Film Review – Life

Life_2017-21.jpg

Alien meets Gravity essentially sums up Life, an incredibly derivative sci-fi horror pic from director Daniel Espinosa that is a lot more satisfying than it really deserves to be. Yet somehow, the film delivers the goods in thrills, scares and gore.

The film is set in an international space station orbiting Earth. A crew of six astronauts are about to take possession of a probe that has just returned from Mars with geological samples. Once they successfully bring the probe on board, the crew discover a microbe amid the dirt – a single celled organism that slowly begins to grow. No points for guessing whether or not they could save themselves a world of pain by jettisoning the thing into outer space before it grows too big…

The horrifying creature the alien becomes is quite an effectively nasty CGI creation (warnings for violence, gore and bad language apply, incidentally). In fact, as Alien rip-offs go, this really is one of the better ones. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay is a lean, mean, stripped down affair that delivers a steady stream of suspense. There are some agreeably unpleasant zero gravity deaths, and the largely one-dimensional characters are nonetheless well played, in keeping with the stripped down B-movie aesthetic. Jake Gyllenhall and Rebecca Ferguson are particularly good, and I also rather liked Ariyon Bakare’s turn as the crippled scientist who eventually gets his own variation on Ian Holm’s famous “I admire its purity” speech from Alien. Needless to say the visual effects are also good, and Espinosa directs with efficiency and verve, particularly in an unbroken pseudo long-take in the opening (apparently it does contain a few hidden cuts).

I still feel I ought to have enjoyed Life less than I did. But for all its lack of originality, it really does hit the right buttons, doing exactly what a film of this kind ought to do. If you’re a fan of sci-fi horror it’s well worth a look.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Telling myself the story

rewrite

I once read that “the first draft is you telling yourself the story”.

I’m not sure where to attribute that quote, but this is certainly true for me. Whilst I have a good outline of the story whenever I write a novel (including the ending, which is crucial), the precise details of that story are rendered fairly anxiously in a first draft. By anxiously I mean the story is over-explained, repetitious, states the obvious and character dialogue is merely functional at that stage, making sure I know what emotions need to be conveyed. I have to make sure the whole thing makes sense to me, before it can make sense to anyone else.

Should I expose readers to such a draft, they would no doubt feel horribly patronised. However, subsequent drafts eliminate over-explanation and repetition. In fact, the withholding of information, the adding of ambiguity to events, dialogue and so on is a hugely enjoyable process, once you as an author have made sense of the story for yourself. It is almost as though I say to myself “I know what I mean by this. Now I want the reader to add their own interpretation”.

Of course, some writers autocratically want to tell their readers what to think, but the older I get, the more I think this approach is a mistake. What is important to an author will be inherent in the text, but it is better for a reader to bring their own baggage and have wriggle room on interpretation, taking what is applicable to them.

In essence, telling the story to myself also encompasses telling myself how I respond to that story. The rewriting process removes the latter stage, stripping it down to the story only and leaving the interpretation to the reader. The final act in my novel Children of the Folded Valley is a prime example of this. I know what I meant to convey, but I removed the explicit stating of what that is. It is up to the reader to decide.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Film Review – Beauty and the Beast

landscape-1478512906-beauty-and-the-beast-movie

Disney’s live action remake of the classic 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast exists for only one reason: money. Other than that, it is the cinematic equivalent of a Westlife cover version: bland, inoffensive, indistinct, and utterly, utterly superfluous. It isn’t a bad film exactly, just a really, really pointless one.

And no – just adding a couple of new songs and the odd we-have-to-string-this-out-somehow flashback doesn’t excuse the sheer disdain Disney clearly has for their audience. At least with the recent remixed take on The Jungle Book there was new emphasis on the adventure side and an admirable return to the source material. At least with Maleficent there was an attempt to do something bold and different, even if they did cop out at the very end. Here there is no artistic reason whatsoever to revisit the classic tale of a young girl gradually falling in love with a cursed Prince in beast form, other than a because-we-can exercise in boring CGI designed to fleece the general public. It’s money for old rope.

