Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal is a fantasy adventure written and directed by Jim Henson, the legendary puppeteer whose mastery of storytelling has brought much joy to children all over the world. A thousand years ago a great conjunction happened when three suns lined up and the Dark Crystal cracked releasing the Skeksis and the mystics, the Skeksis became lords of the Crystal and represented evil and the mystics became nomadic travellers of good. The Skeksis assume stewardship of the world ruling with tyranny and fear; however, the Skeksis’s reign is about to come to an end, as the anniversary of the cracking of the great crystal approaches and the prophecy that a Gelfing, elf-like creatures of the earth, will bring their destruction to fruition. The Skeksis’s fear this prophecy will come to pass, so set out to kill all the Gelfings, but two survived, Jen and Kira.
Jen was taken in by the Mystics and schooled in reading and the arts, while Kira became a child of nature learning the various tongues of the animals. The two Gelfings travel to the Castle of the Skeksis’s with a shard of the broken Crystal in order to heal it on the day of the coming great conjunction. The directors brought to life the various environments of this mythical world on a sound stage in the studio. Some of the panoramic shots of characters travelling over great distances where filmed outside the studio. Steven D. Greydanus relays his interpretation of the production ”Imaginatively ambitious and often visually engaging, The Dark Crystal resolutely remains a distant, uninvolving experience. The filmmakers’ attention seems occupied by the technical challenges of bringing this fictional world to life; characters and emotions, even by the archetypal standards of high fantasy, never come to life, and the overarching mythology seems too self-consciously contrived rather than taking on a mythic reality of its own.” This statement is factually correct, but does not detract from the magic of the film. This film was made for children, and it was PG rated when it was released. The character’s emotions whether true to life or not, was not as important as the overall visual production, or the technical marvel of the animation of the puppets, which has made this film an iconic fantasy. The first sets we see are dark skies and the environment surrounding the castle. The rapid movements of the clouds into a gathering swirl over the castle create an image of dread and fear, while the desolate lands paint a picture of death. The use of deep purples and dark blues sets the mood for the audience to envisage the terrible nature of the Skeksis before they appear on film. “The Dark Crystal, besides being a dazzling technological and artistic achievement by a band of talented artists and performers, presents a dark side of Muppet creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz” The dark side of Jim Henson and Frank Oz find expression in the Skeksis’s castle, the pinnacle of all the set designs in this film. The exterior of the castle has the shape of a trident with its black structure protruding through the earth, but with many more prongs extending out through the walls. The castle’s exterior exhumed a sense of dread; a place you would not dare to visit. The Interior on the other hand was multi-faceted, perceived as dreadful in only a few scenes. Both of scenes took place at the bottom of the castle, one relayed the image of a great maze of tunnel-like catacombs that interlinked under the castle. The Garthin resided in the deeper darker parts of the catacombs. The second room, also in the dungeons of the castle, is right underneath the Dark Crystal’s room; this is where all prisoners are kept and re-programmed to serve the Skeksis as slaves. There were cages hanging from the ceiling and dotted all around, tools of torture pinned to the walls and what looks like an electric chair at the edge of a chasm where the Crystal is floating. The other rooms in the castle were not menacing at all, though messy and unkempt, particularly the dining room, which was littered with scraps of food. This room, like many others, had impressive set designs of towering stone-like walls.
The great hall where the Skeksis ruled had convincing carvings showing the tapestry of their history in stone alcoves. The Crystal chamber room with symmetrical lines embossed on the walls was also richly decorated with balconies. There was no doubt that this was their ritual room with symbolic shapes and signs underneath the Dark Crystal. The other sets are not on the scale of the castle, but were nonetheless just as impressive. We then see Aughra’s observatory, which exhibits an impressive moving replica of their solar system with a wall and ceiling made of glass through which Aughra could watch the stars. Other trinkets and decorations were strategically placed to emphasise her work with magic and science, confirming her title as the Keeper of Secrets. Most of the other scenes and sets where located outside, such as the home of the Mystics, who resided in stone ruins and caves in the mountain side where there was a forested grotto and a waterfall.

This area had the tranquillity and peace of the grotto and the simple stillness of the rocks that lay dormant on the ground. The Gourmand’s village is a combination of the base of enormous trees and dirt huts built inside the tree. Simple and basic are images that come to mind with the great tree canopy blocking the majority of light from reaching the huts, thus producing the desired effect. The Gourmand are a race constantly under the scourge of the Skeksis to enslave them. Jim Henson’s children’s fantasy lives up to the genre, delivering a technically innovative movie with an original story of good and evil. Gregory Weinkauf expresses the nature of The Dark Crystal,“Immerses us in a familiar yet utterly unique world that's deeper, wider and more vibrantly alive than any mere puppetry.”


