Friday 24 January 2014

Space Mountain vs. Space Mountain

There are now five Disneyland resorts across the globe, beginning with Disneyland in 1955. Out of all these parks, one ride has been a standard issue - Space Mountain. An indoor steel rollercoaster based on an outer space quest, the ride first opened at Florida's Magic Kingdom in 1975; it then arrived at California in 1977, Tokyo in 1983, Paris in 1995 and Hong Kong in 2005. The tradition is sadly set to be broken in 2015 when Shanghai Disney Resort opens without this ride, but perhaps they'll see sense and adopt it in the future.

The ride's imposing white structure remains an iconic part of any Disneyland site, though the Paris version of the ride went for a much different approach. Theming and titling is its only similarities - the steampunk aesthetic, the use of inversions, and the opting of a launch hill over a lift hill makes it vastly different to its brothers as a ride experience. I myself have been on two versions of the ride: Paris and California. As they are often compared to see which is the best, I decided to have a go at my own outlook on the rides and see which one is truly the better experience.

Space Mountain: Mission 2 features trains with traditional over shoulder harnesses - the nature of the ride demands such restraints. On the flipside, Space Mountain features much shorter trains with lap bars. A lack of inversions on this ride makes bulky overhead harnesses unnecessary. The track in each version is designed to provide a different experience; Mission 2 features a launch hill which, after a traditional countdown, thrusts you upward, where you peak at the top of the mountain and enter the darkness of deep space within. From there, you zoom around in the dark, surrounded by special effects which simulate stars, planets and asteroids hurtling past you on you journey. The ride is completely dark aside from this, meaning you feel very disorientated as if flying through deep space without a planned route. The ride features 3 inversions: a sidewinder, corkscrew and cutback. It's the only version of Space Mountain to go upside down in any manner.

Space Mountain at Disneyland cruises down a small tunnel as it begins, lights whizzing past you as you move along. You then climb a traditional lift hill and upon reaching the top, the calm, evocative music playing on the ride becomes fast paced and thrilling. The ride zooms around the track at high speed, going through sudden drops, sudden turns and sudden stops. The train reaches a maximum speed of around 35mph on its journey - it feels faster than it looks, but still cannot Mission 2, which reaches a top speed of 45mph whilst thundering along its track. Still, Disneyland's version of the ride is much faster than Florida's, which only manages a maximum speed of 27mph - making it the slowest version of the ride ever built.

The exterior of each ride is suitably different. Space Mountain's traditional structure is a white dome, with thick white stripes, and spikes at the top which resemble antennas, perhaps referring to satellite communication. The structure stands about 26 meters tall, with force perspective making it look significantly larger. Mission 2 is the only iteration of the ride to not adopt this aesthetic - the exterior is a little taller, standing at 32 meters, and is bronze with turquoise plating and significantly more detail. The cannon where riders are launched into the mountain leans on the mountain's side, near the outdoor queueing area, and the loading station sits just behind it.

Both rides feature on board soundtracks composed by Michael Giacchino. The Paris version of the ride originally had a much more gentle, adventurous theme by Steven Bramson, but this was changed to something faster and more aggressive when the ride was rethemed in 2005. California's Space Mountain had music composed by Dick Dale from 1996 until 2003. The ride was closed for two years and reopened in 2005 after extensive refurbishments - one of these refurbishments was the new soundtrack composed by Giacchino, which is synced perfectly to the nature of ride. In my recent experience on the Paris ride, good as it is, the music is slightly but irritatingly out of sync - this may not sound like much, but it can detract from the experience when blistering music is playing before the ride even begins to go fast.

So which is the better ride? It's very dependant on personal preference as they offer very different experiences. Both are satisfyingly fast, beautifully designed and accompanied by kickass background music. The Disneyland ride's lack of inversions and its slower speed don't make it weaker in comparison as it's still a thrilling and exciting coaster in its own right, and perhaps appeals more to the younger crowd as well as adults. I think I'd have to say Mission 2 is my favourite of the two, but still, anyone who visits these theme parks must make these rides a priority. If the ride is shut, murder all the staff. It's that important.

