Mad Max Returns in Fury Road

For those of you who haven’t seen it, the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road was unveiled at San Diego Comic Con. I’ll be sharing some of the thing I found interesting that were spoiled at Comic Con throughout my next few posts, but I figured this was a good place to start, as it was probably the most anticipated and most exciting trailer to be shown at the event.

When I first heard that they were making a Mad Max movie, I thought that it was going to be a series reboot or something equally “dumb Hollywood”, and I cringed inside. However, I’ve since learned that this movie is actually a prequel to the original trilogy, and not only that, it’s being directed by George Miller who wrote and directed the original films.

I know prequels generally have a bad rap following the Star Wars debacle, but this trailer is very exciting. It shows exactly what you’d expect to see from a Mad Max movie, which for me is perfect; no need to go changing around a winning formula. But new graphic and special effects technology looks like it’s really going to make this film pop.

I can’t tell too much in the way of story thus far, though it seems that Max and whoever-Charlize-Theron-is will be on the run from the usual gang of weird fetish bikers one would expect to find in dystopian Australia. I’m hoping that we’ll learn a little more about The Water Wars and other events that lead up to the original Mad Max films, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. It will be about a year before Mad Max: Fury Road hits theaters, but I’ll be excitedly eating up all the information and trailers that are released in the meantime.

At the Edge of Tomorrow, All You Need Is Kill

This past weekend I finally got around to seeing Edge Of Tomorrow and having just recently finished All You Need Is Kill, the book the film is based on, I thought I would write up a comparison between the two while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Since it’s difficult to compare the two stories without talking about what happens in them and especially how they end, since that is probably the biggest disparity between the two, I should warn you that there are major spoilers upcoming throughout the rest of this post.

Character and Setting Changes:

Disappointingly, but predictably, Edge Of Tomorrow was very much a Hollywood and Westernized take on the original light novel.

Instead of being set in Japan, the story is set in Europe where the mainland has fallen to the Mimic invasion and the humanity’s forces are using England as a staging ground for their next major military operation, a beachhead landing in France. This is, of course, very reminiscent of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, and I thought that was a good way to make the story culturally resonant for Western audiences.

As it is set in Europe, the protagonist (played by Tom Cruise) is an American press officer named Major William Cage. While not the Japanese soldier Keiji Kiriya from the novel, the surname “Cage” does pay homage to the nickname “Killer Cage” that Keiji is given at the end of the novel by the American spec forces soldiers who can’t pronounce his name correctly.

The other difference between Cage and Keiji is that Cage is actually a high ranking officer who has avoided combat by being a press officer. He ends up being put among the front line troops as a deserter after refusing to participate in the fighting with his camera crew. This change largely creates a greater ascent to the position of being a hero than simply having him be a grunt foot soldier like Keiji was.

Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) is not so different in the movie. She is older (in the novel she enlists when she is 16 and is only 19 by the time the story takes place), and she is British instead of American. She is also the one who trains Cage to fight, not Ferrell (Bill Paxton in the film), which is actually a change I like. It puts the two characters in contact throughout the story, which makes the chemistry they develop feel more authentic.

Another neat little thing I wanted to touch on was how Edge Of Tomorrow was able to take advantage of the medium differences. The film featured some scenes where the viewer isn’t certain if the characters have been through this loop yet or not, which is a harder trick to pull off in a book (at least without confusing the reader). I think it was a very effective way of creating some powerful moments in the story as well as a good way to keep the viewer guessing about what is going on.

Western Military Culture and Weapons:

This might be the most nit-picky of the points I’m going to make, but I think it’s worth touching on. I’m also not sure how much my impressions here come from the fact that there just simply isn’t time to touch on everything in a movie and how much they are derived from cultural differences.

Anyway, in the book, the Jackets that soldiers use to fight the Mimics are viewed as more necessity than breakthrough weapon. While they are important for protecting soldiers from corrosive Mimic blood, they aren’t considered state of the art. In fact, the whole reason Rita and (eventually Keiji) use battle axes is because the weapons on the Jackets are not all that efficient, as soldiers are mostly meant to be meat shields.

