Thursday, October 31, 2013
I would like to send a special shout to Josh. He talked me into doing this subject when I originally was going to talk about some slasher flicks. The idea was to do something I have access to. But the fact of the matter is that there are a ton of Dracula movies on Netflix paired with the ones I already own in my personal collection. So thank you, Josh, for making this even easier and more unique than I thought it would be. Let's go in chronological order from when they were released.
Also as one more disclaimer I was really hoping to do five movies, but that did not pan out. I'll only be doing three but I think for how much I write in these reviews it'll be more than enough.
Campy/Artsy Adaptation - Blood for Dracula (1974)
When I first was getting into artsy fartsy movies I went to the Criterion Collection for some guidance as anyone who needs an intro into art film should. Within that collection I found tons of unique titles. Two of which that really stood our for me were Flesh for Frankenstein, and the one I'll talk about now, Blood for Dracula. Not only were they unique looking adaptations but they were produced by Andy Warhol. Even on their original release his name was right there in the title as a selling point. I thought to myself, "Warhol!? Holy shit I need to see these movies." So glad I did. While Flesh for Frankenstein is one of my favorite Frankenstein adaptions I didn't like Blood for Dracula as much. That's not to say it's not a great movie.
And as a quick P.S. to the film poster. An alternate title to the movie is Andy Warhol's Dracula but the proper name is Blood for Dracula. A similar thing happened with Flesh for Frankenstein.
I'm not 100% sure if the version I watched for this review was uncut. According to Netflix instant the movie ran for 103 minutes. However IMDB stated it runs 106 minutes. But then I cross referenced with the Criterion Collection edition (they pride themselves with the full cut of movies) and that also stated 103 minutes. I know it sounds like I'm being particular but if you know me well enough you'll know how strongly I feel about seeing film in the cut it is meant to. Not a botched up version. Whatever. IMDB might just be listing incorrectly or an unreleased cut listing. Anyway the version I watched did seem to have a lot if not all the explicit stuff I remember from my original viewing. So it probably was the right one.
One thing I'll say right off is that this one is really hard to recommend. It goes off in such a different direction it's hard to say who would be into it unless you already knew their tastes. Not to mention it would even be hard to recommend to Dracula fans because it does play fast and loose with the mythology. Although that may depend how hardcore you are in regard to that. And how this is toyed with is simple. He can seem to do things that another Dracula otherwise wouldn't do. Like go out into the sun (NO THERE ARE NO FUCKING SPARKLES THIS IS THIRTY FUCKING YEARS EARLIER!) among other things. It's tough to tell what actually harms him in this interpretation because right off the bat he is so weak it's sad.
But let's get to the story. So as I stated Dracula is portrayed as very weak, which is because he has not drank blood for quite some time and has little time left to live. Now my knowledge of the original or proper vampire lore is limited so bear with me. In this interpretation he specifically needs the blood of a virgin so he travels in search of a bride while using his title as Count to his advantage. He comes across a wealthy-ish family with four daughters, all of whom are placed as potential brides for the count. Now I am on board for all of this. It's a surprisingly somber approach to the character and what he needs to do to survive. Also because he is so weak we see limited interactions with the count. Either he's being hauled along from place to place or he's meeting with the girls. Other than that there is a lot of interaction with the family as well as Drac's right hand man who is doing all the hard work for his boss. Still I really liked most of the characters not really feeling cheated because of Dracula's lack of presence.
Of course if you've seen one Dracula story you've seem just about most of them. Despite Dracula being very weak (literally) in this interpretation it still follows some of the same story arcs seen in other ones. The seduction, bites/kills, eventual epiphany of who Dracula really is, and then the killing blow. One spot where it stayed within lore was there. Can't imagine I'm spoiling anything for anyone when I say he gets a stake to the heart in the end. But not before literally being chopped apart. It's a really brutal and really bloody death, and it's amazing. Still what makes this one stand apart is the choice in how to present the tone of the story and the unique reactions not seen in many other Dracula stories. My favorite of which is his near allergic reactions to non-virgin blood.
It shouldn't be a surprise that some of the girls aren't virgins. There are multiple scenes when it shows the naughty ones in bed with the (muscular and very attractive) gardener. Scenes that spare little to no detail (this movie is very heavy on the sex). So when Dracula is finally alone with one of these girls he goes for the bite not realizing he's drinking non-virgin blood he reacts very... medically I guess. He shakes and shivers like he's having a seizure while vomitting up the bad blood. It's long and very intense in the movement so it's hard to watch. This happens a couple times which is giving Dracula a lack of faith in thinking none of them are virgins. Not true but still a sound thought.
I'll try not to go on too much longer because this is probably already longer than the next two reviews will be.
So in typical Dracula/Vampire fashion it is eventually discovered who Dracula really is. The hunky gardener hunts him down then kills Dracula by chopping him up first then driving a wood stake through his heart... as I previously mentioned. One last thing to happen is that one of the sisters is so upset by this she committs suicide by throwing herself on top of the same stake. She was under mind control by the count so her love for him is pretty apparent.
Overall this is definitely a flawed Dracula story, however I can't keep myself from it. I love it so much and would easily re-watch it multiple times. The Criterion Collection edition of the DVD is out of print so it usually runs for $40+ but I would easily pay it to have the best edition out there. What I love the most is the score. It's a light piano* theme that gives the whole movie a much more calming, artistic tone. Even when Dracula is biting into the daughter's neck it is light, almost feels like a love-making scene instead of an attack. Despite this artistic feel there is still a lot of camp. Blame it on the budget, blame it on the era, whatever, but some of the acting is so bad it's comical. Either that or the approach is what's so bad about it. Most characters can and are so over the top with their performance it's almost impossible to take seriously. Especially Drac's right hand man who is ALWAYS so intense in his words and actions. That and when Dracula is being chopped up, while very violent, is also pretty corny. The special effects are not strong in the dismemberments and I could see many people busting a gut the first time that axe swings down to chop off his arm and all the blood shoots out. I try to ignore those things especially since this was made in a completely different era while not under a Hollywood level budget.
But my favorite part... besides how fucked up the whole experience is... is the actor playing Dracula. Udo Kier. It was this and Flesh for Frankenstein that I first saw him act (or first time I recognized him) and I've been keeping an eye on him since. I think he is awesome! Not stupendous but someone I always enjoy seeing on screen. He's one of those guys whose been in over 200 movies but he's still great. He just takes a lot of the work he's given, even if it's a small role. Like a Malcolm McDowell or Danny Trejo. He's the German version of them.
The REALLY Artsy Adaptation - Dracula (1992)
You know, every so often a really good filmmaker comes along and redoes a classic story and we get an instant classic that knocks most if not all other adaptations out of the water. Many would argue The Dark Knight is the epitome of Batman movies. Then there's Kenneth Brannagh's adaptation of Hamlet from the mid-90s which a lot of people would consider to be one of the best if not THE best. Just two examples that come up right off the top of my head. Not the best connections to what I'm talking about here. Anyway this is one of those cases where a prolific director chose to take on a classic. And you know what? He made it work on just about every level.
There's many reasons why this is one of my favorite Dracula movies. One aspect I want to get out of the way right away (because it has nothing to do with the story) is the technical side.
This is something I know the mainstream audiences won't care about. But film lovers definitely will. Throughout the movie there are plenty of special effects. Just enough to give it an artsy feel and enough to convey the supernatural occurrences onscreen. But here's the thing, some of it may look like it was done with a computer. But NONE of it was. NOTHING was done with a computer. It was all done with 100% organic, old fashioned editing. So lots of models, in camera tricks, film strip overlays, etc. There's a lot of examples present and if you're interested in looking further then follow this link. For an example early in the movie start at the 10:30 mark.
