New Avatar trailer unfurls narrative

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20th Century Fox today released the second Avatar trailer for James Cameron’s hotly anticipated movie, scheduled for a day and date release on 12 December.

The first teaser trailer, released just over a month ago, tantalised audiences with displays of the much-vaunted CGI capabilities of Cameron’s production team.

This second helping hints that there will be a return to Cameron’s common motif of love and loyalty tested by war or disaster, as has been the case in his films Terminator, The Abyss and Titanic. There is also a theme of the struggle by a small group against a vastly more powerful aggressor, (as was Star Wars, written with the Vietnam conflict between the US and the under-resourced Viet-Cong in mind). Longer periods between cuts give a greater chance to examine the CGI, and it seems to stand up.

The story centres on ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who though paralysed and wheelchair-bound is brought back for a mission taking place on the remote world of Pandora, home of the tribal Na’vi people. 

Earth requires new sources of a highly valuable metal element, and the Na’vi settlement is sitting on top of a significant vein of said stuff, so in true gung-ho style, the Marines are sent in to clear the village. 

Sully, given the chance to walk again through the use of a genetic human-Na’vi hybrid body, or ‘Avatar’, is tasked to infiltrate the Na’vi and pass back intelligence from the inside. However, the one thing that no-one in these neo-con power structures ever counts on interfering in a military operation, is the power of love.

I must admit to having been very wary of movies that promise to revolutionise the movie-going experience, possibly only films such as the original Star Wars trilogy and Jurassic Park can make such recent claims. 

It’s hard to make a accurate judgement without seeing it on the big screen, but the textures and rendering of CGI surfaces look convincing enough to lift it beyond the criticism of resembling ‘in-game’ footage, so I’m going to keep an open mind until it hits the silver screen. See what you think…

Images and trailer content used with permission of 20th Century Fox Limited

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Pinewood Studios drives-in for greater public engagement

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Pinewood Studios, the London film production facility, will open its gates to the general public to hold a series of drive-in movies, starting 31 October. UK facilities are rarely opened to non-industry personnel and such an event sets a precedent for the historic studio.

Pinewood Group’s corporate affairs director, Andrew Smith, said, “We are a working film and television studio. That is our primary business, not as a Disneyland or Universal theme park, but I’m very keen as a studio to break down the traditional barriers.”

The Studios recently celebrated its 73rd birthday, and the screenings are intended to be an informal and fun recognition of this. The program is designed to appeal to as many audience demos as possible, with the proviso that any film shown must have been shot in whole, or in part at Pinewood or Shepperton Studios. Older titles such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr Strangelove sit alongside more recent fare Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Mamma Mia, Gladiator and Batman Begins. Hotdogs, hamburgers and a VIP waitress service will complete the drive-in experience.

Hosted on the studio’s paddock tank and surrounding lot, movies will be projected over six weekends onto the bluescreen backdrop, the largest in Europe, measuring 73.1m x 18.3m. A Christie 3-chip DLP HD projector will beam from a Blu-ray source to create a slightly smaller 35m to 40m wide image.

Smith said, “We did a trial earlier in the year and it was a great atmosphere. When you’re at a drive-in you can get out of your car, you can still hear the dialogue or the music. It’s more of a night out as opposed to going to see a film on a normal screen, you’re going for an experience that you’ve never had before.”

While enthusiastic to highlight the event’s unique experience, Smith emphasised he did not intend to compete with local exhibitors. There is also no intention to court any traditional screen advertising for revenue:

“No-one is suggesting this is something you would want to do every day for every weekend of the year, it’s a bit of a novelty. It’s a case of ‘it’s Saturday night, let’s go to the drive-in.’ It’s going to be an old film that’s been on general release already, not a new title.”

The Studios have recently seen increased levels of online public engagement, with a Facebook group and regular Twitter activity sharing information about what is being shot at the facility. An ambitious extension to the Studios, ‘Project Pinewood’, planned to develop 1,400 homes within the ‘living streetscapes’ of the backlot. However, trade paper Variety reported on Wednesday last week that the scheme has been rejected by the local planning authority, and that Pinewood plan to appeal against the decision.

If the appeal were successful, the first-phase of construction in 2012 would include a ‘Screen Crafts Academy’. In conjunction with training body SkillSet and the National Film and Television School, it aims to teach 120 students 20 different disciplines on one year foundation courses, ranging from model-making, wig-making, plastering and carpentry.

Smith said, “The film industry is an important part of the UK economy. Don’t forget that a good percentage of 16-23 year olds are unemployed at the moment, it’s about opening up skills and training. The film industry is not just about what you see on the screen, it’s also all those wonderful craft skills. The creative industries are one aspect of the economy that is currently growing, contributing around 7% of the UK’s GVA.”

Drive-in movies may be about a fun night out, but Smith is serious in reaching out to the public in anticipation of the future, “There are all these jobs in a film studio, plasterer’s apprentice, drapes apprentices, through to all the people who look after the infrastructure of the Studios. We’re very keen to get people to understand what goes into the running of a studio. It’s not just about standing either side of a camera.”

