Friday, 31 July 2009

Harry Potter and the Gloriously Unfilmable Novel

Charlie Jane Anders sparked an interesting discussion over at last week about whether novels can ever be "gloriously unfilmable." On reading I found myself taking the view that there's always a way to make an interesting film that's based on something from the book.

I think this film highlights one situation where it might be impossible to film a book. It's to do with the way the books get longer, darker and slightly more adult through the series, while the plots get more complex and interwoven. At the same time the fan base still includes a) a lot of 11 year olds and b) a lot of people who know the books inside out, both of whom must be satisfied at all costs.

HP1 (known to UK residents as the Philospher's Stone) set a precedent by being very faithful to the first book and more or less keeping everything in. For the sequels it would have been harder to cram everything in - so directors have had to choose what to cut. Alfonse Cuaron did this creatively in HP3 (the Prisoner of Azkaban) deliberately telling a much simpler yet still coherent story.

By the time we get to HP6 the director is faced with an impossible choice - keep it all in and your film is too long or too cluttered; cut it all out and it won't make much sense. David Yates has taken the second option. He's kept the humour and much of the adolescent drama, and sown the seeds for the real tragedy of the piece (that Harry ends up dating Ginny Weasley not Luna Lovegood) but cutting out so much else, including the Severus Snape and James Potter backstory, that the whole meaning of the Half-Blood Prince title is lost. Unless you know the book you will be baffled by the ending.

What's to be done? In my opinion there's nothing wrong with the production of this film. As with all the Potter films, casting is perfect. I could single out anyone but here Jim Broadbent (Slughorn) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood) steal every shot they're in, while Tom Felton (Draco) and A..l..a..n.....R..i..c..k..m..a..n (Snape) are more intense in each film. The effects are superb as usual - and while I doubt there's a single non-effect shot in there, much of the work is nicely understated or atmospheric and so doesn't detract from the drama. Despite the confusion the film is extremely funny and occasionally exciting or sinister.

David Yates is pencilled in for HP7 too - and there's the possibility of splitting it into two films. If this is the reason for it then I approve. It's one solution to the dilemma of HP6, and I will look forward to the next installment.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Round round get around I get around woooooo I get around

I took a ride on the Corkscrew rollercoaster at Flamingoland, a few weeks ago. Of all the sensations one expects from a fairground ride, respect, nostalgia and a sense of connection with history are not high on the list - but The Corkscrew is a piece of rollercoaster history. When the Corkscrew opened at Alton Towers back in 1980, it was the first double-loop ride in the UK and for a long time it was the archetypal white knuckle ride. The manufacturers Vekoma sold other, near-identical Corkscrew rides to other theme parks including the version at Flamingoland which opened in 1983. At Flamingoland this historical position is reinforced by the Corkscrew's next-door neighbour, the newer, faster and louder Velocity ride with horizontal catapult launch. There's a point on the Corkscrew where for a split-second you can look ahead and to the side and get a cool view straight through the ammonite-spiral of the double loop.

Video not taken by myself!

Rollercoasters are already widely used as a metaphor for emotional lability (as well as economic change, the transience of fame and "life," generally by songwriters.) I also read this BBC News review of the Saw ride at Thorpe Park. Saw briefly held a record for the longest coaster freefall drop until another coaster, Mumbo Jumbo, opened at Flamingoland. More interestingly, Saw is heavily enhanced with theatrical elements - the reviewer suggests that this is the next coaster trend. As the limits of human tolerance and the different ways of exerting forces on the body within those limits are gradually exhausted, coasters will rely more and more on psychology to produce additional thrills - in other words they will literally be emotional rollercoaster rides.

FYI Jigsaw posted some videos and comments about the Saw ride here.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Choice

Why do we choose to read one book over another?

This week I have been mostly reading Stephenie Meyer's The Host. Full review coming up shortly - in the meantime this chart came from thinking about why I'd chosen to read this particular book:

Friday, 24 July 2009

Eyes Wide Shut

Took a break from Blender to do some video editing:

(with thanks to Molly Brown for introducing me to this particular opiate of the masses...)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Work in progress: who do?

A few seconds of animation from a work in progress, produced while I familiarise myself with Blender and Voodoo matchmoving. The latter app is aptly named - generating 3D data from a 2D film clip is definitely a form of black magic.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fight Choreographer [Review: Blood: The Last Vampire]

The idea of a vampire film with the choreography of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon makes sense to me and I've been waiting a long time to see such a film. I'm still waiting. Blood: The Last Vampire is an enjoyable film in its own right and has a lot to recommend it but suffers from this particular comparison.

Blood is a very international movie. Set in Japan and filmed in Japanese and English, it brings together the considerable talents of French director Chris Nahon, South Korean, American-Italian and Japanese actresses Gianna Jun, Allison Miller and Koyuki, and Hong Kong producer William Kong who also produced on Crouching Tiger.

