Newsbites: The biblical epic edition!

Just a few quick items with a biblical connection of some sort.

1. At last, Mervyn LeRoy’s adaptation of Quo Vadis (1951), starring Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov, is going to get a proper release on DVD — and on Blu-Ray, too. The Warner Home Video press release indicates the film will come with all the usual bonus features, and while the two-disc DVD is due to come out in November, the Blu-Ray will not be available until just before Easter.

2. The Associated Press says Eric Idle is bringing Not the Messiah, his musical adaptation of Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979), to the United States for a limited run.

In related news, Matt Page noted yesterday that Sue Jones-Davies, who played the romantic lead in Life of Brian, is now the Mayor of Aberystwyth in Wales and recently commented on the fact that Life of Brian is still banned in that region, almost 30 years after the film came out.

3. The Associated Press reports that Benedict Fitzgerald, who co-wrote The Passion of the Christ (2004), has filed a “rewrite” of his lawsuit against Mel Gibson for a share of the film’s profits.

4. The Independent says it looks increasingly likely that the sequels to The Golden Compass (2007) will never be made, not least since no one has talked to author Philip Pullman about making them — whereas during the making of the earlier film, he was consulted quite frequently. I know, I know, these are not quite biblical movies per se, but if the sequels followed the books they would certainly feature biblical characters.

Nihilism, villains, criminals, The Dark Knight.

Many people have commented on the nihilism in The Dark Knight — note that I do not say the nihilism of The Dark Knight — but very few of them have literally written the book on nihilism in popular culture, as Thomas Hibbs has. So I was particularly interested to read his thoughts on the film at First Things today. Some choice quotes:

What makes Nolan’s latest film such a success is not, however, Ledger’s compelling presentation of evil, on which critics have focused their attention, but the way in which he uses that character to bring out the depth and complex goodness of the other characters in the film, including Batman. The title of the film is not The Joker but The Dark Knight. . . .

Beyond good and evil, The Joker is off the human scale. In preparation for the role, Ledger studied the voices of ventriloquist dummies aiming for a chilling effect in which the voice itself sounds “disembodied.” Ledger and Nolan looked at Francis Bacon paintings to try to capture the look of “human decay and corruption.” As in William Peter Blatty’s definitive depiction of demonic evil in The Exorcist, so too here—the demon’s target is us, to make us believe that we are “bestial, ugly, and not worthy of redemption.” . . .

The Joker espouses a nihilist philosophy concerning the arbitrariness of the code of morality in civilized society; it is but a thin veneer, a construct intended for our consolation. If you tear away at the surface, “civilized people will eat each other.” As The Joker puts it, “madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push.” In a wonderfully comic take on a Nietzschean sentiment, he sums up his beliefs: “Whatever does not kill you makes you stranger.” His character also illustrates the parasitic status of evil and nihilism. A thoroughgoing nihilist could not muster the energy to destroy or create. As The Joker puts it at one point, he’s like the dog chasing a car; he has no idea what he would do if he caught it. . . .

If in certain prominent instances in this film, the hopes of the audience for these characters are dashed, the film does not succumb to The Joker’s vision. It is not nihilistic; it is instead about the lingering and seemingly ineradicable longing for justice and goodness that pervades the film. As Batman put it in the original film, “Gotham is not beyond redemption.” . . .

In related news, my colleague Brett McCracken ponders whether Batman’s decision in the film’s final moments — which many, including myself, have interpreted as a heroic act of self-sacrifice — might instead set him down the path to becoming “in truth the villain he is now only pretending to be.”

And John Carney asks whether Bruce Wayne’s activities in both this film and Batman Begins make him a de facto corporate criminal, perhaps even the “better class of criminal” that the Joker says Gotham City “deserves”.

Brief notes on the origin of the Terminators.

The Clinton News-Record posted an interview the other day with Roland Kickinger, an Austrian bodybuilder turned actor who is apparently going to play the T-800 — the Terminator made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger — in the upcoming Terminator Salvation. Here is a picture of Kickinger from his website:

Around the same time, Warner Brothers released this image of Christian Bale as John Connor, apparently pinning a Terminator to the ground with a helicopter:

Is the Terminator under Connor’s helicopter a T-800? Maybe, maybe not. There was talk at the movie’s official blog last month about how the film would show the rubber-skinned T-600 models which pre-date the T-800s, so it could be one of those, too — but since there is no skin of any kind on this robot, it is impossible to say which particular model it is supposed to be.

At any rate, the Kickinger interview indicates that at least one T-800 will be included in the film somewhere, and this is rubbing some fans the wrong way, because the new film takes place in 2018, eleven years before Connor won the war on the original timeline and all the time-travel began — and when Kyle Reese came back in time in the original film, he said the T-800s with the organic skin were “new”.

Matters are further confused by Kickinger’s claim that his scenes take place about “20 years before” the various T-800s played by Schwarzenegger were sent back in time. As I just noted, the gap is more like eleven years — one decade, not two.

I certainly share at least some of the concern that the fans may have over keeping continuity with the earlier films, etc., but I think the makers of the new film have a bit more leeway in these matters than some fans might assume.

First, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) established that the machines of the future had already made an incredible technological leap — from the T-800s with organic skin to the T-1000 which is composed entirely of artificially intelligent liquid metal — around the time all the time-travelling began. So how “new” could the T-800s have been, really, by the time Kyle was sent back in 2029? Shouldn’t there be at least a little gap, time-wise, between the development of one model and the development of the other?

Second, the events of T2 have completely changed the timeline, such that the nuclear war which was supposed to begin in 1997 did not begin until six or seven years later, as per the events of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003). What’s more, the nuclear war was brought about this time not by the gradual development of Skynet out of some Terminator parts that had been left lying around in the 1980s, but by the active intervention of a T-X who was sent back from the future and began spreading computer viruses over the internet, etc. It is possible that she accelerated other things, too, such as the development of the various Terminator models.

That said, I am bothered a little bit by the implication that the T-800 has to look and sound like Schwarzenegger. Kickinger, who played the young Schwarzenegger in the TV-movie See Arnold Run (2005), says he is playing “Arnold’s character in the first Terminator”. And certainly, the fact that Arnold played three different Terminators in three different films fosters the impression that all of these cyborgs look more or less the same — though apparently some look younger than others:

A short clip created for the T3 video game even played with the idea that the T-800 was developed not at some point in the future by Skynet to infiltrate human communities, but today, before the war, by human beings working for the U.S. military. Further, the clip suggested that the T-800 was specifically designed to resemble a character played by Schwarzenegger:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly.

But there’s absolutely no reason the T-800 has to look like the Governator. Within the original film itself, there is a flashback to the future in which we see one other Terminator as it attacks a human base, in the scene where Kyle’s photo of Sarah Connor is accidentally destroyed. And the Terminator in question is played not by Schwarzenegger, but by another bodybuilder named Franco Columbu:

So I hope this film doesn’t go so far as to suggest that all of the T-800s will look like Kickinger. It could, of course, show multiple Kickingers in a single scene, since the earlier sequels have established that Skynet did replicate at least one of their T-800 designs. But it should at least allow for the possibility that other actors can play the T-800, as well.

Canadian box-office stats — July 20

Here are the figures for the past weekend, arranged from those that owe the highest percentage of their take to the Canadian box office to those that owe the lowest.

Journey to the Center of the Earth — CDN $3,940,000 — N.AM $43,074,000 — 9.1%
Wanted — CDN $10,630,000 — N.AM $123,347,000 — 8.6%
Get Smart — CDN $10,120,000 — N.AM $119,569,000 — 8.5%
Hellboy II: The Golden Army — CDN $4,720,000 — N.AM $56,447,000 — 8.4%
Kung Fu Panda — CDN $16,130,000 — N.AM $206,506,000 — 7.8%
Mamma Mia! — CDN $2,150,000 — N.AM $27,605,000 — 7.8%
Hancock — CDN $14,750,000 — N.AM $191,504,000 — 7.7%
WALL·E — CDN $12,710,000 — N.AM $182,476,000 — 7.0%
The Dark Knight — CDN $10,530,000 — N.AM $155,340,000 — 6.8%
Space Chimps — CDN $322,876 — N.AM $7,350,000 — 4.4%

Stanley Kubrick’s boxes.

I’m something of a pack rat myself — I still have pretty much every e-mail I have sent or received since 1994, and I only recently began tossing out some of the press kits that I acquired back in my student days — so I can certainly relate to this, on some level:

Click here if the video file above doesn’t play properly. Hat tip to Jeffrey Wells.

The Dark Knight — the review’s up!

My review of The Dark Knight is now up at BC Christian News.

And believe me, there is a lot, lot, lot more I could say about this film, but time and word limits got in the way. Plus I think I’d need to see the film a second time to really process it properly.

In the meantime, a few coincidences for your reading pleasure:

Heath Ledger got frisky with Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Now, as one critic put it, he “comes on” to Jake’s sister Maggie in The Dark Knight — and thus becomes probably the only actor to have “come on” to both siblings onscreen.

Harvey Dent is played in this film by Aaron Eckhart, and he is dating Rachel Dawes, who is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. However, in the previous film, Batman Begins (2005), Rachel was played by Katie Holmes … who slept with Aaron Eckhart in Thank You for Smoking (2005). If they hadn’t re-cast the part of Rachel Dawes, those two actors could have had a reunion here!

Finally, I am getting tired of the critics who complain that Two-Face and his coin-tossing are a “pale echo” of Anton Chigurh’s coin-tossing in No Country for Old Men (2007). Have they forgotten that Two-Face was doing this in the comics for years — nay, decades — before anyone had even dreamt of Chigurh? Have they forgotten that Two-Face had already done this on the big screen years ago, when he was played by No Country for Old Men co-star Tommy Lee Jones in Batman Forever (1995)?

Oh, one last semi-related item: As the MTV Movies Blog noted the other day, there is an awesome trailer for the Watchmen movie playing before The Dark Knight, and it features a song by the Smashing Pumpkins … a version of which first appeared on the soundtrack for Batman & Robin (1997). Quelle coincidence!