The Sci-Fi News: Akira Gets Japanese, Ender Gets a Hugo and Area 51 Gets Hurd
In the first bit of Akira casting news that makes any sense at all, Oscar nominated Japanese actor (and certified badass) Ken Watanabe has been offered the role of The Colonel in Jaume "Orphan" Collet-Serra's remake of the classic anime. Gary Oldman was the first choice for the part, but Warner Bros. failed to finalize a deal (which is a bit of a surprise, since Oldman is a working character actor with the tendency to take whatever role is dangled in front of him), so the part is now Watanabe's to lose. It's nice to see a Japanese actor offered a role in a very Japanese story and if he takes the part, he'll effortlessly overshadow his wooden white boy co-stars. The only lingering problem is that they're still making an American Akira, which just feels wrong.
They've been trying to make an Ender's Game movie for a long time now and anyone who has read Orson Scott Card's classic novel can tell you why: it has the potential to look really, really silly when projected up on a movie screen. This isn't just a story where the vast majority of the cast is under the age of ten, this is a story where a bunch of six to eight year olds are recruited into a military program and trained to prepare for an inevitable conflict with a powerful alien race. It's a terrific story with incredible, universal stakes, but all of the drama has to rest on the shoulders of child thespians, which, as history has shown us, is never a good thing for any movie, especially science fiction war movies. Anyway, a film version is moving forward under the direction of Gavin Hood (whose filmography includes the Oscar winning Tsotsi and and the celluloid head injury X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and the lead role of Ender, a child primed to become a master military strategist, has been offered Asa Butterfield, who can currently be seen running around train stations and discovering the joys of early cinema in Hugo. Butterfield is 14, which suggests that they may be upping the age of the characters, which could damage the themes of the story (stolen childhoods and so on) but will certainly spare the audience from an ensemble of wooden child actors.
Producer Gale Anne Hurd is no stranger to quality genre cinema, with her name in the credits for The Terminator, Terminator 2 and Aliens. She's also familiar with genre television from working on (frustratingly mediocre) The Walking Dead. That kind of pedigree makes Hurd the perfect choice to shepherd forth a television show based on Annie Jacobsen's best selling "non-fiction" book, Area 51. The show will "follow two men working on the base who are thrust into danger when they uncover secrets that the government will protect at any cost." Personally, I'd love to see a workplace drama following the day-to-day exploits of the men and women working amongst alien autopsies and weapon experimentation, but that's probably why I'm not making the big bucks as a television producer.
The Sci-Fi Reviews:
Melancholia: Lars Von Trier's Melancholia is science fiction in the same way that his Antichrist is a horror movie: it uses science fiction ideas and concepts to expand on its creator's bleak worldview in unexpected and often horrifying ways. From the outside, it sounds like another tried and true entry in the Disaster Movie subgenre of science fiction: a rogue planet, dubbed Melancholia, will pass dangerously close to Earth. Scientists claim there is nothing to worry about. We, the audience, know differently, either because we've seen too many science fiction movies or because we know that Von Trier is not a filmmaker who lets his characters live happy and peaceful existences.
The first half of Melancholia plays the science fiction aspect of the story close to the vest, giving the approaching planet only a vague mention here and there. The focus of the story is Justine (Kirsten Dunst), whose overwhelming depression threatens her wedding reception and her relationship with everyone in her life. For awhile, Melancholia plays like a film Von Trier would have made a decade ago: an ensemble of characters gather together, barely contain their loathing and proceed to be intensely cruel to one another. In the second hour, the focus shifts to Justine's sister Claire (Von Trier veteran/survivor Charlotte Gainsbourg), who struggles to take care of her increasingly troubled family while constantly worrying about the encroaching doom in the sky. Her husband (a confident but restrained Kiefer Sutherland), an astronomer by hobby, tells her that there is nothing to worry about, but, you know, of course there is.