What I also adored about this interpretation is it's unapologetic approach to the violence and other harsh elements of the story. It always kills me how Dracula, a really violent and dark story, is portrayed in such safe ways over the years. Either that or it's interpreted in Syfy channel level corniness where Dracula is less a legendary immortal creature and more of a supervillian worthy of over the top anime (or like the way they're portrayed in Underworld. Fucking stupid). But this one goes for it all. The intro alone is intense, violent, all with the bombastic soundtrack that I adore. It even goes to the root, roots with the origin dating back to Vlad the Impaler. It's brilliant and the violence doesn't stop there. It continues as well as the sexuality. But it's not in there for the sake of being there. Like I said Dracula is a dark tale so it calls for this level of insanity and violence. And it's with this use that helps create the creepy tone. Yes, a Dracula movie made within the last couple decades that's actually pretty scary. Unlike (ugh) the super hero tales of Dracula and other vampires like in so many titles since the turn of the millennium.
The other major aspect of why I love this Dracula and why I feel it's one of the best is the style. The concept design throughout is beautiful in almost every way. It gives a strong sense for the time period while owning it's own style in the process. Some of my favorite designs show up right in the beginning. I absolutely love that armor in the opening battle sequence. Not a traditional style. It looks almost something like muscles instead of metal or whatever the hell armor would usually be made out of. It is simple details like that, that make this interpretation unique because it doesn't blend in with other titles with the not so uncommon styles. And with that said I actually liked Dracula's garb from early on in the movie. It makes him look out of touch with the world. Like he's been stuck up in that castle for an eternity without feeding. He's not aware of the outside world as he once was. So he dresses the way he feels comfortable with, no matter how out of date that outfit may seem to everyone else.
Since this is a bit more of a well known title I don't have too much more to say on it that hasn't already been said. But there is one thing that is hard to avoid. The performances. Now when you look at the casting choices you first think, "Oh shit, Anthony Hopkins! He's awesome. And Gary Oldman?! SWEET! This is gonna be great." Then you look further and realize, "Uh-oh, how did Winona Ryder get in this... and... and... KEANU REEVES?! How the hell is he going to act along the gems in this movie?" It does seem like odd casting choices. On one hand you've got a couple of the best actors of the modern age, then you've got not the worst but a couple of the biggest jokes when it comes to the big screen. And the crazy thing is that of course Hopkins and Oldman knock it out of the park. Sadly the less than stellar performances by Rider and Reeves actually bring the experience down as a whole. It's not as easy to get by as other movies. Like with Lincoln that came out last year. Daniel Day-Lewis gave the performance of the year, yet everyone else around him was competent enough to keep it a compelling experience. However the great mixed with the bad here just makes parts hard to get through. While the goods feel natural, the bads feel like they're trying too hard.
And I guess that leads me to my last thought which is more of a personal opinion than anything. I'm not the biggest fan of period pieces. To me they have to really be done well to get my attention. Like, REALLY well or offer something unique. And this is because I feel in period pieces too much of the production and the actors try way too hard it feels unnatural. And that was the case in the non-scary parts of this movie. It felt like it turned into your run of the mill period piece you see every so often where everyone is putting on their best English accent and pretending like it's a couple hundred years ago. It takes real talent to make that feel natural and for the most part I wasn't feeling it here.
With that aside this is one of the best Dracula movies you'll find out there. While it may not appeal to everyone in the mainstream in all aspects overall I think most would enjoy it as is. It's also one of the easiest ones to get a hold of, including the three I listed here. I got my copy from the $5 bin at Wal-Mart and I'm sure they still have copies there. Whereas my other two choices you would need to do a little bit more digging to get your hands on.
The Fictional Biopic Adaptation - Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
While from a style perspective it's not the most unique, in story execution it definitely is in terms of the source material. Shadow of the Vampire is the fictional making of story of Nosferatu. Meaning it takes place in our universe instead of one originally conceived by Bram Stoker. Definitely not a common concept since so many adaptations seem to want to redefine vampires... which is annoying.
First good sign, this isn't like other biopics. It must say something about life and the human condition when almost every single biopic you see is exactly the same in structure. Makes life a little predictable. Thankfully this is a fictional biopic so it takes many liberties to make it more interesting. The setup is that the director of Nosferatu had very unique ideas in terms of getting his film made. He's also hired an actor he claims to be a method actor who will only appear in full costume, makeup, in character, and they will only shoot at night. Giving the illusion of working with a real vampire. Well the idea for this story was born from the legend (not sure how many people believed this) that Max Schreck was a real vampire since he only did Nosferatu way back when and no other movies. A legend that was easily born in a time without the internet because five minutes of research proves that false. However in this story they flat out make Max Schreck exactly that. A real deal vampire that the director contracted to be in the movie where his payment is in blood and kills. So of course the movie goes through the motions of making the movie that leads to the vampire's inevitable end (if you've ever seen Nosferatu you'll know what happens). So in a way it was formulaic but clever enough to keep you interested.
Now what especially makes this movie are the performances and the balance overall. In the previous review I talked about how even with the powerhouse performances by Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins the movie as a whole was brought down by the performances of Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. Thankfully that was not the case here. There were a couple of big names present but one of them was in heavy makeup so it helped with immersion. There was John Malkovich who was the most recognizable. He did a standup job like always. Cary Elwes shows up late in the movie doing a fine job. Not spectacular but all is well and he didn't bring it down at all. But Willem Dafoe as the vampire was incredible! He is in so much makeup it makes him physically unrecognizable. There are some Dafoe-isms that come out here and there that make it obvious. But for the most part if I didn't know that was him under all the makeup it would definitely take some time to figure out. It's the cheek bones. But besides those famous actors there weren't any other universally recognizable faces. Something that really helped out this movie. That and they all did a great job so it kept it level unlike Coppola's adaptation of Dracula. One last fun fact, though. The producer in the movie is played by Udo Kier. If you were paying attention two reviews ago you'll remember that, that is the same man who played Dracula in Blood for Dracula. Always like seeing him on screen and this is certainly no exception.
Overall this is a great under-appreciated experience. It got a little bit of attention when it was released by the academy when it was nominated for two Oscars. One for best supporting actor (Willem Dafoe) and for Best Makeup. It didn't win either but it's easy to see why it was chosen in the first place. And the thing is that there's definitely an audience for this movie but it seems so unknown overall. As far as I can tell at least. It's got the magic of movie making element to it. Everyone seems to love that! It's a horror story but plays less violent and more tense than anything else. Much like a thriller. Also it's based on a classic that so many people already love. It's hard to tell why this movie didn't do better or get more attention.
Well, one last thing I do have to say about it is it's length. This movie is way too short for only coming in at a mere 92 minutes. So much more could have been done. So much more could have been said. And while the ending has a nice touch to it, it would also be nice to see the post-production reaction. The build up of the mystery following Nosferatu's release where so many people seemed to go missing after the production (because they're dead). That or more could have been done within the movie making process they experience. Instead you're given a great story that's over way too fast.
Still I don't want to complain. I love these alternate history movies (also see Inglourious Basterds and Death of a President) because they take what's true and create either a fun, exciting, or even thought provoking alternate story that turns history on it's head. It makes you want to believe in urban legends again. Giving you the thought that history isn't what it claims it is. Now this movie specifically wouldn't do that but thinking of there being a movie out there that featured a real deal vampire would be the tits.
In closing I hope you all have a great Halloween! As I'm finishing this I'm re-watching Dawn of the Dead to keep the spirits of the holiday alive in my home.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Availability: Was released exclusively for the Sega Dreamcast, but was later remade for the Playstation 2 with that version released in Japan and Europe but not America.
Version I Played: Japanese import copy for Sega Dreamcast.
Review: I have not touched this one in a long time. I remember having it way back when it first came out but later let it go among many other games. It was when I was in a buy/sell/trade mode so I was constantly getting rid of games in favor of getting new games instead of allowing my collection to grow. I've lost a lot of great games through that ignorance and I wish I had them back but as is life. So when I decided to get back into Dreamcast games and even get back into importing this one came up on my radar really quickly. Yes I could have gotten the American release of the game and it would have been cheaper. However there was something I found out about the American release that may come as no surprise to some. Censorship. The American release of the game was censored, pretty heavily from what I read. This isn't so much with content like gore, but with imagery and scenarios. In the Japanese release the game there was a lot of National-Socialism imagery including enemies who had swastikas across their face. Also there's a battle in the Vatican against the pope that was cut from the American release. These are understandable cuts for the American audience. They're pretty sensitive. But at the same time you fight A pope in Assassin's Creed 2 so I guess it's not a big deal anymore.
