Monday, October 27, 2008

More from the King

Another few quotes from King Vidor:
I wouldn't even approach a documentary film on a factual basis. Facts need to be interpreted.... Film is an art form and must not be inhibited by anyone else's interpretation of how you might behave or how an event happened. There is no correct interpretation of a historical happening.
Given my life-long rant about "inaccurate" Hollywood movies, such as U-571, I found myself surprisingly in agreement with this sentiment. The next one is about sex and violence in the movies.
Whenever someone [complains] about some strongly sex-oriented film, I usually reply, "Who twisted your arm to make you see it?" I explain that there are many ways to find out about a film before going to the theater. And the truth is that these people know what the film is about, but afterwards try to rationalise their voyeurism by finding a scapegoat to ease their own conditioned consciences.
And lastly, the supremely arrogant but insightful:
I recently received a letter from a student fan who asked me to name someone who had had the greatest influence on my work. For an opener, I wrote "David Wark Griffith", but then I realised that Griffith would have to take second place. The person who influenced my work more than anyone else was King Vidor.

Machinima Expo Finalists

I seem to be in demand judging things at the moment, which is rather flattering. This week, I was asked to judge the finalists for the upcoming Machinima Expo.

Having put together or assisted with several major machinima screenings recently, I'm usually familiar with most of what's put up for consideration in these competitions. As always, though, it was great to discover several new - and extremely good - movies in among the old stalwarts. It reminded me that the world of machinima is way bigger than any of us realises.

In 2004, when I was writing my book on machinima, I reckon I saw most of the films that were out there. And every day, I could watch everything that was released. Now I can't even keep up with each day's new Moviestorm films, let alone all the great movies made in other engines. And that, I think, is a wonderful point to have reached.

There are too many good machinima movies for one man to watch.

That's a sign of a healthy, vibrant, creative medium. In the machinima community, we have the talent, we have the tools, and we have the dedication to produce works of art that don't just appeal to fans of the games the assets were drawn from, but to people who have a genuine interest in film, and also to everyday people who don't give a damn how a film was made, only whether it's entertaining enough to hold their attention. We are slowly but surely becoming an accepted part of the film community, and they respect us for what we are doing.

That's a great feeling, isn't it?

Thanks to Ricky & Phil for asking me to do the job, and thanks to all the finalists for making great movies.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You have the camera

I've been reading King Vidor on Film. It's mostly fairly run of the mill stuff, but this paragraph jumped out at me.

You have the camera. Take it and run with it. Hold the camera upside down if you want to, run the film backwards if you feel like it, shoot in color or black and white, or mix the two together if this says something for you. Underexpose or overexpose or throw the lens out of focus. Run at any speed the camera will accommodate and light the scenes with candles and don't pay any attention to what I have to say or anyone else. You are the first person who has ever done what you are doing. No one has ever done it before. You are photographing ideas and feelings, not words.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Anya's pheasant

While walking through Wandlebury yesterday with the Morrigan, she spotted pheasant running down the forest pathways and wondered what they tasted like. So.... here's Anya's Pheasant, inspired by a Hungarian recipe, Chicken Badacsonyi.

Lightly saute some chopped onions & garlic, rosemary, and finely chopped bacon in olive oil for a couple of minutes, using a big heavy saucepan. Then put your pheasant in and turn it a few times to lightly brown it on all sides. Now add mushrooms. Lots of them, and with as many varieties as you can. (European mushrooms, not shiitakes or the like, though. Go with wild forest mushrooms if you can get them.) A touch of parsley, salt & pepper, then add a couple of glasses of port. (I then threw in some left over champagne that had gone slightly flat). Now put the lid on, and leave it simmering very slowly for twenty minutes or so until a lot of the liquid has been absorbed.

Baste the pheasant with the remaining liquid, and chuck in a few small potatoes. I used Anya potatoes because they seemed appropriate. Then in goes the rest of the port. Half a bottle of Warre's Reserve works just fine. Put the lid back on, and leave it for another half an hour or so, cooking very slowly. Then, when everything's cooked through, take the lid off and let most of the liquid evaporate into a sauce. Serve, garnished with chopped coriander and parsley, with a strong red wine.

