Natural City / Blade Runner rip-off

naturaal cityDirector: Min Byeong-cheon. Starring: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Jae-eun, Seo Lin. South Korea, 2003. IMDb: 5.8. My rating: 0.5/4. ”Blade Runner” rip off.

If somebody ever creates a list of ”Blade Runner” rip-offs, please put ”Natural City” on the first place.

We all know that ”Blade Runner” and another obscure movie by R. Scott did had a long-lasting effect on cinema, cyberpunk and science fiction.

We all know what is the difference between a homage and a rip-off.

”Natural City” was probably intended as a faithful homage – even the poster’s line said ”The Blade Runner era finishes and the Natural City myth starts” – but unfortunately ended up being a bad rip-off.

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THX 1138 / faceless numbers

”The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.”

 

1t is n0t exactly clear, whether it was Erich Maria Remarque, the gre4t German writer of war, sadness and l0st generation, or Joseph Stalin, the blo0dy Soviet mastermind, to pr0nounce these painful w0rds, although surely b0th had the right f0r it. E4ch fr0m the opp0site p0int of view.

”THX 1138” is a perfect illustration for what it means to be a N° in an ill, mechanical, drug-oppressed society that is even more deadened than “Fahrenheit 451”, “1984” or “Metropolis”. Heck, people even had names there.

Here… everybody is just a number. Numbers are perfectly intertwined in the stunningly sterile visuals of the story, crawling here and there, mixed with muffled camera surveillance footage and faceless chrome police robots that keep on repeating “we are here to help you”.

We are here to help you.” A recurring nightmare motif now.

 

Silent Running

Director: Douglas Trumbull. Starring: Bruce Dern, Cliff Potts, Ron Rifkin, Jesse Vint. Budget: 1$ million. USA, 1972. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2/4. Ecological space science fiction.

– On Earth, everywhere you go, the temperature is 75 degrees. Everything is the same; all the people are exactly the same. Now what kind of life is that?
(Freeman Lowell)

Back in 1972 “Silent Running” was kind of a low-budget modest blockbuster made in the wake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The film was a directional debut for Douglas Trumbull, who worked most notably on special effects on the aforementioned Kubrick’s epic, “Blade Runner”, “Andromeda Strain”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and Malick’s “Tree of Life”. “Silent Running” was produced by Universal on a shoestring budget of one million dollars, one-tenth the budget of “2001”, which is very little for this kind of space sci-fi.

In Italy ”Silent Running” was released under this name… ”2002: la seconda odissea” ( = the second odyssey). That’s really classy sassy.

”Silent Running” suffers from many problems, like Bruce Dern with his cheesy lines and overacting, inaccurate scientific part and folk songs by Joan Baez that make look those scenes like an ecological New Age propaganda/hippie’s dilemma. It’s a naive flawed story with many drawbacks, yet somehow it still manages to transmit its kind emotion. The film was indeed influential, being an inspiration to ”Wall-E” and C-P30 and R-2D2. Duncan Jones, the director of the beloved ”Moon” also admitted that ”Silent Running” was one of the influences.

How does all that look now? Well… surprisingly all spaceships, technologies and special effects still look fine, even if obsolete. The real problem of the movie are the characters, their motivations and the scientific part. And the script, which obviously seemed to be covering just about 30 minutes of the time – the rest felt like a badly prepared improvisation.

Too many times during the viewing I had to ask myself: “Why would they do that?” (that is normally a very bad sign). But hey, it’s a naive 70-s’ sci-fi about a bunch of guys floating on a special spaceships that contain all kinds of flora and fauna because, ehm, Earth is full of glass and concrete and the temperature is the same everywhere. Add long haircuts and funny costumes. That is so 70-s.

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The climax of the stupidity is somewhere in the 3/4 part of the movie, when all the plants carried on the spaceship are dying for no apparent reason. The main character – who is a top-notch scientist who has spent the last 10 years of his life with his beloved plants and as the movie shows that’s the only thing he cares about – tries everything to solve the problem but nothing works. And you know what?

He didn’t know that the plants need light to grow. Yep, you didn’t mishear. A top-level biologist didn’t know that plants grow with light.

All this stuff really prevents you from enjoying the movie because it’s not that kind of film that has enough action or mind-blowing special effects. The storyline doesn’t help – it’s divided in 3 parts, 2 of which feel like a time-filler and are completely unnecessary. Some scenes made me feel like they were there just to show ”look how we can shoot that”. The acting is pretty annoying, I didn’t like Bruce Dern’s performance here as it felt strained and laboured with some weird psychopathic hints and for the 80% of the movies you’ll observe only him and just a couple of droids.

The folk – FOLK – soundtrack by Joan Baez felt completely out of place, luckily there were only a couple of songs. But those scenes made me feel like I am watching an ecological New Age propaganda.

Some of this could be explained with the limited time for shooting and just 1 or 2 takes for each scenes, as cinemaincloseup notes: ”The film was made under extremely trying circumstances, as every cent had to be fully accounted for and a great number of scenes had to be shot each day, to meet the thirty two day shoot schedule. This stipulated that most shots had to be got in one or two takes, which in all honesty is blatantly obvious throughout the movie, as Dern overacts on occasion and fights appear staged.”

But even apart of that, Dern’s lines felt incredibly cheesy.

