A scavenger in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, trapped overnight in her overturned vehicle with a dangerous man-creature roaming around, reflects upon her life choices.
I don’t usually review ‘zombie’ films, but it’s not entirely clear what the creature is, despite the fact that it seems highly resistant to injury, so I choose to believe it’s some kind of viral mutant. Regardless, without the post-apocalyptic monster angle this would be a pretty by-the-numbers tale of a rich man getting involved with a pretty heroine addict.
Tropes: trapped with a nocturnal monster; light stops working; radio stops working; twist ending
Let me start by saying that the trailer posted here does not do justice to the film. The dialogue is clunky, read without any nuance, and the song is not part of legendary Joe Hisaishi’s wonderful score for the film, which goes from orchestral, to sitar + tabla, to 1980s synth masterfully. So, ignore the trailer.
I first saw this film in its dubbed, Americanized version called “Warriors of the Wind,” with over 20 minutes cut from the original, rented, no doubt, on VHS. The cover art for the box, below, shows gun- and lightsaber-toting characters who have nothing to do with the movie, with the main character relegated to the back corner. It wasn’t until 2006 that Disney released the full film in the west, though I’m sure I got a sneak peak through my habit of tape-trading through the 90s.
Regardless, the movie took hold of my imagination like no other. The design of the world, the creatures, the flying machines, and the characters are fantastical yet immersive. You feel the grandeur of the world, but the highly curious and compassionate princess Nausicaa also makes it intimate, with her connection to it.
In brief, 1000 years ago a global war culminated in the “Seven Days of Fire” which decimated human civilization and created the Sea of Corruption–a toxic jungle full of giant insects and deadly spores which threaten to consume the world. Nausicaa lives in a farming community in the Valley of the Wind which keeps the forest at bay. Regardless, her father, the king, is dying from spore contamination. As she tries to unlock the secrets of the toxic jungle, a flying fortress with a deadly cargo crash-lands in the Valley, involving Nausicaa and her people in a conflict between warring nations.
The movie takes enough time that you can appreciate the visuals, the sound design…you can almost smell it at times. You feel the power of the war machines and the giant god-warriors, and the awe, mystery and alien-ness of the toxic jungle and its denizens. Nausicaa has a profound capacity for empathy that connects her with any creature she finds, and which takes her enemies aback, but that empathy also gives rise to uncontrolled rage when turned by injustice and pain. The viewer identifies with her as someone who is just trying to understand the world while getting caught between cold, thoughtless assholes with their power-grab agendas. But even then this movie, through Nausicaa, brings you close to these characters so that you understand their point of view, if not their actions. And when the shit hits the fan in the last act you are with Nausicaa all the way.
The minor quibble I have with the story is the ‘bird man’ prophecy angle, which I feel is unnecessary and tacked-on. Other than that, this movie is, for my money, a perfect piece of art that is filled with heart. 10/10
Based on a manga, this movie is set about 2000 years after machines took control of a possibly-endless city. The humans are running out of food and tech, and have to venture out into the city where the AI that rules sends out “safeguard” killer robots to exterminate human infestation. A group of kids, striking out on their own against the colony’s wishes, encounter a mysterious and reticent stranger – named “Killy” of all things – who is definitely a robot. He is searching for humans with the genetic capability to control the AI, because a contagion stripped humans of that gene 2000 years ago, which seems weird. They bring the stranger back to the village and he detects another robot nearby, which he re-activates, and the village is okay with this, which seems weird. The two robots take the villagers on a journey to a factory which can create food and also a mcguffin that will save the village (in a roundabout, confusing way). Things don’t go as planned.
The cinematography and action scenes are quite compelling, but the villagers all kind of blend together since they have no distinct features to tell them apart, with the exception of the old man. That and the convoluted worldbuilding/plot make this film as confusing as its title.
Tropes: strong silent stranger; cyberspace is a floaty place your body goes to; baddies have creepy masks; food is dehydrated nutrition paste
Another Road Warrior ripoff with terrible acting, dubbing, and cheap…everything. This time from the Philippines. It’s a 3/10 from me, but if you want to watch some ridiculous post-apoc martial arts and gunplay (and very short light saber duel) start at the 53 minute mark.
