Godzilla: Resurrection – The Audio Mix

Here I am, back with another Resurrection update!

I’m still in the process of creating the assembly cut, but I’m almost done; the Super X battle is all done, so it should be smooth sailing until I reach the end sequence, where my next great challenge will involve integrating the various sound effects, such as the famous “B mix” scream and Raymond Burr’s narration, into the audio mix, which is what leads to today’s post.

While The Return of Godzilla is readily available in the United States on blu-ray with both English and Japanese 5.1 surround mixes, I have chosen to mix Resurrection in stereo. The reasons for this are two-fold:

  1. Godzilla 1985 has only ever had a mono mix, which is in stereo configuration on the Red Menace reconstruction, so any fan edit that combines both films must match.
  2. My relative inexperience with surround mixes.

Given the ambitious nature of this project compared to some others I have in the pipeline, I decided on the stereo mix as an easier alternative to trying to up-mix the 1985 footage to 5.1. This presented its own set of challenges, however, as simply down-mixing the 5.1 Japanese mix would not be ideal or easy. So, I decided to take a two-tier approach to the audio.

First, after ripping the blu-ray and acquiring Red Menace’s 1985 reconstruction, I used Audio Muxer to extract and convert each video file’s audio track, in three varieties: a lossless stereo .flac track, two lossless mono wav files for the left and right stereo tracks, and lossless mono wavs for each 5.1 track (left, right, back left, back right, center, and LFE). These files were then used to rebuild a new mix, using the flacs as a base. For dialogue scenes, this track was enough, but for more action-packed sequences, I employed the separate wav files in various configurations to both add punch and nuance to the picture, and sometimes even to cover editorial changes made by myself.

screenshot3

In effect, even in scenes where it appears I made no major changes, the audio has been substantially altered or even rebuilt, as was the case with Steve Martin’s introduction at the end of the Yahatu Maru’s wreck off of Daikoku Island: all audio in this portion of the scene from Godzilla’s roar on has been rebuilt using the isolated Christopher Young music cue and public domain sound effects, whilst before it has been rebuilt from the ripped audio elements listed above. Many other scenes benefit from this reconstruction, including:

  • Any scene with audio elements added in 1985, including the English news voice of Goro’s sailboat radio, the added Shockilas noises, the Christopher Young tracks, and alternate Godzilla roars;
  • Several scenes in TROG that were noticeably missing sound effects, like numerous sequences within Hayashida’s lab building during the Tokyo rampage and the battle with the Super X;
  • Adding the Christopher Young tracks and other sound effects to the added Pentagon scenes to bump up the mono audio

I hope all this work will be appreciated by viewers of the edit when it is released, because boy, is it a lot of work. But it’s all a bit of fun, really.

And a lot of desk chair sweat.

Advertisements

Maestro’s Picks – Blade Runner Week

It’s time for a special Maestro’s Picks this weekend, as Blade Runner 2049 is finally out and in the world. In honor of the sequel that I’m sure nobody ever thought would happen way back in 1982, I’ve decided to share with you all my favorite links and videos from the world of Los Angeles, 2019.

I’m sure most fans will recognize this one immediately, but if you’ve never checked it out, BladeZone, the “Online Blade Runner Fan Site and Museum,” is still the cream of the crop when it comes to Blade Runner tributes online. Some of the articles may be just a bit dated, but still incredibly fascinating, ranging from all different topics on the film and its production, music, visual effects, and different versions, as well as other subjects related to the film, such as the computer game and homages.

Another great fan site, one I used to visit a lot myself, is BRmovie.com, a similar site to BladeZone. It hasn’t been updated since 2011 (it is quite amusing to see that their last news item is Ridley Scott suggesting a sequel may be in the works), but much of the material on the site is still deserving of consumption, mainly based more around essays and analysis of the film and its themes. A very expansive FAQ page is also housed on the site.

And finally, the videos. Lately a few great pieces of analysis have sprung up, no doubt in anticipation of 2049. We start with a new episode of Cinefix’s What’s the Difference? series, in which the hosts compare Blade Runner against its source novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Another swell analysis of the original Blade Runner comes from Michael of Lessons from the Screenplay, who deconstructs the main pieces of film noir and looks at how Blade Runner plays with these pieces to reinvigorate and change that genre for a sci-fi setting.

Also of worthwhile watch is NerdWriter’s analysis of the film, with emphasis on its arthouse asthetic.

And finally, because I can’t get enough of his fun and wildly informative series, here’s Oliver Harper’s Review & Retrospective of Blade Runner:

Before I take my leave of you, I would like to share below three final videos. These are special, however, because they are the official prequels to Denis Villeneuve’s sequel, the first two directed by Luke Scott, and the third, a mind-blowing anime sequel to the original film, directed by Cowboy Bebop‘s Shinichiro Watanabe. Enjoy, and don’t forget to go see Blade Runner 2049, in theaters now!

Blade Runner Week

In case you haven’t noticed, this week I will be counting down the days till the release of Blade Runner 2049 with a tribute to my favorite film of all time, Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

Most of my posts will actually be on social media, including my thoughts of each version of Blade Runner, special image posts and gifsets, and other little interesting goodies. Follow the links to my Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr below.

Here, I will be making a few new posts throughout the week: a new Head Canon installment containing my personal take on the Deck-A-Rep theory, an editorial on the process of editing a film, and a special Blade Runner edition Maestro’s Picks, all leading up to my review of Blade Runner 2049. I may even get around to reviewing a couple Blade Runner fan edits.

Enjoy!

