SUPER 8 – the highly anticipated science fiction thriller from writer-director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg – explodes onto screens this week. Naturally, the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast – the podcast of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films – is here to tell you whether or not to get your hopes up; CFQ regulard Dan Persons, Lawrence French and Steve Biodrowski wiegh in, and Dan, who got a sneak peak months ago, opines that, yes, you should be excited. Also on this week’s agenda: a look at some recent headlines, including news that Tom Cruise is signing on to appear in the big-budget futuristic would-be blockbuster OBLIVION and that directorial stylist Alex Proyas (THE CROW, DARK CITY) is developing a new science fiction film.
KNOWING is the new #1 film at the box office. The sci-fi fantasy – directed by Alex Proyas and starring Nicolas Cage – made its debut in 3,322 North American theatres, where it earned an estimated $24.8-million, easily surpassing the second place entry, I LOVE YOU MAN.
As for holdover sci-fi, fantasy, and horror films, last week’s #1 debut, RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN tumbled down the slopes to #4 in its sophomore session, earning $13-million, for a two-week total of $44.75-million. WATCHMEN declined from second place to fifth. The $6.7-million weekend yielded a three-week total of $98.1-million. LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT closed its doors on $5.9-million for a sixth place finish, down three from its debut last week. After two weekends of release, the film has earned $24-million. CORALINE moved #9 to #10, adding $2.1-million to its seven-week total of $72.8-million.
After NEXT, Nicolas Cage fans must be wondering why the star opted to appear in another film about predicting the future. Presumably the actor was working on the theory that “if at first you don’t succeed, try again”; unfortunately, KNOWING shows little awareness of what went wrong before. Despite an intriguing premise and a handful of exciting special effects scenes, this science fiction thriller lumbers along like an overweight leviathan, unable to see much past its own nose – let alone into the future. The story-telling is sloppy and the characters are uninvolving, creating a distance between the audience and the on-screen events, so that when the third act builds toward its climax, the result feels overwrought and unconvincing; instead of excitement, audiences are likely to feel themselves giggling at the desperate attempt to amp up the shallow proceedings. Even forgiving viewers, who might be sympathetic to the message, will be forced to note that said message has been bettere delivered in other films.
The story has a grade school opening a time capsule filled with student predictions of the future from 50 years ago. Most consist of crayon drawings, but Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) receives a page consisting of an elaborate sequence of numbers. During a drunken bout of self-pity, Caleb’s widowed father John Koestler (Cage) examines the numbers and finds that they conform to the dates of major disasters. He is able to predict a couple of upcoming events, but whether he can do anything about them is unclear; in any case, it soon becomes clear that the last event on the list refers to the “End of Everything,” so human intervention seems to be a moot point. However, some other kind of intervention is lurking in the shadows, mysterious “men in black,” who seem to be observing Koestler and his son.
Early scenes suggest a pleasantly pseudo-scientific approach to the material. Cage plays an astronomer, and his discussions with a colleague hint that the film may actually grapple with the question of predicting the future, perhaps even offer a plausible theory. Unfortunately, this approach is abandoned as Koestler pursues the disasters, and the film eventually moves into a mystical approach. The enigmatic strangers (who seem to have wandered in from director Alex Proyas’s much better DARK CITY) may be time travellers, aliens, or angles (or all of the above), but in dramatic terms they are basically a deus ex machina that will resolve the plot.
Basically, the film turns into a rewrite of SIGNS. Like Mel Gibson’s character in the far superior M. Night Shymalan film, Koestler is a man who has fallen into despair since the death of his wife, believing that life is nothing but random, meaningless events; as before, the threat of global disaster forces him to reassess his cynicism and decide that there is a pattern or intelligence at work in the universe, guiding events toward some kind of meaningful goal. Sadly, this turn toward a pseudo-religious approach seems like a desperate attempt to write the script out of the corner into which it has written itself; unlike SIGNS, which was convincingly heartfelt even if you did not totally believe it, KNOWING feels insincere, as if merely offering a sop to audiences who want some kind of happy ending. The implications of this ending are ignored as the film opts instead for trite symbolism meant to gloss over the gaping holes in credibility.