Tropes: gladiatorial arena, tragic death of family, light sabers, radiation burns, masked villain with disfigurement
I work in animation, so I understand that it’s a different beast than live action. And I’m well-versed in Star Trek, having watched the 1973 Animated Series several times over (on purpose!). The differences and the similarities are notable.
In the 1973 cartoon, we already know Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest. Some of the stories come straight over from rejected or never-made scripts from the original live action series, from established scifi writers like David Gerrold, Dorothy Fontana, and Larry Niven, and many are straight up sequels (“More Tribbles, More Troubles” and “Mudd’s Passion”). The episodes, like most cartoon series, are 22 minutes long (plus credits), but despite being half the length of a typical live action Trek episode, the animated series never feels rushed. Often it feels quite the opposite, too slow for a modern audience, in some instances.
Lower Decks does not have the benefit of well-established characters. Everyone in the pilot episode “Second Contact” is new to us, the audience, and so within the 26 minutes we are provided (including credits) each of the four main characters must fight for time not only between one another but also with the secondary characters: the senior officers.
Modern animation by it’s nature is more fast-paced than live action, with some exceptions of course (Primal comes to mind). I think Lower Decks suffers most because of these combined issues, which is understandable and, to me, certainly forgivable. Less forgivable, unfortunately, is the frenetic and obnoxious character of Ensign Mariner. Through some combination of writing, direction and/or acting choices, I know not which, Mariner exacerbates the problem of pacing with her loud and manic verbal diarrhea and behavior that would be more at home on the schoolground than on a Starfleet ship.
I believe her character is written this way not just as a way to deliver a barrage of cheap, immature jokes and old Trek ‘member berries’ but also to demonstrate that she has some personal issues which, I dare to hope, will be explored in such a way to make her more likeable. I’m sure we’re all picking up the ‘rebellious daughter of strict, powerful parents, who drinks too much and has intimacy problems’ thing that they’re laying down. I would love if they move past that in the writing because right now she is just unlikable.
My point? Lower Decks could have benefited from a few more minutes, to give our characters some breathing room. A little less screaming at eachother in hallways, a little more more sitting around a boardroom table like Spock, McCoy and Kirk in TAS. What we did get, apart from the introduction tour, was the scene with Rutherford and Tendi bonding in the bar at the end, and that was pleasant. The good news: there’s 9 more episodes in this season for us to get to know our characters.
And Lower Decks has Star Trek: The Animated Series beat in many ways.
Budget is always a factor, and Filmation in the 70s was known for it’s ‘limited animation’ and other cost-cutting measure (like writing Chekov out of the series to avoid paying Walter Koenig). Filmation had a habit of using the same animation over and over – see also their other properties like He-Man, Fat Albert and Blackstar – and it really shows on Trek Animated. Lower Decks, on the other hand, is remarkably well designed and the animation is smooth and modern. It’s a delight to look at, and you can tell the writers know and love their Trek history (unlike some other modern Trek series I can think of), with various visual Easter eggs in the background.
I also have zero complaints about the voice acting on Decks. Compare this with the 1970s Animated Series, where despite the fact that they got most of the original series cast back, the voice acting is sub-par. The line delivery is often flat, with Shatner notably phoning it in, and part of Filmation’s cost-cutting meant that Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett do practically all the female roles, while Jimmy Doohan admirably takes the load of alien roles.
Animation is a wonderful medium that can stretch and break the limitations of live action. Whereas an alien in live action Trek usually means a person in a suit or funky makeup, in animation your character can have a tentacle just as easily as an arm, and be any size you want. It’s unfortunate, then, that I feel neither the new or the old cartoon has really taken full advantage of these possibilities. Outside of a few notable monsters in TAS, the aliens are usually some variation of humanoid. And I was hoping in the new Lower Decks they’d take more chances with the main characters rather than sticking to the 80% human standard, although it is nice to see another Caitan (humanoid cat-person) – an homage to the 70’s cartoon.
My other big beef with this series, which I share with other recent incarnations of Trek, is the old trope of the superior officers always being wrong. Or, in this case, garbage people. Granted, as mentioned, they don’t get a lot of screen time so we don’t see all their facets, but what we see in this pilot is that the First Officer is a bully, the Captain doesn’t care about her crew, and the security officer is insane. I feel like you CAN make a Trek comedy without your crewmates being unlikeable antagonists, and so this smacks of lazy writing. Hopefully given time we’ll see some more depth there.