The plot of the game is really unique if nothing else. I really like it. The main character is not a person. The main character is the weapon. The weapon/creature mindjacks whoever it wants to control and takes over their body. Also the style of the weapon changes depending who you play as. For example, the purple haired chick on the cover uses a large sword. Other characters have changes that are variable in size, shape, and style, like a club-like weapon or long and thin, etc, along with additional skills depending who you're playing as. The weapon itself is a freaky looking thing, too (see here around the 48 second mark, please don't mind the poor American localization, the Japanese version is tons better). But after taking a second look at it I would say it's more so a demon if anything else. That's a theme that tends to follow in the franchise that I believe inspired this game, Shin Megami Tensei.
I've heard rumors that this is part of the franchise or a spin off of said franchise. However all I have been able to find is that it was inspired and has a similar story/art style. It is a franchise that deals with demons pretty heavily so it's understandable that the themes in this game could be confused for a SMT game.
Now if you want to be technical, like I do, this game is not considered to be a first person shooter. It's a first person slasher. You don't have an arsenal of weapons. You have the sword and for the most part that is it. So most of the time in the game you'll be slashing and slashing. There are some special abilities depending who you're playing as. Those can be accessed by charging your attack. This may be something as simple as a stronger swipe or a projectile for a long distance hit. Because of the style of the game it does give you the ability to lock onto enemies. This is a benefit not only cause you can attack head on easier but it will then give you a health bar for the enemy, allowing you to plan out attacks easier. The combat in this game is actually really smooth and easy to use. I must say I enjoyed it far more than other FPS games of this era. Which isn't saying much but saying a lot because I didn't get into FPS games hardcore (outside of Duke 3D) until more recently and even then it's a limited interest. I will admit I have gotten really cozy with modern controllers. Not having that second joystick on the controller allowing for easy strafing has made this game unintentionally more difficult to handle. But that's not a criticism because the game was working with what it had at the time. I was going to complain how the game is very linear too but that's a problem in modern gaming as well, so it isn't something I want to dwell on. I think it just feels more linear because the levels aren't as large or as detailed. So if anything modern games give a false impression (wait, that's news?). I was thinking that this may have been a design choice because there had been multiple open world games by this point, but they were yet to be popularized by games like Grand Theft Auto III. I would say the way this game was set up was pretty standard for the time. But I still can't help but feel the levels are a bit small at the same time.
Come to think of it, variety isn't exactly the game's strong suit. Yes the story is very unique. I also feel that the enemies are a good change of pace from the typical enemies of games at the time. They have this bizarre, hell-like, horror feel to them that actually makes them pretty scary looking. They also have weapons that have that weird lifelike feel to them where the weapons are either attached to the enemy's arms, or the weapon they're holding looks like they're alive. Kinda makes me think of this crazy custom made gun controller for Death Crimson on the Sega Saturn (I'm a bit of a fan of this style). But once it establishes this style and these enemies it doesn't do much else besides that. Not all these characters ARE exactly the same but they feel so similar in the end that it's hard to really see them as different. Even when there are big boss fights they essentially look like bigger versions of the same enemies you've been fighting. It doesn't exactly make me excited level by level when it's easy to tell what's going to be around the corner.
Another thing I'm a bit annoyed by is how a lot of the fights feel pretty one sided. As I stated before your abilities are dependent on who is currently brain jacked. Sometimes you get stuck with the same person through multiple levels and that person may not have the abilities you want them to. I for example like playing as the girl you play as in the first level. The sword is big and has a good handle to it. I like the charge attack. Etc, etc. So if I could take her throughout the game I would. But later on I am forced to play through multiple levels of the game with a character that essentially uses a police baton as his weapon. There is a special attack that shocks and stuns the enemy briefly but in the heat of battle it doesn't do as much as you would like it to. But you can go back and play the levels with the character of your choice later on, but what's the point if I already did what I needed to do? Outside of maybe see if there were any secrets I missed.
One thing I will say about this is that it does have elements of FPS games that were present in a pre-Halo era of games. These elements, or lack of elements depending on how you look at it, are what made these games more challenging and less hand holding. The most obvious one is non-regenerating health. While convenient in modern games I feel that when you have a health bar that slowly regenerates it takes away not just the challenge but the tense excitement, too. Every so often I play through the God of War games which don't have regenerating health. It was a rough challenge because I now play on hard but I can guarantee it wouldn't have been as tough or satisfying if I played through the game with regenerating health. So in Maken X whenever you need to heal you will need to find a health pack. Otherwise I hope you're really good and can play through the level flawlessly until the end of the stage. These FPS games are not as forgiving as the modern ones do.
Another thing with this game is that since it's Japanese it doesn't quite have as familiar an approach. In case you hadn't noticed by now Japan is well known for RPGs, Platformers, more adventurey or quirky from an American perspective type of games. They don't make shooters too often, putting them out of practice when they do. I've heard Vanquish is awesome but that's for another day. So when you play through this you don't get a sense of Quake, Duke, definitely not Halo, but not even something like Unreal which came out around the same time. It has it's own thing going and that's what I love about it. I tend to root for the underdog, and while I'm not sure how much of a hit this was in Japan (warranted a remake so I guess well) I know it wasn't a massive hit here. And that's sad because this is an underrated gem. But I must say it would be hard to recommend the US version seeing as how butchered it is. If you have the access pick up the Japanese copy. It's super easy to import on the Dreamcast. Simple as buying the right kind of disc to boot imports (for a reasonable price even!) and pop it in. It is worth your time especially if you're into something very different.
If America Made It: Guns. Lots and lots of guns. Since the game revolves around the weapon being the character of course you won't have a wide arsenal of weapons. So if America made it the whole plot would change to allow variety in weapons. I'm not saying this would become a modern warfare type situation. It would just be closer to a Quake or Unreal clone or hopefully a Serious Sam clone. Still left of center, only with less cultural references.
Monday, October 21, 2013
Everyone has a little something they're obsessed with without really knowing why or being able to explain it. No problem with that as long as it's legal if you ask me. For me this obsession is laserdiscs. I touched on these in a previous post but in case you didn't read through that, basically laserdiscs are DVDs before there were DVDs. Or should I say that DVDs are just mini laserdiscs?... Hmmmm....
Anyway, these were seen as a higher quality answer to VHS. They provided a sharper image without the grain that came with a VHS tape, and the format also embraced widescreen. So for the first time for many movies they could be presented the way they were meant to be seen right there at home. Because of their quality it was also where the now famous distribution company The Criterion Collection got their start (Will be writing about them in time you better believe it). Their mission has always been to release the best version possible of a movie, effectively making it the last time you would ever need to buy it. The format was somewhat popular for a fair number of years, more so among hardcore film fanatics than anything else but it never really caught on to the masses. This could be because of the downsides which were just as big as their upsides.
The first downside is their size. They are the same size as a vinyl record. To some people this may not be an issue, and it's kinda cool because of the extra stuff that could be included with the movie. But in an era when things were getting smaller and smaller it just wasn't appealing. The next is the flipping. Laserdiscs were a primitive disc based technology and only 30-60 minutes of a movie were on a single side of the disc depending how it was formatted. So for an average length movie you could find yourself getting up to flip or switch discs not just once but maybe two or three times. All depending on the length of the movie. I have Ben Hur on laserdisc and it is a whopping two discs, four sides, and that's with approx 60 minutes of movie on each side of each disc. I think it's a small price to pay for the product it was at the time, but I remember complaints about a movie being on two VHS tapes and having to switch them half way through. Then the biggest thing was the price.
