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Students respond to the 50 Shades of Grey trailer

The 50 Shades of Grey trailer made waves online upon release, amassing more than a 100 million views in its first week.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfZWFDs0LxA]

 

Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson star in the film adaptation of the best-selling novels by E.L. James about a powerful CEO and a college student’s BDSM relationship. The OxStu asked for student’s responses to the trailer. Here’s what we found out:

Kenny Dada

50 Shades of Grey is finally here! Well, the trailer is (the film itself isn’t out until Valentine’s Day 2015. Soz, Mr Grey devotees). As expected, the trailer teased the, er, interesting aspects that made the trilogy so infamous with elevator kisses, bedroom and shirtless shots, lingering stares between the leads, and some under-the-table action. Saucy stuff. Not expected was my mother announcing that she now wants to read the novels after watching the trailer. Disturbing.

Nassia Williamson

As a repenting reader of fan fiction, seeing Master of the Universe (hoho, Fifty’s AU precursor) come real is a staggering fact. Its progress from Twific canon to viral mummy porn to, finally, the big screen stirs a mixture of disbelief and – like a train wreck – outright horror. I really can’t wait.

Ashley Fisher

The golden rule is this: the higher the rating, the lower the box office income. So the producers may push for an R-rating. If so, the film won’t contain any of the content that everyone wants. Yet they ought to take the risk of an NC-17 rating, as the film is fairly low budget ($40m) and the fan-base is large and well established.

Sam Joyce

The focus on romance over sex and the studio rom-com cinematography suggest Universal are aiming for a broader audience than I imagined. However, the combination of the hot guy from Marie Antoinette, Beyonce covering her own song and gloriously knowing dialogue such as “I exercise control in all things”/“that sounds incredibly boring,” have me praying for a camp fiasco on a scale not seen since Lindsay Lohan’s Lifetime biopic of Elizabeth Taylor. I’m sold.

Tom Bannatyne

I’ve always viewed 50 Shades of Grey in the same way as I would a dead animal – with a morbid fascination. The trailer only adds to this. From its slowed down Beyonce track to its silly dialogue to its Valentine’s Day release date, it is cringe-inducing in the extreme, but it still has an undeniable appeal. It’s not clever, or sexy, or particularly dramatic, but there is enough teasing to make it not entirely rubbish.

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Laura Hartley

Having read the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy I have to say that I was rather disappointed by the film trailer. I can’t really pinpoint what it is exactly but all I’m feeling is a whole load of ‘but … no’ when watching it. There’s no way it can be as sexy as the books because that would basically be porn, so surely it can only disappoint? That soundtrack though…

Harriet Fry

My initial reaction was to enjoy Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’, but also to realise that the plot is not as ground-breaking as it is made out to be. From the trailer, the characters seem like stereotypes: we have the demure, ostensibly uninteresting woman and the would-be dashing man who sweeps her off her feet. I wonder what kind of message this sends out about relationships today- should they really be characterised by such a power imbalance?

James Aldred

Almost as influential as the release of the book itself, the trailer has already nearly doubled one online retailer’s sales of sex toys. But in amongst the excitement, few have been willing to ask perhaps the most important question: doesn’t it just look a bit shit? The production looks predictably slick but dull, and shows a bumbling, cardigan-wearing woman who can only truly be liberated by a masculine cliché. What year is it again?

Megan Mary Thomas

The book was heralded as being outrageous and even revolutionary, but the trailer trots out the worn cliché; ‘there’s really not much to know about me’ girl meets ‘intense, smart, intimidating’ guy who ‘enlightens’ her. A really helpful tool for teaching our generation about the efficiency of intimidation as a means to consent. Does this film liberate women to talk about sex or does it glamourize oppression? Emmeline Pankhurst would be proud of how far we’ve come.

Freya Judd

Is this a sexually liberating franchise, reigniting women’s interests in the kinkier sides of sex, or does it depict an unhealthy example of BDSM? Unfortunately, an equally heated debate is the argument over whether Jamie Dornan has enough chisel in his cheekbones and charisma in his stares to portray Christian Grey. I say I’ll be watching 50 Shades ironically, but I can’t pretend I’m not hoping that Dornan will magically be standing behind me in the popcorn queue.