”Look at that little girl’s face. I know you’ve seen it. But you know what she’s never going to be able to see? She’s never going to be able to see the simple wonder of a leaf in her hand. Because there’s not going to be any trees.”

”You know when I was a kid, I put a note into a bottle and it had my name and address on it. And then I threw the bottle into the ocean. And I never knew if anybody ever found it.”

Anyway… with all this criticism, there are still many things to be enjoyed. Really. The droids were interesting and felt more alive than humans. In fact, the robots that you see in the movie were projected specially for three amputee actors.

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The most beautiful part of the movie is the flight through the Saturn’s rings. Originally that part was intended to be developed for ”2001”, but Trumbull didn’t have enough time to finish it so another one was developed. He later came back to the original sequence and used it in ”Silent Running”.

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Worth watching? ”Silent Running” is a showcase of why old sci-fi movies often look so horribly dated – the problem here is not with special effects or technology, but with its characters that feel unnatural, the script that seemed to be expanded on a Procrustean bed, the scientific inaccuracy and some typical elements of the 70-s culture.

Trumbull’s obviously inexperienced in directing and you can feel that. Ultra-low budget (for this kind of project) with just 1-2 takes for each scene don’t help, obviously. The central premise is naive, although still valid and relevant. With all its drawbacks, there’s still a lot to enjoy in ”Silent Running”. I wouldn’t consider it an all-time classic movie, but it surely may be a good insight into the early 70-s sci-fi.

2/4… for the lovely robots and the incredible flight through the Saturn’s rings

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P. S. Here and here is a very comprehensive movie analysis.

Kung Fury

posterDirector: David Sandberg. Starring: David Sandberg, Jorma Taccone, David Hasselhoff, Andreas Cahling. Sweden, 2015. Budget: $630,000. A faithful dedication to the best & the worst of the 80-s, rage mode on.

– Fuck! That’s a laser raptor. I thought they went extinct thousands of years ago. What year is this?
– It’s the Viking Age.
– That explains the laser raptor. Fuck! I went too far back in time.
(a dialogue between Kung Fury and Barbarinna)

– I’m disarming you.
(Kung Fury, before ripping off Nazi soldier’s arm)

– Open the doors, Hoff.
– I’m sorry, Fury. I can’t let you do that.
– Open the doors!
– Did anyone tell you… not to hassle the Hoff 9000?
(Kung Fury is convincing the car computer Hoff 9000 to open the door)

”Kung Fury” is a fucked up version of the dorkiest things about the martial arts movies and the 80-s/90-s pop culture you could’ve ever imagined. Thor showing off his over-sized breast muscles? Check. A slot machine “Hoff 9000″ (built by Hitler to reestablish his power) goes rogue revenging the world? Check. ”The Matrix” parody in the goofy 80-s à la Van Damme style? Check. Tyrannosaurus vs Nazi soldiers? Check.

Growling “I’m disarming you” with Batman’s voice to an enemy with a gun and then just tear the poor man’s limb off to use it as an airscrew? Check!

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Turbo Kid

turbo_kid.jpgDirector: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Starring: Laurence Leboeuf, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright. Canada (Quebec), New Zealand, 2015. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. An eccentric childish post-apocalyptic sci-fi with lots of gore.

– I thought all robots were evil.
– Depends on the model.
(The Kid and Apple are getting to know each other)

– You want to see something cool?
– I always want to see something cool.
(a conversation between The Kid and Apple)

“Turbo Kid” is  a faithful homage to the 80-s, a naïve love story occasionally slipping into a gory bloody post-apocalyptic trash. Sounds dorky? Well, it looks dorky too, and is entertaining as hell from the first frame.

The film doesn’t hesitate to borrow everywhere it can, but you don’t blame kids at the nearby playground for copying chases and fighting they saw on the TV screen, do you? Especially if they have a super-blaster-glove and BMX bikes.

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The Machine

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about the border between humans and A. I.

– How do I know that you’re alive and not just a clever imitation of life?
(one of the main scientists)

”The Machine” beats the recent ”Ghost in the Shell” adaptation with an incredible ease. If it were done in the 80-s, it would have been a cult movie. But it’s a 2013 directional debut by the Welsh director James W. Caradog, so let’s just be humble and categorize it as… almost excellent.  Continue reading

Space Station 76

space_station76Director: Jack Plotnick. Starring: Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Marisa Coughlan, Matt Bomer. USA, 2014. IMDb: 4.9. Budget: roughly 1 million. My rating: 2.5/4. Retrofuturistic black parody, Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station.

– Warning. Dr. Bot must remind Misty not to become… too close to her therapist bot.
– I’ve gotta be close to somebody.
– We must keep this professional.
– Don’t be so cold.
– I must maintain objectivity.
– But I feel like…  I just feel like you and I have really been going through it here, you know? I feel like I have really been connecting with you. You know me.
– Emotion overload.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

– I’m a leg man, you know?

(a discussion between 2 guys about newly arrived female crew member)

Can you imagine the future with corded telephones and colonies on orbital space stations, VHS cassettes and interstellar travel? If you can’t, Jack Plotnick did it for you. ”Space Station 76” is a 1970-s version of the future that never came.

And “Space Station 76” has one of the best A.I. ever. Seriously.

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