Fan Edit Review: Paradise

paradise

Original Films Directed by Ridley Scott, Prometheus Written by Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof, Alien: Covenant Written by John Logan and Dante Larper
Fan Edit by JobWillins
Category: FanMix

JobWillins’ Derelict was quite the experience, combining two Ridley Scott films separated by over three decades into a coherent and suspenseful single storyline. After Alien: Covenant was released, I suddenly had a spark of inspiration; why couldn’t Prometheus and Covenant be combined in a similar way? After all, both films feature a central character in David, the murderous, disturbingly creative android, so why not give it a go myself? Well, little did I know that JobWillins was already on it, and let’s face it, he was always going to do a better job than I would.

As it turns out, JobWillins had conceived of the Paradise idea long ago. From his Tumblr:

“When I edited Derelict a couple of years ago, combining Prometheus & Alien in black & white, it was mainly because I found Prometheus unsatisfying as a standalone film.  Its ending promised (and begged for) a sequel, but that sequel kept falling behind other Ridley Scott productions.  With a sequel in doubt, I tried to use material from both films to make a single experience that felt more like a satisfying whole.
“We eventually did get a sequel 5 years later in Alien: Covenant.  Half of it felt like a Prometheus sequel and the other half an Alien prequel.  In my opinion it didn’t fully succeed in either role.  I enjoyed parts of Covenant very much as I did Prometheus, but also much like Prometheus, it ended on an intriguing promise of a sequel.  That sequel may never come thanks to its relatively poor box office performance.”

And so, here we are with another expansive, 2.5 hour sci-fi epic!

paradise2

Opening in the all-too-familiar black-and-white style of Derelict with the ominous Peter Weyland TED Talk, Paradise shifts into full color with the excellent prologue of Covenant, David’s first day of life in the company of his father. However, the prologue stops short, giving us the new title as the Prometheus flies through space. Throughout the film, this prologue will return periodically, as if to punctuate the themes of creation and godhood with increased clarity as the narrative bounces between time frames.

paradise1

While the transitions aren’t quite as good or numerous as those witnessed in Derelict, JobWillins covers this with a restrained hand, ensuring to keep both films at least thematically-synced. Probably the best example of this would be Covenant‘s backburster scene, intercut with Holloway’s agonizing death in Prometheus. As Ted Kurzel’s brilliant score pulsates away, the horror of both Shaw and Oram seeing their spouses’ deaths is compounded nicely. A lot has been cut from both films, including some of my favorite bits, like Milburn and Fifield’s run-in with the Millipede and various snippets of the Covenant crew’s first trek across Planet 4, but again, this is all in the name of ensuring the finished project isn’t so long that viewers check out for other offerings.

paradise3

As before in Derelict, several deleted scenes from both films are used, as well as some of the online viral content from Alien: Covenant. Major props to JobWillins for his beautiful rendition of the ‘Crossing’ prologue. As for changes wholly his own, some may or may not like his musical choices for the beginning and end of the Covenant storyline, but I for one enjoyed them.

For this review, I watched his full-quality offering of the edit from Google Drive, which at a file size of 9.62 GBs, is plenty enough for home theater viewing. The video bitrate is a little lower than Derelict‘s at 8 mbps, but this allows for the inclusion of both stereo and surround audio tracks, and I honestly didn’t see any video quality loss, at least on my 1080p equipment.

paradise5

While Derelict seemed to emphasize the mystery and intrigue of the films it sought to combine, Paradise is an edit more preoccupied with the grander themes at work within Ridley Scott’s mind: themes of creating life from nothing, of going against the natural order, themes more reminiscent of Shelley than Lovecraft, which is something I picked up from Covenant that I’m sure most viewers either didn’t see or didn’t appreciate. JobWillins certainly did, and that’s just one of many reasons why I love Paradise. I’m still thinking of doing my own Prometheus/Covenant fanmix, but not because Paradise was inadequate. On the contrary, if I never got around to it, I wouldn’t feel that bad. I still have this gem to come back to.

Maestro’s Picks: September 1, 2017

It’s Friday, which means it’s time for another Maestro’s Picks!

With a new adaptation of Stephen King’s It hitting theaters in less than a week, a lot of viewers may be popping in their discs of the original ABC miniseries starting the immortal Tim Curry as Pennywise the Dancing Clown. However, if you don’t have three-and-a-half hours to spare, you can try James A. Janisse’s shorter recap, a part of his excellent Kill Count series on the Dead Meat YouTube Channel.

With an emphasis on the kills, his series sets itself apart from the other countless versions of the same premise online with his witty and irreverent synopsis of everything onscreen. Beginning with slasher films like the Friday the 13th series, Janisse has branched out into other horror flicks such as Night of the Living Dead, Get Out, and of course, It. He is currently in the middle of the Child’s Play series.

Today’s pic of the week: The Empire subscriber cover for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The vid of the week: Luke Scott’s short prequel to Blade Runner 2049, Nexus Dawn.

That’s all folks! See you next week!

Maestro’s Picks – August 25, 2017

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time for Maestro’s Picks!

Because this is the glorious(?) return of my first on-going series, I’ve decided to go with two picks this time around. Also, because I just couldn’t pick one of them. This time, both are from the illustrious and bottomless world of Tumblr!

First, as you may or may not know, I am working on my first full-length fan edit, and a major factor in this finally happening is the excellent editor Red Menace, of RedMenaceOfficial on Tumblr. Specializing in HD reconstructions, Red Menace has delivered the kaiju goods on multiple occasions, bringing back to life such lost American versions of Godzilla films as Godzilla 1985, Destroy All Monsters, and Monster Zero, in addition to a fan edit series of Neon Genesis Evangelion. He is currently working on several projects including a hotly-anticipated Godzilla vs. The Thing reconstruction, and of course, makes tons of shitposts. Check him out!

