Actionscifi's Blog


A third Pitch Black film? Lord help us.

As the young people would say, ZOMG.

Universal is actually ponying up cash to make a third instalment of the Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick series, which requires me to ask (and answer) a few questions, dear reader:

  • Who liked Pitch Black? You and me.
  • Who paid to see Chronicles of Riddick and thought it was trash? You and me (check my review here).
  • Why on earth would they be making a third instalment of this series after the train wreck that was Chronicles of Riddick? To make bootloads of cash.
  • Who does Universal think is going to hand over this cash? You and me.

Which naturally leads to one more question: will we actually be stupid enough?

OK, I’ll bite.  The screenplay for the third instalment has been written by David Twohy, who directed both of the earlier films and will also be in the chair for this one.   Twohy was the third credit as a co-writer of Pitch Black, behind the movie’s creators, Jim and Ken Wheat.  Twohy then cut the Wheat boys loose and went it alone as writer of Chronicles of Riddick, and we all know how that ended up.

So, I’d probably have greater faith that the third instalment might successfully “hew closer in tone to the cult hit Pitch Black” – as insiders are saying – if Twohy had got the Wheat boys back on board.

Still, Twohy got some good kudos for writing (and directing) the 2009 horror flick A Perfect Getaway so maybe he’s on the improve.  And, like a battered wife, it’s just possible that I’ll end up rolling up to the cineplex having fallen for Twohy’s promise that Chronicles of Riddick will never happen again.  That this movie will be just like Pitch Black. Only different. And better.

That’s as long as I don’t think too hard about the fact that this is a Vin Diesel sequel.  Our favourite bald action hero will be making this film, his second  xXx movie and his third Fast and Furious* film back-to-back-to-back.  With that kind of track record, he’s in danger of becoming the new Steve Guttenberg.

* It will be the fifth film in the Fast and Furious series, but Diesel sat out the second and third instalments.

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Jim Schembri’s lame Avatar “plot holes”

Really, I’m not obsessed with Avatar and will be moving on to new movies shortly, but I couldn’t resist this lame piece of work from Jim Schembri, who has allegedly poked 20 holes in Avatar’s script. I’m on record as saying that Avatar’s storyline is not great, but it doesn’t excuse this piece of trash from Schembri. But then again, maybe I’m biased. Schembri, who writes for the Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, is exactly the kind of person who gives movie reviewers a bad name among the action/sci-fi set. He wouldn’t recognise an A/SF movie if it delivered a spinning back kick to his head.

I’ve listed Schembri’s 20 “plot holes” in bold, but you can read the full article here: http://blogs.theage.com.au/schembri/archives/2010/01/fingering_avata.html (the shorter print version is here: http://www.theage.com.au/news/entertainment/film/problems-with-pandoras-box/2010/01/28/1264268045785.html)

* Why use avatars if you’re not going to keep them secret?

It seems like a fairly reasonable anthropological tactic: the Na’vi are 9 feet tall and move like the wind, you can’t breathe the air, and it’s incredibly dangerous out there, so you could get killed by any of the many animals you’re unfamiliar with. The avatar allows you to keep up with them, breathe and not die if you get into trouble. Seems like a very good idea to me, Jim.

Fail.

* If the Na’vi know from the get-go that these “Dreamwalkers” are biological shells remotely controlled by humans, why do they trust them?

Well, generally it seems they don’t. They’ve come to trust Dr Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)’s avatar over time, but even after his initiation some of the Na’vi have suspicions about Jake Sully (Sam Worthington).

Fail.

* What is the deal with the Eywa? Shortly after Sully (Sam Worthington) and Na’vi girl Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) meet, these spirits of the forest float down and determine that Sully, despite being human, is pure of heart. Then he tells his commander (Stephen Lang) about how to destroy the sacred Hometree, thus proving the Eywa are lousy judges of character. Yet the Na’vi, knowing all this, stick to their beliefs. Why don’t they take the Eywa back to where they bought them and demand their money back?

Eywa sees Sully’s good side before he sees it himself. The true test of any oracle. Sully saves the Na’vi, Eywa is proved right.

Remember, had Sully not gone to the Na’vi in the first place, Quaritch and Selfridge would have blasted them out anyway.

Fail.

* Why, exactly, is the Unobtainium so valuable? It’s never explained.

The way that Cameron handled the state of Earth was one of the things I really liked about the script. Earth is dying, it’s lawless (Jake’s brother was knifed there for “the paper in his wallet”) and it needs unobtainium to survive. We simply don’t need to know any more than that. It’s a pretty basic tenet of tight storytelling.

Fail.

* Why send in avatar ambassadors to negotiate and “make friends” with the Na’vi if you’re just going to go ahead and bulldoze their forest anyway?

I thought the tension between the do-gooding avatar program and the evil corporate arm was pretty clear. As I said in my review, it’s a little like an anthropologist working in the Niger delta with Shell. The anthropologist is the veneer of goodness that will be cast aside if self-interest deems it necessary.

Fail.

* During the Hometree attack chopper pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) opts out and flies off. Why doesn’t her crew object?

It’s possible that her crew have similar feelings (did she have a crew? I can’t remember).

Possibly a reasonable point.

* Why doesn’t anybody give chase?

People have been deserting in the heat of battle for as long as there has been war. Their colleagues are often quite distracted at that moment.

Fail.

* And why doesn’t the commander, who has just lectured us about how highly he values loyalty, tear her a new one?

Aha! I agree with this because, surely once the dust has settled, someone would have noticed. But then again, it was such a rout that it’s also possible that no one would have noticed because – let’s face it – the job could have been done by one person, so accountability may not have been high on their agenda.

A good point.

* This makes her appearance in the brig to free Sully & Co implausible.

