The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Film Review

Upon its initial release, the original: ‘Blair Witch Project’ blew many audiences away with its realistic depiction of found-footage horror, leading many viewers to believe that the events they were watching on-screen actually took-place, making for a truly petrifying experience. However, now, many years after its first appearance in cinemas, the film’s reputation has significantly altered with both critics and audiences alike, as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is definitely a film that lies outside of the usual horror clichés.

Plot Summary: When three student filmmakers travel to Burkittsville, Maryland in attempt to produce a documentary based-around the local urban-legend: ‘The Blair Witch’, they mysteriously disappear after traveling into the nearby Black Hills Forest, leaving only their footage behind to be discovered one year later.

Whilst ‘The Blair Witch Project’ wasn’t the original found-footage horror film, with the infamous exploitation flick: ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ first introducing the horror subgenre in 1980. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was the first film to popularise the found-footage concept, as this film was at one point in time in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for the largest box-office ratio. As the low-budget film only had a budget of around £45,000 and made back over £189 million, quickly spawning an inconsistent horror franchise to follow, despite the film’s only partially-complete backstory for its creature/setting.

The three main cast members of Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams (who all share their real-names with their characters), are all tremendous throughout the film. As while their character’s don’t receive nowhere near as much development as they should considering how much screen-time we spend with them, each one of the actors do give the impression they are becoming more tormented and frustrated the longer they remain in the Black Hills Forest. The main reason the film’s protagonists don’t receive much characterisation however, is actually due to the film’s production itself. As with the film not focusing very heavily on story, the actors were given no-more than a thirty-five page outline of plot-points rather than a full script, so as the shooting days continued, the cast just played-out various scenes. Only having little knowledge of the mythology behind: ‘The Blair Witch’ and improvising the vast majority of their lines.

Practically the entirety of the cinematography by Neal L. Fredericks is exactly what you’d expect from a found-footage horror, featuring an abundance of both shaky and out-of-focus shots, further adding to the idea that just behind the lens is a group of amateur student filmmakers (with some scenes even being shot by the cast themselves). In addition to the hand-held camerawork, the film’s visuals are also quite distinctive when it comes to its visual quality, as throughout the duration of the film, many shots remain incredibly grainy and occasionally even switch to a completely greyscale colour palette, which again, whilst adding to the realism of the film being a no-budget student documentary, does ensure the absence of any genuinely attractive shots.

Although its only heard during the film’s atmospheric end credits, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ does actually have an original score composed by Antonio Cora, but obviously being a found-footage horror, the film mostly aims to please with its sound design. As the sounds of crackling leaves and chirping birds are heard continuously, with many of the eerie branch-cracking sounds heard at night even being made by the director and his friends simply walking-up to the cast’s camp-perimeter and then tossing-around twigs, rocks and branches in various directions.

The main aspect that many will either adore or despise about ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is its previously mentioned focus on realism and minimalist storytelling, as while the film does utilise its forest setting very effectively throughout the runtime, many who may be expecting a thrilling final act or possibly even a glimpse at ‘The Blair Witch’ herself will be greatly disappointed. As a result of the story’s constant emphasis-on realism, the film never actually provides any evidence of the supernatural, with many of the film’s tense moments mostly relying on the darkness of the woods or the belligerent quarreling between the characters.

In conclusion, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is certainly a fascinating horror film even if it isn’t always a successful one. As to this day, this found-footage indie flick has always been a very divisive film for horror fans, with a 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has the highest-rating of any film that was also nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Picture. So even with the cast’s emotionally impactful performances alongside ‘The Blair Witch’ being an intriguing urban-legend simply on-itself, this is one horror that really depends-on your personal tastes. But for me, its a low 6/10 overall. While the film is far from perfect and considerably less compelling than many other iconic horrors, I can appreciate what this experimental piece of filmmaking (and its marketing) was trying to accomplish, and for that, I feel its worth at least one viewing.

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The Dark Crystal (1982) – Film Review

Despite the success of the recent prequel series: ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ on Netflix, most audiences still seem relatively unaware of the original: ‘Dark Crystal’s existence, which unfortunately, received mostly lukewarm reviews and massively underperformed at the box-office upon its initial release. Yet regardless of its age, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is still in my opinion, an extraordinary family adventure. Creating an intriguing and developed fantasy world brimming with plenty of memorable characters, spectacular locations and terrifying creatures, all flawlessly brought-to-life by the film’s enormous array of brilliant practical effects and detailed puppets.

Plot Summary: Centuries-ago on the world of: ‘Thra’, the mysterious: ‘Dark Crystal’ was cracked and brought-forth two races. One, the villainous bird-like creatures known as the ‘Skeksis’, who now rule over the planet with an iron-fist, and the other, a peaceful race known as the ‘Mystics’. But after a young ‘Gelfling’s ‘Mystic’ master passes-on, ‘Jen’ is sent-on a quest to locate the missing shard of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ and save his homeworld.