Nowadays these movies are on the cheaper end. Not VHS cheap but cheap none the less. But back then these were pretty expensive. And understandably so. It was a new technology and new tech tends to be more expensive for some time when first released. I remember paying around $30-$40 for a blu-ray disc in 2007 but today you could go to Target and buy a bunch at $5 a piece. It's just the way the industry runs cause they either find a way to mass produce in a cheaper way, or there's enough interest to justify the smaller prices and still make a profit. Blah blah blah. But unlike blu-ray or even DVD this was an era when there weren't full TV seasons in one package on a regular basis. So I'll use Twin Peaks as a point of reference for the price. Extreme example but it conveys the right details. Twin Peaks was only two seasons long but was released on four separate volumes on laserdisc. Each volume contains 7-8 episodes and when they first came out they ran for around $125 each. So if you wanted the entire series on laserdisc back in the day you were looking at paying an upward of $500. But that doesn't include the original pilot. That was released separately so that would be another $35 on top of that. Then if you wanted the movie Fire Walk With Me that was another $35, making it around $570 new off the shelf when it's all said and done in 1993 dollars. To think that those folks could have waited about 15 years for the complete box set to come out and they could get the same thing with extras (minus Fire Walk With Me) all in one complete package for around $60. But that's how it was back then.
All that stuff aside I love me some laserdiscs. And I love how easy it is for me to access and enjoy them now that it's way past their time (aka, I can get em really cheap!)
Why? Why do I love laserdiscs so much? Again, that is something I just don't know how to explain. But throughout this process I'll try and find the words for it. So basically get strapped in as I suck off laserdiscs for the next few paragraphs.
One of the easiest elements to look at is the novelty. There is a charm to be part of something that not a lot of people were or are anymore. It's a whole other world to discover in film. I don't know about you but watching movies on different formats does make a difference. If I watch Godzilla vs King Kong on VHS it's going to be a different experience than if I watched it on DVD. This is why I get such a unique experience on laserdisc. It isn't like VHS and it isn't like DVD. When I describe what it's like I usually say it's a cross between the two. This is because it's a much higher quality video than VHS but it's not as sharp as DVD. Also it doesn't have the digital feel and more of the analogue feel, giving off an aura of VHS. And it's such a unique experience for someone like me not just to watch but to collect. Seeing them on a shelf or flipping through them in and of itself is a unique experience. Also I like the large cover pictures with the cool stuff inside like extra photos or notes from the director for some titles. Take a look at some examples of that.
But on top of the novelty of just collecting there is the preference level, too. I already gave a brief description of what the video shows up like but there's also a reason why I would rather watch movies or shows in this format over others. Part of it is context of the time. When you watch a movie on VHS is it far from a similar experience to the theatre. It's a very cheapened experience if you ask me. Now in the digital age that has changed but that's not what we're talking about here. With laserdisc it provided a much better image that was closer to what it actually looked like in theatres. And with the movies that were released on laserdisc around the same time they were in theatres I believe are some of the most accurate representations of what they did look like in theatres at the time of their original release. Does this mean they're the prettiest? No, of course not. Just because you can buy the original Godzilla on blu-ray doesn't mean it looked that sharp when it first came out. Personally I prefer watching movies the way they were originally seen to have a proper experience. I'm not terribly strict with this rule as I own 2001: A Space Odyssey on blu-ray, a movie that is almost 50 years old. But there are some I am terribly strict on this rule. One in particular which I'll use as a jumping off point is why I only watch The Shining the way I do.
The one way I'll watch The Shining (until it's impossible to do this anymore) is on the initial release VHS copy. Yes I was crapping in VHS earlier but hear me out. When home video became more popular Stanley Kubrick hated how his beautifully photographed films would get chopped down to fit in a 4:3 pan and scan format. So in his last few films (Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut as other examples) he shot them in a way where it would be presented in widescreen theatrically showing more on the left and right but less on the top and bottom, and then on home video it would be 4:3 with less on the left and right but more on the top and bottom. So if you watch The Shining on VHS or earlier DVD releases and you see it in full screen it's actually not a bad thing. It's how it was meant to be seen on home video per the director's request. So seeing it in "full screen" on home video is the way I want to see it because of those reasons. But why VHS? Easy, I don't like how sharp and digital The Shining would look because I feel it would take away from the creep factor of it. I could talk about this for a lot longer but I'm definitely gonna save that for another day. There's also the nostalgia feel because this is the version I've always known, and if I really wanna eat my words I would get a laserdisc copy of The Shining for the properest of proper experiences.
So with that in mind I come back again to Twin Peaks. The first and only time I've seen anything regarding Twin Peaks has been on laserdisc. This is because and I actually stumbled on the Twin Peaks laserdiscs one day by chance, and being a big fan of David Lynch I went for it. This was before the complete series was common on DVD and I obviously love laserdisc so I took advantage of a situation. But since watching them on laserdisc I fell in love with how they looked and felt. I watched a lot of TV growing up in the 90s so I've got a good idea how TV looked and felt back then. Whenever I would watch TV shows on VHS whether it was a formal release or taped straight from TV it gave an idea of what it felt like to watch when shows first premiered but it still didn't quite capture it properly to me. Now keep in mind this was my first viewing of Twin Peaks, yet knowing how TV was back in the 90s the look and feel that laserdisc gave really did make it look like the way it would have looked when it first premiered. It felt so much like 90s TV and all that was missing was the station logo in the bottom right corner. And when I say it felt 90s I don't mean in just style and execution of the show, but the quality of the sound and image. It wasn't perfectly remastered. It had a hint of a blur to it even much like TV from that era had because of the lower definition. It was a beauty to look at because it felt I was seeing it the way that it may not have been intended to be seen but the way it was seen because of the limitations of the time. So watching Twin Peaks on DVD would probably spoil it for me, not giving me that same look and feeling as it did on laserdisc. Not even sure if I'll ever get it on DVD for such a reason.
But it's not just Twin Peaks this applies to. I've watched a bunch of movies from the era laserdisc was popular(?) and I get a similar feeling. One example of this is Alien 3. Yes I know it's not exactly a great Alien movie (I enjoyed it just fine, whatever) but this is where I first noticed this element. Alien 3 used some organic effects but they also used some pretty primitive CG effects as well. So there are parts where they Alien looks pretty okay but there are other parts where he stand out worse than a white guy at a rap concert. But the thing is that, that's simply what was part of the technology at the time. You can argue til you're blue in the face how it could have been done better because of this and that example but that's besides the point. Convincing CG wasn't 100% fully available to everyone and it definitely wasn't as effortless as it is now. It was still primitive. But to me there's a charm to things like that cause it puts it in the context of the time. Anyway, I like watching this movie specifically on laserdisc cause it had that closer to theatre quality image but it wasn't remastered in a re-release. Yes we have the tech to make it look better, but I don't want it to look better. I want it to look the way it did when it was originally released because they were using tech that was only so far advanced. Seeing it that way puts you in the time frame. It gives you an idea of what people saw and how they saw it. And while it may still have the rough CG, usually these "lower def" releases hide details that were covered up by taking advantage of the tech at the time. Sometimes in HD re-releases these mistakes or limitations are seen a lot easier. Then it looks even worse despite there being more pixels on screen (which apparently makes everything look better, even though it doesn't).
So for me with laserdiscs it comes down to three main things I love about them: the novelty, the historical impact it had on home video, and how it captures the product of it's era.
First, novelty. I tend to be the type of guy who looks for the hidden gems instead of just spending all my time with the popular stuff. So for me laserdiscs are awesome in the novelty alone. They were somewhat obscure, never catching on with the mega masses even when they were at their most popular time. And now they're even more obscure, but in such a cool way. I don't see them the same way as other formats like VHS. Trust me, VHS has it's place in history and novelty but overall it's sad to look at those old tapes. Laserdisc still shows the technological advancement of it's day. While VHS was more convenient, laserdiscs were a treasure to film collectors. And so with them being so obscure and actually appealing when you can find them somewhere, it's hard not to shuffle through and pick some up. It takes me to a time and a technology where serious hardcore film collectors could finally embrace their love, properly at home. To me they just look way more professional and appealing than the other formats at the time.
