“Knight (Of The Galactic Empire’s) Skies” – A Star Wars Story

Bespin Platforms

Local Time – 1100 hrs.

Team – Rebel Alliance

***

Alex and I spawn in late, with only one X-Wing left for the taking.

“Mine!” we both shout as we race towards the cockpit. I reach the ship a millisecond before Alex and engage the engine, taking to the skies as he fires angry blaster shots towards the craft.

“Even all the Y-Wings are taken!” he moans over the commlink.

“You could always take the center command post,” I suggest. I look towards my wrist-mounted computer and tap the screen, bringing up the map, just to see the previously white icon turn green. “Ah, scratch that, we’ve already taken it.”

“I’m hopping in an Ion Cannon,” Alex says, “Maybe I’ll shoot you out of the sky!”

I’m about the reply when I hear the unmistakable SKREEE! of a TIE Fighter’s engines. I swing around the X-Wing and realise that the sky is full of Imperial ships. I pass a Rebel platform and look on, pained, as a X-Wing tries to take to the skies but is immediately blown apart by a TIE bombing run.

I pull the joystick as far back as possible and put the thrusters on full, flying high into the atmosphere. As I reach the edge of the combat area, I dampen the engines and pull the ship around. I can now see the entire map below me, locking on to the closest TIE Fighter and fire three shots, hitting the craft right in the cockpit, blowing the ship apart.

I continue to descend at a snail’s pace, firing shots and missiles at any TIE craft that comes close. As I enter the high orbit of the platforms, I see a fellow X-Wing get blown apart by an enemy Ion Cannon, which promptly sets its sights on me. I try to swing around, but the cannon hits me square in the body, cutting my fighter’s health in half.

I can’t wait for the cannon to cool down; I’ve got to destroy it before it has a chance for another shot. I push the thrusters forward, flying straight at the cannon before reversing them completely and firing a missile. It was a tactic of “pressing”, getting as close to an enemy as I could get, so that there is a 99.9% chance of a hit. The missile streaks forward and hits the cannon at the base, completely destroying the machine.

I turn the X-Wing around and fly high again, but my computer starts to beep.

“Missile Lock, Missile Lock”.

A missile strikes me in the back, cutting my health down even further. I engage the thrusters to get away from my attacker, but they’ve seen I have low health and come in for the easy kill. I’m trying to do a quick repair and regenerate my ship’s health, but the TIE Fighter who hit me keeps firing blaster shots, and each third one hits my craft, diminishing any work I do.

“Alex, can I get some help?” I ask.

“What can I do? I’m just sitting here waiting for a craft to spawn in. I’d take a Cloud Car if I had to.” Alex replies.

‘You can have my X-Wing, if I don’t crash it.”

“Fine, where are you coming from?”

“South-west, coming straight for you.”

Alex turns the cannon and see me, full thrusters, flying straight at him.

“Watch your descent, you’re coming in too fast!”

“That’s the point, when I cut the engines, shoot.”

I fly closer and closer to the cannon, counting down the distance.

Hundred metres.

Fifty metres.

Twenty Metres.

Ten.

Five.

Two.

I cut the engine fully, dropping the X-Wing vertically, lining up the pursuing TIE Fighter with Alex’s cannon.

“Fire!” I shout.

From my cockpit view I see the TIE Fighter pilot finally realise what is going on. The pilot tries to veer to the side, out of the range of the cannon. But Alex’s shot rings straight and true, hitting the craft in the front of the cockpit, splitting the craft in two.

I clamber out of the cockpit and head up to the platform.

“Nice shot,” I say, “The X-Wing is yours.” We both look at the craft, balanced awkwardly off the edge of the landing platform.

“You could of landed it a bit better,” Alex says, climbing in, “but I’ll take it.” He boots up the machine, putting the engines on their lowest setting and slowly turning it so that it drops off the platform and engages flight.

“Hey, this X-Wing is nearly dead!” he shouts.

I laugh.

“I said I’d bring an X-Wing Alex, not a brand new one!”

“Knight (Of The Galactic Empire’s) Skies” Photo Source: youtube.com (Channel: repinscourge)

Thoughts On The Tomb Raider Trailer

Back in June 2016 I wrote a piece on the then announcement of Alicia Vikander being cast in the role of Lara Croft for the new Tomb Raider film. There have been quite a few updates from when I last spoke about the film, the major point being the release of the poster and the first teaser trailer for the film. For those who haven’t seen the latter, let’s have a look right now, then I’ll go through parts I like along with some other general stuff

Okay, so let’s get into this.

First things first, the film has a reported release date of March 16 2018. At the time of writing that is still half a year away. Teaser trailers are usually sent out before the film has been signed off, so a lot of people complaining about poor CGI quality, it’s not fully representative of the final film. Yes, it’s odd to show it in a trailer if it’s not representative of a final film, but hey-ho, look at Suicide Squad. But while the CGI doesn’t look particularly good, the stunts are done for real. Looking at this behind-the-scenes featurette (warning: may contain spoilers), you can see for yourself that the sets are largely built and that the Stunt Co-ordinator is none other than Franklin Henson (whose list of credits is extensive). He has worked on similar themed films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom and National Treasure: Book Of Secrets, which if they are anything are fun, pulpy adventure films that Tomb Raider should fit comfortably alongside.

