Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The History of Video Game Movies (Part 3: 2005-2009)

If you're interested, you can first read Part 1 covering the 1990s or Part 2 about 2000 to 2004, or watch the video version of this article.

In the first half of the decade, things were looking up for video game movies, as there were huge hits like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil.

However, from 2005 to 2009 game adaptations were mostly underwhelming, with none making over $100 million at the box office. They performed especially poorly with critics as all of them scored below 35% on Rotten Tomatoes and five of them got below 10%, which is an awful score.

On that note, we start with one of the worst movies I've ever seen, Alone in the Dark, based on the survival horror series from Infogrames. The franchise began in 1992 on the PC and has somewhat died out recently, as it has only seen two entries since 2002.

The film adaptation was directed by infamous German filmmaker Uwe Boll, who is notorious for making exceptionally awful movies, many of them inspired by video games. He had already made the terrible game adaptation House of the Dead in 2003, and he'll come up in this article four more times.

Alone in the Dark has an astonishingly bad Rotten Tomatoes score of 1% and it currently has an IMDB user rating of 2.3, making it the 43rd lowest rated movie on the site.

Pretty much everything about the film is embarrassingly bad, starting with the acting from B-list stars like Christian Slater, Tara Reid, and Stephen Dorff.

There's also some very fake-looking CGI used to portray the monsters.

Peter Hartlaub gave a particularly scathing review for the San Francisco Chronicle, writing "It fails so miserably as both an action and horror picture that it succeeds as a comedy. It's a film so mind-blowingly horrible that it teeters on the edge of cinematic immortality."

Alone in the Dark was released in January of 2005 and made a paltry $10 million on a $20 million budget.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The First Surrealist Films

Surrealism was an art movement based on dreams, unconscious thought and defying conventional logic. It grew out of the earlier avant-garde movement called Dada in the 1920s.
Dada was about chaos and rejecting logic and rationality, and was also referred to as anti-art. Just like Surrealism, it often featured bizarre imagery that didn't make sense.

Famous surrealist artists include Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, and Frida Kahlo (although she rejected the label).

Dali's "The Persistence of Memory", one of the most famous surrealist paintings

Painting and sculpture are what gave Surrealism its fame, but it was also important in literature, music, and of course film. Some of the most well-known Surrealist artists even directed some movies.

The first film I'll mention is Rhythmus 21. It was directed by a German artist named Hans Richter, who was influenced by cubism and was part of the Dada movement.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The History of Punch-Out!!

Punch-Out!! is one of Nintendo's smaller video game franchises, but it still has a soft spot in the hearts of many gamers. Most people know the cartoony boxing series for its games on Nintendo's home consoles, but it actually started out in the arcades.

The first game in the series, simply called Punch-Out!! was released in Japanese arcades in 1983 and it came to the western world in 1984.

The single player game was produced by Genyo Takeda, who had been working for Nintendo since 1972. In 1975, he made their first ever arcade title, called EVR Race (assuming you don't count Laser Clay Shooting System).

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A (Somewhat Personal) History of DVD

The VHS format was massively popular and influential and it changed the way people watch movies. VHS's successor, the DVD, was not quite as much of a game changer, but it still had a huge impact on the home video market.

DVD came on the scene in the late 1990s, but the story actually begins in the early 1960s. In 1961, optical recording technology was patented by David Paul Gregg and James Russell. It wasn't until the 70s that progress was seen on this front and in 1978 the Laserdisc format was released. Laserdisc was the major predecessor to DVDs, but it never really gained widespread popularity, due to its numerous drawbacks. The discs were massive and you couldn't even fit a whole movie on one side of a disc. Laserdisc never challenged the dominance of VHS.

In 1986, Warner Home Video started saying that a new format should be developed where movies were stored on a five-inch optical disc like a Compact Disc used for music. The next year in 1987, another precursor to the DVD came out, the CD Video format. This was a sort of amalgamation of CD and Laserdisc technology. It didn't go over well (partially because of very small storage size) and was basically gone by 1991.

However, a similarly titled Video CD format was released in 1993. It was a bit more popular than CD Video, especially in Southeast Asia, but it still never really caught on. A major problem with the format was that there was no way of stopping people from making illegal copies.

As the Video CD was coming out, a group of companies that included Warner, Pioneer, JVC, Toshiba and others was working out a new home video format they were calling the Super Density Disc. 