I sort of already touched on the historical impact. But I guess what I want to touch on here is how it did introduce the world to the idea of digital vs analog formatting at home. To make this explanation short it told the world how awesome DVD would be years before DVD became a mainstream technology. Also it got some people used to the idea of having their movies in widescreen at home. There were some VHS tapes that would pop up from time to time that were in widescreen, but for the most part it stayed at full. The audience who bought up tapes were all used to that. But with laserdisc showing people were actually interested in having widescreen available it made way for that becoming exactly that when DVD came around. Sadly it wasn't until 16X9 tvs were the standard and blu-ray came into action that widescreen would actually be the golden standard. Seriously, try and find a newer movie in full screen. Damn near impossible unless it was filmed that way (like The Artist).
Then finally I love how much it represents being a product of it's era. I already extensively talked on this but only in regard to Twin Peaks. Shut up I'm gonna keep talking. The way it's definitely a product of it's era is in the way it handles itself in every way from the packaging to the picture. Most of the ones you're bound to run into will look similar to the VHS edition of the movie. Like the Star Wars laserdiscs literally have the same image for their laserdisc release as it did for the VHS tapes. However they also have a series that make it very obvious what you'll be watching will be a unique technology that only laserdisc can take you down (at this point in time). In the same way Blu-ray first had a big display all over the case representing the format you'll be watching, so does laserdisc in some of their titles show off this tech representation.
When was the last time you saw a blu-ray that flaunted "Beyond High Definition?"
And honestly I think that stuff is great! It actually takes you back to that era more and more. Like when you watch old TV shows on TV Land or ME TV and in the pre/post show credits they may flaunt around using stereo sound or, and this is my favorite, COLOR! That along with the VHS style feel of fast forwarding and the fact that any and all laserdisc players look and feel like VCRs, sound system receivers, basically they're big and bulky and I love every inch of them.
Yes they have their flaws especially by today's standards. But there's something special about how they look and feel that add an extra sense of charm to the technology. Even though I just spent many paragraphs explaining how and why I love laserdiscs so much I still feel it's truly hard to explain exactly why I feel they're so great, especially when they were so niche and still are so niche.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Version I Watched: Netflix instant watch.
History: Was based on a fake trailer produced for a grindhouse trailer competition put together by Robert Rodriguez. It gained so much popularity from the competition that it turned into a feature length film. It was made for $3 Million but didn't even make half of it back in the US. It gained a cult status on home video but all in all has very mixed reviews.
Personal History: I saw the fake trailer that came before this movie a bunch of times. I thought it was hilarious! And when I found out there would be a full movie I was... interested... but more on that in a moment.
Review: You ever notice when something gets really popular no matter how small a group it tends to be milked and milked so much until everyone hates it? Of course you notice because you can't get away from it! That seems to be the American way for pop culture. We've seen this with zombies, vampires, more recently super heroes (it's a fad and will eventually die out or fall into obscurity because they'll run out of stuff to do), but I remember something else. Something a bit more niche.
Grindhouse was a three hour long double feature. As in no joke, an actual double feature. When it was released it played both Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror and Quentin Taratino's Death Proof. It was a cool experiment on the old grindhouse model and each was a shining example of the type of movie you would see in grindhouses. Complete with intentional grain on the film strip and missing reels. It was a beautiful experience and I loved every minute of it. While the movie was technically a box office bomb the attention it did bring, built up a further interest in grindhouse again. It seemed like all at once a bunch of groups of people wanted to recreate the grindhouse experience, just like Robbie and Quint did. There were imitation style movies, video games (like Wet and House of the Dead: Overkill), but I would say the most popular were the fake trailers.
Fake trailers were featured in Grindhouse both before and between the features. They included ones by Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, Eli Roth, and one that turned into a real deal franchise by Robert Rodriguez, Machete. Online there was a further explosion of fake trailers. One of those that became very popular was Hobo With A Shotgun. It was a hilarious compilation of a wacky movie where a hobo is cleaning up the streets using nothing more than a shotgun and all his rage. But when I found out there would be a full length movie... I was interested... but not hopeful.
Cut to a few years later and here I am finally getting around to it. The results are not so great.
Don't get me wrong. I LOOOOOOOVE retro style, grainy, rough looking movies. When a modern filmmaker can pull it off it looks amazing and gives a unique experience that can only be captured by actually watching a movie from the era they're referencing. But making a movie in that style doesn't automatically make it great. Just like how if you simply insert element A or reference B doesn't make it great either. One of the many problems I have with the show Big Bang Theory is because it falls under those lines but more on that in a future post. The thing with this movie is that it's great in concept. It's a funny skit that works in the two minutes it took to play out in the fake trailer it started from. But this concept rarely translates well to an extended story. That's why people try to forget about most of the movie versions of SNL skits. Unfortunately I feel this one didn't do the translation so well.
There's not much to say about the plot. The title kind of says it all but at the same time there's no telling by the title of he's the good or bad guy. Well, he's the good guy. The plot is super simple. Everyone in the city he rolled into is corrupt. I mean everyone! (minus a very few) And it's all because of a guy named Drake who like in many cliches runs the town. Our hobo hero first runs into him on the streets when he kills a guy, on display, by ripping the man's head off (Don't really wanna spoil how cause it's plenty creative) while forcing all the innocent bystanders to watch or else he'll kill them. He's a sick bastard who has two sons as sick and disgusting as he is. After frustration with all the crime in the streets the hobo decides to take the money he has saved up to buy a shotgun and take action into his own hands.
When you read that plot doesn't that sound amazing?! Of course it does. But something about it just didn't translate well into a feature. I didn't find the movie to be terribly engaging, and for a movie that only lasts 80 minutes before credits I found it to be a lengthy task to get through. And for all the wild, out there, grindhouse styles it was going for I felt the movie did something so many imitators do wrong. They tried way too hard.
Now I don't feel they tried too hard in terms of the grindhouse flare. The movie is shot very old fashioned looking minus all the fast cuts in the action sequences. But everything does look very dirty and the image was very off colored like it was done on the mega cheap (trivia: It was filed with a Red camera). If anything I really like the way the movie looked. Where I felt they tried too hard was in their execution with how dark and evil this Drake guy and his two sons are. It's all very over the top violence. And I'm sure they were going for tongue in cheek, but many parts just didn't quite come off that way. For example, a lot of children are killed in this movie. And I don't mean off screen. There's one scene where Drake's two sons jump on a school bus filled with kids and burn them alive with a flamethrower. The scene ends with a kid screaming bloody murder while using whatever life they have left in them to call for help out the back window of the bus. This and some other over the top elements didn't come off as "Holy shit! They went so far! This is so grindhouse old school!" like it's all part of one big joke. Instead it came off as, "Sheesh, that was really dark. Like... REALLY dark." Don't get me wrong, I actually have a very filthy mind when it comes to my sense of humor, and I love dark humor a bunch, too. If you saw some of the movies in my collection you'll also know I'm not squeemish. But when some of these scenes of such intense violence in the tone they chose it feels more like a friend was trying to tell a dirty joke but went just a pinch too far, or told it wrong and it makes you wonder if your friend is a serial killer or something.
I also want to point out I understand it's possible to tell a joke straight face. You play the part as serious as possible and let the tone, writing, etc do the comedy work. It actually makes things a lot funnier. See Naked Gun, or a closer example to this would be Planet Terror or even Crank, movies that are obviously not meant to be taken seriously. But they are able to maintain the joke throughout without having to turn and wink at the audience. With Hobo with a Shotgun they got the idea right with the plot, but the way it plays is just too mistakenly serious a lot of the time. It's like they accidentally forgot they were making a satire partway through. Especially when they were establishing the relationship between the hobo and the hooker he saved (who is now his good friend). All in all I felt like they tried too hard and it came off differently than they were anticipating. That or they were trying to make something different than what everyone was expecting. I don't know.