One point I also want to make is that I love how many references to the 2013 game are in the trailer. The majority of the film is based on the 2013 reboot, along with dashes of the sequel to said reboot, which was released in mid-2015. These are more than just a wink-and-a-nod to the audience who are in the know, these are the scenes ripped direct from the screen to the…erm, slightly bigger screen. The slow-motion jump from the ship, falling through the broken glass of an airplane cockpit, climbing the broken wing of another airplane; these are all shots players of the reboot will recognise. This is probably to appeal to us fans since the film won’t be truly following the game, but that’s adaptations for you, what works for one medium won’t work for another. One scene from the game that hasn’t been shown in the trailer is Lara’s first kill. Lara is using her bow and axe in the trailer, so it’s guaranteed they’ll be some bloodshed, so I hope that this dramatic and memorable scene from the game, where Lara is covered in blood and in shock after killing someone for the first time is in there.

Sadly, there is no Sam or Sam-approximate featured (Lara’s possible beau in the reboot series), just a few lines from Kirsten Scott Thomas being the only female interaction in the trailer. Vikander stated that the film will pass the Bechdel Test, so there has to be some more female characters in there. In the same interview, Vikander also stated the film “…actually has relationships and stories…” so maybe it could be a subtle approach to the perceived “not-straightness” at play in Tomb Raider, which I’ve written about here.

The trailer and the behind-the-scenes featurette do sadly give away a bit too much of the plot for my liking. Maybe that’s my fault for watching too much, but to be honest, apart from the trailer and poster, I’ve stayed away from news about this film. I’m not going to go through the trailer and start dissecting all the scenes and speculate about what might happen in the story (despite previously doing it for Red Dead, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and many more on this exact site) because the trailer is pretty clear on the narrative beats, evil scheming and all. Thinking about it, it’s better than Assassin’s Creed, which hid half of its bogus story away from the trailer, making us all believe more than half of it was going to be in the Animus.

Talking of Assassin’s Creed, yeah I know. We’ve all been burned before. Assassin’s Creed was a personal one for me. I’m going to keep harping on about Macbeth forever, because it was the perfect precursor to what an Assassin’s Creed film could look like. That film was excellent, and yet despite having the exact same cast and crew, Assassin’s Creed was a confusing mess, despite showing us the exact opposite in it’s promotional material. Maybe I’m too forgiving of Hollywood, maybe I’m clutching at straws in the hopes of a game I love being adapted for a wider audience. All it has to do is not be terrible. That really shouldn’t be a big ask.

Finally, I just want to address the wave of backlash against Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. Check out the comments for the trailer up above, or the comments in IGN’s thread on the trailer. I called this back in May, that Vikander was going to have a hard time because she wasn’t “real Lara” i.e. Lara from the 1990s. Despite Vikander herself, the trailer, the behind-the-scenes clips and the poster all saying or inferring that this is an origin story, some people are just not getting it. However, the lovely Easter Egg at the end of the trailer with the dual pistols is a neat nod to the series roots, especially since they look like the same pistols from Angelina Jolie’s TR films…

And hey, Nick Frost is in there, it’s always nice to see him.

Those are my thoughts (or looking back on it, ramble) on the Tomb Raider  trailer. Time will tell if the film is going to be any good, but I’m already excited.

 

Banner photo source: nerdist.com.

How To Make A Good Video Game Film – Part Two

After sitting through the awful Assassin’s Creed movie three months ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “How To Make A Good Video Game Film“. It’s probably one of the highest-viewed posts on this site and I had fun writing it and it led to some good conversations with people who disagreed with my points.

I was playing some Minecraft with some friends and I mentioned that there was a Minecraft movie in the works. My friend sighed loudly and said there was no point to making a Minecraft movie because, “…it would take out the entire reason for playing Minecraft, the gameplay.” I understood where he was coming from, (it’s one of the main reasons given for stopping game-to-movie adaptations), some games are inexorably tied to their gameplay.

(SPOILERS AHEAD for Bioshock and Spec Ops: The Line) Bioshock is a key example. While it might be fun to see Rapture on the big screen, “Would You Kindly” (the phrase that controls the main character) would lose pretty much all of its awesomeness, since we are not playing. Spec Ops: The Line is another. We decide to enter Dubai, we decide to use the white phosphorous and game chastises us for how we play the game. Those choices wouldn’t be there in a non-interactive medium.

To take away the thing that separates games from all other media makes sense, so we should stop game-movies, right?

HOWEVER…

Before we decide that, let me show you a few things.

The Defence of Video Games – The Last Question

Books have been a main source of adaptation since the inception of filmmaking. The Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Christie; several key books and authors have been successfully transposed from page to screen. Heck, Chuck Palahniuk is on record as saying the film version of Fight Club is better than his book.