The film only really comes to life during two disasters, one involving a plane and the other a train. These sequences are the highlight of the film; the absolutely stunning special effects are far more convincing than the characters and dialogue, and a long, continuous steadicam take of Koestler running amidst the plane wreackage is a tour de force almost worth the price of admission on its own.
Unfortunately, the impact of the trainwreck is marred by some script silliness, which has Koestler heading toward the predicted disaster, instead of avoiding it. The film vaguely suggests he hopes to accomplish something, but his actions are frankly stupid – the kind of thing that would get him arrested by suspicious cops rather than convincing anyone to help avoid disaster. As if that were bad enough, Cage’s character receives a movie star exemption that allows him to survive the wreck without his foreknowledge in any noticeable way contributing to that survival; the result is so arbitrary that the lack of suspense on his behalf is truly amazing.
Cage offers up one of his standard-issue performances, hitting all the obvious marks without lending any kind of distinction to the role, which emerges as a generic father protecting his son. He is not helped by some stupid developments in the script. At least he comes across better than Rose Byrne as Diana Wayland, daughter of the woman who penned the mysterious string of numbers. The third act requires her to turn into such a nervous wreck, running around like a generic hysterical woman driven to panic in a disaster, that you are almost relieved when she meets her predicted fate.
Building a story around a premise that promises the end of the world is a tricky gambit, one that requires careful handing. Audiences may righttly wonder why they should invest emotionally in a story that seems to be heading toward the ultimate downer. The film can either end on a depressing note or cop out with a phony happy ending. KNOWING pulls off the incredible (though hardly worthy) achievement of doing both, but by the time it happens you won’t much care one way or the other.
If you want to see a film on this subject that achieves a truly cathartic heartache, watch MIRACLE MILE (1988) instead. KNOWING seems too self-obsessed with its own psuedo-mysticism to truly affect the audience on a similarly emotional level; its attempts in this direction seem feeble and half-hearted. It really is too bad. Director Alex Proyas scored strongly with his first two feature films, THE CROW (1994) and DARK CITY (1988). Back then, who could have seen into the future and known that he would end up directly soulless star vehicles like I, ROBOT and KNOWING?
KNOWING (2009). Directed by Alex Proyas. Screenpay by Ryne Douglas Pearson and Juliet Snowden & Stiles White and Stuart Hazeldine, adaptation by Alex Proyas, story by Ryne Douglas Pearson. Cast: Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, D. G. maloney, Lara Robinson, Nadia Townsend, Alan Hopgood, Adrienne Pickering, Joshua Long, Danielle Carter, Alethea McGrath, David Lennie.
Nicolas Cage stars for director Alex Proyas (DARK CITY) in this thriller, written by Ryne Douglas Pearson and Juliet Snowden, about a teacher who comes to believe that a time capsule in his son’s school offers predictions of fatal future events. Rose Byrne and Chandler Canterbury co-star. Summit Entertainment has the film scheduled for release on March 20.
Variety reports that director Stephen Norrington – who has been missing in action since LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN tanked a few years ago – has signed on to write and direct a “reinvention” of THE CROW. That 1994 film, directed by Alex Proyas and based on the graphic novel by James O’Barr about a man who comes back from the dead to avenge the wrongful death of himself and his lover, was a big worldwide hit after the tragic death of star Brandon Lee on the set. Subsequent attempts by Ed Pressman Productions to spin it into a franchise faded after a couple of lackluster sequels.
Norrington had a relationship with Pressman when they came close to making “Mutant Chronicles” several years ago. Both embraced Norrington’s vision of the antihero, which Norrington said will be different than the film Proyas made.
“Whereas Proyas’ original was gloriously gothic and stylized, the new movie will be realistic, hard-edged and mysterious, almost documentary-style,” Norrington told Daily Variety.
At the MTV Movies Blog, contributor Shawn Adler is perplexed by a quote from director Alex Proyas regarding his upcoming film, KNOWING, which stars Nicolas Cage. The story deals with the unearthing of a 50-year-old time capsule that seems to accurately predict subsequent disasters, including Armageddon. Says Proyas of the premise:
“It’s not supernatural,” Proyas said of the flick’s set-up. “It’s a science-fiction movie. I can’t really say more than that because it’s part of the surprise and fun of seeing the move. But we moved completely away from mythical prophecy foretelling of the future. It’s really grounded in a version of science that we believe holds water.”
