2001: A Cinerama Odyssey

A couple of weeks ago I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time.

Oh, I’d seen something that was called 2001: A Space Odyssey before. I’d seen something called that on an old-style square TV and thought it wasn’t all that good. I’d seen what seemed to be a different film on a widescreen TV and on DVD — that one was much better. Last year I saw what seemed to be a different film again in a cinema — that one was *much* better than the one you get on DVD.

But then I saw it in Cinerama, the way it was meant to be seen. NOW I’ve seen 2001.

2001 wasn’t filmed in Cinerama proper (the three-strip process used for, for example, How the West was Won), but was intended to be screened on Cinerama screens, which is rather unfortunate, as there are now only three working Cinerama screens in the world — in LA, Seattle, and Bradford. For anyone who can’t get to those when they’re showing it, I’m afraid you’ll just have to never actually see 2001.

For a start, the sheer size of the screen makes a difference to how you experience the film. Every window on the various spaceships has something moving in it — little back-projected films to add a sense of scale and verisimilitude — and that’s *sort-of* visible on a standard cinema screen. What you can’t tell from that is that every shot of back-projected footage was filmed at precisely the right angles, and from precisely the right distance, so that when you can see what is going on the effect is seamless. Compare this to, for example, the scenes with the shuttle going to the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which uses the same techniques nearly a decade later, but where the vanishing points are different so Kirk looks like a cardboard cutout. Normally, the bigger the screen, the more you can see the flaws with effects — these actually look *more* realistic as the screen gets bigger.

There’s also the way the shots are composed. All those curves make far more visual sense when seen on a curved screen — I saw someone once describe 2001 as being “about” circles and lines dancing together, and the compositions come together on a curved screen in a way they just don’t on a flat one.

And some of the odder compositions make sense when you remember that the film was meant to be shown in Cinerama — in fact it *looks* like Kubrick composed the shots as if he was filming in three-strip Cinerama. This might be because (as I later found out) the film was planned in the early stages to be filmed that way, or it might be because he was playing with audience expectations of what Cinerama films look like, but if you watch any three-strip Cinerama films you’ll notice strong verticals appearing time and again one third and two thirds of the way across the screen, because having vertical lines in those places helps to cover up the join. So if you look at, for example, the scene where the monolith first appears, it doesn’t appear in the centre of the screen, as one would normally expect, but at the 1/3 point. And this kind of composition occurs over and again.

The Cinerama screen also helps explain why so little of the film involves actual dialogue — it’s almost impossible to compose a Cinerama shot to have actors actually looking at each other, and it *is* impossible if you want that shot to also work on a conventional screen. The curved screen means the eyelines all go past each other. So, as Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects supervisor (who gave a talk after the showing, which I unfortunately had to leave half-way through to get home) said, the choice was made early on to make 2001 *immersive* — rather than being driven by the experiences of the characters, the film was meant to give you that experience.

Almost all the odd or unusual decisions in 2001, in other words — all the things where, when watching it on a flat screen, you think “now that’s interesting, why did he do that?” — suddenly make sense.

But there was something else, something that put the film in a whole new light for me, that I only realised from seeing it in that particular space.

You see, I’m something of a fan of the Cinerama format, and go along most years to the Widescreen Weekend at the Media Museum in Bradford, where they show Cinerama films, as well as showing 70mm prints of spectaculars from the past on a conventional but large flat screen. And 2001 is working within the conventions of Cinerama, as opposed to normal cinema.

The overture before the curtains open, the interval with music — the basic structure of the film is the one that was used by all the Cinerama films, which were intended as full “experiences”, not just as a film you’d go and see. Everything from This Is Cinerama to It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World was structured that way. And I hadn’t realised that obvious fact about the film before — and once I did, I realised that in fact the whole film was playing with the tropes of the Cinerama film. Specifically the Cinerama travelogue.

Remember where I talked about how this film was meant not to be about the characters, but about you having the same experiences as them? There was a whole genre of films that did just that — the Cinerama travelogues, narrated and produced by Lowell Thomas (usually with the involvement of Merriam Cooper, who had pioneered the special effects-driven film with King Kong). They put *you* in the centre of events, whether a Papal mass, a rollercoaster ride, a helicopter journey over a volcano, or whatever, in just the same way as 2001 does.