So, we can all agree that book to movie’s work. And believe it or not, there are some books to games. A non-interactive media working in an interactive one. Let’s look at some examples.

  1. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream

i_have_no_mouth_and_i_must_scream

One of the best science-fiction stories ever written, Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi story is a slim tome, I think it’s around ten pages. And they managed to make it into a sprawling hours-long adventure game. Reading it again and again, I’m surprised they managed to make this short story, one with not a lot of character backstory or traditional narrative, into a game, but they did and they managed to create what is regarded as an actual mature game, when mature meant dealing with themes such as sexual assault and the Holocaust (see the link below), rather than mature meaning an 18 Rating and lots of blood.

Harlan Ellison worked on the script with the creators (showing that getting people who care about the property makes it better) and it while it is technical ‘sequel’ and throws out a couple of the themes, it’s thought to be one of the best point-and-click games ever created.

  1. Metro 2033

metro2033.jpg

I got to read Metro 2033 before I played the game, surprising how it came out in the United Kingdom the same year as the game did. The Metro series, written by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky tells the story of people living in the Moscow Metro system (partly designed as the Soviet Union’s nuclear bomb shelter) twenty years after a nuclear war.

The game follows the same story of the book fairly closely. Players/readers follow Artyom as he travels from one side to the other trying to save his station while encountering hostile humans and supernatural enemies. In the game we get all the main characters from the book, like Bourbon and Khan as well as some of the minute details such as staring down the Librarians or the mummified lady in the ticket booth. I guess this is what happens when the writer of the book helps write the game.

  1. Rainbow Six

rainbow six.jpg

Much like Metro, I read Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six before I played the original game (which sold 25m copies when it was released). There has only been one R6 novel, and while the newer games have made their own stories, the first game stuck extremely close to the novel, with missions directly lifted from the novel. It’s not even a run-and-gun shooter. Violence is to be feared in Rainbow Six, where one stray bullet can kill you, something which the book emphasised heavily. And again, just like the two cases before, Tom Clancy not only helped develop the game but was one of the founders of the company that made it, Red Storm.

Closing Arguments

So what’s my point? Well, if a book can be turned into a film and be successful (LOTR, Harry Potter etc.) and a book can be turned into a game and be successful (the three above, as well as The Witcher and Parasite Eve) why can’t a game into movie work? A book into game shows a non-interactive media working in interactive, so that dispels the usual video-game-to-film argument that the film would just be gameplay footage.

Heck, most games have equivalent films. Tomb Raider is Indiana JonesAssassin’s Creed is both The Matrix and The Mask Of ZorroRainbow Six is Sicario (not to mention the five other Tom Clancy films, showing that his action can work in all three mediums). This is what I meant in my original article about choosing a correct property, something that would work as a film, not Angry Birds or bloody Tetris. A follow up argument might be, “well why do we need video-game films if other films do it the exact same?” That’s a non-argument. Every slasher film has pretty much the same story, but we watch it to see the new things added to it.

Tetris
Why is this a thing? Do not go see it, I beg all of you. Don’t go even as a joke.

And if we want to look at it the other way, we can. Several games have been turned into books, and not just concept art books or behind-the-scenes. Max Payne 3 had a three-comic series written by Sam Lake and Dan Houser which fits right into the series. Halo, Splinter Cell (a Tom Clancy property) and Assassin’s Creed (which was also based off a novel, Alamut) have all jumped from games into book form and are well-received by their fan-bases. The new Tomb Raider comics had Rhianna Pratchett and Gail Simone (the latter being comic writer of Deadpool, Wonder Woman and Batgirl). That’s an interactive media moving into non-interactive.

And to finish, there is a long-running game series known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which is set around the nuclear site at Chernobyl. And before it was made into a game, it was a book before being turned into a play, another book and even a tabletop role-playing game. The creators managed to move between all those types of media, both interactive and non-interactive. But the main thread I want to bring up was the film that was based on the same text. The film is called Stalker (that’s where the game got the name from). And do you know who made that film? Andrei flippin’ Tarkovsky, one of the premier filmmakers to ever come out of the Soviet Union. That film is ranked 29th at the BFI’s ’50 Greatest Films Of All Time’.

While the game is much more bang-bang-shooty than the film, which is a 163-minute philosophical breakdown, the New York Review of Books still said that, “…much of the players activity is oddly in-keeping with Stalker‘s spirit, sometimes even managing to expand upon it.” And while NYRoB says, “…on the face of it, the games don’t have much that in common with the film,” S.T.A.L.K.E.R. isn’t just defined by it’s shooting. Again, it’s one of those games that it’s gameplay might be boring if it were beamed straight into a theatre, but moving away from that might create a great film. I never said that game-films had to stick to their gameplay, but it’s knowing which gameplay can translate into movie action well.

So, let me put that question to you again. If a book can be turned into a critically and commercially successful film and a book can be turned into a critically and commercially successful game, why can’t a game be turned into a critically and commercially successful film?

Argue with me in comments if you have a reason why it wouldn’t work.

