question is how can a concept be new. I'd like to see my favourite webcomic as a movie because I haven't seen any movie that's like it. Then again, if you look at the elements of the webcomic, you've probably seen them before.

A cast of high school juniors. A shapeshifting girl who has been created by a shady lab trying to create were-assassins, but who hates violence. An androgynous inventor who has been picked on one time too much by the high school bully, and now plans to turn him into a girl. And so on.

What I like in it is not the humourous contemporary science fantasy setting, but the characters who are very lifelike; their actions have consequences, they are emotionally involved in what they do, they just want to live their life, not save the world or win some world championship, and the characters who have special powers are not portrayed as superior to those who don't have them.

I think it's good, but would you call it new? Btw it's here: El Goonish Shive

Ambi said...

dang.. I meant to link to

http://www.egscomics.com

Sorry for the triple post.

NoOne said...

Instead of something completely new, what do y'all think of a good, high budget version of Clarke's Childhood's End? That scene where Karellen reveals itself for the first time should scare the bejeesus out of your standard, garden variety fundamentalist.

Anonymous said...

I live in a small town with one movie theater that has two screens, and the next town is three hours away (yes, we measure distance in hours rather than miles), so "art house wednesday" is a non-starter.

Beyond that, though, art house movies are plenty good at following Sturgeon's Law. A few gems like "Pi" aside, most of them seem to boil down to, as Eric Cartman so eloquently put it, "gay cowboys eating pudding".

The most entertaining films I've seen lately are shorts in places like Atom Films and Newgrounds. They also follow Sturgeon's Law, but they're there's a lot more to choose from because the barriers-to-entry are so much lower.

=Palliard

Ambi said...

"Childhood's End" is a good book, but the fate of humans that can be identified as such makes it unlikely to become a popular movie.

The Uplift War books might work, but one has to be very careful because several concepts don't translate well to the big screen, like the dolphin languages (how do you apeak Trinary or Primal, and what is the difference?) or sexuality (many people don't want to talk or think about it, even if they watch American Pie or other sex-comedies).

The idea that humans are not among the leaders in space and has to follow the rules made by more powerful species is something I'd like to see, but Americans might see it differently (because the US is the leader on Earth now, and gives the orders).

Wayne Ligon said...

Kingdom of Heaven was a pretty darn good movie. I certainly enjoyed it a great deal.

As for the remakes?

Fantastic Four has never been released as a feature film; Columbia's sick pathetic effort made to hold on to the license was shelved before release. All we have are bootlegs.

You can never have too many Zorro movies, man. :)

Batman is not a remake, actually, as much as a new beginning. The franchise (man, I hate that word when used in terms of films but I can't think of a better one right off the bat other that 'series') needs a /good/ film, and more than one /good/ film to offset the horror that Shaumacher (may his name be forever accursed) inflicted on it. I'm surprised it wasn't another 20 years to make the curse fade from people's minds.
I'm looking forward to it with high hopes and finger crossed that this will break the 'DC Curse'.

James said...

Strange that in the same summer, I have such high hopes for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by a director whose absolute failure with his Batman movie I hope to see redeemed (wrong word there) by Christopher Nolan's outstanding 4th film. I don't think Batman's derivative or chickenshit...it hasn't actually been done correctly yet.

--James in S.D.

James said...

Oh, and I think "Earth" would've made a great film 5 years ago. Now it might be looked at as just another disaster flick.

And Uplift? While I love the books (1st tril more than the 2nd, but who's counting...), I fear they haven't got the literary presence to get a studio to fund what would likely be a $300M effort to bring them to the screen.

By the way, anyone else read Startide Rising as their first Uplift book and find it more rewarding that way?

--James in S.D.

James said...

Bewitched looks like an interesting take on the "TV to movie" thing in that it's somewhat self-referential. The main character is trying to remake the old TV show as a new TV show, and casts what turns out to be a real witch in the Samantha role. Definite potential for hilarity (written only partly tongue-in-cheek).

Kenny Reeves said...

James,

I also read "Startide Rising" first (and "Sundiver" second), and I definitely found it fascinating that way. I'm not sure what my impressions of "The Uplift War" (and the Uplift universe) would have been if I'd read it first; I really liked alien interlude chapters in "Startide Rising", as each increased the scope of both the civilization of the five galaxies and the teran races' place in it, and "The Uplift War" seemed much less about the intergalactic civilization as a whole, and much more about humanity's interaction with the chimps (and, by extention, what being "human" really means).

Ryan Somma said...

The best TV to movies were "The Brady Bunch" films.

: )

Anonymous said...

OMG fanfiction authors have taken over Hollywood!!111

____________________

Apologies to those who don't get this joke.

ranlen said...

Hi, if you think American films have no originality - as an Indian (East) Bollywood has becoming the biggest disappointment of my culture. This group of daicots (literally) are not original. They ape everything western and make remakes of Western remakes! I call them the Global Harijans (a term for the lower caste) Thanks for letting me rant!

Shyamal - LA

westend said...

Here's an idea:
If you don't like the crap being issued out of Hollywood, don't spend your money or time on it.

If you ignore it, it will go away and be replaced by something else (with a least a chance of being superior if someone has learned why it needed to go away).

