Time to round up a few news and commentary bits.
1. Is the high-def format war coming to an end? Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema have announced that they will go exclusively with Blu-Ray, and stop releasing films in the HD-DVD format; this boosts Blu-Ray’s exclusive marketshare to 70% and leaves only Universal and Paramount/DreamWorks releasing films in the HD-DVD format. Variety, IGN.com and Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily, among other sites, have the details.
2. Kyle Smith at Commentary magazine looks at a passage or two from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men and asks whether the novel on which the film was based reflects a concern with what Pope John Paul II called the “culture of death”:
John Podhoretz has castigated the film as nihilist. But if you measure McCarthy’s ironic tone in the book, you might come to another conclusion. Possibly McCarthy is taking the extreme, Catholic stance that all killing is wrong, from capital punishment to war to abortion. The book takes place seven years after Roe v. Wade, five years after the fall of Saigon, four years after the restoration of the death penalty by the Supreme Court. It’s a year when the idea that state could sanction killing has begun to take root. The sheriff, in the book as in the film the voice of wisdom and restraint, expresses a sad resignation toward the death penalty from page one on, and a portion of the book that isn’t referred to in the movie might be the key to understanding McCarthy’s moral.
What the film portrays fairly realistically, I think, is not so much a world without morals but a world without moral instruction. In a world that values pluralism, tolerance, and (above all) personal freedom, instruction on which criteria to use and how to apply it is looked upon as robbing the young of the freedom to choose for themselves. When you add to that a reluctance on the part of the adults to advocate for criteria that they have rejected in their own lives or for criteria that hasn’t served them, you get the comedic equivalent of Anton Chigurgh asking of what use is a (personal belief) system if that system brought the person holding it to a point where it fails to address their most basic questions or meet their most basic spiritual and emotional needs. . . .
Combine the emotional distance of the parents with the inevitable comic disappearance of Alison’s carefully chosen gynecologist when she goes into labor, and it begins to crystalize that one of the major themes of the film is abandonment. Indeed one of the central mysteries/questions of the film, one that its critics feel it doesn’t answer well, is how these characters are able to grope their way towards some sort of commitment. Would it not be more plausible to have these characters mirror what they have been “taught,” if only by example? From whence does the sense of responsibility come from if not consistent moral instruction and example?
Perhaps it comes from a deep well of hurt that makes them cling to the possibility of commitment and responsibility, even in the face of difficult circumstances, extreme odds, and nay-sayers. Perhaps the absence of moral instruction could have been interpreted by the younger generation as indifference to them rather than embarrassment of the elder generation, an indifference that steels their resolve to not be responsible for similar hurt by being the agents of similar abandonment. . . .
The London of “The Golden Compass” owes a debt to the unrealized vision of 17th-century architect Christopher Wren. His St. Paul’s Cathedral is the only part of his plan for rebuilding the city after the Great Fire of London in 1666 to have been built.
“He never got to do it in reality,” says production designer Dennis Gassner. “That’s what we get to do in movies, we get to do an homage to that.”
The city, seen from a zeppelin through the eyes of young Lyra, combines Wren’s vision with futuristic and magical elements to give it the right combination of reality and fantasy, Gassner says.
5. Variety reports that Mathieu Amalric, currently onscreen as the star of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, will play the bad guy in the next James Bond film, while Jeffrey Wright will be back as CIA agent Felix Leiter — making him the first actor to play the part in two consecutive movies. Only one other actor, David Hedison, has ever played the part twice — in Live and Let Die (1973) and Licence to Kill (1989) — but his movies were separated by several other films and at least one other actor in the role.
TrekMovie.com reports that Leonard Nimoy gave an interview recently in which he let slip an interesting detail about the new Star Trek movie, in which he will be one of the actors playing Spock. Check that site for the details, and for their possible significance in the context of the rest of the film.
Last month, I asked whether mentioning a certain plot element in National Treasure: Book of Secrets could be considered a “spoiler”, since the plot element in question had been given away — and very explicitly so — in the early trailers for that film. At the time, some of my colleagues said they could not even remember those trailers, so from their point of view it was a “spoiler”.
I was thus amused to read what David Pogue of the New York Times had to say the other day about the trailers for this movie and their relationship to the finished film. He remembers the early trailers very well — so well, in fact, that he got a bit miffed when he saw the film itself and realized it was missing a lot of the footage that had appeared in those earlier trailers.
So now he has written a fun little blog post listing all the bits in the trailers that were left out of the film itself. He concludes:
But this one got me thinking: Just how different can a trailer be without becoming false advertising?
In this case, those lines from Riley made the movie seem funnier than it was, the president’s line made the dramatic stakes seem higher than they were, and the scenes at the Lincoln Memorial made the historical conspiracy seem more ingenious than it was (historical clues hidden right under our noses!). I can say with confidence that some of those elements played a part in my wanting to see the movie.
Rearranging scenes in the trailer is one thing. But what about this business of putting stuff in the trailer — a *lot* of stuff — that isn’t in the movie at all? If they can get away with “National Treasure”-style misrepresentation, what’s to stop other moviemakers from putting special effects, witty lines, exotic locales and hot-looking actors into *their* trailers, just to get us to go to a movie that doesn’t have any of those things?
And if they do start doing that, how will we, the people, ever compare notes and warn each other?
Well, for starters, we the people could stop relying on the ads and start relying only on what critics who have seen the films in advance have to say! Although, sometimes the studios change their films even after showing them to critics; I remember all too well how my review of Kate & Leopold (2001) zeroed in on a scene or two that were deleted from the film just before it came out.
JAN 11 UPDATE: National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub responds — and along the way, he makes a very valid point about trailers reflecting the “essence” of a movie, which is something that he feels the trailer for, say, Sweeney Todd failed to do.
ComingSoon.net reports that the pilot episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a version of which was leaked via the internet several months ago, will be made available online officially, at Yahoo! TV, for a 24-hour period starting late tonight.
The pilot episode will be broadcast January 13 on the Fox network, and the second episode will follow just one night later.
Variety has already posted a review of the two episodes, and while critic Brian Lowry cautions that the franchise’s “questionable” time-travel logic “could easily unravel on an episodic basis,” he says it all works, thanks to “a tighter pace, impressive and abundant action with convincing effects and, frankly, plenty of eye candy between [Summer] Glau and [Lena] Headey”.
At any rate, one of my Canadian sources tells me that The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, the second theatrical film in the long-running VeggieTales franchise, will be screened for critics in the United States but not in Canada, even though the film is opening in both countries next Friday. But one of my American sources tells me he hasn’t heard a peep about press screenings even on his side of the border — though apparently an “early cut” was shown to church-based audiences a few months ago.
Discrepancies between our two countries when it comes to press screenings are not unprecedented; because they are often handled by different distributors on different sides of the border, “independent” films such as Doogal (2005) and Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) have been shown to critics in Canada even though they were not shown to critics in the States. But for a film being distributed across the continent by a single major studio, namely Universal, such a discrepancy would be kind of odd.
If things change, or it turns out there really is a screening somewhere, I shall come back and revise this post accordingly.