Why La La Land Works

I think we can all agree that La La Land was pretty good, right? While I am only comfortable only saying that three of its record-equalling fourteen Academy Award nominations were justified (best director, musical score, and cinematography), it is still going to be remembered for years as not just the movie that nearly stole Moonlight‘s Best Picture win, but also on its own merits of being a stupendously good film.

Most of the pre-Oscar buzz was that it didn’t deserve most of its nominations because it was just pandering to Hollywood. I can see where that line of thought comes from; Hollywood has shown time and time again that making films about Hollywood will net you a good couple of nominations and wins if you play it right. Remember The Artist from 2012? It did the exact same thing, but going back to the Silent Era rather than the Golden Age of musicals like La La Land did. However, I disagree that La La Land got its Oscars by just being a throwback to when Hollywood was the only market in the world.

The nominations idea would only make sense if everyone outside of Hollywood did not enjoy it. I can safely say that’s not the case. Personally, I gave it 10/10 and went to go see it twice, something which I never did in my stint as a film critic. I have a different theory for why it became so popular and not just that it has been so long since we’ve seen an truly dyed-in-the-wool musical. Heck, Disney has been reliably been doing that since the early 1990s. No, my theory entails going back to 1971 and the Dragon himself, Bruce Lee.

What Bruce Lee can teach us about La La Land

Why do we go see films? Sorry to throw such a philosophical question right at the start of a new section, but it does warrant thinking about for my analogy. I’ve thought up a few ideas; narrative, escapism, favourite actor, favourite director, great marketing or its been lauded as a classic by your friends, family, and critics. Those have been some I reasons I have gone to see films. But all of that can be boiled down into one word; spectacle.

Spectacle as been at the forefront of cinema since the conception of the film industry. People went mad when they saw a train pulling into a station on screen and started fleeing the cinema because they thought it was going to burst through the screen and flatten them all. Imagine when Al Jonson first started speaking in The Jazz Singer, people probably went mental over hearing sound and screen in sync with one another. For a more modern example, why do we pride ourselves on watching the most sick and depraved films we can find? Why do films like The Human Centipede Trilogy, A Serbian Film or Martyrs have an odd cultural capital around them? Why do we go and watch horror films, even though a lot of us hate the loud noises and flashing spooky faces? Spectacle. We love seeing things of screen that would be hard to replicate on stage, on television, or even in real life. Now onto Bruce Lee.

In a fascinating interview in 1971 with Pierre Berton, Bruce Lee discussed his blossoming acting career, his history with martial arts, and his personal philosophies. Even for non-martial artists, it is still an interesting watch to see one of the most clued-in men who ever lived give his wisdom on certain aspects of life. At the beginning of the interview Berton and Lee talk about the latter’s movie career and how most of it is translated for the wider Chinese audience (Lee spoke Cantonese while most of mainland China speaks Mandarin). Staring at 2:14 the conversation goes like this;

Berton: I gather in the movies made here, the dialogue is rather stilted anyway…

Lee: Yeah, I agree with you. I mean, see to me, a motion picture is motion…

Berton: Yeah…

Lee: I mean, you gotta keep the dialogue down to a minimum.

Obviously Lee was talking about his own films. His films were to showcase his extraordinary abilities at martial arts, any story that was there was to just set up the next protracted hand-to-hand sequence. But I like his theory, the film is about motion and so should be reflected in the film.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good talkie movie. I think Casablanca is objectively the best film ever made and that is mostly people talking to one another in a bar or on an airstrip. But it is that something, that spectacle of seeing an incredible dance performed on screen, in La La Land‘s case in one take. Remember this tap dancing sequence? (For those who do not wish to be spoiled, don’t watch the clip)

This is exactly what Lee was talking about. It is the motion of Gosling and Stone, how in sync they are with their moves that makes it inherently watchable and enjoyable. That’s why if you YouTube that clip, you’ll find so many remakes or news clips about how influential it is. People love to see that spectacle and wish to recreate it. For another, look at any dance number Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers performed. Or if you want to go to the extreme, the fights scenes from The Raid or The Raid 2.

The two latter films are another great example of what Lee said, dialogue kept to a minimum so that we can see some gloriously choreographed fights. Fighting and dance are incredibly close; both require full body motion nearly at all times which is why they are so amazing to watch on screen. Edit: In an interview on BBC 5 Live, Gareth Evans, director of The Raid discussed how he would work out choreography to his fight scenes to music,

Kermode: …for me, the best of those [martial arts] movies…are closer to musicals, to dance numbers than anything else and that’s how they should be understood.

Evans: It is interesting you say that because when we are actually doing the choreography we clap along, we figure out what the rhythm is to the fight. So the idea between how long blocks before a punch is kind of like percussion…it takes on a certain musical form. (9:11).

Another famous martial artist, Jackie Chan, also follows this principle when he choreographs fight scenes. In commentary for the film Project A, film executive Bey Logan comments,

“…and there is a rhythm also, to the way shots are performed, and also the way they are edited. And Jackie said something very interesting, that the audience don’t know the rhythm there until it is NOT there.” (4:18).