Thanks for reading!

Friday 17 January 2014

Movie Review - Saving Mr. Banks

When it comes to Hollywood, the words 'Based on a true story' mean little in terms of historic accuracy. Liberties are always taken with real life events - sometimes this benefits the final product, sometimes it doesn't. In the case of Saving Mr. Banks, a story of Walt Disney trying to gain the rights to the Mary Poppins novels by P.L Travers, the dramatization breathes a welcomed positivity to what was truly a very grim part of Disney history.

The story concerns filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he seeks to turn the renowned Marry Poppins stories into a magical feature film; an aspiration not shared by the author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who fears Disney will transform her cherished creation into a silly cartoon apt for only the youngest of audiences. Tensions rise as Travers continues to dislike the ideas the Disney studio has for the project, which in turn begins to uncover her troubled past and the truth behind her books - and their deeper meanings within.

Though evidently leaning towards a more positive outlook on the real story, Saving Mr. Banks nevertheless surprises with a script full of complexity and a warm heart. Tom Hanks effortlessly plays the legendary man himself with tons of finnesse and charm - sometimes he seems even more like Disney than Disney himself. Our main character, however, is Mrs. Travers - a complex dame who's rendered to be unlikeable and often irritating, but her backstory evens this out to allow us to sympathize and understand her flaws. She grates on the ear drums a bit, but Thompson still crafts a memorable character with her funny and emotional performance.

The script contains enough innocence for children to be entertained, but is just as engaging for adult audiences - complex themes of troubled childhoods, broken homes and even alcoholism flow throughout the narrative as we explore the saddening past of Travers. Her chemistry with Hanks' Disney is perhaps not as refined as it could've been, and I wish he had more appearances than initially suggested, but he still brings a lot of the central humour and appeal to the film and Hanks delivers one of his most endearing performances to date. Him and Thompson are also supported nicely by an excellent supporting cast, featuring Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti and Bradley Whitford.

Saving Mr. Banks is a heartwarming film with a solid balance of humour and emotion. Yes, it takes many liberties to make the original tale a bit more cheery, but the end result is still an interesting and highly entertaining product that any Disney fan should easily enjoy. It's not gonna be in cinemas for much longer, so I suggest you check it out ASAP if you haven't already!

Monday 13 January 2014

$1 billion grossing films - Worst to Best (Part 2)

Last week I began my look into all 17 films that have grossed a total of $1 billion or more at the worldwide box office - we did the first 10, most of which sadly were crappy or meh. With that over with, we're finally onto a constant flow of positivity with the remainder of the list! Enjoy!

#9 - The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy got off to a decent start in 2005 when Batman Begins earned $373 million worldwide, and enjoyed even more success with The Dark Knight in 2008 - consequently, the hype garnered from these films made fans extremely keen to watch the long awaited conclusion in 2012. The Dark Knight Rises went on to earn $1.084 billion worldwide, but isn't as admired as its predecessor due to some serious plot holes and a convoluted, melodramatic story. It's likeable and boasts visual brilliance, but perhaps Nolan could've focused more on his actual script instead of orgasming over the endless spectacle and practical scope.

#8 - The Avengers

The Dark Knight Rises was backed by tons of hype - but nowhere near enough to stop it dominating the most successful film of 2012, Avengers, which earned a whopping $1.5 billion worldwide. Uniting superheroes from the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise which began with Iron Man in 2008, Avengers has some ridiculous plot holes and poorly timed jokes but remains a thoroughly entertaining and potent action film that never forgets the humanity of its protagonists. It's a shame the second phase of the franchise has so far been utter garbage, but maybe its 2015 sequel can turn things around. We'll see.

#7 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The climactic finale of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was always going to be a hit - earning $1.1 billion worldwide, it certainly lived up to expectations. Incredible earnings aren't the only thing to boast about; the film won all 11 Academy Awards it was nominated for and remains one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time. The epic 3 hour blockbuster showed that the fantasy genre can broaden out beyond geeky niché fanbases, even more so than the Harry Potter franchise. It's a hard film to sit down and watch due to its 201 minute run time, and it does get boring, but the story beneath and the visual effects used to craft it make for an epic conclusion to a great trilogy.

