22 November, 2011

There is No Team Jacob

If you've a moment in your post-Breaking Dawn reverie today, I recommend you pop over to my pal Ashley's blog to read her paper on 'There is no Team Jacob' (give the paper a look before you throw daggers her way, all of you Jacob fans. It's a well put together and clearly argued way to look at the whole imprinting malarkey.  

Ashley was my right hand lady at TwiCon organizing academic panels with me, and then did the same thing last summer for LeakyCon, where we presented on film adaptation, specifically the final Potter film from book to screen. She's pretty rockin', with a unique voice and a great perspective on this topic. Now just wait for her Harry/Hermione paper... it'll blow your mind. 

I'm off to see Breaking Dawn again tonight, and there just may be a little deconstruction and film analysis happening in the near future; we shall see :)

18 November, 2011

Breaking Dawn Part 1: Reactions

First reaction: Fans will be happy, filmmakers will be happy (hello box office intakes!), and color-me-wrong, I thought this film would be ridiculous, awkward for the wrong reasons, rough, and a bit painful to sit through-- it was not! I rather enjoyed it from beginning to end! Definitely some cheese-moments, a lot of eye-rolling worthy lines, but I've come to enjoy and embrace those fabulously cheesetastic moments! It's not going to win any Oscars, and I probably don't need to see it more than maybe once or twice for analysis reasons, but I was entertained.

If you're a not a fan of the books, I think you can skip over this film; it's not gonna make cinematic history except maybe with regard to box office earnings. If you are a Twilight fan, however, I think you'll be very satisfied with this film.

Explanation: Breaking Dawn is the film that I was most skeptical about. Even Meyer wasn't sure it was going to be four books, she thought it would be over at three, so the fourth, while it tied up a lot of loose ends (except for Leah, of course), it felt a bit gratuitous, and splitting it into two-- well, a bit fluffy and indulgent. Don't get me wrong, I loved it! I love any excuse to spend more time reading in a corner about the characters I've grown to love (hence the initial obsession with Pottermore-- although that's waning... hrm, that's for another post), but it never felt like a very strong story. The first half really just consisted of marriage, honeymoon, pregnancy, and could be done in about 12 minutes of film, so I was wary and concerned for how they would stretch this into two films, as there's not a lot of conflict going on in that first bit (yes, the wolves, yes Bella and Edward fighting... but I never had the feeling that a ton was on the line; it was fairly static). The second half gets more complicated with tons of randomly introduced characters, a building and epic battle, with no battle...  but all of that being said, I still ate up every word, read it multiple  times etc. etc. It was fun, but it wasn't the strongest in terms of story and construction. It was just fun and indulgent. We're all allowed a little non-brain-heavy fun.

Blissed-out Teenage Love
However, it's a crazy different tone of book. All of a sudden we are asked to believe a lot of strange and convenient things (Vampires can be dads? Ok! Wolves can imprint at any age? Ok! Jacob was attracted to a fetus? OK!), so perhaps (aside from box office returns) the thought for two films was that it was going to take us, the audience, a little bit of time to get from seeing this blissed-out, teenage couple, to seeing them as a married couple, and then as married future parents. That's what I took from it anyway, because I enjoyed the film; I didn't find it dragging (except the speeches at the wedding... horrible! Not even funny, just bad. Cutting room floor); it was well-paced, and gave ample time for us to understand and come to terms with all of their fluctuating reactions from bliss (wedding/honeymoon) to acceptance (Bella at first nudge, Edward at first thought-reading).

I was rather impressed for how they accomplished all that they had to with this film. Fans will be happy with this film, I think, because it's so bloody true (pardon the pun) to the book. And why on earth, at this point in the Twilight Saga's lifespan should the filmmakers look to satisfy anyone but the fans? Give the people what they want! Plot points! Gorgeous Wedding! Cute boys in tuxes and topless! Precision with details! Hot sex and smashed headboards!

We're not looking for best screenplay here, we're looking for satisfaction for the series that so many have grown to love, and hate, and perhaps love again (have you noticed how it's pretty cool to hate Twilight right now? And yet it's projected that Breaking Dawn: 1 will break box office records? Funny... haters still gotta see it, eh? :), but even though it might not win an academy Award, that does not mean that it was a bad film. I think this executed a popular text really well, and did so logically and thematically, with ample moments of emotion and beauty (yes, I shed a tear at the wedding-- the look on Charlie's face as he gives her away-- it kills me!). 

Anywho, so overall I was well pleased. It was well shot, great use of color, fab special effects (the change), the wolves have improved although are still clearly CG, and the cast seems really comfortable with each other and in their roles (particularly the Bella-Edward, Bella-Charlie, and Bella-Jacob). 

Right, I'm calling the next section "reactions" instead of "analysis" because that will come in time. When I try to do all of it in one blog post, my head explodes, and I'm guessing not a single person gets the whole way through it.... so, this bit is reactions, and I'll do some analysis of specific scenes as requested (if there's a scene in particular you want me to look at, let me know! Right now I'm thinking about the kiss at the wedding... we'll see what else springs to mind).