Following on from that, the YouTube channel Every Frame A Painting mentions, “Jackie’s fight scenes have a distinct musical rhythm, a timing he sets out with the performers.” (4:29).

We get spectacle, either from seeing an excellent spring ball-change or a man getting hit in the face with a claw hammer. Both require a rhythm and endless practice, but once they are done filming they are some of the most electric scenes ever put to screen.

But anyway that’s my theory for why La La Land became such a big hit. It wasn’t just that it made a musical that could have stood up there with Singin’ In The Rain, but that fact that it played up to the motion part of the motion picture, with a performance that was more than just your average dance or action scene.

5 Star Wars Spin-Off Films I Want To See

When I first saw Rogue One, I was put out by the meandering script and the vacant characters, but upon reflection I’ve come to enjoy it more and more (even more than The Force Awakens which in my opinion is not a great film). And with Rogue One, it showed that Lucasfilm and by extension Disney can make a good spinoff film set in the Star Wars Universe. They’ve already started work on a Han Solo film and a Boba Fett movie was in the works before being stuck in development limbo, it’ll be interesting to see where the Star Wars series will go. Well, I thought up a couple of ideas and treatments of films just to get the ball rolling. These are just some themes and settings that I wouldn’t mind see in the Star Wars universe.

  1. A Wookie Film

After the Battle Of Kashyyyk (seen in Ep.III), we see the Clones turn on the Wookies, with some fighting back but the majority being slaughtered. This would be an excellent, tense setting for a film. The main inspiration would be 2008s Defiance; Wookies hiding out in the forests, taking out one or two patrols and generally trying to survive on a planet that has been conquered by the Empire. This would also be a place for Lucasfilm to go darker if they wanted to, with prison camps full of Wookies after they are rounded up by the Clones. To tie in with the series, Chewbacca could be a character in the film, and Peter Mayhew could play an older Wookie tribe leader. My pick would be to get some of the guys from the Planet Of The Apes series to help out; I’m sure Toby Kebbel is free after they killed him off in Dawn and Warcraft, and to be a Wookie you’ll need a physical actor rather than a thespian. This film might need subtitles (not such a big deal, Apes did that), or if Disney are brave they could omit all dialogue and make it an almost silent film (if it worked for WALL-E it can work for Star Wars).

defiance
Defiance was fine, now imagine it starring seven-foot tall walking carpets. Yeah, doesn’t that sound good?

2. A Podracing Film

Many criticisms have been hurled at The Phantom Menace (a lot of them unfairly in my opinion), but it’s generally accepted that the podracing sequence is one of the highlights. So, make a film on that. For inspiration, let’s look at something like Rush or Real Steel. We need a single character to focus on, but since it’s a tournament we can have a whole host of colourful and creative characters. In the deleted scenes for Ep.I we get an extended scene of listing all the racers for the Boonta Eve, some of these characters could come back in one way or another. Newer characters, especially alien characters, would be a place for the make-up, costume and special effects department to deliver some superb designs and additions to the canon. Tatooine has already been used for a race, so this is an great time to open up some new planets. Qui-Gon mentioned in Ep.I that they race on Malasatare, a planet made up of methane lakes and geysers. Now tell me that doesn’t sound like an excellent place for a set-piece; a racer crashes on the lake and now it’s just a wall of flames that they have to race through? And while I love Sebulba, I think his presence would feel a little token. Instead, this might be a good time to flesh out the underground world, with references to smugglers and pirates that could feature in other spin-offs, say the start of a smuggler’s career with The Hutts?

podracing
So much character and world-building, without an ounce of exposition.

3. A Costume/Political Drama

Now hear me out. I know a lot of people didn’t like the “political” parts of Star Wars; taxation routes and committee meetings, I can see why that can get boring. But I believe with the right care and approach, Disney can pull off political intrigue in the Star Wars Universe. As a blueprint, I would say something like A Royal Affair, Prince of Egypt or Anonymous. As seen on Naboo in Ep.I-II, some planets are ruled over by monarchies, and as the Renaissance (and William Shakespeare) showed us time and time again, the Royal Court was full of backstabbing moves worthy of Game Of Thrones Season Finale. This is where you set the stage, a monarchy that is not fully endorsed or accepted. A small conspiracy grows, not content with those in power. Possibly some Imperial influence is felt within the Royal Family (this would be a place for a Director Krennic-type character). Or it could be some Jedi on the run, looking for a safe haven where the Empire’s reach isn’t strong. And do you know who resides in Royal Courts? Assassins. Assassination attempts would give the action fans their laser beams and light-guns. Possibly a certain bounty hunter might turn up. Or a member of the Royal Family of Alderaan if you really wanted. For those still not convinced, look at Anthropoid for reference for how to make assassination sequences thrilling. And then when there is running battle in the Palace gardens and courtyards, with the place falling apart, maybe we could have some influences of 2015s Macbeth in there?

amidala.png
If anything, it’ll surely get a Best Costume/Make Up Oscar nomination.