 

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Dangerous Boys

In September, The Riot Club - an adaptation of Laura Wade’s controversial Royal Court hit stage play, Posh - will make its way into cinemas… and fear will strike the hearts of those in power accordingly.

All right, so hyperbole aside, it’s easy to see why this project has been causing a stir since its inception; tinged with more than just a whiff of controversy, it is based loosely on the historically-destructive antics of an Oxford University drinking society, The Bullingdon Club (for those who missed the furor caused several years ago, when antics of past members were exposed, this club has counted amongst its ranks several notable members of our current cabinet, including David Cameron and Boris Johnson). The play charts the descent into violent chaos of a group of select Oxford students – privileged, blue-blooded or nouveaux riche, ex-public school, white, male – attending one of their illicit termly dinners.

It has always found itself pinned to its political potential by those who (not unreasonably) have seen it as a theatrical flag-wave for the anti-Tory cause. Certainly with the British Film Institute committing a chunk of funding to the film last year, in the wake of budget slashes induced by government cuts, suggestions that the film is hugely driven towards generating an anti-Conservative rhetoric do have legs to stand on. The Guardian reported as early as last August that MPs such as Lee Scott (Illford North) had told The Mail they questioned the film’s motives. And, considering that it is slated for release ahead of the next General Election campaign season, one could be forgiven for thinking that the film chimes far too easily with other attempts to discredit parliamentary bids by certain prominent politicians – whose historical anecdotes of debauched chaos are somewhat legendary – to be entirely innocent of a political agenda.

And yet, despite the fact all of these discussions are testament to the way films can have an impact beyond the cinema auditorium, they are also testament to something else: to how, recently more than ever, we always seem to be in favour of discussing the political and social context of a film above all else. Discussing film as propaganda or social commentary is useful – but it’s also reductive. Film is fiction, and The Riot Club, like other films, deserves to be opened up to scrutiny beyond its place amongst the battleground of Westminster politics or the education debate. It also has its wider applications. Successful or not (and we can’t yet judge, since we’re awaiting release), if the original play is anything to go by, Wade and Scherfig have embarked upon a project that is at least, conceptually, unique and fascinating: they have taken as their central theme the effects of tribalism amongst a group of young people, and they have transcribed that theme onto a group we hardly ever see observed – the privileged.

Because the Riot Boys are – no matter how much we dress them up in £3000 tailcoats and cut-glass vowels – a gang. They operate under the ideology of an in-group, and their actions are governed accordingly. If this film runs to 110 minutes, then those are 110 minutes spent visualising and narrating a fictitious example of young people living their lives within the safety and stricture of a pack mentality. Having tapped into one of the most successful motifs of dramatic conflict in cinematic history (after all, gang narratives have insinuated themselves into the “Top 100” lists of films, both classic and cult, for decades: where would cinema be without The Godfather or Reservoir Dogs?), Wade and Scherfig have re-imagined what life in a gang is like – but amongst the kind of people we often assume already have it all.

And it is a successful motif, of course, because it is important. Stripped of its contextual dressing – a dressing nicely rendered by Barbour jackets and RP accents, and the quintessential charisma of Brit boy actors such as Max Irons, Sam Clafin and Douglas Booth, gathered behind the locked door of the private dining room where glass shatters freely and views on those “f*cking poor people” are expressed –  the project interrogates tribalism in a way that could apply to any gang, regardless of background: it questions how within an in-group situation, personal morality is subsumed by group psychology; how individuals tailor their own ideas and beliefs to suit the agenda of their overarching community; how, when threatened, groups can and often will target and expel their weakest member – with potentially devastating consequences for that individual – so that the group as a whole can survive otherwise unscathed. It is an exposé of the hypocrisy inherent to many social groups: one where the communal ethos bespeaks common ground, yet will internally stratify itself; of how a pack mentality validates its existence by perpetuating a distinction between “us” and “them”. A question arises then: why are we so concerned about the effects of this film as propaganda in a way we never are when Scorsese or Tarantino or Besson take on a project that represents the social world of Italian American mob bosses or the Columbian drugs trade?