Titles: Straight in with the titles; I like that-- and effective "BAM! Here begins the story!" moment. I also love that they were a burgundy red, fading into an icy blue. It's the red of human life, fading into the icy blue of a vampire one (Get it? Get it?), especially with the rising sun, shedding light onto the 'new life.'

Voice Over: Intriguing how Bella focuses on childhood; she's about to step into her own marriage, thereby shedding the cover of childhood and stepping into adulthood, but the line "Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies," immediately refers to the vampire life, and made me think of Renesmee, and the questions of mortality that are still to come. Heavy stuff for 30 seconds into the film, eh?

The Trio: The relationship between them is shifting, and it was well handled. They finally look less awkward and stilted in their roles too, which helps.  It's understood the boys don't like each other, but what they have in common (Bella) is strong enough for them to get past their jealousy. I like that in the opening shot we have a sandwich of scenes of the trio: 1) Jacob opening the invitation and running for it, 2) Bella packing up her childhood in her room, and stroking the dreamcatcher that Jacob made for her, and then 3) Edward arriving, and filling her in on his darker past (p.s. They finally got the flashbacks right! It was well-shot, costuming appropriate, and it didn't make me cringe).

They have a good chemistry, all three of them, and as Bella calms Edward's fears about being a monster, it's a real conversation; it doesn't feel trite and cliche...instead it seems sincere and assuring; heavy on the cheese, but again, I've accepted that. Jacob and Bella really do appear best buds, and I like how they can call each other on their crap. Very real.

Oooo pretty. And look! Stephanie! And Wyck! And Melissa!
The Wedding: There may have been more hype about this dress than Kate Middleton's! I liked it, and a little bit more on the sexy side than I was picturing. You hear the description from the book-- 1918's, lace, satin, long sleeves, and you picture a dowdy, frumpy thing; or at least I did. This one was lovely; just a bit of lace at the sleeves, and those buttons going up the sheer almost back-less dress-- gorgeous! 

-The Aisle: I like the lack of dialogue; instead, there was a build up of strings, her relaxing after seeing Edward's smile, and the strong crescendo and break of the music as she approaches him. Brilliant pacing, building the tension and excitement, and infusing the scene with emotion.

-Cameo! I loved that Stephanie Meyer, Melissa Rosenberg (screenwriter) and Wyck Godfrey (producer) got to "attend" this scene, too. Fun little nod to them. 
Color scheme!

-The colors. the focus on spring, the emphasis on brown and green of the woods, with purple all around and a touch of gold from the Denali clan--- I couldn't help but notice these were the same colors as the meadow-- green, brown, with purple, white, and yellow flowers :) Intentional? I'm going to guess yes. Very little in a film is unintentional. Not when $127 million is being spent. I can also see this color scheme/wedding design inspiring weddings for years, and years, to come

-Charlie. Stop. Just stop. I got teary! I did not expect that! The look on his face when he gave her away, and his hesitancy to give her away at all; from the time he read the invitation, until he held her arm down the aisle-- lovely. Flippin' love Charlie and Billy Burke's portrayal of him.  I also like how they slipped Sue Clearwater into these scenes. Cleverly placing her into the scene, making her a normal fixture in his life, and someone that he fetches champagne for :) I also enjoyed Charlie's "that's just weird" comment about the graduation caps at the Cullen's house.

-The kiss. Great chemistry, and I love how Bella grabs onto the lapel of Edward's jacket. Cute. It was also very effective that the wedding guests 'disappear' during the kiss, so it seems as if it's just the two of them sharing this intimate moment. Also, how rockin' was it that 'Flightless Bird', the Iron and Wine song that played during the gazebo dance at the prom in Twilight (2008) comes back for this moment. Even the camera shots are the same. Spins around them, cuts back and forth to each face... it really brings the love from the first film through to the fourth; as if that love at first sight was the same; strong, true and consistent throughout; this wedding was just the formal realization of it.

-The speeches. They were horrid. CUT! I know they were meant to be awkward, but really... cut. But I loved that Carter Burwell brought the Bella's lullaby theme from Twilight (2008) back into the score, playing softly as Edward gave his speech about his bride. Again, tying that first film through to this one.

Volvo- Of course they drive away in a Volvo! Black this time :) It really does look like a shot directly from the 'Forks' game Volvo did a few years ago. Clever!

Rio: I'm glad we had a little bit of time to watch the happy couple as a honeymooning couple together. It gives a firm grounding to the substantial crap that they have to deal with afterwards. But  right now, they're newlyweds, they're away from their family, away from being the center of attention, in a lively and exciting city with lots of people making out on the street and playing music, so how nice that they get to have a romantic, hot little dance, and then escape to their paradise-like bliss on Isle Esme. And what a beautiful shot of Rio in the moonlight as a single boat speeds away into the open ocean. 

