Tinseltown Throwdown – Pacific Rim vs. Transformers

pacific rim transformers

Finding a franchise that not only hits the jackpot once but many times is usually hard to find in Hollywood, let alone sustain.  The subjects on which you can build these franchises can also be just as unpredictable.  I’m sure Hollywood never believed that movies centered around giant robots would ever become a multi-billion dollar juggernaut in the worldwide box-office, but that’s what they found out when Michael Bay’s Transformers (2007) made it to the big screen.  Transformers, for better or worse (mostly worse), has become one of the most successful franchises in recent memory, with three of the entries from the series making it past the billion dollar mark in worldwide grosses.  But, even with all the success it has achieved, it has it’s fair share of detractors, who certainly have justifiable complaints about the bloated and insipid movies in the series. Though Transformers has it’s many faults, there’s no denying that they’ve made an impact on the industry, including opening the door for many other like minded action films.  Most of them have been even more ridiculous knockoffs like Hasbro Studios Battleship (2012), which was nothing more than a $200 million game commercial.  But among all the bad movies in Transformers wake, one that did stand out was Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013).  Like TransformersPacific Rim involves great battle set pieces set in our real world with giant robots.  But, there was one thing that del Toro’s movie got that Bay’s film didn’t; critical praise.  On the surface, these two films should be received almost exactly the same.  So why is one more highly regarded than the other.  In this article, I’m going to look at how the two movies shape up against one another, and see where this disparagement comes from.

To understand these movies, one also has to look at their influences, and how well they are used to back up both the action in each movie as well as the story.  For the most part, the most obvious influences for both franchises comes from Japanese pop culture; particularly with regards to the embodiment of the samurai warrior and the mythologies around giant kaiju monsters.  The Transformers we know now started off as a toy line in the early to mid eighties, which spawned a popular Saturday morning cartoon series which ran from 1984 to 1987 and culminated in a theatrical animated film.  Though conceived and developed in America, most of the animation was completed in Japan and South Korea, and was always meant to appeal to audiences from both sides of the Pacific.  Much of the Japanese influence comes out of the sense of duty from the Transformers themselves, not unlike the warriors code of the samurai, as well as with the aesthetic look of the characters themselves.  One look at characters like Optimus Prime and Megatron, and you can see the influence of feudal Japanese armor in their design. This is coupled with the gigantic size of the characters and how their constant skirmishes wreck havoc in our world.  That’s where the Kaiju influence comes about in the series, which is the same kind of inspiration that Guillermo del Toro draws from.  Kaiju monsters have long been a part of Japanese literature and cinema; including the highly influential Godzilla series.  With Pacific Rim, del Toro put his own fresh spin on the material, delivering a mash-up of all these different influences, but with a narrative that stands well enough on it’s own.  And like Transformers, it takes these very culturally distinct aspects and makes them work towards a worldwide sensibility.  In that sense, both do an equally fine job of presenting their influences well in their selective stories.

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“Autobots, roll out.”

Where the two movies ultimately part ways, at least in the effectiveness of the story-telling, is in their executions.  Primarily, it all has to do with the intents of their selective filmmakers.  Michael Bay is very style oriented, choosing to highlight the camera work and visual effects of his movies above the plot and character development.  Guillermo del Toro concerns himself with the opposite, devoting much of his movie to character interactions as well as building the world in which they live in.  That’s not to say that del Toro’s movies are not without style either; it’s just that sometimes the plot moves along so briskly that you hardly even notice the creative designs that del Toro has added.  But, if you look at the movies separated from their respective filmmakers, you would almost think that they were crafted by the same people.  So, what makes Transformers so loathsome and Pacific Rim so enriching?  The difference comes from the self-awareness that is found in each film.  Guillermo fills his movie with cheesy dialogue and flat characterizations, but he did that by design.  These are staples of many often unintentionally funny and campy sci-fi thrillers, and Guillermo is celebrating that aspect by making it an essential part of his own movie.  Michael Bay’s film on the other hand uses the same kind of cheesy dialogue and stale characterizations, but it seems to be the result of neglect rather than intent.  Because Bay spends so much time building the look of his movies, the things that matter most like plot and characters seem to be forgotten.  Instead, plot convenience and character archetypes are in place instead of real, meaningful development.  Not to mention a lot of pointless filler, like most of the stuff with the insufferable Witwicky parents.

The lack of development is one of the things that I have found most problematic with the Transformers franchise.  The series seems to have no thrust behind it, because Michael Bay never tries to explore something new in each entry.  Watching them all together (which I don’t recommend) it is astonishing how very little differences there are with the the plots.  It’s just the same movie done over and over again.  What’s even more infuriating is the fact that with every rehashed plot, they introduce brand new characters and then never address them ever again in the follow-up.  Hence, why so many of the characters are superfluous in the Transformers series.  But, to compare this aspect of the movies with Pacific Rim is a little unfair, mainly because Transformers has seen four releases in the franchise, compared to Pacific Rim’s one (though a sequel is on the way in 2017).  So, let’s just compare how the story holds up in it’s initial outing; the original 2007 movie, which is by default the best one as well.  What Michael Bay got right in his first film easily was the look of the movie; making a surprisingly gritty take on a Saturday morning cartoon work out beautifully.  For a movie based around such a simple premise, he managed to set the world up effectively, making it believable that giant robots from space could find themselves at war on our planet.  But, by minimizing the emotional development of the characters and the complexity of the plot, Transformers also feels remarkably minor in the grand scheme of things, and no amount of visual scale and scope can hide that.  Pacific Rim on the other hand, presents the global ramifications of it’s world much more effectively.  We see the destruction of the Kaiju and the toll it puts on our heroes; the ones who pilot the giant robot suits called Jaegers.

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“Now we have a choice here; we either sit and wait, or we take these flare guns and do something really stupid.”