In the movie Jackets are shown more as powerful state-of-the-art weapons. They never explain why Rita uses a broadsword (other than that it looks badass). While Cage and his squad are portrayed as sacrificial lambs, it’s more because they are a lesser unit (seemingly a disciplinary unit) rather than that infantry in general is meant to be cannon fodder. In the book the battle goes badly for Keiji and his unit simply because the army uses Jacket soldiers as a way to slow down advances while their artillery cleans up. In the movie things go badly because the Mimics expect the invasion when they shouldn’t.

I think the American love of our military makes it difficult to tell a story where the commanders would admittedly use foot soldiers purely as fodder. I think we have an impression that every soldier is important and the leaders would try to keep them alive if possible. This is a very subtle different between the movie and the book, but it was just something that struck me.

The Mimics:

I have to say I think the book Mimics are way more interesting and “better sci-fi” than they are in the movie. In the book they are essentially nano bots sent to Earth by another intelligent race with the express purpose of making the planet habitable for their masters.

I find this explanation both more original and more thought provoking than the way Mimics are portrayed in the film. For one thing, the race that sent them was described in a way that made them seem rather human. They couldn’t tell if there was anything living on Earth, and there was a lot of political debate about deploying the nano bots without determining if anything was living there. However, the right wing decided it was in the race’s best interest not to wait for an exploratory mission to learn about Earth. I thought this was an interesting commentary on how humanity might handle a similar situation if Earth were dying and we needed to leave. In fact, the whole description struck me as reminiscent of how our political parties debate and handle many things nowadays. However, it is entirely absent from the film.

The other thing that the movie changes is the time travel explanation. The explanation in the book has to do with the Mimics using some sort of tachyon-based communication system that allows them to send signals through time, and as such they can change the outcome of a battle by knowing what’s coming. Keiji (and Rita before him) ends up accidentally hijacking the signal, which is why he gets stuck in the loop. While this is certainly a very pseudo-science explanation behind time travel and no more realistic than what the movie uses, I thought it was a more interesting approach.

In the movie the Mimics are changed to a more stereotypical hivemind race that happens to have a time control ability. They are controlled by the “Omega” which will reset time if it senses that a battle is being lost. There isn’t any explanation given as to why exactly the Mimics are invading Earth, and the time travel aspects of the race are just sort of inherent in their nature rather than being advanced science.

I think these changes were made because the hivemind race is something that Western audiences are familiar with from other pop sci-fi stories. An enemy having a hivemind is also very convenient for a story, since the good guys don’t have to win an entire war, they just have to kill the brain that runs everything else. This works particularly well in a movie because it creates a conflict that can quickly bring complete closure to what’s going on without rushing things and trying to squeeze more action or explanation into a two or three hour time frame.

The Ending:

Speaking of “complete closure”, the way that the movie ends is probably the most noticeable difference from the book. In All You Need Is Kill, Rita knows that killing the Mimic antenna (or “Alphas” as they are known in the movie) is how you end the loop. She also discovers that both she and Keiji are antennas in the Mimic’s communication network, and that only one of them can survive the loop and continue the fight against the Mimics.

This is a rather gut wrenching ending that highlights no matter what you try to do, you can’t save everyone. In battle (and I suppose in life) you have to make tough choices, and things don’t always work out well. Sometimes they simply can’t. This is illustrated not only in the way that Keiji has to kill Rita, but also in the way that he can’t save all of his squad mates, some of whom don’t make it out of the loop alive. There’s also Yonabaru, one of his squad mates who sees Keiji go berserk against the Mimics after Rita’s death and is disgusted by the reckless way he fought and endangered the lives of others.

Even though Keiji is able to win the battle, he loses the girl he loves and some of his friends, either to death or to their lack of wanting to be around him. It’s also only one battle, not the entire war. A major part of the story is the isolation in which Rita lived when she was stuck in the time loop. At the end of the novel, Keiji takes her place having experienced something that he won’t be able to relate to anyone else. He has to continue fighting the war without Rita and essentially in isolation, since no one else will understand what he’s gone through.