Yeah, my tablecloth sucks. Like I care.

We followed with chocolate souffle (yeah, I cheated, it was from Gu), and Warre's Otima 10-year old Tawny port, and coffee spiced with cinnamon, clove and vanilla.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A bit of rabble-rousing

As I mentioned in my review of Tom Watson's Causewired, I've been a bit of an online activist for some time, in my own quiet way. Here's what I did today in ten minutes over lunch.

It may not change anything, but at least I know that I've put my point of view to the people who are elected to represent me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Like many books about new social phenomena, the basic premise of Tom Watson's CauseWired can be summed up in three sentences;

1. The modern internet allows unprecedented levels of communication.
2. Some people are using this for Good Stuff, not just porn and gossip.
3. Woah!

The rest of the book is a mass of solid supporting evidence. I've been online for about twenty years now, and have been involved in various forms of (admittedly, low-level) online activism all that time, so very little of it came as a surprise to me. There were some new facts, and some interesting anecdotes, but nothing startling.

However, CauseWired did get me thinking about all sorts of things. The first was that we need to change our perception of the younger inhabitants of cyberspace. The Jack Thompsons and tabloid journalists of this world would have us believe that our teenagers do nothing but slob around at home, playing online games, pirating music and movies, surfing for free porn, and babbling away pointlessly on MSN in some incomprehensible argot, while ignoring the bigger issues in life. Sure, they do that some of the time, but they also care. They care passionately. They're actually far more politically and socially active than any previous generation, because technology makes it easy for them and because, believe it or not, it's cool.

Be honest, before the Net, how many of us took the time to write to our MP, put in a written objection to a planning proposal, or complain to an oil company boss about their ethical practices in the Third World? Not many. But teenagers these days think nothing of that, especially if all they have to do is to click a few links and then get kudos by being the one who told their friends first via blogs, Skype, email, or twitter.

Which got me thinking about Tom's second profound, but understated point. Ten years ago, most of us craved anonymity online. That's now completely changed. The modern Net user lives his or her life in public. "Look at me!" they scream. Photos, diaries, itineraries, even candid confessions are all open to everyone. We want people to see who we really are, blending the professional and the personal. Our friends and social networks are part of who we are, and so are the things we believe in. By proclaiming to the world that we, too, support a cause, we get a sense of belonging that both affects our immediate social group and reaches out far beyond it.

That's a huge change, with effects we are only just beginning to understand. It's easy to dismiss mass grass-roots activism as just a rent-a-mob, but that would be a mistake. True, some causes may be just a flash in the pan, but our leaders need to be aware that there are other issues that people - voters - really do give a shit about. I may not be personally affected by starvation in Darfur, by court-sanctioned rape in Pakistan, or be displaced to make room for a huge hydro power station, but I, and literally millions of others, don't want to live in a world where those things happen, and I want those in power to damn well do something about it. When a million, or ten million people all stand up and say, "hey, buddy, this ain't right," they can't help but take notice.

CauseWired isn't a manual.. It won't tell you how to change the world. However, it's an important chronicle of a social upheaval in which the silent majority are being replaced with a vocal majority. If you're already involved in online activism, CauseWired probably won't be much of an eye-opener to you. On the other hand, it does leave you with a comforting feeling that you're not a weirdo. You're part of a fundamental shift in the way our world will be run when we all have the ability to express how we feel about the things that make a difference to us.

Democracy, I think it's called.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Interfacing Virtual Actors

I'll be on a panel at Machinima FilmFest 2008 on Interfacing Virtual Actors, along with Michael Nitsche (GeorgiaTech University), Ken Perlin (NYU Media Research Lab), and John C. Martin II (Reallusion). Hope to see some of you there!

Macbeth's Disciple

One of our very first clients when we started Short Fuze five years ago was a little London-based outfit called Spearean. They commissioned us to design a PS2 game based on Shakespeare's Macbeth, but with a strong historical context. Sadly, it never got off the ground, which is a shame, because it had some damn good ideas in it. But now they've used some of those ideas and made a short movie, Macbeth's Disciple, which is premiering on London in early November.