I must also confess that I am not a big fan of Emma Watson. She never quite won me over in the Harry Potter films (nor incidentally did Daniel Radcliffe). Here she just seems cold and withdrawn most of the time, which is a shame because Belle – particularly the version of her from the 1991 film – is one of my favourite fairy tale characters. Elsewhere, Dan Stevens is never really sufficiently menacing as the Beast, though Kevin Kline’s Maurice and Josh Gad’s slightly more openly gay LeFou fare better. Various other great actors, including Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson and Ewan McGregor, provide enjoyable vocals as the Prince’s human staff transfigured into various clocks, candlestick’s etc, but again, the whole exercise seems a colossal waste of time. Probably the best performance is from Luke Evans as Gaston. A superb addition to the classic fairy tale in the 1991 version, here his character arc from boorish oaf to outright monster is probably the only element that fully convinces. But I still prefer his animated avatar, as the jokes in his Gaston song work better in that film (“No-one’s necks as incredibly thick as Gaston!”).

Speaking of Alan Menken’s songs, they are all faithfully restaged here, sometimes shot for shot. Yet somehow they seem less magical. Perhaps the frequently unconvincing CGI doesn’t help matters. In fact, the whole film looks oddly artificial and weightless. Certain sections of the health-and-safety-nightmare castle could have been staged with vertiginous glee in the hands of a more imaginative director, but Bill Condon plays everything annoyingly safe. He even cuts away from the crucial emotional climax to a scene with the transfigured staff that presumably is meant to add poignancy, but in fact robs the interaction between Belle and the Beast of any meaningful catharsis.

Quite honestly, the best versions of Beauty and the Beast remain the 1991 animated version and the radically different 1946 John Cocteau monochrome gem. I know nothing I say is going to stop this cynical cash-cow juggernaut, but really Disney, if you must spend $160 million on a remake, next time please at least put a genuinely fresh spin on it.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Film Review – Get Out

v1.bjsxNTQzNjIxO2o7MTcyOTc7MTIwMDsyNjY3OzE1MDA.jpg

For the first half at least, Get Out, a satirical horror film from writer/director Jordan Peele, takes a nicely scathing look at racism lurking beneath the veneer of well-intended white middle class liberal elites. It has received sterling notices from the very audiences it is satirising, perhaps unsurprising given how much certain Guardian readers enjoy a spot of self-flagellation over their “privilege”, or whatever the heck people get their politically correct knickers in a twist over these days.

Photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is off for a meet-the-parents weekend with his rich girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). He is nervous that she hasn’t informed her supposedly liberal parents that he is black, but she assures him that he has nothing to worry about. However, all manner of over-compensating awkward conversations ensue upon arrival, such as Rose’s father Dean (Bradley Whitford) telling Chris that he would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could have done. Furthermore, the presence of mysterious Stepford Wives-esque black servants on the extensive grounds of the family property also send audience alarm bells ringing immediately that something is most definitely rotten in Denmark.

The first hour cleverly builds the creepiness, throwing in some unsubtle but effective metaphors (a dead deer for instance). There are also some uncomfortable dinner party moments that weirdly reminded me both of the Extras episode with Samuel L Jackson, and also the Father Ted episode with Ted’s racial awareness presentation (his attempt at making amends after accidentally upsetting the Chinese community of Craggy Island) – both cringe-inducingly hilarious. There are also obvious nods to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Stepford Wives, and less obvious nods to the likes of Under the Skin and Gone with the Wind.

However, this is a horror film, and the satire of the first half gives way to some proper blood and guts in the second half (it’s also worth adding warnings for strong language). Here the film becomes a bit less interesting, although it is still entertaining and delivers the genre goods. There are a couple of good twists and turns that keep the audience on the wrong foot too.

In the end, this film perhaps isn’t quite as incendiary as has been claimed. However strong direction, performances, clever use of music and sound, and the wry embrace of its own credibility stretching plot holes make Get Out an agreeably merciless and satisfying experience for those with the stomach for it.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | 1 Comment

Coincidence: A mortal sin for writers?

I have heard some storytelling gurus state that the use of coincidence in a story is a heinous crime and should be avoided at all costs. Obviously Charles Dickens didn’t get that particular memo, as many of his greatest novels, including Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, contain all manner of fortuitous coincidences, many of which are integral to their plots.

