By Jaime Weinman - Friday, October 21, 2011 - 2 Comments
Remaking Dumas’s story is a tradition, though the novel isn’t exactly a masterpiece
Every generation gets the version of The Three Musketeers it deserves. In our era’s own 3-D extravaganza, opening Oct. 21, director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil) tries to turn the story into a steampunk superhero adventure, building most of the action around sci-fi airships. It’s just the latest version to radically change Alexandre Dumas’s novel. To the premise of the 1844 book—a callow youth joins up with three older swashbucklers and fights to save the honour of France— films have added cartoon animals, musical stars, and Raquel Welch. Given that Hollywood did a film with the title characters played by the cult comedy team the Ritz Brothers, is there any version that can still shock us?
Literally since feature films began, there has been a Three Musketeers movie about twice a decade. While many adaptations of 19th-century literature are money-losers, Musketeers movies usually do well. Stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly and Michael York have successfully appeared as the callow youth D’Artagnan. Even the now-obscure 1993 film with a bunch of guys who later went into TV (Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O’Donnell) was a hit. And animated short films can’t stay away from the idea either: The Two Mouseketeers, a Tom and Jerry cartoon version with a French-speaking mouse, won the Academy Award for best cartoon.
That track record could explain why last year studios were in a race to see which one could develop a Musketeers movie first. After its success with Sherlock Holmes, Warner Brothers was working on its own Three Musketeers reboot, which Variety said would “play up the action and sexier elements of the story.” A German company rushed the current version into production, causing Warners to abandon the property; the new film has gotten poor reviews from the critics, but just getting a Dumas film on the market was considered enough of a triumph. Even more than Sherlock Holmes, who hadn’t been in many big-budget features before Robert Downey Jr. came along, the Musketeers are always seen as a viable movie project.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:40 AM - 2 Comments
Flat panel 3-D television sets first came out early last year. But few people own one, or know anyone who does.
Flat panel 3-D television sets first came out early last year. But few people own one, or know anyone who does. The slower-than-expected sales are believed to be the result of a dearth of available 3-D content to watch, which is why television makers like Sony and Panasonic are joining forces with broadcasters to fix the situation.
Sony recently teamed up with two TV stations in Japan to offer the country’s first 3-D television series, a drama called Tokyo Control, according to the Wall Street Journal. The show is about the workers at the Tokyo Air Traffic Control Center and was made with input from production staff who worked on James Cameron’s 3-D Hollywood blockbuster Avatar. Panasonic, meanwhile, has produced a 3-D music program for satellite TV. Sony predicts that 3-D models will account for 10 per cent of the market by early next year, and that it will have sold 25 million of the sets by March 2011.
By Philippe Gohier - Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The season’s golden girls, bad boys, and red-carpet rebels
Batman and Superman recently went toe to toe and settled the age-old debate over superhero supremacy. The battle, though, was recorded only in the chequebooks of wealthy collectors. Late last month, a copy of Action Comics No. 1, the first to feature Superman, was sold for a record US$1 million in a private sale in New York City. Three days later, the first comic featuring Batman hit the auction block in Dallas, and sold for US$1,075,500.
Lawmakers agree Aniston played a major role in getting California’s new paparazzi law approved. The law calls for fines of up to US$50,000 against media outlets that buy and publish “unlawfully obtained” photos. Aniston told legislators she’d had as many as 30 photographers charge her on the sidewalk and been followed through L.A. streets at night in SUVs. Politicians agreed: there’s something truly deranged about having that much of an interest in Jennifer Aniston.
After 55 years in show business, Canadian actor Christopher Plummer finally had a reason to show up at the Oscars this year when he was nominated for his role in The Last Station. Plummer didn’t win—the award went to Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds—but one suspects he won’t mind having to find something else to do next Oscar night if he’s not nominated again. “It’s a flesh-peddling business,” he said, prior to the show. “And I don’t always like the feeling on the red carpet.”
By Robert Fulford - Wednesday, February 17, 2010 at 10:50 AM - 18 Comments
On almost every level, says this critic, ‘Avatar’ is a sub-prime performance
No less an eminence than Roger Ebert has identified the special status of Avatar, the most ambitious film by the most celebrated Canadian filmmaker in history, James Cameron. “It is an Event,” Ebert wrote, “one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.”