One suspects it is because we expect these social worlds and their conflicts on our screen. We are used to them. And more than that, there is a deeper psychology at work under the surface – one which permits us to sympathise with the aspirational crooks of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) or the chummy thugs played by Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), even as they shock us with their criminal and violent behaviour. These aren’t, after all, folks at the top – they’re folks doing their best to getto the top, even while they’re oppressed by the powerful antagonistic forces (the police, mobster overlords, their communities) doing their best to stop them. In most rollickingly successful gang films – of which there are plenty – success is assured only by the collaboration of the group. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin became George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the Ocean’s Eleven films, and audiences loved the camaraderie between the protagonists and the rest of their band of thieves as much in the 21st century as they did in the 1960s. Menhaj Hudo’s fifteen-year-old female hoods in Kidulthood (2006), led by Stephanie Di Rubbio’s bully Shaneek, represented what it meant to be young, disillusioned, and huddled together in a rabble of angry kids in the West London of 2002. It is when internal stratification arises, as it inevitably always does – when leadership and underdog roles are established – that gangs begin to deteriorate, hemmed in within their own fortress of cult-like commitment to one another.

In other words, fiction stumbled onto its A-game when it realised that the concept of loyalty to one’s constructed social circle is something that hardly ever fails to resonate with its audience. The context surrounding the moral of the fable is pretty irrelevant to its necessity to film. Audiences don’t just go to the cinema looking for a scapegoat; they go to find something they can understand, discovering it within a world they can otherwise never access. We may be unwilling to admit Riot Boys, with their bottles of Bollinger and the world at their feet, to the club (if you’ll pardon the pun) – but they still have every right to be there. Whereas most gang narratives centre around an exclusive in-group that perceives injustices from the perspective of an underclass, the tragedies of The Riot Club stem from the isolation felt by members of an exclusive overclass. But the results are similar enough. Privilege, power and prestige – for one group at the expense of another – are articulated as both the right and the aspiration of these characters, in much the same way that they are for Robert de Niro and James Woods in Once Upon a Time in America (1984), or Stephen Graham and his ilk in This is England (2006). They tear them apart in the same way.Those fencing swords and tailcoats are the same kind of armour as sharp Italian tailoring or Crombie overcoats.

We can feel sorry for these boys, in a way we perhaps otherwise find difficult when viewing their grown-up, real-life counterparts through the lens of media reaction to another budget cut or Cabinet cover-up. These are young men, banded together by a dual code of shared identity and, underneath it all, their own fear of outsiders – of the people who have lived their lives in a different way, by a different moral code, accepting a hierarchy or a rule of deference that does not mesh well with theirs. When called upon to justify their actions and beliefs – ones they know people outside of their circle will never understand – they give nothing at all, instead retreating into one another, and a safety mechanism of cruelty. And, as becomes clearer and clearer throughout the script, their tribalism stems from individual insecurities, and a pervading sense of loneliness – where else can they ever find a love they understand but with their boys?

So in taking us away from the groups we are so used to seeing represented by the gang genre – the mafia, the street hoods, the ethnic minorities, the working class in revolt – and giving us the unexpected, The Riot Club is refreshing a stifled and tired genre, opening it up to the possibility of working beyond its given stereotypes. If the mid-to-late 20th century was dominated by the Italian-American conflicts and their auteurs, and British filmmaking responded with the gritty realism of street hood culture in the early 2000s, then perhaps The Riot Club is tentatively marking a key turning point in film history: one that will look at gang culture in the least expected places. Wade herself hasn’t denied the spectre of influence that is the erudite posh boy, strolling the corridors of power, in her play. In August’s UK edition of Vogue she conceded that – despite their limited presence in the university world – “Riot boys aren’t going away”; but for audiences to concentrate solely on its political effects, and exclude its wider applications within the world of film as a result, is to limit the exciting new dialogue The Riot Club can potentially ignite.