Second is the interesting newcomer Alien Covenant: A Gothic Fiction in Space. My recent rewatch of Covenant has convinced me of its merits as a great science fiction and horror story, and this Tumblr came along at the right time to help form words to my exploding thoughts regarding Ridley Scott’s newest piece. Prerusing the table of contents post reveals an expansive attention to the details of Covenant, analyzing everything from character motivations to specific, indelible images that link Scott’s film with the greatest gothic fiction of the past, including, yes, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Give this one a serious read, even if you weren’t a fan of Covenant. You just might change your mind.

And now, here comes the second half of Maestro’s Picks: where I share one video and one image which I found myself drawn to this week: Presenting:

The new poster for Blade Runner 2049, opening October 17 of this year and starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto:

Image result for blade runner 2049 poster

Medley Weaver‘s mashup trailer for Godzilla (1954), featuring the music and editing of the 2014 film’s famous trailer:

Well, that’s all for today! Stay true, believers!

EDITORIAL: Aliens Ruined the Alien Franchise

Before I begin, I just want to say that I, in fact, do not hate Aliens at all. Actually, I find it to be fine piece of cinema, heavily influential and paced to entertain at breakneck speed. If you don’t believe me, check out my review.

But as I found myself halfway through a viewing earlier this year for Alien Week, I began to realize something I never had considered before. It felt…different. Not different from the other films, it already is that in spades. I mean different as in I was seeing the film itself in a light I had never seen before. As Ripley and the Marines huddled together in formation, their backs to the wall, awaiting the alien horde with rifles at the ready, I began to remember the numerous complaints of Prometheus viewers at the movie theater where I work, five years ago.

“It’s too confusing; I couldn’t understand it.”

Hicks is spooked. He fires blindly into the ceiling.

“The characters are dumb, they make terrible, stupid decisions. Totally unbelievable.”

Hudson and Vazquez let loose. Alien after alien leaps down from the ceiling panels.

“It’s nothing like Aliens. That movie was good.”

Ripley finally fires, and now I get it.

Indeed, James Cameron’s “perfect sequel” is a good movie. And it was a good thing for the franchise at the time, keeping it alive at a crucial juncture, spawning comics, novels, and yes, more films. But as history has shown time and again, good things can inadvertently lead to bad things. And that night, as Ripley and Newt faced extraterrestrial death in my living room for what was probably the 100th time, I finally saw that Aliens had done just that.

Image result for alien covenant

Damn right, I just blamed Aliens for this.

So how did a seminal sci-fi flick with substantial success, both in profit and influence, singlehandedly destroy the future of its own franchise? To answer that question, it is necessary to look back at Ridley Scott’s original horror classic as well as Cameron’s follow-up, to determine what made Scott’s film stand out, and what Cameron dropped from his to achieve greater success.

THE ORIGINAL FILM

Conceived mainly by screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the script for Alien quickly made a splash among industry insiders in the mid-70s for bleak atmosphere and innovative monster, heavily inspired by the art of Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger. Nothing like Alien had been seen on screen before; while images of extraterrestrial creatures eating people were standard EC Comics fare and the main “space trucker” characters seemed to be blue-collar revisions of the scientific crews of Forbidden Planet and The Thing from Another World, Giger’s beast was a nightmarish creature of incredible sensuality–qualities which are usually mutually exclusive to one another. And the way in which it enters the story–by raping a human male and forcing a bloody birth upon him–is so horrifyingly innovative that the original scene still holds the same shock that it did in 1979.

Image result for Alien 1979

But as much as Alien is O’Bannon’s baby, it was Ridley Scott who did the child-rearing that resulted in a brilliant piece of celluloid. Known for both a meticulous attention to even the smallest detail and his penchant for perfectionism behind the camera, Scott’s direction over both the actors and the design crew, consisting of Giger, Ron Cobb, and comic legends Chris Foss and Jean Moebius Giraud, is as sublime as it is epic. Resolving to push for the maximum effort, Scott was able to attain highly-technical and realistic sets for the space tug Nostromo, and truly eerie and inhuman sights for the crashed Derelict, and of course, the Alien itself. Just two years after Star Wars, Alien changed sci-fi again.

As detailed in The Long Take’s excellent video analysis, the menace of the Alien is wholly unconventional, covered in semen-like slime as it approaches its prey with a sexual cunning. At every stage of its monstrous life cycle, its body takes on alternatively vaginal and phallic forms, stalking men and women alike in an apparent play on both toxic masculinity and the transgender boogeyman of the ’70s feminist movement. Combined with the post-Nixon distrust of authority and the outstanding character of Ripley, played with both masculine grit and feminine intuition by Sigourney Weaver, Alien cracks the mold of both space films and horror.

THE SEQUEL

Immediately after Alien, Ridley Scott had his own designs for a sequel, spit-balling back and forth between a story involving LV-426 exploding, sending eggs through the vastness of space to eventually reach Earth, where Ripley arrives at the start, and another, interesting notion of a prequel detailing how the Derelict and its Space Jockey pilot came to be on their barren world. With the departure of Alan Ladd, Jr. from Twentieth Century Fox, these ideas would not come to fruition, and Scott decided to pursue other projects.

It is intriguing to see the genesis of two very different directions that the Alien franchise would be destined to explore. The first, with an Alien horde reaching Earth, resembles many of the early drafts for Alien 3 and the driving plot element of Alien Resurrection, while the prequel concept obviously became Scott’s preferred vision with Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. In either case, Scott’s ambitions were clear: he wanted to explore the origins and nature of the Xenomorph creature, and dabble in the depiction of the Space Jockey.