My personal opinion is that if coincidence is used in a story, it must be done deliberately with a well-thought through reason. In the case of the Dickens novels mentioned above, the moments of coincidence have fabulist feel, ie the reader feels that they are reading a fable. As such using chance meetings or the like to turn the plot doesn’t seem out of place but rather an organic part of the storytelling process. For example in Great Expectations, when Pip discovers the truth about the relationship between Abel Magwich and Estella, it underscores the entire point of the fable regarding Victorian hypocrisy, the folly of class prejudice and our common humanity.

Outside of such stories, coincidence can be used, but is best kept to the openings – a chance meeting between two characters who then become lovers, for example. However stories that use coincidence later, especially if used to turn the final act, can feel forced, phoney and unsatisfying. This is particularly true if said coincidence comes in the form of deus ex machina, a poncey term for coincidence-zilla whereby a seemingly unconnected act of God gets the protagonists out of their trouble. Pixar’s legendary storytelling rules include “Coincidences to get characters into trouble is great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating”.

One of my favourite Agatha Christie novels, Sleeping Murder, has a terrifically spooky opening that is entirely the result of coincidence. A young recently married couple on holiday in Devon just so happen to drive past a house for sale they rather like the look of. They decide to buy it, but as they go about various decorative renovations, a series of eerie discoveries sets the entire plot in motion, all as a result of the opening coincidence. But because it is the first major part of the story, the inciting incident if you will, what follows feels plausible rather than contrived, even though the odds of the couple coming across this particular house, which has ties to the woman’s past, must have been astronomical.

In conclusion, I think it is foolish to say coincidences (along with adverbs and – whisper it – passages that tell rather than show) are the work of the devil for writers. Instead, I see them as simply tools and techniques that should be used strategically and sparingly.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Inspiration: George Hughes trilogy

Continuing my series on inspiration and influences for my novels, in this post I am taking a look at the ideas behind my George Hughes science fiction adventure trilogy, which comprises (in reading order) George goes to Mars, George goes to Titan and George goes to Neptune.

The original idea for this series came from an article I once read online, about how various celebrities had bought plots of land on the moon to build homes there in case it was ever colonised. The person they bought the land from had made a claim with the US Land and Registry office on the entire surface of the moon, which apparently is legally binding (not sure how exactly, as I don’t see how this takes into account the laws of other nations).

The George Hughes series are mysterious, action-packed space stories aimed at the young and young at heart. Each story is a stand-alone adventure, but they do follow on from one another as well. They are not just for children either. Amid the excitement, humour and thrills, I touch on everything from murderous religious fundamentalism to sexual equality, civil rights, slavery as well as more metaphysical elements.

Here are five key influences on the stories:

The Alex Rider series (Anthony Horowitz) – Because so much science fiction literature is more grown-up and serious in nature, I wanted to write something that wasn’t Asimov or Herbert, but more of an unashamed thrill ride that could be enjoyed by all the family. The action packed tone in the George Hughes trilogy very much takes its cue from Horowitz’s brilliant teen spy series. The Alex Rider books particularly impress me because they are well researched and detailed, whilst also being completely non-patronising with adversaries as dangerous as anything in James Bond. In the George Hughes books, I have included a lot of accurate detail on the planets George visits, as well as some properly ruthless villains.

Flash Gordon (Alex Raymond) – The thrills of the original Alex Raymond Flash Gordon comics were another key influence. I wanted each novel to have perilous narrow escapes of the kind that occur so brilliantly in the panels of that seminal publication that later went on to become the Buster Crabbe Saturday matinee serials of the 1940s, the TV animated feature and series, and of course the glorious (if overly spoofy) 1980 film.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – The extreme poverty George and his adoptive parents find themselves in at the start of George goes to Mars is akin to the extreme poverty endured by Charlie Bucket and his multiple relatives at the start of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Despite the science fiction setting, I wanted to create a similar, rags-to-riches sense of fairy tale in the way George suddenly comes into his inheritance.

Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer) – The mysterious character of Giles, who acts as a protector of sorts for George, draws a certain inspiration from the character of Butler in the Artemis Fowl series. The relationship between Artemis and Butler is also not unlike the relationship between Giles and George, at least to begin with. But of course, over the course of the George Hughes novels, that relationship evolves in rather different ways.

