Bryan Singer’s return to the franchise he helped launch 13 years ago makes for an ambitious spectacle. Read more
Tag: ian mckellen
If 2011 marked a year in which the cinema looked back to the silent period for inspiration, with films like The Artist and Hugo exploring the relationship between the modern cinema and it’s roots, then the recurring theme of 2012 is one of form diversity. 2012 has been an interesting year for format aficionados. From 16mm (Moonrise Kingdom, Tabu) to 70mm (The Master), via celluloid and the all-encompassing and multiple-meaning Digital (itself adding the mainstream rollout of digital IMAX to a medium which already included True 3D and post-conversion to its repertoire), films of all shapes and sizes have featured on screens across the world. Even that most obscure of formats, Cinerama has had something of a renaissance, with the first new material shot on that particular format in almost fifty years making its bow. But alas, one thing has remained the same throughout each of those production diversions, and has remained the same since the advent of sound in the late-1920’s: frame-rate.
24 frames per second has been the industry standard and the one constant of the post-silent cinema. Trends have come and gone, and medium evolutions have taken hold, and yet the speed with which a reel of film passes through a camera and is projected on to a screen has remained the same. In the name of development, and in an attempt to push the medium forward in to the age of the digital a group of filmmakers are experimenting with HFR 3D (High Frame Rate 3D). While it remains to be seen whether or not HFR is a development too far, the results of director Peter Jackson’s experimentation here with The Hobbit is essentially positive, if not especially remarkable. The eventual look of HFR is one ground in the hyper-real, that may prove glaring for some. Choosing such fantastical fare to be the film to introduce as hyper-real a technique as HFR to the world to is nothing if not bold, and we welcome the attempts at innovation.
Such is the interest with which Jackson’s technical innovation has been greeted that it’s almost a shame that the discourse on technique has somewhat overshadowed the film itself, although to eschew discussion of the technique behind the film would be foolhardy, given just how intertwined the relationship between technique and subject matter is. Even approaching The Hobbit as something of a Tolkien apathetic one has to admit to being somewhat impressed. The New Zealand filmmaker channels the spirit of the great British comedy in what might just be his most downright fun film since 1996’s The Frighteners. While peril drives the journey at the heart of the story, which sees the titular Hobbit join a band of dwarves on a journey to reclaim their home, a warm wit and hearty central message override the po-faced seriousness of Jackson’s recent output, with a Jim Henson glow coming from the ragtag band of mythological creatures that greet the protagonists. Lucasfilm’s Willow is another film that comes to mind too, with that film’s brand of family-friendly fantasy fare the coda for the film at hand.
Wall to wall praise was levelled at the technical execution of the character of Gollum when he made his first appearance in the second film of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, The Two Towers in 2002, with the character again rebooted and redrawn using the computer tools of today in The Hobbit. There’s a real physicality to the character, who is again commandeered/portrayed by Andy Serkis. Martin Freeman also turns in a noteworthy performance as the younger Bilbo Baggins, while a broad supporting cast flesh out Tolkien’s Middle Earth ably. Speaking of “fleshing out”, much talk has been made of the nature in which Jackson has padded out his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The source material is relatively lean, yet Peter Jackson’s adaptation is being brought to life in a trilogy of films, each of which are expected to run to almost three hours (Part One is 11 minutes shy, with a promised extended cut thought to bring with it a further 20). Approaching the film on it’s own terms, and unfamiliar with the source novel (and even as a sceptic), it’s surprising to find that it does actually work rather well. Fears of treading water and killing time have to be put to one side, and while it’s an incredibly self-indulgent approach to adaptation, one can’t help but believe Jackson’s intentions to be sincere.
Now that celluloid has passed on the mantle of mainstream distribution to digital means that in theory there’s no reason for a filmmaker not to experiment with higher frame-rates, and while the results of Peter Jackson’s work on The Hobbit remain subjective in their success, the direction in which these experiments head in the future is at the very least intriguing.
Welcome to the first of a new weekly column from Tim Popple. Tim has collaborated with Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second in the past, and edits The 24th Frame. In his first column, Tim explains the basic idea behind this new column, which at its core explores the relationship between faith and the movies.
The premise is simple. Sermons take a passage from the sacred text of that particular religion and either aim to illuminate its meaning further, or they seek to frame a particular passage in relation to current events, the better to understand both. We are cineastes: cinema is our bible. What this column hopes to achieve is to either look at a particular part of a film that is especially relevant, or to look at certain films in light of recent events.
