Top 5… Directors For The New Star Wars Films

As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Disney recently bought LucasFilm, and are currently planning on releasing the next trilogy of Star Wars films, starting in 2015 (which is looking like a pretty damn good year for movies so far, what with Avengers 2 and the Justice League movie). Currently nothing has been set in stone other than a frankly ridiculous amount of rumours over cast and crew, so I’m going to throw my hat into the already over-hatted ring as to whom I believe would make a decent director for what proves to be one of the most eagerly, yet cautiously, anticipated films of the next few years. As I like to do sometimes, I’ve made two lists, one of a safe pair of hands to kick off the trilogy, and another list of film-makers who could add an interesting spin on the series that I’d quite like to see.
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Titanic

Now bear with me here, but I do actually really like Titanic. This may all stem from a fascination with the tragedy as a child, but its also in part due to James Cameron’s direction of a film too easily written off as a soppy romance that just happens to be set aboard the most famous nautical disaster of all time, other than Speed 2: Cruise Control. What Cameron does is take 1958s A Night to Remember, the foremost Titanic film pre-1997, and add characters you genuinely care about; DiCaprio’s steerage class ragamuffin and Winslet’s pressured poor little rich girl, as well as a sense of spectacle unavailable to film makers in the pre-CGI movie making era. There is a clear divide in the film – and eventually in the ship too – around the half way mark, once the inevitable iceberg has viciously assaulted the great ship and departed without exchanging insurance details, where the gender that the film panders to switches. Initially, the tale of an across-the-tracks romance between the leads and comparisons of their expertly realised respective classes, culminating in a steamy encounter in a car in storage is squarely aimed at the female half of the audience, but as soon as the Atlantic ocean decides it wants to come aboard and everything starts taking place on an ever increasing incline, the ensuing carnage, death and destruction should appeal to any man with a penchant for disaster movies.
Weaving fact (Kathy Bates’ ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown) with fiction (Apparently one reason the iceberg wasn’t spotted until it was too late was due to Jack and Rose sharing a passionate snog on deck) it isn’t difficult to understand why this was the Biggest Film of All Time™ until Jimbo’s latest azure-tinged epic.
Negative points? At 3 hours it’s a bit of a trek, and the multiple villains (there’s at least four, not counting the iceberg) are all a bit too one-note to be believable, even though one, Jonathan Hyde’s weaselly marketing man Bruce Ismay, is based on a real person. There are also a few too many shout-at-the –screen moments of stupidity on behalf of the leads escape attempts – surely Rose would have realised Jack would have a better chance of survival on his own, if she has got on a lifeboat. That being said, there isn’t enough to detract from the quality of the film, with the characters and story never being overshadowed by the stellar effects work.
Choose film 8/10