One weird criticism I’ve seen of Lower Decks is the assumption that because it’s a cartoon it must be for children. Folks, it’s 2020. It was always pitched as adult-leaning. If you want a kids cartoon you’ll have to wait for Star Trek: Prodigy on Nickelodeon or go back to the 1973 animated series.
As a lover of animation and Trek, I very much look forward to further episodes of Lower Decks. Despite my criticisms (and there are more than I’ve listed here) it looks like a promising show and from what I’ve heard from my peers behind-the-scenes, it gets better still.
Oh and while I have you here, Lower Decks, nix the profanity. You can’t beat Star Trek: Picard for that, so don’t even try.
I created this game in early 2020 as part of a community project organized by The Papercut Arcade, using Twine, a free and open-source tool for making interactive fiction in the form of web pages. Originally I was going to create a Spaceship Zero game but decided to go with one based on my post-apoc Mutilator tabletop roleplaying game. This had the added benefit of spurring me to create more artwork to use in both Mutilator and the interactive fiction game Ya Got Stabbed!
My methodology for creating the game was just to start doing it. This diving in method would help me learn the Twine tool in a trial-by-fire kind of way. It was a fun-tastic learning experience and what I would change if I had to do it all over was to plan it out better. I would also go to the next step of making a custom interface rather than just the blue text on black background that is the twine default.
I came to know the stranger in the game well enough that I decided to make a 3D print on Heroforge.
Click the link above to play the game.
Writing by me, artwork by me, voiceover by me. Thanks to Kay Slater, Carl Upsdell, Thomas Falk and all the other playtesters
Below are some of the new drawings I made for the game. SPOILER ALERT!
I’m not sure if I’ve seen this in the theater. In 1979 I was a child (more so than now) but whenever it was that I first saw it, it had a very lasting impression. There are three recurring dreams that I have throughout my life: Bus rides that strand me somewhere; hanging out with Jack Black, and being chased by the xenomorph(s) in Alien. I will always take an alien dream over a bus stranding dream.
I remember three scenes really stood out from my initial viewing as a young man: Sigourney Weaver’s panties (of course); the rattling chain scene where Harry Dean Stanton is looking for Jonesy (weird that there’s so much water on a space ship), and the brutal altercation with Ash.
Oh, and sure, I guess the chest bursting scene.
The film has such masterful pacing, true-to-life characters, incredible set and creature design. Of course H.R Giger was a huge influence on my own art for years, but that’s a different story. They know not to show the alien (although they probably go too far once or twice) and it’s legitimately scary partly because they never really explain where it came from (I’m looking at you Prometheus and Covenant)
It’s a 10/10 for me.
Day #2. Dark Star Keeping in the same neighborhood as Alien, this weird movie started as a student film by John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon. It follows the crew of the Dark Star, who are 20 years into their mission to blow up unstable planets that may interfere with colonization. They are very bored and have let themselves go. They bicker amongst themselves or isolate from the rest of the crew. Dan O’Bannon plays Pinback and keeps a video log where he complains about his crew.
The film is alternately brilliant and very boring (one of the crew has set up a kind of bottle-o-phone musical instrument where he plays it badly for several excruciating minutes… but it does put you in the characters mind frame). On the other end, the scene where Lt. Doolittle tries to talk one of the planet-buster bombs out of detonating is not easily forgotten.
The scene with Pinback chasing the beachball alien around the ship inspired him to pen the original screenplay for Alien. I met O’Bannon’s wife at an HPL Convention and she was very friendly.
The uniqueness of this film had a strong affect on me creatively. It partially inspired the creation of the Spaceship Zero album by my band The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and the tabletop RPG that came soon after. The idea of a crew that was bored, stir crazy, with big bushy beards who had way too much time on their hands was quite appealing.
I give this film 8/10, which is probably way more than it deserves. But it’s special to me so it gets extra credit.
Day #3: Heavy Metal For a guy who’s into animation I wasn’t much influenced by Disney or other popular animated films during my childhood. Secret of NIMH might be an exception. I was much more influenced by Saturday morning cartoons.
Heavy Metal on the other hand, definitely was for me. Monsters, mutants, zombies, warriors, magic, and sex. I was into comics and this was connected to that world. I don’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I had a friend who had an extensive amount of DVDs and we hung out a lot watching movie after movie, many of which were probably not age appropriate.
