Sunday, 31 October 2010

The 9th Annual Cornwall Film Festival

There will be a short break from the Philip K. Dick marathon, what with the Hitchcock Director's Chair this weekend (if you haven't done so already, check it out here) and the Cornwall film festival next weekend.

Speaking of the festival, which starts on Friday, there are some great films and documentaries on offer which I'm really looking forward to. Here is a selection:
  • The Arbor tells the true story of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar (writer of Rita, Sue and Bob Too!) who tragically died at the age of 29.
  • Another Year is Mike Leigh's new film, which shows the relationship of a couple nearing old age and their two friends.
  • Catfish is a documentary about the consequences of social networking.
  • Countdown to Zero is a documentary that takes a stark look at the history of the nuclear arms race and the threat of present-day nuclear war.
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the final part in the trilogy of Swedish film adaptations of Steig Larsson's novels.
  • Red Hill is a western-genre tale from Australia about the first day of a young police officer, an action-packed thriller shot on location in the outback.
  • Restrepo is a documentary that follows the men stationed at an outpost in Afghanistan's Korangal Valley, looking at daily life on the battlefield.
  • Skeletons is a dark British comedy about two 'mystic detectives' who literally exorcise skeletons from people's closets. more!

Not long to go now and I'm getting very excited. Be sure to visit my page at for reviews of all the films I get to see. And I'll also be tweeting throughout the weekend so follow me on Twitter.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #13

Aptly, this Halloween special is also my 13th screenshot. Here's an image from the film I watch every October 31st.

Shot from the Screen: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Screenshot: The citizens of Halloween Town celebrate in style

Shot from the Scene: The film kicks off with a rendition of 'This is Halloween' with everyone in town joining in the festivities. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, engulfs his costume in flames and leaps into the fountain. He emerges in his iconic black and white to cheers and clapping. The annual celebrations have been a success! This scene sets the film up really strongly and showcases the brilliant job Henry Selick and his team have done with the stop-motion animations  

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Review: The Birds

Based on the story by Daphne Du Maurier, The Birds introduces Tippi Hedren as another of Hitchcock’s blond leading ladies. She plays Melanie Daniels, a rich, confident young woman who starts the film in a pet shop buying a bird and ends it never wanting to see a bird again, after a traumatizing series of events.

The bird shop is where she meets Mitch Brenner, who comes in under the pretence of looking for a pair of love birds for his sister’s birthday. But it is Melanie he is really interested in. And he makes quite the impression on her. After he leaves, she calls in a favour and finds out his address from his car licence plate. She buys the love birds for his sister Cathy and heads north of San Francisco to the small fishing town of Bodega Bay. She leaves the birds inside the family home as a surprise and makes her way back across the bay in a small rented boat. As she finishes her return journey, she is suddenly swooped upon and attacked by a seagull.

There follows a series of bird attacks in the town; at Cathy’s party, at a farm, outside a school, and several people are killed. The Master of Suspense sure knows how to raise the tension and there are a number of thrilling moments in this movie, including the scene where Melanie sits on a bench outside the school. Birds gather on the playground behind her without her knowledge, growing in number every time. She spots one flying, follows its flight, and watches it come to rest with the others, suddenly seeing how many there are of them. A very clever idea to show the audience something our protagonist cannot see and then slowly reveal it to them while we watch their reaction. Another great scene finds our leading lady trapped in a phone box, with birds swooping and crashing all around her. There is carnage and mayhem out on the street and a sense of isolation and terror inside the claustrophobic phone box.

The attacks by the birds are still quite nasty to watch today, which means audiences back when it was released must have been horrified! Hitchcock’s rapid editing techniques evoke shock and terror, accelerating cutting so that the shots move at a fast pace, leaving viewer’s little time to reflect on what they see, just experiencing the raw emotion of the scenes.

Sound is used to great effect in The Birds. The lack of a musical score makes way for composer Bernard Herrmann to create a soundtrack made up of elements such as electronic bird cries and wing-flaps. A lot of the film is eerily silent, raising the tension as we wait for the next attack, trying to listen for even the faintest sound, which could indicate an imminent attack.

A number of Hitchcock’s recurring themes appear in this film. The most obvious one of course is birds, also used in Psycho, Vertigo, and Sabotage. There is also the MacGuffin, the domineering mother, the blond woman, and the Hitchcock cameo (he appears at the beginning, walking two dogs past the pet shop).