And those films usually had a structure that started from supposedly-“primitive” people in Africa or Asia doing tribal dances, and the “wonders of nature”, progressing through the wonders of technology and good-old American engineering knowhow, with shots of fighter planes, and then ending with something spiritually uplifting (for example travelogue shots of Golgotha and the alleged location of Jesus’ tomb). PRECISELY the same structure used by 2001 — and watching 2001 on the same day as having seen The Best Of Cinerama (a compilation of parts of those travelogues) I couldn’t watch the transition between the ape people and the space station without hearing Lowell Thomas saying something like “and from the marvels of nature we turn to the technological wonders of modern science”.

I could have had this down as a coincidence, except for one thing — as I said earlier, it’s difficult to do character in Cinerama, and so the travelogues would have a couple of broad audience-identification figures, and one thing that happened in *many* of the Cinerama travelogues was a jokey section where the film would depict some sort of amazing journey (a train ride up a mountain in India that becomes a runaway train going down the mountain, a plane flight over marvellous scenery) with a “dopey” character sleeping through the whole amazing journey.

Just like Heywood Floyd sleeps through the journey to the Moon. And, indeed, just like the characters in the hibernation pods on the Discovery.

2001 isn’t an amazing piece of cinema. It’s an amazing piece of Cinerama. If you ever get the chance to see it in the format for which it’s intended, do so (and a bit of advice — get a central seat; the sides of Cinerama screens can seem to break up into their constituent strips when watching from an angle). And if you can see it *after* becoming familiar with the tropes of Cinerama, all the better.

I’m very glad I finally got to see one of my favourite films for the first time.

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So If I Were To Make a DCCU…

Anyone interested in superhero stuff has seen by now that DC have planned a series of films to last until the sun collapses into itself and becomes a brown dwarf, or until Marvel put out a film with a female lead, whichever comes last. And anyone who’s looked at the list of films for five minutes has thought “My God, this is awful. It’s like they’ve forgotten that superhero films could possibly be any good!”
So I thought I’d outline what *I* would do if I were going to do a DC Cinematic Universe based around the same kind of idea as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with threads that go from one film to another, revamps of more obscure characters, and so on.

Well, *actually* what I’d do is just Seven Soldiers: The Film Series, and I really don’t know why they’re *not* doing something like that since they have the option, but given that that’s not an option, here’s what I’d do. There’s ten films here, so obviously there’s only the bare bones, but you’ll get the idea.

There’s a story arc, but what I’d want to do is something a little different from the Marvel films, which all have a very similar feel, a sort of glossiness they share. I’d want to make the films radically different in tone, but deal with similar themes — particularly the legacy hero thing that *used* to be a big deal in DC pre-Nu52.

We start with a fairly straight adaptation of All-Star Superman — in fact this could just use the script from Dwayne McDuffie’s animated adaptation, except that at one point Luthor has a videophone call from a mysterious figure who talks about “Project Omega”.

No need for an origin story here, any more than there is for Superman. We do super spy-fi Batman here, of the type that’s never really appeared in the films. Batman is training his new teenage assistant, Carrie Kelly, who has taken the name of “Robin” — Batman doesn’t think he needs an apprentice, but Alfred thinks it’s good for him. After the fall of Lexcorp, Wayne Enterprises has to take over, but there’s a second bidder for the company — has the Penguin suddenly become respectable? And how has he managed to raise the funds? And why is his company called Dark Side Enterprises?
B-plot about The Ventriloquist, just because I like the Ventriloquist.
At the end of the story, Batman gets sucked into a time vortex that seems to have been created by some rogue Lexcorp tech from Project Omega.