Directed by legendary puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, most known for their creation of the beloved ‘Muppets’ franchise. ‘The Dark Crystal’ is known by many for being rather frighting for younger viewers, as the film always explores its fantasy world without ever shying away from any of its darker elements. Resulting in many who experienced the film at a young age only recalling it due to being ‘traumatised’ by the film’s menacing antagonists, the ‘Skeksis’. However, despite ‘The Dark Crystal’ giving this ghastly depth to the world it’s narrative takes-place within, the film still suffers from the occasional story cliché. As while I’m sure these ideas were less-familiar in the early 1980s, the concept of: ‘Jen’ being the last of his kind and having to undertake an epic journey does feel fairly overdone by today’s standards.

Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell lend their voices well to the two protagonists of the film: ‘Jen’ and ‘Kira’, alongside the voice of Billie Whitelaw and the late Jim Henson and Frank Oz themselves as puppeteers, and while Jim Henson and Frank Oz both do a fantastic job as usual when it comes to their work with puppeteered-characters. It’s the late Barry Dennen as the most devious of the ‘Skeksis’, ‘The Chamberlain’, who is truly superb. As ‘The Chamberlain’ soon becomes a very memorable antagonist heavily in-part because of his obnoxious high-pitched voice and now-iconic whimper.

Whilst the cinematography by the late Oswald Morris does serve the film’s story effectively, many shots throughout ‘The Dark Crystal’ are a little restricted due to the focus primarily being placed-on the puppets themselves (especially when there is a large number of characters on-screen). That being said, the cinematography does still manage to provide plenty of beautiful wide-shots to establish the story’s various locations, the majority of which are elevated through some incredibly impressive matte paintings and miniature sculptures.

Although I do prefer the original score by Daniel Pemberton for the Netflix prequel series, the score for the original film by Trevor Jones is still terrific. Feeling like a mixture between a classic fantasy score along with some sinister undertones to help build tension. From the film’s signature track: ‘Overture’, through the track that plays-over one of the film’s final moments: ‘The Great Conjunction’, the film’s original score is still an enjoyable piece to hear even if it seems many viewers prefer the soundtrack of Henson’s other 80s fantasy flick: ‘Labyrinth’.

Of course, the main draw of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ is (and will always be) the puppets themselves, as while the idea of not a single human appearing within a live-action film may sound daunting to some, the film’s huge variety of practical effects from the different creatures that prowl the forests/swamps to each one of the detailed and intricate sets for: ‘The Castle of the Crystal’. Every single creative aspect of the film in regards to its designs constantly feels as if great talent and effort has been put-into each of them, with much of the film’s visuals actually being inspired by the illustrations of Brian Froud, who would eventually join the production as a conceptual designer.

To conclude, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is truly a film of its time, as despite the new prequel series helping the unique fantasy series reach a wider-audience, I’m not too surprised this ambitious film has been largely forgotten in modern pop-culture. As the film’s fascinating and fleshed-out world alongside its entertaining story and huge number of amazing practical effects sadly weren’t enough to save it from its eventual neglected fate. Still, an 8/10 for: ‘The Dark Crystal’. Even if this fantastical family adventure didn’t receive the praise it deserved when it was released in 1982, I feel it certainly can now from modern viewers, if just for its painstaking puppeteering work and great character designs alone.

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A Clockwork Orange (1972) – Film Review

Despite being very unusual and even somewhat disturbing throughout, legendary director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket) brings to life one of the best films of his career. As ‘A Clockwork Orange’ explores an original story with some impressive cinematography and set-design, all leading the film to become very iconic and memorable within its own right. Even surpassing the novel it’s originally based on by Anthony Burgess, even with Kubrick crafting easily his most faithful adaptation to date when it comes to his filmography.

Plot Summary: In the near future, a young sadistic gang leader (Alex) is imprisoned after a violent event goes public, forcing him to serve time. But with the promise of an early release, ‘Alex’ is eventually lead to volunteer for a conduct-aversion experiment, which doesn’t go as he anticipated.

Although the narrative throughout ‘A Clockwork Orange’ never fails to be engaging, usually focusing heavily on dark themes of insanity, violence and morals. I do feel the film could definitely be seen as too intense for some viewers, as although the large amount of nudity and torture does serve the film’s story, it could also be seen as tasteless for some, regardless of the film’s overall lack of blood and gore during many of the violent scenes.