4. A Jedi Film (in the guise of a martial arts film)

I know this one is a no-brainer and I know that there are rumours circulating about an Obi-Wan film in the works, but  I want to talk about what should appear rather than story. I know some members of the fandom felt the acrobatics of the prequel trilogy were bad (I wholeheartedly agree Ep.III was over-choreographed), but I think we can all say watching Donnie Yen in Rogue One was absolutely incredible. My idea would be to play up that angle. Jedi are meant to be peacekeepers, but they are ready to get out their lightsaber when things look bad. Just for me, I would invest in someone like Donnie Yen, Jeff Imada or Yuen Woo-Ping to choreograph the fight scenes. If the Jedi were this badass group of samurai-like people, they would know how to fight with their preferred weapon, and some would obviously become much more acrobatic with their fighting styles. Just look at any martial art; most use a combination of punches, kicks and grapples, but some like to do flips and rolls at the same time. Fighting with a lightsaber is no different. Get a stick-based art like Kali or Kendo and use it as a basis for the fights. Also, as Darth Maul showed that we can have a double-ended lightsaber and Kylo Ren gave us a Claymore lightsaber, maybe it’s time to update the Jedi’s weapons. Maybe some tonfas? Or a spear-saber? Those could give a new level of dazzle to a fight scene. Imagine the fights scenes in Hero but with lightsabers…

crossgaurd
Whatever the drawbacks are over practicality, the crossgaurd was one of the defining moments of the first film.

5. A Bounty Hunter Film

I know I already mentioned a Boba Fett film, but I really don’t see how that could be interesting. He’s a shell of a character, I think he only says three lines in the original trilogy. I would propose new characters, and for inspiration I propose Star Wars 1313. For anyone who doesn’t know, 1313 was a game in development by LucasArts, set between Ep.III and IV, and set on the 1313th level down in the depths of Coruscant. It was sadly cancelled by Disney during the acquisition, which is a real shame because it looked like it would have taken the Star Wars property in a new direction. If they do take the 1313 angle, Disney could have some impressive visuals with Blade Runner or Deus Ex: HR-like structures, with cities built on top of cities, full of smoky bars and clubs (like we saw briefly in Ep.II). Disney could also go darker with all sorts of scum and villainy in the margins, something like the trio of assassins in The Raid 2 or Jack from Kill Zone for reference. And Disney could bring in the Hutts or other gangsters into the new story and Boba Fett if they really had to.

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Come on, look at the concept art. This thing NEEDS to be made, it’s probably still sitting on Disney’s hardrive.

So those are my choices for new Star Wars spinoffs. If you have any ideas about what would you like to see in a new Star Wars film, comment down below.

 

Banner photo courtesy of starwarsunderworld.com. Other photos sourced from Google Images.

How To Make A Good Video Game Film

So, 16% on Rotten Tomatoes for Assassin’s Creed eh?  And after seeing it myself, I can whole heartedly agree. Seeing as we are all disappointed after Warcraft, Ratchet And Clank (remember Ratchet And Clank came out in 2016? No you didn’t, because nobody went to see it) and now Assassin’s Creed, I’ve decided to help Hollywood and the rest of cinema out. As a film fanatic and a gamer, I have been hoping for a good video game adaptation for a LONG time. And while some have come close, none of them ever become worldwide smashes. So, I have devised the four major points of how to get a video game film going in the right direction. Directors and producers, when you approach a video game film, feel free to use this as a tick list to make sure you are on course.

1.Know Your Source Material (And Whether It’s A Good Choice)

To truly understand a book you are adapting, it is widely accepted that you read it multiple times. Why are video games any different? Sure, some games range from four to forty hours, but you don’t even have to play the whole thing. Watch a Let’s Play, or if that’s still too hard, have someone in the crew play it and give you a highlight reel of moments.

You wouldn’t try and make a film adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings if you had only read the blurb and if you’re serious about adapting it, you should know the lore and story of your game. I’m not a huge fan of Halo, but I really enjoyed Halo: Legends because the creators knew the source material. They took the time to learn the lore of the galaxy and world and didn’t deviate from it, creating some exciting action anime fights.

Knowing your game also means knowing whether it is a good property to adapt. Usually this means having a game with a narrative, as you don’t have to faff about with devising a new script. Tomb Raider, good. Silent Hill, good. Warcraft, promising. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Tetris, FNAF, terrible, terrible, terrible. 

  1. Understand Your Source Material (What Makes It Successful)

Now that you’ve invested time into learning about your video game, you now need to understand why that video game has fans and is widely celebrated. For example, I give you Hitman.

The appeal of Hitman is simple. A stylish man heads to exotic locales, kills usually the maximum of one person in an understated manner and then leaves without anyone knowing he was ever there. Understanding Hitman means that you know this is the gold standard for play, and that unnecessary killing, especially spectacular explosions where everyone in the surrounding area becomes aware of you is seen as the worst and wrong way to play Hitman. Yet both Hitman films have gone down the explosions and gun-battles route because it’s “easier”. To some the proper way to play Hitman may not seem cinematic enough. In response, I would offer up 2010’s The American of how to do a Hitman-esque film and it to still be entertaining.

