07/01/10

Lots of work today so I could go out gallivanting this evening, but I did sneak a cheeky DVD before bed last night.

Futureworld is the 1976 sequel to Westworld, a film so famous that you’ve seen it even if you haven’t.

Watching Futureworld did make me wonder briefly if I ever have actually actually watched Westworld. I definitely feel like I saw it on telly sometime in the eighties but I can’t prove it. Doesn’t matter anyway probably. In Westworld, the original film, a near-future theme park populated with robot simulacra designed to fulfil the customers’ fantasies succumbs to a malfunction. The robots go doolally (as I believe the cyberneticists say) and kill people.

It was written by Michael Crichton and the more astute among you will notice that this is exactly the same plot as his later work Jurassic Park. I’m fond of Michael Crichton, and I feel that he paid more than his fair share of my mortgage off when I was a bookseller. Fond as I am though I can’t really recommend his literary output to you. Essentially each of his books (the sciencey ones anyway, not the history ones or the contentious issue ones like Rising Sun and Disclosure) involve a really clever idea which is explained at length and then not actually developed into anything resembling an interesting plot.

This is a well known Science Fiction disorder called Niven’s syndrome. It’s named after Larry Niven who created a tremendous imaginary structure called Ringworld in a novel of the same name. Ringworld is an alien solar system where all the orbiting matter has been gathered together and reconstructed as a vast hoop around the central star. The inhabitants live on the flat inside surface of the ring, their heads always pointing straight up at the sun, their world curving up in front of them and back behind them. The plot of the novel, as I recall, involves an assembled team from Earth travelling to the artefact, walking round it a bit and then coming home.

Futureworld (which Michael Crichton had nothing to do with) is basically the same dealie as Westworld, except that this time Delos, the evil corporation, are opening a bigger, better theme park with loads more sexbots and a guaranteed 100% less killing; and they have invited along VIP guests and two investigative reporters (played in a deplorably desultory way by Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner). The Delos plot (create robot duplicates of the VIPs and send them back out into the world) is foiled pretty much by accident by the reporters. The end.

It’s a truism that nothing looks quite as funny as yesterday’s idea of the future, and it’s particularly the case I think with seventies sci-fi. If you watch Soylent Green or Rollerball or the movie at hand it’s amazing how old-fashioned they look. The seventies version of the future is a lot hairier, sweatier and more swarthy than it actually turned out to be.

Not much fun then, and as visually and aurally flat as a seventies TV episode. But I gleaned a bit of joy when one of the writers turned out to have the name Mayo Simon. I think this is probably only diverting to people familiar with Radio 5 Live’s output, and that’s mostly the long term sick, people who work from home and taxi drivers.

Michael Crichton was six feet nine inches tall and died of throat cancer aged 66 in 2008. A scaremongering tabloid journalist might conclude from this that being tall gives you cancer, but I’m not one of them. I’m not sure I would have stood with him foursquare on the issues of climate change, gender politics or the total culpability of humans in any human/mechanical breakdown, but Crichton seems to have been genuinely passionate and well-informed, and certainly to have had a hell of a bigger brain than I’ve got.

***

 

And then, for the first time this year, out to the cinema: to Vue for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.

I don’t want to get started on Vue, but fucking hell, it’s a soul-sucking monolith dedicated to the concept of anti-film isn’t it? Vaulting ceilings, sticky floors, nine quid for a lightly boiled penis in a bun, ten quid for a femtogram of ice-cream. And why is that man over there crying? Oh, it’s all right. The hoodies have got him.

It’s all part of the Inverness Retail Park ordeal, even less fun now since the departure of Borders. What is there for us here? What, out of town, do we actually get? A million acres of concrete tundra blasted by the horizontal rain imported all the way from Siberia, Burger King, Pizza Hut, a gym (which I have to assume is an ironic gym), a supermarket the size of Andorra and a bunch of DIY shops.

I’m with Alexei Sayle on the whole concept of DIY. “I haven’t got a Black & Decker Workmate,” he once said. “I’ve got a Black & Decker Get-Somebody-Else-To-Do-It-mate.”

It’s kind of what happens a lot in Inverness. We take some natural area whose beauty is enough to physically concuss you, and then we give it a bit of a doing. It happened in the city centre back in the sixties. The delicately evolved riverscape got two vast, grey concrete cuboids from some dystopian future dumped right in the middle of it. There’s some good remedial work going on now (street art, innovative architecture, the Culloden visitor centre and the mighty, mighty Eden Court redevelopment), but the Retail Park ain’t part of it.

Also the go ahead seems now to have been given to the overhead electricity transmission line running down from Beauly to Denny. I have, it turns out, two opinions about this. My first instinctive one is to abhor anything that looks like the deliberate scarring of a beautiful landscape. The second is to remember that actually I do tend to like a big engineering project (Caledonian Canal, Kessock Bridge, Falkirk Wheel, hydroelectric dams, bring it on). I find wind farms quite spectacular, and, whilst I’m no expert on the National Grid, I do accept that we’ve got to move the electrons round somehow (is that how it works?) and I don’t think buckets are going to be sufficient.