By Orisakolade Orisadamilare

Barbarella is a 1968 comic fantasy adventure directed by Roger Vadim and stars Jane Fonda as Barbarella, an Earth heroine from the 41st century. It is a film that defines the 60s in its use of contemporary and futuristic fashion and incorporated the belief in free love and sexual awareness. Perhaps, this film could only be made and based in that decade and no other, with its vivid tonal scenes and questionable acting. Nonetheless, this film has a story to tell. Jane Fonda’s character is reminiscent not only of the Eternal Aeon from the Sethian creation myth, but they have very similar names: Barbelo (Sethian god archetype), described as a supreme female principle is an androgynous being, and the virginal spirit through which the father (male god) would manifest. Barbarella gives birth to these associations as Earth’s feminine saviour the villain Durand Durand (Milo O’Shea), who unbeknown to himself will use her to manifest the destruction of the alien world, Tau Ceti. Not only a heroine, Barbarella is also an astronaut who lives in her own spacecraft in some unidentified part of the galaxy. This is no ordinary spacecraft, with three spheres resembling breasts on the exterior, it defies conventional design.

The interior brings a new dimension to the cockpit of the ship; with floor, wall and ceiling decorated in fur and a piano-looking console as the dashboard, making the cockpit look more like a seedy playboy hotel suite. A rectangular section of the floor of the ship was cut away, revealing a transparent material that doubled as a mattress. This provided the director with the access to get close up shots of Barbarella sleeping from underneath. Barbarella is first contacted by Earth’s president instructing her to take on the mission of finding and bringing back the rogue scientist Durand Durand. She is suitably equipped, and with the coordinates for Tau Ceti now logged into her navigational system, she makes haste for the planet where Durand Durand is believed to be.

After crash landing on Tau Ceti Barbarella is abducted by feral children, who with murderous intentions take her back to their lair. The first depictions of Tau Ceti  is an ice waste land above ground “The film shows its 1960s comic book origins but the sets are wonderfully realised through Claude Renoir” The ice set is very sparse with bare trees and jagged ice towers in the background, a low line mist covering their base gives a wilderness effect. The sky was a lemon yellow to emphasise the fact Barbarella was on an alien planet. These strengthen the effect of the comic book theme sets with not only the 60s lending its naturally vivid colour scheme to the film, but the bold and very clear reproduction of environments and props allowing a purposeful understanding of the vision of the production. This ice world is inhabited with the feral children, who live in Durand Durand’s wrecked ship this giving the impression that they are Durand Durand’s children and human. Mark Hand the Catchman (Ugo Tognazzi), who also lives above ground, and clothed in a full fur ensemble, comes to Barbarella’s aid at the hands of the children. The Catchman, a sort of shepherd, rounds up the children when they reach a serviceable age and turns them over to the authorities in Sogo.

 The Catchman repairs Barbarella’s ship and in return she is asked to make love with him. Such behaviour is a constant reoccurrence in the film, with Barbarella rewarding help with sexual favours. When the ship is finally repaired Barbarella heads to Sogo to apprehend Durand Durand. Little does Barbarella know that the ship has been repaired in reverse, so as soon as Barbarella takes-off the spacecraft heads down to the ground drilling its way to the centre of the earth until the craft has to stop abruptly in front of a wall of rock. Barbarella has reached a gigantic labyrinth where Pygar (John Phillip Law) the angel is there to greet her. The labyrinth is made from rock and is inhabited by alien humanoids with other creatures imbedded in the rock structure, all donning stylistic make-up and costume. All that is good is exiled to the Labyrinth, while evil remains situated in Sogo.

The inhabitants hold Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau), a faun-like character who undertakes the repairs of Barbarella’s ship, in high esteem. Placed in the middle of the Labyrinth is the city of night, Sogo, where it is said The Great Tyrant lived and ruled. Sogo appears more like an alien spaceship than a city; it hovered above the labyrinth with cables connecting the two entities. While, Ping repairs Barbarella’s ship she and the angel sneaked into the city to find Durand Durand. Sogo is a mechanical city with an infrastructure of working parts clad with metal and iron piping protruding from its walls, portraying a convincing industrial theme.  “The film is ugly on so many levels—from art direction to human values—that it's hard to know where to begin. Let's be charitable and write it off to love—Fonda was married to director Roger Vadim at the time.”, Regardless of Fonda’s relationship with the director the belief that this was just an entertaining film for entertainment sake is incorrect. Many theories on heaven and other mythical kingdoms such as Shambhala have their locations not in the sky but within the centre of our earth. The Matmus which is the liquid entity beneath Sogo represents the creation of all that exists; many creation myths have their origins in water. There are many creditable stories and characters which could be associated with the film Barbarella, however it is up to the discretion of the audience whether these are skated over or not. The Great Tyrant captures Barbarella and crucifies Pygar, but Barbarella escapes with the help of Dildano (David Hemmings) a rebel leader planning to overthrow The Great Tyrant. There are a few memorable sets in the city, for example the chamber of ultimate solution, chamber of dreams, the rebel hideout, Durand Durand’s room with his organ of pleasure, and The Great Tyrant’s lair.  These sets work well because the decor and props highlight their intention and relevance, also coinciding with the actors’ costumes, with the exception of the chamber of ultimate solution. The chamber of ultimate solution, looking like a beaker in a laboratory with transparent walls and revolving doorways leading to total destruction, painted images of a gas chamber, emitting screams from its depth whenever a door was opened.