The three female leads are superb and each brings a different quality to their character: Gianna Jun has an alien beauty and is completely convincing as the vengeance-driven, unstoppable halfling Saya - I had no trouble believing that, were she not supplied with fresh blood by the mysterious Council this character would kill without hesitation to survive; Allison Miller's character Alice remains terrified by the paranormal world she has been drawn into - and significantly, despite learning to trust Saya, does not conquer this terror. Koyuki is suitably eerie as Onigen. Male supporting roles are less convincing although this may be about the plot rather than acting per se - this is not a film about men.

The fight scenes are O.K. but given producer William Kong's oversight should have been far better. The genius of Crouching Tiger was to make slightly impossible moves in early scenes, such as running up walls or flying from rooftop to rooftop, credible - the suspension of disbelief then continues through most of the movie even as the stunts get sillier. This kind of credibility is needed in Blood, particularly for the scenes where Saya faces down large numbers of enemies single-handed while defending petrified Alice. These scenes are exciting but not always convincing, and there's a tendency to speed up or slow down the footage that just confuses the action further.

And I know it's a long happy tradition but surely by now evil henchmen have realised that if you outnumber the hero 50 to 1, you kind of lose the advantage if you line up and take turns to fight them one to one.

On the plus side, there's a point where Alice revives Saya, Little Shop Of Horrors-style, that could have been extremely silly - it's a measure of the excellent general direction that the intensity is maintained even during scenes like this.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Walking In My Mind

The Hayward Gallery's summer exhibition for 2009, Walking In My Mind, features several artists' attempts to portray the inside of their own minds. I like installation art in general - there's something very appealing about being able to walk into a picture. Installation art is also a perfect medium for this particular topic. In one sense, any installation, or any art form, is a representation of at least part of the mind of the artist - after all, where else can it have come from? However many of these exhibits take a very literal approach and attempt to portray both the content and the process of mind.

Jason Rhoades' work, The Creation Myth, for example fills a room with a bizarre, Heath Robinson-like machine representing the creative process - there's a trail of cables taking you through a series of sub-processes. It's a disturbing exhibit; sound, movement and smoke effects keep you uneasy, and Rhoades uses a lot of pornographic imagery - this has led to some discussion in the press but is completely appropriate in the context of portraying the range of thoughts that pass through a human mind, or the creative process; to my mind it also makes the work honest and personal.

Yoshitomo Nara also takes a literal approach, building a one-room house storing memories and personal, meaningful possessions, while you can explore Thomas Hirschhorn's mind in the form of a network of caves made from cardboard and tape. Yayoi Kusama creates a more surreal, beautiful experience - walking into a red and white polka dot universe which extends onto this balcony:

There are also exhibits by Charles Avery who continues to expand his fictional Island, including this artefact of it's culture - a mysterious, dimensionally transcendent cabinet.

Science fiction also grapples with this theme from time to time - say, Stephen King's novel Dreamcatcher where an alien presence banishes a character into his own mental space, or The Cell, where a psychiatrist literally enters her patient's thoughts to diagnose and heal them. It's a difficult concept to make convincing, just as it's difficult to invent realistic dreams or simulate insanity, and both these examples are flawed. This exhibition succeeds because each installation seems to communicate something real, and surprisingly frank, about the mind of its' creator.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Late Night Double Feature Picture Show

While no-one was looking, most of the 48 Hour Film Challenge entries have been uploaded to This gives me an opportunity to share two more of my favourite humorous entries - one clearly inspired by The Office, the other simply inspired.

Uploaded by SFLTV. - Watch feature films and entire TV shows.

City State
Uploaded by SFLTV. - Check out other Film & TV videos.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Art 2.0 part 2: "Streetpianos"

Over the past month Luke Jerram's streetpianos project has placed thirty pianos in public places in and around London, open for anyone to play. The project comes to an end this weekend in London and the pianos will now be removed and sold.

I've particularly enjoyed this Art 2.0 experience: looking for the pianos took me on a tour of familiar and unfamiliar London, and it's been fun watching the mini-events, friendships and collaborations form spontaneously around the pianos, playing or singing along myself, and meeting other piano-seekers of all abilities. Different locations have drawn City professionals or citizens, travellers or tourists, giving the crowd around each piano it's own feel.

I'd like to acknowledge D-n-K, the awesome musical trio that were aiming to produce a charity album on all 30 pianos in one day; the lovely Korean illustrator who accompanied my Bridge Over Troubled Water at the Millenium Bridge; the young girl whose parents couldn't tear her away from the Liverpool Street piano; the duo who filled the Plaza with Hero; a chance meeting and chat with fellow blogger and underground chef MsMarmiteLover at Devonshire Court, and everyone I met who also just felt like having a go.