For the most part, Pacific Rim stands ahead of Transformers purely because it treats it audience intelligently, rather than pandering to them.  Guillermo del Toro knows that if he puts conviction behind the silliness of his movie, the audience will feel rewarded for having witnessed a creative experience.  Michael Bay just takes moves from his own playbook, and transplants that into anything he desires.  Michael Bay is a talented director, but directing skills alone doesn’t make a movie watchable.  Anyone can get good at shooting during “magic hour” or capturing different angles of a controlled explosion; but in the end that means little unless it elevates the story.  Michael Bay seems to think that his style can carry any story along, regardless if it’s good or not.  Now, to be fair to the man, it is a plan that has indeed paid off for him over the years.  His movies are huge money-makers and that’s primarily because they are easy to digest action thrillers; simplistic and not challenging to follow.  The casual viewer doesn’t mind what’s lacking in story, and indeed they’re the one’s who drive Bay’s films to huge box-office numbers.  And, even though it’s a rough pill to swallow, Pacific Rim would not exist today if it weren’t for Transformers.  That movie’s success is what got del Toro’s movie green-lit, so really it stands on the foundation that Bay cemented first.  But, after seeing something that delivers the same kind of action, but with a degree of clever creativity behind it like Pacific Rim, we can clearly see that Guillermo del Toro is trying to cook us up a gourmet dinner while Michael Bay is serving us just more Happy Meals.  Bay could honestly do better and has done so too.  When given a better script to work with, he can actually deliver a worthwhile film, like 1996’s The Rock, 2005’s The Island, or even 2013’s Pain and Gain.   Why he can’t put that kind of focus into what is arguably his biggest claim to fame is beyond me.

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“At the end of this day, one shall stand, one shall fall.”

Focus is primarily what is lacking all the Transformers movies, even in the less problematic first film.  What is most infuriating is the way that the movies actually push aside the characters that matter most, namely the Transformers themselves, in favor of characters that nobody likes.  This should be problematic for any fans of the original cartoon series, seeing as how their beloved characters have been reduced to supporting characters.  Michael Bay does deserve credit for preserving actor Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime (something which he’s done from the very beginning), but the fact that he’s sidelined so that we can have more scenes of douchebaggery from the series’ very unlikable protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is a big mark against the franchise.  If Sam were a more likable and interesting character, there would be no issue, but given that his presence is so pervasive and in place of character development for the ACTUAL TRANSFORMERS, it’s just another sign of Michael Bay’s lack of focus and concern for what’s best for the series.  Compare that to the characters in Pacific Rim.  They are cliched and simplistic, but are given enough screen time to become sympathetic as well.  Guillermo del Toro doesn’t try to force his characters into slap-sticky situations or have them deliver cocky, one-liners.  Letting the characters breathe allows for those things to come through naturally.  That’s why we cheer when Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentacost delivers his rousing speech, even though on paper it sounds ridiculous, as with the intentionally campy scientist characters played by Charlie Day and Burn Gorman.  Devote attention to the characters in the end, and the audience will warm to them.  Try to force characterizations like Transformers‘ Sam’s unwarranted cockiness, and you’ve got characters worthy of scorn.

Even the lack of focus on the visuals can hurt a movie, and with all the visual flair that Michael Bay can cook up, he still manages to undermine his movie with too much style.  The first film in the Transformers series is a bit more focused than the others, but what I found to be problematic is the frenetic nature of the editing and camera work.  Michael Bay loves to move the camera around, which is fine for a kinetically charged action scene, but problematic for everything else. The animation of the Transformers, in particular, is indeed impressive, with hundreds of individually moving parts.  Unfortunately, any time the movie gets close to showing us all the intricacies of the CG artists hard work, Michael Bay chooses to hide it with some of his stylish film-making.  I don’t understand why he keeps distracting the viewer when it’s not needed.  Did he really not have the confidence in the visual effects team to give them the showcase they were calling for?  It becomes more annoying in the later films, that remarkably feel even less focused despite their longer running times.  Pacific Rim by contrast not only gives the visuals the screen time they deserve, but at times almost indulges us in how impressive they are.  I especially like the way that Guillermo del Toro presents us with scenes devoted entirely to showing off the mighty Jaeger robots.  Early on in the film, we get an almost step-by-step demonstration of the Jaegers in action, which even details how the pilots are able to make the giant contraptions move; grinding gears and all.  It may seem indulgent, but plot wise it’s very worthwhile, because it presents us visually with all we need to know about how this whole world works.  Del Toro also holds the camera still, allowing the audience to understand what is going on even in the big action sequences.  That is ultimately why it’s important to have a focus on your visuals in any given movie.

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“Fortune favors the brave, dude.”

Overall, it’s unusual to see two movies that follow many of the same visual cues and same cultural influences end up with such different outcomes.  Transformers is a box office phenomenon that at the same time has been blasted by critics and audiences alike.  With Pacific Rim, you have a critical darling that surprisingly had to fight to get barely above $100 million domestic.  And yet, by looking at the two together, you can clearly see how intent and execution really comes to play with each of the different films.  It’s clear that Guillermo del Toro crafted Pacific Rim out of love for the things that he’s parodying.  By contrast, Michael Bay is just exploiting an already established franchise for his own gain.  Not that Michael Bay doesn’t value what he’s creating for the series; he wouldn’t have stuck with it for so long if he wasn’t enjoying the end result.  But, he’s the kind of filmmaker who would take that approach to any other established intellectual property, without regard for what has come before it.  Transformers just so happened to be the franchise that caught his eye at the moment.  And I’m sure it won’t be the last to get the Michael Bay make-over either.  We already saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles become the next victim.  It’s a financial situation that has worked out for Bay, but I think the lack of empathy for the direction of the series has unfortunately left a black mark on both the filmmaker and the Transformers brand.  I’m sure the original creator of Optimus Prime and Megatron never expected to have their brand associated with racially insensitive stereotypes and up-skirt shots of the movie’s female leads.  Transformers is a franchise in desperate need of a new vision, while Pacific Rim is one of infinite potential.  Luckily del Toro’s movie has developed enough of a following to warrant a sequel, which I too am anticipating.  In the end, even when it’s about giant monster fighting robots, substance still triumphs over style.

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“Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!!”

