Thursday, 23 July 2009

Celluloid Vampires and Then Some - Part 1

Hello again people: I hope life is treating you well. As of yesterday, I am back from oblivion (not the game), since I handed in my latest translation (as well as the index to it), a tough little cookie called "The Universe: A Biography" (by John Gribbin), which dealt with the beginning and the end of all that we know (and probably will know) in the Universe, compacted inside 220 pages. The book had large amounts of Astrophysics, Cosmology, Particle and Nuclear Physics, some Quantum Mechanics and a smattering of Organic Chemistry and Biology, just for good measure. It bled me out, but at the end of the day it was a really interesting book and great inspiration for anyone attempting to write serious science fiction. Interestingly enough, an old friend had some serious questions yesterday, concerning the nature of Physics and especially Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which led to other questions and so on and so forth, all of which are actually covered in the book; just a note on things being connected.

The cover of the English Edition.

In spite of those scientific and linguistic labors, my thoughts are turned to vampirism these days. For some reason, Vampires never seem to go out of fashion, ever since the Victorian Age. Sure, they change faces, settings, descriptions, they suffer the rigors of becoming literary, televised and cinematic cheap thrills, but at the end of the day, they still remain lodged in our brain's seat of fascination (wherever that may be and if even such a thing exists). Sometimes, they make for rather unexpected surprises, such as Greek television putting on "Rise: Blood Hunter" with Lucy Liu, a Chinese production for rather "culty" tastes, yet definitely in the must-see list of Vampire movies.

Of course, as with anything popular, there's times of hype and times of quiet. Well, the past 6 months have been rather noisy. However, two very specific things initiated this post, one being my current fantasy/horror fix, the other an addition to the long list of cinematic adaptation misfires.

Let us start with the bad, so to speak, since it's the most recent. On Monday, I had been awake since 20:00 of the previous day, since I spent the night doing last-minute corrections to the last chapters of the translation, as well as translating all those annoying things one leaves for last, such as the author's bio, aknowledgements etc. After everything was done and sent over to the publisher, I had to get ready and make my way downtown to the publishing house (Metaichmio) offices on Ippokratous St., in order to discuss some details. After that meeting was concluded, I made my way to the nearby Games & Hobby Store (Kaissa) on Kallidromiou St., where I salvaged another couple of RPG books from being lost to obscurity and dust. After that, having been cloistered for more than 20 days, I headed for some more geek-therapy consisting of buying comic books (at Solaris), after a brief visit to a different publisher, in order to get paid for an older project. While there, I was contacted by Mai-chan, whom I had not seen since the last J-Party, so we got together and went to have a bite (at Mystic Pizza: cannabis seed-laced Pizza & Pasta, yaaay) and coffee. Thereabouts, Kyoshiro called and asked if we would be tagging along for a movie, "BLOOD: The Last Vampire". Naturally, we were game and agreed to meet the others at around 19:00, since the movie started at 20:00.

The Salvaged Items

Call of Cthulh Supplement
for the 1890s.

Swashbuckling Adventures Supplement
for the secret hoards of pirates.

So now we have reached the actual event which was one of the two triggers for this post, i.e. watching the aforementioned film. The reason I more or less described the rest of my day, was to explain how I had been awake for 24 hours straight, going all over Athens, until we entered the cinema. The movie was based on a 2000 Japanese animated film of the same name, by Production I.G. (of "Ghost in the Shell" fame). The anime film, although possessed of stellar animation and design, was only 48 minutes long and hence, ended in an unsatisfactory way, leaving the viewer hanging dry.

In 2002 came out a manga sequel by Benkyo Tamaoki, which elaborated a bit further on the main character, Saya, why she is a hybrid (Human/Chiropteran, as Vampires are called in the specific context), her relation to the U.S. government etc. It was a more complete, stand-alone story, containing a few useful clues about the anime film.

There have also been a manga adaptation of the anime, two more manga spin-offs (Blood+ Adagio [2006] and Blood+ Yakou Joushi [2009] - not translated in English), as well as an extended, 50-episode TV series [2006-2007] which finally gave some concrete answers.

Saya and Haji as portrayed in
the anime series.

Did you get all that? Good. Now Hollywood, continuing on its unimaginative streak, decided all that would make yet another easy adaptation, hence the live-action movie. Let me tell you: the original material, most of which I have either watched or read, is messed-up enough that it changes who and what Saya is at least twice, though skillfully enough that you have to look for it, in order to see it. So what did the Americans do? They took the already problematic outline and pacing of the original anime film, copied it almost to a fault, up to a point and then they just got "creative".

The American Poster.

