ALIEN – 1979 The others – Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Veronica Cartwright and Yaphet Kotto – do what they can faced by the swirling, well-drilled logistics of the piece. There’s not enough writing for proper characterisation, not enough plot development for the mind as well as the senses to bite on. But for sheer theatricality, if one can apply that word to the cinema without insulting it, Alien is difficult to beat – even without that substance which might just have put it up there with the great movies of the genre. Dan O’Bannon’s script has more loose ends than the Pittsburgh Steelers but that doesn’t matter as director Ridley Scott, Cameraman Derek Vanlint and composer Jerry Goldsmith propel the emotions from visual surprise — and horror — to the next. The price paid for the excitement, and it’s a small one, is very little involvement with the characters themselves. Often, in fact, it’s difficult to tell what they’re doing or why. But it really doesn’t matter when the screaming starts. Though “Alien” is not the seminal science-fiction film one wants from him, it’s executed with a good deal of no-nonsense verve. The members of the small cast are uniformly good though, with two exception, the roles might have been written by a computor. Deliberately scarifying and highly commercial shocker with little but its art direction to commend it to connoisseurs. BLADE RUNNER – 1982 And it’s also a mess, at least as far as its narrative is concerned. Almost nothing is explained coherently, and the plot has great lapses, from the changeable nature of one key character to the frequent disappearances of another. The story lurches along awkwardly, helped not at all by some ponderous stabs at developing Deckard’s character. As an old-fashioned detective cruising his way through the space age, Deckard is both tedious and outre. He seems more concerned with creating his film worlds than populating them with plausible characters, and that the trouble this time. “Blade Runner” is a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story. I’ve seen Blade Runner twice and have tried for three weeks to come to terms with it, but I still feel tongue-tied trying to deal with the critical problems it poses. It’s easy enough to pinpoint the film’s flaws, particularly its poorly written and developed screenplay and Harrison Fords’s unambitious, crushingly dull performance. Yet I don’t think I’ve ever been as spellbound at the movies as I was during both viewings of Blade Runner… Blade Runner’s strengths and weaknesses are, I think, direct expressions of its director’s gifts and liabilities. BLADE RUNNER proffers a thousand-course feast for the eyes, but only bread and water for the mind and spirit. Never before has the future looked like this: amazingly detailed; persuasively real (most of the time), in an everyday, lived-in way; drenched with rich, contributive atmospherics; tinged with vivid and nightmarish, yet oddly compelling, shadings. Had Scott cared to extend this lavish attention beyond the film’s settings, we might now be contemplating a fully-realized masterpiece. By falling well short of classic status, given the great potential implicit in the material and the film’s undeniable achievements, the film taps a keener disappointment than would be felt in the presence of lesser ambition and lesser results. PROMETHEUS – 2012 There is the sense of good actors struggling to generate more meaning than the workaday script permits them: Michael Fassbender as an enjoyably creepy yet ambiguous android, David; Noomi Rapace gamely showcasing her formidable survival skills; and Charlize Theron as an icily corporate blonde. Yet while the film is thick with alien gloop, it neglects to dip into the murky, exciting workings of the human heart. Visually impressive and featuring one or two breakout performances, this anticlimactic exercise too often plays as though it has been cobbled together from archetypes, imagery and tropes from countless other movies. Moreover, the script, by Jon Spaihts and Lost guru Damon Lindelof, is an utter mess. The twists that unspool in the movie’s latter hour frequently adhere to no discernable logic, and character motivation is all but banished outright from the proceedings. Elaborately conceived from a visual standpoint, Ridley Scott’s first sci-fier in the three decades since “Blade Runner” remains earthbound in narrative terms, forever hinting at the existence of a higher intelligence without evincing much of its own. There has always been a strange relationship between Ridley Scott and film critics when he tackles science fiction. If I were to hazard a guess as to why this relationship breaks down it’s because these critics are more concerned with the words on the page of the script than the visual elements that are Scott’s emphasis. Plus, there is an inherent cynicism in many critics when it comes to genre film. And now that anyone with a computer can write a snarky “review” this is compounded. At this point I should probably go ahead and confess that I haven’t enjoyed a Ridley Scott film since Legend (although Hannibal was quite fun in its own way). Anyway, if you’re a critic that prioritizes the words over the image, then there’s almost no avoiding disappointment. With Scott, the image is king; trumping concerns about explaining everything, sometimes to the point of dismissing traditional character development as an unnecessary flourish. But here’s the thing, and it has been borne out by history: Scott is not dismissing character. The development is in the performance and the way the film is shot. The words are generally there to keep people entertained and to make sure the audience doesn’t miss the more obvious elements of the film. A prime example of this is how much more satisfying Blade Runner is once the voice-over was cut. Immerse yourself in the images and the story reveals itself. It is the same this time out. Most of the things reviewers are calling plot holes or examples of characters behaving out of character only to further the plot are really nothing of the sort. However, if you are not invested in the wonder and scale of what Prometheus is attempting, you’re likely to just dismiss it and roll your eyes, all the while planning your next clever bon mot. The visuals tell the story here more than the words. And those visuals are telling a story that informed both Alien and Blade Runner before it. So much so, that it’s almost as though they share continuity as Scott attempts to tie their themes together (and link us back thematically to the grandfather of modern science fiction film, 2001). The film is also informed by Mario Bava’s classic 1965 sci-fi film Planet of the Vampires (in