Fast-forward to 1984. James Cameron, hot off the success of The Terminator, is suddenly in demand among the Hollywood elite. Having been working on the Alien sequel for some time, he and his producing partner Gale Anne Hurd were finally given the complete reigns over the project to finish in 1986. Cameron’s final script, incorporating ideas from an earlier sci-fi story he had written entitled Mother, signaled a massive shift in formula and tone from Scott’s entry. While preserving continuity and retaining Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, Aliens shifted away from the horror elements of its ancestor and planted its roots as a combat-driven action film. Gone were allusions to gender identity and sexual psychology, replaced by an allegory of the Vietnam War that serves to provide Ripley with the chance to assert her maternal identity with Newt, the young sole survivor of the LV-426 colony.

Related image

Cameron has been quoted as saying that he wanted his film to be “less horror, more terror.” Whatever that is supposed to mean, it is clear that Aliens doesn’t fit in with the pure existential and predatory dread of the first film. Aliens is scary, but in a different fashion, opting for more traditional jumps and creeps in between pulse-pounding scenes of futuristic combat. In what is probably his biggest contribution to the Alien mythos, Cameron introduces the final piece of the Alien’s reproductive cycle, the Queen. A powerful leadership caste that control the Warrior drones by simple gesture, the Queen is more than a match for the crafty Ripley, and can even hold a grudge–it pursues her in a decidedly intelligent quest for revenge after Ripley destroys its nest.

Image result for Aliens queen

On the surface, this seems to be a good change, focusing the menace into a bigger and meaner creature that can think its way out of a jam. However, closer comparison between the films reveals that the concept of the Queen stands in opposition to the original idea of the Alien. The Alien of the first film is a solitary creature, slowly crawling out of the shadows to attack in startling displays of sexual sadism, and in the original screenplay and Director’s Cut, horrifically transform its victims into new eggs while they remain awake for the entire ordeal. And yet, for everything known about the Alien, Scott’s greatest contribution to it was the mystery surrounding it.

The Alien’s life cycle may have been complete in the beginning, but even this does not fully account for the sheer number of eggs within the Derelict’s cargo hold. Indeed, perhaps the hold contained more than just Xenomorph eggs. Perhaps there were untold varieties of beastly horrors locked away in its ancient walls. Their origin is also kept a tantalizing mystery; could they have been the remains of the rest of the Space Jockey crew? Or scientific specimens of an exploratory vessel? Or perhaps they were a biological weapon, as Scott liked to opine in the decades after finishing Alien. Even the true nature of the titular “Big Chap,” originally revealed as a highly intelligent being after biting Ripley’s head off and mimicking her voice to set an interstellar trap, was wisely dropped from the final cut. All of this adds to the eerie atmosphere of Scott’s film, intertwining with the cultural zeitgeist of the uncertain ’70s to unleash a truly horrifying experience that still captures minds today.

Image result for Alien 1979

Cameron, on the other hand, seemed uninterested in mystery. His creation of the Queen is the biggest indication as to his preferred depiction of the Xenomorph, no doubt heavily influenced more by the Arachnids of Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers than by Giger’s artwork and concepts. The Queen simultaneously removes the mystery of the Alien and the universe at large outside of the walls of Hadley’s Hope, reducing the invincible monster of Alien to an expendable foot soldier, able to be defeated by a simple barrage of caseless rifle fire. If only Dallas had one of those, right? Further more, the enigma of the eggs in the cargo hold isn’t so unfathomable anymore.

This rejection of the unknown continues to seep into every facet of Aliens. Early on, the faceless, evil Company is laid bare as a bureaucratic mess, more concerned with the loss of an iron ore shipment than with the prospect of a race of monsters at Earth’s doorstep. And Special Order 937? Replaced by a lowly Company agent with greedy aspirations of profiting from the creatures, revealing the influence of the materialistic ’80s upon Cameron’s story, where capitalism is still the bees knees, its just a few bad apples that muck things up. The only thematic content more pervasive than this is the specter of Reagan’s America, present in the nuclear family of Ripley, Hicks, and Newt as the survivors of the film, triumphing unequivocally over the promiscuous Anti-Mother by seemingly destroying the Xenomorph race once and for all.

Related image

THE AFTERMATH

When times are good, people will respond to stories that reinforce the world around them. Aliens was released at the height of an American economic boom, presenting just enough of Alien‘s creature to be recognizable while jettisoning the uncertainty and pessimism of the ’70s inherent in that film. This turned out to be a recipe for success, propelling Aliens to box office and pop culture glory.

The subsequent sequels would not be so lucky. Alien 3 would prove to be Sisyphean struggle to produce, with many early drafts took on narratives that echoed Aliens, featuring military combat against swarms of the creatures. Despite some interesting drafts that presented truly nightmarish and ghastly depictions of the Aliens, each version retained this emphasis on action, until Vincent Ward’s legendary, ethereal lost story. Set on an artificial world made of wood and populated by Neo-Luddite monks, Ward’s Alien 3 became one of the greatest unmade films ever conceived, boldly removing the ’80s social certainty by killing Hicks and Newt and throwing Ripley into her own personal hell as the host for the last Alien. After Ward’s departure and the scrapping of the wooden world concept, the final Alien 3 as directed by David Fincher retained much of Ward’s themes, and pushed an increasingly nihilistic film upon an audience that expected a retread of Aliens, which is understandable given the misleading marketing of the film. As I’ve noted before, Alien 3 is uncompromising and brave in its conviction to emotional disturbance, betraying an almost gothic sense of horror that evokes the original but still remains its own beast. Unfortunately, audiences disagreed and many still do.