Edge Of Tomorrow goes for the very Hollywood ending where everything works out. Cage and the squad he is assigned to as a grunt go with Rita to fight the hivemind. During the mission all of them are killed, but Cage is able to destroy the hivemind. In doing so, he seems to hijack the time travel power one more time and goes back to his arrival in London, even before he gets arrested for refusing a direct order to fight. Only now, in this new timeline, the Mimics are already defeated before the invasion begins.

The movie pans out in a very stereotypical happy ending. It also plays to the idea of American optimism, the thought that if you work hard enough and do the right thing (and make the right sacrifices), you will overcome and things will work out well for you. Cage and his team make the ultimate sacrifice in order to stop the war, and in the end all of them survive, though only Cage has any memory of the events that occurred.

If we want to go really Western cultural on this, we can also see Cage as a sort of Time Loop Jesus (or whatever the Scientologist messianic figure is). He dies for our sins, rids us of the alien invaders, and is reborn three days earlier in a sort of time-reversed Easter miracle along with everyone else. It plays to the sort of cultural archetypes we’re used to in the West and to the Christian idea of being rewarded in the time loop hereafter for all the good deeds you’ve done. It avoids the harder existential ideas found in the book, which I personally found more interesting.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, even though it probably sounds like this isn’t the case, I have to say that I did really enjoy Edge Of Tomorrow. I think it’s a solid action movie, and despite all of the Hollywood elements I complained about, it does do a fair job of breaking away from the stereotypical action mold in a few ways. Many of the action movies we see nowadays are very lighthearted and full of quick witty banter and comedic moments. Either that or they are so over-the-top as to, again, be somewhat comedic. Edge Of Tomorrow, even with the happy ending, is grittier than things like the Marvel action hero movies or other similar films.

Rita Vrataski is also a great female action hero character, and though the story is very much about Cage, she stands on her own and isn’t the helpless female love interest that we see in so many action films. She trains him and ends up leading him through a lot of the action that goes on. I think that in and of itself is very commendable.

However, as I’ve alluded to above, I do think that the book provides a more interesting story with a deeper (if darker or harder) message about life and war. I think a lot of American pop-lit these days (regardless of medium) spins out many of the same culturally biased messages without much thought, focusing more on trying to tell a fun story and worrying less about what’s being said. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a purely entertaining story, when the majority of popular narratives fall into that category and there seems to be little that tackles bigger or different ideas, things start to feel a little boring and repetitive.

For these reasons I was a bit disappointed in the way that Edge Of Tomorrow took the story. But, as I said, if you’re looking for a good action movie, it’s certainly worth seeing. I’d just also recommend reading the book if for no other reason than to experience a story that’s slightly outside the American mainstream cultural narratives.

This October the Rebellion Will Be Televised

Star Wars Rebels has released its first extended trailer, and, for a kids show, I have to say this looks pretty promising. The story covers the events that take place between Episode III and Episode IV, showing the early days and formation of the Rebel Alliance. It also appears to be the sort of coming-of-age adventure story you would expect to see in the Star Wars universe.

On the good side of things, this show does look like a lot of fun. It also brings back more of the old feel of the classic Star Wars movies and looks a lot more familiar to the original trilogy rather than the prequels (that I still pretend don’t exist). I know that the directors are drawing a lot from Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for the original movies, and I think the setting we’ve seen in the trailers and the clips looks awesomely familiar. Needless to say, I’m very excited to see a series set around the time of the original trilogy.

On the questionable side of things, I was honestly sort of hoping that we’d get a story more focused on normal people who form the Alliance rather than another story featuring Jedi. The plus side of this is that we might get a story that eventually ends tragically. I’m pretty sure Obi-Wan and Yoda are the only true Jedi remaining at the start of Episode IV, so I imagine things won’t work out well for Kanan and Ezra. I’m certainly curious to see what the creators have planned in this regard.