The 2015 Oscars – Picks and Thoughts

Oscar win

It’s the Oscars once again, marking the high point of the cinematic year that was 2014.  And once again, it’s a unique year that had a lot of people talking; in particular about who wasn’t nominated.  A lot of complaints rose up this year about the racial make-up of the Oscar nominated field, and just how little to no nominations went to minority talent.  While this led to cries of racism from some in the media, I honestly don’t believe that it was a decision made by design on the Academy’s part.  It unfortunately end up as a result of poor Oscar-campaigning on behalf of actors and filmmakers of different races, as was the case with Paramount Pictures late start on campaigning for their Dr. Martin Luther King biopic, Selma.  While Selma did manage to achieve a Best Picture nomination, it was all but forgotten in all other categories, including what would have been a historic nomination for it’s director, Ava Duvernay.  But, even as this left many upset with the final field of nominees, it doesn’t mean that movies like Selma will be forgotten overall.  The Oscars are a competition based around buzz and publicity.  The movies that make the biggest splash in the marketplace or have the most publicity surrounding it will almost always be the ones that prevail.  But, as I’ve stated before, this is just a yearly acknowledgement of what Hollywood values at the moment.  Great movies will always be great, and a little golden statue is not always the greatest indicator of longevity, although there have been exceptions.  But, even still, an Oscar win carries a lot of weight with it and this year’s field is full of many worthy, and maybe one not so worthy films up for the little golden man.  What follows are my picks for the top Oscar categories, and who I think will win and who should win.


Nominees: American Sniper (Jason Hall), The Imitation Game (Graham Moore), Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson), The Theory of Everything (Anthony McCarten), and Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)

I’m going to state this right away here because it will be a running theme throughout this article; The Theory of Everything is a horrible movie and I hope that it comes up empty handed at this year’s Oscar ceremony.  Now, with that said, this is thankfully one category that it has no chance of succeeding in.  As of right now, Writer’s Guild award winner The Imitation Game seems to be going into the race as the favorite.  And despite some of the conventionality of the movie itself, I actually think that Imitation Game‘s script is still worthy enough of the award.  Writer Graham Moore filled his screenplay with enough intrigue and witty dialogue to keep us engaged, and he managed to present a nice, complex picture of an unsung hero of the Second World War.  But, is this movie also my own favorite in the category.  If I had to choose, I would give this award to Whiplash‘s Director/Writer Damien Chazelle.  Whiplash was one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences of the year, and Chazelle’s fiery and explosive screenplay was a big part of that.  I would award it just for J.K. Simmon’s lines alone.  But, unfortunately for Chazelle, this was his first feature film, and that lack of a long body of work may end up costing him in the end.  But, I dare you to find a debut screenplay as expertly crafted as Whiplash.  A potential spoiler here could also be Jason Hall’s script for the controversial by expertly crafted American Sniper, which would also be a deserving choice.  But, in the end, expect to see Imitation Game the winner.

WHO WILL WIN: Graham Moore, The Imitation Game

WHO SHOULD WIN: Damien Chazelle, Whiplash


Nominees: Boyhood (Richard Linklater), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), Foxcatcher (Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye), Birdman (Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness)

Another running theme you will find in this article is my love for the movie Birdman.  It was my pick for the best of the year and I want it to win pretty much everything that it is nominated for.  Now of course that won’t happen, but Birdman is still a strong contender in the race, and this is one category that it’s still very much a favorite it.  Even despite having been worked on by a team of writers as opposed to one singular vision, Birdman‘s script is still one of the most emotionally moving and creative of the year.  The film’s screenplay did earn a well deserved Golden Globe, but it’s loss at the WGA awards has shown that it’s not a lock either.  The WGA winner The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to be the movie with the momentum right now.  Giving the award to Wes Anderson here would probably be the consolation prize for his movie, which doesn’t look like a strong contender in any of the other races.  And Anderson has had a strong body of work for many years, so he’s long overdue for recognition from the Academy.  Though, that being said, The Grand Budapest Hotel didn’t quite grab me in the same way that Birdman did.  I liked it well enough, but I also think that it’s not among my favorite Anderson films (that would be something like Fantastic Mr. Fox or  Rushmore).  But, if he wins it here, he’s not undeserving.  I just wish that it wasn’t in competition with my favorite movie.  With all that said, I would expect this to be Wes Anderson’s year, but this could also go to Birdman if the movie has a big night.

WHO WILL WIN: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel

WHO SHOULD WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, Birdman


Nominees: Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Edward Norton (Birdman), J. K. Simmons (Whiplash), Robert Duvall (The Judge), Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

This is by far the easiest race to call.  It’s J.K. Simmons, unquestionably.  He was the favorite going into this race pretty much from the moment his performance in Whiplash was first seen by audiences.  Thereafter, he has won every award there is.  If he doesn’t walk away a winner at this year’s Oscar ceremony, then it will be the biggest upset in the history of the awards, which I highly doubt will happen.  He is absolutely deserving of the honor as well.  Not only did he deliver what I think is the performance of the year, as the music teacher from hell in Whiplash, but he also is one of the most highly regarded character actors in the business.  He’s been a presence in Hollywood for many years, never quite headlining any particular film but still enriching any project with his workman-like approach to every role, making him one of the most reliable actors around.  His performance in Whiplash would be more than just a legacy award however, because he is indeed the standout in this category.  The only other competition he might have would be Edward Norton’s delightfully quirky turn in Birdman, but even that is a very distant second place.  The others nominated are purely riding the coattails of the selected films, while Robert Duvall is nominated here purely because he’s Robert Duvall.  This is an even money category, and I don’t expect anyone but J. K. Simmons to be up there on Oscar night.  It might be the first award given out too, given that there’s no suspense behind it.

WHO WILL WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

WHO SHOULD WIN: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash


Nominees: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods), Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game), Laura Dern (Wild), Emma Stone (Birdman)

The strange thing about the last few weeks of this race has been the deflation of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood as the awards front-runner.  It came into the race looking like the clear favorite, until it began to fall in the Guild races to Birdman.  Now, it looks to be the runner up in many of the categories that it once appeared to be running away with.  The only race that Boyhood has remained strong in throughout the whole race has been this one.  Patricia Arquette has held onto her front-runner status this whole time, and still looks to be unchallenged going into the final stretch.  And she’s not undeserving either.  Considering the nearly 12 year stretch that the movie was in production and that she was able to maintain her focus on her character throughout that whole run (better than the rest of the cast I might add) is really quite an achievement, and is worthy of recognition.  Arquette also has a solid body of work behind her, both on film and TV, so her win here is also a way of awarding her for a solid body of work in the industry.  The remainder of the category is also strong, apart from the obligatory nomination for Meryl Streep in the mediocre Into the Woods.  Emma Stone delivers the best performance of her still young career, and Keira Knightley did valiantly well with a character who could have easily been weak if not performed in the right way.  Laura Dern was the surprise here, and I think her nomination is about as far as the accolades for her performance will go.  But like J.K. Simmons in the Supporting Actor category, this is another race with a clear favorite, and one that I think deserves her place in the spotlight.

