Aliens (1) vs. Rogue One (5)
Star Wars (2) vs. Avatar (6)
We are down to the final four and none of them are dark horses. It should be interesting. Each would be a worthy winner. They all are clearly war movies. They all are very good sci-fi movies. The final categories will be cliches, sets, dialogue, and creativity. I need to rewatch the four, so give me a few days.
With regard to cliches, after watching 16 sci-fi war movies, I have narrowed typical cliches to the following ten:
1. The aliens (or bad guys) are the superior power.
2. The victors win mainly by luck or an uncontrollable factor.
3. The victors have one key individual who they could not have won without.
4. All of the attacks are frontal.
5. There is a humorous side-kick.
6. The victors weapons are more primitive.
7. The aliens have a "brain".
8. The alien warriors are mindless.
9. The aliens have a weak spot that leads to their defeat.
10. The victors are a small heterogeneous unit.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2018
ACTING - It’s hard to evaluate a movie where half of the cast is apes. The apes were created through motion capture and CGI technology. Some question whether this involves acting, but the trend is to accept the performances as acting. This has been mainly because of the work of Adam Serkis. He plays Ceasar in the series and was nominated for numerous awards including the Saturn Awards. Sadly, the stodgier Academy has yet to acknowledge this type of acting. The apes are incredibly life-like and that is due to the technology. However, some credit must be given to the actors. Aside from the ape actors, the only other significant acting is done by Woody Harrelson as The Colonel. He’s a stock character, but Harrelson is fine. GRADE = B
“Avatar” is similar to “Planet” in that half of the actors are motion capture / CGI created. In this case, the actors did not have to move around like apes, so “Planet” must have been more challenging. “Avatar” swept the acting awards at the Saturn Awards: Sam Worthington for Best Actor, Zoe Saldana for Best Actress, Stephen Lang for Best Supporting Actor, and Sigourney Weaver for Best Supporting Actress. Lang stands out in a role similar to Harrelson’s. His Colonel is more menacing and hiss-worthy than “Planet’s”. The actors get more of a chance to emote and there is not a false note in the film. GRADE = A
ENTERTAINMENT - As a war movie, “Planet” comes up short. There is only one big battle scene and it is not humans versus apes. The apes are amazing to watch and the characters are appealing, but the movie is predictable and has some shaky plot developments. It works better as a revenge flick with a prison escape thrown in. The ending is ludicrous. The main villain is cartoonish. GRADE = C
“Avatar” is more of a Western than a war movie. It has a simplistic plot and is riddled with clichés. The characters are mostly stock. It bludgeons you with its morality. All this said, it is a very entertaining movie. It is not the biggest money maker in history for nothing. This was mainly due to the astounding visual effects. The plot may be shallow, but it is crowd pleasing. It has a decent romance, suspense, and a kick-ass battle scene to finish. GRADE = B
COMBAT - “Planet” starts strong with an assault on an ape outpost, but after that there is not a lot of action until the climactic battle. Both combat scenes are generic and mostly rely on noise. There are no special weapons. The combat lacks quantity as well as quality. GRADE = C
“Avatar” does not have a lot of combat until the end, but then it gets real. The attack to destroy the Hometree has plenty of fireworks. The RDA’s preemptive assault on the Tree of Souls cuts loose a load of violience. While aerial combat ensues in the sky, there is a land battle going on between soldiers in amp suits and regular soldier expendables versus the natives plus the animal kingdom. The kitchen sink is thrown in. It culminates in a duel straight out of a gladiator movie. The whole scenario reminds of the ending battle in “Return of the Jedi”, but it is done with more competency and no Ewoks. GRADE = B
ENEMY - The enemy in “Planet” is the humans led by the Colonel. They are your typical rogue unit of mercenaries. The Colonel is similar to Col. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” or any other unhinged military leader who goes off the reservation. Compared to most of the alien enemies in this tournament, this enemy is pretty lame. GRADE = D
The enemies in “Avatar” are humans, too. The RDA is a private army for the company that is raping Pandora for its resources. There are two villains in this movie. The company representative is all about the bottom line and the Na’vi are effecting it. You’ve seen this amoral executive before. The head of the RDA is Col. Quaritch and he makes Custer look like a Indian-lover. He eats nuts and bolts for breakfast. The RDA remind a little of the enemy in “Planets” but they have much more firepower and those cool amp suits. GRADE = C
ANALYSIS: “War for the Planet of the Apes” is not a bad movie, but it does not fit well in the tournament. It was lucky to face “Independence Day” in the opening round. The categories in this round did not play to its strengths. It is entertaining to watch the incredibly depicted apes in a standard sci-fi plot, but the war movie aspects are weak. “Avatar” is clearly a war movie. There are opposing sides fighting for dominance on a planet. Although basically a revisionist Western set in the future on another planet, it does have a battle with strategy and tactics. it is certainly a better sci-fi movie than a war movie, but it is clearly better than “Planet” in this competition.
