Tag Archives: heinous mangling of a classic movie

Ninja Apocalypse (2014)

ninja-apocalypse-poster

“Devastation. Mutation. Termination.”

Director Lloyd Lee Barnett
Starring Christian Oliver, Les Brandt, Ernie Reyes, Jr., Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

OK, it’s The Warriors, right, only it’s a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is a member of a different ninja clan with its own special magical mutation. When an enemy threatens the territory of the ninja clans, Grandmaster Fumitaka (Tagawa) calls all the ninjas together, including the mysterious Lost Clan (he calls them, word-for-word, “the mysterious Lost Clan”) led by Ryu from Street Fighter (Oliver). When Fumitaka gets murdered, Ryu (OK, his real name is “Cage,” so he’s from Mortal Kombat, not Street Fighter) and his band of misfits have to fight their way past all the other ninja clans and get out of the underground nuclear bunker and home to safety.

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Total Recall (2012)

TotalRecall2012Poster

“Is it real? Is it Recall?”

Directed by Len Wiseman
Starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston

Douglas Quaid (Farrell), a blue collar worker in a post-apocalyptic world where the only places to escape chemical bombardment at the end of the 21st century were the vast remoteness of Australia and the political and industrial giant of Northern Europe. Troubled by dreams of a woman he has never met and dissatisfied with his life, he visits Rekall Inc, a company offering realistic false memories, but when his spy fantasy seems to come true, he finds himself on the run from police forces led by his (alleged) wife (Beckinsale), and in the company of the woman of his dreams (Biel). Pursued across the United Federation of Britain – well, London anyway – he finds himself embroiled in a plot to frame an anti-British resistance movement for terrorist acts and invade the Colony (Australia) with robot soldiers.

What’s wrong with it?

Like the 2001 Planet of the ApesTotal Recall is based on an earlier adaptation of a written original, in this case a Philip K Dick short story, and in its attempts to be both reverent and different it strays away from both coherence and the fundamental point.

The film is Earthbound, cutting out Mars altogether and replacing it with Australia, which looks like something out of Bladerunner. There is actually quite a lot of the film that is reminiscent of other movies, and adding hover car chases and police tactics rather akin to Minority Report leaves one wondering if this isn’t a remake of every Philip K Dick adaptation ever.

There is a heavy focus on the action, which unfortunately is mostly ridiculous.  Most of the fights are just exchanges of fire with literally faceless robots, or vastly extended chase scenes through nonsensical futuristic landscapes.

The film frequently cuts away from Quaid/Hauser to focus on the actions of the villains, which undermines the original’s central conceit that the entire narrative could be the fiction in Quaid’s disintegrating mind in favour of a more existential question of what makes a person who they are, which would be great if it did it well. Instead, there is very little question of which is the real persona and a single line of dialogue from Matthias (a criminally underused Bill Nighy), and then at the very end of the film it suddenly tries to claw back the original idea by having Hauser question the reality of the preceding two hours.

Bizarrely, most of the cast are British actors doing American accents.

What’s right with it?

I watched the director’s cut on DVD, and damn if it doesn’t make a difference. A smattering of additional news reports bring the villainous plot into greater focus, and make it less a blatant act of fascist anschluss and more a satire of the Gulf War’s WMD justification. It also features Ethan Hawke as Hauser’s original face, and by having Melina identified as Matthias daughter explains both the importance of keeping her alive (to extract a false confession to legitimise the invasion) and Nighy’s American accent.

How bad is it really?

Total Recall‘s sin is that it doesn’t know what it is, and thus it mangles its plot and its purpose. It tries to do something different, but can’t bring itself to jettison the old, and thus ends up burdened with both unnecessary plot complications and the curse of unfulfilled nostalgia.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Cohagen engages in a knife fight with Hauser; fun simply for the conceit of the most powerful politician on the planet being a frontline badass instead of a backroom general.

What’s up with…?

  • The Federal Intelligence Service’s flexible attitude to civilian casualties? While trying to frame the Resistance as murderous terrorists, their own people fire wildly into crowded elevators.
  • Lori’s final attempt on Hauser’s life while disguised as Melina? Given that she is sitting there when he wakes up from unconsciousness, the fact that she hasn’t already put an air bubble in his drip or something speaks volumes of her incompetence.
  • Hammond? He calls Hauser, calls him ‘Henry’ instead of Carl, suggesting he only knows his alias, and then gets killed rescuing him from Cohagen without ever offering a scrap of explanation, or indeed getting any more lines.
  • Most of northern Europe having survived a global conflict intact?

Ratings

Production values – Some of the CGI is a little dated, but overall the effects are pretty shiny. 5
Dialogue and performances –  There are some very dubious accents going on. In Lori’s case it sort of makes sense, as her cover has an American accent while she is British, but the others are less clear. The dialogue is humdrum, but thinks it is profound, and thus wastes some solid acting talent. 11
Plot and execution – The core plot, in the director’s cut, is actually pretty sound, but in the original release made very little sense. 9
Randomness – Why Britain and Australia? Why a trans-mantle elevator? Why is everyone in Britain and Australia American12
Waste of potential – With a strong cast, big budget and excellent concepts to work with, this would have been vastly improved as either a more faithful remake or if it had the courage to strike out on its own path. As it is, by trying to do both it does neither very well. 15

Overall 52%

From the Archive – 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea (1996)

Leagues

 

Directed by Michael Anderson
Starring Richard Crenna, Ben Cross, Paul Gross, Julie Cox

With Atlantic shipping in the Victorian age beset by some kind of maritime prankster who delights in ramming ships, the authorities ask Professor Arronax (Crenna) to investigate the possibility that the attacker is a ‘proto-leviathan’, an unevolved deep-sea relict of a past age. With harpoonist Ned Land (Gross) on board to bag the beast, and the professor’s daughter Sophie (Cox) – disguised, not very convincingly, as a boy, with the subtle pseudonym of ‘Charles Darwin’ – the good ship Abraham Lincoln sets out. The ‘beast’ resists harpoons and cannon fire, and rams the ship, spilling everyone with a name into the water to be rescued by Captain Nemo (Cross) and the submarine Nautilus. But then you knew that.