I'm really pleased for them, but gutted I can't make it as I'll be in New York at the Machinima Festival. Dave & I wish Jasmin the very best of luck.

Come and See

Some of the very best films I've ever seen are so powerful and so emotional that I really don't want to see them again. Come and See is one of those. It's a Soviet-era Belorussian movie from 1985, set in the Second World War. It would be wrong to describe it as a war film, though. It's a coming of age film, centred around a 12-year old boy, Florya, who joins the partisans.

Most reviewers describe it as a brutal film. I didn't see it that way. I found it harrowing. It wasn't a film about the horrors of war. It was a film about what happens if you live in a world where life is cheap and meaningless, and where everyone around you has resorted to savagery and barbarism. In contrast to films such as Saving Private Ryan, Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon, or Full Metal Jacket, there is very little voyeuristic or explicit carnage. The violence mostly happens off camera. We're more interested in the after-effects than the actual events. The one scene where we do actually see something happen, where a detachment of SS Einsatztruppe destroy a village, is quite horrific. Not because of what happens to the villagers, but because of the casual, unconcerned looks on the faces of the Germans looking on.

It's a stunning film, in every sense of the word. It leaves you numb, shell-shocked, and reeling. And it's excellently made in every department. Top marks have to go to the young Aleksei Kravchenko. His performance is simply astonishing. Director Elem Klimov made life hell for his cast to get them to give of their best. They shot for nine months in the swamps and forests, dragging the cast and crew through mud and rain, and for added realism he used live ammunition.

The photography is reminiscent of Werner Herzog's psychological work, such as Aguirre and Woyzeck. There are lots of long, slow, static, silent shots, where the story is told with facial expressions or simple head movements. At times, as I often find with Herzog, I found it almost painfully slow, but editing it faster would have lost the intensity required to immerse you in Florya's world. This is particularly the case after the first battle scene, where the sound work is probably some of the best on film. After an artillery attack, Florya is deafened, and all we hear for the next few scenes is the ringing in his ears and some muffled voices. The sense of isolation - another hallmark of much of Herzog's work - is quite eerie, and as Florya's hearing is slowly restored, we find ourselves drawn back into a macabre world that is somehow changed.

I can't say I enjoyed the film. As with much Russian cinema (more accurately, Soviet cinema), it was bleak, raw, and uncomfortable. It's what Russians do best - just read most of the great Russian literature from the early 19th century onwards; it's either light comedy or depressing as hell. Their operas fit into the same pattern. (Please, Lord, let me never sit through another performance of Boris Godunov.)

But Come and See isn't a film you watch to enjoy. Like Sophie's Choice or Christiane F, this is a film you watch to see the world through the eyes of another. Afterwards you feel relief that you don't live like that, and determination that you will do anything you can to prevent such a world happening again. See it, and feel how powerful film can be.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Repo! The Genetic Opera

This looks like a fun film.

In the year 2056 - the not so distant future - an epidemic of organ failures devastates the planet. Out of the tragedy, a savior emerges: GeneCo, a biotech company that offers organ transplants… for a price. Those who miss their payments are scheduled for repossession and hunted by villainous Repo Men. In a world where surgery addicts are hooked on painkilling drugs and murder is sanctioned by law, a sheltered young girl searches for the cure to her own rare disease as well as information about her family’s mysterious history. After being sucked into the haunting world of GeneCo, she is unable to turn back, as all of her questions will be answered at the wildly anticipated spectacular event: The Genetic Opera.

It's a stylish SF musical with Anthony Head and bucketloads of attitude, which is always a good sign. And, erm, Paris Hilton. And Sarah Brightman. Yeah, I know, but I still want to see it.

Trailer here.

M27 Planetary Nebula

More from Paul's Workshop of Telescopes: this is the M27 Planetary Nebula, popularly known as the Dumbbell, last night.