Image result for Alien 3

Alien Resurrection, despite benefiting early on from the French expressionism of Jean-Pierre Jeunette and some of the most ghastly sights of the franchise, ends up playing as a light-hearted Aliens clone by the end, and the AVP entries of the 2000s were cynical cash grabs, with the second film literally remaking the plot of Aliens on present day Earth. Quickly, one can see a pattern emerging: nobody wanted to leave Cameron’s film behind.

Nobody except Ridley Scott himself, who regained the franchise in 2012 with Prometheus, a soft reboot that sought to explore the Space Jockey race, now called Engineers, in a bit of world-building that returned to the series the Eldritch threat of existential terror. Believing that Alien itself was a “cooked” beast, Scott strayed away from it, keeping the more recognizable beats of bodily horror while focusing on a demonic twist to humanity’s origins and the creeping threat of A.I. This led to a polarizing film, with opinions split down the middle; devotees of Scott’s original film feel it is a nice return of the tone of that piece, while critics deride it as shallow, confusing, and lacking of the main creature that makes the franchise what it is. Looking at the divide, it seems obvious where it came from.

Image result for Prometheus

These days, the split among Alien fans remains firmly in place. Half seems to side more with Scott’s vision of a terrible, Lovecraftian universe of uncaring horrors, while the other prefers the human-centric adventure of Ripley and the Space Marines, barreling toward a war with the Alien species. What’s worse, this split has affected Scott’s plans for the prequel series. Originally planning a direct sequel to Prometheus entitled Paradise, the lukewarm reaction to that film caused him to drop many of the concepts he was building and shoehorn in the Alien for the even more polarizing Alien: Covenant, in which he seeks to assert ownership over the creature and its life cycle by presenting David, his murderous android character (and rebuke to the heroic Bishop) as the creator of the species. While I have my own thoughts on that little development, one cannot overstate how drastic a change this is from even his own first ideas, let alone the intentions of Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger. This can be unequivocally traced back to the success of Aliens, and the embracing by the fans of its simpler nature.

Image result for Aliens movie

With Alien: Covenant failing to make a splash at the box office, the future of the series is now uncertain. Scott’s Alien: Awakening project, even if it isn’t canceled, seems mired in its own intentions to reveal the last shred of mystery the franchise had, while the online outrage at the termination of Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5 film, which would be another retread of Aliens with Ripley and Hicks returning to wipe away Alien 3 and Resurrection from continuity, has reached fever pitch, signalling that Fox could head in that direction. I would hope that they don’t, because I’ve had enough of Aliens. I’m fine with the one film, and would rather like to see more thought-provoking and eerie movies in the vein of the original. Attempting to recapture the Cameron version of the beast almost always ends in disappointment, and further dilutes the impact of the creature itself. But as it stands, it looks like the Alien will have to get used to disappointing its many devotees, because while Cameron seems more interested in friendlier E.T.s from Pandora, he’s still leaving his mark upon the cold evil of space.

New Video Series: Short Fan Edits

Hey there, true believers!

I have just launched a new video series on my YouTube and Vimeo channels, Short Fan Edits! Sometimes I feel the need to restructure just small portions of my favorite films; while the piece at large is fine just the way it is, perhaps one scene or two could be changed, either for the benefit of the narrative or just because it’s fun. This is the aim of Short Fan Edits. Each video will be a small sliver of a full fan edit, in many cases, probably the only change I would make to the film.

The first installment is my version of the deleted “bank robbery” scene of Escape from New York, placed before the opening credits to create a more natural flow. Check back on my channel, Temporal Productions, on YouTube and Vimeo for more!

EDITORIAL: Marvel vs DC

editorials

I know, I know. I have high ambitions for my first editorial. Looking forward to reading those well thought-out and considerate comments!

It is a battle with divisions deeper than the Middle East conflict. Marvel Comics against Detective Comics. Marvel vs DC. Day vs Night. Yeah, I went there. With origins separated by almost 3 decades, Marvel and DC quickly became rivals in the huge American comic book industry, and still today the typical image of the superhero is ingrained in the characters each company offers to its readers. While much has been and continues to be said and debated over the individual merits and flaws of each company’s franchise, fictional histories, and business strategy, I’m here to go into a specific market of each company, one out of many yet probably the most prominent aspect of each entity today.

I’m going to compare their cinematic universes.

Now, at first it may seem very unfair, given that the MCU is on its 16th film with several network television and Netflix series under its belt, while the so-called DCEU is only 3 films in. But fret not, I’m not here to bash. I am going to point out the deficiencies in each one, sure, but this being a full comparison means that I’m going to provide as clear a picture as I can of the unique flavor of both franchises, and how each reflects the core heart of each company’s approach to the American superhero.

dc-marvel-movies-discussion-differences

So, where do we start? How about the beginning? Why yes, invisible twin! Let’s start at the beginning: 2008.

MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE

Image result for marvel studios

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, known colloquially by fans as the MCU, was the brainchild of Kevin Feige, who in 2005 as the newly-formed Marvel Studios’ second-in-command under Avi Arad, envisioned an interconnected series of superhero films based around the only big characters Marvel still held film rights to: the Avengers. Shortly after becoming Chief Producer with Arad’s departure, Feige oversaw the formation of a committee designed to ensure creative integrity and continuity in the universe. This committee included Marvel Studios co-President Louis D’Esposito, Marvel Comics President of Publishing Dan Buckley, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada, writer Brian Michael Bendis, Marvel Entertainment President Alan Fine, and Feige himself. Together, these six would begin crafting a broad, arching storyline that would form the basis for the MCU, which officially started with Iron Man, directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the Armored Avenger, Tony Stark.