Brin is right on here, but 'we' have to take ownership to improve our cultural malaise in the mainstream cinema. Or, better yet, we can start reading more again.

Anonymous said...

Saw Kingdom of Heaven this afternoon. A good spectacle and a brave, sad story, "entirely free of comfortable bullshit." It's a shame it was released so soon in the season.

DB notes:

"And it made me wonder what kind of chickenshit era we are in."

Ah, I think you're forgetting the Law of Conservation of Mediocrity.

I was reminded of this immutable force of culture when I saw a trailer for a new Herbie the Love Bug movie.

(For you lucky young'uns: Herbie the intelligent Volkswagen was the star of perhaps a half-dozen Disney movies. They were part of a vast morass of tepid, inoffensive, low-budget kid-flicks from the studio. They were shown in studios and eventually made their way to the World of Disney TV program.)

There have ALWAYS been sequels, wannabes, remakes and ripoffs. For every good, memorable film there are a dozen or more forgettable, regrettable offerings. These are not necessarily bad, just commercial product.

The problem isn't a lack of guts, it is commercial caution. Most investors want sure things.

So, take heart! And keep an eye on the indie theaters and art houses. The offerings there will never be commercial successes, but they are often wonderful, informative, and entertaining.

Stefan

cryptochrome said...

With regards to comments about turning the Uplift series into movies...

Books make lousy films. They're too long. Short stories make good films, for that reason. Due to the lack of time movies are often rather shallow and stereotypical - which is why although it is usually treated with disdain, TV is actually a more flexible and potentially better medium.

One of the major distinctions between foreign TV series (particularly anime) and american TV series is the willingness to spread a story out over many episodes, serialized. You rarely see that here anymore. And it drives me nuts, because it's a perfectly good way to tell a story. You can take your time and not worry about cutting stuff. Character development in particular is LOADS better on TV than movies. There are problems: budget constraints; ratings sensitivity; the prohibition against ending a successful series even when the story is over. But it could be great.

Anonymous said...

Posting anonymous because I'm at work...

I'm not going to see "Kingdom of Heaven" unless someone can assure me that it isn't just another "glory in war" picture done better by LOTR or some other. The dirty secret about the "Holy War" was that it was a byproduct of too many royal children. They needed land and a cause because there were way too many duels going on. So, the priests get together and decide to attack all those bad people in the holy land.

Considering the current theocratic bent in our country these days, I worry about movies that gloss over historical events and glamorize war or just make crap up. There are enough dumb fantasies and sci-fi that depict the hero as the only one smart enough to bring the biggest gun. At best this is boring.

So I'm hoping I'm wrong about KOH.

I'll agree about finding all the remakes annoying. But I think that at least Bewitched shows promise--never did like the original Darren(s)... they all seemed to be wet blankets to me and totally undeserving of Elizabeth Montgomery.

And I place my vote for an Uplift War movie. Not only is it absolutely a great book for a movie... but there are other stories to tell about genetic manipulation other than the "mad clone" or the "mad frankensteins monster". Though, I would like to have a few mentions towards a few plagues brought on by trans-species viruses and the like... just to put the dangers i perspective. The Uplift war might do best as a 10 episode mini series on the SciFi channel--it could not be told in 90 minutes and the theaters want their concession stand sales.

--biggianthead@mac.com

Anonymous said...

"So I'm hoping I'm wrong about KOH."

You are.

"Kingdom of Heaven" does not glamorize war in general, or the Crusades in particular; quite the contrary.

It doesn't cast one side as evil orcs and the others as righteous warriors; quite the contrary.

I could say more, but I don't want to ruin anything.

Go see it.

Stefan Jones

Anonymous said...

OK--I'll go see it. My main concern was that it was a soft pitch or a new Christian Holy war.

I still expect to see some movies that depict Faith as guiding rightness better than logic. Then you'll here critics like Michael Mendev (SP?) say; "Finally, we see good movies like the old days." The 'good old days' being all the dreadful bible stories from Ben Hur to Moses that all seemed to star Charlton Heston.

While we are on the topic of epics of great wars of antiquity, I think it would be great to see a movie about Boudica from the books "Dreaming the Eagle."

--biggianthead[at]mac.com

Haugco said...

Perhaps a little late in commenting on Kingdom of Heaven - I noticed a lot of mainstream reviewers deriding the inter-and intra-faith politics depicted in the movie, as if Baldwin IV and Saladin had NOT had a rather long truce, and as if the mostly Catholic rulers of Crusader Palestine did not offer their muslim tenants significant religious freedom (they needed the tax base)...the movie recreated the Horns of Hattin and Balian's last stand at Jerusalem vividly and well. It did, however, overstate Reynald de Chatillon's Iagoism and the Templars' intolerance. Reynald had been recently released after many years in a Turkish prison, though...and he was certainly a vicious SOB to begin with. The most surreal moment of the movie, though, was the dying Baldwin telling young Balian of Baldwin's near-miraculous victory over Saladin at Montgisard - the very battle where the REAL young Balian first distingushed himself...and what was with Jeremy Irons' character? He was obviously modelled on Raymond of Tripoli (Baldwin's regent) but renamed for some reason.

Sorry, the period is a hobby of mine.