Back To The Jungle – And Basics

In 1924 the Collier’s Weekly magazine published a short story by Richard Connell titled, ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ In it the main character Sanger Rainsford, a big game hunter from New York, ends up on an isolated island in the Carribean. Once there Rainsford finds himself in the hunt of his life as not the hunter but the hunted by a Russian aristocrat, General Zaroff.

The elemental dynamics of this story; life versus death, man versus man, hunter versus the hunted, and the primal setting of the jungle have inspired countless retellings of this story in movies and television shows. In 1987 this tale was given a SF twist when an action movie about a group of mercenaries on a mission in the jungle became married with the concept of them being hunted down as prey by extra-terrestrial hunters. Predator came out during Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heyday and for my money is one of my favorite Ah-nuld movies, rivalling even his Terminator ones.

Following the success of Predator there was a sequel and a couple of cross over movies with 20th Century Fox’s other big extraterrestrial franchise based on the acid blooded, chesting bursting Aliens but none of them attained the success or critical good will of the original. So there was understandable apathy when Predators was announced. Interest perked when film maker Robert Rodriguez became attached as a producer.

So now we have Predators. And for the most part it works. Works quite well. The reason it works is because it takes the story back to basics. Back to the jungle. Only this time the hunted group is not a team in some tropical jungle. This time they are literally dropped into a far, far more remote environment. The movie opens with Adrien Brophy’s character in free fall.

So the audience and the characters are in the same boat as to what is happening. The mystery of the situation is increased as the team members are strangers to one another. Of course broad strokes are set up for the characters and we quickly learn the team is composed of mercenaries, drug muscle men, soldiers, special ops agents, and a convict. The convict played by Walter Goggins brings an inadvertent smile to any that watch the TV series Justified as he looks like he walked off the set of that show without a wardrobe change sporting the very same orange prisoners outfit. There is an additional member of the group, a doctor, played by Topher Grace. His character starts a game of, ‘one of these is not like the others,’ that runs the course of the movie.

The delightful surprise here is how well Adrien Brophy steps in to the action hero role. He is totally believable in the part and has done the requisite bulking up. The other cast members get their individual moments to shine though Danny Trejo gets somewhat short shrifted.

The action sequences are well staged and filmed in a comprehensible manner that thankfully avoids the too tight, herky jerky, quick cutting school of action film making. The film’s effects are mostly of a practical nature, provided by Greg Nictero of The Mist fame. The use of gore is surprisingly restrained on the human side of the equation. The demise of Predators is shown in more detail. I guess it is easier to get their flourescent green blood by the censors.

Predators is a big love letter to the 1987 film. In fact the original film is referenced directly in Predators. The soundtrack is almost lifted directly from Alan Silvestri’s original score. His original theme is used in the movie. The jungle setting, the basic conceit of trained killers being hunted, the relationships between the characters, and even some of the character beats and story arcs are recreated. The film even closes with the Little Richard blaring his, ‘Long Tall Sally,’ over the end credits. All that was missing was the cast signature video montage shots at the end.

Storywise the film is pretty solid. It flounders slightly when Laurence Fishburne shows up as a crazed survivor. The character brings very little new information to the film telling us and the characters things we already know about. There is also a WTF moment when one character decides to stay back and face the Predators out of the blue. There was a similar moment in Predator with Billy the Indian guide character but at least some motivational elements had been set up for him. When the samurai character of Hanzo, played by Louis Ozawa Changchien, makes the same decision it makes no sense.

Those quibbles aside the movie gets far more right than it gets wrong. It rarely lags and sets up a satisfying climax. The end of the movie is a good spot to stop the Predator franchise on. Anything beyond this would again take the franchise out of its element or would simply be a repetition.

A most enjoyable B popcorn movie.

Toronto SF Expo – This Weekend

Off to the Toronto SF Expo for the next 3 days.
The Expo features guests from the worlds of SF, Horror, Comics, and Anime. Some headliners include Leonard Nimoy, Bruce Campbell, Mary McDonnell, and Linda Hamilton.

Going in with a press pass so hope to get close to Leonard Nimoy – a lifelong hero of mine. One interview that has been arranged for sure is with Robert Duncan McNeill aka Tom Paris of Star Trek:Voyager. Recently McNeill has moved from acting to directing and is one of the core Chuck directors.

Hope to get some detailed answers from him on directing duties as well as his reactions to the recent announcement of Brendan Routh aka SuperMan being cast for a multi-episode appearance in Season 3. Very appropriate that Chuck, now with SuperPowers is to be mentored by the ManOfSteel himself.

Not being an interviewer by trade I am somewhat nervous. I have prepared an interview outline and hope to be able ask all my questions but must be prepared to modify it on the fly depending on time restrictions.

The Rise of Robots Continues

Summer Is Finally Here!