WHO WILL WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

WHO SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood


Nominees: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Michael Keaton (Birdman), Bradley Cooper (American Sniper), Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

Now we come to what is probably the most contentious race this year, at least with the acting categories.  It is also the race that pits my favorite movie of the year against one of my most hated.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I want Michael Keaton to win this award so badly.  And yes, a part of that is because I’m a big fan of Batman, and Michael Keaton’s performance as the caped crusader is a big part of my fandom.  It’s also part of the basis of his character in Birdman, which is another reason why I love that film so much.  But, after looking at all the nominees here, I can’t help but think that Keaton’s performance was also the strongest as well.  His performance as washed-up actor Riggan Thompson is captivating and heartfelt, and also hilarious.  You also have to admire an actor who can hold his own in a film made up of long takes.  Unfortunately, as the movie’s stock has gone up in the Oscar race, Keaton’s front-runner status has fallen.  The one taking the lead now is Eddie Redmayne, for his portrayal of crippled Astro-physicist Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.  Now, let me state that while I hate the movie itself, Redmayne’s performance is easily the best thing in it.  I just wish his performance was placed in a better, less pandering film.  What upsets me is that once again Hollywood is falling into the cliche of honoring an able bodied actor for playing a person with a disabilty (and a historical one as well) which is one of the most overused plays in the Oscar-bait textbook.  Redmayne tries, but I still didn’t see his work as groundbreaking either.  Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to fool enough people to rob a veteran actor of his long overdue recognition.

WHO WILL WIN: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

WHO SHOULD WIN: Michael Keaton, Birdman


Nominees: Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night), Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl), Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

This has been one of the more surprising categories of the year.  Despite having appeared in a film that has generated little to no buzz this awards season, Julianne Moore has entered this race as the clear front-runner.  Her performance in Still Alice is good, which is not surprising from the usually reliable actress, but is it really that noteworthy.  Something about this race tells me that it didn’t matter what movie Julianne Moore appeared in last year, it just seems like it’s finally her time.  This honor is more of a legacy award and less of an acknowledgement of her actual work in Still Alice, given that Julianne Moore has been a runner-up in so many other races leading up to this.  Hollywood wants to make her a part of the club of Oscar-winners, and she’s not undeserving of that either.  However, if I had to make a choice among the nominees in this category, it wouldn’t be Julianne Moore.  Instead, I would pick Rosamund Pike for her outstanding, and gutsy performance in Gone Girl, a movie that was surprisingly overlooked in most other categories this year.  Pike’s performance was a knockout, playing one of the most psychotic and devious characters I’ve seen on the big screen in a while.  Pike has usually played supporting roles up to now, but she wowed in her first lead role and pretty much ran away with the movie, seeing as how she’s the only one involved who got a nomination.  Perhaps the fact that Rosamund’s character is a little too dark for some audiences might be part of why she’s not gaining traction in this race, but even still, I wouldn’t mind seeing her spoil Julianne Moore’s seemingly unstoppable train to the top award.

WHO WILL WIN: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

WHO SHOULD WIN: Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl


Nominees: Richard Linklater (Boyhood), Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game), Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman), and Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Here is another too close to call race.  It’s down to two visionary, independent filmmakers who delivered us movies based around very different cinematic gimmicks.  One the one hand you have Richard Linklater, who devoted 12 years of his life to crafting Boyhood, which follows the life of a young boy as he grows up in real time over the progression of the movie.  And on the other hand, you have Alejandro Inarritu who crafted a movie made up of long takes all stitched together to make the movie look like it was all done in one long shot.  Both directors did a commendable job with these complex projects, but in the end, only one can take home the award.  For a while, it looked like Linklater was going to be the runaway favorite, having picked up numerous critics awards, and the Golden Globe.  But, when the Director’s Guild made their choice (one that usually almost always coincides with the eventual Oscar winner), the award went to Inarritu.  Now, Inarritu is the one carrying the momentum into the Oscar race, which again makes me very pleased.  Linklater is a talented filmmaker, but I quite frankly have never really gotten into his body of work.  I don’t dislike his movies; most of them are actually really good, including Boyhood.  But at the same time, his style has never wowed me as a viewer the same way Inarritu did with Birdman.  Still, Linklater’s labor of love for over a decade is still hard to ignore.  Although I see Inarritu deservedly winning out in the end, it wouldn’t upset me if Linklater came out on top either.

WHO WILL WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman

WHO SHOULD WIN: Alejandro G. Inarritu, Birdman


Nominees: Boyhood, The Theory of Everything, Selma, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, American Sniper, and Whiplash

Of course we now come to the big award of the night, and once again, it has become a race that’s too close to call.  Conventional wisdom would have you believe that the sprawling, 3 hour long Boyhood would be the clear front-runner, and indeed it is still selected as a favorite in most of the polling.  But, Birdman has been coming on strong in recent weeks, and I think that it has enough to topple Boyhood.  Certainly it’s wins at the Guild awards have helped.  But even with that momentum, Boyhood is still looking like the movie to beat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy splits the top awards again like they did the year prior when 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and Alfonso Cuaron winning Director.  Overall, it basically comes down to these two competitors.  The only potential spoilers could be either the quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel or the controversial American Sniper, and I highly doubt either has the weight behind them to match up to the top two.  I, of course, want Birdman to win it all.  It would be the first time since 2006 that my favorite movie of the year takes home the top award (that being Martin Scorsese’s The Departed).  But, with a race this close it’s hard to say how it will turn out.  If I had to make a guess right now, on the eve of the awards, I would say that Inarritu’s Birdman carries the entire night, picking up the most awards on it’s way to a Best Picture win, leaving Linklater and his film as the runners up.  It’s hard to put down a movie that took 12 years to complete, but unfortunately, I felt that Boyhood was more interesting as a gimmick than it was as a movie.  Birdman was everything I wanted it to be and more, and that’s why I’m rooting for it at the Oscars this year.