Hitchcock described the message of The Birds as “too much complacency in the world: that people are unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all”. Its everyday scenario scared audiences then and is still effective today. The interactions between the characters, the moments of tension and terror, the ominous atmosphere and the threat of something ordinary suddenly becoming something sinister, all add up to make this a classic film.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

An essay on the visual style, narrative and themes of two Hitchcock films

The following is an edited version of an essay I wrote for my Film Studies degree.

'Examine the visual style, narrative form and thematic concerns of two of Hitchcock’s British thrillers (1927-38)'

During the period of 1927 – 1938, Alfred Hitchcock made a number of films in Britain including The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1938) which are part of his classic thriller sextet. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol believe the sextet constitute a new cinematic genre; “This new genre – ‘le feuilleton d’espionage intelligent’ – produces a type of film characterisable in terms of an abundance of action, chases and journeys, a variety of locales, gloomy and macabre plots.”

The visual style of Hitchcock’s British thrillers is very realistic. Everyday locales such as the crofter’s cabin in The Thirty Nine Steps; a detailed depiction of a lower middle class setting, and the inn in The Lady Vanishes, are very authentic. Tom Ryall states that “Hitchcock’s early training as a set designer undoubtedly contributes to such a detailed use of the mise en scene to achieve surface realism.”

Hitchcock also uses innovative sound and editing techniques to add to the effect of the visuals. In The Thirty Nine Steps, there is a shot of the landlady’s screaming face and the sound of a train whistle, then the scene cuts to an actual train: the source of the whistle. Bordwell and Thomson believe this nonfaithful sound has a serious function; “Though the whistle is not a faithful sound for an image of a screaming person, it provides a dramatic transition. Fidelity of sound to source is a strong convention of classical cinema and here Hitchcock deviates from it in order to provide a ‘striking transition’ between two disparate images.”

There are also memorable visuals from the film The Lady Vanishes. The ‘stain’ – a type of Hitchcockian prop where everything is proceeding normally until someone notices something that isn’t right – is present here. In this film it is the packaging of Miss Froy’s herbal tea, which is thrown out from the train with the rubbish and blows against the window in front of Gilbert for a few seconds, before blowing away. This convinces Gilbert that Iris was telling the truth about Miss Froy. Another clever visual used is the word ‘FROY’ written on the window, it is visible throughout the scene where Iris sits with Gilbert until she notices it, and then it disappears.

Both The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes are full of Hitchcock motifs; the long knife used in the fight sequence with the illusionist, the birds that are let loose in the luggage compartment and cause chaos, the long corridors, trains, public buildings like the music hall and the London Palladium, etc. Elisabeth Weis discusses the links between the images and sounds in Hitchcock’s films; “his soundtrack is also distinctively contrapuntal to the visuals. That is to say, the sounds and images rarely duplicate and often contrast with each other. During a Hitchcock film we are typically looking at one thing or person while listening to another.” There is an example of this in The Thirty Nine Steps where we hear the crofter saying a blessing before supper but what we see is his wife anxiously looking at the newspaper headline and then at Hannay.

In Hitchcock’s films, elements of the mise en scene are often used to great effect in order to further the narrative. In The Thirty Nine Steps, the crofter’s wife gives Hannay her husband’s coat to wear to disguise himself when he runs away from the police. This saves his life later in the film when he is shot by the professor at the country house. He is saved by the Bible the crofter kept in the coat’s breast pocket. In The Lady Vanishes it is the herbal tea packet that convinces Gilbert that Iris is telling the truth about Miss Froy.

A difference in the narrative form is the episodic structure of The Thirty Nine Steps which has lots of different locations; the music hall, Hannay’s apartment, the train, the Scottish Highlands, the crofter’s cabin, the country house, the town hall, the sheriff’s office, the inn, the London Palladium. In The Lady Vanishes there are much fewer locations, there is a clear divide between the beginning of the film, the middle, and the end; these are set in the inn, the train, and the government offices.

Tom Ryall notes another difference between these two films; “In The Thirty Nine Steps, the initial emphasis is on the male character (Hannay) with the woman (Pamela) a sceptical and unwilling partner in the adventures until the later stages of the film. The Lady Vanishes reverses this pattern with the woman (Iris Henderson) in the central position to begin with and the man (Gilbert) playing the sceptical and unwilling partner for part of the film.”