Now there was plenty I did like that I felt redeemed the movie somewhat. First, the actor who played the hobo. Knocked it out of the park. He was an absolute blast to watch. His role was to play an angry hobo out to set things straight and he did a beautiful job. I was so happy to see him on screen saying just about anything. It was always really intense and angry. Or he was delivering justice with some great lines to boot.
So casting was VERY well done in this case. But not just with the dialogue I also loved it when he was kicking ass. He has nothing to lose since he is as low as he can go. So when he finally gets the shotgun it is so satisfying to see him blowing them all away in a great and gory fashion. The gun has that intense impact that makes you wanting more. But basically that's what I liked about the movie. The hobo, his shotgun, and seeing him kick ass with some great lines.
It may sound like I hated this movie but that's not the case. I wasn't expecting it to be another Planet Terror or Death Proof, but I wasn't expecting it to be trying this hard. It left me wanting more from the hobo, not the bad guy. Honestly it spent too much time with the bad guy setting up what would be resolved by the hobo very simply with his shotgun. Overall the movie had it's fun moment. Could be worse. Still... hard to recommend unless you're into this style of movie.
Sorry I didn't have more to say... this movie just had a very obvious positive and negative parts with little else present. If I go any further it'll sound repetitive.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
In the early 80s a new type of game was released to the market. Laserdisc games that were essentially interactive movies. One of the earliest and easily one of the most popular examples of this is Dragon's Lair. It was very limited but a real beauty for the time because while the arcades were filled with *this, you turn the corner and you see *this. The control for these games were also limited since all you do is either move the joystick in the right direction or hit an action button when the video prompts you to. Some of these games were ported to home consoles like the Sega CD but in other cases they were also ported to just straight up DVD because of how simple the controls were. These games dated themselves quickly and most aren't that memorable and even less stand the test of time.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s and a game company called Quantic Dream releases Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit for everywhere else in the world) which is being praised as an interactive movie. Move forward to 2010 and out comes Heavy Rain. A game in the similar style to Fahrenheit that also calls back to those Dragon's Lair games of old but even more interactive. Heavy Rain branched out with multiple characters, multiple stories, and multiple routes. Way more than what most games may boast about. I actually still have a copy of Playstation Magazine that maps out all the different routes in Heavy Rain and it's pretty extensive. With that history in mind it brings us to Beyond Two Souls, a game that owes it's existence to this history of games.
Before continuing I want to point out a couple things that add to the legitimacy of the cinematic approach. One is that it starts actual Hollywood actors. Ellen Page who has a very prominent role, and Willem Dafoe who seems to have an important role but only appears once in the whole demo. They both put on a great performance as they always do and it helps add to the immersion. Aka, acting in a video game that's actually good! Also the game is presented in a wider aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It doesn't fill the screen. Even in gameplay there are bars on the top and bottom and it makes it BEAUTIFUL! Last note I want to make is that the game was presented as an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. While it's the second game to be shown there (the first being L.A. Noire) it is still saying something that it made it there. There was a 35 minute gameplay video screened for that "premier."
The demo states it contains two sequences but I would say it's more like four scenes. Each does offer something unique with the first two preparing you for what comes in the third and fourth.
Sequence 1: You're a young Jodie (Ellen Page) and you live in what looks like a place of scientific experimentation. A lab you might say. A scientist takes you into a room with where you put on a piece of headgear like you see when someone's mental state is being examined. The purpose of this experiment is to pick the same card as the woman in the room next to you, and of course you can't see her. This is when you change character in a way and become Aiden. When you play as Aiden you are a spirit, soul I guess based on the title that can freely move through walls without anyone seeing you, and you can physically mess with items as well. So when you play as Aiden you go through the wall, look at the card, return to playing as Jodie and pick the card. Easy. Then you get to play around with throwing things around the room freaking the woman out because you're doing the same thing as a poltergeist. As this sequence ends it suggests that Jodie doesn't have full control over Aiden and he could even hurt her with all the powers he has. This sequence is a great introduction giving a lot of mystery of what exactly Jodie's powers are, who this Aiden is, hell even what happened that caused her to be thrown into this lab.
Sequence 2: This is just a quick tutorial for the fighting scenes in the game. It's very simple and it eliminates there being a lot of buttons on screen, giving a better cinematic feel to the game as a whole. The fighting works where when you are swinging your fist or moving to dodge you simple point the right joystick in the direction you're moving. And it slows down briefly so you're not too on edge. This is a great way to indicate when you need to do something. It does it in a way that modern cinema does anyway, with all the slowdown and fast cuts.
Sequence 3: This part is easily my favorite and really showcased how well the cinematic aspects works, keeping it within the universe and not too gamey. After a brief scene on a train where the police catch up with you, you as Aiden possess the mind of one of the police men to help you escape from the police. Then a chase through the woods starts. Let me say that this sequence is the t example of realistic realism I've ever seen in video games. You actually feel like Jodie is naturally running through the woods, reacting to every bit of wood, branch, bump that comes your way. It is absolutely beautiful and the animation does not come off as repetitive in the least. SERIOUSLY! Go play this demo and that sequence of her running is one of my favorite parts because of how good it looked. After escaping she also steals (again with the help of Aiden) a police motorcycle to escape. Again it looks and feels so insanely realistic I couldn't believe it. Yes you get the feeling of it carrying you along but you do NEED to be interacting to make it work. It is incredible what is being done here.
Sequence 4: This is similar to the last half of the last sequence but more with the combat of Aiden than Jodie. I actually didn't care for this part quite as much because Aiden is used through a first person perspective and he doesn't have that solid of controls. This sequence you are literally surrounded by a swat team with a helicopter and everything. You do multiple treatments of possessions to ram a car into a gas station or using your psychic abilities to choke the swat team, but the process of getting to each guy and step was somewhat slow, interrupting the tension and excitement of the sequence. Not to say it's all a lost because it isn't as bad as I make it sound. It's just that with how un-gamey parts of this demo have felt, this part felt very gamey.
I can't wait to see what the rest of the game is like. I am so excited for this to come out with it feeling like an ever better experience than Heavy Rain was. It is presented more realistically with less "buttons" on screen and presented in an actual cinematic aspect ratio. That and the animations look fantastic. Even with the way you're walking from room to room as a standard person. Like in the beginning when you play the child version of Jodie she is looking around very naturally. When you push forward she walks forward naturally like a real person and when you let go she doesn't stop on a dime like other characters. She comes to a gradual stop, you know, like an actual person who is walking naturally.
If you have a PS3 I urge you to try this game out. But keep in mind it's not like many other games out there. If you like having tons of control you're not gonna get it here. But the cinematic experience you get from it is so mind blowing, and if anything you can see it as a tech demo that can showcase the future of even more realistic elements in gaming.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
My freshman year of college I was cast in a production of Oedipus the King. No big part, just a palace guard. But the play is pretty intense in themes and very violent at the end. To those who don't know, the play ends with Oedipus gouging his eyes own eyes out. Different productions handle this differently. In the old Greek performances this would be represented with a mask. In more modern productions it is done with actually seeing the blood drip from his face. That's the method my college went for. It was pretty graphic cause they used peanut butter on his eyes to represent the torn up flesh and had it covered in red with it dripping down the costume. Also, since there was a dedicated costume for it cause the material would stain and there was a new application of blood every performance it got bloodier with every show. On top of all this I went to a conservative Lutheran college. So content like that generally speaking was surprising and not exactly common place there. But why is it not common place? The general idea is that it's easier to get away with because it's a classic. If there was a production of a lesser known play but with similar themes and is modern it would not be as easy to get away with. I can guarantee that. When a classic play or classic movie is playing there is apparently an unwritten rule that certain content can get through that would otherwise be censored in a new IP.