AVATAR = 32
PLANET = 28
Sunday, July 15, 2018
ACTING - “Star Wars” is not usually touted for its acting and this is appropriate because the visuals stole the show. However, Alec Guinness was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and the Saturn Awards. The rest of the cast was fairly unknown and would prove to be good actors in the future, but not so much here. As the main character, Mark Hammill is the weak link, but as one of the great cinematic heroes, he is forgiven. GRADE = B-
“Pacific Rim” is even less about the actors than “Star Wars”. Although there are some opportunities for emoting, that’s just killing time between the fights between giant human-piloted robots and giant monsters. Because the mechas are piloted by two people, there is some acting involved, but it’s still all about the fight. The movie garnered no acting award nominations. Charlie Hannum is your typical rugged action hero. He is given a redemption and revenge arc, but we’re still only waiting for the fights. The screenplay wisely adds dueling buddy scientists for comic relief and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are kicks. GRADE = C
ENTERTAINMENT - The original “Star Wars” has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was a humongous box office success and was one of the first summer blockbusters. The film was rereleased to acclaim. It is generally considered to be the second best of the series (after “Empire Strikes Back”). It may seem trope-ridden today, but you have to remember how much ground it broke in 1977. It still holds up well today. It has one of the greatest villains, unbelievable special effects, fantastic characters, a strong female, and one of the great sci-fi battles. What’s not to like? GRADE = A+
“Pacific Rim” is a fun movie. It gives the audience exactly exactly what it wants and it is efficient in doing so. It takes the Godzilla type movies into the 21st Century. Unlike the Toho films, humans are not just standing around waiting to be stomped and futilely firing useless weapons against the monsters, they can fight toe to toe. The robots and monsters come in a variety and the battles are stunning. The plot is a bit generic, but the acting is not embarrassing and dueling scientists subplot adds some decent humor. The movie will not be remembered years from now and certainly won’t get a rerelease, but it is a good popcorn flick. GRADE = B
COMBAT - At the time it was made, the battle scene involving the Death Star was the gold standard for sci-fi war movies. Over the years, there have been other movies that have topped it, but most that have not. It is one of the rare movies in this tournament where the opposing sides in the climactic battle are relatively equal. Combining “Battle of Britain” dogfight with the bombing runs of “The Dam Busters”, throw in realistic tactics and a confrontation involving the hero and the villain and you get gold. Unfortunately, the battle with the Death Star is the only real combat. The movie goes with quality over quantity. GRADE = B
“Pacific Rim” is all about the combat. There are three big battles and each has a flair to it. There’s little subtlety, but the action and visuals are awesome. The robots and the creatures vary so the duels are not repetitive. Hell, at one point a kaiju uses a boat as a bat! The venues for the battles also vary. The combat has a quantity and quality to it. GRADE = B
ENEMY - “Star Wars” has a variety of creatures, but they are mostly for local color. The enemy is similar to the protagonists. The Empire is malevolent, but not scary. The main villain is the iconic Darth Vader and he is #3 on AFI’s greatest villains list. As far as the rest of the Empire, the Stormtroopers are some of the lamest foes in any sci-fi war movie. They famously could not hit the blindside of a barn. GRADE = C
“Pacific Rim” is dominated by the kaiju. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Each has a different “personality”. They are toxic and can adapt to their environment. They are extremely aggressive, but not brainless. They certainly hold their own against the Jaegers. These “strange beasts” make the movie a monsterfest. The movie reminds of a beast show at Imperial Rome’s Colosseum. GRADE = A
ANALYSIS: These are two totally different movies. One is an all-time great, and the other is a forgettable, if entertaining creature feature. Aside from the enemy category, “Star Wars” is superior. It also is more of a war movie. “Pacific Rim” is more of a gladiator film.