Professor Arronax buddies up with Nemo, while the good Captain and Mr Land go nose-to-nose in pursuit of Sophie (Nemo’s opening gambit: ‘My daughter would have been the same age as you if she wasn’t dead’) and Ned tries to escape. Nemo tries to have Ned bumped off, but fails. The Nautilus sinks the Abe Lincoln as Nemo’s declaration of war on the imperial powers who invaded his small and non-specific country and killed his family.

The ship gets attack by a proto-leviathan (what, no squid?), which Neddy kills. Nemo lets his prisoners go, submerging under them just to fuck with their heads before releasing a life raft and sailing away.

What’s wrong with it?

Well, the Nautilus is a good place to start. It’s a masterpiece of retro design that looks like it comes right out of Austin Powers. When Sophie and her father change into Nautilus uniforms you can just imagine Nemo asking ‘do you like your quasi-futuristic outfits? I designed them myself’. The alarm klaxon sounds way too modern, and is in fact the exact same noise as the siren in the military base in Terminator 3. The whole thing looks less like a cool, grandiose Victorian steampunky design than like a Disney theme-park ride.

Then there’s the master of the Nautilus. The guy clearly wants to be James Mason, and is also way too English to be the king-in-exile of a conquered land, even if he was Oxford educated. Plus, the whole thing of him macking on a girl he admits is young enough to be his daughter is just a little grotesque. The rest of the cast do little better: Paul Gross is dully macho, Crenna is blandly patrician and Cox is tediously winsome.

Which brings me to the problem of Sophie. Clearly interjected to add some breasts to the proceedings, the character is a blatant anachronism. This wouldn’t matter so much if they didn’t draw attention to it by having her dress up as a principle boy and then have Ned goggle at being introduced to ‘Mr’ Darwin, since she’s clearly nothing of the kind. Her presence further reduces the ideological conflict between Land and Nemo to macho chest-beating.

The dialogue is stilted and reeks of bad rep theatre, with lines like: “Are you Professor Arronax, Holder of the Chair of Marine Biology at Harvard Universtiy?” ‘Why no,’ you feel the answer should come. ‘I’m just breaking into his lab and his assistants haven’t noticed yet’.

Finally, the film clearly models a lot of its content on the old Disney Leagues, which was a far superior film, and when a fifty year old Disney film kicks your arse in the special effects field, you know you’re in trouble.

What’s right with it?

Well, not a lot really, save perhaps that what I saw was cut down from a miniseries which one must assume contained more of the same.

How bad is it really?

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is an aggressive waste of filmstock. The action is dull, the romance bland and the human interest utterly lacking. Cross’ attempt to simulate the mannered performance of James Mason only makes you yearn for the older version, and indeed Cox’s huge eyes do little but put one in mind of Peter Lorre, who essentially played her role in that movie.

Some might miss Ned Land’s ‘Got a Whale of a Tale’ sea shantying antics, but on the plus side at least Paul Gross doesn’t get to sing.

Best bit

When the giant squid has the sub on the surface, and Nemo tells them they are about to go face-to-face with the most tenacious of all sea beast…Oh, wait; that’s the old Disney version. Never mind then.

What’s up with…?

  • The proto-leviathan? I mean, what did they think? ‘The giant squid is passé; let’s do something different’. It’s like the director who decided that the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy had been done to death and left it out of his version of Hamlet.

  • The dinner-party introductions? ‘My name is professor Arronax.’ ‘Not the famous marine biologist?’ ‘No; I’m a plumber. I work with daleks. On a ship at sea. Yes! The marine biologist!’

  • Nemo’s appeal-to-incest chat-up lines? Yick.

Ratings

Production values: A version of the film from fifty years before kicked this film’s arse in every element of production, from design to special effects. 20

Dialogue and performances: Painfully stilted performances from wooden actors playing cookie-cutter characters. Nemo is without nobility, Arronax without dignity, Land without integrity and Sophie without…well, any defining features but the exceptionally obvious. The dialogue is the worst however; trite to the point of being insulting. 18

Plot and execution: This is a film without narrative drive. Everyone just meanders through, without goals, deadlines or pressures. The whole thing is a soggy mess, without tension or drama. What a mess. 18

Randomness: Not a whole lot, but God damnit! I want a giant squid! Bonus points for removing the giant squid. I mean, this is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; we expect a squid. We deserve a squid after two-and-a-half-hours of this stinkburger! 16

Waste of potential: Disney did better with this classic story of gripping adventure! Bunch of Muppets. And not the funny kind of Muppets. 20,000 Muppets Under the Sea I’d pay to see, I tells ya. 20

Overall 92%