Image result for iron man 2008

Despite the nearly three-year preparation and formation of the MCU, this wasn’t a very well-known fact at the time among normal moviegoers; with only a short post-credits stinger introducing Samuel L. Jackson as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, as any indication that a larger universe lay ahead, Iron Man was very much a standalone superhero flick, concerned with establishing its character first before introducing the universe at large.

This theme of the slow reveal continued throughout the MCU’s Phase One, with The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger containing smaller references to the world at large, mostly in the form of background easter eggs, plot devices, and of course, the omnipresent stinger, which by now has become a Marvel trademark. Not until 2012’s The Avengers, written and directed by Joss Whedon, did the MCU explode into full frame, with an ensemble assortment of characters, a storyline that reached deep into the Marvel toybox, and plot points that set up the next two Phases of films.

Related image

As pioneering as this approach to world-building as this was, critics and audiences had reservations as well as hope, particularly in the cinematic styles of the films themselves. Looking at the Marvel output, one gets a sense that everything just looks almost the same, and there is truth to that statement. Despite Phase One containing diverse directorial talent from Kenneth Branaugh and Joe Johnston to newcomers Jon Favreau and Louis Leterrier, only Whedon seems to have been afforded a semblance of visual freedom, electing to shoot Avengers in an uncommon 1.85:1 ratio which greatly opens up the big action pieces that are the lynchpin of his film. Everything else, even when factoring in the signature trademarks of each helmer, feels as if it has all been sanitized into a one-size-fits-all box of cinematography.

 

While this continues into Phase Two at first, the influx of new filmmakers into the mix began to show. With names like Shane Black, James Gunn, and the Russo Brothers, Phase Two is where the MCU really started to hit its stride. The films began to take on more and more of their ancestral formulas; the Russos’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier borrowed heavily from 1970s spy and conspiracy thrillers, while Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy was a visual and auditory explosion of saccharine, presenting a colorful cosmos set to hit music from the ’70s and ’80s. Even Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, while thematically as safe as Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World, is an eclectic mix of heist movies and Golden Age sci-fi, able to tangle with the bigger hits of the summer easily.

Image result for ant man stills

Phase Two also brought the MCU into television with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC and the Netflix shows, starting with Daredevil. While the ABC series have definitely hit roadblocks in terms of their writing (and in the sad case of Agent Carter, cancellation), Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is still airing, with many more on the way such as The Inhumans, Cloak and Dagger, The Runaways, and the just-announced New Warriors. However, it is the Netflix shows where the MCU shines on the small screen, with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist acting as a sort of R-rated Avengers, setting up a highly-anticipated miniseries called The Defenders in November of this year.

With the MCU now in its Third Phase of films and approaching a turning point with the third and fourth Avengers films in 2018 and 2019, it seems like the sky is no longer the limit for Marvel as they continue to rake in profits, bolstered by an ever-increasing critical support for their films.

DC EXTENDED UNIVERSE

Image result for dc films logo

While the MCU was in the process of carving out its name in pop culture, Warner Brothers was still in the middle of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. Itself a massive monetary and critical success for their company, the trilogy however was not conducive to beginning a shared continuity due to its heavy basis in realism and the whims of Nolan’s creative fancy. During the Nolan years, several attempts were made at rebooting the series, with the project closest to becoming a reality being George Miller’s Justice League Mortal. Without getting too much into it, this picture failed to be made, and instead, a new film focusing a reboot of Superman was pitched, written, and shot instead, guided in the scripting phase by Dark Knight alums David S. Goyer and Nolan himself, and then handed off to Zack Snyder.

While containing several references to other DC characters such as Batman, Man of Steel was made more as a “backdoor pilot” to a new shared universe, one that could stand alone if not successful but launch a franchise if so. Meanwhile, Warner’s television holdings began to air several series revolving around DC comics characters, beginning with Arrow in 2012. This started three distinct continuitues, with Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow sharing one, Gotham, a Batman prequel series centered on Detective Jim Gordon, and Supergirl contained within their own universes. Due to the hard sci-fi nature of The Flash and Legends, these shows have still crossed over several times, but never with any DC films at the time of this writing.

Related image

After the modest success of Man of Steel, DC announced in 2014 a slate of ten upcoming films sharing continuity with the new Superman, and a year later finally placed a name on this continuity: the DC Extended Universe. Including the television series as separate universes, the DCEU functions as a multiverse, with different realities containing the various properties. This was done in order to include the television series without having to keep to their continuity, allowing the films to start fresh with only Man of Steel to have to honor.

Related image

The film portion of the DCEU began in earnest with the March release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Introducing the new Batman, and for the first time on film, Wonder Woman, BVS did eventually become a blockbuster hit, but not after taking a savage pounding by critics and inducing a polarizing effect on the fanbase with its lackluster script and treatment of its characters. Later that year, Suicide Squad joined the ranks of the DCEU, presenting a team-up of DC villains that was even more polarizing than BVS, simultaneously earning low marks in reviews while winning an Oscar for makeup effects. It would not be until Wonder Woman‘s June release of this year that the DCEU earned near-unanimous praise, and not a moment too soon, with Justice League, its first high-profile team up film, dropping in November.

SO WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Now, before I start, there seems to be some contention on whether it is even appropriate to compare the two franchises, let alone where to make the comparison. Do only the early Marvel films count, since the DCEU is 4 films in while the MCU is packing 16? I’m actually going to throw caution to the wind and open up the playing field for all the films, because, and let’s face it, the DCEU may be new, but they had the advantage of paying attention to Marvel and learning from their mistakes. So there it is.

