Shitty 2004 CGI monkeys in a low-budget 1971 sci-fi film? This, George Lucas, is why so many people hate you.
Fascinating low-budget dystopian sci-fi drama/thriller that’s as interesting for its actual content as it is for its place in film history as (a) George Lucas’ debut (see what he could make back when he was genuinely creative!) and (b) American Zoetrope’s first disaster. It’s highly evocative of (and, let’s be honest, rips off) Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and presents perhaps the most vivid and oppressive depiction of a non-apocalyptic dystopia I’ve seen on film. There are some core problems, mostly with the narrative (surprise, surprise!) – structurally it’s not especially coherent, the middle section (featuring our hero in a kind of prison) doesn’t really work, and the final act is disappointing in its simplistic focus on pursuit (featuring Yet Another George Lucas Car Chase™) – but there’s much to enjoy despite them. The sound design is brilliant (the oft-heard snippets of techno-babble spouted by bureaucrats who rule through surveillance are especially effective); there are some great ideas; the satirical elements still seem relevant and on-point; and the final shot is deservedly iconic. Robert Duvall is fine but frequently upstaged by the excellent Donald Pleasance. The version now available is Retcon Lucas’ 2004 reissue, featuring new CGI insertions that are mostly (with the obvious exception of the CGI monkey versions of the shell dwellers near the end) more seamless than those in the Star Wars reissues.
This futuristic facial reconstruction sequence is a lot like watching one of those time-lapse videos of animals decomposing – but in reverse. Cool.
Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to one of my all-time favourite sci-fi movies, District 9, was always likely to disappoint me, but I was surprised by just how much. It has some cool ideas and visuals, and some of the action is staged well, but it’s dramatically defective. No matter how hard they push the childhood flashback angle, there’s very little emotional impact of anything that happens, let alone the final sacrifice. Also, amusingly, the climactic plot device is basically a variant of ‘Have you tried switching it off and back on?’. Matt Damon is passable; Jodie Foster, on the other hand, overacts and uses a weird accent. Oddly, they share no scenes together. Does this mean District 9 was a fluke? I’ll be watching what Blomkamp does next with interest to find out.
I’m almost completely new to anime (my previous experience is limited to Astro Boy and a couple of Studio Ghibli films), so I decided to try a few. Of the three I watched, this was the best and the one that made me most interested in seeking out more, perhaps in series rather than movie form. It’s a fascinating, moving story full of inventive ideas and incredible visuals. I really liked the strange soundtrack and have been listening to it regularly, especially the track ‘Kaneda‘. It’s so clear when watching it that there’s a wholly realised world and mythology at play, even if not all of it is included within the film itself. The characters are well-rounded, engaging, and easy to emotionally invest in. The ending is a tad head-scratchy, but not in a bothersome way. If you only watch one anime, I say make it this one.