Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: Prometheus (Ridley Scott, 2012)


Prometheus was on my top 20 most anticipated movies of the year and is getting mixed reviews from fans of the Alien franchise and critics. I was really excited to see Scott get back into his element- His last few films have not been the Scott as we know him for; Robin Hood and American Gangster were bores, A Good Year was a love story that I could barely get through and the last enjoyable Ridley Scott movie was made over 12 years ago; Gladiator. What made Prometheus so interesting was the mystery behind the giant Space Jockey that we were introduced to in Scott’s original Alien movie. So many questions arose from the gigantic dead being, and Scott even provided some insight in the 2003 DVD commentary of Alien Director’s Cut.

“The space jockey is the pilot and he is part of a military operation, if that's the word you want to apply to his world. And therefor this is some kind of carrier, a weapon carrier, biological or biomechanoid carrier of lethal eggs inside of which are small creatures that actually fundamentally integrate in a very aggressive way into society or any place you drop. So if you land on a human being you have a resemblance to a human being, if you dropped on an ostrich it would look like an ostrich. And there is a fundamental connection in nature," ... Then he goes on to explain how there is an insect that has the ability to sense when there is a grub behind a piece of bark on a tree. “When the insect walks over the bark, senses the grub and stabs into the bark piercing the grub and lays the eggs inside the grub so the grub become the host.”

The problem with explaining this on the DVD commentary and not in the movie is it left too many questions and not enough answers as portrayed in this comical video.

                One of the problems with Prometheus is there is too much Lost-like story going on. Damon Lindelof has created the same problems that led to the mixed reaction of  J. J. Abrhams’ Lost ending. Too many motifs, too many unanswered questions, too much confusing (and misdirection) logic that it takes away from that great stuff that is put on screen. The second problem was FOX- We already know FOX wanted Prometheus to be PG-13, but somehow Scott convinced them to keep it R. FOX wanted to cut out the best scene in the entire movie; an abdominal surgery scene.

                But what Scott does do well is setup another universe within the Alien universe and the possibility for another trilogy. Prometheus is based around the origin of the human race; the mystery that could have started life on Earth. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are archaeologists who have discovered star maps in ancient civilizations across the planet, which suggests beings from another world have traveled to Earth giving these civilizations an invitation to humanity’s ancestors. They dub these aliens as “Engineers” and suspect they are the reason life began on Earth. A team is assembled to explore a distant moon, LV-223 (not to be confused with LV- 426 in Alien) on the ship Prometheus. We know Prometheus was a titan from Greek mythology who not only created man out of clay, but gave them fire. This angered the Gods and they chained Prometheus to a rock and condemned him to have his liver eaten out by an eagle every day for the rest of his life. (his liver would grow back) Prometheus the film, and the rest of the Alien franchise, returns to this torn abdomen motif on a regular basis as we all know well.

                The film narrates in a way that does not particularly come out with precise explanations for the events that transpire on screen. The opening shot of the movie involves one of the Engineers performing a ritual as a spaceship flies away. The Engineer drinks from a small cup of black goo that subsequently dissolves his body into a river as his body is broken down into individual DNA sequences. Is this Earth? We don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. The point Scott is making involves the building blocks of another world. Remember, Prometheus the Titan’s name is derived meaning “Forethinker” being a man of great foresight. Prometheus also approached Zeus with a choice of two animal sacrifices which his decision would set a precedent for future sacrifices. The Engineer in the opening scene of Prometheus is clearly sacrificing himself for the birth of man. What is the black goo? We don't know for sure but in theory the Engineers weaponized the xenomorph genetic material. We know what happens when you are exposed to the black goo as Prometheus plays out.

                Prometheus is not perfect, but Scott does create two of the most refreshing horror sequences I have seen in quite some time. When one of the scenes finally ended, I realized had squeezed my popcorn bag crushing the popcorn inside and my legs were twisted in front of me. I tried to imagine myself in the same situation of the character on screen.... I’m not sure I would have made it.

                What goes unnoticed are the bread crumbs Scott leaves, foreshadowing certain events that are not directly explained but opens the area for discussion which I find the most fascinating and clever portions of the film. For example, the final shot of the movie with the xenomorph had people rolling their eyes. Was this inserted because FOX pried it into the movie? Did Scott want to give Alien fans a link to both stories? Probably not. 

The creature was known to exist by the Engineers as shown by the mural and the theory of the base being a military facility. Based on Scott’s comments in the Director’s commentary above, I believe the Aliens change based on the species they come in contact with. This would also explain why the face huggers that come out of the eggs are different than the one Shaw gave birth to.  
                Theron's character (Vickers) was pointless. I didn't say the film was without flaws, but I still believe they are easily ignored flaws. Why do we even care that her character is pointless? Does it bother viewers who were expected her to have a bigger role in the premise? I think if anything her character serves as an opposite to Dr Shaw's character; she was a cold SELFISH human being (and arguably non-human), which is proven towards the end when she escaped the ship to save her own life. This was well represented in the motifs of the notion of self-sacrifice of “Prometheus”, which Vickers has no interest in partaking. If anything, her fate was well depicted. Shaw on the other hand is a believer "in God" with a "very strong faith". Her personality evolves through the film as seen with the discovery of the star map and then later with an internal conflict of her belief system and then a physical conflict fighting for not only her life, but all of Earth. And even when the battle is over, she still has the determination to continue to question her beliefs, to find more answers.