Explorers on the Moon (Herge) – There is a sequence in this comic where Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy explore a cave on the moon, which directly inspired the cave exploration sequence in George goes to Mars. Obviously the situation and the outcome are very different, but on a purely visual level this inspired my imagination. The idea of exploring caves on another world is oddly thrilling, and I always wanted it to lead onto a more profound discovery. Of course, in George goes to Mars that is exactly what does happen, though I wouldn’t dream of spoiling that here…

You can download the George Hughes novels from Amazon Kindle here, or else buy printed copies of the first two novels from Lulu here and here, and the third one from Amazon Create here.

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Film Review – Kong: Skull Island

Kong-Skull-Island-Final-Official-Trailer-6-1024x532

Apocalypse Now meets The Land that Time Forgot isn’t an obvious premise for a King Kong reboot, but Kong: Skull Island is nonetheless a surprisingly effective, if jaw-droppingly ridiculous, slab of monster blockbuster fun. It’s considerably more bonkers, and therefore more entertaining, than 2015’s machine-tooled Jurassic World and it’s also better than its universe sharing cousin, Gareth Edwards’s 2014 rebooted Godzilla. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a better out-and-out monster movie since the original Jurassic Park, unless you count Starship Troopers, or Peter Jackson’s overblown but underrated 2005 King Kong remake (I wasn’t a fan of Cloverfield).

Skull Island opens with a peculiar Hell in the Pacific style World War II prologue then flashes forward to 1973. Nixon has just started withdrawing troops from Vietnam, and as Monarch director Bill Randa (John Goodman) puts it, “There has never been a more screwed up time in Washington”. Rapidly moving on from that alarmingly pertinent statement, Randa obtains funding for a covert geographic expedition to chart the mysterious recently discovered via satellite Skull Island, which is surrounded by a handy ring of storms that put off visitors. Randa’s expedition includes expert survivalist James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), Vietnam burnout Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and the regulation scientific goons and military grunts destined to warm the innards of the various monsters. Once they reach the island they start bombing the place for some idiotic reason that is supposedly scientific, and of course a certain oversized gorilla is unimpressed.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose previous film was low budget Stand by Me variant The Kings of Summer, seems an unlikely choice of director. Yet he helms with an unpretentious glee which showcases the various beasties to absolutely smashing effect, quite literally. He is clearly very cine-literate, and references to the three previous King Kong movies, Son of Kong, Jurassic Park and so on are made in such a way as to tip the hat whilst still putting his own stamp on the picture. The screenplay is a bit on the clunky side, but it hardly matters when you’ve got bravura sequences of Kong smashing helicopters to pieces. Not to mention the other monster threats, which include a giant spider, giant octopus, flocks of very nasty pterodactyl type birds and something resembling a massive but rather cute stick insect. However, the real stand-out set piece takes place in a gorilla bone graveyard. Nightmarish giant reptiles know as Skullcrawlers stalk the humans who foolishly ignored the don’t-go-that-way warnings of castaway Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), a man who comes across like a crazed blend of Friday from Robinson Crusoe and Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. The ensuing suspense and action is surprisingly stylised, particularly in a slow motion sequence involving Hiddleston utilising a samurai sword amid clouds of poison gas.

The human interest isn’t that interesting at times, and character arcs are very predictable, but then again in this kind of film you barely notice. The action comes so thick and fast that at the inevitable climactic smackdown, you are very unlikely to feel short changed. The film brazenly wears it’s very obvious Vietnam War allegory on its sleeve, and yet it somehow this sort-of works. I must admit I also chuckled when I discovered Hiddleston’s character was called Conrad (Joseph Conrad of course being the author of Hearts of Darkness, on which Apocalypse Now was famously based). Make sure you stick around through the end credits too, as there’s a neat little Easter egg scene.

With tremendous visual effects, Kong: Skull Island has plenty for the eye and ear. It isn’t going to change the course of cinema, but what it does deliver is a first-rate piece of monster movie mayhem, best seen on the biggest screen possible.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Film Review – Logan

Logan.png.jpg

From the very start, Logan is on a mission to prove it is absolutely not a film for children. By opening with a bloodthirsty and f-word strewn encounter with murderous car thieves, director James Mangold seems determined to underline that despite two previous relatively bland and indifferent solo Wolverine outings, this one really is going to stand out as an adult-orientated superhero movie.