Streetpianos and One&Other have in common an artist who, instead of creating the art themselves, is facilitating involvement by hundreds of users. Of the two, Streetpianos feels more spontaneous. Both Art 2.0 projects say something about our willingness both to participate in creativity and to watch others; the friendly supportive crowds make these events very different from the sinister world of reality TV as there's no competitive side. Streetpianos is a nomadic festival moving from city to city and I look forward to a return to London some day.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Art 2.0 part 1: "One&Other"

Over the past decade the Internet has shifted from owner-generated to user-generated content (Web 2.0 - blogs, wikis, video sharing, social networking, auctions, Squidoo lenses etc.) Some recent art events in London point to a similar trend - instead of creating their own content artists are creating spaces to facilitate creativity by hundreds of users.

Anthony Gormley's Art 2.0 installation, One&Other, has taken over the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, where members of the public, chosen by lottery, are hoisted up to the plinth and make use of it for an hour. So far a popular use has been charity or environmental campaigning; however other plinth users have sung and played guitar, bassoon or other instruments, photographed people in the crowd, or written random slogans on a chalkboard. It's YouTube - on a stick.

This morning saw singer-songwriter voluntas on the plinth with a series of witty, sometimes bawdy and very original songs. voluntas is lift consultant and self-taught guitarist Michael Bottomley IRL; his wife and daughter were present to give moral support and record the event, and he drew a small but appreciative crowd.

As a work of art One&Other is engaging and entertaining. Anthony Gormley is an artist who usually puts himself into his artwork in a very genuine way - often literally as in the case of his many body-casting installations. Here participants are sharing in the same experience of self-projection. The Trafalgar Square plinth is a good public space for this kind of event even though there's a slight sense of publicity stunt; for this reason though it may not be the best gallery in which to hang a Gormley.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Vampires vs Cats [Review: Let The Right One In]

Let The Right One In is a superb, nightmarish Swedish vampire film based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It's the story of the friendship between Oskar, age 12, and Eli, who has been 12 for rather longer than Oskar.

Oskar is effeminate and perhaps a little autistic, and fantasises about killing his school bullies. His school also seems to have serial killer psychology on the year 8 curriculum. Eli is both powerful and innocent; her treatment of her doting father is particularly chilling, yet perhaps because she and her father really do carry out some quite gory acts, her moments of guilt and insight ring true. In general Eli's character is particularly well thought out and she really does think and act like a 12 year old might in the circumstances.

The film is set amongst harsh landscapes in which light and dark spaces are equally creepy, a little like Insomnia, and the plot is just as harsh and uncompromising. Oskar and Eli are played by Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, both give utterly convincing, intense and unworldly performances.

In one sense this is a traditional vampire film - there's no real deviation from the accumulated vampire mythology. However the portrayal is also thoughtful and inventive. Some aspects, such as fangs or the power of flight, are never shown on-screen but are cleverly implied; and the film actually provides answers to some important vampire questions:

1. What happens when a vampire eats pic-n-mix sweets - it's grim.
2. What happens if you don't invite one in but she comes in anyway - grimmer.
3. Who would win in a fight between a vampire and a houseful of cats - that's a bet I would have won.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K Le Guin will be making room on her crowded awards shelf for a 2009 Nebula Award (for the YA novel "Powers"). I recently read Le Guin's novel "The Left Hand of Darkness," also a Nebula winner. It's a well deserved win - a book that really demonstrates the power of sci-fi to explore our society. It's also well worth the original 1963 RRP of 35 pence. Darkness is set on the planet of Winter, a permanently frozen world populated by hermaphrodites who spend most of their lives in a latent, neuter state, temporarily becoming male or female on a cyclical basis.

With similarities to Iain M. Banks' later Culture novels, Winter is visited first by secret observers, then by the envoy Genly Ai, from the 80-world Ekumen, an advanced society of humanoid races descended from or created by the Hain hundreds of millenia before. Genly examines this unusual society and the question of gender identity from an external viewpoint - Le Guin speculates about whether sexual drive might go hand in hand with the ability to nationalise or mobilise for war. On a smaller scale, however, the inhabitants "kill each other in ones or twos" and are capable of political intrigue and rivalry to match anything on Earth. The people of Winter are a slow people but Ai has come at a time of change - at least one nation has become more organised, and if this is repeated elsewhere the stage may be set for war. Ai's arrival itself will have enormous consequences for the planet and its' society.

The hermaphroditic society of Winter initially seems contrived, and at times it's unclear whether this is supposed to be an all-male or an all-neuter society, but it quickly becomes a detailed and consistent reality. This is accompanied by a description of a planet with a severe geology and weather system that has shaped it's inhabitants as much as their gender.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Too Much Too Soon

This was originally an entry in the Sci-Fi London 2009 48 Hour Film Challenge. Nothing can save this film! but this cut includes some additional scenes, my attempt at a soundtrack and credits that didn't quite make the 48 hour deadline. With thanks to all who took part.

Team: Second Foundation
Title: Too Much Too Soon
Compulsory Dialogue: "Choose your spot and mark it with an X - it'll still be there on your return"
Compulsory Props: Three passports from three different countries.
Technical notes: filmed on mini-DV, CGI and titles produced in Cinema 4D, soundtrack mixed in eJay, original cut edited in Final Cut Pro, this cut edited in the Blender VSE.