Wonder Woman
Here’s where the big plot really starts going. We see Wonder Woman’s origin — the first new Amazon to be created in millennia, given life by the breath of Athena… and we see Paradise Island starting to crumble as the Old Gods die and their protection is lost. Princess Diana, last child of the Amazons, has to venture to the world of humans as an ambassador to save her island from destruction — and she also saves the human world, too, when she helps save them from the Thanagarian invasion. An invasion masterminded by a sinister, dark, figure…

Blue & Gold
Booster Gold, a nonentity from the twenty-fifth century, suddenly finds himself back in the twenty-first, where his flight ring, flying robot, and force field make him an instant celebrity. Jaime Reyes, a poor Mexican-American kid in El Paso who’s been quietly saving people’s lives as The Blue Beetle (an identity passed on by his mentor, aging scientist Ted Kord). gets annoyed when Booster takes credit for his achievements in order to promote his new reality TV show, but the two eventually have to team up to stop the dinosaur that’s destroying downtown Austin.
Why is there a dinosaur? According to the mysterious time traveller who turns up at the end, “time is in flux… the fall of the Gods and the rise of the New Gods is rewriting history…”

Shining Knight
The first half of this is an Arthurian epic, about the fall of Camelot, while the second half is pretty close to the Seven Soldiers story, except that instead of the Sheeda we have the New Gods of Apokolips, and Sir Justin (who is played explicitly as what we would understand as a trans man) is brought forward by the same rips in time that saw Booster Gold brought back).

This is the grimungritty dark vigilante film people would *expect* the Batman film to be — Batwoman is investigating a sinister religious cult. The (Renee Montoya) Question is investigating the drugs being dealt at the Dark Side Club (run by the Penguin, who’s not fallen all the way down to the bottom after being defeated, but there are rumours about who’s really behind it all), and Maggie Sawyer (whose appearance has been seeded in the Batman film) is investigating corruption in the police department. When all these turn out to be linked, the three have to work together — but can they put their pasts behind them to do it?

Flashback to the end of Superman, with Superman flying off to “fix the sun”. In the crowd is John Henry Irons, a construction worker who was saved by Superman. He decided that if Superman wasn’t in the world any more, the world needed a NEW Superman, so he fashioned himself a suit of armour and rocket boots. Will that be enough to stop Lex Luthor from wreaking revenge on the city of Metropolis?

Black Canary
Dinah Lance is a serious crimefighter — the greatest martial artist of her generation, trained by her mother, the first Black Canary. But she’s down on her luck, as her mother is dying of the long-term effects of the radiation exposure she suffered when fighting Aquarius, and Dinah needs to find the money to pay for her treatment. Oracle — the wheelchair-bound information genius daughter of Commissioner Gordon, who provides her with a tip for how she can earn more money.
Ollie Queen is the billionaire founder of a social media site and Olympic bronze-medallist archer (he mentions this fact all the time, and expects people to remember it. No-one does). He thinks of himself as progressive and left-wing, but he is in fact a sexist, domineering, arsehole who is *far* less competent than he thinks and completely unaware of his privilege. He wants to play at being a superhero, and is willing to pay Black Canary a million dollars if he can follow her on patrol for a week.
Can Dinah keep Ollie from getting in her way long enough to investigate the threat that Oracle has found — a computer virus that jumps to humans?

Rip Hunter: The Search For Bruce Wayne (TV miniseries)
These two stories go the other way from how they did in the comics, and would be adapted accordingly, but this is basically a combination of the “Search for Bruce Wayne” and “Return of Bruce Wayne” post-Final Crisis miniseries. Batman was sucked into a time rip at the end of Batman, and he’s been scattered through time, ending up in different identities throughout history. Rip Hunter takes Booster, Blue Beetle, Skeets and Ryan (Atom) Choi with him to collect the various aspects of Batman and pull them together into one person. In a surprising twist at the end of the last episode, in the future and guest-starring the Legion of Super-Heroes, Superman returns to Earth, setting up:

Justice League: The Final Crisis
Rip, Booster, Beetle, Batman, Atom and Superman get back to our time to find that the Old Gods have been destroyed and the New Gods have taken their place. There’s war in Heaven, and a computer virus here on Earth that is taking over everyone’s mind and turning them into zombies wishing only to die for Darkseid. Combining elements of Final Crisis and Rock Of Ages,this shows the formation of a new superhero team — the Justice League, consisting of Booster, Beetle, Batman, Atom, Superman, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Shining Knight, and Wonder Woman, plus possibly the introduction of a couple of new heroes. The Justice League act as the resistance, and work to overthrow the tyrrany of Darkseid. But can they do it before Anti-Life destroys the universe, and who is Lex Luthor *really* working for…?

And this sets up the second batch of films — Adam Strange, Aquaman, Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, LEGION… culminating in the Rann-Thanagar War.

So how would YOU make a better series of DC films than DC/Warner?