 

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Why Alex Darby’s latest project is proof that student film cannot be ignored

‘Festivals like to see a project rather than a product’, explains Owen Donovan, distribution manager for Waterbird | Catkins, as he steps off camera after filming a quick rave scene, and sits down with me at a table in The Cellar. Owen never expected to be in the final film, he had originally been overseeing the marketing and distribution of the two films, yet had been roped in to fill out the numbers for that particular shot.

I’d been invited down to the usually sweaty and packed club venue at 3 in the afternoon to watch some of the filming for two new student film projects, (the first, Catkins, and the second, Waterbird) both of them written and directed by Alexander Darby. If you are unfamiliar with Alex’s projects, go onto his Vimeo (available at vimeo.com/alexanderdarby) where you can see some of his fantastic work including a preview for The Wishing Horse, a film showing at a number of film festivals at the moment.

Darby decided to shoot both films together to, in effect, allow the project to work in two parts that complimented and augmented one another. Both have remarkably different story lines and themes – Catkins was largely set in an expansive, luscious countryside setting, whereas Waterbird, a film concentrating on the tensions of early adulthood, often has a lot more claustrophobic settings – as seen at The Cellar and later, when the team planned to do a night shoot in the Westgate Car Park. The two contrasting themes in the single project should provide an impressive result for viewers.

What was most striking about the project was how meticulously planned and flawlessly organised it was – even the rave scene, as Owen explains, was carefully orchestrated with specific entrances and exits done at regulated intervals. The day before, I was told, the crew had been out on the river with a boat specifically designed to hold the bulky camera; no expense was spared when it came to the visual quality of the eventual product.

Watching the few takes that I saw, it became clear that a strong working dynamic had emerged between the cast and crew – whenever a take didn’t feel right in Alex’s eyes or a boom mic may have poked into the shot, it was simply re-done without hesitation from anyone. It was this professionalism that clearly created the highest quality in student production.

Having come from a predominantly theatre-based dimension, watching this felt like a surreal experience to me, and it was clear that having a strong creative drive from Alex himself was keeping everyone focussed and patient.

I was lucky enough to be shown some of the footage from the day before (a relatively simple test shot of a jogger in the rain) and the results were incredible when slowed down – droplets of rain were almost visible across what may otherwise have been a dreary riverbank. It was small samples like that that ultimately make the end product all the more exciting.

Though the shoot is now finished, the work for Alex is far from over. Now he has to move to the editing stage (this would last through August apparently) and then the distribution and promotion of the project could begin, as had happened with Alex’s previous films including The Wishing Horse. Even with Catkins and Waterbird fully shot, there is no rest for the director and the rest of his crew, with Alex having recently been involved with the making of the trailer for The Pillowman (on at the Oxford Playhouse next term) and the directing of the video for the comedy song written by David Meredith and Will Hislop of the Oxford Revue (available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnSKzd8K8ug).

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Fact vs fiction: Oxford university on film

British films from the Harry Potter franchise to this year’s Belle have famously utilised Oxford’s dreaming spires, old buildings, and particularly the picturesque cobbled Merton Street as locations resembling other worlds or times gone by. Yet relatively few contemporary films have shot on location using the university itself as a setting and narrative focus.

Sure, the film adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play The History Boys gives us momentary glimpses of Oxford’s aged architectural gems, and Lone Scherfig’s An Education concludes with Carey Mulligan’s Jenny cycling along Catte Street. But both of these films are more about applying to Oxford (and Cambridge in The History Boys) than actually being there.

And when filmmakers do take on Oxford they don’t always get it right.

The days of doddery butlers waiting on wealthy students in stuffy dining rooms, as enjoyed by Tibby Schlegel in Merchant Ivory’s Howards End, are surely behind us now, yet on the small screen ITV’s Morse is behind the times, depicting students gowned far more frequently than they are in reality.

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Across the pond, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 featured a sub-plot in which Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) applies to Oxford, attending a kind of Oxford University annex centre in New York to be interviewed. For all I know this place really exists, but the holes in the writer’s research are visible in the seemingly random presence of just one college flag in the ornate foyer; Green Templeton, a college which admits only graduate students.