No one will deny that it’s currently the subject of several million conversations, but the meaning of the Event deserves scrutiny. Is Avatar, as Cameron’s publicity implies, a gateway to the movies of the future and an affirmation of elevated spiritual values in a coarse, commercial world? Or is it the sign of an art form in grave danger of losing its heart to technique, proof of a public addiction to worn-out storytelling—and fresh evidence that North America is the first society in history that willingly pays good money to see itself depicted as essentially evil?
When a work of science fiction runs dry it becomes a minor footnote to contemporary fashions in opinion. Avatar, more than most films, drives itself into this narrative dead end. It comes across as a commercial for the Green party, a New Age hymn to pure nature, and a florid work of anti-war propaganda, a simple-minded story of an army dedicated to evil purposes fighting a nation of innocent victims.
By Colby Cosh - Monday, February 15, 2010 at 10:48 AM - 25 Comments
I suppose a lot of you have seen the astonishing video of the Intellectual Ventures Mosquito Death Ray. It’s a can’t-believe-your-eyes proof-of-concept so irresistible that the time to it being monetized as a mass-market product that sits on your porch must surely be a matter of months. Remember how quickly Apple went from being a computer manufacturer to being a music company that happened to have a sideline in computers? You think the same thing could happen with Microsoft and pest control?
Devised for malaria eradication in Africa, the Mosquito Death Ray seems like promising ground for the One Laptop Per Child business model (which has failed, so far, to get very many laptops to very many children); use Western punters to cross-subsidize humanitarian uses for a cool technology.
But I’m a morbid pessimist. What I think of when I see a Mosquito Death Ray built with cheap parts from eBay isn’t malaria: I think “Gee, seems like guidance systems for ground-to-air rockets would be well within the financial range and design abilities of a clever hobbyist now.” Then I think, “Hey, haven’t we seen rather a lot of news stories over the past few years about pilots being mysteriously scanned with green laser pointers?” Then I just kind of curl up into a fetal position.
(But let’s not let that stop us from enjoying more fun from Intellectual Ventures: reverse-engineering the secrets of Avatar.)
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, January 18, 2010 at 11:03 AM - 25 Comments
James Cameron’s Golden Globe-winning movie has single-handedly brought back old-fashioned movie magic
It looks like the movie about blue aliens by that brash Canadian from Niagara Falls is poised to become the top-grossing picture of all time. After roaring past the $1-billion threshold in a record 17 days, James Cameron’s Avatar will likely shatter the $1.8-billion tidemark set by Cameron’s own Titanic 12 years ago, especially if it does well at the Oscars. Which begs the question: why? Everyone seems to agree that the story is corny, its message is naive, and its cliché of the noble savage is retrograde. Friends of mine who have no desire to see Avatar keep asking, why is it so huge? Is it just a massive feat of marketing?
No, it’s the magic, stupid.
Love it or hate it, Avatar boldly goes where no movie has gone before. Some of the ﬁlm’s harshest critics have even confessed they would see it again—just for the 3-D experience of being so deeply inside a movie. Then there are those who swear they’ll never see it, as if on principle. They dismiss it as just another escalation in the Hollywood blitzkrieg of special effects, a victory of digital artillery over human emotion. I would argue the opposite. Sure, Avatar’s prototype of 3-D spectacle is the biggest game-changer since Star Wars launched the arms race of sci-ﬁ blockbusters 33 years ago. But what’s revolutionary about Cameron’s ﬁlm is not its ﬁrepower. The real feat is how it uses cutting-edge technology to bring back a kind of old-fashioned movie magic.
Despite the guns and spears that occasionally poke through the fourth wall, what has Avatar audiences spellbound is not the frontal assault of 3-D, but the enchantment of being drawn into a world that softly envelops the senses. It’s akin to the childhood wonder of discovering a classic Disney cartoon. I went back to see Avatar a second time, and was struck that the 3-D was most effective when the action slowed to a virtual standstill. There’s a scene in Pandora’s bioluminescent forest where jellyﬁsh-like spores from the moon’s sacred tree ﬂoat down to tickle the blue limbs of the story’s avatar hero. Which sounds ridiculous on the page. But it’s a Tinker Bell moment of transcendent beauty. You can sense the collective awe in the theatre—time has stopped and we’re in the movie.