Paul says:
If I'd known you were going to put this pic up, I'd have got rid of the slight gradient and improved the flats to make it a little smoother! But sure - taken last night - 2hrs total exposure, but needs more! It's stretched a little too far - the noise is too visible - but enough to show dim signs of the ancient skirt of older nebulosity.

I'm going to shame him into updating his Web site...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

OMG it's full of stuff

Last night I managed to confuse most of my twitterfriends by telling them I was looking at stars and seeing pretty things in the sky. I wasn't just standing in the back garden staring upwards, as they thought. I was sat in the comfort of my mate Paul's shed, beer in hand, being amazed at what his Workshop of Telescopes could do. It was quite stunningly impressive.

In his back garden, just outside Cambridge, he and Tim have built a serious observatory. Inside, they have a pair of pretty damn cool scopes, each fitted with motorised mounts, cameras, and remote controls. Everything then runs through to the (heated!) shed, where the control systems live. It's not just about swinging the telescope round and peering through. Oh no. This is twenty-first century astronomy, and to see it in someone's home is quite awesome.

Photo: Paul Beskeen Astrophotography

This, as I'm sure you all recognised instantly, is a quick snapshot of the Eagle Nebula, about 7000 light years away. To get this, you first open up your 3D skymap on the PC and find an interesting object, then just click on it and tell the scope to point at it. Whirrr, whirr, and it spins around, all by itself, out in the darkness. (There's a camera in the observatory so you can watch it move, which is rather neat.) Now you fire up the camera on the scope, and tell it to take a picture. But this is no ordinary camera set-up. You can apply all sorts of filters: this is a H-alpha filter, which just looks for signs of hydrogen. Since nebulae are made of hydrogen, this is a good way to enhance them. Now you wait four minutes while it collects photons on the CCD and turns them into electrons. Of course, while you wait that long, the Earth continues to rotate, so the scope automatically counteracts that by adjusting itself. It has a guide star, and every couple of seconds it tweaks itself to ensure that the guide star stays in the same place in the image. And then you get your first image on the screen. Using various image manipulation techniques, you can play with the image to bring out different aspects of what you're seeing, or else just to make a pretty picture.

As Paul pointed out, four minutes really is just a quick snapshot. He and Tim were just showing off what their kit could do. For serious photography, you often have to wait much, much longer. Some nights he and Tim spend hours tracking a single object across the sky. If you want colour pictures, you have to photograph it three times, with red, green, and blue filters, and then recombine them to create the composite image.

I'll try to find some more of Paul's pics. Somewhere in Second Life is a screen showing a load of his images which he released under Creative Commons, and I'll try to hunt those down.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Leaving the Game

Leaving the Game was a project we did last year with the American Film Institute Digital Content Lab and a whole heap of different people from around the game, film, TV & IT industries, including Kuma Reality Games, Cartoon Network, Disney, IBM, Microsoft, Method, Georgia Tech, Furnace Media, and a whole bunch of freelancers. It was a pilot for a machinima series – one which we knew would never get made, but we wanted to prove that technically, it could be done, and artistically, that machinima has the ability to create TV quality entertainment. (You may argue that “of course machinima is good enough”, but the professionals still need to be convinced about what would happen if they started to use it.)

Looking back on it, it’s one of the things I’m rather proud to have worked on, and having it nominated for a technical achievement award at this year’s Machinima Festival is very satisfying.

So what’s so damn clever about it?

First of all, you have to understand that LtG uses old-style machinima technology. Those who’ve been around the machinima scene for a while will remember that machinima wasn’t originally a way to create video files. You didn’t get avi or wmv files you could upload to YouTube or stick on an FTP site. You had to watch machinima by running the game it was created in, and then loading a demo file which played everything back in the game engine in real time. So, no post-production, no clever edits, no mixing different engines. LtG went back to these roots, and everything you see is played in the Half-Life 2 engine, on a X-Box 360, in real time.

Early concept art for Amber's assassin costume

This, of course, gave us a whole heap of problems. Switching between locations – of which there are several in the film – would have meant huge loading times if we did each one as a separate level. Instead, we had to build all our sets on a single level and just teleport to them. We couldn’t cut away when we wanted to compress time, so we had to build identical sets running in different time frames and cut between them.