The only problem was that the Philips corporation had the rights to some very important patents regarding optical discs that could be useful. Warner, Toshiba, and the others reached out to Philips to get them to collaborate on the project. 

However, Philips had other ideas and they started working on their own project with Sony called the Multimedia Compact Disc. The stage was set for another format war just like VHS versus Betamax.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Guide to the Earliest Horror Films

Horror has been one of the most powerful and popular genres throughout film history and horror movies have been around since the earliest years of cinema.

Most commonly cited as the first horror movie is The Haunted Castle (Le Manoir du diable in French), a short by influential French filmmaker Georges Méliès. Due to his innovations in special effects and filming techniques, he was easily one of the most important early filmmakers. Méliès was more well-known for making some of the first science fiction shorts, including A Trip to the Moon and The Impossible Voyage.

The Haunted Castle was released in 1896, only eight years after the first film was made. The three-minute short starts off with a bat transforming into a human in front of the audience's eyes, basically making it the first vampire flick as well.

This was pulled off with Méliès' famous substitution splice trick where he would carefully match up two frames in order to give the illusion that one thing had instantly changed into another. The devil then performs various other tricks and appears in different forms using the same film splicing method.

It was thought to be lost until 1988 when a copy luckily surfaced in New Zealand.

In 1897, the following year, the Méliès short was remade. Still called The Haunted Castle, this one was made by the influential British filmmaker George Albert Smith, who developed Kinemacolor, the first working color film process. Smith served as producer, writer, director, and camera operator.

The minute-long short is about an inn run by ghosts, making it one of, if not the earliest ghost-themed films, as well as the first British horror movie.

The inspiration from Méliès is obvious as it makes liberal use of the substitution splice trick.  The two filmmakers eventually worked together on the 1902 film The Coronation of Edward VII.

Also in 1897, there was another Méliès work that could fall under the umbrella of horror. The Bewitched Inn is about a man (played by Méliès himself) discovering a hotel room that has magical properties. Furniture disappears, a candle explodes when it is lit, and objects move of their own accord. 

According to Wikipedia, this "is the first known Méliès film to feature inanimate objects coming to life to tease their owners, a theme that would return time and again throughout his work."  Of course, Méliès' trademark splice trick shows up a few times to sell the idea of a magical room. This is all played more for laughs as opposed to trying to scare the audience.

The Bewitched Inn clocks in at under two minutes and was made by Méliès' Star Film Company.

In 1898, George Albert Smith pops up again as the director behind Photographing a Ghost. As the title suggests, it is about an attempt to take a picture of a ghost, which doesn't end up going so well.

Unfortunately, I can't find this anywhere online, and it appears to be lost. However, we do have a surviving description from the Edison Company. According to the summary, the short begins with two men carrying a case with the word "Ghost" written on it. A photographer opens it up and a "tall, white Thing" comes out. Eventually, the man tries to sit on the trunk to keep the ghost out, but when he turns around, he sees the ghost right behind him.

George Albert Smith

Also in 1898 is what appears to be the first American horror film, The Cavalier's Dream. It was directed by a very important figure in film history, Edwin S. Porter. 

Porter is mostly known for making the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery, which is indisputably one of the most important works of the silent era. It influenced many followers largely because of its use of crosscutting, where events in two separate locations are happening simultaneously. The film cuts between them to show they are happening at the same time.

Like Photographing a Ghost, The Cavalier's Dream sadly seems to be lost and we only have an Edison Company description to go by. Said description indicates the short features Mephistopheles and an old witch who transforms into a beautiful young girl.

Edwin S. Porter

Moving on to 1899, there's another British horror film. This one is called The Miser's Doom and was directed by Walter R. Booth, who made some of the earliest science fiction films, such as 1909's The Airship Destroyer and the 1910 film The Aerial Submarine.

This film is also lost, but we do know it featured a ghost.

Walter R. Booth

Finally, we come to two more Méliès horror films, with these being released in 1899. The only surviving one of the two is The Devil in a Convent. It featured a devil (played by Méliès) causing chaos in a convent and was seen as a satire of Catholicism. A priest actually turns into the devil, so it makes sense that it was viewed as satirizing the church.

The other is Robbing Cleopatra's Tomb, which is lost. The plot centers on an attempt to resurrect Cleopatra's mummy. In 2005, it was claimed that a copy of this film was found, but it turned out to be another movie entirely.

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