So, I’ve shared my thoughts on the big categories, but I think I’ll also quickly run through who I think will win all the other awards as well (of note, these are my picks and not necessarily my favorites, as I have yet to see each and every film nominated):

Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2; Cinematography: Birdman; Costume Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Documentary Feature: CitizenFour; Documentary Short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1; Film Editing: Boyhood; Foreign Language Film: Leviathan; Makeup and Hairstyling: Guardians of the Galaxy; Original Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Song: “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie; Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel; Animated Short: The Bigger Picture; Live Action Short: Butter Lamp; Sound Editing: American Sniper; Sound Mixing: Birdman; Visual Effects: Guardians of the Galaxy

It should end up being an interesting ceremony in the end.  Of course, in the grand scheme of things, none of this will really matter.  The Oscars are more of a reminder of how we viewed movies in the previous year, and not about how they will age in the years to come.  Sometimes it is worthwhile to bestow an award to a movie that deserves the spotlight, especially when it’s a small movie that’s demanding to be seen, like Whiplash.  But, great movies find their audiences no matter what and some of last year’s best films were not even spotlighted in this year’s show (The Lego Movie, Gone Girl, Snowpiercer just to name a couple).  But even if it infuriates us every year, we still come back again and again and watch the Oscars religiously.  It’s a part of our culture to celebrate the movies and the Oscars are a big part of that experience.  If there’s one thing that the Academy has done right it’s to make us think that their Award matters, and in the short term it indeed can.  Small movies get that much needed boost after the awards, and most films that come away from the ceremony a winner wear that as a badge of honor.  Hopefully, this year, the awards go to the most deserving people and that the whole affair ends up being an entertaining show overall.  And once it’s all done, it will again be time to start this cycle all over again.  In the end, it gets us talking about movies and that’s what we love the most about Oscar season.

Evolution of Character – Romeo & Juliet

romeo juliet painting

Love stories can be found in even the unlikeliest of genres. Oftentimes, some of the best romances are remembered from movies that aren’t even classified as romances.  Take Casablanca (1943) for example.  It has one of the most famous and passionate love stories at it’s center, and yet today it is classified more as a war drama and less of a romance.  It’s also a love story that leaves the two key players apart at the end, and it’s viewed as a noble sacrifice.  Indeed, a great love story comes about as a by product of a great story, and whether or not the characters are left happily ever after is determined by what’s best for the story and not by what the audience desires.  This often means that tragic love stories are the ones that stick with us the most.  There’s a reason why Titanic (1997) became as big of a hit as it did, and it’s not because it’s two leads got a happy ending.  Lost love leaves the biggest impact on an audience because it makes finding it all the more precious.  A character’s strength can often hinge on how well they are able to overcome loosing the one they love; either they rise above it and are grateful for their brief time together, or they succumb to their grief and become lost as well.  Perhaps the most famous of all the tragic romances came from legendary English playwright William Shakespeare when he crafted his own tragic romance titled The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

First published and performed in Elizabethan England in 1597, the tale of Romeo and Juliet has gone on to become perhaps Shakespeare’s most popular piece of work; or at least the most often re-adapted.  Depicting the doomed romance between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, the youngest children of two warring families in the fictional Italian city-state of Verona, Romeo and Juliet touches on many themes that have not only redefined the meaning of romance, but has also gone on to set the modern standard for all love stories to follow.  Romeo and Juliet’s story involved themes about prejudice, generational differences, youthful rebellion, and even sacrifice.  It’s a tale that speaks to many people who fall in love despite social expectations, whether it be someone from another race, religion, culture or sexual orientation.  Basically, Shakespeare’s story is about unbound love, and pointing an accusatory finger at those who prevent it from happening; a theme that still remains relevant today.  Because Shakespeare’s play continues to resonate with audiences, it’s only natural that there should be plenty of film adaptations to compare and contrast with one another.  Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I will be looking at some of the most notable adaptations of Shakespeare’s classic romance, and see how well they defined the characters of both Romeo and Juliet, as well as how well they stuck close to the key themes of the play.  And so with that all said, where for art thou Romeo?

romeo juliet 1936


There were many attempts to adapt the works of Shakespeare for the big screen ever since the inception of cinema.  But once the era of talkies came around, it was finally possible to hear the unique Shakespearean iambic pentameter on the big screen.  And the great thing about cinema is that it brought classics to the masses, allowing even the common man to experience the works of Shakespeare and others.  Romeo and Juliet was one such play that was easily adapted for the screen many times, mostly in the silent era.  However, it wasn’t until this lavish 1936 production that we finally got a major Hollywood adaptation of the play.  Starring British actor Leslie Howard (of Gone With the Wind fame) and Oscar-winning actress Norma Shearer as the titular couple, this production does it’s best to be true to the original source material.  The Shakespearean language is still there, albeit truncated to fit a cinematic run time, and the sets and costuming are all exquisitely crafted.  There’s only one problematic thing with this version of the story, and that’s the miscasting of the two leads.  The two actors are not at all convincing as Romeo and Juliet, mainly because they are far too old to play the teenage lovers.  Norma Shearer was 34 during the making of this film, and Leslie Howard was 43.  That is too much of an age difference to make their performances convincing.  Truth be told, Howard fares a little better because of his classical training in London theater, but unfortunately Shearer is too Hollywood in her acting style to rise above this.  Even still, the movie does try to capture some of the essence of Shakespeare’s play, with production values worthy of the material.

west side story tony maria


Other modest big screen adaptations came and went over the decades since Hollywood’s first attempt, but in the early sixties, the story made it’s way into our modern pop culture through a grand re-imagining.  Dispensing of the Shakespearean text and transporting the story into a modern day setting (in this case the slums of New York City) and adding musical numbers, we were given a fresh new look to the classic story.  While West Side Story may not have any of the classic Shakespearean touches, the themes and the emotion of the story remain intact.  In fact, I don’t think there has ever been a better representation of the underlying themes of the play better than this musical version.  Certainly, the themes of forbidden love and the prejudices that separate our tragic couple are presented vividly here, having the stand-ins of Tony and Maria separated by the street gang rivalries that exist within their lives.  By presenting this in a modern day context, this version of the story helps to make these themes resonate even more for the casual viewer.  The musical was a smash hit on Broadway, but it’s the movie version that really makes the story soar.  Given the grand vision of director Robert Wise and the iconic choreography of Jerome Robbins (both of whom shared the Oscar for Directing that year), West Side Story is both intimate and epic, making it one of the most unforgettable love stories ever put on screen.  Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood give very passionate performances as well as the tragic couple, and Wood’s final scene at the end is memorably heartbreaking.  All together it is a grand scale retelling of a familiar story that I think would have been given the Bard’s seal of approval.