The First Time: Surely this is the most anticipated scene in all of Twilight.  And tell me if you agree, but I think it was pretty damn bang-on to the book. What I remember when reading that section was the horrible awkwardness; the insecurity and the bravery needed to take that first step sans robe into the ocean, and I think this scene really hit that home. The awkwardness staring over the bed at each other, I like her 'human moment' being a total girl and shaving her legs, fixing her hair etc, freaking out at Alice for only packing ridiculous lingerie, and finally sucking it up, realizing the guy she loved was out there in the water, and just walking to him. 

Lotsa destruction
I like that they didn't show much in the actual scene. The headboard breaking, and Bella assuring him she's fine, and that's about it. What was really well done, however, was Bella remembering it the next morning. It was sensual, intimate, accurate (of course we all replay our first kiss/whatever over and over), filled with extreme close-up shots bringing the audience into the ooey-gooey mentality of "that was lovely" so when Edward comes in and is all depressed and angry with himself, we're mad too at his incredible ability to buzz-kill! 

Nice chess set!
Nice touches: The chess set (very clever), the humor moments as the housekeepers silently takes out the shattered bed... but where are the eggs she eats so much of?

Finding Out She's Preggers: Nice timing with Alice ringing the second that Bella realizes what has happened, and prior to this moment, Bella and Edward have hardly separated. Even when they're doing something apart- like sitting across from each other playing chess- they're still leaning towards eachother; touching at any opportunity, and all over eachother snuggling etc. As soon as the discovery of the pregnancy is clear, Edward removes himself from the picture. He distances himself, and even in the car they don't touch. Clearly he's freaked out, but filmicly, this is good depiction of him mentally and physically removing himself from the situation in order to "deal with it."

I'm not going to get into the abortion chat. We all know it's ridiculous that Edward and Carlisle start to plan it without even consulting her, and I like that Edward gets a bit mad at her for not even involving him in her decision, but isn't it interesting that he didn't really make any initial effort to involve her either! Right... not getting into that...

The Pack Communication: It's a good move to shift attention constantly onto Jacob and his movements since he plays such a large part in this film.  They show him on the beach talking about imprinting, showing Claire the two year old, re-introducing the "it's not creepy, I swear" mentality, and I thought the way they handled the pack's communication was pretty decent. The wolves themselves are still clearly CG-ed, and at times laughable, not brilliant, but not as bad as the first version, but I liked that the chatter within the pack was constantly going. It was loud, busy, every thought... just how I imagined it would be. It wasn't overly confusing, so that was well handled by the filmmakers, but it was accurate in showing the horrible power of the alpha order, and the 'voices in the head' commentary they always hear. You can understand why Leah and Seth might want to leave for moral and personal reasons; it's just be a lot quieter! And when Jacob took up the mantle of Alpha, it was epic; the whining of the dogs, with the bending to the will, then fighting back, rising up, and leaving. Hello drama!

More accuracy from the book: Seriously, they stuck so closely to the details, it was nice to see the extra effort in there, even switching the blood from a glass to the plastic cup with a straw when Bella starts drinking blood; showing her mouth completely full of blood though-- that was striking. It might be hiding the blood from Bella to make it 'easier to swallow,' but the audience had no such luxury; we could see exactly what she had to do for this baby.
    -I also liked this bit when Alice grabs Jasper and says 'Walk with me' to get him out of the room and away from the blood. Cute.

The Cullen color-scheme, Blues, silvers, whites and greys
Edward Aplogizes: Thank goodness he finally joined #TeamBella and apologized for leaving her alone in all of this, and we finally get a glimpse of the happy family that they could become as he hears the baby's thoughts for the first time.  Bella is often in blues and grays in these scenes, which is interesting since that was always the color scheme of the Cullens, particularly in the first film. It was advertised, illustrated and focused on, and here is Bella, gray in skintone now too as she looks just slightly better than dead, wearing blues, and steely grays, taking additional steps towards becoming a Cullen.

Jacob distracting the other pack: Very effective storytelling technique.  It shows clearly which side he is choosing, and gives us a quick view of what's going on whilst Bella is stuck in the house.

She has looked better...
The Birth: Holybloodygooeygory. We knew it would be bad, there's no way for it to be pretty and easy, but I wasn't entirely prepared for blood and guts all over Edward. It was well shot though. Tough, red, fuzzy, clear for when Bella sees Rennesmee, and then the turmoil as they desperately try to turn her.  That was one hell of a syringe going into her chest; the dense, silver venom, and Stewart can play a corpse well.  She looked horrific! I was convinced.  The actual process of turning was brilliantly shot; it'd be so easy for that to be super-cheesy, but I just found it really interesting to see a visualization of what that process might look like. Red, fleshy and bloody, turning black like lava with a burning underneath, and then switching to dimondy-iciness.  

The Fight Scene: How nice it was to see it since we didn't get that chance in the books. It was interesting to see Edward's understanding of the imprinting, and the immediate backing off of the other pack. Granted it was a "convenient moment" for one of the 'basic laws' to be no harming someone who a wolf imprinted upon, but hey, it worked! It was also very well-shot. It was so tightly packed, that you couldn't tell who was where, and it built the suspense and our concern for the characters. We didn't want any of them to get hurt, and the confusion and close-ness of that filming added to that.