You’re just making the same point in different words.

Fail.

* And when she steals the helicopter, why doesn’t anybody chase her?

They try to shoot at her as she’s getting away. Obviously it would take a while for anyone to actually scramble another helicopter (it took her a fair while), by which time she would have been clear of the base.

Fail.

* Though central command can tell when she turns the helicopter on, they somehow can’t track where she goes.

Maybe it’s a stealth helicopter, maybe this is a legitimate gripe. Either way, it ain’t exactly Watergate.

Possibly a good point.

* Or determine the location of the portable lab she picks up.

The fact that they aren’t followed up there is explicitly explained – it’s just too dangerous. That’ll do for me.

Fail.

* After Sully is put into his Avatar body he runs out into the compound, where we see a whole lot of other avatars. What happened to them?

I thought they were actual Navi who were being “domesticated” or similar. Colonisers have engaged closely with natives for as long as colonising has been going on – there are always native turncoats. Remember, some of them were kids and there were no kids in the avatar program, so my explanation clearly makes more sense than yours.

Fail.

* Why does the company maintain no control over the Avatar program, even though they own it?

Coming back to the analogy of the Shell anthropologist in the Niger Delta, of course they’d be given autonomy to do their boring do-gooding work. Quaritch, remember, is not the company. He is merely a foot soldier. Selfridge runs the company. And once Selfridge thinks the Avatar program needs to be controlled, Selfridge lets Quaritch shut it down.

Fail.

* If Dr Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) is so intent on preserving Na’vi culture, why doesn’t she tell her corporate boss (Giovanni Ribisi) about the miraculous, money-printing healing properties of Na’vi medicine?

Jake is told that he can be sent back to earth to have his spine healed so that he can walk again. Sounds like the ability to heal someone is not actually a priority back on earth. Remember that the Na’vi couldn’t save Sigourney when she was dying, so the difference between their life-saving abilities and those back on earth don’t seem that great. The Na’vi are just cooler at it.

Fail.

* Where are all the military drone weapons? Though humans can remotely control an organic being, they apparently can’t do the same with a simple gunship or walking tank.

The answer, obviously, is “remote-controlled machines mowing down natives is just not very exciting.”

A good point.

* Why do the walking tanks carry weapons with two arms, like a regular soldier? As Robocop, Terminator Salvation and Transformers show, they should have dedicated, in-built weaponry.

When your robot is 10 years old, you can retrofit the latest weaponry to him, thereby expanding his life very cheaply.

Fail.

* In the film’s final battle, the big ship is said to be “four clicks” – that is, four kilometres – from target. The time it takes to cover that distance doesn’t match the speed we see in the film.

In imperial times, they used the word “ton” for a very large mass (about 2200 pounds). Then when the metric system was introduced they called a similar weight (1000kg)* a “tonne”. Then over time the word tonne fell out of use and now 1000kg is often just called a ton because it’s a much better word. Do you think it is possible that – by 2154 – the military might have a different use for the word “click”?

Fail.

* And why do the Na’vi shoot arrows at the ships? Haven’t they figured out by now that they might need a bit more firepower than that?

Yeah, why don’t they build a factory and start making some real weapons? The fact that they sometimes manage to break windows or to hit soldiers who are hanging out of hatches is obviously beside the point.

Fail.

* Knowing he’s not real, why would Neytiri have sex with Sully? Shouldn’t she have saved herself until after he had committed? Or is she the Na’vi version of a slag?

Trying to sound young, Jim?

Fail.

Which makes 16 fails.

* Original post mistakenly stated “100kg” instead of “1000kg”.

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James Cameron’s World View
January 14, 2010, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Comment | Tags: , ,

The New Yorker took the slow boat to Australia, and I just got the chance to read its profile on James Cameron from the October issue in hard copy.  Here’s the online version: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/26/091026fa_fact_goodyear

As everyone knows, it is more than a decade  since Cameron’s last movie and if you don’t believe me you can compare photos from his past two films:

The man is getting old, and I reckon he’s getting mellower too.  Once upon a time, to be in a Cameron film was to spend months in a pitch black tank of water or sleeping on your feet in between takes on a tilted replica ship, but now you just don a black suit fitted with all sorts of gizmos, hook yourself up to a trapeze and get it on in a nice warm studio.

Nevertheless, Cameron is still very combative. As the New Yorker article points out, he seems to revel in having people hate him so that he can shove it up them when he succeeds.  Is it too cynical to suggest that that’s ultimately why he goes for twee storylines now?  The special effects and the sappy endings make vast masses of humanity happy while simultaneously infuriating film critics and those of us who think that Aliens and Terminator are among the finest sci-fi films ever made.

Of course we know that the reality was a little more conventional:  Cameron was setting out to do things on celluloid that no one had ever done before. Storyline be damned.  The other thing that he wanted to do, as George Lucas points out, was to create his own universe.  The greatest ever fictional universe was created by JRR Tolkien (not George Lucas, as Lucas immodestly implies), and so Cameron copied Tolkien’s playbook and created (or had created for him) a whole language for the Na’vi.  He also created beings seemingly very different from us: they were in tune with nature, had tails and could control animals with their minds. And yet there is something derivative about these massive blue people. Almost all of the main Na’vi characters were portrayed by black or Native American actors.  Seeing as these humanoid characters were inevitably going to have similarities with humans (they are, of course, played by humans), it is interesting that Cameron did conceive of an “uncivilised” race as one with a more white sensibility.  Now that would have shown some originality.  Instead he just made them all left handed. Perhaps, though, Cameron felt that – to make sure that we got his  anti-colonialism message loud and clear – he needed to make all the managers and leaders white men and all the natives non-white. Just like the old days.