#6 - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2

The decision to split the final Harry Potter novel into two films created a severe lack of balance - the first part, while enjoyable, felt a little underwhelming and didn't thrill audiences. The second part on the flip side was bigger and better in both scope and drama, making it a satisfying conclusion to an age long franchise. Deathly Hallows - Part 2 of course went on to be the highest grossing of the Potter films, leaving cinemas in 2011 with a worldwide gross of $1.3 billion. It may not have won all the awards that Return of the King did, but this conclusion is still just as powerful.

#5 - Toy Story 3

When Toy Story hit cinemas in 1995, it made history and saved the almost bankrupt Pixar from being sold away at a loss. The franchise went on to become one of the most cherished in film history - kids who watched the first two instalments in the 90s were adults by the time the threequel arrived in 2010, meaning them and a new generation of children lined up to see what was possibly the most anticipated animated film of all time. Earning $1.063 billion worldwide, Toy Story 3 is the highest grossing animated film and the only one to cross this moneymaking milestone. These accolades don't go undeserved - these toy characters are brought to life in a complex manner like never before. Gorgeous visuals, genuine emotion and a beautifully told story make for one of Pixar's finest works in recent years.

#4 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Despite earning a record breaking $423 million in the US and $1.066 billion worldwide, the second Pirates movie didn't click with critics and audiences and many became disinterested for the future of the series. It's not hard to see why reception was so polarised - the run time is a bit bloated and the comedy sometimes forced. Despite its shortcomings, the gorgeous special effects, interesting story (I thought it was anyway) and superb villain make for a highly entertaining blockbuster that in many ways top its already brilliant predecessor. These words come from a biased fanboy of the series, but hey, what you gonna do.

#3 - Skyfall

Daniel Craig first starred as Bond in the reboot Casino Royale, which earned nearly $600 million worldwide back in 2006 and saved the declining franchise from losing its tired audience. Its sequel Quantum of Solace enjoyed similar success in 2008, but the popularity of Craig in the role, the hype surrounding the 50th anniversary and the growth of the franchise in the four year gap lead Skyfall to crush all records the franchise had previously established and gross a stunning $1.1 billion worldwide. Some find it hard to forgive the film's glaring plot holes, but they are of little consequence when the fresh depth to the story and characters and creative action scenes do so much to impress. Definitely one of the best Bond films, and highly deserving of its success.

#2 - The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight garnered immediate fame due to the untimely death of actor Heath Ledger, but also for the acclaim his performance of the Joker received. It became a much bigger hit than its predecessor, earning $1.004 billion worldwide - it ranks as the 17th highest grossing film ever, and the lowest grossing film to cross $1 billion. However, with domestic earnings of $534 million, the film ranks as the fourth highest earner ever within the US. Heath Ledger's awesomeness aside, The Dark Knight is a genuinely thrilling superhero flick that also holds merits as a powerful crime drama. The nature of the character is perfectly captured through the visuals and despite some holes in Nolan's script, the film stands tall as one of my favourites.

#1 - Jurassic Park

Marketed by its incredible special effects which still make me wonder how the film saw a 1993 release, Jurassic Park was welcomed to cinemas by tons of hype and eventually earned over $900 million during its initial run. After an IMAX 3D release in 2013, the film's earnings escalated to $1.029 billion, making it the 17th film to cross this milestone and the third to do so due to a rerelease. Its effects still impress even in modern cinema, but what makes Jurassic Park such a fantastic film is the thrill of the adventure and the pleasant sense of fun. It's scary at times, but also energetic and clever, giving it a broad appeal. It stands tall as one of my favourite films of all time, and I hope Jurassic World is the sequel that can finally do it justice.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday 7 January 2014

$1 billion grossing films - Worst to Best (Part 1)

Let's quickly whizz back to 2008 - only four films at the time had reached the prestigious milestone of earning $1 billion worldwide in theatrical revenues; now, that accolade goes to 17 films. With the advent of increased ticket prices and the popularity of 3D (maybe not so much now) and IMAX, most films with a reasonably popular fanbase these days can top $1 billion without intense effort. Many films have even seen rereleases to boost their previous earnings and many have consequently generated over a billion as a result.