Rennesmee: she's pretty damn cute.

The Change: Brilliant. She looked horrible. Literally a corpse; underfed, bad color, unhealthy... and then... we see the venom flow through, her hair get shinier, her dress fills out, the cuts on her arm heal, her spine snaps back into place, color into her lips, and the dark circles removed from her eyes. Such a neat visualization, and satisfying somehow to see the power of the venom and how it changed each of them.  

Final shot: I CALLED IT! I totally called it (yes, yes, Maggie, pat on the back, I promise to gloat no longer), I had guessed that the final shot would be Bella opening her eyes, and them being blood red. I'm sure I can come up with multiple witnesses if required. Whoop!


The flashback in this bit again really ties the first film through to the last. Similar to the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix --purely with regard to what it made me think about-- where Harry is possessed by Voldemort and flashes back to all of those scenes with his loved ones-- we got to relive the series. We got to remember the first time we saw those scenes, how they affected us originally and what they have contributed to: a huge saga of drama and emotion! It was nice to see the first meeting, the first dance, the departing in New Moon, the reunion etc. 

Extra scene: Who doesn't love the fact that the Volturi are spelling and grammar fiends? Love it. Plus it also reintroduces them into our minds; they see the Cullens as a threat, know that the coven has grown, and we now know that they are a threat-- which leads us gracefully into Breaking Dawn: Part 2.

RIGHT! Let me know if you have specific requests for scenes to analyze, and by the way, what did you think?!

Ahhh and I love, LOVE Marah Eakin for this article.  and the link inside the article for the piece last year from Genevieve Koski. Stop hatin' Twilighters, and don't judge or read too hard into anything... fans deserve some cred, folks!

Breaking Dawn Review Coming this afternoon- diversion first!

Allow me to go on a tangent for a minute; if you just want to read my film analysis/review of Breaking Dawn, it’ll be up this afternoon.  But as this blog is a place to explore my own personal PhD journey as well, here’s a tangent for ya:

So, I was reflecting the other day on my relationship with The Twilight Saga, because that’s really what it’s been, a relationship, and pondering on the path of the Saga in the world and in the fandom over the course of the last three years (yup, it’s only been three years since this and this crazy, right?)

In terms of my relationship to Twilight, I think it’s gone through the ‘normal’ relationship phases.

1) there was the honeymoon phase. Everything was exciting. I had found this text about a girl with whom I could relate: awkward, bookish, and seriously crushing on a super cute guy. What teen girl didn’t feel that way? And then when it turned out that the cute boy loved her too, and he was a supernatural being—well that’s just awesome piled onto fabulous! I was giddy; I’ve been known to squeal in my early days of the Twilight relationship.

2) Then it progressed into a comfortable place. By this time I’d worked on the set, incorporated it into my PhD research, provided academic analysis on the film-aspects of it etc. I still enjoyed Twilight immensely, but I was over the “Oooo everything about this is perfect! I need to shriek and giggle every time I see a red apple!” phase. It was a part of my professional life, and I was lucky enough to have that thing I study also be something that I enjoyed. Not many PhD students can say that.

3) Then I reached the “do I want to continue this relationship?” phase. The breaking point of a relationship; do we go forward or do we break up? We’ll call this year three of my PhD. This is more about me and my PhD than Twilight (ask any grad student; at some point they hate their topic, no matter how awesome it is) and I’d spent two years tearing apart the novels, editing critical essays that examined the chauvinistic aspects of the novel, the apparent anti-feminism themes throughout, I spent a lot of time speaking on countless panels and numerous conferences about the film adaptation and it’s phenomenal success, and constantly analyzing things like costume, camera angle, music, shoot time, scene deletion, recasting, and how the Twilight Fandoms played into every single aspect.  I was busy, analyzing, talking, working in and around Twilight… but did I love it anymore?

The overwhelming, giddy love had gone out of the relationship. It was mechanical. Routine.

4) But then I took a step back from the whole school thing, got my head back into filmmaking and script development, fan interaction and fan management—and low and behold I love it again and am once again trucking away at the academic side of popular culture! It’s a comfortable, secure relationship now. There’s no longer a need for the burning desire, since it wasn’t based on anything but superficial reactions, much like a teenage crush; I was in love with the excitement. Now that it’s just a part of life, I’m grateful for it, and I can still just enjoy it like a good partner: I recognize its faults (it doesn’t really have to recognize mine… that’s taking this metaphor a little too far) but I can still appreciate it for the fun piece of entertainment that it is, and for the ground-breaking and pioneering fan-management techniques it has introduced.  And you better believe I'll be analyzing the filmic aspects of it ‘til the cows come home.

So we’re at a good place, me and Twilight J

Right… Breaking Dawn review/analysis coming this afternoon. Watch this space.