On the other hand, it enabled us to introduce some other features that would not have been possible if we had just made video files. What you don’t realize from looking at the video on the Web site is that Leaving the Game isn’t just a straightforward video. What you see depends on who you are and where you are.

Leaving the Game is delivered to the X-Box via X-Box Live as a pile of assets (all the custom content, skins, models, levels, sounds, music, voices etc) and the script. That, in itself, makes for a completely new content distribution model. If we’d done episode 2, we’d only need to send assets we hadn’t already used earlier in the series, so we’d already have the lead characters, main locations, title sequence, theme music, etc.

But – and here’s the bit that’s unique – the assets you get aren’t the same for everyone. If you’re an adult, you get the unrestricted version with full-on gore, swearing (and, I think, sticky-out nipples on Amber’s catsuit – not sure if those stayed in the final cut, though). If you’re a child, you get the PG-rated version without the blood and moderated language. If you’re Spanish, you get the Spanish-language version, and because it’s real-time, the characters lip-synch correctly, and the timings of the scene adjust to fit the duration of the speech. (To be honest, although we did the tech demo of this feature, it didn’t make it to the final cut, simply because we ran out of time to do the second set of voice recordings.) And finally, the product placement is adjusted to fit you as well. In one scene, we had bottles on a shelf. Kids saw a soft drink, adults in some states saw one brand of beer, adults in another state saw a different brand of beer. We experimented briefly with making the lead character either black or white, male or female, at the viewer’s choice, but decided that although it was technically possible, we didn’t want to make the story or the character too radically different.

So what?

This is a completely radical approach to the way we produce, deliver and view content.

By using a connected games console and game engine as the core of the viewing medium, we change the way you get content. Instead of delivering movies, you deliver everything you need to have that movie reconstructed locally. This in turn means that you can produce content for a wider audience: the same content can appeal to both kids and teens, and you can create foreign language versions faster and cheaper.

And lastly, and possibly most importantly for the professionals, advertisers can see the potential in being able to target audiences more precisely. They can place a product into a piece of content, and know that it will only be seen by relevant people. In these days of dwindling ad revenue, and as content creators find it harder to get funding, this is highly attractive.

I’ve believed for a long time that machinima has the power to shake up the media world, and Leaving the Game proved it. It was also a hell of a lot of fun to make, and a great opportunity to work with all sorts of people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. Hats off in particular to Keith & Dante at Kuma, whose team did most of the hard work.

Amber as she appears in the film

Monday, October 6, 2008

Porkin' out

Last night was a bit of an experiment, blending Elizabethan flavourings with Eastern European style cooking, and ending up with the sort of thing that might have been around in the days of Dracula. (The real bloke, not the neck-biting undead "I never drink... wine" geezer.")

Sadly, there's no proper picture to go with this, because we ate all the food before we realised it was blogworthy, and empty dishes don't look so good. So here's Vlad Tepes and Bela Lugosi instead.

Matt's Transylvanian Pork

I started with a lump of pork, and rubbed it all over with caraway, paprika, salt, pepper, cloves, nutmeg and allspice, then stuffed it with bits of apple. Then I simply put it in a roasting dish with more sliced apple, sultanas, dates (instead of the usual prunes), onions and garlic, added a touch of vegetable stock, a bit of ginger, and some red wine, and left it to slowly roast in the oven for about five hours.

While that was cooking, I made a bacon and mushroom salad: I fried the mushrooms with garlic in butter and olive oil, then fried chopped bacon, rosemary, and ciabatta in more butter and olive oil. Add balsamic vinegar, spread on top of rocket, and then crumble some Stilton on top.

By the time the pork arrived, we were well and truly ready for food. I decided to go for bulghur wheat as an accompaniment, rather than potatoes, in keeping with the Eastern feel, and actually got it right this time: roasted peppers, fried leeks and onions, and a touch of caraway made for an interesting pilaf which worked well. The fruit in the sauce gave it a lovely touch of sweetness, combining well with the caraway and other spices. We then followed with strong, sweet Malabar coffee, flavoured with cinnamon and cloves, and a glass of tawny port.