On Thursday it was reported that Ratko Mladic had been arrested. For 16 years he had evaded capture for war crimes committed during the Bosnian war. Now he is in custody, after a decade and a half, how will this affect the families of those thousands killed on his command? Will they find closure, solace, in this act of justice? Will it comfort them in some, infinitesimal way? Will it be another meaningless act after so many others that will do nothing to bring back those lost? What if Mladic had continued as a free man, uncaptured?
Cinema has dealt with war crimes in a variety of ways. Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) looks specifically at the most infamous of war crimes, the Jewish holocaust perpetuated by the Nazis. In Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth, cinema has the archetypal war criminal: callous, unflinchingly cruel, disaffected. He does what he does out of boredom, and that is perhaps more terrifying than any sense of righteousness. There is no appealing to a conscience because he has none. Because massacre is such a horrific thing our minds cannot fully process the level of inhumanity. For man’s inhumanity to man to successfully affect the viewer, Spielberg chooses to focus on one man killing one woman. The sniper shot is seen at distance: we are as removed from the victim as he is. There is iciness to the sequence that betrays the lack of fury at the sight. No one dare care, lest they be next.
By contrast, last year’s City of Life and Death looks specifically at the rape of Nanking. Schindler’s List is no comedy (you’d need to go back to Mel Brooks’ The Producers  or forwards to Benigni’s Life is Beautiful  to get a comedy about the Nazis) but it’s a walk in the proverbial compared to this film. City of Life and Death does not let up in its abject misery. It draws the viewer in, and assaults them emotionally for two hours. By the end, one is not even close to understand the horror that was endured, but one is still emotionally drained. One particular scene involves a child murder so callous, so utterly bereft of humanity, it was more frightening than any horror film. Klimov’s Come and See (1985) and Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies(1988) deal with the effect of war on children; a more dehumanising war crime, more insidious, less specific. Harder to grasp, to point out and say, ‘look, this is a crime’. Despite one dealing with the war in Byelorussia, and the other with the war in Japan, the ultimate message is indelibly the same: war will kill you now, or war will kill you later, either with bullets, or with memories.
The long, cold claw of war and the crimes seen within its morally foggy innards are ever-present in Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a disaffected Vietnam war veteran, so incalculably affected by what he has seen, even if it is barely mentioned, that it drives him through insomnia and disillusion to murder and social expulsion. Travis ceases to function in a normal way, ceases to react to stimuli in the expected manner. Instead, the experiences of his past directly affect the decisions of his present, and his perception of the future.
Widening the gap between war and cinematic events, two films stand out that deal specifically with the war criminal at large. Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) has Dustin Hoffman inadvertently mixed up with a former Nazi (Laurence Olivier) with a predilection for tooth extraction. Memorably, the film is not about his Nazism, but it becomes a significant plot strand by the end. It seeks to overtake the McGuffin diamond conspiracy as a real, serious topic. Espionage and torture scenes make for good cinema, but the film takes a tonal change when Szell’s war criminal past is outed by Jews who remember him. It’s a memorable scene, and the film takes on a bitter poignancy. On the surface, an old man is attacked: but myriad evils lurk, writhing beneath the surface, threatening to break out and crawl across the celluloid.
After he broke onto the scene with The Usual Suspects (1995), Bryan Singer directed a small film starring Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen. Apt Pupil (1998) was the third adaptation of one of Stephen King’s “Different Seasons” quartet of novellas (the other two being Stand By Me  and The Shawshank Redemption ). In it Brad Renfro plays Todd who discovers his neighbour, Kurt Dussander (McKellen) is a Nazi war criminal. Todd blackmails Dussander on the condition that Dussander regale him with stories of the concentration camps. By turning the tables, authority-wise, the story reverses the roles. The power resides in the child, while the war criminal is reduced to a sad puppet in his hands. This is a reductive interpretation but it serves to highlight that innocence/experience divide already investigated in films like Come and See, Grave of the Fireflies and Life is Beautiful. How does war crime affect childhood? Even long after the fact, the potency of the acts corrupt Todd into becoming a warped reflection of the man Dussander has tried to forget.
The question then is whether creating fiction based on inhumane fact works as a form of national catharsis. Whether the film is seen as mawkish, or devastatingly realistic, is there any solace to be found in fictional accounts of real events? Certainly film is to entertain, but it is also to provoke and to remember. By recreating scenes of death and desolation and recording it on film, we ensure that those scenes are never forgotten. By showing the evil behind the acts, we ensure it is never knowingly repeated. By looking at these films that deal with war crime we can begin to try to understand just what that term actually means. Big numbers overwhelm: but unforgettable images on film sear into one’s memory.