08 July 2018

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collisions

Science Fiction and Fantasy Collide!
by Kristin Battestella

These adventures retro and recent intermix the sci-fi and fantasy facts and fiction. Whether the co-mingling crossover is good, bad, or ugly...now that's a different story.

Outlander – No not that one! This 2008 international science fiction adventure starring Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ), Sophia Myles (Tristan & Isolde), John Hurt (The Field), and Ron Perlman (Blade) is a loose a la Beowulf with rousing music and fitting onscreen fonts looking both metal futuristic and iron age old for this alien warrior crashing to earth in Norway, 709 AD. Rustic mountains and misty forests contrast the coastal spaceship debris, flight suits, and alien computer interface downloading the local language. Mission goodbye memories, burying fellow crewman, no response homing beacon – this lone survivor is stranded sans high tech weapons and there are signs of something monstrous at the nearby burned village. Timber and thatch designs, mead halls, ancient trees, Norse names, furs, and shield maiden styles set the Viking scene as the titular captive is questioned about his unusual name. Standing stones, Frankish enemies, and fear of dragons accent the leadership tensions as the elders rule with safety over risk-taking young warriors while new priests think the violence is Lucifer's wrath on their old pagan ways. The dialogue is decent – our outsider tells the king of his crashed ship and dead crew without the interplanetary details, but the king suspects his “up north” origin is untrue even if his revenge is genuine. Of course, there are typical orphan bonding cliches, woman made tender by nursing tropes, and would be rival warriors become friends so one can be a sacrificial BFF later. Certain fight scenes also cheat with odd speeds and hokey CGI imitations of Predator, and the saturated night time blues with orange firelight schemes are commonplace. The unseen alien cum Grendel attacks are better ominous as monster silhouettes, oozing mouths, red flashes, fiery tentacles, and blood splatters shock the otherwise chilly palette. Tracking blood trails, carcasses, and beheadings are not for the faint yet there are some bemusing moments as our astronaut can't hold his mead or ride a horse. His harsh tone and clipped military manner matches the out of place as the vikings look and sound oldeth. They accept him with animal trophies and feasting games before giving him a cloak that does indeed look like a sci-fi viking mix, building the culture with people and relationships before special effects. Celestial reflections keep the interstellar touches alongside clan wars and revenge raids. Chieftains argue on how to trap a monster with typical villagers build and learn how to defend themselves preparation scenes and a go to the bathroom and you miss him Ron Perlman. However, this outlander becomes handy with the rustic tools and uses whale oil for his explosive plan. Seeing his primitive engineering is also fun speculation compared to the over the top Ancient Aliens – maybe early people did have extraterrestrial metallurgy! Although there should be no cutaways to other clans when the monster is feasting, for the more you leave to the imagination, the better. Frankly, I've always wanted to see Beowulf done with Grendel as nothing but sound – the scratching at the door while the people inside fear – and it may have been even cooler had this followed Beowulf more closely. This outlander's people were conquerors, too, and about the campfire emotion and surreal flashbacks of his alien home accent his ironic warning on colonialism when vikings would pillage all the way to North America. Here, however, this outsider finds a place to belong not by conquering, but defending amid well done deceptions and fatal action twists with underwater battles and fantastically forged swords from spacecraft salvage. Unfortunately, the waterfall finale is messy with thrashing people, confusing action, a woman warrior still needing her man, and obvious slow motion. An earlier, seemingly more damaging attack on our alien monster doesn't kill it, yet this simple end does just because the run time says so. Said monster, however, is better looking once the sci-fi effects are lost in the water and he becomes a sympathetic, last of his kind dragon. This could have really shined as something spectacular, and forty minutes of deleted scenes (!) provide a different opening clarifying the viking conflicts and narrations with more Norse focused character scenes. Flat out, this is another butchered and barely there theatrical release that deserved more, but that mother fucking shit bag scum maggot pervert don't want to pollute my blog with his name Harvbumfucksteinasshole sabotaged it. Fortunately, this remains a surprisingly enjoyable and unique blend of futuristic meets medieval.