Some of the more obvious visual differences are easy to spot, such as the DCEU’s usage of film over digital since BVS, which affords those films a more natural and dynamic look as opposed to the brighter, cleaner-looking Marvel offerings. There’s also the fact that Warner has full control over all characters in the DC Comics, having never had to experience the bankruptcy and selling off of film rights that Marvel did in the 1990s.

The audio experience of each franchise is also worlds apart, specifically in the musical motifs. While Marvel films have consistently proficient and even wonderful scores, the continuity of themes are virtually nonexistent, with sequels rarely carrying over the music of the previous installment. Really, only Alan Silvestri’s Avengers themes are brought back at all. Compare this with the grand and graceful work of Hans Zimmer, who is said to have composed the main themes for every Justice League member, and there’s another point for the DCEU.

 

However, the advantages start to taper off for the DCEU right about here. The biggest disadvantage that the DCEU has is it’s writing, pure and simple. From BVS on, there has been a persistent deficiency of even passable writing, from character motivations and development, to basic story structure, and it has greatly hurt the infant franchise. To illustrate this, I’ll be specifically comparing BVS with Civil War.

Image result for Captain America CIvil WarReleased only two months apart, BVS and CW both feature conflicts between superheroes considered by audiences at large to be friends and partners, motivated by deep philosophical and moral rifts between them. CW, being the first of Marvel’s Phase Three and the 13th film overall in the series, had the enormous advantage of the established story before it. Here, Steve Rogers/Captain America and Tony Stark/Iron Man find themselves on opposite sides of the law, with Stark supporting the Sokovia Accords, an international treaty governing the actions of superheroes, and Rogers opposing it to keep his friend, Bucky, out of an armored cell. Their arrival at these two different ends of the ideological spectrum had been evolving throughout the entire series, with Stark beginning very much distrustful of authority and Rogers firmly supportive of it. Their backgrounds reflected this as well: Rogers as a WWII veteran and super soldier, Stark as a freewheeling billionaire playboy who had been fighting off a government wanting to appropriate his weaponized armor for years. The events of the series slowly change them; Stark’s growing PTSD leads him to create Ultron in an attempt to secure world piece, only to backfire horrifically when Ultron goes rogue and kills thousands of people, while Rogers witnesses S.H.I.E.L.D., the clandestine spy agency he serves, grow more and more authoritarian until it is revealed that his worst enemy, the HYDRA organization, had hijacked it decades ago, and infested the entire world’s political infrastructure. The journeys these characters have taken are logical and conducive to good drama, culminating in an emotional slugfest when Stark, who’s already-strong self-destructive streak is at its peak, makes a snap-decision to murder Bucky for killing his parents while under HYDRA control.

Image result for batman v superman bruceBVS, on the other hand, had only one film before it to set up any characters, and that was a solo Superman film. Thus, Clark Kent is the only character that receives enough backstory to understand, but even that is no help in reasons that will become clearer in a moment. The new Bruce Wayne of the film, played with a suave and masterful swagger by Ben Affleck, is nevertheless an enigma; he is an older Batman, having already suffered the loss of Robin years ago, an event that seemingly pushed him over the edge into killing criminals, a decision that alienated many fans. This is the only semblance of any character building with Batman that leaves audiences unfamiliar with him, and hampers any connection we can make with him.

This doesn’t get any better when we realize that almost nothing the characters do actually contributes to the story. If it is true that the typical story act ends when a character makes a fateful and irrevocable decision, than BVS must have a two-hour-long act, followed by an ten-minute one, when Batman decides to kill Superman over flimsy fears that he will turn bad, and then decides to let him live over one of the most poorly-executed scenes ever filmed.

Image result for batman v superman martha

You know the one, don’t ask.

And sure, Lex Luthor decides to kill Superman, using Batman to do it, but we never see this choice go down–he has decided to do it already when the film begins. Batman’s attempts to recover the kryptonite from Luthor and find out what he is doing with it are useless, as an action sequence involving the Batmobile ends with him failing to recover it, and later scene of Bruce infiltrating Luthor’s ball also ends with him losing the data to Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, so what was the point of those 20 minutes of precious screentime?

And then comes the big fight. Luthor holds hostage Clark’s mother Martha, forcing him to deliver Batman’s head if he wants her to live. Resolving to try to enlist the Batman’s help, as he reveals to Lois Lane, Superman heads to their confrontation, and tries to reason with Bruce…all of two times. By the third booby-trap Batman has sprung on him, Clark suddenly decides that he’d rather fight this man who needs advanced armor just to survive one of his blows rather than save his mother, and this is before he gets hit with kryptonite. It’s such a petty and out-of-character moment for Superman that it obliterates all of the development he had in the previous film. Remember how angrily he attacked Zod when he threatened his mother? Or how devastated he was at having to take Zod’s life to save others? Well here, he turns his back on both of those plot points, and its only to give us a Batman vs Superman fight, because Goddammit, it’s right there in the title!

Image result for batman vs superman

Superdouche.

Combine this with a role for Wonder Woman that only exists to give us a third leg in the Doomsday fight (and to open up a laptop with a Justice League trailer on it), and you get a mighty mess that leaves Nolan happy he didn’t have his name attached to it. With all of the emphasis on action scenes and pointless philosophical discussions that go nowhere, what should have been a solid Superman sequel with Batman as the antagonist quickly becomes an exercise on how not to write a script.

But why did this happen? Well, the most obvious explanation is that Warner wanted to catch up quickly to Marvel by putting out team-up films early, and capitalize on the Nolan-inspired wave of smarter blockbusters by injecting a directionless intellectual bent into a story with only enough meat for an hour of movie. This is Warner’s biggest weakness compared to Marvel: they simply don’t have a plan, and couldn’t be bothered to take the time to come up with one.