16 November, 2011

The Hunger Games- Trailer Analysis

First of all, how exciting to have a two and a half minute trailer!The 30 second trailer seemed so rushed, didn't give any sneak peaks to highly anticipated scenes or anything-- just showed Katniss, in the woods. That's it.  Plus a 30 second trailer doesn't provide enough time for fans and viewers to digest and come to terms with the images and story; it just assaults the senses with a quick deluge of information. I spent most of my time with the 30 second teaser going 'weird; district 12 looks really lush; oh wait, that's the arena; who's whilstling? That's weird!" Yeah... not really focused on the film with that 'teaser.'

So I'm glad that we finally have a longer trailer to dig into.

Overall, I think it's a decent trailer. I'm still very skeptical of the adaptation thus far as we don't know anything. So I'm just reserving my enthusiasm for now. I hope they've taken care of it. I spoke to their development team early in the adaptation process and they were focused, concise, and very business-oriented, and I think in the good way. That's the feeling I took away from it anyway. I'm hoping they continued on their path of faithful, but well-done and effective adaptation that doesn't alienate the fandom but still provides function, high-quality entertainment for those who haven't read the book. Fingers crossed!

So a bit of the shot by shot, shall we?

:09- District 12 is rather lush; I realize this shot is after the fence, so it's going to be more lush, but even the shot before where she's running through 'town', I pictured that as quite industrial, grey, and run down. Not like a 1800's Western ghost town. Interesting. Perhaps this is to project country, pastoral feel to Katniss? Make it familar and relatable, as opposed to the crazy Capitol-ness we see seeping in at :32

:37- Ahhh there's the cold, steely, industrial District 12 I was looking for! Look at the use of color (or lack thereof). Light blues, whites, and almost all caucasian; this creates a uniform look, allowing no one in particular to stand out, which to me, creates a 'nameless number' scenario. You can see that the capital would not look at these people as individuals with unique, precious lives. Instead, they would all be the same, might as well kill two for sport. Very effective costuming and art design.

1:00- Ahhh it's a reaction like this why I'm thrilled they chose Jennifer Lawrence for this role. She's got gumption, depth, and maturity to wear the heavy burden of responsibility/pseudo-motherhood. This reaction kicks butt. I can feel her panic and my heart breaks a bit. Plus, look at this shot. It's beautifully structured. The Capitol is in power (higher, in the foreground), the crowd flanking on either side, but ultimately splitting the frame into thirds vertically (the crowd on the left, the path, the crowd on the right). You can almost split it in thirds horizontally too, with Katniss occupying the top middle of the frame. Well. Done.

1:16- Yeah, this shot is getting a footnote in my thesis. The build up begins already with words like "epic" and "best-selling" which projects to the viewer that this is a big friggin' deal. If they havent' heard of these books, they're all, "Why the hell not? They're huge and everyone else has!" And if they have heard of the books, they are nodding to the big fans and are all like, "Yeah, you know it's a big deal, so do we, look how much we know..."

1:21- First I noticed that they're utilizing the 'thirds' rule again, and then I thought-- huh, this kinda looks like Thor's hometown. A little less shiny, but still futuristic and modern. Interesting :) Also of note is the sun shining upon it. It makes it look like a place of wonder, which it is to our heroes who have only ever heard of the capital; there is wonder, but for them it's of the terrified kind, not the pleasant "oooo pretty" kind...

1:29- Hrm... not at all what I pictured for the 'girl on fire' dress; but that was supposed to be in a chariot... so I'm going to guess that this is the jeweled one worn later. No jewels... but still stunning. You get the feeling of splendor, glamour, and it's a red-carpet arrival/make an impression type dress, clearly. However, the look on her face definitely says that something is wrong. As does the cheesetastic host holding her hand in the air and smiling about her like she's a prime used car. Weird. But fittingly so. Like a Barker's Beauty... on trial.

1:48- oh dear... did they get the hairstylist who did Jacob's wig in the first two Twilights? That's abysmal! I love the casting of Woody Harrelson for Haymitch though. I can completely see him being the crazy, stumbling drunk, who is strong at his center but has simply been drinking for so many years because every year those that he's supposed to be supporting die. He also can have that slightly southern accent, perhaps supporting that idea of District 12 as a Western, 'cowboy' territory.

2:10- Ahhh this shot is bloody brilliant. Look at the thirds rule-- again-- clearly they're fans of this rule; also, the fact that the entirety of the district is gathered to watch her descend upon the games. It's clearly a national event for "entertainment" but it also breeds fear and ensures control. All are frozen, watching one of their own go into battle. You see the hope of Katniss's neighbors, and the proud salute they share... the bagpipes in the background are a bit distracting... bagpipes? Really? But the sentiment is clear and valid.

2:16-2:23- That count down is phenomenal. As the trailer is nearing it's end, the count down builds the tension, and cuts to a different person with a stake in Katniss's life with each second counted down. Prim to Cinna to Gale... lovely. We can tell something is coming, she seems befuddled so we're worried about her, but the count down keeps going, relentlessly, so you're willing her to focus.... this is a clever and effective trailer technique. It draws us in. It's the hook. It gives suspense and intrigue. Nice!

