Monday, June 29, 2009

George Pal vs. Roland Emmerich





George Pal was a fair-to-middling producer/director of high-concept sci-fi spectacle movies in the 1950s (like "Destination Moon" and the original "The War of the Worlds"). In other words, he was the Roland Emmerich of the Truman/Eisenhower Era.

Anyway he made a movie called "When Worlds Collide" in 1951 (based on a novel of the same name) that I remember watching on black-and-white TV with my Dad back when I was a little kid. And it was really exciting and scary! The earth's about to be destroyed and the government sends an "ark" into space in order to save the species.

So now, in the tradition of "Gladiator" and a whole bunch of other 1950s retreads, Sony Pictures has made what as far as I can tell is a remake-in-all-but-name called "2012," directed by Roland Emmerich (of course). It's really interesting to watch both trailers, one after the other, just to see how much things have changed in 58 years (both in the world and in Hollywood). Like I said, it looks like practically the same exact movie, except that movies are made, well, a little differently these days.

Watch the trailer to "When Worlds Collide" and then the trailer to "2012" (watch "Trailer 2"). The more things change, the more they remain the same...

[Octopunk: as I mentioned, I moved this up because I had a longer comment to make on it about something besides White House bashing.]

22 comments:

Octopunk said...

Man, that guy hates the White House.

Jordan said...

I guess after Independence Day, Deep Impact, War of the Worlds and Armageddon, the logical next step (that I never thought of myself) is to ACTUALLY destroy the world (rather than merely hinting at it).

I've gone shot-by-shot through the HD version of the trailer. I LOVE the crack through the Sistine Chapel ceiling; it's like the burning swastika on the crate in the hold in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Octopunk said...

I sort of lump Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay together as guys who have a grasp of good summer movie spectacle but an inadequate on the details. (I was a big defender of Independence Day for quite a while, but RE lost me with Godzilla.)

I didn't see The Day After Tomorrow, and what I heard confirmed what I'd suspected: great sweeping visuals, but a follow-up story that didn't pull through. It's not that these epic movies can't also tell smaller, personal stories, it's that they don't always do it all that well. Sometimes I wish they could make movies that are solely about the big picture moments of an alien invasion or global catastrophe, and skip the characters altoghter. But I guess that wouldn't work.

Anyway, despite my automatic Emmerich-meh, I rarely dislike John Cusack in anything and I have to admit the visuals for 2012 are amazing stuff. Watching the When Worlds Collide trailer after watching 2012, I felt bad for the trailer's narrator, having to use a bullhorn to say "WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE" because he didn't have an army of digital artists to wow the audience.

I can't find out if 2012 is about any threat in particular or just genericized disaster. As an atheist, I am put off by the mystical aspect of all this, especially when "finding out the truth" should lead you to the appropriate Wikipedia page which points out that the Mayans didn't have an armageddon belief attached to their calendar, it was just math.

Okay, more later, but I've got some hardware to wrangle.

Octopunk said...

Okay, yeah, the crack in the Sistine Chapel is great. A symbolic cancellation of what the picture represents. I'm not put off by that slice of mysticism, but religious eschatology in general.

The jerk I worked for a few years ago, the guy who owned the SLC-based drilling company, remarked to me casually "yep, these are the end times." I hate that, because I think in reality there will be no big, dramatic catastrophe, things will just get a little bit worse every year, and acting like it's all gonna blow up in your lifetime is an excuse to not bother making things better.

Jordan said...

I think religion and mysticism are just fine...in the movies. ( I also approve of ghost stories and magic in the movies, because movies take place in the land of make-believe anyway.)

If a movie wants to use "these are the end times" as the basis for its story, that's fine with me, just like a movie (like, say, Constantine) can use heaven and hell as the basis for its conceptual framework. If anybody says "These are the end-times" to me in real life, that's a totally different story.

My objection to The DaVinci Code was that so many people seemed to think it was something other than pure nonsense. It's just like The West Wing (sorry, octo): If only people would realize that our actual history (like the actual White House) is vastly more interesting, especially since it's real? (How many West Wing fans can name the real Cabinet (Bush or Obama) or any real legislation?)

I don't believe in ghosts or "the end times," but I don't believe in the Force or the Vulcan mind-meld (or "warp drive") either. End of the world movies have more to do with the Freudian unconscious than they do with religion anyway.

Catfreeek said...

Now I tell you if I had seen this earlier I definitely would have commented. Tony and I just watched the original film not 2 weeks ago, a Netflix find. We both really enjoyed it and though it was vaguely familiar neither of us really remembered it.

The new one looks pretty intense. I'm generally not a huge fan of disaster films but that's probably because of all the bad ones out there. Still, this has my interest piqued. Kudos to them for jumping on the 2012 bandwagon.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I haven't gotten a chance to watch these trailers but I will try to when I get home. I love the premise though.

I have no problem with religion in movies. On the contrary I enjoy any movie that has anything even remotely to do with Satan. I draw the line when they're proseltyzing.

Johnny Sweatpants said...

Ok I put When World's Collide at the top of my queue.

And I love the sad Jordan face by the way....

Octopunk said...

Hmm. I don't think the real White House is necessarily more interesting than the fictional one, but then that's the problem with religion, too. It's nice to believe in stories, and then it's a small step to start hating people who don't believe them too, etc. etc. Suffice to say I'm with you on fictional versions of all that stuff, I'm just not into the "find the truth" marketing campaign that will have lots of dumb people spouting off about Mayans in conversations I will hopefully be nowhere near.

