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Tag Archive: The Great Wall


   

Review by C.J. Bunce

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, reviewed here at borg.com, is a summer marvel, director Luc Besson’s epic sci-fi, space fantasy we loved, but was overlooked by many because of its clunky title, its lackluster publicity efforts, and its spectacular visuals that overshadowed its simple love story in the eyes of many mainstream movie critics.  It deserves another look, and for those who missed the story for the special effects, its novelization by author Christie Golden is a great way to see what you may have missed.  Another movie that suffered similarly, but only for U.S. audiences, was director Yimou Zhang’s epic film The Great Wall, reviewed here at borg.com, a late winter release full of inspired, colorful, medieval martial arts battles, but a thinner narrative that was also arguably overshadowed by its own dazzling imagery.  Mark Morris’s novelization of the film fleshes out and clarifies the roles of all the characters that filled the enormous cinematic event.

Putting the movies aside, if you’re a fan of novelizations–if you just enjoy experiencing a film word by word, zipping along with a fun action adventure–each of these books should accompany you in your luggage on your next vacation.  I’ve read and enjoyed this segment of genre fiction for years, and remember spending cross-country trips in the backseat of the family car reading the novelizations of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, The Empire Strikes Back, and the 1989 movie Batman.  Years ago before videos, DVDs, Blu-rays, and digital HD, when the prospect of seeing the movie again in the near future was slight, fans really could only turn to novelizations and the rare films that received the comic book adaptation.  You might think the market may not be as great for novelizations today, yet movies continue to get re-written into novels.  And many are still reading–and loving–them.

Both Valerian and The Great Wall have similar narrative structures.  Both involve two protagonists that embark on a hero’s journey against a giant landscape of action and activity.  In Valerian, two spacepilot operatives are charged with the mission to re-capture a stolen artifact, and along the way they are pulled into a greater conflict involving the fate of millions.  In The Great Wall, two medieval warriors are on a quest to seek the rumored new creation called gunpowder, when their search is cut short by a rare, mythic encounter that could spell certain doom for the cities bordering China’s Great Wall.  The relationship of each of these pairs of characters is very modern, full of dialogue with modern quips, verbal sparring and ribbing each other despite their friendships, and the characters themselves are not necessarily relatable or even likeable at first glance.  If you don’t immediately buy the characters’ relationships, then the global conflict they take us through, despite the films’ epic visuals, may simply not work for you.  But if you give them a chance and jump aboard with the characters, then both stories can be great fun. The novelizations are a great way to give them that chance.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

It is a study in East meets West, or at least it tries really hard to be.  Visually The Great Wall will likely be the most beautiful film you see this year.  The worldbuilding is on a grand scale, epic, and worthy of the historic monumental icon of China.  The intelligently thought out military structure and interplay of weapons, color, purpose, props, and costumes is second perhaps only to Peter Jackson’s Tolkien world fantasy films.  The costumes are exquisite–detailed, rich, stylized, ornate, and simply phenomenal.  But like many big movies this year, it is a weak story that keeps The Great Wall from its potential.

If you’re a fan of classic action films from China, you will have no problem jumping right into the action of The Great Wall.  But if you’re easily distracted by new things, you probably should skip this one.  Its style of storytelling and dialogue are unique for a mainstream Western release so it is understandable why the film had problems attracting audiences here, even beyond all of the politics that accompanied its release (the objection of some in Matt Damon’s lead role, a Caucasian lead in a medieval, epic story about China–whitewashing as discussed with respect to Doctor Strange–similar to criticisms when Tom Cruise was the lead in a Japanese-focused story in The Last Samurai).  And if you don’t like subtitles, you probably won’t be drawn to The Great Wall.  But you’d be missing something spectacular.  So many features make the biggest budget film in China’s history worthy of at least one viewing.