Although some of the films in Hitchcock’s classic sextet deviated from the spy thriller genre, the final film in the sextet, The Lady Vanishes saw a return to it. The Thirty Nine Steps and The Lady Vanishes have similar themes in that they are both espionage films with some comic and romantic elements, and they both deal with a conspiracy.

In both of the films, the role of the ‘hero’ is occupied by individuals who have been involved in the espionage situation by accident. Both of the protagonists are ‘ordinary people’ who have been drawn into the world of espionage by accident and they are somewhat forced to occupy these heroic roles because the real spies are unable to do so.

A major theme in The Thirty Nine Steps is that of the falsely accused hero. Hannay is an innocent man who has been accused of murdering a young woman and has gone on the run from the police. This theme is also present in The Lady Vanishes as Iris is accused of lying or possible madness by many of the passengers on the train as they don’t believe she’s telling the truth about Miss Froy. The hero’s purpose in both of the films is to try to prove they are telling the truth.

Overall, Hitchcock’s classic British thrillers of this period all offer the spectator an adventurous and intriguing story. The films provide an innovative visual style, an interesting narrative and a number of themes that became indicative of Hitchcock’s work. Audiences flocked to see ‘the new Hitchcock movie’ because they knew they wouldn’t be disappointed.


  • Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K., Film Art: An Introduction, 6th ed., New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001
  • Rohmer, E. and Chabrol, C., Hitchcock, Frederick Ungar Publishing, New York, 1979
  • Ryall, T., Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema, The Athlone Press Ltd, London, 1996
  • Weis, E., ‘The Sound of One Wing Flapping’, Film Comment, vol. 14, no. 5, 1978


  • The Lady Vanishes (1938) Alfred Hitchcock
  • The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock is the subject of Director's Chair #11 over at The LAMB

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

An essay on the homophobia and misogyny present in Alfred Hitchcock's films

The following is an edited version of an essay I wrote during my Film Studies degree course.

'It has been argued that Hitchcock’s films imply male spectatorship and a worldview which is both homophobic and misogynistic. Discuss this statement applying theoretical models studied on the module to specific examples of Hitchcock films.'
Alfred Hitchcock’s films often tend to divide audiences in terms of their message concerning the treatment of women and homosexuals. Many feminist critics believe that his films include misogynism; for example, Laura Mulvey says that “Hitchcock is seen as a director who turned women into passive objects of male voyeurism and sadistic impulses.”

In her essay, entitled ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Mulvey presents her theory on it. She suggests there are two distinct pleasures that we as spectators experience when we watch films at the cinema. One is scopophilia; where we sit in the dark and look in on someone else’s world, the other is narcissism; where we identify with what is on the screen. Mulvey believes that women are presented as the image and men as the bearer of the look, that pleasure in looking is male dominated. She also believes that males are active because they further the narrative through their POV shots and looks. However, females are passive because they are arranged as an icon to be looked at and they don’t tend to further the narrative.

Hitchcock’s films often include examples of the mistreatment of women, with them either being killed, or controlled by men; like in Marnie, Vertigo, North by Northwest, etc.

In Vertigo, when the spectator sees Madeleine for the first time, it is through the eyes of James Stewart’s character, Scottie. The camera repeatedly cuts between shots of him and his POV shots of Madeleine as he sits and watches her. According to Mulvey’s theory, Scottie is controlling events, the audience sees everything through his eyes, and Madeleine is the object of his and our gaze. Mulvey states that “we, the audience, vicariously enjoy the pleasure in looking through scopophilia and identifying with the male gaze”.

Scottie treatment of Judy later in the film is also questionable. He controls Judy; even though she doesn’t want the suit he picks out for her, he forces her into it. She caves in under his pressure, saying: “I’ll wear the darned clothes if you want me to...if you’ll just like me.”
Scottie still isn’t satisfied though, he says to her: “The colour of your hair.” Then: “Judy, please. It can’t matter to you.” His choice of words suggests Judy doesn’t care about her appearance, that he can just choose to change everything about her and she won’t mind. Judy passively says to him: “If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me...will you love me?”

There are also examples of male voyeurism and misogyny in Psycho. The policeman who walks up to Marion’s car is a menacing-looking authority figure whose watchful eyes are disguised behind his large, dark sunglasses. As he peers in through the window a POV shot shows Marion asleep on the front seat. This is very voyeuristic as sleeping is considered private and he, a stranger, is looking in on her without her knowing.