And, what's more, there's enough pork for sandwiches!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mongoose Overdrive

Every so often, a week comes along that just throws things at you from every which direction, and doesn't stop till you beg for mercy. Well, to be truthful, it doesn't even stop then. This has been one of them.

Some of the highlights of this week have included:
  • Being asked to be a judge at the Machinima Expo
  • Being asked to be a judge for a design competition at Long Road 6th Form College
  • Having a movie I worked on as technical consultant (Leaving the Game) get nominated for an award for technical achievement at this year's machinima festival
  • Having one of my photos, a picture of Reality Checkpoint on Parker's Piece, selected as part of a guide to Cambridge
  • Meeting a whole bunch of interesting people at a conference and being asked for help using Moviestorm in some very cool and socially rewarding ways
  • Getting invited to do a screening and workshops at one upcoming UK film festival, and being asked to speak at another
  • Meeting a British Vice-Consul based in San Francisco, discovering he knew who I was and what I do, and being asked to go out there and speak
  • Finding my photo in a local photographer's online gallery - Gordon Tant, who took the picture of my hat that I'm now using as my avatar
  • Doing some of the most creative personal work I've done in ages as a result of some random research turning up some extremely surprising things
Scene from Leaving the Game (American Film Institute, Kuma Reality Games, Short Fuze, Cartoon Network, Disney, IBM, Microsoft, Method, Georgia Tech, Furnace Media, and others, 2007)

It's also been a good week for catching up with old friends, and making new ones, especially via Twitter and Facebook. My son got his first job, washing up in a local restaurant, saving up so he can build himself a computer. We had some great Moviestorm movies, including the marvellous Star Wars Election 08, and it looks like I'll finally be getting around to some podcasting again. It seems as if everything I've been doing for the last 18 months is finally coming together.

More weeks like this, please. With the aid of Red Bull (and Stolichnaya) I'll be just fine. I'll sleep in November, after the Machinima Festival in NY...

Reality Checkpoint, Cambridge, 2007

Thursday, October 2, 2008

It only encourages them

(This is pretty much an unedited transcript of a rant I had in the office yesterday. If four-letter words offend you, shut your eyes when you read them.)

As you might expect for a company on the periphery of the movie world, the office Skype chat at Short Fuze is filled with news of upcoming movies. Most of the time, this is greeted with groans, wailing and gnashing of teeth as we find out about yet another sequel, remake, or adaptation. This week the screams of total anguish hit record levels as we found out about Blade Runner 2. (Or in my case, the remake of Angel Heart.)

"Why, oh why, do they have to fuck with my favourite film / book / comic / TV show?" the assembled crowd shout out every time we hear about another of these movies. "It's going to be dreadful, you can't better the original, why can't they think of anything original these days... blah blah Phantom Menace blah blah..."

Well, people, it's your own damn fault. So you're all gonna hate Blade Runner 2, right? On principle. (Except Chris, who stuck up for it.) So why the hell is it, when I ask you if you're going to see it, you say "Well, yes, it is Blade Runner, after all." That's why they make these shit-awful movies. Because people like you will give them money to see them, even if you don't bloody like them. (Hands up all those who went to see Star Wars Eps 2 & 3 even though they hated them. Matrix 2 & 3? Spiderman 2? Resident Evil? Doom? Yeah, you know who you are.)

My youngest daughter, who's now ten, has gone through all the usual obsessions of a modern Western girl. Winnie the Pooh, Teletubbies, Barbie, Bratz, High School Musical, and so on. And like all kids, she's a sucker for merchandise. If she sees something with her current favourite brand on, she immediately wants it, even if she doesn't actually want the item in question. "Look, Daddy, a rectal thermometer for a hamster, can I have it? It's pink and it's got Barbie Sleeping Beauty on it, pleeeease! It's only £17.99...." And if she had her own money, she'd damn well buy it too, even though she hasn't even got a bloody hamster. The only thing that stops her handing over all her money to Mattel and Disney is the fact that she hasn't actually got any. I'm just hoping she grows out of it by the time she's old enough to have a credit card.