Zardoz – John Boorman (Excalibur) directs this 1974 international production featuring Charlotte Rampling (Cleanskin) and the red undies clad Sean Connery (Goldfinger) amid a 2293 science fiction surreal complete with the titular disembodied head. A floating statue worshiped by post-apocalyptic horseback warriors spews forth ammunition from its giant mouth as the immortal Eternals play god, telling the Exterminators to kill the lesser Brutals with gun is good and penis is evil mantras. Population control and weapons fired directly at the spectator audience are heavy allegories, but the statements are slow to start thanks to the unnecessary, laughable beginning. Our flying head cruises along the clouds before landing in the quaint English countryside with old fashioned homes featuring skeletons, relics of the past, and scientific charts on how homo sapiens begat eternals. Conversation explains this immortal vortex and the divided outlands while psychic flashbacks detail previous violence. These isolated rely on an advanced computer intelligence, talking to it with a cool crystal ring each wears as they study Connery's ruffian Zed, a surprising presence polluting their hedonist equilibrium. Jealous women seem coupled among fey, impotent men who put Zed to cataloging formerly priceless works of art. Idle exiles so apathetic they become catatonic, trials where the penalty is aging, psychic induced strokes– there are seriously intriguing nuggets amid the goofy happenings but saucy images and intercut montages make for strung together steamy or cool vignettes in what should be a straightforward culture clash parable. The eternals realize the outside world isn't as bad as they have been lead to believe, and their corrupt society has become what they were trying to prevent thanks to the mentally and physically superior exterminators seeking truth and revenge. Tree of knowledge osmosis, jacking into their matrix revelations, and snake in the garden sex make man both savior and destruction in a somewhat rushed action finale with nonsensical screaming and obvious deus ex machina as wizards come out from behind the curtain and man shoots at himself in the mirror to destroy his fallible god. Although one can see the ahead of their time statements attempted here, the silly design proves high concepts such as artificial intelligence, cloning, reverse eugenics, and euthanasia can really be compromised by messy seventies limitations and an overlong, trippy production. Too much is happening that doesn't always work, yet modern viewers have to laugh at the ridiculous as well as watch more than once for what is trying to be said amid the surreal kaleidoscopes and psychedelic crystals. Besides, I need the recipe for those giant green pretzels.

A Bonus Documentary

Awakening Arthur – From the birth of Arthur with Igraine and Gorlois ruses to possible Avalon tombs said to the hold sleeping King Arthur waiting to return; scenic castles, stone ruins, jousting images, and medieval chalices match the romance and chivalry chronicled in this 2001 documentary hour. Welsh folklore, neolithic cave bears, and dragon legends of similar Gaelic origins accent on location tours of Stonehenge, other megalith stones, and 3,500 year old barrows. Early maps parallel local mythology and constellations with Merlin myths amid historical composites, Roman exits, Anglo-Saxon raids, and purported Druid sacrifices. Red Dragon of Wales mantles provide Uther pendragon backstory and Cornwall beginnings with lovely Tintagel photography and Tennyson quotes recreating Merlin's cave rearing of Arthur. Although some segments are quicker than others or more fiction than fact, archaeological discoveries of fifth century Arthur inscriptions offer concrete evidence alongside sword in the stone depictions, Excalibur, Lady of the Lake healings, and ancient fertility rituals. Medieval Christianity overtaking pagan symbols lead to a mix in the Arthurian canon of ancient springs and Madonna image infusion; symbolic sun king life, death, and rebirth; and regal quests chasing the Holy Grail. The Guinevere marriage, Round Table origins, Lancelot and Original Sin, and Galahad heroics grow from later eleventh century Brittany writings while Geoffrey of Monmouth recountings add Glastonbury Tor, Chalice Well, and rumored sites of Camelot at Cadbury. Further mixing of local French folklore with giants and Celtic gods elevate Arthur to something more mythical despite deadly betrayals, possible Camlann locations, and Mordred battles. Ongoing solstice rituals, contemporary druid revivals, and New Age predictions combine with light defeating dark religious motifs, literary vengeance tales, and Arthur's Seat hilltops as Avalon journeys of slumber rather than death, new poetry, and purported abbey skeletons add to the legends. While the narration and onscreen host are somewhat stuffy for some viewers today and certain information may be dated, the segment title cards breakdown the timeline and there's a welcome lack of in your face background music to the straightforward rather than frills. This isn't anything new to scholars yet remains a quick Arthurian introduction for younger audiences.

I'm not Even Sure...

