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Tag Archive: Ian Holm


Review by C.J. Bunce

So many books that go behind the scenes of films take a similar approach, skimming the surface with interviews of only top production heads, providing diehard fans of the property who have read all the fanzines little that is new.  So when you get an immersive treatise like The Making of Alien, you must take a few weeks to digest every story, quote and anecdote found inside.  Maybe it’s because so much of the inception of the other classics J.W. Rinzler has written about is the stuff of sci-fi movie legend, but Rinzler’s research this time around is completely enthralling.  Writer Dan O’Bannon, writer and initial director Walter Hill, concept artist H.R. Giger, director and storyboard artist Ridley Scott, actors Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, and Ian Holm–Rinzler’s chronology is framed by the entry of these people into the project and their key roles.  The account of their intersected careers and efforts resulting in the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic provide a detailed understanding of studio productions in the 1970s.  For fans of the film and the franchise, you couldn’t ask for more for this year’s 40th anniversary of Alien.

Rinzler, who has also created similar deep dives behind the scenes of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, the Indiana Jones films, and last year’s The Making of Planet of the Apes, has established the best format for giving sci-fi fans the ultimate immersive experience.  In many ways The Making of Alien is an account of the necessary vetting process behind any major creative endeavor.  The first draft of any story is never the best, and sometimes neither is the 100th draft.  But the best books and the best movies get reviewed by other people, usually producers, editors, studios, departments, some with prestige and money backing them, sometimes over and over, with changes made to every chapter, with creators and ideas that are tried on for size, dismissed, re-introduced, and sometimes brought back again.  By the end of many a film, the contributors are exhausted and disenchanted, some even devastated.  Only sometimes this is alleviated by a resulting success.  It was even more difficult working on a project like Alien–a mash-up of science fiction and horror pulled together in the 1970s, when drama was in, and science fiction meant either the cold drama of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the roller coaster spectacle of Star Wars.  Behind the scenes there would be overlaps in creative types, like famed set “graffiti artist” Roger Christian and sound expert Ben Burtt.  But ultimately Alien had to be something different to get noticed.

The stories of O’Bannon and Giger’s contributions and conflicts are the most intriguing of the bunch, and if you’ve read everything available on the film you’ll be surprised there is far more to their stories you haven’t read.  The influence of John Carpenter was paramount to getting the idea of the film past the first step, particularly his films Dark Star and The Thing.  Along the journey other creators would intersect with the project–people like Steven Spielberg, Alan Ladd, Jr., John Dykstra, Brian Johnson, Nick Allder, Ron Cobb, Jerry Goldsmith, and even Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

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When we ran down our list of some of the biggest anniversaries happening in 2017 this New Year’s Day here at borg.com, we mentioned that Valerian, the lead character in director Luc Besson’s new sci-fi extravaganza Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, turns 50 this year.  Also celebrating this year is Besson’s most famous work, 1997’s visual spectacle The Fifth Element.  To celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary, Fathom Events is partnering with Sony Pictures next month to bring the film back to theaters for two days only.

The Fifth Element represents the best science fiction has to offer.  The look at Bruce Willis’s hero Korben Dallas living the life of an “every man” in a future New York City was groundbreaking.  At the end of one career Dallas finds himself driving a cab, getting hounded by his mother on the phone, talking to his cat, and ordering Chinese food–normal things from this century, yet with Dallas we see a future efficiency apartment jammed with every day necessities and every day wonders.  The Fifth Element also blends in fantastical elements–a fantastic journey with humor, action, and stunning visuals connecting ancient history and the future of not only humans, but a federation of aliens from other worlds, too.

The set decoration, cinematography, make-ups, costumes, and props were groundbreaking.  When we grew up thinking about the ideal year 2000, the bustling space travel and flying cars in The Fifth Element are exactly what we were hoping for.  Compare The Fifth Element with any other film with a vision of our future and the competitors will be difficult to measure up.  Only Doctor Who and Star Trek really compare, also mixing elements of sci-fi and fantasy with aliens and other worlds, and the most creative, visionary, artistic components–yet which single two-hour segment has all the elements boiled down into two epic hours?

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weyland-yutani-report-cover

One of the best in-universe, sci-fi, tie-in books that we have come across is part of this year’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s Aliens.  Insight Editions’ Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report is not only a great idea–a book that could have been a movie prop used by the likes of Paul Reiser’s junior executive Carter Burke–its execution is superb.  Remove the title wrap and you have a mock leather-bound, heavy duty field guide that you might see passed around by the corporate types in the next Alien movie.