much the same way Alien was), Nigel Kneale’s 1953 television mini-series, The Quatermass Experiment, and H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 novella, At the Mountains of Madness (so much so that Guillermo del Toro has abandoned his long in development adaptation). Having had the opportunity to watch both a 3D showing and a regular 2D show, I have to say that I much preferred the 3D. This was my first contemporary 3D film viewing and thought that it was used magnificently. Scott avoids most of the more gimmicky uses of the technology, instead using it to enhance the scale and scope of the landscapes and generally create a sense of intimacy and immediacy. This was especially true in the alien map room scene, as it almost felt like I was there in the room watching the holograms swirl around me. If you’re going into this looking for another Alien, however, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. Alien is in the DNA of this film, for sure, but this is Ridley Scott coming at science fiction from a completely different direction. This isn’t an attempt to mold science fiction into a horror or noir format. This is an attempt to create pure visionary science fiction that places humanity far from the center of existence, while leaving open the possibility for the divine (although there’s still the big action sequence at the end). As such, it has very different priorities and approaches to story telling while maintaining a clear lineage with Scott’s previous work. As usual with a Scott film, we have a handful of fully realized characters at the heart of the film, with Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace forming the narrative core. This is their story as they each embrace their faith and search for something beyond what they’ve known before. The relationship between Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and her partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) is not the Religion/Atheism dialectic that many reviews will have you believe. They have a very strong chemistry and the contrast between Shaw’s slow but steady advancement toward satisfying her scientific curiosity and Holloway’s impulsive leaps into the unknown make for a clever commentary on their own respective relationships to faith. The skeptical Holloway takes these leaps regularly, while the steadfast Shaw pokes and prods before inching forward. Fassbender’s David, the robot “son” of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) is caught up his own questioning of faith and purpose. Unlike Shaw and Holloway, David knows exactly who made him and why. The pseudo-familial relationship between him and his “father” is further antagonized by the actual familial relationship between Weyland and his daughter, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Weyland’s attempts to put off death are keeping her from gaining the keys to the kingdom, and his embrace of David as a son is an insult. But they both make it clear: David is a tool and a servant. The film is about his search for relevance and freedom within the confines of his programming. Like a combination of HAL from 2001 and Roy Batty from Blade Runner before him, he longs for more than that for which he was made while staying passive-aggressively in thrall. The supporting cast, Theron, Pearce, and Marshall-Green, all do excellent jobs within the confines of the script. As actors in the earlier science fiction ventures of Scott have done, they elevate any weaknesses on the page, investing the characters with personality and a sense of history that shows through without having to spend time providing info dumps. Pearce’s casting is odd, as he seems to have been cast in the role solely to take part in the viral marketing campaign, and thus is forced to wear old-age makeup for the rest of the shoot. The standout in the supporting actors, though, is Idris Elba as the Captain of the Prometheus, Janek. Elba infuses his performance with nuance and personality, making Janek a wonderful combination of mystery and openness. In a way, he’s really the audience’s point of view character, watching and commenting on the events and the other characters’ narrative movement. He’s likeable and heroic, and isn’t above messing with the two obnoxious scientists, Fifield (Sean Harris) and Milburn (Rafe Spall), nobody really likes. As far as the script is concerned, they are there to fail and die doing something stupid, and Janek doesn’t concern himself with them. Although co-pilots Chance (Emun Elliott) and Ravel (Benedict Wong) are equally lacking in depth on the page, their actions in their final scene serves to elevate them, making them into something more than just the jokey buddies hanging around in the background. Kate Dickie as Ford is pretty much a blank slate, however, shifting whichever way the script needs her to shift as the story goes on. That said, she soldiers on and does a fine job with what she’s given. I keep hearing about a “third act collapse” with this film, and must admit that while watching it, I kept wondering when the collapse was going to kick in. I had to check my watch to make sure I hadn’t missed it somehow. I felt it worked perfectly with everything that had come before, and married the film to the tradition of the science fiction that served to inspire it. Was it convenient that there was an Engineer still alive in stasis? Of course. That’s how fiction works. Was it unbelievable? Not in the context of the established narrative. Why do they want to kill us all? This isn’t answered, but it is implied. The final scene was unnecessary, but I enjoyed having the proto face-hugger and Xenomorph introduced for the “first” time. If you love science fiction, you should love this film. If you love film making, you should love this film. If you love strong scripting you’ll probably find a lot to nitpick. However, while you’re doing that, look around at the science fiction film landscape. You’re not going to get much better on this scale. This is nothing as simplistic and insulting as Avatar, for example. I loved this film despite any minor quibbles I might have had about individual lines or what others think is out-of-character action. This is solid science fiction that also works in horrific moments of body horror and amazing moments of sheer wonderment. Are there weaknesses in the script? Sure. But it’s a Ridley Scott film, so that’s really irrelevant, as the Alien and Blade Runner reviews at the top make painfully obvious. Ooh, I just read that there are 20 to 30 minutes of deleted scenes that will be included on the DVD/Blu-ray release. I just started giggling! Prometheus (2012)4.0Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.