Monday, October 26, 2009

"The Blob 2"

For reasons I recently explained, I'm something of a newcomer to the horror genre. I grew up during a period when horror was at its worst, and mistook this bad streak to mean that horror was an inferior genre in general (read here). Now I have an immense respect for what a good horror movie can do -- the way it can subtly and playfully address an issue, comment on our times, make a moral or sociopolitical point.

That being said, to a large degree I still don't completely understand the genre. Obviously, I understand the concept of something scary/creepy happening on screen = the audience getting scared/creeped out. But there's so much I don't understand about the craft, both in the storytelling and in the art direction. That sense of dread created by the imagery... When and why a character dies... I still have a lot to learn.

Last October, I watched the original The Blob for the first time. It was "charming," as my friend Cooper said. It was clearly limited by its small budget, as well as what they could get away with portraying on screen in those days. To a certain extent, I don't think the filmmakers completely understood how to structure a narrative. Still, when the movie ends, you just smile and nod. "Yeah, that was all right."

Not long after finishing The Blob, I was struck with the perfect idea for a sequel. An idea that made me smile and nod, just as the original movie had. I had no particular avenue for pursuing this as an actual for-real project. But, hey, an idea is an idea. If I should ever find myself in a position to pitch an idea for a Blob sequel, I'd know exactly where to begin. But first, I had to check into the remake...

In 1988, TriStar Pictures released a remake of The Blob. Directed by Chuck Russell (whose next movie would be The Mask), co-written by Frank Darabont (who would go on to write and direct The Shawshank Redemption), and starring Johnny Drama himself, Kevin Dillon, the remake... well, is pretty bad. As you might expect, they "improved" upon the original by making it gorier (you can see people being dissolved inside the Blob once it engulfs them), and making the Blob faster and more threatening. And I'll admit, it's a bit of a jolt the first time the Blob spits an arm out to snag someone rather than roll over him.

As any crappy '80s horror movie was required to do, this Blob left the door open for a sequel in the form of a deranged preacher who was waiting for a sign from God to release a fragment of the Blob that he had collected during an encounter. Yeah, just really dumb. In order for my sequel idea to work, this version of The Blob has to be completely ignored.  Which shouldn't be too difficult, considering the remake didn't exactly set the box office on fire.

(There was also apparently a sequel called Beware! The Blob in 1972, directed by Larry Hagman (!).  I've never heard anyone talk about this, and assume it's also to be ignored.)

Okay, so at the end of the original The Blob -- spoiler alert! -- the Blob doesn't win.  The townsfolk discover that the Blob is repelled by cold temperatures.  So they use fire extinguishers to freeze it solid.  Then we see a crate being flown by military plane and dropped into the frozen arctic, where it is to remain permanently frozen, keeping the world safe from this monster.

Which is why now is the perfect time to make a sequel.  Global warming, people!  The ice caps are melting.  So we open on a crate buried on the edge of an ice shelf.  Hot sun blazing down.  There's dripping and melting around the crate.  We hear shifting, cracking.  Suddenly, the crate breaks free and splashes into the water.  It drifts with the current.  Eventually, it hits land.  We hear creaking.  The crate begins to bulge.  The wood warps with stress.  Finally, it breaks open!  The Blob is free!

So right off the bat, you've got the issue the movie is addressing.  Global warming leads to man's downfall... in the form of the Blob.

It's unclear where exactly the crate was dropped at the end of the first movie, so we could start pretty much anywhere cold.  But since the first movie took place in Pennsylvania, I'm thinking the crate could have been dropped somewhere up in Greenland.  That way, it's feasible that the crate could float over to North America, perhaps around Newfoundland.  It could eat its way down the Canadian seaboard, cross into upstate New York (where customs are very lax; the Blob would have nothing to declare), and eventually start rousing the suspicions of...

The grandson of Steve McQueen's character from the original movie!  This role could be played by, say, Zac Efron.  He always thought his grandfather was just telling him crazy stories, but these recent news reports of people disappearing and slime being left behind are starting to sound suspiciously familiar.  He starts telling people his theory, but they, of course, think he's either joking or crazy.  After all, it's been a few generations and the Blob's original attack in the 1950s has been forgotten by time.  So he has to go investigate the situation himself, and convince the authorities that he knows what he's talking about.

Any plans they make to freeze the Blob again will fail.  Don't want to pull the same trick twice there.  And besides... where would they keep the Blob permanently frozen?  Some laboratory with a massive freezer?  That would make a sequel too easy.  Power goes out, freezer fails, Blob escapes... boring!

So how will they defeat the Blob this time?  Well, if I were ever seriously working on this project, I might have come up with something.  But some news came out a couple months ago which renders the whole idea useless.  It turns out Rob Zombie has recently signed on to do a whole new remake.

It's just as well.  I wasn't serious about this idea, and don't feel like I've lost anything.  Just thought it would have been a good approach.  But it's definitely off now, which is why I'm submitting it to you, the reader.

Rob Zombie has made some pretty good movies, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he'll do with The Blob. Anybody who pursues a remake of The Blob must have some great ideas for it, because the concept isn't as commercial as most of the other horror/slasher properties out there.  Shooting is scheduled for this spring, so I assume it will be out next fall.  I'll see you in line.

In the meantime, Happy Halloween, everybody!

Monday, October 5, 2009

When will movies be iPodded?

Homer: There can only be one truly great music festival a lifetime, and it's the Us Festival.
Record Store Clerk: The what festival?
Homer: The Us Festival! Yeesh! It was sponsored by that guy from Apple Computers.
Record Store Clerk: What computers?
This was from a 1996 episode of "The Simpsons," and very accurately represents the state of Apple at the time. Windows was beyond dominant, and Apple was little more than a distant memory of green screen graphics and "Oregon Trail." But after the '90s, Apple built itself up to being one of the largest corporations in the world. How did they do it? With the iPod.