Later, when Norman is in his parlour, there is a shot of him looking through a small hole in the wall. His room is in darkness, the light through the hole illuminates just his eye as he peers through it. There is a cut to his POV shot; he is watching Marion in her room undressing. A cut to an extreme close-up of Norman’s eye as he spies on Marion is very voyeuristic. Marion is unknowingly the object of his and the spectator’s gaze.

Along with criticism from feminist critics for being misogynistic, Hitchcock’s films have also been accused of being homophobic. Gay criticism focuses on the covert gay representation of characters and the fact that these characters are seen as deviant.

In Rope it is Brandon and Philip’s relationship which is coded as gay. When asked where the telephone is, Brandon says it is in the bedroom. The woman then replies “how cosy”. This implies there is only one bedroom, which the two men share. Philip relies on Brandon a lot throughout the film. Brandon seems to be the one who is more in control. They are both deviant characters, Brandon more so than Philip as he seems to become mentally unstable towards the end of the film.

In North by Northwest, there are suggestions that sinister right-hand man Leonard may be gay. When he is first introduced, Vandamm says to him “Ah Leonard, have you met our distinguished guest?” to which Leonard replies “He’s a well-tailored one, isn’t he?” It’s strange that when Vandamm asks Leonard’s opinion of Roger Thornhill, all he remarks upon is his fashionable wardrobe. Later in the scene, Leonard doesn’t get involved in the struggle with Thornhill, he leaves that to the two other men, who seem more ‘macho’.

In a conversation together, Leonard says to Vandamm: “Call it my ‘woman’s intuition’ if you will, but I’ve never trusted neatness.” This suggests a feminine side to his personality. Vandamm then says to him: “You know what I think? I think you’re jealous. No, I mean it. I’m very touched.” He never wanted Vandamm to get involved with Eve; throughout the film he seems to dislike their relationship, which backs up a theory of jealousy.

Although there is evidence that supports the idea that Hitchcock’s films are homophobic and misogynistic, there is also some evidence to the contrary. It is true that women are mistreated in some of Hitchcock’s films (in The Birds, Marnie, and Vertigo, amongst others) but that isn’t to say that the men get off easily. There are male deaths and men are mistreated in films such as Rear Window (broken leg) and Vertigo (acrophobic).

Hitchcock has many supporters who challenge the criticism he receives. In Robin Wood’s book, Hitchcock films revisited, he attempts to minimise the misogyny in them and to analyze both Rear Window and Vertigo as exposes of the twisted logic of patriarchy, relatively untroubled by ambivalence or contradiction.

David Spoto attempted to link Hitchcock’s representation of gays with his own life and his ambivalence towards homosexuality but suggested that it was not undertaken in a particularly obvious way. This shows that Hitchcock wasn’t personally homophobic, which suggests his films wouldn’t purposefully imply that homosexuals were deviant.

Tania Modleski writes: “what I want to argue is neither that Hitchcock is utterly misogynistic nor that he is largely sympathetic to women and their plight in patriarchy.” I tend to agree with this, because even though the women in Hitchcock’s films seem to get a raw deal on occasions, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes they are the heroines of the film, like in The Lady Vanishes. Sometimes they are strong-willed and confident, like in The Birds. Whilst some of Hitchcock’s films do seem to imply a homophobic and misogynistic worldview, I don’t believe these implications are intentional as there are also many instances to the contrary.

  • Modleski, Tania, The Women Who Knew Too Much, London, Methuen, 1988
  • Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ in Screen, vol 16 no 3, 1975
  • Spoto, David, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius, London, Collins, 1983
  • Wood, Robin, Hitchcock films revisited, London, Tantivy press, 1985

  • North by Northwest (1959) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Rope (1948) Alfred Hitchcock
  • Vertigo (1958) Alfred Hitchcock

Head over to The LAMB for Director's Chair #11 for more on Alfred Hitchcock

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #12

Shot from the Screen: Leon 

Screenshot: Stansfield appearing through a bead curtain

Shot from the Scene: Stansfield and the other D.E.A. officers pay a visit to Mathilda's apartment but unfortunately her father doesn't have what he owes them. When Stansfield finds him, the sense of tension is heightened by his menacing look and the excellent Eric Serra soundtrack. In contrast he casually talks about classical composers, no doubt induced by the drugs he is taking. "You don't like Beethoven. You don't know what you're missing. Overtures like that get my... juices flowing. So powerful. But after his openings, to be honest, he does tend to get a little fucking boring. That's why I stopped! ...You're a Mozart fan. I love him too. I looooove Mozart! He was Austrian you know? But for this kind of work, [imitates playing the piano] he's a little bit light. So I tend to go for the heavier guys. Check out Brahms. He's good too."