Written by Aliens, Star Trek, and Resident Evil tie-in novelist S.D. Perry with lavish artwork and designs by Markus Pansegrau and John R. Mullaney, The Weyland-Yutani Report pulls out all the stops to deliver a comprehensive Board of Directors summary guide to the findings and technology uncovered with the Alien movies beginning with Ridley Scott’s prequel Prometheus in 2012 to 1979’s Alien, to Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1986), and through to Alien: Resurrection (1997).  (The Predator crossovers are not covered in The Report). 

yutani-spread-a

The most eye-opening data ties together–in a manner more clearly than portrayed in the films–Weyland-Yutani corporation and its founder Sir Peter Weyland, from details available in the films and information that was only character background that didn’t make it into the films.  The goals of the corporation that were the fabric that connected all the films is investigated with some top secret findings (and some redacted), including the hierarchy and gross (as in chestburster) anatomy of the Xenomorphs, groundbreaking (future) scientific achievements of “The Company,” as well as weapons, ships, tools, and theories of alien beings and their connections to early Earthlings.  (Learn even more about “The Company” at the corporate website here).

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Hobbit still

By C.J. Bunce

Director Peter Jackson could have sat back with his Academy Awards for the brilliant The Lord of the Rings trilogy and relished in what he had done.  Instead he took on the risk of conquering Middle Earth again, and in doing so he did something I’ve never seen anyone do before, make a fourth entry into a major movie franchise that surpassed all prior films.  And that’s a hefty feat considering what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being compared to.  But in end-to-end storytelling, cinematography, casting, acting, adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s source work, spirit and heart, this first installment of The Hobbit trilogy can’t be beat.

Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins presents a Hobbit in goodness on par with Samwise and with a strength of purpose on par with the King of Gondor.  You cannot rave enough about Martin Freeman’s facial expressions and movements as the put-upon Hobbit.  Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield pulls together the best of Faramir and Aragorn, yet his characterization is fully fleshed out in its own right with a brilliantly laid out character arc that took Aragorn three movies to achieve.

Merry band

It is hard to believe that someone can take a band of 13 dwarves and make most of them individually compelling.  You may get lost in Ken Stott’s wise old dwarf Balin and forget he is a dwarf–this wise soul and sturdy character speak loudly throughout the story.  Aidan Turner’s cocky and plucky Kili will make you laugh at every turn in the way we saw Merry and Pippin in the LOTR movies.  And the nature of The Hobbit story targeted as a younger audience vs the themes of The Lord of the Rings books means many more comical moments here, despite a dark and eerie adventure.  Peter Jackson’s film looks so good that he makes it all look so easy.

Ian McKellan’s Gandalf the Grey is back, and you only wish we could see ten more adventures featuring the best wizard ever presented on-screen.  We also meet a friendlier Elrond of the Elves played again by Hugo Weaving.  An “epilogue” featuring Elijah Wood and original Bilbo actor Ian Holm at the movie’s beginning bridges The Hobbit right up to the scene before Frodo first meets up with Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring.  We also meet Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel again.  Although it is likely these LOTR characters were not needed for this movie, it’s a fun reunion for fans of the earlier films, and it also allows us an excuse to see the splendor and hear the sounds of nature at New Zealand’s Hobbiton.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The 3D imaging and cinematography surpass any film to date in pretty much every way.  Where CGI characters in all past sci-fi and fantasy franchises never quite got right the realism of key characters or at best “almost” got it right, you will not see the same odd movements or doubt the believability of these unreal creatures, especially Barry Humphries’ (Dame Edna!?) Great Troll.  And Andy Serkis’s Gollum looks even better than he did before.

Classic scenes from the original novel, like the arrival of the dwarves at Bilbo’s house and the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum are just simply perfect.  Special effects and new film wizardry present too many examples of incredible cinema to list, but even something as simple as feeling like you’re sitting across the table from a bunch of dwarves is better than the effects of most other films.  Then there are other scenes, like the delicate carrying across a canyon of a wounded dwarf by a giant eagle’s talons, that reflect a fillmaking magic act in and of itself.

Balin

Although some may see the beginning half of the movie as slow, the measured pace will be savored by others, and the pace allows you to see every axe swing in each action scene instead of the blurred battles in most recent action movies.  You can also admire the stitches and buttons and armor of the costumes, the excellent crafted props like smartly forged swords and a key to a hidden door, as well as the stunning environments, including a return to the beautiful waterfalls at Rivendell.  The story then propels at a breakneck pace to the end, including overhead scenes of the band of dwarves as they move through mountain passes, and we meet a quirky and noble new wizard named Radagast the Brown played by Sylvester McCoy (the Seventh Doctor!) and his speedy team of sled rabbits who lead a mercenary pack of trolls and wolves away from the story’s heroes on their quest.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo

Two singing numbers by the elves are surprisingly good, one upbeat and one not, and the filmmakers use the more somber, reverent tune by the dwarves in a more upbeat version for the film’s end credits–and it’s a great song.

You’ll want to see this first of three installments of The Hobbit again and again.  The only negative:  the next installment, subtitled The Desolation of Smaug, is not out until December 13, 2013.