For another example, Max Payne. The fun in Max Payne comes from the slow-motion action and the over-the-top hardboiled detective genre. The film didn’t include either of those, with terrible slow-motion effects and a dull script. They took the two things that separated Max Payne apart in the video game world and didn’t add an ounce of them into the film. A film that would be a good template is John Woo’s Hard Boiled.

And I obviously don’t need to talk about Super Mario Bros and why that failed.

  1. Get People Who Are Enthusiastic About The Project (And Dismiss Those Who Aren’t)

I know films have a limited budget, but you can at least try and get people who are interested or have investment in the film. I’ve been critical of Warcraft, but at least Duncan Jones was passionate about his film. Another one would be Christophe Gans, the director of the first Silent Hill (which in my opinion is the best video game based film so far). Gans went out of his way to make sure it was as true to the game as possible, even recreating shots from memorable sections. Actors can also help the film, such as Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. Jolie wanted to do the stunts for real and worked with the filmmakers to create some amazing action scenes (go back and watch Tomb Raider II before you dismiss me, some of those are great action sequences). And most of us will sit through the turgid Street Fighter for oodles of Raul Julia. Passion from the filmmakers makes things watchable.

Don’t get people who aren’t going to invest time or effort or think video games aren’t worth it. Mark Whalberg loved the original script for Max Payne but became wary after learning it was based on a game. Skip Woods looks like he hasn’t played any of the Hitman franchise before writing the scripts to BOTH Hitman films. And it seems Uwe Boll just uses the name of the games he adapts to generate interest, rather than create anything remotely connected to the games. This type of bounty-hunter approach to filmmaking needs to stop.

  1. STICK AT IT

I’ve been hearing over and over again from many facets of both the film world and the geek world that video game movies should just stop. We got our hopes up that 2016 would be the year where video games films started achieving critical success from both fans AND critics, but we were once again left saddened at what could have been.

But we mustn’t shut video game films down. The only way to get good is to persevere. Let’s look at superheroes. Comic book/superhero films are dominating the box office nowadays, but they weren’t always a massive success, critically or commercially. Another geek touchstone, Star Wars. We had to get through two terrible Star Wars films to get back to good ones (yes, two. Phantom Menace is entertaining). Video games are a young medium. Superman was introduced nearly eighty years ago; the superhero genre has had a while to simmer before becoming the hottest property in Hollywood. Lord Of The Rings was almost a century old before that got the full cinematic approach. Games as a cultural phenomenon have had only a fraction of that time; they will have their moment any day now.

So, do you think they are any legitimately good video game films? Are you waiting for a singular property to get the silver screen treatment? Or should we all just drop them and never speak of video games and movies again?

Banner picture courtesy of cbcnews.ca.

Martial Arts In Movies: Part One

I’ve been wanting to write something like this for a while. I’m a fanatic of martial arts, training in one form or another for nearly four years at the time of writing. I also love movies, with three of my top five personal favourites having martial arts in them.

I didn’t want to just write what my favourite fight scenes are (because that would just be me saying The Raid 2 over and over again). But more of what types of martial arts are in films, because the term “kung fu movie”, while very apt for when a certain martial artist was the main star, isn’t applicable anymore. Think of this more as a gallery of martial arts in films. I’ll do four to start, but we both know this will take quite a few posts.

Game Of Death – Jeet Kune Do

Game Of Death

Where else to start than the master himself, Bruce Lee. While many (including I) would rank Enter The Dragon as is best film, I chose Game Of Death for insight into Lee’s own martial art, Jeet Kune Do.

His first films (things like Fist of Fury and The Big Boss) were displays of the kung fu style Wing Chun, but Lee soon grew to dislike the confines of it, so decided to make his own martial art, blending whatever ones he liked the most. He created Jeet Kune Do (or Way Of The Intercepting Fist), a philosophy on fighting rather than a set of moves. And this is why I chose Game Of Death.

While Enter The Dragon also shows off Jeet Kune Do (or Jun Fan by its other name) the fights are more rigid, focussing mainly on trapping techniques rather than full fights. Game Of Death was created by Lee specifically for the purpose of showing Jeet Kune Do to the world.

Game Of Death‘s signature set-piece involves a pagoda filled with martial artists. Five floors were planned (only three were filmed) showing Lee and four allies fighting different styles; Hapkido, Praying Mantis Kung Fu, Kali/Escrima, whatever the hell Kareem Abdul Jafar was doing and then an unknown one at the top. The plan was for the four allies to fall away, showing the limitations of their styles and showing Jeet Kune Do to be the best around.

Since Lee died during filming, only half of the film got made, until frequent Lee collaborator Robert Clouse eventually cobbling together a half-baked scheme about the Mafia wanting to employ Bruce Lee’s character. But the surviving pagoda sequences are a great showcase of Jeet Kune Do by its creator.

Picture: Lee vs. Kareem Abdul Jafar in Game Of Death (1978).