Now, while I love seeing the old faces and how things will transition leading up to Episode IV, I think all of the fan-service character appearances in the prequel trilogy actually made things worse. So, who will show up in Rebels? Obi-Wan clearly makes an appearance in the trailer. The creators have said that R2-D2 and C-3PO will be making appearances as well because apparently we just can’t have Star Wars without them.

However, as the series gets closer and closer to the Episode IV timeline, I’ll be curious to see who else shows up, and this is where I think things could get interesting. Will Darth Vader make an appearance to come hunt down this new Jedi and his apprentice? Will we see key players in the Rebel Alliance like Bail Organa or Mon Mothma start to get some screen time as the Rebel Alliance begins to form?

The Clone Wars was highly regarded, and I think Rebels is poised to be just as good. I’m cautiously optimistic about this project, but I certainly believe it has the potential to be awesome.

Fargo Season Two

After a wildly successful first season, FX has decided to renew Fargo for a second. Writer and creator Noah Hawley indicated in a press conference (of which I read a live blog update) that the show will be following the True Detective model and changing its cast each season. I think this is a very interesting approach both to story telling and TV show production. Of course the upside of it is that big name stars can be attracted to the shows because they don’t have to commit to long contracts. The downside is that this style of show can’t really tell an ongoing story, or at least not in the same way.

The second season of Fargo is actually going to follow the character of Lou Solverson (played by Keith Carradine in Season One), only it will be set when he is a younger man during the 1970s. The season will explain the story of Sioux Falls, which he references in Season One but never really explains.

Other details thus far are scarce, but the production team did say that the next season of Fargo will be coming out in the fall of 2015. I highly recommend the first season, and though I don’t know whether or not it will be necessary viewing (as Season Two is a prequel), it is still a fabulous show. You also have over a year before the next season comes out to watch it. So really, no excuses.

The Neverending Battle: A Review of All You Need Is Kill

So I hadn’t actually heard of this book until the trailers for Edge Of Tomorrow started coming out and everyone was mentioning how the film was based on a book with a much cooler title. While I haven’t seen the film, I certainly have to agree on the title being better, and the book lives up to the fun of its name.

The story follows rookie soldier Keiji Kiriya who has been enlisted to fight in a war against alien invaders known as the Mimics. He doesn’t receive a lot of training before he is thrown into battle, and as a consequence he dies. But that’s just the beginning of the story. Keiji finds himself in a time-loop where he fights in the same battle over and over again. Eventually he decides that he will make the best of his repeating day and try to become the best soldier he can so that he can lead his side to victory and in the process hopefully end the cycle.

This story is a light novel that was written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka and eventually translated into English by the company Viz Media. In Japan a light novel is roughly equivalent in length to the English novella and is generally targeted at “young adult” audiences. I have to say, I wish more American YA novels read like this.

The majority of the novel is written from Keiji’s first person perspective, and Sakurazaka does a great job of capturing his voice. The writing is fun and light, full of humorous anecdotes and metaphors. He showcases a similar style during the one chapter of the book that is written in third person from the perspective of the story’s other lead Rita Vrataski, an American Special Forces soldier who has become iconic due to her success in battle. I thought that the writing was tight and that the voices of the characters are very well portrayed, which helped to bring me into the text. To be fair, I should note that I don’t speak or read Japanese, so all of my comments are about the translation, for what that’s worth.

The premise of the story is fun and inventive, though I’m sure the science behind some of the things that feature in the story, like the Mimics and the time-loop, is probably suspect. Still, Sakurazaka does have a reason behind everything that is going on, and whether the story relies on pseudo-science or not, everything that happens makes sense in the context of the world and is explained to the reader.

If you’re looking for a short and fun read, I definitely recommend this book. It’s only about 150 pages long, and the writing is easily digestible. There’s a lot of action, dialogue, and fun description that keeps the story rolling, and nothing that happens or is explained is overly complex. And yet, the story has deeper characters, a higher quality of writing, and more thought behind it than many full length novels I’ve read that are targeted towards younger audiences.

I think Sakurazaka did a great job with this story, and I’m now curious to see how Hollywood handled the film adaptation of his tale.