2:27- then it's followed by a mad, exciting dash, collecting materials, a hand held camera for a lot of it which gives the impression that we, too, are running like mad for our lives, there's a cut to running like crazy through the woods...so you get the idea; we're running. A lot. It's a chase, and if you're caught, you die. And then BAM! We're hit with the fiery, mockingjay pin, followed by the quote "May the odds be ever in your favor," both items that are well known to the fans "in the know".  It's a moment where the fan can relate, react, and take a quick breath from that drama of the last fifteen seconds, and possibly shriek with excitement and anticipation, and hopefully not disgust.

Well, that's all for now. I'm intrigued, the production values look good, they're clearly covering their bases with Entertainment Weekly covers and directed advertising campaigns. I hope they go the extra mile to ensure the fans stay onside, and that the fans support rather than critique the adaptation. Here's hoping!

Are there any parts that you're most excited about seeing on the screen? Most nervous about?

02 October, 2011

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Buses, The Tardis, Teleport devices...

Just a quick one here, but I wanted to post that I'm heading Stateside for a few weeks! PhD-land is going well, Elfin work is going very well, and I'm off on a tour of a bunch of high schools and universities talking about my film work, why I came to the UK to study, answering questions about study abroad and the film industry, and in a few places, I'll be holding Pitch Fests for aspiring screenwriters.

This trip is a lot of fun, and I pack a whole lot of visits, talks, panels, and presentations into a short amount of time (i.e. at UMW in Fredericksburg I'm on a panel about fantasy literature adaptation, and in George Fox in Oregon I'm teaching a few classes about event films and the development process!). I'm crossing the country a few times, so there's a chance I'll be in your area should education in the UK appeal to you, or you're interested in the film industry from my experience and perspective.

I'll be in:

New Orleans Oct 3-5 (International High School, Benjamin Franklin High School)
Pensacola FL Oct 5-8 (Pensacola High School, University of Western Florida)
San Francisco CA Oct 9-10 (Berkeley High School)
Los Angeles, CA: Oct 10-16 (CSU: Northridge, Pierce College)
Washington DC/Fredericksburg VA: Oct 16-23 (NACAC fair, U of Mary Washington)
Lancaster PA: Oct 23-30 (Dickinson College, Gettysburg College, and Franklin and Marshall grad fairs, Swarthmore, Villanova, Hempfield High School, and Lancaster Country Day School)
Portland OR: Oct 30-Nov 3 (George Fox University, Reed College)
Seattle, WA: Nov 3-5 (NACAC Fair)
Philadelphia, PA: Nov 5-6 (NACAC Fair)
Lancaster, PA: Nov 6-8 (Conestoga Valley Fair)

If you're interested in UK education, check out this post from last year, and hopefully I'll see some of you at  these events!

Right... I'm heading to London now, and  I'm flying to New Orleans tomorrow! Let the mayhem begin.

13 August, 2011

Captain America: Review and Report!

I can’t believe I haven’t written this yet. Sorry! I’ve been traveling, and am in the backwoods of New England at the moment with little to no Internet connection, and therefore I haven’t had the motivation to update the blog; I’ve been thesis-ing and swimming in a lake.

However, how could I NOT update about Captain America after being on set in November?!

Have you seen it yet? No? Why the heck not? Even if I hadn’t worked on it, I’m pretty sure I’d be hooked. What a fun film, and a great intro into a new hero in the Avengers/Marvel world.

So, my overall reaction? What a bloody brilliant film. Particularly the first third. All of it was good fun, a few moments fell flat (mostly with regard to editing in my opinion-- the montage of him as a soldier destroying the Hydra plants... the cuts were too short and the action too fast; it was tough to gauge where our hero was and what he was doing. Although there were some fabulous moves with that shield in that section), but overall I thoroughly enjoyed it. I usually do a pro con list for film reviews, but you'll notice this one mostly starts with the phrase, "I loved it when..."

A little analysis:

So, the first third: I LOVE an undiscovered hero. So when you show me a scrawny, unknown, 90 pound but gutsy kid… I’m bound to fall in love with him (plus, what amazing CG. Aside from a few blips with the voice, it was seamless).  I love that he tried so hard to join the army; that he stood up for what he believed in whilst in a darkened theater; that he sincerely cheered on his friend when he was about to be shipped off to the armed forces even though he was jealous, and wanted to go for the most noble of reasons.  I also love the man (no matter how scrawny) that steps into the shoes of ‘potential hero’ because it was his only shot at doing his duty, whilst embracing experimental procedures. 

We’ve covered the scrawny, fatherless hero in past posts (hello Beowulf, Frodo, Harry Potter, Taran, and Bran….), but there’s also the reluctance to be a hero that comes along with them; the fact that they don't see themselves as strong heroes only enhances my love of their heroic qualities. 

I loved, loved, LOVED the scenes where he 1) threw himself on the grenade, unthinkingly sacrificing himself in order to save those around him; 2) took the flag down on the training run by rather clever means; and 3) chased after the bad guy through the streets of ‘Brooklyn’ to catch baddie, 4) Was cheered and celebrated when he returned with the captured soldiers and meekly turned himself in for disciplinary action, as his duty required. I love me a lil' hero worship.