Jason Bourne Series – Kali/Escrima/Arnis

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Many people confuse Jason Bourne’s signature fighting style with Krav Maga. This is incorrect. True, to an untrained eye it may look like Krav Maga (and it doesn’t help that some Krav teachers went and stole a bunch of moves from Kali and pretended they were Krav’s, but that’s an argument for another day). It’s in fact a Filipino martial art, which goes by many names but for the sake of brevity we’ll go with Kali.

Kali has been showcased in many films, including EquilibriumThe Book Of Eli and even 300 (yes, Zack Snyder/Frank Miller’s homoerotic Spartan kill frenzy). But I chose to focus on Bourne mainly for the use of improvised weapons.

Kali is predominantly a weapons based form. Sticks and knives are what are used in training, but the movements learnt are easily applicable when picking up everyday objects. This is what the Bourne series in known for, Jason Bourne and company picking up whatever is around them and using it to both defend themselves and kill their opponent.

Scenes such as the “Pen fight” in Identity (the pen swapped out for a knife) or the “Magazine fight” in Supremacy (the rolled up magazine replacing the stick) perfectly show this weapon-based and improvisational aspect to Kali. The third film, Ultimatum, shows off Panantukan, the empty-hand focus of Kali. This is seen in the Bourne vs. Desh fight, with the use of books, hand towels and ash-trays being picked up and used the exact same as fighting with sticks and knives.

Picture: Bourne vs. Jarda in The Bourne Supremacy (2004).

The Raid/The Raid 2 – Silat

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I really couldn’t pick between them, so we’ll just go with both. The Raid reset the standards of both an action movie and a martial arts movie. Seeing as no-one saw director Gareth Edwards first Silat (pronounced See-Lat) based film Merantau, The Raid was many people’s first introduction to the form.

Found all throughout Southeast Asia but with Indonesia most commonly thought of as it’s home-place, Pencak (Pen-Chak) Silat (to give it it’s full name) has several different variations depending on regions and styles. Much like certain styles in Kung Fu, it can be based on the movements of animals. It’s main focus is split between ground-work as well as strikes, mostly using the elbows and knees. Interesting fact, Pencak Silat actually pre-dates Islam. When Islam became the predominant faith in Indonesia, it merged with Silat, creating forms that are based on ideas and activities in Islam, for example, washing hands before prayer. But anyway, let’s get on to the films.

The Raid while chiefly a display of Silat actually uses several different styles. This was mainly to give variety to the fight scenes. For example, Joe Taslim, who plays Sergeant Jaka was a professional Judo fighter. Also, there are several scenes involving police batons and knives where Kali principles are used. But for the main fights, Silat was used. And to speed up making the film by not teaching actors choreographed moves, they went and just got the choreographers to play the main roles of the film.

I’m in the minority that likes The Raid 2 more than the original, but it comes down to want you want out of a film. If you want non-stop action, then The Raid is better. It’s 90 minutes and nearly the entire film is action. The Raid 2 did a Goodfellas/The Departed undercover gangster story and stretched the run-time to two and a half hours, but upped the ante for fights. We get the protracted hand-to-hand sequences but also claw hammers (a nod to another martial arts action film, Oldboy) as well as aluminium baseball bats and a Karambit knife, highly identifiable by it’s curved blade. Karambit’s aren’t designated to a singular martial art (most reports claim it to be a Filipino weapon, so possibly Kali) but it is widely used in Silat.

Picture: Uco vs. The Assassin in The Raid 2 (2014).

Ip Man – Wing Chun

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To finish, we’ll come full circle and talk about Bruce Lee’s first martial art, Wing Chun. But the story of Ip Man (Ip, not I.P.) is actually about Bruce Lee’s mentor.

Wing Chun belongs under the umbrella term Kung Fu, and is notable for being created by a woman mainly for women to protect their households when the men were away at battle. It is recognisable by the incredibly close-quarters fighting and the Wing Chun punch style, which allows a volley of punches to be fired off in quick succession.

While there is three Ip Man films, the first one is the best for a good representation of the art. The other ones, while alright, have some odd editing choices in fights or have elements of Wire Fu in them (Wire Fu, the technical term for films like Crouching Tiger or House Of Flying Daggers that use wires to allow for superhuman fighting).

While Ip Man uses Wing Chun, we get also a small variety of other styles. None are easily identifiable to me (sorry!) but through dialogue we learn that they are all Southern Chinese Styles. The sequel is easier identifiable, with Dragon and Praying Mantis being used in the Martial Arts Society sequence. Back to the first film though, as the story is set in the Sino-Japanese War, where one of the invading Japanese General’s takes a keen interest in Chinese Arts, and so pits them against his own men, all Karate fighters.

During the highlight of the first Ip Man, we see the brutality and speed of Wing Chun used on ten Karate practitioners at once. It’s probably the best scene of the film, showcasing the trapping techniques common in Wing Chun as well as the Wing Chun punch on a downed opponent.

Picture: Ip Man training in Ip Man 3 (2015).

End

I’ve only scratched the surface of different martial arts in movies. If you have any suggestions what martial arts should be in future posts, drop them in a comment. If I have missed out or said something wrong about an art, again, send a comment and I’ll change it. Thanks for reading!