Von Trier has never been a subtle filmmaker and he never lets the imagery and metaphors of the film be anything less than obvious. Melancholia isn't so much a direct metaphor for depression, but rather a metaphor for how depression affects your mind. If you'll allow me to break into first person for a moment and get all personal with you, I've suffered from clinical depression and I related with Justine when she tells Justine that she hopes Melancholia hits the planet and obliterates it entirely. Depression isn't just sadness or not feeling swell, it's an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that manifests itself in a variety of ways, often leading to near physical paralysis, fear of social contact, self loathing and indescribable rage at the world around you. Von Trier understands how depression feels and Melancholia feels more like depression than any other film I've ever seen. To experience this film is to experience depression.
That may not sound like fun and well, it isn't. Melancholia is a difficult film that goes out of its way to punish its audience. Nearly every character is hopeless or despicable and there is no forward moving plot, but Von Trier has never shot a more beautiful film (the final scenes are genuine works of art) and actors have rarely been this emotionally raw and fearless. Gainsbourg is a reliably great presence in any film she takes part in, but it's Dunst who proves a revelation, shaking off the Spider-Man movies and inhabiting a character so depressed that she's left behind shame and reason. She doesn't play a likable character, but a truly depressed person isn't likable: she puts herself in the skin of a person who desperately needs help but, because of the nature of her condition, refuses any and all acts of kindness or assistance. It's tough to watch, as it should be.
Melancholia is not a film for everyone and viewers looking for a more hardcore science fiction story will undoubtedly leave disappointed, but Von Trier is operating in a class by himself at this point. Like with Antichrist, he's trying on a genre and picking and choosing specific tropes of that genre to make craft images, characters and situations that couldn't quite exist in a normal reality. It's fascinating and it's frustrating and oh boy, it's certainly depressing, but it's also something that serious film fans owe it to themselves to see.
The Sci-Fi Horizon: Making Snap Judgments on 'Prometheus' and 'The Darkest Hour'
Our own Mike Bracken already wrote about 'em (and you can check them out here), but I'm going to chime in on those new images from Prometheus because I'm selfish and crave attention. Like everyone else, I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking at, but I know I like it. Let's face it, all you've got to do is put Michael Fassbender, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in science fiction jumpsuits, promise that they'll face mortal danger in a universe that may or may not be the same one inhabited by the Xenomorphs from Alien and place Ridley Scott in the director's chair and I'll be there will bells on my shoes and a song in my heart. I'm always fond of a nicely designed spacesuit and let me tell you, these are some mighty fine spacesuits:
Based solely on these pics, I've decided to be wildly positive about Prometheus from this point onward. Although we have no sense of tone or story (that synopsis Fox sent out is a beautiful example of saying a lot of words while telling us nothing), I love that Scott appears to be making a movie about future astronauts exploring some sort of alien culture, presumably the space jockeys glimpsed in corpse-form from the first film. Is it too much to hope for a slick, gruesome take on the Forbidden Planet formula? When it comes to science fiction films coming in the (reasonably) near future, Prometheus leads the pack.
And while I'm making snap judgments on science fiction movies based entirely on their marketing material, I've yet to see anything from Chris Gorak's The Darkest Hour that makes me want to see it. I dig it conceptually -- what genre fan in his right mind doesn't want to watch a movie about invisible, energy absorbing aliens conquering the planet practically overnight? -- but the film looks oddly cheap, like a high end SyFy Channel movie. Still, you never judge a book by its cover or a movie by its trailer, so I'll pay for a ticket just because Gorak managed to craft a terrific thriller on a budget with Right At Your Door. Anyway, here's the TV spot that spurred these thoughts:
Who kills a dog in their marketing material? Way to alienate a ton of potential viewers, guys.
Meanwhile, the second half of November is looking pretty barren when it comes to science fiction DVD releases, but you can satiate yourself with JJ Abrams' Super 8, which is apparently a fantastic release from a technical standpoint. I wish I liked the film more than I did (it's well made, but its script is helplessly broken), but a rental should tide me over until Rise of the Planet of the Apes hits shelves next month.