romeo juliet 1968


Probably the greatest straightforward adaptation of Shakespeare’s original play, Italian director Franco Zeffirelli’s version presents the text as it is written with almost reverential treatment.  Given lavish production values and a cast full of classically trained British actors, this version is by far the closest Hollywood has actually come to making a true, unedited version of the play.  The best bit of casting though belongs to the main characters themselves, mainly because Zeffirelli actually cast teenage actors.  Albeit, the actors playing Romeo and Juliet are just a tiny bit older than they are in the text; they had to be at a legal age in order for Zeffirelli to include brief moments of nudity in his film.  But, even still, we buy the fact that these two characters are young and deeply in love.  Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are certainly the least experienced members of a veteran, stage bred cast, but they still manage to hold their own and carry the picture.  Sometimes the lack of experience on their part does show up unfortunately, particularly at the climatic death scene, but the two of them do make it up with the earnestness of their performances.  In particular, the two do manage to nail the pivotal balcony scene.  Whatever shortcomings the actors may have, they are served well by Zeffirelli’s lavish direction.  It wasn’t the director’s first adaptation of Shakespeare (he had made The Taming of the Shrew the year prior with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) nor was it his last (his 1991 adaptation of Hamlet, with Mel Gibson), but this version of Romeo and Juliet was perhaps his greatest work, and certainly the most authentic retelling the big screen has ever seen.

romeo juliet 1996


Probably the most notorious retelling of Shakespeare’s play, Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s version is a hyper-stylized take on the original text.  Luhrmann keeps the Elizabethan language intact, but he sets the story in the modern day with the warring Montague and Capulet families depicted as street gangs terrorizing the fictional beachfront city of Verona, California.  Trust me, West Side Story this is not.  While Luhrmann’s style is unique and beautiful to look at, I am unfortunately of the opinion that it’s a bad fit for the material.  All the eye candy and sporadic editing is just too distracting and takes away from some of the power of the text.  Seeing all these modern clad actors spouting Shakespearean dialogue with editing and cinematography more at home in a music video makes the whole project feel more like style over substance.  What ultimately saves this movie, however, is the cast and in particular, the two leads.  This was a turning point film for the careers of both Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes; he would go on to super stardom the following year with the release of Titanic, and she would go on to become a multi-Emmy winner in groundbreaking TV shows like Homeland.  Here, they deliver outstanding performances as the doomed lovers that feel more natural and assured than any version before, or really after.  Again, they are older here than in the text (both in their 20’s) but the acting is so good, it really doesn’t matter in the end.  Their performances are emotional and captivating, indicative of how talented they had become as performers.  While the movie itself is jarring, the performances help to save it in the end, delivering probably the most heartrendingly raw and intimate versions of the characters we’ve ever seen.

romeo juliet must die


Just to show the universality of awareness that Shakespeare’s play has on the culture at large, this thriller starring acrobatic and martial arts trained Chinese actor Jet Li and singer/actress Aaliyah shows how you can even implant the story into an action movie.  The story is what you would expect from a film like this; Jet Li is an undercover cop investigating the murder of his brother, and while on the job, he ends up falling for the daughter of the very mob boss he’s trying to take down, leading to a forbidden romance that leaves all of them in danger.  Now if you’re looking for an authentic retelling of Shakespeare’s play, this is not it.  It’s just a silly action thriller with a love story at it’s center.  It also has a happy ending, which is definitely not true to Shakespeare’s original intent.  But even still, it is interesting to see how pervasive the story has become, where it can even appear as the basis for an action thriller.  Certainly the filmmakers want to invoke the Shakespearean connection with a title like Romeo Must Die.  But, that’s where the connection ends.  Basically, the only link it has apart from that is the theme of forbidden love; although in this case, it is a love that prevails in the end.  Jet Li is in fine form here, especially during the well-choreographed fight scenes, and Aaliyah (who’s short-lived career was tragically cut short the following year in a plane crash) is likable as well.  In fact, the best thing you can say about the romance in this movie is that the two of them do indeed have chemistry, and you want to see them together in the end.  That’s something that most other romantic movies wished they had.  So, in the end, not a great adaptation of Shakespeare but a more than passable homage.

romeo juliet seals


No joke people, this is a real thing.  There is actually an animated, musical retelling of the story of Romeo and Juliet, with seals and other sea creatures starring in the roles.  And if there was an adaptation that would rile up Shakespearean purists the most, it would be this one.  It does everything cliched thing that sub-par animated movies do; replacing wit with slapstick and pop-culture references and taking short-cuts in storytelling in order to pander to a younger, G-rating audience.  But, even with all these faults, the story still does keep many of the traits of the original story intact, like the iconic balcony scene (here depicted as a cliff-side overhang) and even Juliet poisoning herself in order to appeal to the warring factions to stop fighting and let her be with Romeo.  Unfortunately, the end result feels more exploitative of the material rather than respectful.  The film is actually more interesting as an example of independent film-making than as a movie itself.  It was made by former Disney animator and director Phil Nibbelink (The Great Mouse Detective, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and An American Tail: Fivel Goes West to name a few credits), who crafted the film entirely by himself in his own home studio, using Flash animation software on his computer.  With the knowledge that this movie was made by hand entirely by one person, you can’t help but be impressed with the final product.  Even though it is far from Disney quality, the final film does have a very polished look, and you can tell that Nibbelink put his heart into it.  The final result is admirable, but not a great representation of Shakespeare’s classic.  The characters of Romeo and Juliet are especially not served well, as they are merely one-dimensional caricatures.  A neat independent oddity, but no where near worthy of the legacy.

romeo juliet 2013


This marks the most recent iteration of the play, and it’s one that goes back to the basics.  Set in it’s appropriate time period and with a lavish production and elite cast behind it, this one looks on the surface like a very commendable retelling of Shakespeare’s work.  It even has a screenplay adaptation done by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes.  Unfortunately, this retelling has none of the passion found in Shakespeare’s writing, nor the wit of most of Fellowes’ scripts.  Part of the problem with this production is the performances.  Everyone in this production is either over-acting or under-acting, and the latter is especially true for the titular lovers.  Douglas Booth is as vanilla a Romeo as we have ever seen, and Hailee Steinfeld shows none of the charisma here as Juliet that she showed so well in her Oscar-nominated performance in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit (2010).  It’s clear that the movie is trying too hard to feel epic and grandiose, but in the end it just underwhelms Shakespeare’s text and like Baz Luhrmann’s version, favors style over substance.  It’s pretty, but bland.  Here, we get Shakespeare by way of Hollywood, and it’s clear by both the direction as well as the marketing behind this movie that the producers were trying to aim this movie version towards the Twilight fan base.  Overall, it’s a waste of good talent and a shameless exploitation of a classic story that adds nothing to the overall text and merely just exists to pander to a niche audience.

