The film of 2016 will be set in a block of flats.

The past year of two thousand and fifteen has been one of fantastic range in the cinematic landscape; we’ve had record-breaking franchise renewals, animation packed with emotion, and the inevitable slew of mediocre cash-grabs. I’m going to allow some time for the dust to settle (and enough time for some hasty viewing) before I put together a selection of what I deem to be the very best that the past year had to offer. But for now, I’m going to give some time to looking forward to my most anticipated film of the new year.

Despite the title of this post, the film I speak of is unfortunately not Attack the Block 2, sadly because it does not exist. Instead it is High-Rise which is due for release on the 18th March 2016. But what is High-Rise and why am I so keen to see it? Allow me to elaborate.

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The source is a 1975 novel written by renowned author J.G. Ballard. Even if you don’t recognise his name there’s a chance that you’ll recognise his work since he is best known for Empire of the Sun, for which Steven Spielberg helmed the film adaptation. His other association with the film world comes from the controversial adaptation of his novel Crash. I understand that some of you might be still in the dark, so let’s press on.

High-Rise is mainly centred around Dr. Robert Laing, a new occupant of a towering block of flats. A block of flats larger than previously seen and designed to contain all the luxuries of modern life within its walls, from supermarket to swimming pool. Due to varying accommodation standards and a diverse group of tenants, the building itself reflects an economically driven class strata – working class on the lower floors all the way up to the penthouse where the designer of the building itself resides. With this set up, Ballard takes us through the events during a hot summer that sees this carefully structured vertical society break down from the inside. That’s where I’ll end the description because that was enough to get me to pick up the book last year when the adaptation was announced.

This might not appear as the most enticing of cinematic prospects, but I would argue that it is exactly the matching of director Ben Wheatley to the novel that will make this one to watch, and to keep this simple (since this is entirely speculative!) I’m going to break it down to 2 reasons by looking at another of his films.

1 – The darkness of the human psyche…

Wheatley hasn’t quite set out to warm the hearts of viewers with his films thus far, in fact it could be argued he’s deliberately gone for the opposite. His films usually contain some form of fracturing in the minds of his characters, and the main couple in Sightseers are a great example of this as they end up carrying out a series of random grisly murders on their caravanning holiday. As unsettling as this is, perhaps what is most chilling is that the characters have all the outward appearance of normal people. They easily embody the sorts of people you might meet wandering around a National Heritage site, they could easily live down your street, or perhaps across the hall from you…in a block of flats.

2 – …and the unexpected comedic results

The deft trick that Wheatley pulls in Sightseers is handling the absurdity of the scenario. It teeters on the edge of ridiculousness with just enough of a lean that quite often the knee-jerk reaction is one of laughter. Some of the more horrific moments are even deliberately set up for laughs with the expressed intent to make you giggle and then awkwardly stop once your brain has caught up with your eyes. Trust me when I tell you that a cyclist being run over will make you chuckle. Consider then that a recurring element in Ballard’s novel is the many hedonistic parties that are held seemingly one after the other even whilst the society of the building falls apart. Sounds like a gold mine for absurdist humour to me.

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There you have it. Wheatley’s understanding of flawed humans, the darkness in the psyche, and the absurdity of its breakdown should mesh wonderfully with the pseudo-sci-fi setting of Ballard’s novel. A talented cast led by Tom Hiddleston won’t hurt either. If you’ve ever wanted something more from your cinema excursion, come March 18th I recommend you join us at the High-Rise.

Would sir like glasses with that? – Thoughts on formats

Ye Olde 3D.

Ye Olde 3D.

Time for some nerdy stuff. Well, nerd-lite if you will, these are just some musings.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, film and cinema have seen numerous advances in technology; from the ongoing digital revolution to blu-ray discs. New formats for viewing films have also emerged so that nowadays we have more options to choose from when embarking on a journey into the cinematic world at our local multiplex. A trio of formats has emerged, each offering a marked difference compared to a standard viewing format. IMAX, 3D, and HFR (and various combinations of them) are available across the country with only the latter being a relatively new addition, and only in select locations. So what are they? And what do they bring to the film-watching experience? Perhaps more crucially, are they any better than good old 2D, in which we have been viewing movies for many many years?

Let’s start with IMAX. The term itself is an acronym for Image Maximum and describes the greater size and resolution of the film used in the specialist IMAX cameras. IMAX films were initially used as exhibitions for museums and adventure-parks, but increasingly the format is being offered as a way to see your average blockbuster. This trend is often a post-production conversion of the film into the IMAX format, but in some cases does seem to offer the enhanced quality obtained from filming directly into the format. To date, I have seen two films that have been upgraded to IMAX; Avengers Assemble and Gravity. While the former offered little improvement over its 2D cousin, the latter was lent a great sense of immersion thanks to the IMAX format. As mentioned in my review, I saw Gravity on the largest IMAX screen in the country and the experience was well worth the few extra bob that I had to fork out for it. Having a screen that completely fills your field of view whilst still looking as sharp as ever has a knack for drawing you in – it almost makes the film inescapable. The superior IMAX sound then adds the icing on the cake as it engulfs your senses, and in this case, pulls you out to the edge of space, right into Sandy Bullock’s helmet.