Linkblogging For 09/06/10

And after that heaviness, a few links:

I’m through to the FINAL!!! in the Pop World Cup, but unfortunately from the comments it looks like I’m getting thrashed by Nigeria. Please go there and vote for Germany.

Obverse Books, who publish the Iris Wildthyme Doctor Who spinoff books, have announced they will be working with Lawrence Miles on a new series of Faction Paradox short story collections, the first coming out next year. News will presumably be up soon on their news page.

Jennie wants people’s views on the Fantastic Film Weekend in Bradford, which I’ll probably blog about tomorrow.

Andrew Rilstone wonders whether, as a Doctor Who fan, he’s allowed to like Doctor Who.

And if you want the world’s single greatest timesink of all time, go and play The Wikipedia Game

Linkblogging for 23/09/09

Posting will probably be light for the next few days, as it’s a busy time at work. To tide you over, here are some links.

Al Ewing is reviewing Beatles: Rock Band one song at a time. The interesting thing here is that Ewing – as he admits himself – knows almost nothing of the band’s music and is using this as a way of getting into them…

In other Beatles posts, Jog has a post on the comic insert in Magical Mystery Tour, along with some thoughts on how this would translate into the digital age in comparison with the film and album.

Todd Alcott continues his look at Kubrick with A Clockwork Orange part 2 .

For those of you who think I’m too hard on the anti-immigrant propaganda coming from people like racist UKIP, this is why.

James Graham has more on the ridiculous events at conference, which appear to involve the leadership briefing against the party…

And Chris Dillow has an interesting post on a fundamental disconnect in the debate between the religious and ‘new atheists’.

Linkblogging For 17/09/09

Only a quick set of links today – we’re busy at work at the moment – but I’ll do a spotify playlist on Friday, my next Beatles review on Saturday, and probably a BFAW on Sunday. I may well post a lot this weekend actually – my wife’s going away for the weekend, and a good chunk of my friends won’t be online because of the Lib Dem Conference.

One other thing before I do that – I’ve noticed quite a few people subscribing to my shared items in Google Reader. Just to give you fair warning – I share a LOT of stuff, because I use the ‘shared’ feature partly as a reminder-to-self thing, so don’t be surprised if you get overwhelmed with the stuff I share…

First up, BCB Radio now have a music blog. While I’m outside their area, living as I do on the correct side of the Pennines, I know several of their DJs (those who know my band The National Pep will have heard several of them on our stuff, for a start, and you’ll have seen a few in the comments here).

Tilt Araiza, my songwriting partner, is one of those DJs, and he put together this Spotify playlist which is the first music I’ve listened to other than the Beatles mono box for a week – covers of (almost) all the White Album, by everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to The Breeders to Youssou N’Dor. Good stuff.

And speaking of Tilt, I don’t believe I ever linked this, but he and I used to do a podcast, partly to promote The National Pep (for which he used to be vocalist/drummer and is still involved with the songwriting) and partly just to play some obscure music. I think they’re surprisingly listenable.

In other stuff – Todd Alcott continues his look through Kubrick’s work.

Steven at Unspeak has a brief spoiler-free review of Dan Brown’s new thing, while the Daily Mash has a different take on it.

And Hayden Childs is exasperated with eMusic after the Sony deal.

Linkblogging for 05/09/09

Odd… I posted this yesterday, but it disappeared. Here it is again. Working on the first of the posts mentioned below now…

I’ve had to take a few days off the hyperblogging, as some of you have probably noticed, because it’s been a tough week at work and my brain’s not been up to it. But for those of you who’ve been enjoying this series of posts on (as Millennium Elephant so delightfully put it) Quantum Comic Dynamics , they are returning tomorrow. I plan to do one a day for the next week, and that should finish the series. They will be:
Sunday – Can You Rewrite History, Even One Line? Doctor Who, The Web Of Time, And A Response To Millennium
Monday – Degrees Of Freedom – Mister Miracle, Darkseid, and Morrison Doing Kirby (or Why Kirby Matters)
Tuesday – Modernism Vs Post-Modernism – Why Can’t Comics Reviewers Define Terms?
Wednesday – Crisis On Multiple Blogs – A Response To Pillock’s Response To Me (this and subsequent posts may be delayed by my Big Beatles Post which I plan to make at some point)
Thursday – A Bit Of Fun – the briefest possible outline of the fanfic giganta-novel this sparked off in my brain.
Friday – Canon And Fugue – A return to the subject this started with – canon and continuity
Saturday – In Conclusion – I’ll link all the hyperposts separately, plus Pillock and Millennium’s responses and any other interesting thoughts people have had along these lines, plus links to various other resources on these subjects. I must say, the response has been hugely gratifying – I thought this stuff was going to be seen as grounds for dismissing me altogether as a navel-gazing moron. Thank you all.