But it isn’t only in the graphic violence department that Logan delivers. Thematically this is a starker, stripped back, mature piece of work that introduces us to an older and more haggard Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) coming to terms with his own mortality. Set at least twelve years in the future (the precise year is unclear), Logan earns a living driving a limo near the Mexican border whilst secretly caring for an aged Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whose incredible powers have become dangerous due to the ravages of old age. Logan and Charles also live with an albino mutant called Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and together they bicker and complain about each other, painfully aware that their lives are barely hanging on by a thread. Although the precise details are not made clear, the other X-Men have been mysteriously wiped out, forcing Logan and his companions to live off the grid. However, when a young girl mutant called Laura (Dafne Keen) escapes from a nasty experimental government facility and leads her captors to Logan and his companions, they are forced to go on the run, despite Logan’s extreme reluctance to have anything to do with the girl.

Logan is truly remarkable. Radically different from any other superhero movie to date (at least, within the X-Men series and the broader, current glut of Marvel and DC offerings), it feels more like a western, deliberately echoing the likes of Shane (which we see clips of in one scene) with hints of Mad Max. It is a more reflective, melancholy, elegiac piece that gives room for the characters to breathe and develop properly, allowing the excellent performances to shine. Dafne Keen, one of the best child actors I have seen in a while, is particularly brilliant in her near wordless turn. There is also some decent support from Richard E Grant and Boyd Holbrook as villain and sidekick respectively, each thoroughly reprehensible and by necessity the only characters in the film who aren’t developed in three dimensions. In the end however, this is Hugh Jackman’s film, and his tremendous performance elevates what is already a first-rate superhero picture into what might one day be considered a classic of the genre.

Although the blood, gore and f-bombs fly thick and fast, and there is plenty of superhero action when Scott Frank’s superb script calls for it, it is in the quieter moments that Logan really excels. The awkwardness of Logan reluctantly helping Charles use the toilet adds far more reality than one generally expects in a comic book movie; and the fantasy of comic books is cleverly touched upon in the neat-but-not-too-meta scene where Logan explains to Laura that X-Men comics are nonsense, and only very slightly based on what really happened. A sequence where a kindly family shows Logan, Charles and Laura hospitality is genuinely poignant, and the finale had far more redemptive emotional heft than I could possibly have expected. I even confess that I had a tear in my eye.

James Mangold has helmed a few very good, often underrated films in his career (including Copland, Walk the Line and the actually pretty good remake of 3:10 to Yuma) but Logan just might be his masterpiece. Certainly it stands alone and apart from every other superhero movie ever made and deserves to be acclaimed on its own terms as a violent but moving, deeply satisfying experience.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | 1 Comment

Film Review – Split

i161118_145125_1911013otexttrmrmmglpict000105314459o

After dutifully viewing all best picture nominees, I rewarded myself with some genre nonsense yesterday by finally catching up with M Night Shyamalan’s Split, heralded by many critics as a major return to form. For my money, The Sixth Sense remains the high watermark in Shyamalan’s career, but there are just enough things in Split to raise it slightly above the average entry in the abduction/slasher genre.

Three teenage girls, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) are abducted by Kevin (James McAvory), a man with twenty-three distinct personalities residing within him. These various personalities interact with the abducted girls in different ways, and the threat of all manner of nastiness is never far away, as a twenty-fourth personality begins to emerge, known as “The Beast”. Concurrently, another of Kevin’s personalities tries to tell his therapist (Betty Buckley) what he has done, but is prevented by the two dominant personalities who intend to bring about the coming of “The Beast”.

Shyamalan directs efficiently and effectively, but it is McAvoy’s tour-de-force performance that dominates. The various personalities are each convincingly performed and provide the main reason to give this a watch. Elsewhere genre conventions are more predictable, right down to who the “final girl” will be (very obvious from the start), and the fact that for all its artful pretences, this isn’t above having teenage girls being stalked along dark corridors in their underwear. Amid the suspense and occasional gory moments, disturbing themes are touched on, including child abuse, but never in a particularly profound way, other than the notion that those who suffer in life can potentially rise above their suffering to become stronger people in the long run.

In short, although hardly destined for classic status like The Sixth Sense, I’d say Split is well worth a watch for fans of the genre. Watch out for a neat nod to M Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable near the very end too.

Posted in Film Reviews, Films | Leave a comment

Ray Harryhausen Syndrome

Ray-Harryhausen.jpg

This is a blog post I wrote back in 2010, but I thought it was worth of a revamp/repost in lieu of the upcoming Kong Skull Island. It concerns a medical condition certain movie lovers are afflicted with – Ray Harryhausen syndrome.

