One of the most lamentable developments for film over the last few years was how terrible John Carpenter has become. The genius who brought us some of the most exciting and entertaining Science Fiction and Fantasy films of the late Seventies and early eighties struggled through the nineties to recapture the glory of his earlier work, and lately his output has been abysmal.
What makes this such a sad development is that his particular blend of action and suspense has proven difficult for other film-makers to reproduce. Carpenter was comfortable working on little or no budget, knew when to be retrained and when to let the story off the leash, and always maintained the humanity of his characters. Just look at Michael Bay and see how, with enormous budgets, he utterly fails to pace his films or give you characters you give half a damn about.
Which is part of what made Attack the Block such a thrill. Joe Cornish’s debut feature was easily last year’s most impressive action film, something both wholly original and comfortingly familiar. Cornish nailed several of the story elements Carpenter used brilliantly, most notably introducing a “hero” you initially view as a villain, who rises and changes into a character you root for against all odds. The movie is a thrill, and remains a thrill over repeated viewings.
Since Attack the Block, Joe Cornish has been tied to several projects, most notably Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson’s mind bending Sci-fi novel. Snow Crash is a beloved work, destined to inspire a lot of teeth-gnashing throughout the internets as its devotees dissect every detail of production. It may be early to say whether Cornish is up for the task or not, but I hope he is.
The other notable project, somewhat flying a little under the radar, is his acquisition of Rust, Royden Lepp‘s graphic novel. I sincerely hope this is the one he tackles next. Rust, which is only moving into its second volume, has everything Joe Cornish excels at. It tells the story of a young family scraping by on their family farm after a devastating war. One day a young man with a rocket pack arrives, just ahead of a gigantic robot. Who is the boy? Why are robots, which were used by one side in the aforementioned war, drawn to this boy? Will the family continue to shelter him as more danger is drawn towards them by his presence?
This is like a steampunk Shane, and grafting Sci-fi on a Western frame is a pretty good start for a story. It’s the kind of start Carpenter used to great effect throughout his career, and one I sincerely wish he’d find his way back to. It’s also the kind of storytelling Joe Cornish proved more than adept at with Attack the Block. Track down the graphic novel today, and keep watch for Rust to hit theaters.