This is something that has always left a strange feeling behind for me. I never fully understood why that would be the case and it only seems to make the MPAA ratings even more confusing (which is what we will be discussing for today). The straw that broke the camel's back that made me want to talk about this was how I finally got around to watching Speilberg's TinTin movie. Outside of the creepy uncanny valley animation I found it to be a pretty fun movie and wouldn't be opposed to watching any sequels that may come out. However this is a movie that is aimed with "fun for the whole family" in mind. It's based on a classic comic strip that's been around for an eternity so it seemed like a sure fire win. Well it's a sure fire win if you keep it in the spirit of the original material or else people won't necessarily enjoy it. The one specific example I want to pull for this confusing exception is that one of the main characters is a drunk. Flat out severe drunk, no sublety whatsoever. And the movie doesn't present it in a way as bad. It presents it in a way as cute and fun cause the character is funny. Like the lovable drunk who always winds up in Andy Griffith's jail. Even in one scene when he and TinTin are in a plane that is out of gas and there's the threat of a crash the drunk jumps out of the plane and belches into the gas tank, suggesting his breath alone is full of enough alchohol to restart an engine. Obviously not a realistic thing that could happen but it's basically showing that alchohol saved the day for them. And this is only one example from this movie that feels out of place in a modern PG rated movie.
Before I continue I want to point out a disclaimer that I'm far from a stiff when it comes to censoring. Quite the opposite. Do whatever personal censoring you want for yourself but when it comes to releasing movies, music, games, etc, present it uncut. And if it's not uncut make the audience aware. Obviously there will be levels of censorship when showing something on TV or to a child. But if the content needs to be censored to show it to them then why the flying fart are you showing it to them in the first place (example from my childhood, Dragonball Z and Tenchi Muyo. The former for violence, the later for sexual content). So I'm not opposed to censorship, just unjustified censorship. Moving on.
I think we can all agree that the times are changing with every year. Fads come and go, things get more tense/loosened up, politics change, people change, everything changes. An easy example to see how things have changed is with entertainment. Since the early 1900s when film started to really make an impression on the world and become popular, content immediately became an issue. What can you show and not show in a show? Unlike a stage play there was more room for content that couldn't be done as easily live.
Censorship was certainly a lot more strict back in those days. Watch most any movie from the 30s to the 50s and you'll see a lot of them are pretty similar. Mostly free of harsh content and whenever something harsh happens it's usually implied and more subtle. It's not as in your face as modern cinema can be. Around the 60s things changed and more content started showing up in film and it just progressively became more open ended as the years went on. Now that's not to say there was no explicit content in these older movies. Typically in the more popular titles there weren't. One example of surprisingly explicit content in early cinema would be the short film Un Chien Andalou where you see a topless woman getting groped and another women's eye slashed, up close.
This eventually led to the development of a rating system so people knew what they were in for, and it even got reworked in the mid 80s when the initial design didn't work well enough. And now it brings us to today. For many years the MPAA has been pretty screwed up and I still don't feel they do their job right and easily do favors for some movies whereas others they really hit hard. For more info on that watch the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated. It's pretty excellent.
What I want to talk about isn't why the MPAA generally speaking sucks at their job, I want to talk about perspective when it comes to revisiting old material from the past and showing it in the present. As I was stating earlier the level of content allowed these days is more loosey goosey than it used to be. But the type of content is a different story. Going back to TinTin. The reason why I was raising such a stir on that is because it's getting away with the same sort of thing the production of Oedipus the King I was in was getting away with. It is including somewhat harsher content but it's okay cause it's considered a classic. TinTin has been around for what seems like a hundred years (probably not that far off) which means it's origins is from a completely different era. It was an era when a drunk character was funnier than it is today. These days drunkeness is more of a sensitive issue that people tend to not joke around with. But because of the era TinTin came from it is technically in context which I guess makes it appropriate. An approach I can agree with. But it was just thrown out there as is. TinTin may be very popular, but it was more popular overseas than it was here in the states. And since it began TinTin has been a more family friendly story, just with some now outdated acceptance of certain content. So I can understand WHY it's in there. But that movie was released in an era where PG means something totally different than it used to.
The perfect example I have for this is the comedy classic Airplane. Many people can agree that it is one of the funniest movies ever made and it will retain that status until it's so outdated that no one gets the jokes anymore. However it was released in the early 80s before the PG-13 rating was created. Now even by today's standards I still wouldn't consider it R rated material. If anything a slightly harder PG-13. But since this came out back in the day it was given a PG rating. Understandable for the time. But think about this. Airplane has numerous sex jokes. A fair amount of cuss words (no fucks but definitely a shit or two). And there's even a very brief moment of nudity. Yep, to those who weren't around or weren't aware you could get away with a pinch of nudity in a PG rated movie back then (also see Barry Lyndon).
Now when the movie gets a new edition on DVD or whatever the new format is, it retains the original rating. When you see a new movie coming out these days and you see it's rated PG your initial reaction is that it's probably fairly tame. The only people you may not be able to bring to the movie are the youngest members of the family. So let's say you're an ignorant parent and you're looking for a movie for your family. Your family may be a bit more conservative or you may have some pretty young children so what you watch as a family needs to be a bit more friendly for a wide range of ages. You're breezing through a video store or online and you come across a few movies. Some of which are rated PG. However some of these are older movies that have a PG from a different era and perspective. Let's say it's not necessarily Airplane but another movie that has similar content in the PG rating. You're gonna go home and get a face full of something you weren't expecting.
Trust me when I say this has happened and will continue to happen. I've experienced it myself with my parents not realizing what they were bringing home based on the box. It's because there's a lack of context for what means what and it can potentially provide a different experience than expected. Now we can't do anything about what's already released and circulating on home video. But one thing that I believe can and really should be done is a re-rating of some older movies. It's the only thing that makes sense to keep people informed of what they're getting into who don't necessarily have the proper context. A movie like Airplane still being labeled as PG on even the newest editions of DVDs gives off the wrong idea. If A Clockwork Orange and Midnight Cowboy can be re-rated from X to R without any changes then why can't other movies be re-rated for the proper context? And the only reason why I feel so strong about this is because the world is far from idiot proof. The average movie-goer doesn't understand what NC-17 may mean because those movies are few and far between, and they're usually edited down to an R anyway. Also the average movie-goer may not realize that NC-17 was changed from X because X became solely associated with porn instead of it just being the only rating beyond R. Basically the world needs to have everything spelled out for them cause they're not gonna bother looking into anything despite the internet giving them access to everything. This is the reason why there's now a description of what content is in the movie on the trailers, posters, DVDs, and of course online.
It's like the MPAA thought that the audience didn't know what the ratings meant anymore so they need to spell it out completely for them. So with an audience like that, that doesn't always have the right context regarding a title it would be good for many movies to be re-rated and given that descriptor so the audience can be aware. Because while content may be looser these days, parents and people in general are still pretty stiff about what they want in their entertainment.
So with that as a jumping off point it brings me to what I really wanted to talk about. It all goes back to my Oedipus and TinTin reference. But I want to bring a new example into the equation. A few years ago there was a lot of serious talk about the use and placement of cigarettes in movies. I think I even heard a rumor where if there are characters smoking in the movie it would immediately be slapped with an R. I think that was more a rumor than anything else but I have noticed in the rating descriptor as of the last few years that smoking is now a reason for a movie to be rated what it's rated. So what does that mean for all these older movies that had smoking in them? What about the ones that were intended for kids? Yeah it was a part of the norm back then but that was then and this is now. Stronger anti-smoking activism has been in place for some time now which is why smoking in movies is now a reason to up the rating. It's more appropriate for older people who understand the risks that come with smoking. If you put it in a movie aimed at kids or teens then they could get the wrong idea regarding smoking. But again what does it do for some of these older movies that have been adored for generations?