Anyway, today’s links…

The 10:10 Project wants people to sign up and try to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 10% in a year. It’s an obviously worthwhile idea (even if you’re one of the libertarian minority who read my blog, and who tend to dismiss global warming, most things that one can do on an individual level to cut emissions tend to make sense *even if you don’t accept that carbon emissions are dangerous per se*). Unfortunately, almost all their suggestions are aimed squarely at middle-class homeowners who go on several foreign holidays a year, like to keep their house ridiculously hot, and are in the habit of throwing away food, none of which applies to me. But if it does to you, please do sign up (I did anyway, just to show willing).

Just noticed that someone had put Ghostwatch up on Google Video. This is by far the scariest drama I’ve ever seen, though I suspect its effect will vary a lot based on age and nationality. It’s a pitch-perfect recreation of the kind of light-entertainment pseudo-documentary that still fills up the TV schedules – a live investigation of ‘Britain’s Most Haunted House’ along with interviews with parapsychologists, audience phone-ins and so on, broadcast on Hallowe’en. Except of course, this being fiction, stuff starts happening…
The power of the show (for me at least) comes from the fact that the people presenting it are *exactly* the kind of people who would have presented a real documentary like that – people who were in fact all over the TV in programmes just like that at the time (early 1990s) it was broadcast. If you’re used to those faces being in ‘non-fiction’, to them telling you the truth and being ‘themselves’, then this breakdown of the walls between fiction and reality is absolutely terrifying.
I’m not sure how much anyone who wasn’t around in the UK in the late 80s/early 90s would get out of this, but I suspect Orson Welles would have approved…

33 1/3 have posted a great ‘mix tape’ featuring the Monkees, the La’s, Johnny Guitar W atson and Larry Williams, and other such good stuff.

Chris Bird points out how the rich benefit disproportionately from taxation.

Archive Binge is a service that will supply you an RSS feed of a webcomic you’ve just discovered, so you can catch up a few strips at a time rather than have to read through the whole thing.

And pillock lists ten things Star Wars got wrong

Linkblogging for 25/08/09

I’m too tired today to write the next hyperpost, but the posts for the next few days are planned out in my head, and will probably be:
Tomorrow – The Kingdom, and the storytelling possibilities of Hypertime
Thursday – The End Of Time – a look at Julian Barbour’s book (with reference also to Deutsch’s The Fabric Of Reality) and the theoretical possibilities of Hypertime really existing.
Friday – Can You Change History, Even One Line?Doctor Who and the web of time, especially the novel Spiral Scratch.
Saturday – Seven Soldiers and modular storytelling
Sunday – 52, The Diary Of Ralph Dibny, and canon vs ‘fanon’

There will be more after that, I think, but that’ll give you some idea where it’s going. If you’re hungry for more, right now, pillock’s comments to the last two posts are well worth reading.

Meanwhile, some links:

Over at Seebelow, Matt Rossi has a post on why he doesn’t like the attitude Geoff Johns displays towards fans in Final Crisis: Legion Of Three Worlds. I *may* cover that series in a future post myself, but I agree with him on this one…

A few people have done interesting reviews of Inglourious Basterds (which I’ve not yet seen as Holly doesn’t like violent/disturbing films – I may go without her when she’s off at Pride this weekend) – anagramsci and Jog probably have the most interesting for someone who’s not yet seen it.

J.H. Williams III takes us through the creation of a Detective Comics cover.

Mark Kennedy has a Disney comic artists guide from the 70s scanned.

Nina Stone found Barbara Gordon far more interesting than the new Batgirl, while Debi enjoyed the comic but saw an arrow.

And Millennium talks about the difference between compassion, justice and vengeance. He really is a very wise little elephant, you know…