 The Tyrant’s lair or courtroom where top ranking subjects gather is a splendid place where a door magically appears to the entrance of The Great Tyrant who shows her true form as a woman with a single horn protruding from her forehead and clad in a tight sequined outfit, with sharp fingernails. In a previous unannounced appearance she donned an eye patch holding small cutting knives, and was labelled the one-eyed wench by Barbarella.  

The rebel hideout lived up to its name, which is why it worked so well as a room under The Great Tyrant’s lair it has interconnecting tubes linking all of Sogo to the hideout Dildano the head of the rebel outfit is conveniently dressed in a brown outfit reminiscent of the Second World War French resistance in ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Durand Durand’s pleasure organ is a machine resembling a piano, and when Barbarella is strapped to the organ and Durand Durand begins playing, pleasure is imparted to Barbarella - the harder and more intense he plays the more pleasure she reaches. Durand Durand has nothing but murderous intentions when he straps her in, and trying his upmost to destroy Barbarella with pleasure, ends up only destroying the machine.

Finally the chamber of dreams where the black queen goes to sleep is depicted as a huge space with a bronze-like bed in the middle on which she dreams peacefully in the foreground there are small potted grass plants with lights strategically placed to give an illusion of open space and a giant screen as a wall showing the black queens inner thoughts and dreams. Although Durand Durand traps Barbarella (the innocent and pure feminine aspect, the white queen) and The Great Tyrant (The Black Queen) in the chamber of dreams with the intention of the Matmus to devour them, one could be forgiven in thinking it is all over, but the Matmus which seems to be of the same essence as Barbarella, encases her and the black queen in a bubble to protect itself against her innocence.

 This leaves Durand Durand to be consumed by the Matmus as he uses his Posatronic ray to try and dissolve the rebel uprising.
Barbarella may not be for everybody’s taste, but it does deliver what it says it will, a comic-strip pop art themed indulgence, which captures you in anticipation of her next and every move for the whole 98 minutes.

Street Render

Monday, 29 November 2010


By Orisakolade Orisadamilare
Avatar is a fantasy action adventure directed and written by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, Zoe Salddana as Neytiri and Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine. The story follows the arrival of Jake Sully on the moon called Pandora, which is a lush rainforest type Garden of Eden that also produces a high intensity magnetic field. Jake is a paraplegic marine dispatched on a mission to take part in an avatar programme to interact and convince the Navi (the inhabitants of Pandora) to leave their land, in order that a large corporation can have easy access to a mineral called unobtanium laying beneath the forest.

James Cameron is tasked with the duty of conceiving Pandora’s environment and peoples, the colonies coming from Earth, their settlements and equipment. Roger Ebert looks at the technique employed in achieving the vision, “Like ‘Star Wars’ and ‘LOTR,’ ‘Avatar  employs a new generation of special effects. Cameron said it would, and many doubted him. It does. Pandora is very largely CGI.” CGI is to Avatar as Technicolor was to The Wizard of Oz, a necessity, hours could be spent on the way in which Cameron created the vast jungles in Pandora, but there’s no point. This film has to be seen to give it true justice. The flamboyant use of colour particularly at night when many of the plants came to life with bright neon colours highlighted the floor-to-wall green vegetation that glistened in light. Although the film was shot mainly within interiors lighting was never an issue, whether beneath the forest canopy or in the human base camp, objects and props were clearly defined, and nothing was unnecessarily hidden in shadow. The Navi and the wildlife are also magnificently coloured complementing the forest they live in, and when the forest’s neon lights shone, to be any other colour than blue would have been a disappointment.
Pandora was a moon in harmony, but also during the conceptual art, everything complemented everything, colour schemes, the otherworldly lighting, and a good proportion of scale with landscapes in real world perspective. Just as Pandora gave a vision of a realistic working environment, the human equipment and base station followed suite in this theory. All the equipment and machinery conceived had to work, and if built for future use would probably be reproduced in the same fashion. All these items had to be logically constructed to be able to work in the world in which they served.  Therefore, not only did the machines have to work as real life concepts, they had to work on Pandora. The aircrafts all contained hover technology which could lift off vertically from any surface especially within Pandora’s jungles; the weapons were good old-fashioned projectile machines which were noisy and emitted plenty of brass.
All these mid 21st century machines were used for two reasons - one, this technology was the most advanced that could function on Pandora, and anything more sophisticated shut down under the high intensity magnetic field. The second, Cameron wanted the audience to feel comfortable with all the technology in the film, so there could be no supposition on their part; they could associate all the machines with what they had previously experienced, allowing them to concentrate on the unfolding drama and special effects. Exactly what the drama Cameron is trying to get across to the audience is the age old story that is played out in contemporary modern day wars; or a classic tale of an incompetent native unable to defend himself, who needs a so-called ‘sophisticated’ hero to fight his battles.