Being an anthology movie, HM had both the advantage and disadvantage of being uneven. If a section wasn’t interesting to me, it would be over in 10 minutes… Voice acting by SCTV actors. Devo and Black Sabbath. Moebius and Richard Corben (with whom I had the pleasure of working with on Spaceship Zero). And ANOTHER Dan O’Bannon connection (that’s three in a row if you’re counting).
Was it a masterpiece? No. But it was cool, and that’s something. 7/10
Day #4: Locke
Never would I have thought in a million years that I would be so glued to a 1 hour 25 minute movie that takes place entirely in a car, with the main actor talking to an otherwise unseen cast on speaker phone.
It goes to show how incredibly important writing and acting are to a film. I mean, we all inherently know this (right, 1999 George Lucas?). This is the kind of movie that could be a play. And I like many movies that are also plays (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Big Kahuna)
Now I’m not besmirching the cinematography, direction, editing of this film but it’s certainly an eye-opening exercise in film appreciation, and structure. The phone conversations were recorded in real-time, vehicle and road noise included, and they filmed the movie in 12 takes, two full takes of the film per night over 6 nights. Tom had a cold during this shoot and they worked it into the script. Really quite an achievement.
Oh yeah, Tom Holland plays his son (over the phone, of course)
9/10 from me.
Day 5: Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
Really I could say 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977) or Clash of the Titans (1981). These are all Ray Harryhausen fantasy films that I grew up with. But I will choose Golden Voyage because although there’s monsters to love in all those films (especially the sword fight with the skeletons in Jason) I think Golden Voyage might be the most fantastical, evocative, and threatening of the bunch. The eye tattoo on the hand, the golden-masked Vizier, the animated wooden ship figurehead, the idol of Kali, the centaur vs griffin fight, the invisible wizard (Tom Baker) and the impressive, uh…costume of Caroline Munro…all the elements were in place to foster a love of film trickery, animation, and D&D.
Of course what can you say about the legendary stop motion of Ray Harryhausen? As a kid I gobbled it up…couldn’t get enough of it.
Golden Voyage 6/10 7th Voyage of Sinbad 7/10 (appropriate) Jason and the Argonauts 7/10 Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger 5/10 Clash of the Titans 4/10
Day 6: Miller’s Crossing
In 1987 Joel and Ethan Coen wrote, produced and directed Raising Arizona. In 1991 they released Barton Fink, which they wrote in 3 weeks when writer’s block prevented them from completing the writing for Miller’s Crossing.
In between these two great films they released this neo-noir tale of two rival gang bosses vying for control of their city, primarily through the machinations of their second-in-commands.
There are few movies I’ve watched as much as Miller’s Crossing. It drew me in upon first viewing with its style, cinematography, characters, and its teasingly impenetrable 20’s slang. That dialogue is part of what makes the movie so dense, but there’s so much more to it. And it’s through these multiple viewings which have allowed me to crack some of the many layers of this movie. One picks up on sound cues in the background that tell you what time of day it is… becoming accustomed to the bombastic violence after the first couple viewings frees up your attention to move towards the more subtle inferences of unseen relationships and other activities that go on before and between scenes, and their connections.
Every character is memorable in their own way, even the small walk-ons, like the fast-talking Steve Buscemi leave a bold impression. And another strong female lead role with Marcia Gay Harden.
And then there’s the score – my introduction to Carter Burwell, who the Coens have used for most of their oeuvre, a perfect fit.
10/10 for me.
Day 7: From the man who brought you Happy Feet and Babe: Pig in the City, comes Mad Max Fury Road.
Really I could have put Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior here.
So…. I don’t love the first Mad Max. It’s fine but it doesn’t get its hooks into me the way Road Warrior and Fury Road do. I love post-apocalyptic films and MM1 isn’t really post-apocalyptic enough for me.
As a storyboard artist, Fury Road is a masterclass in action storytelling. And George Miller, with the help of 5 artists, designed the film in storyboards in 1999 — before even writing the screenplay. It came out as about 3,500 panels, almost the same number of shots as in the finished film. There’s not a lot of dialogue in the film, by design, as Miller wanted the story to play visually, so even if you didn’t speak English (and with no subtitles) you could follow. Visual storytelling, baby! And even as an English speaker, there’s so much post-apoc jargon (and heavy Australian accents) that much of the dialogue went over my head the first time(s) I watched it without subtitles. War boys? Aqua Cola? Fucacima Kamakrazee?