You’ll find much telling instead of showing, something better films of the Western tradition endeavor to avoid.  You’ll witness soldiers marveling at what by all counts is an epic military battle, but then they actually state as much.  It’s a quirky thing that will probably make the average Western moviegoer shudder a bit.  Yet if you look beyond the almost characteristically Eastern movie abrupt dialogue shifts, interspersed tangent story elements and nonlinear style, you’ll find some great takeaways.  Like one of the year’s best, badass heroines in Tian Jing’s swashbuckling Commander-turned-General Lin Mae–a powerful dragon killer in command of the entire Chinese army whose cliff-diving daredevilry and death-defying air balloon war machines evoke the best World War II movie action sequences.  The martial arts stuntwork is like that of no other movie this year.  The special effects are impressive, especially the interplay of set construction and battle scenes and heretofore unseen methods of combat and destruction used to defend the wall.  The purely CGI creations–WETA and Industrial Light & Magic’s mythic Tao Tei dragons–look real, and they even have their own layered culture with the ability to plan an intelligent battle strategy.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The best thing about reading a book about the making of a film, without first watching the film, is that your view of the book is not skewed by your opinion of the film.  If you knew nothing about The Great Wall, the new behind-the-scenes look in The Great Wall: The Art of the Film will prompt you to want to see it.  Not only will you find incredible concept art, set design, costumes, and props, the book itself is unique.  In the past five years “making of” film and art books have vastly improved in quality.  Abbie Bernstein’s new book from Titan Books features the best quality images, the best layouts, and the best book design of any book yet reviewed at borg.com–the book itself has a traditional Chinese book binding and gilded edges.  It also features an element left out of many film books these days–it includes images of the entire film, and doesn’t remove spoiler elements, such as, in this case, detailed images of the film’s monsters and ending (the art book for Star Wars: The Force Awakens provided no final image of Luke Skywalker and several costumes and props, as an example).

An icon of China cinema, the man behind several “art house” films in China and the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, director Zhang Yimou discusses in the book why The Great Wall is unique and how it became the biggest production in China film history.  If you have watched stunning Chinese film work over the years and aren’t a fan of dubbed or subtitled films, the barrier is language–how can you connect U.S. and Chinese film audiences?  Yimou intended just that by making a Hollywood-esque film as a Chinese production in English with a cast and crew from dozens of nations, including more than 100 on-set translators.  Beyond that goal, the powerful imagery of the film as displayed throughout The Great Wall: The Art of the Film, is the stuff of Academy Award-winning costume design and art design.

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Along with interviews with Zhang are chapters featuring producer Peter Loehr, actors Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Jing Tian, and Willem Dafoe.  The most visually stunning chapters detail The Nameless Order, with Zhang’s color coding of each fighting corps, including the royal blue Crane Corps–the fighting unit consisting entirely of women.  We see frosted plastic pages displaying each corps symbol, and poster quality designs highlight each leader, along with their shields and weaponry.  Detailed sections feature the creation and design of the film’s monsters–the mythical Tao Tei–and how WETA and Industrial Light and Magic created them.  And each key sequence of the film is revealed with photographs of special effects and the actors in action.

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Our annual “All the Movies You’ll Want to See…” series has been one of the most viewed of all of our entries at borg.com each year.  So this year we again scoured Hollywood and its publicity machine for as many genre films coming out in 2017 that have been disclosed.  The result is a whopping 58 movies, many you’ll probably want to see in the theater or catch on video (and some you may want to skip).  We bet you’ll find a bunch below you’ve never heard of.  Bookmark this now for your 2017 calendar!

Most coming out in the second half of 2017 don’t even have posters released yet.  We’ve included descriptions and key cast so you can start planning accordingly.

What do we think will be the biggest hits of the year?  How about Star Wars: Episode VIII or Wonder Woman?   Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of 1,000 Planets?  Ghost in the Shell?  Or Beauty and the Beast? 

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You’ve heard endlessly about Logan and Justice League, but 2017 will also see numerous other sequels, like Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, and sequels for Underworld, Resident Evil, Planet of the Apes, Pirates of the Caribbean, XXX, John Wick, King Kong, The Fast and the Furious, Cars, The Kingsman, Transformers, Despicable Me.   And The Six Billion Dollar Man is finally on its way.  Look for plenty of Dwayne Johnson, Tom Cruise, Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Zoe Saldana, Hugh Jackman, John Goodman, Michael Peña, Ryan Reynolds, Sofia Boutella, and Elle Fanning in theaters this year.

So wait no further, here are your genre films for 2017:

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