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Posts Tagged ‘Prometheus’

We have spent a lot of the 21st century gazing at the stars, or at least CGI versions of them.  The century started with the second and third movies in the Star Wars prequels trilogy, Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).  A series of films that are constantly being revaluated, I’m not sure if they are officially good or bad at the moment.  Star Trek ran out of steam, with the last movie from the Next Generation Crew Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) not being very good.  But then in J. J. Abrams came along and with the help of some wibbily wobbly timey wimey stuff (if I may quote a TV series in an article about movies) created a new timeline to retell the story of the original crew of the enterprise.  The first film Star Trek (2009) was excellent, the second Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), then Abrams jumped ship and the third film Star Trek Beyond (2016) directed by Justin Lin was a partial return to form.  There may be a fourth film in the series eventually, it keeps getting pushed back or going into turnaround.  There may also be a further film in the universe that by Quentin Tarantino, that is looking less and less likely. Star Trek Wars

The reason J. J. Abrams jumped (space)ship, was to go and work for the enemy, Star Wars.  The director of the first and final movies in a new trilogy, a third and final trilogy to bring the Skywalker saga to an end.  The films came about after Disney’s acquisition of Lucas Film (for a staggering amount of money).  All three films have their fans and detractors in a hugely polarized and quite amusing social media battle among a certain type of fanboy.  For me, the middle film, The Last Jedi (2017) written and directed  by Rian Johnson is the best (and the most controversial).  The Force Awakens (2015) is the safest of the three, but good fun and it introduces some great characters, and brings back some old favourites.  The Rise of Skywalker (2019) is certainly the weakest but is still good fun and gets to a satisfying end (except for that certain group of fanboys).  Along the way, we also got two Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) tells the story of the events leading up to the origonal 1977 film, and for me is the best film outside the original trilogy.  The flipside to that, Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is totally unnecessary origin story of fan favourite Han Solo.  it isn’t terrible, just pointless.The end of the Skywalker sagaNot satisfied with just Star Wars, Disney went to space with their other big acquired property: Marvel.  They started in 2014 when they took a less well know Marvel property Guardians of the Galaxy and had a smash hit with a more, fun and comic take on the superhero genre.  a sequel Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (2017) followed.  To be fair parts of The Avengers movies were also set in space, and Thor is from another planet.  It wasn’t until Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi’s brilliant but bonkers take on the character that you would call it a space adventure.  After a decade, and about 20 movies Disney finally gave a woman a leading role in a Marvel movie.  While a lot of the movie is based on earth, Captain Marvel (2019) is an intergalactic character, as is Marvels big bad Thanos.  All the characters of the MCU came together to fight an intergalactic battle with the big purple one in Avengers Infinity War (2018) and the biggest film of all time (if you don’t adjust for inflation) Avengers Endgame 2019.  That brings us nicely onto Avatar (2009), with an even higher boxoffice if you adjust for inflation.  James Cameron’s first movie since 1997 when he made a little film about a shipwreck.  As you would expect from Cameron, it made great advances in effects and technology, especially in 3D.  I am not a fan.  As yet he hasn’t made another film yet, but understand he is filming about 100 sequels back to back with the first due for release in about two years. Marvel goes to spaceDC’s ventures into space were less successful.  The Green Lantern (2011) about a group of intergalactic supper powered policemen was rubbish.  Man of Steel (2013) was a reboot of a 1970’s movie about a man called Kal-El who is sent to earth as a baby before his home planet is destroyed.  He ends up fighting against bodies from his home world.  It isn’t bad, but not as good as the 1978, and 1980 movies, and like those movies, all subsequent sequels are terrible. DC and AliensRidley Scott decided that we were all wrong, the most interesting thing about his Movie Alien (1979), and James Cameron’s sequel to it Aliens (1987), wasn’t the Xenomorph, or Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley.  It wasn’t the brilliant world building of the story where corporations are more powerful than countries.  He decided the derelict alien ship, and how the Aliens got there was more important.  