Avatar

So, you’ve created a new way to make films; filling a large indoor space (dubbed The Volume) with cameras, covering your actors’ bodies with hundreds of motion capturing dots, films a scene then changing the actors to aliens and the warehouse to a jungle afterward on a computer, but you can’t think of a decent story to set it round. So what do you do? If you’re James Cameron, director of such cinematic milestones as Terminator 1 & 2, Aliens and Titanic, then you steal. From everything. There isn’t an original moment in Avatar, with Platoon, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Halo, Cameron’s own Aliens and, most notably, Dances with Wolves all receiving enough ‘loving homage’ to keep copyright lawyers in business for years to come. In the hands of a lesser director, or without the shiny new technology and 3D CGI gimmickry available this film would have been lost amid the also-ran film flotilla of 2009, but effects overcame plotting to elevate the film above its rightful place.
Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, a US marine (with Worthington’s trademark unshakeable Australian accent) paralysed from the waist down, who volunteers to take the place of his recently deceased scientist brother in a mission to infiltrate the alien race of the Na’vi, 9ft tall lanky blue cat people with 4ft long rope-like tails and long black ponytails with USBs on the end. Jake is able to control a scientifically grown ‘avatar’ that responds to his body when wired up in a big plastic pod.
The maguffin of the plot is that the Na’vi live in a giant tree, under which is a vast source of a precious fuel known as unobtainium. You get the feeling they were supposed to rename that at some point but forgot, or Cameron came up with it and no-one had the guts to tell him it sounded stupid. Stephen Lang’s scarred Colonel Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi’s corporate suit Parker want Jake to get the aliens to move, whilst Sigourney Weaver’s scientist and fellow avatar occupier Dr. Grace Augustine wants to learn more about the Na’vi way of life. When Jake is accepted into the alien tribe, he is torn between these two warring factions, as well as his own developing feelings for tribe member Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and a simpler way of life that greatly appeals to him.
Breaking us into the sci-fi world gently, first showing us men, soldiers, scientists, then the avatars floating in their booths, 3D holograms and a few active avatars, we are then transplanted to the fully realised, completely created yet seamless and immersive fantasy world of Na’vi home planet Pandora, with vibrant, unusually active foliage and a wide variety of lifeforms perhaps a little too familiar to be believable as entirely alien. With 6-limbed bat-lemurs, giant hammerhead rhinos, vicious panther/dilophosaurus, wild oil-black dogs, helicopter lizards and of course giant freaking dragons, it’s not just the Earth film back catalogue from which Cameron has borrowed.
There was uproar when Saldana’s Neytiri wasn’t considered for an Oscar due to it being hidden behind a computer generated mask (yet Al Pacino was nominated for his latex-obscured turn in Dick Tracy, and John Hurt won for his in the Elephant Man), but there is no doubt she should have been considered for her fiery, animalistic turn as the fierce warrioress, her initial aggression towards Jake’s ‘dreamwalker’ gradually melting to pride, friendship and affection, ultimately leading to some freaky blue alien sex that was traumatising and completely unnecessary. As ever Worthington puts in a blank canvas of a role, although this is arguably what is required of his jarhead moron, leaving him ready to be imprinted upon by Quaritch, Augustine of Neytiri.
For those concerned with a new spin on Titanic’s across the tracks romance dominating the film fear not, as there is more than just romance breaking through language barriers and a less-than-subtle environmental message. The final half hour battle between the soldiers and the Na’vi, including aerial assaults and a reversal of Aliens’ giant mech battle, rivals any war film, and is worth the entry fee alone. Be sure to stop watching before Leona Lewis’ ear-gougingly awful credits song though.
Choose film 6/10

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

How do you make a sequel to Terminator? It seems like the perfect movie to create a franchise with, featuring the possibilities for labyrinthine time-travel plotting, self referencing paradoxes and a villain who can be killed, but can also always return, but therein lays the biggest stumbling block. The villain from the original, Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable mechanical monster, the main draw of the first film, surely must return for the second, especially seeing as, in 1991, he was one of the biggest stars in the world. But how could the same robot come back as the villain? The sequel must somehow build upon the original, develop it further, else why bother? Having the same villain, with essentially the same plot, would seem a waste of time. So, proving that necessity is indeed the mother of invention, director James Cameron pulled a full character flip on not just Arnie’s T-800, now here as protector rather than foe, but also of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor, discarding the ditzy 80s hairdo for some badass fighting skills, tank tops and a permanent ticket to the gun show. The introduction of John Connor (Edward Furlong) as a ridiculously irritating teenager spouting laughable phrases (Asta-la-vista, baby? Seriously?) is also a diversion from the expected, as he’s the so-called saviour of mankind, but he’s so goddamn annoying that whenever he was onscreen I found myself rooting for the bad guy.

The Terminator

Film night strikes again with the Terminator. This is a film that is so deeply ingrained within popular culture that I cannot remember the first time that I saw it, and probably did not even realise it was my first time then, as the character is so well known, from the way he moves to his handful of lines of dialogue, but I tried to watch it afresh, as though it was 1984 and I’d wandered blindly into a cinema and sat down. The most surprising thing I found was that there is no indication that Schwarzenegger is a cyborg until about 45 minutes into the films, though it is now the most famous aspect of the film. Up until Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) tells Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) that he is a robot sent from the future to kill her, preventing the birth of her son and therefore the revolution against the cyborgs that he will eventually cause, we only assume that Schwarzenegger is just a specially trained, seemingly unstoppable killer, possibly a soldier or hitman of some kind. Yes there are some hints; his stiff-legged walking and even stiffer speech mannerisms, but at the time no-one would have been expecting anything more acting-wise from the former bodybuilder.