Ignoring the unbelievable performance from Malcolm McDowell as the psychotic protagonist: ‘Alex’, Warren Clarke, Aubrey Morris, James Marcus, Michael Bates and Carl Duering are all excellent in their respective roles, despite their very limited screen-time and development, and although the over-the-top British accents many of the characters have may put some viewers off, I do feel it fits well within the interesting sci-fi world the film sets-up. However, we do get another appearance near the end of the film from a character known as: ‘Mr. Alexander’, portrayed by the late Patrick Magee. Who despite being an important character within the plot, gives a performance a little too-ridiculous in my opinion, as his facial expressions end-up coming off as more comedic than emotional during his dramatic scene nearing the end of the runtime.

The cinematography by the late John Alcott definitely adds another level to the film, as the enormous amount of movement and uncomfortable close-ups throughout the film really add to the story itself, including the now-iconic: ‘Kubrick Stare’, which can be seen in many of his films. In addition to the fantastic cinematography however, is also the brilliant editing, which perfectly fits the film’s style, almost as if ‘Alex’ himself is taking the audience through the story within his erratic mind. This also links back to his narration, which is present throughout the film and is brimming with plenty of well-written and memorable dialogue.

The original score by Wendy Carlos is another element of the film I really enjoy, utilising an electronic soundtrack to further push the weird tone of the film, as the score recreates many of: ‘Alex’s favourite classic songs in an interesting way, resulting in a soundtrack that’s both memorable and unique. The film also uses a variety of iconic songs very effectively, perfectly capturing the insanity within the main group of misfits. One of the most memorable moments of the film even comes from this, as ‘Alex’ brutally beats a couple whilst singing the classic song: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.

As previously mentioned, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is also one of the few films where the sets are incredibly iconic by themselves, as each location the characters visit is always colourful and visually appealing. From the ‘Korova Milk Bar’ through to the apartment ‘Alex’ and his parents call home, every-set has plenty of 1970s style mixed-in with some science fiction aspects (this also applies to the many wonderful costumes on display throughout the film). There were also a number of interesting scenes that were left on the cutting-room floor, including more scenes set within the ‘Korova Milk Bar’ among plenty of other scenes focusing on the characters committing more horrible acts.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ overall is an extremely bizarre yet incredible experience, as the film is just as interesting to discuss as it is to watch among many film fans. Containing plenty of hidden messages and underlining themes alongside its phenomenal filmmaking and brilliant story. The film truly is one of Kubrick’s best, despite not beating-out my personal favourite: ‘The Shining’. A high 8/10 in total, while not flawless in my opinion, I would still highly recommend this one for anyone seeking something a little more out there, and of course also due to its huge impact on pop-culture and the film industry alike.

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Jurassic Park (1993) – Film Review

One of Steven Spielberg’s most iconic and beloved films of all-time, ‘Jurassic Park’, based-on the science fiction novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, is a classic from many people’s childhoods including my own. From it’s incredible practical and CG effects which still hold-up today, through to its memorable characters and beautiful original score by John Williams. The film has made a gigantic impact on cinematic pop-culutre and is a true joy to experience for all ages.

Plot Summary: On the tropical island of: ‘Isla Nublar’, three-hundred and sixty-five miles off the coast of Costa Rica. Billionaire ‘John Hammond’ has become the first man in history to bring back an extinct species with genetically engineered dinosaurs. But when a tropical storm wipes out the island’s main security systems, his newly invited guests are thrown into peril amongst the prehistoric creatures.

Not only does ‘Jurassic Park’ have an extremely fun and original narrative when compared to many films before it, but the film is also very important when it comes to CG effects, as Spielberg and his team we some of the earliest filmmakers to explore the idea of computer-generated imagery and implement it into film. As Spielberg initially wasn’t impressed with many of the stop-motion effects which had been shown to him up to that point, and surprisingly, many of the visual effects throughout the film are still quite impressive, even by today’s standards for CG effects.

The entire cast of: ‘Jurassic Park’ are truly brilliant, as Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck and of course, the outstanding Jeff Goldblum who portrays: ‘Dr. Ian Malcom’ (possibly his most popular character) are all excellent in their respective roles, and despite each character not getting an enormous amount of development throughout the story, all the characters still manage to feel very varied and memorable. However, my only real issue with the film does relate to the characters, as there has always been a few scenes throughout the film where characters seem to make ridiculous decisions for no apparent reason, and while this isn’t a major problem, it can be a little irritating on rewatches.

The cinematography by Dean Cundey is unfortunately, one of the weaker aspects of the film, as although the film isn’t lacking in attractive or iconic shots. The cinematography is mostly very average for the majority of the film’s runtime, with many of the film’s most memorable shots being mostly due to the film’s practical dinosaur effects. However, the film also makes excellent use of its sets, as every location from the iconic: ‘Visitor Centre’ through to the ‘T-Rex Paddock’ is always very eccentric and memorable.