Have I reviewed Sherlock Holmes yet? No?

Well it’s very good, and I might have to reconsider my existing (slightly immoderate) opinions about Guy Ritchie.

I am agnostic about Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels, but I enjoyed Snatch a great deal. Of his other films the only one I’ve tried watching was Swept Away, and that was peculiar. When Sky was showing it on the movie channels I kept sitting down to watch it and then suddenly becoming aware that I was cleaning the bathroom or making a risotto or something. It didn’t seem to matter how great my resolve was I couldn’t get more than twenty minutes in without wandering off and doing something else. I think Swept Away may genuinely be physically impossible to watch.

Sherlock Holmes is a hoot though. Not unreasonably choosing to emphasise the kinetic, combative aspects of Holmes, Ritchie has come up with a movie which, whilst taking liberties (diabolical ones presumably), is nonetheless respectful enough of the Holmes canon to avoid any reasonable criticism.

In fact it’s a positive delight to see Watson (so often depicted as a buffoon after Nigel Bruce) as a bright, slightly acerbic, man of action. He’s a man with a medical degree and he’s seen military action for heaven’s sake. How could he possibly be a buffoon?

Robert Downey Junior is majestic, as so often these days, and even Jude Law, who can be calamitously bad, rises to the occasion. There’s a lovely sense of rapport between the two characters which is either fantastic acting or a sign that the two actors are simpatico.

A sequel is hinted at towards the end. I hope so.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a great many Sherlock Holmes stories all of which I read in the long summer of 1982. It’s not enough for some folk though, nothing’s ever enough, and people have seen fit to write all manner of additional unofficial gubbins, some good, most bad.

I was musing on this over Christmas when I was reading Joe Gores’ book Spade & Archer which is a prequel to The Maltese Falcon. Now, the Maltese Falcon is pretty much my favourite book ever (and the John Huston adaptation is pretty much my favourite film ever) so I wasn’t keen on what might have been a crass bit of grave-robbing, or at best reputation-tarnishing.

Gores’ book is fantastic though. It’s extremely intelligently done and highly recommended if you have any affection for noir at all, particularly Dashiell Hammett. And so it is with the Holmes apocrypha. There’s the odd diamond if you keep digging.

The one I love most is The Final Solution by Michael Chabon and I exhort you to read it, please. It’s a titchy work, more of a novella than a novel, so those of you sensitive to the exact number of words you get per penny might want to consider a second-hand copy or a trip to the library, but please give it an hour of your time. It is spectacular.

What Chabon has written isn’t a parody or pastiche, it’s a kind of postscript to Doyle’s work. In addition Chabon isn’t particularly interested in replicating Doyle’s writing style. He favours a more nuanced and subdued voice, one in fact that suits the melancholy story about an old man living out the end of his life alone with his bees on the Sussex Downs.

Other writers have set stories during Holmes’ retirement. Indeed I read one particularly clumsy one where a young woman seeks out an elderly Holmes for advice. He solves her conundrum and, as she leaves, she is revealed to be a young Jane Marple. Ta-daa. Yeah, right.

Chabon is considerably more graceful than this thank goodness and in surprisingly few words lays out a story of several levels. Acknowledging that the title is The Final Solution and that the story takes place in the 1930s you’ll perhaps see what Chabon’s intentions are. The central mystery element of The Final Solution tends towards the nugatory, but it often did in the original Holmes stories, and there’s certainly enough substance to make the denouement of the book satisfying and surprisingly moving.

11 comments on “07/01/10

  1. I enjoyed “The Final Solution”, too! Clever, heartfelt & more engaging for me than any of the Holmes stories. This is my favorite of his books. You are the only person I know who has read this story. I don’t think it got quite enough press.

    In an example of the world is thiiiiiis small; my friend Elaine, who also “liked” my post this morning, is an old friend of Michael Chabon. She is the one who initially introduced me to him when we were in grad school.

    When Bill & I were at the movies a while back, we saw the trailer for Sherlock Holmes, then we saw one for Wolfman. I leaned over and said I wanted to see both of them. He said, “Who are you and what have you done wioth my wife?!” I’m glad to see from your review that I may really enjoy the movie! Thanks! I think we’ll go this weekend.

    • You may be on your own with Wolfman there Michelle, but, hey, I liked Van Helsing in the end so who knows?

      Look forward to hearing your thoughts on Sherlock Holmes.

  2. I like your blog! The vue’s not so bad, is it?
    Was Kelly Reilly good in Sherlock Holmes? I read an interview with her recently and she was talking about being in it. I think she is a great and under-rated actress – have you seen her in the French films ‘Pot Luck’ and ‘Russian Dolls’? She is my pick to play Mary, Queen of Scots on film – she’d be much better than Scarlett Johansson.

