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Frankenstein (#110 of 5)

Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

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Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies
Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

With the arrival of the 20th anniversary, 3D re-release of Jurassic Park, what I’d like to convince you of is that the film watered down, significantly, the soul of the novel from which it was based (and we’re talking about a Michael Crichton page-turner for Christ’s sake). Instead of being the kind of decadent, lost-in-the-jungle, labyrinthine cinematic fever dream it could’ve been—one in which the production of the film would’ve eerily re-enacted and factually re-performed the hallucinatory chaos of what it was trying to fictionally record (a la Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, and their respective making-of docs, Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams), Spielberg’s Jurassic Park instead played it safe, and did so in a way that was slick, corporate, and patronizing to its audience. And one of the ways it punted artistically was to almost entirely purge from Crichton’s novel its heavy theorizing about chaos theory and fractals, which, in those days (the late ’80s/early ’90s), had just made its way into the intellectual mainstream. I’d like to briefly make the point that this was a grievous mistake (for the movie), because chaos theory and fractals have everything to do with scary movies, and horror and terror and the kind of man-eating monstrosities Spielberg and his team put so much goddamned time and money into making look realistic.

Better Here than There Mike Cahill’s Another Earth

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Better Here than There: Another Earth
Better Here than There: Another Earth

Another Earth is a high-concept failure. Director Mike Cahill and co-writer Brit Marling struggle in vain to foreground the thematic significance of their film’s novel main conceit. In their film, a second Earth—that is, an identical planet to Earth as we know it—suddenly appears in the orbit of the film’s native planet Earth. Cahill and Marling don’t have original or even exciting ideas to present, just C-movie insights about survivors’ guilt that happen to revolve around a cool science-fiction premise. But the film’s plot doesn’t really to do much with this alternate planet, a fact that has since made viewers rather upset because, well, just look at that title. Trust me: The lack of sci-fi-ness is the least of Another Earth’s problems.

"It’s Alive!" : Puzzlehead Director James Bai on Identity Politics, Frankenstein, & Robot Love

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“It’s Alive!” : <em>Puzzlehead</em> Director James Bai on Identity Politics, <em>Frankenstein</em>, & Robot Love
“It’s Alive!” : <em>Puzzlehead</em> Director James Bai on Identity Politics, <em>Frankenstein</em>, & Robot Love

Writer-director James Bai’s Puzzlehead which shows this week at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, proves that ingenuity is currency. Elegantly photographed on Super 16mm on depopulated Brooklyn streets, this poverty-row sci-fi thriller about an android and his creator in a plague-ridden city casts an eerie spell. The magic lies not in the film’s sparing but effective use of digital effects and prosthetic makeup, but in Bai’s elliptical script and direction and the cast’s stripped-down performances, which recall the anesthetized deadpan vibe of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. (To read my New York Press review of Puzzlehead click here.) It’s not a crash-and-burn action picture or a gory shocker; rather, it’s an unsettling psychological drama, scored with a mournful harpsichord, that reimagines Frankenstein as an existential potboiler about a coldly patriarchial scientist who invents monstrous-yet-childlike servant and heir named Puzzlehead. (Both Walter and Puzzlehead are played by Stephen Galaida, pictured above, at the right Hammer-horror-film pitch.)

Bai, 40, was born in Columbia, Missouri and raised in southern California. He studied business marketing in college and played guitar in rock bands. After whiling away the hours at an accounting job by devising an animated short on Post-It notes, Bai attended Columbia University’s School of Film at the urging of his filmmaker brother, Stephen, an NYU film student (and future “Puzzlehead” coproducer). Bai’s studies yielded several award-winning student shorts. “Puzzlehead” is his first feature. He lives in Westchester, N.Y., with his wife and one-year-old son.