Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)
UK --- horror/ science fiction

Dir: Terence Fisher

Mary Shelley's classic novel "Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus" changed the world of literature forever. The tale of a mad scientist bent on the prospect of creating new life from his bare hands has had long-lasting ruminations. The ideas of the basic storytelling conflicts are all here, be it in man -vs- nature, man -vs- society, or man -vs- himself. They're all right there in FRANKENSTEIN. The story has been put to film ever since film was invented, going back as far as Thomas Edison's foray into film production. Though many of the adaptations haven't come anywhere near to being 75%-100% faithful to its literary counterpart, including the famous Universal James Whale feature, some at least has brought some of the novel's gothic spirit.

This leads us to the 1957 Hammer Studios effort with "The Curse of Frankenstein". While it isn't the end-all/be-all of Frankenstein films, it is must definitely a shining hallmark for its graphic depiction of the iconic characters. Peter Cushing puts in an absolute pitch-perfect performance as a brazen power-mad (but no quite as loony as Colin Clive's) and downright evil bastard version of Baron Frankenstein.
The film is told in flashback, from the perspective of Baron Frankenstein, as he recites how he came to be imprisoned for the murders of several people. He pleads his innocense, stating that true monster is his creation, a reanimated corpse compiled of multiple body parts. The baron, assisted by the increasingly reluctant Dr. Paul Krempe, begins his strange experiments on animals first. Then forays into using human body parts. Whilst having an illicit affair with his maidservant, the baron is anticipating the arrival of his arranged wife to be Elizabeth. But all the while, he and Paul begin to collect body parts for the monster. Played by Christopher Lee, when Frankenstein's monster is finally given life, it is an insane creature that only knows murder, and the doctor is not above apeasing his creation's blood thirst. Frankenstein and assistant Paul eventually come to a rift in their beliefs, as Paul begins to show affection for Elizabeth and attempts to stop Frankenstein from his mad machinations.

The Hammer Studios has a long tradition of great horror films, being influential to Hollywood as well as the rest of the world. In hindsight, you can see parts of every great filmmaker from Mario Bava to Tim Burton in these early Hammer horror films. All worth exploring.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

District 9 (2009)
SOUTH AFRICA --- science fiction

Dir: Neill Blomkamp

Immigration has become a hot button issue in the past decade. Most of it is due to two American incidents. One involving the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center with domestic planes. The other is a ripple effect of the first, being 911, when America turned its attention to the immigration issue of protecting our borders and "W" created the Homeland Security. Course, in my opinion it was just a rug over of the dirt, and didn't really do anything as we've seen in recent events.

In District 9, we get an allegory of sorts through the lens of director Neill Blomkamp. Shot in the style of a documentary entirely in Johannesburg, South Africa, but in actuality more of a mockumentary, we are taken into the world of beaucratic alien sympathizer Wikus Van De Merwe. He is a button-down Multinational United (MNU) (a private military corporation such as they really do have in South Africa) liaison between the extraterrestrial species and humanity. Merwe, however, is not a well-liked man for this reason, though his intentions on the outside appear decent, his job isn't all that great. He rides that thin line of being hated by both sides equally, kinda like a welfare or social worker.

While investigating the alien slums of District 9, he searches an alien home that appears to be hiding something. When nosing around, he then accidentally is infected by an alien serum, which happens to be a secret weapon. Besides instantly spitting up black fluid, over a short period of time, Merwe discovers his body is undergoing an abormal change. The biological weapon begins to transform him into a one of the aliens. After being admitted to the hospital to undergo tests, he is spirited away to a top secret (MNU) compound to undergo further tests. The scientists begin to conduct experiments on Merwe who now has one complete arm turned completely alien. They discover that the aliens' guns cannot be used by anything other than that species dna handling it, and this is confirmed thanks to the involuntary volunteer in Mr. Merwe.

Fearing for his life from both the humans and the aliens, he escapes the (MNU) compound and becomes a fugitive living in the shanty town of District 9. Eventually, he finds the answer to how he was infected when he joins with the creator of the bio-weapon. They come to a deal of sorts, that the alien will be allowed to return to his home planet and find a cure for Merwe and they soon launch a last ditch effort to resist the (MNU) and a crazed band of Nigerian gangsters.

District 9 has its roots in flavor to the videogame HALO. But the similarities end with alien designs as Blomkamp, actually based the film on a short film titled "Alive in Joburg". I think the thing that stands out about the film is, it's not afraid to go to absurd. A lot of scenes gave me flashbacks of "Futurama" jokes, and yet because of its successful blend of CGI and it's tongue-in-cheek yet realistic performances, it somehow doesn't become silly. The digital enhancement of the aliens is done in what Blomkamp describes as "Rotomation" which is a blend of rotoscope and motion capture. The very best part of the film is, it gets its point across. It is a clear parable about the prejudices and civil rights we deal with in our world. Like most great and poignant science fiction it is a social commentary that holds that mirror up to who we are.