Immortal – It's Charlotte Rampling again alongside eugenics warnings, dystopian riots, organ harvesting, and helicopter crashes for this 2004 English-French co-production. There's a pyramid in the sky above this futuristic city, too, and the God of the Dead Horus possesses the body of a cryogenically frozen escapee to find a mate. Sadly, the mixed animation design is embarrassingly hokey with live actors in an unpolished and unrealistic entirely CGI setting. The cartoonish news reports, jarring pyramid animation, and video game style characters intercut with real people look they were done by different nineties start ups – taking away any attempt at sophistication as the audience wonders who each person covered in graphics is or if any animated character is essential or not. Important Horus animations look the worst, as his throat moves when he talks instead of his beak. Ironically, it's like a man wearing a mask on his head, which would have looked better. Non-human prejudice, alien metamorphosis, and population extermination get lost amid the busy graphics, and crowded storytelling leaves the internal logic nonsensical. Writer/director Enki Bilal is also the author of the source comic book, and he knows everything the audience doesn't. Unless you are familiar with the materials prior, nothing is explained – we're too far into the in media res with illegal government experiments on aliens and failed revolution martyrs bending to psychic piecemeal and convenient bar encounters. Blue hues and green lights better suggest the alien weird and graphic novel colorful, and hey, blue nipples are all the exotic needed. Indeed, the simplest visual elements work best when they are allowed to be without all the design intrusions. Intriguing characters and romantic interactions blossom when people are free to discuss who they are and ultimately find out who they are meant to be. This picture proves why there aren't many films made in entirely digital environs, for a muddle story throwing everything at the screen can't compensate when it's all too noticeable for any suspension of disbelief. I'd love to see this tale remade today, for what should be a potentially interesting and straightforward tale of humans, aliens, and gods fighting for their existence is compromised by the flawed designs, uneven presentation, and messy happenings with questionable consent sex scenes. Too many CGI characters that could have been regular actors really don't mean anything, and fine moments with the main characters in the second half aren't enough to save a finale with no answers. Pity.

'Twas Embarrassing!

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Charlie Hunnam (Crimson Peak), Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), Eric Bana (Troy), Djimon Hounsou (The Tempest), Aidan Gillan (Game of Thrones), Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors), and a three minute Katie McGrath (Merlin) star in director Guy Richie's 2017 over the top retelling immediately copying Lord of the Rings with giant elephants and destruction set pieces. Arguing amid good mages versus evil magic flashes are confusing and the story already feels muddled with Camelot, Uther Pendragon, and Mordred mismatching the general Arthurian canon. Assassinations provide little reason to care when we don't know what's going on as one death after another punctuate disjointed prologue scenes before restarting again thanks to Londinium pans and super speed 300 boyhood montages with pulsing music. This raised in the brothel Arthur is pick pocketing on those mean medieval streets like Robin Hood – change the names and you would not recognize this as anything Camelot! CGI Siren/octopus/Macbeth witches tell the evil Vortigen what to do while backroom conversations on graffiti are spliced with viking heists, camera swipes, and quick editing. It's fast, it's in your face, it's the streetwise clever we've been waiting for in a follow up to RocknRolla – but it does not belong in a fantasy picture. Richie fans won't care for the period framework and audiences tuning in for Arthurian fantasy will be totally irritated by such modern sarcasm and self important structure. Arthur is the only person wearing white so we know its him when David Beckham – yes, David Beckham – yells at him to pull the sword from the stone. Every scene has camera movement, zooms, or up close slides, never letting the conversation, heroics, or villainy simmer as no shot is longer than four seconds and no intercut conversation more than a minute. The hectic plot and breakneck pace deliberately won't stay still so viewers neither see how unArthurian this is or note how much it borrows from elsewhere. The tunics are more like leather blazers or biker vests, and behold, prophecy, or legend jargon feel out of place amid the non-linear voiceovers and laughably modern dialogue spliced with inconsequential action from unimportant moments prior. Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, his uncle the king tells him he's the true king's son, and his father's men want to follow him yet pissed off Arty wants to go back to being a brothel pimp? People argue about sending him to some dangerous Darklands while we see him in said Darklands defeating a CGI snake, dragon, and some water wolf thing in another 300 style yadda yadda yadda montage. What should have been a critical character connection from the beginning is instead used for a flashback action sequence, indicating that the writing here was more interested in holding back for count 'em five planned movies after this inexplicably expensive franchise non-starter. Why isn't there a truly Lord of the Rings proper Arthurian telling in this television golden era? Why do all Arthurian films and series need to repeat Arthur origin tales? Somebody please put together a writer's room that culls the story resources into a respectably interwoven adventure. Who in the heck decided this destroyed tower, forged sword Excalibur mash up, and Vortigen Witch King of Angmar were going to happen after they start Camelot with Mordred, the character who traditionally kills Arthur? This Game of Thrones meets Sons of Anarchy in the style of 300 rotten idea should never have made it all the way to being box office bomb. It's angering, dizzying, headache inducing, and I turned it off after the first hour.

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