Monday, January 01, 2018

My Films of the Year

2017 was  bit of a bumper year for science fiction films, although very few were even remotely original stories or first time adaptations. Certainly nothing as outstanding as 2016's Arrival, which to my mind sticks out as one of the best films of that year of any genre.

We've had the remake of Ghost in the Shell, which dumbed down a complex story about emergent, self aware AI and post-humans for a simple story of lost identity at the hands of corporate greed. Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 was great fun, but is basically a comedy Star Wards clone, albeit one with real wit and imagination. The Last Jedi was a fun (and surprising) addition to the Star Wars franchise, despite plot holes, Thor 3 was even more fun than Guardians or Jedi (and as such was an delightful surprise).

I could probably add Wonder Woman to this mix, but great fun though it was, it is more a fantasy/superhero crossover than the Marvel universe films.

The less said about some of the other entries this year, the better!

So, nothing very original. Lots of sequels, reboots, additions to existing franchise 'universes' and the like. 2018 promises some more interesting material, with Ready Player One in particular generating a lot of early excitement, as is The Shape of Water. Both offer original (albeit in the former's case, adapted) screenplays that might just offer something fresh and new.

So, for my vote of the film that in 2017 stood out as the best science fiction film, I have to go back to a sequel, albeit one that was twenty five years in the making. Blade Runner 2049 managed to stand on the shoulders of Blade Runner, and while remaining hugely respectful and consistent with its forebear, managed to explore the same territory with new depth. And managed to look and sound gorgeous at the same time.

Yes, there are problems with it - particularly its rather leery camera focus on naked female bodies. I get the idea that this is a brutal, exploitative society and that this is reflected in what we see, but the decision to keep putting naked female flesh graphically on screen feels more exploitative than making a comment.

However, I also get the point that it is ultimately the female protagonists who are the main agents of change in the narrative, and this has been eloquently argued elsewhere.

So laying that discomfort to one side, I can say that, while my initial reaction to the film was that it left me cold emotionally, over the months since I saw it the ideas, questions, imagery and character arcs have continued to engage me, and I now really need to see it again. That's how I know a film is real classic - when it won't let you go. All the other films from this year that I enjoyed I would be happy to see again, possibly repeatedly. But Blade Runner I need to see again - because I know there are questions still remaining that only a repeat viewing will help me to tackle.

The biggest of these questions is around expectation. Without giving away spoilers, the story makes you start looking for a miracle, and directs you towards an obvious but powerful answer. But it is the wrong answer, and we are brought up short, along with the protagonist. As one commentator said, a the heart of this film is a very uncomfortable message, but one we all need pay attention to. We are not as special, not as unique, as we like to think we are. A very anti-Hollywood message indeed.

At nearly three hours in length, it is also a film that does not rush its story telling. Many audiences found its length and long shots, periods of silence and lack of action for extended periods both frustrating and boring. I loved them! The film is an object lesson in telling a story by showing, not explaining. Which is another reason to see it again, because it misdirects you, makes you think you are seeing one reaction, one response from a character, when it later transpires it was a quite different response. The narrative plays cleverly with our expectations.

Finally, it is a story that explores once again the use of technology to exploit and control people. It is about the exercise and abuse of power and how it is opposed. As such it is a very welcome and timely addition to the genre.

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