Adams ponders the implication thus:
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what the heck that means – how in the world fortune telling could have a scientific basis.
Always eager to spread understanding in the world, let me explain hwo fortune telling can have a scientific basis:
Anyone can predict the future, and we often do. Every time you see something happening and you imagine the probable consequences, you are predicting the future. Going a step further, there are observable patterns and cycles in life; anyone who studies the data carefully enough can use them to make accurate predictions. In fact, if you were to study the facts about – for example – airline crashes (how often they happen, how high are the fatalities) you could probably give far more accurate predictions than so-called psychics. Maybe you couldn’t name the exact day but you could pick a month and some other likely details and come up with an informed guess that would likely come true.
Hollywood Reporter tells us that Alex Proyas (DARK CITY) has signed on to write and direct a film adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s novel The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. (The article dryly notes that a “title change is likely.”) Mike Medavoy, Arnie Messer and Brad Fischer will produce the film for Phoenix Pictures. Proyas will start work as soon as he finishes KNOWING.
Originally published in 1942, the offbeat tale centers on a man who becomes increasingly disturbed when he realizes he cannot account for his activities during the day, or even what he does for a living. He divulges his problem to the husband-and-wife partners of a private detective agency, and their investigation leads to a series of revelations they could never have fathomed.
“I read this story as a kid, and it really stayed with me,” Proyas said. “It’s part of my creative DNA.”
The book dates from the early phase of Heinlein’s career before “the creepy sexual leering which seemed to take hold of the author as he got older,” according to Josh Tyler at Cinema Blend.
Alex Proyas’ sci-fi noir masterpiece broods long and hard on the nature of identity.
“I think; therefore, I am,” said Rene Descartes, in his attempt to find a basic principal of complete certainty, an unshakable foundation on which to build his philosophy. No matter what else one may doubt about the universe—say, the evidence of our senses, which provides our view of the outside world—one could never doubt the basic fact, “I am; I exist.” Nevertheless, even when one accepts this inescapable conclusion, the question remains: Who am I?
This question of what constitutes the basis of an individual’s identity has long been a part of the horror and science-fiction genres. The horror of Dracula is not so much that he will kill you but that he will turn you into something that is a hideously distorted mirror image of yourself Read More
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: TheAge.Com.Au offers an interview with Nicolas Cage, on location in Australia for KNOWING, an “apocalyptic” story about a man racing to prevent prophecies of doom from becoming reality:
“It’s subject matter that definitely makes one think about what one would do in the face of these incredible circumstances,” he said yesterday. “Where you go to find comfort, to survive it.”
Director Alex Proyas (DARK CITY) also offers his views on the subject:
Proyas said the Cold War and nuclear proliferation posed real threats to the world’s balance in decades past, which were examined by films of the era.
“You could probably argue that art exploring those ideas was partly responsible for holding us back from Armageddon. I feel it’s our duty in our era — we have other concerns, slightly different ones — to also fulfil that function,” he said.
“The older I get the more responsible I feel about making movies that have some positive effect.”
Attention, denizens of the Big Apple: Cinefantastique contributor Andrew Fitizpatrick (who also runs his own blog, The Blood-Spattered Scribe) will be appearing at the Rubin Museum of Art tonight to introduce a screening of DARK CITY. This little masterpiece of science-fiction and film noir came and went without a peep back in 1998, but ten years later it has developed a deserved reputation as a cult film. If you have only seen it on DVD, this is your chance to appreciate the stunning visuals on the big screen; even better, this is the 114 minute “Director’s Cut” that fans have been anticipating for years. The screening is part of the museum’s Cabaret Cinema series, “where movies and martinis mix.”
The Rubin Museum is located at 150 West 17th Street, New York, New York. Call (212) 620-5000 for information. The film starts at 9:30pm.
Below the fold is a transcript of a Question-and-Answer session with the film’s director, Alex Proyas (I, ROBOT), and co-writer David Goyer (BATMAN BEGINS). Read More