It’s as if Cameron, a veteran deep-sea diver, has transformed the screen’s ﬂat rectangle into an aquarium and asked us in for a swim, with 3-D glasses serving as scuba gear. The ﬂying sequences are exhilarating—and oceanic, as Na’vi natives ride bareback on giant birds that swoop over cliffs like manta rays grazing coral reefs. But Avatar’s stereoscopic vision goes beyond optics. With performance-capture technology that erases the line between live action and animation, the actors teleport their performances into another dimension; they, like their characters, drive avatars.
The ﬂattest thing about the movie is the script. Cameron’s saga of a Marine who goes native in an alien world, leading an aboriginal revolt against U.S. military invaders, is a humourless pastiche cobbled from virtually every hoary, heroic myth Western culture has to offer. Avatar wants to be Dances With Wolves, Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey all at once. But in a world of wall-to-wall irony, the ﬁlm’s earnest sentiment comes as a tonic. The state-of-the-art anachronism feels weirdly fresh, as if the entire movie is an avatar—a high-tech Trojan Horse hiding a 19th-century colonial romance.
And that’s all part of its industrial alchemy. Cameron never liked nuance. Fuelled by Wagnerian ambition, his righteous anti-war epic wrestles our emotions to the ground with operatic force. We’re drawn into a jungle paradise only to see it destroyed in a Goya-like pageant of horriﬁc beauty. It’s profoundly sad, and the depth of the 3-D drives home the tragedy with a visceral impact. The second time I saw the ﬁlm, I found myself constantly on the verge of tears, as if the screen was exerting a tidal pull on the heart.
What’s most remarkable about Avatar is how Cameron created technology in order to demonize technology. In the process, he has reversed the engines of a blockbuster culture geared to loud, fast special effects. His movie proves that 3-D works best as an immersive medium: with the detail of that third dimension, the ﬁlm’s violent action scenes tend to get too busy. Avatar plays like a movie by a man at war with himself—a gun-loving tree-hugger addicted to machines who, like the hero who goes native, wants to ﬁght his way back to the garden. Now that he’s found it, action movies may never be the same.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, March 20, 2009 at 3:34 PM - 7 Comments
I will confess to being on the side of the skeptics, like Leonard Maltin (briefly quoted in the WSJ article), who point out that every time 3-D comes around, producers and executives announce that it’s going to change everything, and it never, ever does. True, 3-D is more advanced now than it used to be, but having to wear glasses is still a major turn-off (particularly for people who are nearsighted and already need glasses to see the screen). Jack Warner was so certain that 3-D would be the new version of sound, something that would completely change the medium of film, that he shut down the Warner Brothers cartoon department in 1953; he’d decided that all films would probably be made in 3-D and that it was too expensive to make 3-D cartoons. He re-opened the cartoon studio a few months later when 3-D imploded.
Of course they also said that sound would never take over, but if the studios had been trying to launch sound for over 50 years, only to find every time that the public didn’t care whether a movie had sound or not, then I might also be skeptical of an announcement that now sound would take over because of an improvement in recording techniques.
And while I promise not to illustrate every post with a strip from the newly-discovered Peanuts archive, I just can’t resist this one from 1971, because it’s so darn relevant here:
I’ll admit, though, that I have a slight bias against 3-D because one of the things I love about movies is their kinship to painting; directors used to study their favourite painters and imitate their work on film in terms of composition and shadows and light. That’s already starting to get lost, and with 3-D the visual look of movies will be… already is, actually… kind of ugly. But again, you could say the same things about silent vs. sound. (And you’d be right: silent movies may not have been “better” than sound, but they were a unique art form, and it was sad to see them go, even though the popularity of sound made that inevitable. If 3-D takes over eventually, the loss of 2-D as a unique art form will also be sad.)
The advantages of 3-D movies, as described in the articles, have less to do with the technology and more to do with the fact that these movies are booked for high-cost, limited-run engagements. They are, in other words, a modern version of the “roadshow” movie, those big-budget ’50s and ’60s movies like Ben-Hur or The Sound of Music where studios would book movies into relatively few theatres, at high ticket prices and with an intermission, and make lots of money by making moviegoing into a high-end entertainment like live theatre. This practice died out in the late ’60s, and even at its height it depended on the prosperity of the ’50s and ’60s (charging huge ticket prices in the ’30s or ’70s would not have worked).
Anyway, here is the one cartoon that Warner Brothers made in 3-D, though it hasn’t actually been seen in genuine 3-D since 1954. (And the only thing to indicate that it was in 3-D is the opening gag with the WB shield.)