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Short Story / Movie comparison: The Minority Report / Minority Report (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

The first thought that the John Anderton of the short-story has is “I’m getting bald. Bald and fat and old.” This isn’t exactly the image of Anderton we’re presented with in the film. Played by Tom Cruise, he is young, confident and active (with a full head of hair, may I add). The general idea of the story remains intact though, with his name emerging as a future murderer. In the short story, they are punched on a card rather than the more visually pleasing ball rolling down the chute and popping out at the bottom to be collected.

The victim’s name is Leopold Kaplan, a completely different character to the Leo Crow of the movie. He is the retired General of the Army of the Federated Westbloc Alliance. He wants to discredit Precrime and take away their authority, giving control back to the Army. The Army receives duplicate information about the Precrimes and so he is aware that he is a target as soon as Anderton discovers he is supposedly going to kill him.

The three precogs in the short story are called Donna, Jerry and Mike. In the movie adaptation they are renamed Agatha, Dashiell and Arthur after the crime writers Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Arthur Conan Doyle. They were said to be children of drug addicts, which caused side effects leading to them having visions of future murders. They are deified by the Precrime detectives and the room they are kept in is called The Temple. Remaining immersed, their visions are projected as images onto the screens above them. In the short story they are significantly different, described as mutants with enlarged heads and wasted bodies. One paragraph tells of the process for gathering the information: “In the gloomy half-darkness the three idiots sat babbling. Every incoherent utterance, every random syllable, was analyzed, compared, reassembled in the form of visual symbols, transcribed on conventional punchcards, and ejected into various coded slots. All day long the idiots babbled, imprisoned in their special high-backed chairs, held in one rigid position by metal bands, and bundles of wiring, clamps.” There is a distinct lack of sympathy towards them, Anderton even refers to them as ‘deformed and retarded’ and they are kept in the ‘monkey block’ rather than the Temple.

The John Anderton of the short story finds out that ‘The existence of a majority logically implies a corresponding minority’. Learning that unanimity of all three precogs is a rarity, he goes back to read the minority report that could prove his innocence. But then, by proving his innocence, that would mean the destruction of the Precrime department he founded years ago. So he faces the same dilemma that Anderton does in the film and ultimately he makes a different choice.

Some notable additions in the film that are not from the original source material are the sub-plot concerning Anderton’s missing son, his kidnap of one of the precogs, his new eyes, his drug addiction and the numerous chases and evasions involving his old team members. For once I think these additions actually add something to the movie and do not seem out of place. The excitement, sympathy for the character and suspense they provide are what is needed from a modern sci-fi action thriller.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #11

Shot from the Screen: The Fifth Element

Screenshot: Leeloo jumping from a great height

Shot from the Scene: Leeloo has just been recreated in a high-tech government science lab. Looking amazing covered only by the now-iconic white medical bandages, she tries to escape this unfamiliar and scary place. She manages to get outside but finds herself on the ledge of a towering skyscraper. Looking down to the congested space filled with flying cars, she decides to take a leap of faith. But who will be there to catch her when she falls...?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Review: Minority Report (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) works for the Department of Precrime in Washington D.C. in the year 2054. Utilising the skills of three precognitives (genetically altered people who can see the future, and more specifically, murders that are going to take place) the department tracks down and apprehends criminals before they have the chance to kill. This initiative has been in place for 6 years and murders are now a thing of the past. There are plans for it to go national and an observer from the Justice Department, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), arrives to root out any possible flaws before this happens.

This ‘perfect’ system soon starts crumbling though, after the precogs predict that John himself will commit a murder in 36 hours. Convinced he has been set-up, and determined to prove his innocence, John must try to keep one step ahead of the rest of his team. The paradox is, if he is correct, then the Precrime department is flawed and it will be closed down. If he is wrong, he will be locked away, so it seems like a lose/lose situation for him.