                Prometheus is not to be part of the Alien universe. It was made for different reasons and Scott pulls it off. It will not end up considered an instant classic, but it is a great way for Alien and Scott fans to rejoice to what is an interesting concept manufactured inside an existing fictional universe. I'm on board with this new storyline and I await the sequel to help quench my thirst for more Space Jockey


Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (Chris Nolan, 2012)

It’s been months since I’ve done an update, and rightfully so; in that time I’ve earned myself a nifty new post-graduate degree. Now that I have all this extra free time after work, I have the freedom to watch movies, play sports, go out with friends and do things that I’ve been dying to do but couldn’t in the past 21 months. My first update will be about the Dark Knight Rises, my number 1anticipated movie of 2012.

                The Dark Knight Rises was everything I had hoped it to be, even with a running time of 165 minutes, far exceeding the length of the first two films. The movie begins 7 years after the events in The Dark Knight. Gotham is quiet and crime free, while a badly worn out Bruce Wayne hides inside his mansion mourning over the death of his love Rachel and struggling with an internal battle realizing how much he has given up, for so little in return.

                The three new characters introduced are the most interesting parts of The Dark knight Rises. They include; a talented cop, John Blake (JGL) , who suspects Bruce Wayne to be Batman, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a mysterious jewel thief who is described to be an associate of the main villain but appears to only act in her own selfish manner,  and the main villain Bane (Tom Hardy), whose menacing voice and monstrous appearance hides behind a respirator. The new characters are pivotal to the climax of the movie. Nolan did a fantastic job building the relationship of Selina and Bruce and at the same time intertwining the stories of the first two films to uncover Bane’s master plan. Hathaway is perfect as Selina, (but don’t call her Catwoman!) as Nolan portrayed her in a tight, black suit with cat ears that fold down to night vision goggles.  Bruce/Batman also has an incredibly memorable fight scene with Bane and Nolan depicts quiet clearly how the 7 years held up in his mansion has taken a toll on his body and it appears Batman is most definitely physically outmatched.

                The complaints I have are minor in scope. I didn’t expect Nolan to produce excellent action sequences and I was right to assume so. The Dark Knight Rises probably has more action set pieces than the previous two films and with the exception of one emotionally great sequence involving a stadium, the Dark Knight Rises chugs through bits and pieces of car chases, fist fights and aerial shots that are not exceptional. They also don’t need to be. They feed the story fine. Nolan also doesn’t do humor. There’s no witty comebacks like Spider-man is known for, no cute banter that makes Tony Stark so charming, there’s just stone cold Bale.

And my biggest gripe about Nolan (SPOILERS AHEAD *** skip this paragraph) is his inability to induce any sense of a drama into a villains defeat. We saw what happened to Two Face in The Dark Knight, which could possibly go down as the weakest character death in the history of all cinema.  There was speculation that Two Face wasn’t dead and was being held inside Arkham Asylum, but the Dark Knight Rises squashes that theory pretty quickly. But more annoyingly, the movies spend a great deal of time building up Bane as an unstoppable monster only to dispatch him in a pseudo-deus ex machina event.

                Although Nolan had more time to tell his story, there does seem to be a bit of rushing editing involved. Nolan is known for using cross-cutting (a type of editing that simulates events occurring at the same time) in his past films but there are sections of The Dark Knight Rises that really stand out as rushed. In Nolan’s defense, the cross-cutting is a technique used to power the audience through a lot of the silly (but important) pieces of information but the audience is vulnerable to get confused on just how much time has actually passed between scenes. None of these critiques affect the love affair I had with the on screen characters. They were casted perfectly and to read more about how Nolan and David Goyer (an avid comic book fan) were influenced on all three movies, I invite you to read 20 Batman Stories Most Influentialto “The Dark Knight” Trilogy.  

                In the end, Nolan left the Batman universe with another tremendous effort with a satisfying conclusion, which should leave Batman fans smiling. Chris Nolan has ended his saga with Batman with a beautifully written love letter. The hopes of Nolan being involved in a future Justice League movie are doubtful. It’s best for him to walk away at this point, let someone else spin a Batman story of their own. But Nolan has transformed comic book adaptations as we know it (as evidence with The Amazing Spider-Man and The Man of Steel).  Not only will the next Batman predecessor have a huge challenge in front of them, the filmmakers will be challenged with creating a story following the best trilogy ever made

Grade: 95