Side note, I loved the character of the strong, brave scientist who believed in the good spirit, and not just the strong body (well done, Stanley Tucci). Emphasis of the good man, over the strong, huge, perfect body (although he got that shortly after... and it was a very nice body).

I also loved how they dealt with his costume. He is one of the more cheesy heroes in the Marvel world, with wings on his hat, and a funny shield, so what a brilliant move to use the 'Poster Child for War Bonds' with a chorus of dancers and a showman quality in order to explain the presence of the costume in his life. I like how they roughed it up a little and made it more World War Two-ish, though, once he was out of the costume and into Stark's designed uniform. He wore it all well. Very well.

The last two thirds were certainly enjoyable, but they didn’t match the first third for me. It was very entertaining, but also quite predictable with a few moments where you could clearly see the CG, he almost looked like a video game version, and some cheesy elements like 'Chicago' clearly painted on the bombs; almost cartoonish. 

As for the predictable, at this point he was a superhero, there was a girl, and there was an enemy, but because of the first third, I was more immediately rooting for this hero than I have been for others (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Iron Man, Thor, etc. but it took a few viewings for them to weasel into my heart… Steve Rogers? Not so much. Although that may be due to the fact that Chris Evans was such a lovely human being on set. He was kind, considerate, and very pleasant and professional.  He was always ready, he would run between the shot and the director's screens to look at his performance and chat with Joe, he'd tap people on the arm to say "hey" and ask how their day was, and texted the AD when he arrived on set just to give her a heads up-- a rare move, but a much appreciated one.

Now, from my on-set observation, I’ve a few fun facts:

    The days I spent on set, these things were filmed:

1) Captain America and Bucky’s POV in the Hydra Plant when Red Skull first pulls off his mask. I say Captain America’s POV, because Hugo Weaving/Toby Jones’s scenes were filmed weeks beforehand.  Even though the scene looks seamless between the two parties, only one was present that day.  This was just after Bucky's jump when there's no way for CA to get across, Bucky shouts "There's gotta be a rope or something!" ... CA: "Go on! Get outta here!" Yup. That was it. It took hours and hours.

This is also the kind of stuff that makes me realize how actors earn their money.  They first had to pretend that the other actors were there, also had to pretend that the entire plant was burning down around them, and lastly, that the rest of the plant was even there at all! Whilst it looked like the plant was huge, five stories tall, and filled with equipment, all that was actually built was a staircase, a platform, and a wall. They were all very impressive, but minimal compared to what we saw CG-ed onscreen. 

2) The prisoners running out of the Hydra plant. It was maybe 6 seconds on screen, but took about four hours to film. There were 20 extras that ran through the doors a number of different ways with a number of different camera angles so when it was all cut together, it looked like there were about 100 extras. Rockin'. 

3) Inside the Hydra train after they zip-line into it, the shot where the Captain throws his shield, and where Bucky gets thrown out of the side of the train. This took all day. It was very cool though. A huge train in the middle of a sound stage, lots of green screen, effects.... very cool.

Yup, that's it! Three scenes, and it took two, twelve-hour days. 

Fun Facts from the set:

- ‘Brooklyn’ was pretty fabulous, because that was actually Manchester, England.  The attention to detail was lovely; the little, red-headed kid with the surprise "go get him! I can swim!" and my utter inability to distinguish where CG began and the set ended… it was great, and very well done.

Also for this scene the props/costume department made Chris Evans prosthetic feet in which to run, because whilst Captain America was a quick healer with strong feet, Chris Evans was human and had to run through the paved streets of Manchester very quickly, and still be able to function the next day without cut up and blistered feet.

- The shield in the ice. One of the first things I saw was when Joe Johnston was consulted about which way the ice should be designed for the shot where we see it in the ice.  They had the shield under a clear block, a frosted block, they chipped away at it to get it just right, and took the shield from Chris Evans's arm to place it behind the ice block and photograph how it looks. Yes. I touched the shield. Squee!
- There was a 'dead body' wrangler. One of the prop masters who looked after two dummies used as dead bodies. They weighed a ton, and he actually had to carry them firefighter style to move them around; but they were very convincing, unmoving, dead weight dummies.

- On the second day after Chris Evans was done, he spent about an hour chatting with a group of 20 Sega Games people who were on set getting an inside peek at the world of Captain America. It was neat to see the intertextual image sharing early, as the game people had one image in their head of the hero, and then it was replaced, enhanced, or opposed by the images they saw on set.

What a brilliant experience, and I can't bloomin' wait to own it. I sure hope it has good special features :) Bring on The Avengers! By the way, everyone saw the Avengers teaser after the Captain America credits, right? So. Good. 

21 July, 2011

Captain America: Preliminary Report

Alrighty, Captain America comes out tomorrow, so I wanted to post a few things about my time on set and share in the excitement for what's coming. I'm not going to say much in detail due to confidentiality and whatnot, but here's some general stuff. 