Image: Pinewood Studios Group

Holy Moly! Pinewood Studios does drive-in movies

Yep, you too can be a 50s throwback like The Fonz and Richie Cunningham, for that grand palace of British film-making, Pinewood Studios, is holding a series of drive-in movies this winter to celebrate its 73rd birthday.

 

Unlike some American theme-park studios, British studios are locked down tighter than Fort Knox. But on this occasion, they are opening the Willy Wonka gates of their veritable chocolate factory to the likes of us Charlie Buckets, and if it’s a roaring success, it’s something they may do again.

 

There’ll be an American-style menu offering hamburgers, hot dogs and drinks, but no alcohol, ‘cause you’ll be driving, daddeo. A VIP ticket will get you a prime spot near the front, and waitress service to your car. The studio boffins will transmit the sound to your car stereo by a selected radio frequency, and the image will come from a Blu-ray player hooked up to a beast of an HD projector.

 

While not a studio tour, you’ll get to ride your station-wagon – or Ford Focus – to the Paddock Lot. This is the huge water tank that has witnessed the sinking of the Titanic in A Night to Remember, and the sinking – there’s a recurring theme here – of a Venitian house thanks to a certain secret agent. You’ll be glad to know the tank will be covered, so no need to bring your Lotus Esprit submersible.

 

Projected onto Europe’s largest bluescreen will be 2001: A Space Odyssey, Superman, Gladiator, Batman Begins, Dr Strangelove, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Slumdog Millionaire, Harry Potter, Mamma Mia and many more over the six weekends up to the end of December.

 

The one thing they can’t control is the temperature of the British weather, so they’re advising wrapping up as you would for Bonfire Night or any winter show.

 

It all begins with a Halloween fright night of The Shining and The Omen. Check out the full schedule here, at See Tickets.com, and at the Pinewood website.

Film Review – The Times BFI London Film Festival Opening Gala Screening – Fantastic Mr Fox

Last night at the Odeon Leicester Square, The Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival presented its opening night gala screening and UK premiere of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox.

 

In attendance were the director, and cast members Jason Schwartzman, George Clooney (to the biggest cheer), Eric Anderson, Jarvis Cocker (who makes a cameo in the film and contributes a song), Dahl’s widow Felicity, and Bill Murray, who shouted his own introduction from the wings as ‘standing in for Meryl Streep!’ when she was unable to attend due to a bout of flu.

 

Quirky, quietly charming and with a hint of darkness, Fantastic Mr Fox will surely outfox it’s nearest box-office rivals. Director and co-writer Wes Anderson’s playful adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel allays fears of an overly American tone. Retro stop-motion animation and art-direction provide a very English feel, even when accounting for the frequent American diction.

 

Many years ago, Mr Fox (voiced by George Clooney) promised his wife Felicity (Meryl Streep) that his days stealing chickens from the farmers were at an end. 12 ‘fox-years’ later, he is living a domesticated life with his wife and young son Ash (Jason Schwartzman), plus a visiting young nephew, Kristofferson (Eric Anderson). Mr Fox soon gives in to his wild instinct to hunt, but his daring raids bring the farmers’ vengeance on his family and the surrounding animal community. Forced out of their homes, Mr Fox must hatch a grand scheme to save them all from final extermination.

 

Amongst a fanfare of children’s movies of varying narrative quality this year, here we feel a connection to something physical; the puppets’ fur ripples under the invisible fingertips of the animator. It’s a happy side-effect of the technique that it produces such living expression in the characters’ faces. A scene running through a wheat field made of what appears to be wool has a wonderful texture and quality to it. Chapter titles throughout the film pay homage to its literary origins, signposting the way for younger viewers whose attention span may wander during the leisurely pace.

 

Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Owen Wilson contribute to the supporting cast, while British thesps take the roles of stock Hollywood bad guys in the guise of the evil farmers, each with their own disgusting, Dahl-esque eating habits. In this case, the Brit casting actually makes sense given the rural English setting. Michael Gambon steals his scenes as the villainous Farmer Bean. A man with a love for firearms and cider, he has a deliciously brooding, gravelly voice that slides between his lips and an ever-glowing cigarette.

 

The sub-plot concerns Ash’s jealousy of his father’s high regard for Kristofferson. In pursuit of success to equal his father’s, he is brushed aside in favour of his cousin, leading him to put the two cub’s lives in danger. Final recognition of the son by the father hands Ash the opportunity to prove his worth in the final showdown with the farmers. These are relationships that most children will recognise from their own lives, and they are nicely woven into the fabric of the main narrative.

 

At times the film also flirts with adult subject matter. Startling direct exchanges between Mr and Mrs Fox leave no doubt of a marriage strained by his impulsive actions, and the death of a foe is handled with a light touch of genuine and rare pathos. The subject of a lover’s fidelity also sneaks in and out of the dialogue, hinting at Dahl’s more adult writing on such matters in his short stories. This is a film for, and about, husbands and wives, fathers, mothers and children.