So, even though Romeo and Juliet the play has had an up and down history on the big screen, it is clear that the characters have been well served by Hollywood, as they have risen to icon status over the years and continue to influence love connections in romances to this day.  And it is amazing how even 400 years after it was first written, that it still remains a relevant story today.  As long as there are struggles between warring classes across the world, there will always be those who choose to break from their tribes and build bridges through love.   It’s an idea that probably was best brought to the screen in West Side Story, which is rightly regarded as an all time great film.  But as far as adaptations of the original text go, you’ll probably find Zeffirelli’s to be the most faithful and engaging, although the best versions of the characters themselves may actually be the ones found in Baz Luhrmann’s erratic adaptation; and that’s solely because of the strength of the actors’ performances.  But, these are only examples that stick closely to the original source itself.  You can find shades of Romeo and Juliet in almost any modern love story; in particular, the ones involving couples who come from different walks of life.  As long as forbidden love remains a relevant thing in our culture, the power behind Shakespeare’s original classic will live on.  Interestingly enough, it’s not even considered Shakespeare’s greatest work by some of the Bard’s most dedicated fans, which could go to either Hamlet  or King Lear, depending on who you talk to.  The fact that Romeo and Juliet continues to be Shakespeare’s most widely popular and most-often adapted play is really a big testament to the power of love.

The Bigger Screen – Game of Thrones in IMAX and Cinematic TV Coming of Age

game of thrones tyrion

Ever since it’s beginnings in the early 50’s, televsion has been locked into battle with cinema for supremacy in the viewer market.  Movie attendance dropped significantly once the first TV screens made their way into living rooms across the world, but that only inspired Hollywood to invest in new technologies that helped to push the medium into new and exciting territories, like the introduction of widescreen and surround sound, and in turn audiences came back in large numbers.  Over the course of this new cinematic revolution, TV more or less became standardized, and in some ways reduced because it was still restricted by the still primitive technologies that made television broadcasts possible.  There was just no way to compare the experiences of seeing Gilligan’s Island  on the small screen with seeing Ben-Hur (1959) on the giant wide screen.  Cinema was the mature artform, and television was just light entertainment.  But, with recent advances in digital photography and high definition home presentations, television has now reached a maturity point where they can now once again compete with the cinematic experience.  Noticeably in the last decade or so, we’ve seen television redefine the rules of storytelling and deliver some of the most groundbreaking and buzzworthy narratives ever seen in the medium.  Sitcoms have have dropped the obviously fake canned laughter and instead gotten their laughs through the single camera format.  Hour long dramas have likewise moved outside the soundstages and have taken us on journeys to the far reaches of the world, and even beyond. And now it’s even common to see a network show that has a substantial CGI effects budget. All of this, combined with some of the recent implosions in tent pole filmmaking, has led to an era where the best minds and talent in the industry are now looking to Televsion as their desired destination. And no TV series right now has challenged the cinematic experience more than HBO’s megahit, Game of Thrones.

Adapted from the novels by George R. R. Martin, and produced by creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones is perhaps the most cinematic TV series made to date.  It has generated a following of fans around the world, including yours truly, and has generated an enormous amount of revenue for the cable network.  And now in it’s fifth year, the show has taken the unprecedented step of promoting itself on the largest screen possible, courtesy of the IMAX format.  Airing a television series on a movie screen is not unheard of at this point.  Fathom Events has done the same thing for several years now, playing classic episodes from popular TV series in the past in order to mark an anniversary or special date.  There was also a special simulcast recently of the 50th anniversary event for the BBC series Doctor Who.  But HBO’s choice to put Game Of Thrones in IMAX theaters is a major step towards showing how far television has come, and it really makes a statement about the kind of regard the network has for the show.  By doing this, HBO effectively is saying that their show can indeed compete with the big dogs on the largest format possible and indeed even be more worthy than some of the other films that have been given the IMAX treatment.  By making this statement, we are now seeing a true testament to the maturity level that television has reached, showing that it is no longer just a simple form of entertainment, but a place where real art can be created.

But, the real question is, did the presentation really do what it set out to accomplish. I was fortunate enough to take in the show at my local IMAX theater for this one week only engagement, which I saw as worth the ticket price even though I had already watched most of the show itself when it first aired.  The showing was made up of the final two episodes of Season 4 (the most recently aired) and it included a teaser trailer at the end for the upcoming Season 5.  The two episodes in question were called “The Watchers on the Wall” and the season finale titled “The Children.” Both are excellent edpisodes and they each featured some of my favorite moments from last season.  But, what struck me most about the IMAX presentation is how it benefited one more than the other.  While “The Children” has its epic moments, it was obviously the more subdued of the two episodes, relying on quieter character moments over spectacle. “The Watchers on the Wall,” however, was a bit of a revelation on the IMAX screen. When I first saw this episode on TV, I was a tiny bit underwhelmed by it.  It never felt like it was big enough to match the moment that it was depicting.  Now I understand why; my 42-inch TV screen wasn’t big enough to convey the moment effectively. When projected on the nearly 100 foot IMAX screen, the episode really came to life, and it gave me a much better appreciation for the episode.  I immediately felt the difference when the screening showed that first wide angle shot over the show’s monumental Wall, as well as the first time you see a giant riding a wooly mammoth.  It was clear from that point exactly why HBO made the choice to bring Game of Thrones to IMAX; a first for any TV series.  It’s because no other TV series could do justice to the format.