It doesn't look like the cataclysm is actually based in mysticism, but they are being kind of cagey about it. I wonder if the plot is even closer to When Worlds Collide than they want to say. The trick to WWC (and I'm not spoiling anything here) is that there are two planets heading towards Earth. Kind of like the asteroid splinters in Armageddon, the first one passes really close and causes all sorts of preview damage (floods and stuff), and the second one is one a bona fide collision course. The plan is that the rocket ship will head to the first planet where they can hopefully settle and restart humanity, providing it's not an airless rock.

Now, if 2012 has those ark-like ships, with people and giraffes and stuff, do they have an actual destination? Maybe it's Mars, or maybe they're following the WWC plot more closely than they're letting on right now and they're heading to the less offensive of two colliding planets. If true, it makes sense that they'd keep that close to the vest, since Earth Death by Colliding Object was done in 1998 (twice).

Jordan said...

since Earth Death by Colliding Object was done in 1998 (twice)

Except that it didn't happen either time; that's my whole point. ("Armageddon"...wasn't.) This looks like the first modern earth-scale-cataclysm movie to actually go through with it and destroy the world rather than just landmark-heavy portions of a few cities).

I don't think the real White House is necessarily more interesting than the fictional one

I just mean that it's intrinsically more interesting because it's real; what happens there affects us all, as opposed to Bartlett's White House, where the suspense has nothing to do with reality. Watching last week to see if Obama was going to be able to assemble a House majority behind the Waxman Markey bill (industrial emissions) was a real nail-biter because, you know, I don't want Manhattan to be underwater in fifty years due to greenhouse gas emissions. Watching Jed Bartlett pass one of his fictional bills just can't get me excited in the same way; but maybe that's just me.

Jordan said...

I actually think it would be kind of cool if 2012 depicts the world just falling apart without any clear explanation of why (which is certainly how the trailers come across, except for those odd, unsettling eclipse effects).

50PageMcGee said...

yes jordan, that way we could get another of those helpless "we don't know" press conferences, a la Dawn.

Jordan said...

Speaking of the Sistine Chapel in apocalyptic movies, the excellent I Am Legend contains this clever riff on the Chapel's creation image. (It's in the opening sequence of the movie; I didn't quite grasp what I was seeing until like the fourth viewing.)

http://www.jordanorlando.com/ial.jpg

Octopunk said...

There's that butterfly again.

Octopunk said...

Re: Deep Armageddon Impact

Oh yeah! In a way, I kind of missed your point, that this time the cataclysm isn't avoidable.

I guess my point is: if this is using the WWC premise (which is complete speculation), the 2012 marketing machine might be worried that audiences wouldn't see the difference. Although they could solve that easily with this bit of dialogue:

"Well, let's send something up there and blow it up!"

"We can't, sir. It's far too big."

Re: fake White House

Inferring a higher level of interest in real events than fictional ones certainly seems like that way we should all think, but if I'm honest with myself I have to admit that's not the case with me. I don't think "it's just you" as you say; I think there are lots of people on both sides of that coin.

Octopunk said...

Other random notes:

I like the WWC spaceship better than the battlestar clones in 2012. So sleek and styly! And it takes off on a track! How quaint is pre-actual-spaceflight spaceflight in old movies? Fiction trumps reality! (I'd love to see a breakdown of why that launch method wouldn't work. Probably involves a lot of melted, twisted metal and a massive explosion when the rocket touches down about two miles from the end of the track.)

If there's one lesson to take from the scenes of 2012, it's "be in an airplane". I counted eight shots with airplanes flying unharmed above horrible devastation.

Of course, the scene with Cusack driving off the cargo ramp carries the lesson "get out of the airplane," so...

Jordan said...

Also, unlike in Independence Day Air Force One is clearly NOT the airplane to be in...

Jordan said...

viz. the old spacecraft, I figured you'd like that, octo; it's got octopunk written all over it. The track is a nice touch, I agree.

It's very much like the problem with the Tintin moon rocket (which, in the plot, requires a miraculous fictional material to be invented in order to fly). Every pre-real-spaceflight fictional space flight involves a big rocket -- they get that part right -- but the rockets aren't multi-stage and don't have separate orbiters or landing capsules. Basically, nobody making any of those '40s and '50s movies ever dealt with the unbelievable thrust necessary to achieve escape velocity, which is kind of weird, since the basic math has been around since Galileo. It's not like NASA had access to any miraculous materials, either; I'm reasonably sure they understood compressed liquid helium and liquid oxygen back in the 1930s. (They even understood computers, on a basic conceptual level.) Interesting stuff...

Octopunk said...

More random notes:

I liked the teaser trailer, too, with the more fleshed-out scene with the monks. It's cool seeing the wave progress into the valley.

The idealistic black guy was the bad guy in Serenity. And I think he married Keira Knightly in Love, Actually, but I don't feel like looking that up right now.

Maybe those aren't space ships like I've been speculating but just big honking boats.

Jordan said...

No, they're spaceships. They've got to be spaceships!

Or maybe they're boats.

Octopunk said...

While I stand by my decision to not look that guy up, I did anyway. And his name is Chiwetel Ejiofor, and I hope I never have to say that out loud. Ironically, he was also in a TV movie called Tsunami: The Aftermath.

Just watched the shorter teaser again, with the ominous "How would the goverments of our planet prepare six billion people for the end of the world? They wouldn't." Duh duh DUH.

I wouldn't blame them a bit. What's the point?

Welll, I guess I'd wanna cash in my 401k if I had one.

Jordan said...

The shorter teaser is cool, because it picks up the "blood from the elevator" motif from The Shining (and, the The Shining trailer). Meaning, if you're Danny talking to "Tony" or the audience talking to Kubrick, asking, "What's going on that's so bad, anyway?" the waterfall of blood is like, "How about THIS? Is THIS bad enough for you?" The teaser does the same thing (even down to the "way too much liquid" concept) with the ocean water cascading over the Himalayas.