Essentially Ray Harryhausen syndrome causes the viewer to sympathise with the monster in fantasy films. The first cases of this condition occurred in 1933, with the release of the legendary King Kong. Despite crushing, chomping and hurling natives of both New York and Skull Island to their deaths, a giant gorilla still elicited more sympathy than the human characters as he is gunned down by biplanes. When my eldest son used to cry every time he watched King Kong (he first saw it at the age of four), which led me to believe he was already afflicted with Ray Harryhausen syndrome. My younger son has also displayed similar tendencies.

Of course, this condition gets its name from the late, great king of stop motion animation himself, who pioneered extraordinary visual effects in films such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. Inspired by King Kong, Ray Harryhausen continued with stop motion well into the 1980’s (including the original Clash of the Titans). But whist stop motion has since been replaced by CGI, his creations have amazing charm, however savage. This perhaps explains why some viewers watching Jason and the Argonauts cheer the Titan Talos as he picks up Jason’s ship in his hands, hurling the occupants into the sea. It also explains why you might feel a teeny bit sorry for the terrifying Cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

This trend isn’t just limited to Ray Harryhausen pictures. Anyone who has delved into creaky 50’s monster movies or the many Japanese Godzilla films will also understand what I’m talking about. Even the ill-judged 1998 Hollywood version of Godzilla tries to evoke the spirit of Kong in the giant lizard’s dying moments (the more recent Gareth Edwards version proved much more satisfactory).

In all Harryhausen’s films, viewers know from the outset that the hero will eventually defeat the monster, but there is always a tinge of sadness when he does. It’s an ironic feeling shared by many of Harryhausen’s successors, including George Lucas. In Return of the Jedi (a film clearly designed by sufferers of Harryhausen syndrome given its surfeit of amazing creatures), the Rancor monster is a brutal and savage beast that almost eats Luke Skywalker. Yet when the Rancor meets its inevitable demise, there’s a little moment where his keeper starts crying.

More recently, filmmakers such as Peter Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro have exhibited signs of Ray Harryhausen syndrome. The first Lord of the Rings film has a sequence where our heroes fight a cave troll whose slow death has tragic echoes of Kong. On the DVD documentaries, Jackson admits to having written a whole back story for the troll, saying his mother had cooked him a nice dinner which now – alas – he won’t be home for.

As for Del Toro, one only has to watch the monster fests of the Hellboy films, particularly the second one. Two scenes in particular – the Troll Market and the big tree monster – resonate with the glee Del Toro has for his subject matter. The ending of the latter scene, where the villain laments the death of the monster as it was the last of its kind, is again a clear indication that Del Toro is afflicted with Ray Harryhausen syndrome.

Even Pixar have acknowledged this condition in the superb Monsters Inc. The entire premise of the film – that scary monsters are (in most cases) good – is put across with a conviction that only those most afflicted with Harryhausen syndrome could possibly deliver. The moment where the Abominable Snowman laments that he isn’t referred to as the Adorable Snowman or the Agreeable Snowman underscores this point, and one scene is even set in a restaurant called Harryhausens.

In the Harry Potter stories, Hagrid is another character clearing suffering from Ray Harryhausen syndrome. His love of terrifying savage beasts is comical, but is not just played for laughs. The saving of Buckbeak in The Prisoner of Azkaban is an emotional high point, though my personal favourite “Harryhausen” moment comes in The Half Blood Prince during the delightfully absurd giant spider funeral.

There are exceptions (such as the Jackson/Del Toro examples listed above), but generally monsters created by computers instead of stop motion, animatronics or puppetry do not cause the same emotional response. It’s also worth noting that when monsters cross a certain barrier into horror movie territory, Harryhausen syndrome ceases (Alien and Aliens for instance). For lovers of monsters, Kong: Skull Island promises to be a treat. But I wonder if the CGI beasties contained therein will elicit any sympathy?

So, when watching Kong: Skull Island, please spare a thought for those poor unfortunates who suffer from Ray Harryhausen syndrome. Perhaps some kind of support group should be set up, like Alcoholics Anonymous. “My name is Simon Dillon and I suffer from Ray Harryhausen syndrome. It has been three days since I last sympathised with a monster instead of the hero…”

Posted in Films | Leave a comment