Overall, the screening was an absolute success, and my hope is that it’s just the beginning. While I’m still a believer in the special experience of watching a movie in a theater, I am also aware of the fact that some of the best filmmaking happening right now is on TV.  And Game of Thrones is just one of the many example of TV shows that have pushed the bar in recent years. Indeed, I believe that this is just the beginning for screenings in IMAX theaters.  While I doubt you’ll see the likes of Mad Men in IMAX, I do see other epic scale productions like AMC’s The Walking Dead or BBC’ Doctor Who making their way to larger formats.  But, it has to take a certain kind of show to make that transition. Most of the TV series of the past are unfortunately restrained by the limitations that they have had to work with. Even epic productions like Star Trek are still bound by their broadcast standard look.  Really, only TV series crafted under the more cinematic standards of recent years could hold up on an IMAX screen, and even still, it has to have the right kind of vision behind it. It’s a very recent phenomena of TV series that are able to hold up visually with their big screen counterparts.  HBO led the way for that transition with their visually spectacular shows of the past like The Sopranos, Deadwood and Rome and even they had to mature their looks over time. The TV shows of today are built on the shoulders of these groundbreakers and they continue to refine the look of modern TV, even pushing production quality into unexpected areas like video streaming.   And with tent pole productions becoming increasingly less reliable as investments, it seems logical that theater chains would look to popular TV shows as a way to draw in the crowds.

For many years, it would have been seen as impossible for a TV show to match up against a big screen movie.  But, the tide has changed considerably as TV shows have become the safe haven for creative freedom and experimentation while movie studios have largely tried to play it safe.  Up until this time, the seperation was very different.  TV shows just didn’t have the budgets to compete.  They were only filmed on cheaper film stock and the idea of preserving them for longevity was seen as laughable.  Even TV shows that managed to gain enough notoriety that they spawned a movie adaptation were also cast aside into a niche category.  For many years, if there was a movie adaptation of a TV series, it was usually a comedy meant to mock the outdated conventions of the original show, like The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) or Starsky and Hutch (2004).  The only films in that time that managed to make the trip to the big screen with any sliver of dignity and faithfulness to their original form were the films in the Star Trek franchise (some better than others) and 1993’s The Fugitive, which actually was honored with a Best Picture nomination.  Nowadays, more and more TV shows are given respectful big screen translations; sometimes even shepparded there by their original creators like 1998’s The X-Files or 2005’s Serenity.  Televsion has also benefited from even more film to TV translatisions, showing that some stories can even prosper in a longer story format.  Big screen classics like Fargo, From Dusk Til Dawn, and even characters like Hannibal Lector have made it successfully to small screen and have shown that the medium can indeed support stories and characters that have already proven themselves on the big screen.  All this has shown the increasingly blurred line that separates film quality from TV quality.

Another sign of this change is present in the fact that more and more talented people are choosing to steer their careers into TV broadcasting.  Before, television work was looked down upon by A-listers in the industry.  In the early days, you moved up from television work into and never looked back, unless your career was in a down turn and it was the last option left to you. And indeed, the early years of television production was a great incubator of the great filmmakers of tomorrow.  Directors like Stanley Kramer, Arthur Penn and Steven Speilberg all got their start working on TV shows, as well as many future groundbreaking writers like Paddy Chayefsky or Charlie Kaufman.   Now while many people who start in television still move on to movies today, there is also a growing trend among filmmakers who are going from the big screen to the little screen in order to satisfy their creative tastes.  Case in point, David Fincher’s recent forays into TV production.  Thanks to his clout as a director, he managed to get the hit series House of Cards onto the small screen, with award winning stars like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright on board as well.  Actors are also going back and forth between film and television, with none of the disdain they would have shown for the medium in the past.  Game of Thrones in particular has an especially large number of cast members itself that balances their film careers with their work on the show.  He stigma that television has had in the past is gone for most people in the industry, and now some will even look to it as a more desirable avenue to pursue than a film career.  Imagine if the same had been true in the early years of television.  Can you imagine seeing the “Duke” John Wayne headlining a weekly drama or Jerry Lewis producing a sitcom. This is certainly one of the biggest signs of television’s maturity as an entertainment art form.

But, the one big thing that still separates cinema and television is the level of production that it receives.  Even with all the ambition that TV producers put into their shows, their budgets will still fall short of the big productions, and it sometimes shows in many of the visual effects.  Even a show as highly budgeted as Game of Thrones has to make due with what HBO is able to allocate them.   Sometimes they pull it off, while other times you can’t help but feel that a moment falls short.  The Battle at the Wall seen in the IMAX showing of Thrones is a perfect example of this compromise that the show’s producers had to deal with.  You can tell that they were trying their hardest to make it feel like a big moment, but even they had to cut corners and downplay the moment from how it originally appeared in the source novel.  But what helps the show in the end is not how sharp or big it looks, but rather how they utilize their effects.  And honestly, the makers of Game of Thrones us their visual effects with more care and effectiveness than most blockbusters.  It’s giving the production the illusion of grandeur and making the production feel even stronger and more epic than its budget would have you believe.  They do this by putting the emphasis in the performances and then storytelling, which in turn makes the imaginary world of Game of Thrones feel even more real to the viewer.  And given that the show presents a continuing narrative in a serial format, it has actually made the show feel all the more epic.  I was actually stunned by how small The Lord of the Rings trilogy felt the last time I saw it, because it’s 12 hour plot line now feels dwarfed by the nearly 40 hours we’ve spent in the world of Game of Thrones; and were not even at the halfway point yet.  That is a testament to how well a TV series can overcome its budget limitations and even surpass its big screen competitors.

So, my hope in the future is that we see more of this mingling between television and cinema.  Yes, some of the allure of cinematic filmmaking is being lost in the process, but that’s only because television has upped it’s game and has met the challenge. In some odd way, this is something that could save a fledgling movie market, at least from the vantage point of theater owners.  Watching something epic in your own living room has advantages, but there is nothing quite as great as watching the same show on the biggest screen possible. And there’s nothing bigger than IMAX.   Game of Thrones is the perfect test subject for this experiment, and I feel like the experiment was well worth it in the end.  My hope is that HBO does the same thing next year, and that other networks with epic scale shows like AMC, FX, and Showtime follow suit.  It of course has to be the right kind of shows as well; just like with the movies, you need spectacle on screen to justify the larger format.  Another good idea would be to not have to wait for the whole run of the show to be over, and instead maybe consider simulcasting the broadcast of the show when it airs on the big screen.  The complications of that could be troublesome for both theaters and the studios,mbut you never know especially if demand is high enough.  I for one welcome the competition between cinema and television.  Competition between the two mediums allows for a more diverse set of choices for the viewer and it allows for many production companies and producers to take chances.  As of now, HBO and Game of Thrones are setting the standards high for Hollywood and it’s already leading the market to reevaluate how to present certain projects.  But, no matter how you watch the show in the end, quality comes from a great story, and having the gumption to make it work.  And as a result, any size screen will do.