12 Monkeys To Hit Television

Just earlier this summer FX ran a TV version of the Coen Brother classic Fargo. Following this film to TV trend, Syfy will be releasing a version of the Terry Gilliam film 12 Monkeys in January. While Gilliam’s film was something of a psychological thriller that looked at what the effect of changing times might have on the mind, Syfy’s take on the story seems to be going in a different direction.

The new 12 Monkeys still features the primary characteristics of the film’s story, namely a dystopian future where most of humanity has perished due to a disease and the idea of traveling back in time to stop the outbreak of the virus. However, the trailer makes me think that the show will have much more of an action-thriller feel to it. Cole (originally Bruce Willis, now Aaron Stanford), the story’s protagonist, doesn’t appear to be dealing with the issues of identity, trauma, or sanity that he did in the movie. Instead he is very much on a mission to save humanity. He also doesn’t seem to have qualms killing anyone, since he knows that in the future they’re already dead, which makes me hopeful that the show won’t shy away from some good action sequences and entertaining violence.

The very memorable character of Jeffery Goines, who was played by Brad Pitt in the film, appears not to be in the TV adaptation, or at the very least he has not appeared in the trailer. Instead, Cole is in pursuit of a man named Leland Frost (Zeljko Ivanek) who is possibly connected to the creation or spread of the virus. As far as I can tell the insane asylum bits have been taken out of the story. Frost appears to be more of a legitimate doctor or scientist than Goines was.

FX’s version of Fargo felt very much like the original film, so I’ll be curious to see if my read on the trailer is correct, and if Syfy is going for a different approach. Either way I’m cautiously optimistic about this show, and I will definitely be tuning in to see how it turns out.

The Shows I’m Watching and You Should Too: The Strain

The Strain has finally made its way to television. The story was initially envisioned by creator Guillermo Del Toro as a television show, but he ended up writing it as a novel with Chuck Hogan after he couldn’t find any buyers for it. However, after a successful stint as a series of novels and as a comic book adapted by Dark Horse, it was picked up by FX for a small screen adaptation.

The story opens with a plane going dark on the runway of JFK Airport in New York City. No one is able to communicate with the crew or anyone on board, and no calls or other form of communication has come from the plane. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and the members of his CDC Canary Team are the first to board the plane to make sure that there aren’t any contagions involved. They find only four survivors of the over 200 passengers on the flight and a strange coffin that is not listed on the cargo manifest.

Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley), a pawnshop owner, appears to have answers about what is going on. He goes to the airport to try and convey his warnings to the CDC crew, but they think he is crazy, at least at first.

Then there is Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), a dying billionaire who appears to have orchestrated the arrival of the coffin and the beginning of the strange plague that took place on the plane.

The pilot for The Strain jumps between these characters and some others as the horrors of the contagion begin to unfold. The personal lives of the characters are touched on, but none of them has had a great deal of individual screen time to become more developed. Stoll’s character, Dr. Goodweather, has been given the most thus far as he appears to be the central protagonist. As the show continues, I expect this is something that will be remedied, but as it stands the pilot was rather more plot heavy.

The plot was also roughly what you might expect, or at least it has been thus far. The vampires begin to spread slowly, and the CDC is too out of their depth to stop what’s going on. Of course they also turn down help from the one man who knows what’s going on because he appears to be crazy. It’s pretty standard stuff for a vampire or zombie story.

So why should you watch this show? Well, it’s only one episode in, and despite my lukewarm description, the show is very fun to watch. The actors are good, and while their characters have yet to achieve great depth, they still bring them to life quite well. And while the plot is familiar so far, can you really expect too much more from a vampire/zombie kind of story? If you enjoy those types of movies or shows, then you should enjoy how this one unfolds as well.

I also, to be honest, have a good deal of faith in FX. Justified and Fargo are among my favorite shows, and they have a knack for picking up quality productions. Based on this alone, I expect that The Strain will continue to develop and become stronger as it goes. That being said, even if it doesn’t get too much better, it’s certainly entertaining now.