That may be a reductive argument, but it's essentially true. Apple didn't make the first mp3 player, but they made the best one. They made it compatible with Windows, which greatly expanded their market. And once Windows users started getting used to an Apple device and Apple software (iTunes for Windows) on their computers, more of them started looking into owning other Apple products. Now, Apple computers are in more homes, and the iPod is so ubiquitous that no one even tries to find an alternative music player.

These are the reasons I was so excited, back in 2006, when Apple announced their new digital media receiver, the Apple TV. Basically built as an intermediary between your computer and your TV, the Apple TV was meant to encourage people to buy movies from the iTunes Store just as they'd been buying music. DVDs would become a thing of the past, as CDs had before them. The future had arrived! Media would no longer be exchanged using a hard format! Apple TV was the iPod of the motion picture!

So, three years later, why are we still swapping discs?

When we all got our iPods, the first thing we did was sit in front of our computers with our CD collections and transfer the music we already owned over to our new music player. No such luck with DVDs. The studios, scared to death of piracy, are not allowing software makers to break the copy protection code on DVDs. Committing to a disc-free movie library would mean starting from scratch and re-buying all the movies you already own. We already went through that a decade ago when we switched from VHS to DVD. Asking us to do it again so soon -- especially when we know our computers could convert DVDs for free -- is an insult.

In the last two years, people have been told they should upgrade to HDTV, have been forced to convert to digital broadcasting, have been offered two different types of high definition discs, and have been told that most of their favorite movies and TV shows are available for free, legal streaming via various websites. Can you blame a person for being confused? None of these alternatives to DVD has pulled ahead as the new dominant format, so nobody knows what to commit to. As a consequence, not only is there no new market leader, but sales of DVDs have also dropped dramatically because nobody trusts that they'll be around for much longer. Hollywood's fear of piracy is paralyzing its own progress.

If we hadn't been allowed to easily and legally convert our CDs to mp3, it's very possible that the iPod and Apple as a company would not be where they are now. The iPod would have died out from lack of interest, the iPhone never would have happened, all these people making money via the App Store would be nowhere... A whole train of progress would have been capped at the knees, and the world would have a little less awesome in it.

Hollywood is engaged in an ongoing tug-of-war with new media. For every episode of a TV show put on Hulu, there's a copyright infringement removal on YouTube. Until Hollywood gets over its fear of new media, the market will continue to be confused and scattered. There's no question what people want: cheap, simple, instant access to movies and TV shows. And until the content producers provide it themselves, people will continue to turn to piracy.

Additional Material:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My horror movie lineup

Every October, my Netflix queue is dedicated almost exclusively to horror movies. This is, of course, to help get into the Halloween mood; but it's also to help me catch up on a part of my personal film history education that had been severely lacking. I didn't watch many horror films growing up.

Being born in 1980, I was too young to catch that wave of originality with the early '80s teen slasher flicks. I didn't have cable for most of my childhood, so I wasn't able to sneak a peek at illicit movies behind my parents' backs. By the time I was old enough to start renting horror films, the genre had been diluted by inferior sequels and knock-offs, and I developed the assumption that the entire genre was unworthy of serious consideration.

Boy, did I miss out! Because once you reach a certain age, these movies lose the ability to actually scare you. Sure, they can still be enjoyable - tense and squirm-inducing. But I'm past the age where I'll wake up in the middle of the night from a horror movie-influenced nightmare. Now that I'm older and I understand and respect the genre, I want a movie to be so scary that it keeps me up at nights. Children are the only ones who truly get scared that way by a movie.

At any rate, I now take advantage of the month of October to get caught up on all the classic horror movies I missed when I was a kid, and to stay a little bit on top of some of the better current ones. I also, of course, like to rewatch some favorites. And Helen and I like to introduce each other to movies the other hasn't seen. We have a lot we're trying to squeeze in this year. Here's what's on tap, in no particular order:

Alien and Aliens - Helen hasn't seen these yet, and it's been a long time since I have. I don't think we're going to go past the second one, though.

They Live

Westworld and Logan's Run - I'm not sure how "horror" these are, but they're movies I've been curious to see and they seem dark enough to fit the season.

Let the Right One In - Looking forward to this one; it was a critical sensation last year.

Child's Play - Despite the fact that Chucky has saturated pop culture, I've never seen this.

28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later - I didn't care for Days when I first saw it in 2003, and I skipped Weeks. Helen wants to see them, and I'm willing enough to give them another chance.

Soylent Green - Again, I'm not sure if this is horror so much as sci fi. This movie has been so influential on pop culture, I'm sure it will feel like I've seen it already.

Little Otik - This comes recommended from a friend. I know little about it, which is a rare experience. How exciting!

Midnight Meat Train - This comes highly recommended from highly trusted friends. Looking forward to it.

The Thing

Amityville Horror

Planet Terror - I haven't seen this since the theater; Helen hasn't seen it at all, and she's into zombies.

The Signal - I've heard good things about this little indie.

The Mist - The day Frank Darabont stops adapting Stephen King material is the day cinema loses something special.

The Woods - Another trusted friend recommendation.

The Fog

Teeth - A concept that I simply cannot allow to go unwatched.

Cat People/Curse of the Cat People - An old school horror film that comes recommended by Martin Scorsese, who I'll go ahead and consider a trustworthy source.

Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments. As you can see, my slate is already pretty full for this year -- I only get one month! -- but the worst-case scenario is I'll drop it down my Netflix list and then drag it back up next October.

Happy Halloween-month, everybody!