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Elsewhere in the superhero genre Matthew Vaughn showed us the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) flirting shamelessly in an Oxford pub in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. But before you start squealing in excitement because you might have sat on a bar stool once graced by McAvoy or his on-screen sister Jennifer Lawrence, take a closer look. Charles and Raven exit the pub and walk under the Bridge of Sighs, almost as if they’ve come down the passage from The Turf. But it is not so; the franchise created a fictional pub, The Eagle, using New College Lane for exteriors. Yet for anyone who knows Oxford’s pubs, X-Men: First Class manages to make it appear that Charles is drinking in a popular student haunt without actually entering one (just imagine trying to stuff a camera rig into The Turf).

Of course this kind of artistic license is part and parcel in film-making, and what Vaughn and co got absolutely right is that Oxford students love a good pint.

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But if it’s (near) complete authenticity you’re after then, oddly, the place to look is a second-rate ‘80s movie starring Rob Lowe and Ally Sheedy just before they both hit the big time. In 1984’s Oxford Blues Lowe plays Nick, a creep who falsifies his college records so he can transfer to Oxford and seduce a young British woman (Amanda Pays) who’s in line for the throne. In terms of realism the film doesn’t really get off to a good start, depicting Nick driving around Oxford in an improbably large car, including an impossible circuit of Radcliffe Square. Somewhat more realistically this sequence concludes with Nick wedging his car between two buildings, having misjudged a narrow entryway to his college, Oriel.

Despite the film’s preposterous and clichéd plot its portrayal of university experiences such as formal dinners and rowing culture is fairly accurate, as is the Oxocentric dialogue. Characters moan about the prevalence of rowing chat, and Nick is described as ‘coming up to Oxford’ and then later (spoiler alert), being ‘sent down’. Oxford locations featured in the film include The Bear on Alfred Street (the only pub Nick and his friends seem to be aware of), boat houses on the river and the Iffley Road Track. There’s even a matriculation scene shot in the Sheldonian, though Nick wears clothes you’d never get away with.

This film is by no means good, but give it a watch if you like spotting places you know on screen, or if you just want to see Rob Lowe in a kilt.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMWdJ3WII4U]

 

Oxford University will next star as itself in Lone Scherfig’s The Riot Club, an adaptation of Laura Wade’s play Posh. Actors Sam Claflin, Max Irons and Douglas Booth will portray Oxford’s elite bad boys. While the film’s subject matter presents the Oxford the Daily Mail seem to believe in, the trailer suggests it will at least be accurate in demonstrating that this indulgent and extreme lifestyle is enjoyed only by a minority.

 

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NCIS: TV at its best

Want to relax in front of the TV during those last weeks of work-free summer remaining? Looking for something funny, exciting and interesting in the bleak landscape of summer TV schedules? Well, look no further than NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service).

Essentially it’s an American crime drama based around cases involving US Naval personnel, but don’t be put off by the seemingly unusual angle of focus – this is a crime drama of the highest calibre, with excellent acting, storylines and a good deal of humour.

The show goes into its 12th season next year, but it’s still as first-rate as ever. Rarely does a programme so far into its life gain as much acclaim as NCIS has in recent years; it received this year’s International Television Audience Award for Drama, awarded to the drama series with the highest ratings worldwide. And rarely does a show so greatly deserve the popularity that NCIS is now finally enjoying.

Those of us who watched from the very first season have always been perplexed at the much wider viewership of other American crime dramas, notably the wincingly bad CSI: Miami, in comparison with the TV genius that is NCIS. But finally the world has caught up. Now when flicking through the channels one cannot help but see one or other NCIS episode being aired. Channel 5, 5USA, Universal, FOX and CBS Action schedules have all been swept up in the NCIS fever, with many episodes being shown daily on the various channels.

If you’ve never seen the early episodes, starting as far back as possible is highly recommended. Universal is currently showing season 2 (plus the occasional season 1 episode). In doing so, you can not only work your way through the episodes in a logical way (although most episodes contain separate cases), but you can truly appreciate the character based humour which provides the heart of NCIS.