2 months late summer has finally arrived. Finally temps in the 80s and a dialling back of the continual daily rain.

Finished Robert J. Sawyer’s latest book – Wake. It is the first in a planned trilogy about the internet gaining sentience. It is done in Helen Keller meets Neuromancer style. The protoganist is a plucky 15 year old who is blind. Through an implant in her eye, Caitlin is able to see. Not only normal vision but that of cyberspace too. RJS continues to seamlessly weave the awe inspiring with the everyday in an entertaining and joyful mix. There are scenes of real emotion too. The remaining books are titled Watch and Wonder hence the WWW trilogy.

Not usually a fan of home grown ie Canadian scripted TV but have come across a pleasant surprise called Being Erica. It is about a disenchanted 32 year old woman who could be labelled the biggest disappointment of her high school class. Erica is filled with regrets due to a string of life decisions where she feels she made the wrong choice. A ‘counsellor’ shows up and through a murky device allows Erica to travel back to those moments and have a second chance to correct them. The show is deftly written and quite mature in its subject matter at times. The 13 episode first season will be out on DVD soon and is well worth a visit.

Here is a clip with the theme song:

Here is a preview clip:

Don’t Mess With Charles Nelson Reilly

Weird Al strikes again.

Luficer Rising – SuperNatural Season 4

Luficer Rising – and is coming to the next season of SuperNatural.

SuperNatural Season 4 rocked all the way to the season finale and the stage is now set for the Apocalypse in Season 5. Can’t wait to see how it plays out. The series has followed a true story progression for the last two seasons. Sam and Dean have grown and changed permanently. A welcome relief for a TV series in a medium where resets and pullbacks are the norm.

One episode of special delight was the one entitled – The Monster At The End of this Book in which the brothers find a series of books which is an exact recounting of their adventures. Turns out the writer, Chuck, is a prophet chosen to chronicle the Winchester brother’s lifes. The episode is a real hoot as it riffs on fans, forums, and fanfic. Including a reference to slash fiction much to Dean’s disgust.’Dude, they do know we are brothers, right?’ Hilarious.

There is a talk of a Season 6 even though the series was originally envisioned as a 5 year arc. Cannot say I am thrilled with that news as the brothers are heading down paths that leave no room for future engagements in my mind. The writers of this show have shown themselves to be very clever so an open mind will be kept until they get to that point. For now, Season 5 is going to be killer.


Shades of Drew Struzan:

Dexter Season 4 Preview

Follow the link.

Dexter deals with domestication.

SuperNatural Season 4 Soars

Wow! Just wow!

Cut to Season 4 Spoilers

TV Series On Different Trajectories – SuperNatural & Burn Notice

Follow Through

It is intriguing to watch 2 very different shows, both established, set themselves up to move to a new level, and achieve widely different results.

SuperNatural S4 has brought Armageddon to the table. This escalation is a logical extension of the show’s mythology. The expansion of the world from the Winchester family’s personal viewpoint to a global one is a bold move. Based on the first half dozen episodes this move has been brilliantly executed.

Burn Notice S3 took a risky step too and removed Michael Weston’s safety net. The blanket protection by the higher ups who have shielded him from the intelligence community and the authorities at home is gone. Michael is on his own and vulnerable. An exciting setup for the season, no? Well, one would think so but so far the show has really not stepped up to the plate and delivered on the potential of this new premise.

For the first 3 episodes Michael was being ‘hounded’ by a local cop. Problem was she only showed up at the beginning and end of each episode. Rarely did she walk into the middle of mission and raise new dramatic situations for Michael to deal with. By the third episode, Michael helped solve a case for her which then had her step back and stop bird dogging him. Oh-kay. That played like out like a wet fart.

The next episode had Michael captured by a Russian mercenary looking for revenge but the trained merecenaries came off no better than any of the previous thugs Michael has bested.

Back to SuperNatural – the world expansion that now includes appearances by the other ‘team.’  In the first three seasons all the unnatural appearance where from the bad side;  demons, vampires, ghosts, tricksters, and shapeshifters. Now the other side has decided to enter the frey in a more visible way.   ArchAngels are deftly interwoven into the Winchester’s personal dilemmas. Dean has been retrieved from hell by an angel for a higher purpose while Sam wrestles with not using his psychic abilities because they are fueled by the demon blood fed to him as a baby. Here we see the dynamics of the Armageddon theme pushing the characters to new areas.

Quite a contrast with Burn Notice, which is really treading the same water it has the previous seasons.

In Burn Notice’s favour the stories themselves are as tightly written and scripted as before with the requisite amount of humour. And who could help but laugh out loud at Michael’s mother, played to perfection by Sharon Gless, being the one to ‘torture’ the information out of the bad guy when Fie and Sam failed?

It comes down to follow through. SuperNatural is moving to new heights and/or depths out of the gate while Burn Notice seems to be sticking to previously explored ground.