Minority Report is a big budget sci-fi action film directed by Steven Spielberg. It has a solid cast, with Tom Cruise in the lead role and Colin Farrell, Max Von Sydow and Samantha Morton in support. The film has a very futuristic look and feel and the production design is very impressive. Some visions of the future look cheesy and unrealistic, but here it is believable and inspiring. There is a vast array of gadgetry and technology on show. Advertising has taken a step forward, becoming more personalised and targeted. Eye scanners identify people and bill boards call out their name as they pass by. The cars are very sleek and cool and can travel down vertical roads as well as the conventional way.

The Precrime department itself has a large screen on which to view the images that the precogs see, and by wearing special gloves they can manipulate the images – moving, rotating and zooming in for a closer look. Out in the field they have flying transportation and jet packs (who doesn’t love jet packs?!) Also notable is a gun that releases a blast of energy that pushes the target back (force push, anyone?) and a sick stick, which makes whoever is jabbed with it throw up uncontrollably.

Jet packs hooo!
John Anderton is a conflicted character. He joined the department because of a family tragedy he has never recovered from and he often goes on late-night jogs to buy drugs from the shady parts of town. Despite this, he really believes in the cause he is working for and fights to maintain its reputation.

The film raises questions such as ‘How can you arrest someone for a crime that hasn’t been committed?’ Just because someone plans to do something, doesn’t mean they will go through with it. Near the start of the film there is a nice little exchange between John and Danny. John throws a ball, which rolls along towards the edge where Danny catches it.
John: “Why'd you catch that?”
Danny: “Because it was going to fall.”
John: “You're certain?”
Danny: “Yeah.”
John: “But it didn't fall. You caught it. The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn’t change the fact that it was *going* to happen.”
This is how he justifies the work of the Department of Precrime. They catch murderers before they commit the crime. The fact that nobody dies is a wonderful added bonus.

Minority Report is an enjoyable movie, whose strength lies in its vision of the future and its intriguing story. The special effects are seamless, John Williams’ score is memorable and Spielberg’s direction is masterful.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Saturday Screen Shot #10

Shot from the Screen: 300

Screenshot: Leonidas kicking a Persian messenger down the well

Shot from the Scene: Ah, the famous scene, ending in that much-quoted line. The Persian messenger doesn't think Leonidas would dare lay a finger on him, but he is mistaken. After insulting his queen and threatening his people, he boldly states "Choose your next words carefully, Leonidas. They may be your last as king." Leonidas then unsheathes his sword and points it at the messenger's throat. The messenger proclaims "This is blasphemy! This is madness!" To which Leonidas replies "Madness?" and then (shout it with me) "THIS...IS...SPARTA!" before giving the messenger a hefty kick and sending him to his doom

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Short Story / Movie comparison: The Golden Man / Next (Philip K. Dick blogathon)

The only two things that Philip K. Dick’s short story The Golden Man has in common with the film Next are the main character’s name and his ability to see into his future. This bodes well for my comparison!

In the story, Cris Johnson is 18 years old and has been hidden by his family all his life for fear the Government would take him away. In this future, there are people with a variety of mutations (think X-Men) who are feared, rounded up and eliminated. Cris has never spoken, he is golden and looks like a statue of a god. His ability allows him to see into the future, to all of the outcomes of his actions and all the different paths he could take.

Captured by the Government, he uses his other survival ability – his irresistibility in the eyes of women – to woo one of the female agents into helping him escape. Tests on him uncover that he isn’t human after all; he is an animal that acts on instinct and does whatever it can to endure. With him on the loose, they believe the fate of the human race is in jeopardy. Women can’t control themselves around him, so he will pass this mutation on and can evade any attempts to recapture him because he’ll see every move they make that affects him.

The film that claims to be based on the story is completely different. Instead of a grim vision of the future where these homo-superiors threaten humanity and ordinary people are fearful of dying out, the film is set in present day. There is no mention that Cris’s ability may be a mutation, it is just seen as a special skill that he has. He also seems to be the only one who can do something out of the ordinary.

In Next, Cris is human, talks, is distinctly not golden and played by the less-than-godly Nicholas Cage. Rather than hunting him out of fear, it is the FBI who needs him to help them find a group of terrorists with a nuclear bomb.

The filmmakers seem to have taken his power from the story and, rather than making an interesting futuristic film about humanity in fear for its survival, instead decided to make an action film with a sci-fi element. Except this doesn’t fit all that well in the generic action film format, it leaves too many questions unanswered and it is left with an underlying feeling of missed opportunity.
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