Probably one of the most recognisable soundtracks in history for film fans, the original score by John Williams is simply incredible throughout the entire film. Having a great blend of beautiful calming tracks in addition to many tracks that help build tension, the soundtrack is truly something to be admired, with the tracks: ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park’, ‘Journey to the Island’ and ‘Hatching Baby Raptor’ being my personal favourites.

In addition to the CG visual effects, Stan Winston, most known for his work on iconic films such as: ‘Predator’, ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ and ‘Aliens’. Created a variety of practical effects for the film, as Spielberg wanted every close-up with the prehistoric creatures to be a practical animatronic, all of which of course are completely life-size and look outstanding, this is even more impressive when considering some of the issues the filmmakers ran into when it came to the rain during the scene: ‘The T-Rex Paddock’ (my personal favourite scene of the film). As the Tyrannosaurus Rex animatronic would constantly break down due to the enormous amount of water it’s rubber skin absorbed, usually having to be wiped-down between takes.

Personally, I don’t have many issues when it comes to the original: ‘Jurassic Park’, as the film is nearly perfect in many ways for me. As a few unbelievable character choices and some small plot holes don’t take away from what is still an exciting adventure filled with great performances, some fantastic practical and visual effects as well as so much more. ‘Jurassic Park’ is a film for the ages, and I definitely believe it deserves its place among the most iconic films of all-time. Overall, a solid 9/10.

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The Thing (1982) – Film Review

One of John Carpenter’s many horror classics, and one of my all-time favourites. ‘The Thing’ is a violent, eerie and creative sci-fi body-horror icon. As I personally adore this film and believe its one of Carpenter’s best, as the film always uses isolation and paranoia to it’s best extent, never failing to keep you on edge and invested throughout the entirety of its story and runtime.

Plot Summary: Members of an American research outpost in Antarctica find themselves battling a parasitic alien organism capable of perfectly imitating its victims. As time passes, they realise that killing the creature will be harder than they initially thought, as paranoia begins to sink-in as to who has already been assimilated by the shape-shifting entity.

Although ‘The Thing’ is actually a remake of the classic: ‘The Thing from Another World’ from 1957, I would say this is one of the rare times that a remake is better than the original. As it’s constant tension building alongside the outstanding practical creature effects, make the film an incredible experience. Very similar to films such as: ‘Alien’ or ‘The Fly’, ‘The Thing’ also has a very slow opening, using its introduction to build tension and give the audience a great view of the location before the film descends into the gory chaos.

Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, David Clennon and the rest of the cast are all decent, while Kurt Russel’s character: ‘MacReady’ is easily my favourite simply due to his charisma, but none of the cast are terrible by any means. However, I do feel there are too many characters within the story, as it can get confusing at many points as to which character is wrapped up within their large fluffy coats. As while I understand the need for a high-body count for a film like this (which is the reason for the lack of development for many of the characters) but I simply just find it a little too easy to get lost at points.

Dean Cundey handles the cinematography within the film, which is decent throughout but nothing amazing, placing more of an emphasis on the practical effects within the shots, rather than the shots themselves. However, the cinematography does still help to build tension effectivity through its many still shots and dark colour palette. The original score (surprisingly not composed by John Carpenter himself) is by Ennio Morricone, but suitably does feel like a traditional Carpenter soundtrack and helps towards the eerie atmosphere as soon as the opening begins, as while maybe not as iconic as some of Carpenter’s other scores such as: ‘Halloween’ or ‘The Fog’ etc. The original score is still brilliant in its own right, and truly sets the tone for the film.

All of the creature effects throughout the film are completely practical, giving the amazing creature designs true life by many of them being puppets or costumes rather than CGI like most modern-day horror or sci-fi flicks. These effects truly create some very memorable scenes, as make-up artist Rob Bottin (Robocop, Total Recall) truly did some of his best work on ‘The Thing’.

As the film takes place in an extremely isolated location and features a creature that can morph into any character, the film also never fails to keep the viewer on constant edge. As one of the best elements of the film is the paranoia the film builds up, as any of the characters could be infected with the alien creature. So we never know who is going to be the next unfortunate victim, and who is their killer. Interestingly during filming, John Carpenter didn’t even tell the actors who was ‘The Thing’ on set, only adding to the mystery.

Altogether, ‘The Thing’ is a phenomenal entry into the genres of science fiction and horror, truly being an iconic staple of what to expect from an alien film from then on. From it’s building of tension to the outstanding phenomenal practical effects as well as the constant threat we feel whilst watching, almost placing us into the shoes of the characters themselves. Soon going on to be a true sci-fi/horror classic and becoming one of the best remakes to ever grace the silver screen, a well-deserved 9/10 overall.

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