Monday, 21 June 2010

Get Out Of The Water!

On June 20th 1975 Jaws was released into cinemas across the United States and Europe. It was the first film to ever open countrywide on thousands of screens, and was the first true summer event movie. In five months it become the most successful motion picture of all-time, a record held until the Star Wars came along in 1977.

Jaws, in my opinion, is a perfect movie. In the 35 years since it’s release a lot of box-office breaking pictures have come and gone, and very, very few have had the cultural impact that Steven Spielberg’s simple little monster movie has. I can clearly remember my first viewing. The movie had been re-released in 1980 and I begged to be taken along. My Father, a keen film fan and supporter of my blossoming obsession with films agreed. I was hooked from the opening bars of John Williams iconic theme, nervous by the time the skinny-dipping girl was pulled under the water, and terrified when Ben Gardener’s head came bobbing out of the hole in the boat. By the time the credits rolled I knew three things: I hated sharks. I was never going to go in the water. I couldn’t wait to watch it again.

It’s perfect because Spielberg knew that character was the key ingredient. In Roy Scheider’s police chief Martin Brody we get a sympathetic hero to follow - the audience is Brody in the film. He’s our anchor, and despite flaws one of the best leading characters on film in the 70’s. You see his fear of the ocean. You see his love for his family. We are given time to really explore these emotions before the second half where the film opens up with an impossibly young Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper and the wonderful, grizzled old bastard Quint, played with utter perfection by Robert Shaw. They are total opposites - one studies sharks and one kills them - but they are constantly at odds on board the tiny fishing boat Orca, with Brody as the balance between them. As we’re drawn out to sea in pursuit of the monster we are drawn further into the story, and as with all the best films, drawn into the world. During the classic moment when Shaw tells the story about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis it’s like we’re sitting at the table with him. These characters totally take you along for the ride. You’re frightened with them, want them to live and survive.

And then there is that shark. You don’t need to see it to be scared of it. Quint fires three barrels into the animal and for a while all you see are those yellow barrels, bobbing menacingly along the waves, following the boat, and you know that whatever is attached to those barrels is seriously, deeply pissed off. Hooper goes down in the cage and the fish smashes it apart, effortlessly, like it was made of balsa. Salty sea-dog Quint gets bitten in half, and then there is just Brody… who hates the water, can barely swim, climbing up the mast of a sinking boat while that fin speeds towards him. The fish is a machine, unstoppable.

It’s perfect because Spielberg stripped Peter Benchley’s best-selling source novel (which is at best a poorly written pulp thriller with too much scientific explanation and cheese ball dialogue) down to the basics. The plot is one line: A giant killer shark is killing the locals of an Island and the chief of police has to stop it. From that simplicity is built an incredible film, which went drastically over-budget and over-schedule. Storms stopped production. The shark sank. The studio didn’t believe that a shark could be scary. Dreyfuss and Shaw clashed on set. But from chaos came genius - everything came together on this one. Steven Spielberg was firing on all cylinders, operating with the drive of a young man trying to make his mark. John Williams gave the film the perfect heartbeat. Carl Gottlieb gave it the perfect pace. Bill Butler gave it the perfect, real-world look. Every single actor was perfectly cast.

Jaws is lightning in a bottle. Spielberg couldn’t make that same movie today even if he still had Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw. It’s a product of its time that is, in its own way, timeless. It’s entertainment with brains, a summer blockbuster that is anything but hollow. In short, it’s a classic and will live long past its makers.

Happy 35th Anniversary, Bruce.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


The idea is to write a piece of work in no more than 100 words. Not only is it nice to throw out snippets of fiction, it's a good way to syphon off some of the brain sludge in between bigger projects. Offering this week - Sleaze Blues.

“Let me tell you something,” said Johnson. “A while ago I took this here guitar down to a crossroads at midnight. I gave up my savings, they didn’t amount to much, and the Devil stood before me and retuned my strings. The moon came out and Satan disappeared. And after that I couldn’t just play the guitar anymore. I could play like a God, like I had an extra set of hands.” The promoter swallowed hard and took a step back. Johnson stared at him. “And you want me to play show tunes? Brother, you can kiss my fucking ass…”

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Dead Men Walking

The Walking Dead is one of the best comic books currently running at present. Robert Kirkman is the creator of this epic, on-going survival story set in mid-west America, which follows small-town police officer Rick Grimes, his family and a group of survivors who have banded together to survive an onslaught of zombies when the world is overrun by the dead. As the story progresses their personalities shift under the stress, particularly as their search for a new homes brings them into conflict with a crazed dictator called The Governor who runs a makeshift city and tortures Rick and his group, pursuing them when they escape and becoming more dangerous than the corpses they were originally trying to evade.

Of course, none of this is new. Zombie apocalypse is as old as horror itself, and the themes of man being more of a threat to one and other than the dead have been explored in everything from George Romero’s classic Night Of The Living Dead through to 28 Days Later. In fact Kirkman is unashamedly pillaging from the best of Romero for his tale. It works because if you get your kicks from the whole end-of-the-world scenario then you know pretty much what to expect, but it’s the ride that’s the fun part. And The Walking Dead is one hell of ride. Brilliantly illustrated and superbly written, filled with characters that are easy to like, villains that are easy to hate, enough pop-culture reference to keep the geeks happy, gore and violence, and a storyline that you constantly crave a new fix of. So far there have been 72 monthly issues and it shows no sign of stopping. It also shows no sign of fatigue - this is one book that can run and run.

Now cable channel AMC are producing a six-episode season based on the book, due to air Winter 2010, based on the first 12 issues. A Cable channel doing a horror comic? Which naturally means we can go down the True Blood/Dexter/Sopranos route of much sex, violence and splatter, essential if the book is to be done right. But the real ace in this bloody hole? It’s being written, produced and directed by Frank Darabont. Genius director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, Darabont is a lifelong horror nerd who has searched for the right zombie material for years. And if you think the man who had Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman hugging on a beach can’t do horror, then you should go and watch his adaptation of Stephen King's The Mist again. Probably one of the most underrated movies of the last ten years, this was a (for Hollywood) low-budget production that could have easily passed for high-budget TV. It was also grim, bleak, nasty and didn’t compromise itself for a traditional happy ending. The Mist fucked with you, and I have no doubt that Darabont will be happy to let The Walking Dead do the same. Thrown in Gale Anne Hurd as producer (The Terminator, Aliens, Tremors) and no CGI, practical gore effects from the maniacs at KMB (Day Of The Dead, Kill Bill, and a hundred other films you’ve squirmed at) and this promises to be very, very cool indeed. AMC have released a few production shots that show some nice looking dead that could easily be lifted from the pages of the book. Your humble writer is, it’s fair to say, damn excited at the prospect of this on his tube.