Despite such success, not every film to earn such money is amazing - and so in this two part list we shall go from the very worst to the very best of movies which have managed to make such big bucks in Hollywood.

#17 - Transformers: Dark of the Moon

After apologizing for Revenge of the Fallen's racist humour, perverted cinematography and downright awfulness, there was some hope that Bay would at least try a little harder with the third installment - and the awesome trailers really solidified that hope. But it was all a waste. Despite earning a stunning $1.1 billion worldwide, Dark of the Moon was panned by audiences and critics and rightfully so - the film is a bloated, boring and unfunny mess, with a poor storyline and some atrocious dialogue. Bay managed to make his third installment much worse, and to say I fear for Age of Extinction is an understatement.

#16 - Alice in Wonderland

Released three months after James Cameron's Avatar, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland was always bound to do good business due to the new fame of 3D and IMAX in cinema, which helped it close with $1.025 billion in box office receipts. Injecting an epic narrative into the original trippy story is an admirable move, but the end result is a mediocre and embarrassingly melodramatic fantasy film that forgets pacing and coherent plot in favour of endless CGI.

#15 - Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

Originally earning $924 million in the summer of 1999, The Phantom Menace crossed the money making milestone after a 2012 3D rerelease - and has currently earned an enormous worldwide total of $1.027 billion. The highest grossing of the Star Wars films, Phantom Menace is also regarded as the worst; Lucas has written a script with some excellent ideas and thrilling action, but a onslaught of awful dialogue, bland acting and the most annoying sidekick of all time bog down the premise into something very uninteresting. Not as bad as its sequel, but a meh film nonetheless.

#14 - Iron Man 3

After Avengers was released to enormous success in 2012, last year's Iron Man 3 was apt for success as many viewed it as a highly anticipated follow up. The film went on to earn $1.2 billion worldwide, $409 million of which came from the US alone. The trailers really evoked a sense of drama, with a lot at stake and a new villain determined to bring Tony to his demise, but all this was false advertising to say the least. Iron Man 3 is decent at times, but lacks the intelligence of the other Iron Man films and has a truly abysmal twist and a ridiculous ending. I admire the effort, but the end result is nothing special.

#13 - Titanic

Titanic held the record for highest grossing film for a whopping 11 years, surpassed by Cameron's own Avatar in 2009. Its global earnings of $1.8 billion grew to an enormous $2.1 billion after a 2012 3D rerelease, which made it one of the most successful rereleased films ever and the second highest grossing film of all time. Its bloated length and uninteresting romance makes the film largely a bit boring, but the climactic sinking scene is easily one of the best moments it has to offer. Other than that, it's a good film, but not a very enjoyable one.

#12 - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Despite being the lowest grossing Pirates of the Caribbean film in the United States, On Stranger Tides nevertheless did excellently overseas to accumulate a worldwide total of $1.043 billion in box office takings. I'm a huge fan of the series despite its mixed reception, but On Stranger Tides lacks the interesting plot of its predecessors and instead feels like a forced installment with no real purpose. Ian McShane is a badass as the films villain Blackbeard, but even he is underdeveloped to a point where it seems the writers just gave up. An enjoyable film, but definitely not a great one.

#11 - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The recently released Desolation of Smaug, the second part in Jackson's 3-part Hobbit film series, has further proven that the acclaimed director doesn't know when to stop when trying to cram in every single detail into a film, no matter its relevance. Bloated run times have plagued his Lord of the Rings trilogy (good as it is) and his 2005 King Kong adaptation, and now he seeks to create a 3-part epic from a simple 300 page book. It's not working too well as the run time does take its toll, but the first installment released in 2012 was still fairly enjoyable despite its shortcomings - thanks to excellent special effects and a good balance between humour and scope. Its disappointing reception will surely have a knock on effect on it sequels profits, but An Unexpected Journey still surprised with an impressive worldwide gross of $1.017 billion.