STAR WARS = 33
PACIFIC RIM = 32
Saturday, July 14, 2018
ACTING - "Edge of Tomorrow" is a Tom Cruise movie, but he is ably helped by the cast. Cruise is good in one of his best performances. The film is something of a buddy pick with Emily Blunt more than holding her own. Her Vrataski is not just a bad-ass soldier, she is the most bad-ass soldier - male or female. Blunt is awesome in the role. She trained three months for it and the result was one of the best female action heroes of the 21st Century. She was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Actress and won the Critics' Choice Award. Bill Paxton plays a typical cinematic sergeant, but he is perfect as Farrell. The rest of the squad is generic, but well-played. GRADE = A
"Rogue One" is not an all-star epic. Most of the cast is not well-known. The main star is Felicity Jones as Jyn. She is your typical feisty sci-fi heroine. Jones is good, but not great. Diego Luna plays the roguish Casian. They have some chemistry. They were both nominated for Saturn Awards for acting. Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker bring some gravitas. The rest of the cast is fine, but it is really the characters that you remember, not the acting. GRADE = B
ENTERTAINMENT - EOT is a looper movie. This means the characters are reliving events over and over. So you get to see Tom Cruise get killed many times and in creative ways. The movie takes the small unit, mission behind the lines into sci-fi territory. It is entertaining to see how the screenwriter handles this. The clichés (ex. Cage is in need of redemption) would have been tiresome in a regular war movie. Although the film has some cracking action and suspense, this is leavened with some humor. The aliens are scary and worthy adversaries. The movie builds well to the conclusion, but then tacks on a happy ending that keeps it from being a great movie. It's still damn good, though. GRADE = B
After a long string of disappointing Star Wars movies, "Rogue One" was a very pleasant surprise. It jettisoned the elements aimed at tweens and went back to what made the first two movies great. As a prequel to the original, it taps in to the mythology and brings that story full-circle. There is a romance that is not fun-sucking. The villainy of the Empire is firmly established and the appearance of Darth Vader is a kick. The good guys are a heterogeneous crew that are easy to root for. The movie finishes with a great battle that mixes infantry combat with aerial combat and meanwhile a heroic trio is infiltrating enemy headquarters. But what sets it apart is the realistic ending that does not insult the audience. GRADE = A
COMBAT - The opening invasion scene is among the best in war movie history. It is very intense with the shocking appearance of the aliens and the shocking death of the main character early in the movie. The scene is repeated in smaller chunks as Cage tries different moves to survive. The movie finishes with the squad assault on the alien brain. GRADE = B
"Rogue One" has three combat set pieces. The first is an urban ambush that reintroduces us to just how ineffective Stormtroopers are. The second is the "Dambusters"-like assault on the research facility. Neither of these is special, but the attack on Scarif is a masterpiece. It combines WWII infantry combat of the commando variety with Korean War jet combat with Napoleonic War fighting ships combat. It's probably the best battle in sci-fi war movie history. GRADE = A
ENEMY - The mimics come in two forms. The vast majority are Drones which are shape-shifters who can hide underground. They can fire explosive projectiles and are very fast in their movements. They remind a bit of the bugs in "Starship Troopers" and they are equally hard to kill. Rarely an Alpha is encountered. They are bigger and badder than the Drones. If an Alpha is killed, time restarts and the enemy learns from its mistakes or adjusts to human strategy and tactics. There is some real creativity here. GRADE = B
In most sci-fi war movies the enemy is aliens whose "soldiers" are either vastly superior to Earthlings or their vehicles are. The Star Wars universe is more of an insurgency. So, while the enemy is not some scary creatures, the bad guys do have personalities. For instance, Darth Vader is #3 on AFI's Greatest Villains list. The main villain in this episode is Krennic and he is above average, but he ain't no Xenomorph queen. If you like your enemies with the ability to threaten you verbally, this movie stands out in the tournament. GRADE = B
ANALYSIS - This was a close match, but I think the better war movie won. "Edge of Tomorrow" is more of a sci-fi movie than a war movie and so is "Rogue One", but Rogue has more of a traditional battle in it and it takes up a large amount of the running time. It is one of the greatest prequels ever made.
ROGUE ONE = 34
EDGE OF TOMORROW = 33