It doesn’t bother me that the Mad Max world isn’t realistic, with gas and bullets being wasted in these souped up cars…the fantasy aesthetic works for me. And the production design is just astounding. All of those cars are working cars. those crazy acrobats are really jumping around on top of moving vehicles, the guitar really blew fire…and it really brings a verisimilitude to that world that other CGI-loaded movies can’t match.
But, Toren, there were 2000 visual effects shots! Well if you’ve watched the special features you know that a lot of those were enhancing landscapes, adding in chains and harpoon lines, getting rid of Charlize Theron’s arm, and other stuff that could never be done in picture. Sure, the giant lightning sand storm was The point is that despite the crazy action and crashes that COULD have been done in post, were done on set, and it illustrates the point of how important that is for a movie’s audience to be engaged on that level. That sort of connection to the real world is very difficult to fake. And I love that.
And that soundtrack! The perfect match for the film. Every track is gold.
My shameful personal story is that based on the first trailers it looked so amazing that I had a genuine fear that I would be let down once I sat to watch it in the theater for the first time. And even as I was watching in the theater, I was waiting, almost scowling, for that let-down moment to come, because it had to, right? It all seemed to good to be true. It’s a modern movie! It’s not going to be better than Road Warrior! …But that moment..after that adrenaline endurance test of a car chase to get away from the starting point, and you’re halfway through the movie, and then you realize the second half of the movie is them going BACK to their starting point and engage the bad guys they just got away from. That’s a ballsy move for any film, and you think it can’t get any stronger than the first chase, and then it does NOT disappoint. When the credits rolled I was in this weird state of mind like “how could I have been so wrong?” So, kudos to George Miller.
1985 (or a couple years later): I remember renting “Warriors of the Wind” from the video store. Which turned out to be a heavily edited (22 minutes were cut) version of Hayao Miyazaki’s second feature film, set in a post-apocalyptic future filled with toxic jungles and giant insects, where a young woman gets mixed up in a conflict between two warring nations who both want the power of an ancient weapon.
The uncut version of the film would not be available in Canada until 2005. Could it possibly be that I didn’t see the full version until then? I was doing a lot of tape trading during the 90s so maybe I gut the uncut version before I bought the Disney dvd release.
Anyway, there’s so much I love about this movie. The design of the world, the design of the creatures, the design of the flying machines. You really feel the grandeur and of the world, but Nausicaa also makes it intimate, with her connection to it, and the movie takes enough time that you can appreciate the visuals, the sound design…you can almost smell it at times. You feel the power of the war machines and the ancient demon, and how they really outclass the simple farmers in the valley of the wind. And Nausicaa is a great character that you rally behind as much as her townsfolk. But she’s not a Mary Sue either – she has an almost magical connection with animals, and is trying to understand the nature of the toxic forest with science, but she loses control of her temper and has regrets. I identified with her as someone who is just trying to understand the world while getting caught between assholes with their power-grab agendas. But even then this movie, through Nausicaa, brings you close to these characters so that you understand their point of view, if not their actions. And when the shit hits the fan in the last act you are with Nausicaa all the way.
They say that when you are a certain age you are more impressionable and later in your life you remember things more vividly from that time. Perhaps this movie came into my life at the perfect time, and that has influenced my reaction to this film even to this day. But I think the art and the story are really undeniably great. And what a time in my life to learn what I think is the real lesson of this movie (besides the environmentalist message of most of Myazaki’s films): empathy. It’s what Nausicaa is all about, and you kind of want everyone at the end of this film to be okay. But I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it.
And let’s talk about Joe Hisaishi the composer. The film is an interesting mix of orchestral, 80s synth, and a bit of sitar thrown in. Hisaish has done a lot of great scores for Ghibli over the years, but the main theme and The Battle between Mehve and Corvette transport me every time.
I think the one and only thing in the movie that I don’t connect with is the “prophecy” angle. I don’t think it’s necessary, and it bookends the film in a way that kinda sorta feels tacked on a bit.
I’ll add that when I went to Japan last year (specifically Nakano Broadway and various shops in Kyoto) I had the good fortune to see some really amazing models and toys from Nausicaa, which added a whole other layer of appreciation.
In conclusion, 10/10 – most favourite movie of all time.