                                                          Set Report (November 2010)
I arrived on set around 10am and met up with one of the ADs (assistant director; the people who are busier than most, I think. They know what's going on in every corner of the set at any given moment. I was rather in awe of them). We went back to the AD office, a trailer amidst a sea of trailers (about 20 of them), parked between two sound stages.  

After procuring my visitor's badge (for which I had to sign my first born away), another AD took me over to the set. We walked into the soundstage and there was a reconstructed train car inside a green-screened wall. The train was made out of plywood, and was made to look like a 1940's water car (grey interior, no seats etc, :50 into the clip below). The train was also on something called a wimble, which permits the set to move like a train. It lifts it gently up and down as well as side to side.  The outside was all plywood, the inside painted (as the outside will not appear on film).  The set was huge! I really enjoyed the attention to detail, and the movie making magic evident

And just for the record, Chris Evans was a total sweetheart.  SCore one for the Massachusetts boy! He was always ready, he was very passionate about his performance and would run between the shot and the director's screens to look at his performance and chat with Joe Johnston about how to try something different (director), he'd tap people on the arm to say hey and ask how their day was, and he texted the AD I was with when he arrived on set just to give her a heads up (very considerate move). Plus he looked pretty awesome in that outfit.

Cool bits: The Captain's costume. I think it looked a bit cheesy on the press photos, but it was pretty cool. Boots were made of rockin' dark brown leather, with a big butt-kickin' big heel, a strap around the ankle, and a strap around the calf. The trousers were denim or herringbone that were super tough, and a cross of like a jodhpur or a soldier trouser.  They looked slightly super-hero like in that they had a plastic effect if you know what I mean.  Not in a bad way, very cool and purposeful. The top of the outfit had leather, I think, ab and muscle areas, leather belt, scuffed star on the chest, and seatbelt like straps on his shoulders that crossed in the middle of his back around a metal star, and fasted to his belt.  The cap was good too. It's hard to make a cap as cheesy as that look decent, I think.  It was leatherlike, if not leather, navy blue, with a 'A' on the front and was basically like a batting helmet that fit close to the head, but with raccoon eye loops.

The Shield. Oh girl, the shield. You can see some great photos of it here.  Like most films with hero-elements, they had a few for different points in the film.  I saw two up close. One was in perfect condition, shiny, cut into steal, the colors were bright, and the other a bit scuffed up, as if it had seen action in the war. Sweet.

It was awesome seeing the shoot, and the details that go into getting one seemingly simple shot. Will expand on that in another post, but I'm not giving anything away :)

On my second day, the shoot started on the same stage as the previous day. They had a few shots to make from the day before that they didn't finish so they went straight into those.  Both were interiors of the train, and they also shot a bit of running through the vestibule bit.  As they only made one car for the stage, they film the running over the vestibule bit and connect it to the other end with the help of green screen and they can loop it, so to speak, so it looks as if they are running through a larger train.  While watching this I got into a lovely discussion with the dialect coach, a really lovely woman, and with the director's assistant who was also a law student, and who was getting into directing and writing. We talked about my work, how we all got into this situation, how its easy to be annoyed about how long shoots can go, how cold and tired you can get, how tired you get of the same food over and over... but at the end of the day it's such a great job.

So once they finished the train shots, we moved to another sound stage-- which was dressed like a plant; power, water, some power-plant. It was HUGE. It's the biggest stage at Shepperton, easily the biggest set I've ever been in and also the coldest! It was like a big fridge. The stage was split in half, with the front half as storage where big heaters were set up to warm up the extras (20 or so of them, who were playing soldiers and guards, plus there were two dummies that were the dead guards-- it was fun watching those get dragged around. They looked wicked heavy), and the back space as the shooting stage. 

Taking up one entire wall was the hydra plant which consisted of the ground floor, two levels of stairs (the top level only leading to a landing, as they can loop that as they did the train cars), and a walkway that spanned the whole width of the stage.  They shot Bucky and and the captain running up and down the stairs, Bucky's leap from a falling beam onto the railing and then Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan (Bucky) spoke to about 20 people from Sega games about the shoot (Chris was in chill street clothes; comfy, jeans, converse...), and then they were done. 

The crew, however, was not done... not by a long shot.  They shot a bunch of different shots on the guards and soldiers coming into the plant as things are exploding. There were only about 30 extras total, but they made it look like 100 or more. There were shots of them running from all three doors, as well as on top up the stairs and across the walkway, then shots of all of them coming out each door from different angles so they can cut it together and it will look like tons of guards coming from every aspect of the plant. Very cool. We also got to take a look at the rough cut of the trailer (finished below) which was cool. I like seeing shots before the special effects are in place; it looks strange, but you can also see how actors earn their paycheck.  There's that shot of four guys shooting flame thrower guns with the Captain in the middle, and they really make it look like they're fighting with fire, even though they're fake guns with no fire. Impressive.

I'm wicked excited to see it live, all cut together and shiny. The movie-making is always interesting, but the finished product is the awe-inspiring moment. Look for a post after viewing!