Action

The Thing (1982)

the thing

The Thing opens with (well after the obligatory spaceship to Earth scene so the audience know this film is definitely going to be about aliens) a chase scene in which a Norwegian helicopter is trying to kill a husky. I don’t know if the gunman is just a bad shot or unlucky but the amount of shots he takes and misses is impressive. He also manages to miss blowing up the dog with a grenade, instead managing to blow up his helicopter and shoot a person in the leg – not very good. In contrast to the Norwegian’s terrible aim, he gets brought down by a bullet to the eye in a very tricky shot by the American scientific camp leader where the chase ends. The aforementioned American scientific camp is home to a twelve man team, most of whom are entirely forgettable.

Puzzled by the Norwegians bizarre actions, the helicopter pilot MacReady, played by Kurt Russell (Stargate, Grindhouse) leads an expedition to the Scandinavian base camp where they come across a gruesome scene – everyone is dead and there is a strange half-burnt corpse which they take back to the American base, which struck me as a very bad idea. When they arrive at base camp things go rapidly downhill when the stray dog devours the rest of their pack animals and it becomes clear that is isn’t a dog at all, rather some form of extra-terrestrial that subsumes and copies living creatures – including people. It is too late by now to know who is or isn’t human, anyone is a suspect. All they know is that they can’t let the alien escape from the frozen wasteland to civilisation or it will be the end of the world.

The Thing delivers the predictable to an incredibly high standard, which is only to be expected from horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, Ghosts of Mars). Indeed, the only thing missing is sex and nudity, there are zero female characters, which I guess wouldn’t fit well in a 1980’s expedition to Antarctica so I am willing to overlook it, equally it is set in the South Pole so it doesn’t leave much chance for bare skin. The Thing does however feature a screeching violin soundtrack, “found footage” and makes great use of the desolate location.

The paranoia of the team, who can they trust isn’t the alien apart from themselves and how they handle the pressure is well written and acted. The number of people on the base means that there are plenty of spare bodies for horrific death scenes whilst leaving enough survivors to drive the drama on. However, what The Thing does best in my opinion is the gore (I know it is good when my wife refuses to sit and watch it!). From the first alien-dog eating the rest of the dogs with its face peeling back like a deranged bloody flower through to the masses to tentacles fighting MacReady at the end via the head-spider combination it is amazing to think that it is all done without the help of computers and it came from someone’s brain. The Thing walks the line between sickening and comedic, staying just to the side of realism (as realistic as this implausible scenario is).

I thoroughly enjoyed The Thing to both horror fans and sci-fi fans.

Rating: 5/5

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Battle Royale (2000)

Battle-Royale

Set in an alternate and gritty Japan where in order to quell the uprising of ‘The Youths’ a random class is picked to undergo the titled Battle Royale. The film starts with a horde of reporters swarming round that year’s winner, a small girl in a pink, gore-splattered dress possessing the blood-curdling  and unhinged smile. We then move onto this year’s chosen class (although they don’t know it yet), a middle school class of 42 students and their teacher Kitano, played by Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro, Brother). After trouble with the class, including being stabbed by one of the more troubled students, we see the students messing about on the coach on a compulsory school trip. However the students never arrive at their destination, rather they are drugged and wake up in an abandoned school with electronic collars on and two new ominously silent ‘exchange pupils’.

When they have all recovered from the effects of the sleeping gas, Kitano accompanied by a squad of soldiers appears to explain what is going on with the aid of an incredibly peppy video the plan of Battle Royale. From the students’ reaction, it doesn’t seem like they have even heard of it before let alone that it was the big deal in order to keep The Youth in order that it was supposed to be. The outcome is that they must battle one another until there is only one left standing using the weapons provided in the packs, which could be anything ranging from machine guns and bow and arrows to poison to a tracking device right through to a pan lid. To make things more complicated, the island is split into zones and every hour a new zone becomes a danger zone which automatically catch any unsuspecting pupils caught in that zone.

After proving that, it is indeed a matter of life and death (to a few unfortunate students) the class disperses around the abandoned island. With a class of so many, Director Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora, Day of Resurrection), does a good job of showing all the deaths, many of which it would have been easy to overlook. Inevitably though, we end up focussing on two students, Shuya Nanahara (Tatsuya Fujiwara, Death Note), a sensitive boy who is coming to terms with his father’s suicide, and Noriko Nakagawa (Aki Maeda, The Cat Returns) the teacher’s pet.

Battle Royale is an extremely imaginative and well thought out film. The range of deaths, from suicide to the hunting mentality to the paranoia between a group of friends is impressive and imaginative and the psychological effect of the task at hand on the teenagers, presenting the many different facets of human reaction is a real joy to watch. It is no surprise that Battle Royale  is one of the highest grossing films in Japan and has influenced so many films and TV shows including Kill Bill and Lost and most notably the hugely popular The Hunger Games in which the parallels are as glaring as some of the outfits.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: Battle Royale is based on the novel of the same name by Koushun Takami published a year earlier. It has also been adapted into a manga series. If anyone has read either of these, I’d love to heartheir views on them!

World War Z (2013)

World War Z

World War Z is a big budget, big action film featuring Brad Pitt (who I’m sure you all know, but has also starred in Interview with a Vampire, Fight Club and numerous other films) as Gerry Lane. The film starts with a huge set piece with zombies attacking people in the middle of New York in which we witness both how people become infected (the traditional through a bite), how quickly it takes effect and how inexplicably capable Gerry is to deal with the zombie attack. Indeed, if he was not so capable, this film would be a lot shorter, say 15 minutes instead of 116 minutes. Through the film we learn why Gerry is so well equipped to handle this unfortunate turn of events, he is an ex- UN Inspector.

Fighting to survive the zombie apocalypse alongside Pitt are Mireille Enos (The Killing) as his wife, the slightly less capable Karin Lane and his two daughters, Constance and Rachel played by Sterling Jerins (The Conjuring) and Abigail Hargrove (The Butterfly Circus), who are frankly useless, which I guess is how children would react in that situation. Due to Gerry’s unique background, it earns him and his family a helicopter from his old boss Thierry Umutoni (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) out of the fallen Big Apple onto a Naval vessel 200 miles from New York. It soon becomes clear that this is not the blessing he thought it was and in order for his family to remain on the ship he goes to the origin of the outbreak with Dr Fassbach (Elyes Gabel), a young brilliant doctor to try and develop a vaccine to the (suspected) zombifying virus.

After a quick sojurn in South Korea, Lane ends up in Israel where he spots an old man and an emaciated teen are ignored by the zombies, giving him the vital clue on how to stop the spread and save the world. One of the best things about this film is how it moves around the world, indicating that it’s a World war and not just America or the UK. The quest for a cure takes Lane from New York, to Cardiff via South Korea and Israel.

The zombies in World War Z are fast zombies and the infection spreads quickly, in some cases as fast as twelve seconds. They are characterised by much gnashing of teeth, in an effort to bite and infect, rather than eat human flesh. The special effects are, understandably with a $400 million budget, the best I’ve seen with both attention to detail and stunning large set piece involving almost literal waves of zombies.

Directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland) World War Z is a fast paced film with not a great plot but lots of big action (big budget) scenes. It is a one man film, presumably making the most of the $13.5 million they paid for him. Whilst the plot is not believable (even for a zombie film), with the fate of the world resting on one person, it is still worth watching, keeping shocks and gore going right until the end and deserves its place as the highest grossing Zombie of all time*.

*Correct at time of writing.