    • Jen! Hello!

      Reading your comments I wondered if maybe I should have applied the rhetorical brakes a bit earlier on the subject of Vue. But, no.

      It’s awful.

      They screw up the projection a lot and there’s never anyone there to put it right. And I once got told “We don’t do coffee,” by someone standing three feet away from a huge vat of Nescafe. When I pointed it out he said, “Well, we’ve run out of milk and we’d have to send someone over to Tesco to get some.” I never got my coffee.

      Appalled to realise I didn’t mention any of the female stars of Sherlock Holmes. Geraldine James is funny as Mrs. Hudson. Rachel McAdams is fine as Irene Adler. I’m trying to find a way of explaining that she’s feisty without using the word “feisty”. Man, I hate that word.

      You are right to single out Kelly Reilly though. She’s absolutely tremendous. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything before. She would be a brilliant Mary Queen of Scots.

  3. Think you have issues with Vue? A really annoying girl that used to work with me now works at Vue so I’m dreading my next visit as I can’t be bothered talking with her. Which will be next week (hopefully) to see Avatar 3D and now that a birthday party has been moved to Friday possibly Sherlock Holmes too!

    I used to be a big fan of Crichton’s. Partly cause of the “check out the funky technology” stuff. I would recommend Five Patients and Travels if you haven’t already read them. Biographical stories of his time in med school and, funnily enough, travelling.

  4. We took the nephews to see Avatar over the holidays. Visually stunning! The plot line is very trite and simplistic, maybe even a bit racist – noble savages saved by white man who goes native. Never seen that before. Even so, I was drawn into the lush and gorgeous world Cameron created.

    *WARNING: Two audience members lost their lunch from the 3D effects!

  5. Yay! I’ve actually seen one of the films you’re talking about – Westworld – a long, long, long time ago! All I remember about it is Yul Brynner doing a scarey, staring eyes thing throughout the film accompanied by some sinister music – still gives me the creeps! Loved the film though. I agree 100% about Vue – I think you let them off lightly!

  6. VUE should be swept from the face of the earth. The retail park tried to kill me yesterday so that can be scourged too. I in fact used to work in MVC many years ago and the single worst thing about that retail park is the waft of rotting seaweed/ripe landfill that would roll in on the warmer days.

  7. Yeah, I am happy to see Guy Ritchie can make a half decent movie again, although it should be noted that Sean Penn had a similar comeback after he too managed to remove himself from Madonna, but lets face it those jaggy bras would have an adverse effect on most folks creativity. It would be interesting, though, if Ritchie could make a mainstream movie that didn’t involve London in any shape or form, but I suppose thats like hoping Irvine Welsh could write a bestseller that didn’t involve shit in any shape or form.

    The Vue Experience as described is not dissimilar to must of my multiplex experiences, whether it be AMC, UCI, ABC. (note the three-letter theme there, although to be fair there is one with more letters than three, Cineworld, which does try and attract the art house cinema fan who may also like to indulge in the 7 cubic yarder of popcorn and the 100 gallon bowser of diet coke, whilst watching the likes of Antichrist) .

    Sherlock Holmes was my third visit to Vue, Inverness in the last month, the other two being Avatar and Law Abiding Citizen, LAC being the better of those two, indicating how bad Avatar was. Avatar like Transformers 2 left me feeling robbed, violated, taken to the cleaners, and yet I reckon that had I watched those movies in the likes of Eden Court, GFT or EFH I would have enjoyed not enjoying them.

    Cinema is Cinema is Cinema, and should not be an opportunity to devour a lorryload of reconstituted wate products contained in reconstituted waste products, so be warned, if I am back at the Vue, be warned especially wrapper scrunchers who have ate the actual sweetie but insist in fondling the the wrapper, or you cokesuckers who have to drain the lasrt remnants from your go-large bucket, like the bloodsucking lowlife specimens of humanity that you are , or the textcheckers receiving their halfhourly update on the current location and body position of the textsender, or the ones who have to go pee just as the opening hook of the film commences….. well, if you sit behind me and do that, I will attack you . You Bastards.

    So whats on at the Eden court, a film about dolphins that should be good….

  8. Found the blog and bookmarked! Now I can waste even more time not actually working.
    Re: Westworld and past visions of the future is that they fly there by Laker airways. Only a very few of your older readers will remember Skytrain

    • It’s true. There’s a load of Laker product placement in Futureworld, like the Pan-Am shuttles in 2001.

      Futureworld takes place in the “future” of 1987 but I’m pretty certain Laker Airways was defunct by then in real life too.

      My friend Dave was blogging about Bladerunner recently and observed how wide of the mark predictors of the future always are.

      http://therealmacgyver.blogspot.com/

      I can’t wait for the inevitable day when Avatar looks like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and everyone realises that they were dazzled by a shiny thing.

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