He then gave us two extremely average films, Prometheus (2012), and Alien Covenant (2017).  There are some excellent characters that aren’t used very well, and some who don’t know how to run to the side.  almost realLets not be too tough on Ridley Scott, he has given us an excellent movie in the genre, The Martian (2015).  The story of a man left behind on Mars.  This is part of a crop of Sci-Fi movies that feel more realistic and closer to where we are now than Star Wars or Star Trek.  The pick of these for me was Gravity (2013).  A film so spectacular in IMAX 3D (the only good 3D experience I have had) that I have not re-watched it again, it just won’t be the same on TV.  Other films in this sub genre could include Christopher Nolan’s excellent Interstellar (2014), Danny Boyle’s underrated Sunshine (2007), Claire Denis bleak but brilliant High Life (2018), and James Gray’s disappointing Ad Astra (2019).   A film doesn’t have to be fiction, or particularly outlandish to be compelling, providing it is told well, and there are two such examples from the last two years: Damien Chazelle’s telling of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong in the film First Man (2018), and the documentary on the same subject: Apollo 11 (2019).  The latter is breathtaking look at the mission using stunning NASA images, no talking heads, or voiceover. smerfs monkeys aliens and the sunI wouldn’t include Passengers (2016) in the list of realist sci-fi movies, as it is too glossy and Sci-Fi, it is however worth seeing for the interesting plot, that is more disturbing the more you think about it.  Part of the premise of the film is people in hypersleep on their way to a distant planet.  Obviously something always goes wrong in these movies.  Others worth watching are: Pandorum (2009) a film that takes these ideas, and gives them a horror and survival adventure spin.  Pitch Black (2000) is an even better take on the horror space adventure, possibly the best and most original since the first two Alien films.  It’s sequel The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), was terrible, but the third film Riddick (2013) isn’t bad, although its attempt to recreate the original are a little forced.  Life (2017) has the almost real world setting, a fictionalised version of The International Space Station, it rapidly turns into Alien when an alien life form gets loose.  It isn’t Alien, but it isn’t bad. Horror in spaceThe man who gave us The Fifth Element (1997) Luc Besson, was back this century, with another bold and bonkers tale: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017).  The film had mixed reviews, as Besson’s work often does, I liked it.  The title is a little misleading and under serves one of its characters, based on the French science fiction comics series Valérian and Laureline; Laureline is the more interesting character and probably has a larger part in the story than Valérian.  That asside, it is bright and bold and like nothing else, except maybe The Fifth Element!a mix of fact and fantasy (1)Saving the best for last.  When I went to see Joss Whedon’s Serenity (2005), I had not seen (or even heard of) Firefly, I have since watched the whole (short) series more than once.  The movie is nothing short of a masterpiece.  It works whether you have seen the TV show or not.  It is all the more impressive, as it was Whedon’s feature debut as a director.  The budget was less than $40million or about a quarter of Revenge of the Sith that came out the same year.  This doesn’t show, as the film looks amazing, largely thanks to clever photography and practice sets/effects over CGI.  Ticking every box for a space adventure, and a western, the film is fun, and often very funny, but there is a far deeper message about society, about right and wrong, but it is far more nuanced than anything you will get from Disney or Star Wars, it isn’t black and white, or light and dark, The Alliance is not The Empire!SerenityI have probably missed lots, but these are the ones that spring to mind.  I pleased to say the genre is in good health at the movies, and on TV, but that will have to be an entire article in itself. 

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Less movies than usual given the Euro 2012 football. There gas been less out to see and I have skipped a few movies I would have seen if not for the football. I have still managed eight movies including a locally made documentary and a reissue of a horror classic that I hadn’t previously seen.

Prometheus: A pre-prequel to Alien. A flawed film but full of good ideas, great performances and stunning visuals.

Red Tails: An interesting story is crippled by terrible dialogue.

Rock Of Ages: Another crappy jukebox musicale, Tom Cruise is good and has all the funny lines.

Cosmopolis: David Cronenberg’s “road movie” is cold and alienating but strangely enjoyable. Robert Pattinson is excellent as are the supporting cast.