It is somewhat of a rarity but there are some feature films that have been partially shot using IMAX cameras, including The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and Star Trek Into Darkness. Out of these I have only seen The Dark Knight Rises in an IMAX screening and the transition from normal scenes to IMAX were hardly noticeable, but…watch the blu-ray at home and the appearance of black bars is pretty jarring. I’d love to see a film entirely shot in IMAX but that seems unlikely due to the cumbersome nature of the IMAX cameras, although saying that, Christopher Nolan has reportedly used more IMAX than ever before in his latest project; Interstellar.

Christopher Nolan getting the IMAX view on set.

Christopher Nolan getting the IMAX view on set.

Moving on to the third dimension. Its resurgence in recent years is not the first attempt at establishing itself as a permanent choice at the cinema. I won’t go into the history too much but 3D has actually been around longer than most people think with confirmed experiments into stereoscopy as early as the 1920’s. In the last craze before the current one, around the 70s and 80s, 3D popped up mainly attached to horror features and those of an even less savoury nature. It had its day but the technology wasn’t great and it fizzled out. Now thanks to James Cameron and a few others, 3D has made another spirited assault on the box office, ironically asking us to find new depths in our wallets for some extra depth on the screen.

I’ve seen my fair share of 3D screenings; Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, Avengers Assemble, The Hobbit, Amazing Spider-man 2 to name a few, and quite honestly I’m not a fan but my opinion has wavered slightly on my past few outings. It can’t be denied that Avatar was a breakthrough and the added depth was quite impressive. It couldn’t save Avatar from mediocrity but audiences flocked to see it, even going again to see the special edition – how 9 more minutes of Pandora justifies another ticket I’ll never understand! the 3D craze has an ugly side though, and around the time of Avatar, studios were keen to get in on the act and started to retrofit films shot in 2D into 3D. This made for some poor viewing experiences and at worst induced headaches in audiences. It also appeared as nothing more than a gimmick to increase profits based on more expensive tickets – there’s only so many times an object can be thrown out of the screen towards you before it gets old. 3D tickets sales have seen a decline and there have been complaints from audiences, especially parents who have to amass a small fortune in order to take their children to see the latest Pixar or Dreamworks offering. There’s also the issue of 3D screenings being considerably darker light-wise than regular 2D and the need for those hipster-esque glasses. Many believe 3D won’t be around for long, but it’s still here today and at the end of every trailer I see the options for 3D presentation and I’m not so sure we’ll see its demise this time…

The question I often ask myself is, does 3D add anything beyond the obvious, to a film? I’d have to answer that for the most part it doesn’t. But the problem is not with the format, but its use.

Almost every blockbuster film marketed to the widest audience will have 3D as a viewing option. It’s always there, sometimes even against the wishes of the director. It’s added on to drive up ticket prices, slapped on without a care – overused. The only way I can see 3D working is not as a gimmick, but as a cinematography tool, used in the same way as lighting and framing to generate immersion. A great example of this is on display in Gravity. Space is an inky black vastness where depth is indiscernible, but with 3D, Gravity was able to give a sense of space and position for the people and objects it focused on. I have yet to see the 2D version of Gravity so I might be about to eat my words but I can’t see 3D sticking around any other way.

But there is one more twist in the tale; the appearance of HFR 3D. HFR stands for High Frame Rate and is where the film is shot and projected at 48 frames per second as opposed the to the usual cinematic 24 frames. The only films, along with film-maker, to embrace this genuinely new format has been Peter Jackson with The Hobbit trilogy. These films have been shot in 3D at a higher frame rate with the express purpose that they be viewed in that way. When the footage premièred it was met with a wall of disapproval with many likening it to an HD television broadcast – “BBC live from Middle Earth”.

Peter Jackson with one of the many Red Epic cameras used to film The Hobbit trilogy.

Peter Jackson with one of the many Red Epic cameras used to film The Hobbit trilogy.

I’ve made a point to see both Hobbit films released so far in HFR 3D, and it’s left me sitting on the fence. The first moments viewing an HFR film are very strange indeed and take some getting used to. Everything on screen seems to be moving at a much faster pace – the opening shots of Bilbo walking round Bag End looked like a scene from The Benny Hill Show! Thanks in part to the length of these Middle Earth adventures, you should be adjusted before the first major action sequences arrive which is where HFR produces its trump card. The benefit of those added frames is that action becomes buttery smooth and for the first I could see every swing of the sword and every flailing limb. It’s a marked difference. As to whether HFR makes 3D more bearable? I can’t say, but perhaps the complete lack of new HFR films on the horizon speaks for itself. It’s an interesting format and a real game-changer but many see a move away from 24 fps as cinema turning its back on its own heritage – Cinema is almost by definition, at 24 frames.

Overall, pure cinema and film-making is unlikely to be drastically changed by these formats. IMAX gives a boost in visual and audio fidelity but at a cost, 3D is more often a gimmick but has the potential to be used as a tool, and HFR is likely to go the way of the Dodo very soon. Many of the greatest films had none of these extras and are still moving people today – cinema simply needs a camera for filming and a screen for projection, and I think it’ll retain that essence for many years to come.

Besides, 2D tickets are still cheaper than 3D ones!