#10 - Avatar

Officially the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar set endless box office records when it debuted in 2009 and left cinemas with an unimaginable total of $2.7 billion, $760 million of which was earned in the US alone. Its incredible success was attributed to Cameron's fame and the nature of its groundbreaking special effects, which placed actors in CGI alien bodies within the lush fictional moon of Pandora. While the effects and mythology surrounding its premise are highly polished, the same can't be said for the story, which force feeds a painfully obvious message of environmentalism and ends up being too black and white for its own good. Despite the shallow plot, Avatar is still an enjoyable film, and the amount of effort that went into it is incredible to say the least.

This list will continue in Part 2, coming soon! Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Most Anticipated Films of 2014

2013 has come and gone, blessing us with an abundance of memorable films. Now it's time to start all over again - 2014 has arrived, and the hottest releases of the summer and autumn are getting ever so closer. Here are my five most anticipated films of the next 12 months!

#5 - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The future of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man film franchise collapsed in 2010, paving the way for a reboot two years later with a new cast, crew and storyline. Andrew Garfield took the helm as the titular superhero and faced off against Rhys Ifan's The Lizard; many were left underwhelmed by its plot holes and unanswered questions, but the sequel promises to continue the narrative as Peter faces off against even badder foes who also connect to his troubled past. The Rhino, Electro and Green Goblin appear as main villains, which has raised unfavourable comparisons to Spider-Man 3 but it's been promised that they'll be used and balanced correctly. If this works out, the film looks to be an action packed superhero hit with a storyline that's actually got me very interested.

#4 - RoboCop

Remaking a classic cult film is never gonna end well - Hollywood surely braced themselves for overwhelming backlash when it was announced that a remake of the 1987 classic RoboCop was in the works, originally due for 2011. The film was then been pushed back multiple times, ending up with a final release date of February 2014, with the official trailer debuting just three months back; reception was mixed, and fans of the original were far from impressed. It may be my wishful thinking, but the film to me looks like a solid and new interpretation of the character with a welcome focus on the human within. Some of it looks very cliché, but I'm still excited to see how it pans out.

#3 - Interstellar

Even though the official teaser trailer cropped up just last month, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar remains light years away and won't arrive in cinemas until November. The first film by Nolan following his superb Batman trilogy, Interstellar's plot details are being kept tightly secured by Warner Bros. to generate interest; all we know is that a team of scientists encounter a wormhole within the depths of space. The trailer itself was just as vague, hinting at the themes of the movie instead of focusing on any narrative content. Though there's not a lot for me to judge at this stage, I'm a huge fan of Nolan, and I'm very keen to see what surprises he has in store this time.

#2 - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise success back in 2011, earning nearly $500 million worldwide and reigniting interest in the popular franchise. A lot of work has gone into the sequel in the past three years, and this time the premise is entirely different. James Franco and most of the original cast are gone - the film is set many years after its predecessor, where the deadly virus has wiped out most of the human race and left apes to dominate the planet. Caesar leads the new civilisation, who must all soon face up against a team of human survivors lead by Gary Oldman. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film and the premise of this sequel sounds even more exciting - let's hope it stays that way.

#1 - Godzilla

I won't claim to be a huge Godzilla nut - I've not seen any of the Japanese films, which I understand makes me an uncultured faggot. Perhaps my reputation is further tarnished when I say I have seen the terribly crappy 1998 American film by Roland Emmerich. A Godzilla film has not since been produced by a US studio, until now - come May 2014, the classic movie monster will hopefully be done justice when Gareth Edwards (Monsters, 2010) brings him to life once again. Last month's trailer showed some terrified characters, including Aaron Taylor Johnson and Bryan Cranston, as they face off against the monster and all its destruction. Following this tense sequence, the monster is shown in a cloud of debris, turning its gargantuan head and emitting that earth shattering classic roar. Featuring the biggest interpretation of the creature yet and some spectacular looking set pieces, Godzilla should hopefully be one of the biggest films of the summer and will erase all memories of that foul 1998 film. Good riddance.

Thanks for reading! Happy New Year!