Fast Girls: As predictable and clichéd as you would expect of a sports movie, despite this, it is surprisingly good. Noel Clarke is fast becoming the most significant person in the British film industry.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Some good ideas but it takes itself far to seriously to be as good or as fun as it should be.

The Last Projectionist: A charming and informative documentary about cinemas centring on the oldest working cinema in the UK, The Electric in my home city, Birmingham.

Plague of the Zombies: Reissue of the 1966 Hammer Horror. An atmospheric horror that perfectly bridges the gap between early zombie films and there reinvention in the 70’s.

The Movie of the Month is:

The Last Projectionist. Essential viewing for film fans, I’m not sure what sort of release it will get but go see it if you can.

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“In space no-one can hear you scream.”

In preparation/anticipation of the release of Prometheus a few weeks ago I watched the first two Alien movies again. I have the directors cut of Aliens, the first sequel directed by James Cameron on DVD however I only have an old VHS copy of Ridley Scott’s original film.

Commercial towing spaceship Nostromo is on route from Thedus to Earth with a cargo of twenty million tons of mineral ore and a refinery. Its crew of seven are in stasis until they are awoken when they pick up what they believe to be a distress beacon.

Looking back at Alien, aside from the grainy image of my old VHS copy, the most notable thing about the movie after all this time is not the suspense or the horror, it’s the characters. They are different characters with their own ideas, personality, prospective and their own agenda as you would expect of a the crew of a ship (in space or a regular ship in the real world). In many ways the most significant of these are Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) who give the movie a more relevant and political edge. Kane (John Hurt) has one of the most memorable scenes in film history but within the plot it is the only important thing he does. Ash (Ian Holm) comes to represent “the corporation” this is a defining element of the movie and one that has continued through all the sequels spiff offs and the new prequel Prometheus, it is also like Parker and Brett the thing that gives the movie edge and relevance beyond the genre. As captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is an interesting character, he is more a company man than the rest of the crew but is still his own man never forgetting how far from home he is. Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) could have been there to just make up the numbers, but she does more than that, she helps give the movie balance and prospective. And finally the star, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). It seems hard to believe now but aside from a couple of bit parts Alien was her first movie. The casting was perfect, not only did it define her future career, but it helped elevate the movie beyond its genre origins.

On the surface it is a sci-fi movie but owing far more to the horror and thriller genres. Contemporary space movies of the day like Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) have a bright an hopeful outlook, Alien has more in common with John Carpenter movies Halloween (1978) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). The basic concept owes a debt to Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel “And Then There Were None” (originally published with a less politically correct title), itself being inspired by the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians. In comparison to the later films (including the Predator crossovers and the prequel Prometheus) it has a much smaller story and scope, this far from being a problem, it is actually a benefit. Its not that we don’t care where the “space jockey” or the Alien come from, it is that they are not relevant to the survival of the crew. We are focussed in on a very small part of a larger greater universe and know no more, or less than the characters in the film. It is this simplicity and intimacy that helps create a bond between character and viewer making us care what happens to them.

The effects should stand out in a film that is more than thirty years old, but they don’t. The models used to recreate the exteriors and the H.R. Giger designed “space jockey” are fantastic and a relief in this over CGI age. The interiors of the Nostromo look dated just like they do in Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and many Star Trek movies. The important thing though is the Alien also designed by Gieger, I have heard “man in rubber suit criticism”. This really isn’t fair, sticking with the first rule of monster movies, the alien spends most of its time in the shadows, when we do see it, it really stands up. The planet is a dark rain soaked inhospitable place that exists largely in shadow and half-light, the Nostromo is made up of dim corridors, this lends itself perfectly to the movie. The style of the lighter brighter Prometheus would not work in Alien.

Like no other sci-fi or horror movie before Alien redefined two genres and possibly invented there own genre. It has aged surprisingly well and could teach the makers of a few flabby overcomplicated movies a thing or two about suspense and atmosphere. The grainy VHS version seems somehow appropriate for a movie that I first saw on late night television in the 1980’s.

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