Remember, the MCU is guided by Kevin Feige and a committee of comic veterans who are experienced in plotting multi-issue story arcs that last years. Warner did not take this approach, only appointing Geoff Johns to Creative Head after the BVS fiasco. Even then, there is still no main story thread in place, as opposed to Marvel’s ongoing Infinity Stones storyline, which offers a basic framework while the characters evolve and grow on their way to the ultimate battle. The DCEU is very much a rudderless speedboat, employing a selection of its own first-rate filmmakers but not capitalizing on their strengths.

Another weakness of Warner’s franchise is the fact that they still assume more control over creative decisions. Within Marvel, Feige is free to direct the MCU as he sees fit, with minimal interference from the parent company (shocking that Disney would leave them alone, isn’t it?). There are still exertions of control over the filmmakers, most evident in the feud between Feige and Whedon during Age of Ultron, and the departures of Sally Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and Edgar Wright from Ant-Man, but on the whole, this has been more the exception than the rule. Meanwhile, after BVS fell short of its projections, the heads of Warner stepped in, demanding extensive changes to the next film, Suicide Squad. Their alterations resulted in an even worse mess, with a film bearing an even more nonsensical storyline and no real growth from any character, essentially amounting to a video game level on film. In short, Marvel and Warner both meddle in the creative process, but to a lesser extent in the MCU and before the cameras roll, ensuring a more coherent product will hit the screens.

Image result for suicide squad

So with that, MCU is definitely the more solid franchise, but that doesn’t mean the DCEU should be given up on. While the MCU’s television series tie in with the films, allowing for smaller side stories within the universe, the DC offerings are consistently higher-rated, and have the converse advantage of being able to go where they want to go, regardless of the film series. The DCEU has taken many more risks with its character portrayals, while the MCU is starting to feel stagnant in the fact that characters hardly die or face real danger. And when it comes down to it, Warner may be learning from their mistakes, if Wonder Woman is any indication.

So let’s say the DCEU rights itself, and become a real contender to Marvel’s dominance. How can it get there? Well, I know a little something of DC comics as well, for through most of my teen years I favored them more than the capeless denizens of Marvel. And I believe that the best way for that to happen is for DC’s runners and writers to recognize how different their heroes and stories are. Marvel makes topical entertainment, catering to whatever is hip and happening today. They’re entirely well-made pieces that will continue to captivate and offer up philosophical fodder for my sleepless nights, but they’ll never be as timeless as the worldly rage of Batman, or the lonely compassion of Superman. DC heroes and heroines harken back to the Golden Age of Comic Books, the introductory period of superhumans, and as such, the films should shift tone to reflect that heritage. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are self-destructive creatures, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over in front of us as a testament to our darker desires, while Diana Prince and J’onn J’onns see only the good in humanity, and fight to protect it.

In short, Marvel is riding a renaissance of cynicalism. It will be the job of DC to usher in the era of human optimism. This is their potential, and it’s high time they realize it.

Well, here it comes. I can’t wait to hear the polite and friendly responses to this accusing me of being a Marvel kiss-up or a DC puke, and let’s face it, I am much more of a Marvel fan right now, they are simply doing it better. But I really would like to see the DCEU succeed, so comparing the two and discovering the weaknesses and strengths of each is still a worthy endeavor. Am I crazy or am I onto something with this analysis? Let me know, I can take it.

As I flinch in the corner.

Double Bill Drive-In: The Right Stuff / Apollo 13

Double Bill Drive-In

Independence Day is almost upon us, and what better way to celebrate the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave than with a double feature of two high-flying movies of the highest American caliber!

Right Stuff-Apollo 13

Relive the glory days of America’s supremacy in the Space Race, when we all watched in awe as red-blooded American boys of the air became astronauts, the bravest and most daring of professions around! In this double bill, you’ll see our boys in spacesuits during their finest hour and their most dangerous moments, in triumph and tragedy, where they will show us all what being an American truly means!

First, two previews for you:

And the first feature of the night:

The Right Stuff Movie Poster

A sweeping epic of the early days of America’s space program, The Right Stuff is brought to you by filmmaker Philip Kaufman in a three-plus hour grand story featuring the greatest of America’s early astronauts, including John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Alan Shepard, Gordo Cooper, and many more. Watch them soar past the Wild Blue Yonder first tamed by Chuck Yeager and into the vast open regions of the cosmos, painting a picture of the triumph of American ingenuity and exceptionalism in the face of the tumultuous 1960s.

“Remember: no bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

Three more trailers for your intermission!

And for the second feature of the night:

Image result for Apollo 13 poster

Making a return engagement at our establishment after our first ever double bill, Apollo 13 makes for a brilliant compliment to The Right Stuff, continuing the story of America’s journey to the Moon whilst putting the exceptionalism of our daring astronauts in incredible danger for the first time, as the crew of Apollo 13 encounter a disaster which could strand them in space, sealing their fates.

“This 4th of July weekend, I wanted to give to viewers a vision of America that was good and pure in its own way. While the 1960s brought dramatic upheaval to the American Way, in many ways deserved, one shining light of pride was always our space program. While indeed started to beat the Soviets into the military high ground of Earth orbit, it became an incredible odyssey of mankind’s capacity to rise above its terrestrial origins and do what had never been done before. What a time to have been alive that would be. If you have stared up at the moon and ever wished you could have seen those events in person, like me, then this is the double feature for you. I guarantee it; you will never feel a bigger swelling of both American patriotism and love for the human race than will right here.”
– The Movie Maestro, Theater Owner

And that’s all she wrote, folks! Please remember to do your part by picking up your trash, and enjoy the fireworks on the way out! Happy 4th of July to you all!