One example is 101 Dalmatians. A Disney classic that is adored by many and has been for many generations. But what's this? Cruella De Vill always seems to have a cigarette in hand. That can't be good. And this movie is rated G! Well I suppose if you have it in hand of the bad guy then kids may associate it with bad things. But wait a second, here's the dog's owner walking around smoking a pipe. And it looks like he's pretty relaxed with it. Does that mean smoking is okay? Maybe even fun? But that's not the message you want to send to little kids. So maybe you shouldn't show it to them. But the movie as a whole is pretty harmless so why would you do that? Besides, it's a classic! Remember? Okay, well maybe it should be censored so kids don't get the wrong idea. But you can't do that because that's not presenting it the way it was created. That's breaks rights in terms of expression through art and since it was made of a different era it shouldn't be a big deal cause their perspectives were different. See how this can turn into a catch 22? You can't go down one route without upsetting the path of a different route.
It's just so stupid that entertainment from a different era or based on a different era can (for the most part) get through without a hitch these days in terms of certain content but as soon as you create something new it's under attack. I think it's stupid because when you show it to a younger audience they will not have a full understanding of that different era. You may tell them this or that but I can still see influence come through somehow that some people may not want. I guess what I'm trying to get across is the fact that there are so many mixed messages being thrown out there with different ratings. On one hand here's a title that tells you of all the horrors and terrible things associated with drinking. But then there's this kids movie that has a character who is lovable and he is an even bigger drunk.
I'm not advocating extreme censorship or anything, just pick a side and stick with it. If we can bring stories with conflicting content from previous generations who clearly had a different perspective then why not bring back as much as we can? Where's my special edition DVD of Song of the South? What about those cartoons where Donald Duck was a Nazi? Where are those? You don't want to give off the wrong impression do you? I'm guessing that's where they're coming from. And movies that have characters in black face is shooting back to some pretty intense racism in this country so I can see why that would be a bigger issue immediately than smoking or drinking in a children's movie. But weren't there some classic movies in history such as Birth of a Nation and The Jazz Singer that had similar themes yet those are in general release? What's up with that? Why do those get a pass? I realize there's other Nazi propaganda films out there for purchase but those are more so for historical purposes. Not like the modern DVD releases are done by actual Nazi supporters. But if those can be released for historical purposes then why not some of the movies I stated before like Song of the South? It's not like it's a hidden secret that Disney made a movie that was as racist as that was and it's not like America has forgotten about the racism that ran through this country over the years. So why can't it be readily available for people interested in the history of film? I would love a DVD copy of that movie for those exact reasons. I don't think it would advocate racism, but rather it could teach a lesson on how things were and how we can better ourselves. Plus, Disney has re-released plenty of movies with intense racial stereotypes. What about Dumbo with the black stereotype Crows?
It's obviously a very complicated issue that many sides would argue many reasons for doing what they do. I just wish that there wasn't so many times where things are so selective. I just don't understand why certain themes from certain eras with certain content is condemned on one hand but the other it's not necessarily embraced but it is allowed. The way I figure it is keeping things within context really is the best way to handle it. But if movies like TinTin can have a flat out drunk as a main character then why can't other kids movies have themes like that in modern times? Yeah they're learning but I feel it's more confusing and sending mixed messages.
We as adults understand the context and content but not all kids will. So why would you be so loosey goosey with your content that you're showing them when censors are hitting so hard to avoid those exact same themes in modern stories. I'm in the process of writing one of my own stories (side project) in one scene a character is flat out drunk. However my characters are all animals (it's a cartoony story), I never make direct reference to any names of any actual alcoholic drinks, and it's so over the top exaggerated that it's ridiculous. I only described the actions the character was doing which were obviously similar to the actions of a drunk person. When I presented it to my wife she expressed concern over having a drunk character in a story that would be essentially aimed towards kids (but I feel it's an all around story cause it's pretty much an Adult Swim cartoon minus the explicit content). But when I heard that I didn't think it would be a problem for multiple reasons. Most of which are reasons I already stated.
In the end I just find it so stupid how selective audiences and studios are when it comes to what can and cannot be shown these days. Why were those old Looney Tunes cartoons banned? Because they have Nazi symbolism and racial stereotypes. But Nazis are all over the place these days, not to mention in some other popular movies like Indiana Jones. Also there are a bunch of racial stereotypes in other popular titles both old and new. It's not as in your face as some of the older stories but it is still there. Why do those titles get a pass when some of the older titles don't? Why? Cause movies/stories like Dumbo, 101 Dalmatians, Indiana Jones, and TinTin are classics. It all comes back to that word. Classics. It drives me nuts that these classics can get away with these things when less popular titles can't.
There's one last thing I want to talk about with the "law" of the rating system. As you probably know, if a movie is R rated and a kid who isn't 17 tries to buy a ticket on their own they will not be let in. However if a parent/guardian buys it for them then it's all good. No surprise there and I can accept that. Some kids are ready before others when it comes to explicit content. Now sometimes, rarely, but sometimes movies are released without a rating. Most of the time it's because of the content, or just one scene in particular that pushes it over the edge. Technically speaking, according to the "law" anyone can go into an unrated movie without question because there is no age restriction (well, there are exceptions). Example time.
Back in the year that The Passion of the Christ came out there was an uproar because of the violence. No surprise there. Heaven forbid Mel Gibson gives a (somewhat) accurate account on how brutal of a torture Christ went through (research shows some parts were too over the top whereas other parts weren't, if not even close to as violent as it really was). Because of the violence the movie got an R rating. Again understandably entirely from a subjective standpoint with content alone. But since it's such an important story (THE most important story for Christians) Mel Gibson wanted everyone to be able to access it. So later that year a recut version with the violence toned down was released. But there was a problem. Even with the violence toned down it was still given an R rating. So what did Mel do? Release it unrated. Ironically exploiting the rating system to get his way. I don't think that version ever came out on DVD but what I'm getting at here is the only thing more confusing than the MPAA is when something is R rated.
The thing with unrated is that you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes it may be an extended cut of a PG-13 movie and is using unrated as a marketing gimmick (see Ghost Rider). But it will go as extreme as actually having explicit sexual content like actual penetration (see Caligula). From a basic, standard, logic standpoint unless you are familiar with the system and the movie you're picking up there's no telling if the unrated movie will be a PG-13 with a couple extra 'Fuck's (Anchorman), it could be an older movie from a different region that never got a rating in the first place but is anywhere from G to PG-13 (The Russian, non-George Clooney Solaris), or it could be the most horrifically violent, horrifically sexual thing ever put through the cinema (Antichrist, okay that's probably not the most horrific example but you catch my drift).
In short unrated is even more wacky and off the charts than the actual MPAA, but when it comes down to it no movie is required to have a rating. There is nothing that tells each movie to come through that they have to get a rating. They choose to for obvious marketing purposes. Also good luck distributing your movie if it's unrated. Most theatres won't carry them and the few that do are art houses. They get a similar treatment as NC-17 movies get. I guess the only other thing I have to say about unrated is that at least it isn't totally off the handle like the MPAA. You usually know what you're getting into with some brief research if it's an alternate cut of an older movie. But also some cinemas that carry unrated titles do enforce their own sort of rating system. I remember years back a movie called Shortbus came out in a very limited release. It was playing at a theatre here in Madison. As I was walking into the theatre to see another movie I noticed a sign regarding Shortbus. It said that while Shortbus is unrated they were not allowing anyone in under 18 due to explicit sexual content. After doing some quick research on this title I found that there is a TON of unsimulated sex in the movie with shots of full on penetration. I was surprised a theatre in my area played something like that. But I guess if that theatre played Shortbus I shouldn't be surprised when I saw another theatre downtown was playing Antichrist many years later.
While I've technically never seen an properly rated NC-17 movie in the theatres (seen them and own a couple on DVD. Lust Caution being one of the best I own along with The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover up there, too) there is one movie I have seen in theatres that was released without a rating. The Aristocrats, a documentary about the legendary joke among famous comedians. If it was rated it would be NC-17. No violence, no nudity or sex, but enough harsh language to give it that, and it was absolutely hilarious!