The Japanese Poster (even the poster
is way better - these people KNOW
the source material!).

Not all was bad: Yasuaki Kurata, who played the elderly mentor of Saya, Kato Takatora, had some very impressive combat scenes and Koyuki (who played Taka in "The Last Samurai") made for a real mean Onigen, the Demon Queen of the Chiropterans. However, the Chiropterans themselves were bad, BAD CGI, the special effects were tiresome and untimely and I must confess to nodding off to sleep during various instances. As I said earlier, I had not slept in 24 hours but come on! I have done 36 and 60 hours in a row in various instances and if there was something really interesting to keep me awake, it did (the 60 hours are a prime example, since at the time we were playing a great RPG session with friends, whereby I was kept awake until my body collapsed). I therefore conclude that the movie was not all that great.

Kato Takatora: Epic.

Onigen vs Saya: great photography, lousy
planning, duration and ending.

The idea of the Chiropterans (sickly, dark green and brown colored winged creatures, resembling part Coppoloa's Dracula in his winged form, part reptile with huge teeth - they can also take human form and infiltrate the population) struck me as a bit cliche and throwback for Vampires, even in 2000, but at least they had something primal and disturbing to them, especially during the transformation from human to Chiropteran. That disturbing quality was preserved during the early stages of the transformations in the film, but the full-fledged Chiropterans looked like silvery flying Gollums to me. Furthermore, someone not familiar with the source material would have a very hard time understanding the underlying politics and intrigue, which were featured in a rather silly way anyway. Finally, what's with having a non-Asian female co-lead in the film, dumber than a sack of hammers, who is "important" because she "somehow" connects with Saya (Vampire/Human sword-wileding, monster-slaying, at-least-200-years-old merciless, reclusive person, remember?)? Her presence, let alone part, in the film is nonsensical.

A piece of amazing promotional
artwork for the original anime movie.

So yes, in my book, it's yet another vampiric misfire. Was it as bad as "Twilight"? No, not really and "Twilight" has a number of much more important problems than 'BLOOD". Before you ask, yes I did watch it on the big screen (in fact I went with high hopes, knowing nothing of the books or the hype) and funny enough, it was yet again with Mai-chan and Kyoshiro. To me "Twilight" is the epitome of lukewarm, bubble-gum soap opera horror-romance or, in simpler words, the heir to a long line of bad Vampire interpretations, having gaping holes as far as the legends go and one of the most absurd and ridiculous innovations ever: Vampires do not go out in the Sun because they glow like they're made of Swarowski gems. Not to mention that most of the Cullen family really look and behave like goth-wannabees in white, instead of Vampires, with the marked exception of Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlisle Cullen, as well as Ashley Greene in the role of Alice, the youngest of the family.

Other than that, it's just a (heavily) watered-down version of Anne Rice and (even worse) Laurell K. Hamilton stories or, as one of my favorite analogies goes : "What if Buffy banged them instead of killing them?" However, banking on the ever-impressionable female population who deep-down wants "a guy seemingly so bad/sad/dangerous that I can turn him around", "Twilight" became a world-wide hype. True to that, girls/women without such complexes did not like the film. I know, I know I am pushing it but I am desperate to see how a thing so badly written and even worsely adapted (except for the film's photography, which I admit was higly artistic) could have such a profound "kyaaaaaa" effect.

These three COULD have saved the film.

Besides, Robert Pattinson?! I mean, I am not the best at commenting on male looks but seriously, outside the film (and at times, inside it too) the guy looks like someone hammered him with a frying pan and flattened his face. I think that if not for his very unsympathetic role, Cam Gigandet (James) would be a much more reasonable candidate for female drooling. I should also point out that the trio of James, Laurent and Victoria far outshone the leading characters, although they were used terribly unskillfully in the story (James's death being the ultimate "I have no idea how to get rid of him" demonstration).

Seriously, get a good look at the guy...

...and now look at these three.
It IS kinda obvious.

If (and only IF) you want some good Vampire fiction, masterfully adapted for the (small) screen, you should check out "True Blood", a TV series by HBO, the second thing that initiated this post. However, now that I look at it, this post has already become huge, so I will break it into two parts and elaborate on "True Blood " in Part 2.

Till later,


P.S. Regardless of the film's final quality, you can go here for some great photos from the shooting of BLOOD.


Mai the cupcake said...

oreo post! gemato!
xexases omos na pis gia ta zeledakia!

Speedgrapher said...

E, endaksei eipa na afiso kati ektos. Posi leptomereia poia...? Steile ostoso tis sxetikes photo na tis valo os supplement.

Ayami said...

To pipini den brhka pws to lene telika =/