Weekend Reel Reads: Frights on the Big Screen

Features
by Steve Greene
October 28, 2012 4:36 PM
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Weekend Reel Reads is a regular feature that gathers lengthier stories related to the world of film criticism you may have missed during the week. If there's anything you think would be ideal for future installments, please let us know at critic@indiewire.com.

See it Big: The Thing:

Julian Allen's appreciation of "The Thing" is more than just a delineation of all that is masterful about John Carpenter's Antarctic classic. In keeping with Reverse Shot's "See it Big" theme, Allen delves into how a theatrical experience can bring out some of Carpenter's more nuanced touches. Throw in a few thematic ties to existentialism and genre comparisons to "Alien" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and you have a well-reasoned and well-articulated explanation of why "The Thing" should be near the top of your Halloween watchlist, even if you may have already seen it before.

"Reinstating The Thing to its rightful place on a (very) big screen in its original Panavision wide format will allow audiences to appreciate two somewhat contradictory but fairly pivotal aspects of the film: firstly Carpenter’s ability to fill a big screen with small things; secondly—and more demonstrably—the virtuosic coloratura work of his special makeup effects designer, Rob Bottin. Unlike in the 1924 Phantom of the Opera, where the terror begins and ends with the indelible image of Lon Chaney’s unmasked face, there are many unforgettable coups de théâtre created by Bottin in The Thing which are by turn disgusting, bewildering, sickening, shocking—and often completely hilarious—but not actually scary. If anything, these magnificent plastic pyrotechnics operate as a welcome release from what is truly horrific about The Thing . . . and that’s not knowing what it is that you’re really afraid of."

We Belong Dead: Why Frankenstein Looked Horrific on the Big Screen:

The digital follies of "The Avengers" and "Passion" have been well-documented. But what happens when classic films are subject to some of the same difficulties? Will McKinley did some investigation into a recent "Frankenstein"-themed double bill to clarify just how the digital files of those films were delivered to theaters. For those interested in the specifics of compression and downloads, McKinley also explains the alternate method employed for the "Lawrence of Arabia" screening, where physical media was used. 

"All the screenings in the TCM Event Series are delivered to theaters via satellite as High-Definition video, in roughly the quality of a movie you’d watch in HD on HBO. These satellite transmissions are likely compressed 1080i images (which means the signal is skipping every other field within a frame), unlike Blu-ray, which is full 1080p. In addition, the file transmitted by Fathom is likely compressed on the upload, uncompressed on the download by the local theater, and then re-compressed when it’s recorded to the venue’s Digital Video Recorder. Theaters that lack a DVR may broadcast a live satellite transmission from Fathom, which skips a few steps in the compression chain, but is still no better than broadcast TV quality – and possibly worse, if it’s projected on a 2K projector (as was the case when I saw CASABLANCA in New Jersey in March) on a giant screen."

Would ‘Hocus Pocus’ Be a Beloved Halloween Classic If It Wasn’t Released the Same Year as ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’?

Challenging the perfection of Henry Selick's 1993 stop-motion classic is tantamount to treason in some circles, but Film School Rejects' Nathan Adams is willing to accept the challenge. Adams also looks at "Hocus Pocus," another 1993 offering that has not enjoyed the extended cult following that "Nightmare" has anjoyed. As he points out, the Kenny Ortega film has been somewhat relegated to afternoon Disney Channel fare. For a Halloween film that isn't dominated by gore and carnage, Adams argues that "Hocus Pocus" deserves better.

"And in addition to each of the kids exploring new relationships, they also get thrust into a good amount of harrowing-but-not-too-frightening horror action as well. The witch trio bring the comedy, but they also work as a scary threat. Midler, Najimi, and Parker have great chemistry together, and the way they operate like a single, many-limbed organism is kind of unsettling. Plus, you’ve got zombie attacks, people being burned alive, and, heck, the movie pretty much opens with a little girl getting killed. This may be a Disney movie through and through, but it always remembers to get in the spirit of the Holiday by throwing in some spookiness and scares."

The Skyfall's the limit on James Bond marketing:

Bond films are not cheap to make. As a result, there are plenty of product-placement and other advertising examples for Guy Lodge to chronicle in his piece for the Guardian. As Lodge observes from a recent Daniel Craig quote, the marketing budget for the film nearly equalled its other production costs. While Bond purists may balk at the appearance of Heineken (among other non-traditional Bond accessories and brands), it may be the main method of "Skyfall" exposure that doesn't involve a skydiving Queen at the Olympics.

"Though not a man averse to material pleasures, Bond himself might balk at the amount of promotional tie-ins being attached to his name this time around. The new film raises the bar for onscreen product placement, from 007's Tom Ford-tailored suits to Q's Sony Vaio hardware, as well as offscreen alliances ranging from Coke Zero to perfume retailers. (Yes, if you've always wanted to smell like Bond – presumably not after an intense chase sequence – the option is yours.) His new tipple of choice, Heineken, has proved an ongoing sticking point with fans, particularly after a big-budget ad that actually roped Daniel Craig into the action."

Starship Wachowski: The Cloud Atlas Team Dares You to Leave Your Pod:

A few weeks ago, when "Cloud Atlas" premiered at Toronto, we featured a profile of the Wachowskis and their journey to make the David Mitchell novel a cinematic reality. For filmmakers as dynamic and enigmatic as the team behind the new release, one piece is simply not enough (especially when the term "betwixt-ness" comes up in conversation). Simon Abrams' look at the "Cloud Atlas" triptych also addresses the race issue that permeated the reaction to the film in the week following its wider theatrical run while managing to cover the film/digital divide as well. 

"No one should mistake Cloud Atlas for anything but art first. Personal art, even. 'It's an obvious extension of my life, and our lives, in some ways,' Lana suggests, nodding to Andy. 'Paradox and ambiguity and in-between-ness and betwixt-ness and . . .' 'Nonbinary,' Andy says at the same time as Lana. 'Our lives are not our own,' Lana says. 'That's one of the exquisite paradoxes of the human condition: You're this singular, autonomous human being. And yet you're not.'"

Nicole Kidman on Life with Tom Cruise Through Stanley Kubrick's Lens

In anticipation of a new LACMA exhibit opening later this week, The Hollywood Reporter published a remembrance from Kidman about the production of "Eyes Wide Shut." It's not a terribly in-depth examination and it does have the feeling of being dictated to a third party, but there's something intriguing about hearing a discussion of the filmmaking process directly from someone so integral to the film itself. 

"The most important thing to Stanley was time. My approach to the two-year shoot was actually very Zen. Tom and I thought, 'We're so lucky, we've gotten to spend two years with the master.' Stanley said the film was finished -- but if he had more time, who knows how it would have morphed. People thought that making the film was the beginning of the end of my marriage, but I don't really think it was. Tom and I were close then, and it was very much the three of us. Onscreen, the husband and wife are at odds, and Stanley wanted to use our marriage as a supposed reality. That was Stanley: He used the movie as provocation, pretending it was our sex life -- which we weren't oblivious to, but obviously it wasn't us. We both decided to dedicate ourselves to a great filmmaker and artist."

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And, with Halloween swiftly approaching, it's worth pointing out Indiewire's very own guide to the best spooky releases of 2012 (and where you can see them). Enjoy the week of scares!

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