Film, Reviews

Film Retrospective: WATERWORLD (1995)

Excess is probably the word to best associate with Waterworld.

The excess of Hollywood in the 1990’s. After the blockbuster formed at the tail end of the 1970’s thanks to the efforts primarily of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the 1980’s saw the phenomenon largely dominated by Olympian action heroes or stars whose names towered on the poster above the title – Schwarzenegger, Ford, Willis, Stallone, Snipes. Alternatively, sequels and franchises began to form and dominate – Bond continued making money, joined by Indiana Jones, Star Wars of course, Star Trek back from the dead, and a whole surfeit of sequels which evolved into trilogies, and continued the trend into the 1990’s. That decade, nonetheless, added an extra dimension.

Waterworld is indicative of the mega-budget ‘high concept’ which had crept in over the last decade and really bore fruit during the 90’s. A high concept movie, essentially, was a picture you could boil down in one, easy for a movie studio executive to understand soundbite. Waterworld’s, without question, would be ‘Mad Max on water’. Simple, clear, readable. Everyone had heard of Mad Max, a successful trilogy itself early in the 80’s. The idea of trying to replicate the success of George Miller’s desert-based post-apocalyptic action series would have seen the bean counter’s eyes kerching with dollar signs. Waterworld smacks of a high-concept, money-making exercise, taking this one-line idea and bulking it out into an event blockbuster.

The irony, of course, was how expensive Waterworld ended up being. A year later, Independence Day revitalised the alien invasion B-movie with a high-concept, simple idea which, schlocky as it may have been, reaped the rewards in dividends. Though chock-full of CGI, some of which at the time was stunning to audiences, it wasn’t nearly as expensive as Kevin Reynolds’ fourth collaboration with star Kevin Costner, given the amount of water-based sets which needed to be constructed in order to adequately sell the idea of a futuristic world where the polar ice caps have melted, consigning the ‘ancient’ world we live in now to the sea bed.

Though a picture designed to make big bucks, Waterworld ultimately became one of the biggest critical and financial disasters of its decade, or indeed any decade.

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Essays, Film

Cinematic Universes: the divisive wave of cinema’s future

With the advent of Justice League, many fans and commentators are once again discussing the concept of the ‘Cinematic Universe’, given the formative attempts by DC Comics over the last several years to emulate the rampant success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first truly successful and revolutionary cinematic model of an overarching mythological world of characters and narratives informing one another.

Inevitably with the internet, it’s leading to a war of trolls – Marvelita haters and DC sceptics waging a pointless conflict over territorial ownership and trying the answer the utterly subjective question – ‘which is better?’. For every critic who tells you the MCU is technically stronger as a tapestry, you’ll easily find more than enough ‘DCEU’ defenders to race in with their Amazonian swords and claim everything Marvel has done is powerfully overrated.

There can be no victor in such a battle.

In truth, discussion of the Cinematic Universe has never gone away. Hollywood and the blockbuster movie system has been utterly consumed and dominated by the power of a connected storytelling model, following the template Marvel Studios laid down. It has arguably changed the very fabric of the cinematic franchise. Following the essential advent of the ‘blockbuster’ in the mid-1970’s with Jaws and of course Star Wars, it took Hollywood a while to truly embrace the idea of creating what we accept as a ‘franchise’.

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Essays, Film

JUSTICE LEAGUE: Modern Superheroes and the God Complex

We are living in the Age of Superheroes.

Cinema has been transformed over the last decade, largely since the inception of what became the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), by the ongoing adventures of men (and occasionally, though not often enough, women) in costumes fighting theatrical villains and thwarting global doomsday scenarios. These archetypal creations have been leaping off the comic-book panel onto the silver screen since 1978’s Superman adaptation from Richard Donner and have never looked back, but in decades past they jostled for supremacy with action stars or major science-fiction franchises. Now they dominate. Now they’ve started to become more than just heroes; they’re becoming modern, mythological Gods.

Or, at least, that’s what filmmakers like Zack Snyder would like you to believe. Justice League, his culmination of the DC Comics attempt to emulate Marvel’s transformative ripple effect across blockbuster cinema, builds on ideas he has played with across a career where he has grown increasingly fascinated with finding the Divine extraordinary in the ordinary. 300, his take on the myth of the Spartans mostly remembered for Gerard Butler and his surely CGI’d abs, uses a striking, otherworldly visual palette to mythologise the band of warriors against a hegemonic enemy. Watchmen too, a decent stab at adapting Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons’ seminal 1980’s anti-war tract, plays with concepts of inhuman, all powerful Godhood in Doctor Manhattan.

Then we get to Man of Steel, Snyder’s enormously divisive reimagining of the Superman origin story, and the God complex hovers fully formed into view. Donner’s take on Superman emphasised a man whose innate humanity helped him save those around him, and fall in love, a take modernised but later essentially repeated by Bryan Singer in the slightly misjudged Superman Returns. Snyder’s Clark Kent is a brooding, haunted shell of a man with the kind of lingering introspection that worked for Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins but feels utterly at odds for the Smallville farm boy, while Snyder’s Superman is distant, all-powerful and ultimately feared by the very people he stayed on Earth to protect. Snyder doesn’t see the last son of Krypton as a man, but a God.

Perhaps the better description would be Christ, given how keenly Superman’s return from death factors into the salvation in Justice League. If Man of Steel suggested the idea of Superman as a Divine figure for humanity to fear, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice—the true instigation point for the ‘DCEU’—actively hits the concept head on. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) quite literally describes the conflict between Superman and Batman as “Man vs God”, and his character is central in attempts to characterise Superman amongst the American public as an unchecked force of cosmic power, certainly following his destructive takedown of sinister Kryptonian Zod across Metropolis.

Now, honestly, the idea of exploring a superhero like Superman as a Christ or God-like figure isn’t remotely a bad one. Superheroes by their very nature have skill sets and specific demographics they protect as vigilante crime fighters or defenders of justice, but Kal-El operates on a scale beyond almost any other ‘superhero’ in all of fiction. Justice League is built around the very idea that an ultra-powerful, galactic alien threat targets Earth after the death of Superman, knowing despite all the tooled up, powered heroes such as Batman or Wonder Woman etc… no one even comes close the ‘man of steel’ in terms of providing an adequate defence.

When God abandons Heaven, who is left to protect it from the hounds of Hell?

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