And how exactly is that different from people who go and see a movie they know they won't like, just because it has a tenuous relationship to a movie (or book, film, or game) they do like? It's not a film, it's a piece of merchandise made by the film industry, and you fell for it. Why do they fuck with your favourite film? Because they will make money. They're not in it for the art. They don't give a shit about the characters, the worlds, or the stories you love. They're a business, and if they can get away with selling you crap, they'll make crap, and laugh all the way to the bank.

Now, before you all jump on me and accuse me of saying we shouldn't make sequels, we shouldn't remake films, and we shouldn't adapt things, that's not what I'm saying at all. Some sequels are great (Aliens, the second two Indy movies, Bride of Frankenstein), and some remakes work really well (The Grudge, Peter Jackson's King Kong*, Magnificent Seven). And the film industry has a long and proud tradition of adapting from other media (Jungle Book, Lolita, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Chocolat, Throne of Blood). When done well, these make really enjoyable films. There's nothing wrong from an artistic point of view with sequels, remakes & adaptations, provided they're made with love and respect.** There's just something wrong with an artistic culture that seemingly can't think of anything else and treats its source material and audience so cynically.

However, If you look back at the history of Hollywood, from about 1930 onwards, only about 20%-25% of films have ever been based on completely original scripts. About 30%-35% are adaptations of books, and the rest are a mixture of remakes, sequels, and adaptations from other media. The change we're seeing now, though, is that nearly all the top budget and high profile films are drawn from the latter category, and fewer and fewer are originals. That's because they're comparatively low risk. If a studio sinks $75m into making a Blade Runner sequel, they can be pretty certain there are ten million Blade Runner fanboys out there who'll go and see it (and then buy the DVD, and while they're at it, buy the re-issued original yet again, and then buy the box set, and the director's cut special edition with the limited edition postcards in, and the new action figures, yadda yadda yadda) that they will be certain to make their money back. And the fan networks will do their advertising for them. (Like I am, right now, by so publicly ranting about it. Guilty.) But if the studio puts that $75m into making exactly the same script but without the Blade Runner name on it, they'll have an uphill struggle to convince people to go and see it, they won't do as well out of merchandising rights, and they could well lose money. So from a pure business point of view, it's a no-brainer.

(Compare that with Bollywood or the European film industry where there are relatively few sequels etc, and the whole business is very different. But that's a post for another day.)

Rant nearly over. Thanks for sticking with me this far.

Here's the message. It's a simple one.

If you don't like the fucking film, don't go and see it.

And quit bitching. Nobody's making you watch those movies except you.

If we, the public, stop giving Hollywood money for their lame-brain exploitative knock-offs, they'll eventually stop making them. That's the only language they understand. There are thousands of brilliant, original, almost unknown movies out there. Go and see one of them instead, and show some independent film-maker who's pouring his heart and soul into a movie that what he's doing is far more worthwhile than some pointless $100m special effects extravaganza.

Or, to quote Lloyd Kaufman, boss of Troma, make your own damn movie!

(I think that's my Hollywood career over before it's begun. Unless maybe those Miramax fucks will have me?)

*Yes, I do actually quite like Jackson's King Kong. It has its flaws (editing, Peter, it's where you cut out the boring bits and keep the tension up), and I still prefer the original, but it works as a film, and it speaks to the modern generation with as much depth as the original spoke to me. What comes across is that Jackson made his version of Kong with love and respect, and he wasn't just banging out a cheap money-grabber like Dino de Laurentiis did. Now that's a shit remake.

** And in general, I'd prefer to see an adaptation or remake of something I don't already know. Many times I've watched a film, thoroughly enjoyed it, and only then seen the words "Based on the novel by..." If I already know the source, I'm immediately comparing it to the film as I watch it, and start asking myself why they did it that way, which isn't nearly as much fun.