From lead-agent Gibbs’ slaps on the back of (very) special agent Anthony DiNozzo’s head to DiNozzo’s constant teasing of fellow agent McGee, it’s clear that the investigate team on NCIS functions very much as a family; it’s that warmth of affectionate banter between the key characters that makes NCIS such a joy to watch. No matter which female agent is in the episode, be it Kate (Sasha Alexander), Ziva (Cote de Pablo) or Ellie Bishop (Emily Wickersham), the NCIS team really gels together in a way unusual to most other American crime dramas. The acting of central players Mark Harmon, Michael Weatherly, Sean Murray, Pauley Perrette and David McCallum is simply superb, and you can really tell that this is a show made by people who love it just as much as the fans. The cases are also highly varied, with the naval investigative aspect of the show providing in fact a wide scope of material, from high level national security threats, to kidnappings and homicide investigations.

The 12th season of NCIS starts early next year on FOX, so in the mean time sit back, relax, and catch up on one of the best shows around.

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Are monster movies monstrous?

Mega-Shark vs Giant Octopus. Mega Python vs Gatoroid. Sharktopus. These are films that are so ludicrous in concept and so tacky in execution that they register more as comedies than sci-fi or horror films. From their idiotic plots and flimsy characters, to their poor visual effects, they are some of the most ridiculed films ever.

For every solid monster film – take Gareth Edwards Godzilla as a recent big budget example – there are countless shaky ‘creature features’, consigned to the television, which clog up the screen with cloying dialogue and flawed plots.

They are two sides of the same coin, and the history of the monster movies shows that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Perhaps the greatest of all monster movies is Spielberg’s Jaws.

Of course, the shark in question isn’t a monster in the usual sense, but as a source of terror, destruction and spectacle, it is just as monstrous as any.

Indeed, the natural edge of Jaws is what makes it so effective. However, Spielberg always offers glimpses of his creature without showing the full scale, and he doesn’t need the shark to be in the frame to create entertainment or tension.

Instead it is the battle that Police Chief Brody faces in protecting the public from the shark which takes centre stage. His fear of water, his relationships with his family and his conflict with the mayor, all make Jaws what it is, and although the shark dominates the final act, it is not always front and centre. Mark Kermode often makes the claim that ‘Jaws is not about a shark’, and that hits the nail on the head perfectly. Kermode is not necessarily justified in his own conclusion (he asserts that it is a metaphor for infidelity, an analysis more suited to Peter Benchley’s book), but the recognition that the focus need not be on the monster itself is an important one. The prominent position of Jaws in its genre shows that the creature alone cannot make the film – the story, the characters and the themes need to be substantial too.

Further back in cinema history, the same principle applies. Gordon Douglas’ Them! is perhaps the quintessential monster B-movie. Following the struggle of the military and scientists against radiation-enhanced ants, it also has the silly premise and stock characters, but it excels in its presentation of the monsters themselves. Their use is remarkably restrained, with the insects appearing one third of the way in, and then disappearing for a long time, allowing the threat to remain constant without them being exploited. While Spielberg is able to create a more intense atmosphere, Them! is more reliant on its own, and by withholding its creatures, and keeping the dialogue tight and the themes important, it far outweighs the modern films which owe so much to its ilk. The criticism of the atom bomb and the extent that humanity has gone to in war certainly plays second fiddle in Them!, behind the Oscar nominated creatures, but it is not without depth and intelligence.

Where recent monster movies fall down most frustratingly is, perhaps, in their extreme self-awareness. They are often tongue-in-cheek, and exploit stereotypes and tropes to their fullest extent as a way of excusing their shortcomings.

But just because something is aware that it is rubbish, doesn’t stop it being rubbish.

The TV movies which litter sci-fi channels feel like carbon copies of each other, with special effects which long to rival the dated visuals of the 1950s. Even when early ‘creature features’ were bad, they were bad with a sincerity which made it more of a shame than a frustration. But the callous way in which the genre, a genre which Spielberg, among others, has proven to be valuable, is treated by slapdash, creaky or inauthentic filmmaking makes it more and more difficult for good monster movies to be accepted. While their flaws are perhaps a benefit in forming a rose-tinted view of the tacky but honest films of the past, they are also a damning revelation of the collapsing integrity of their genre.

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991