Archive for June, 2012

PROMETHEUS – film review

PROMETHEUS

reviewed by greg moss

Friday 8th June 2012

Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Rafe Spall. Running time: 124 mins.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD –

Having been a fan of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN since its release in 1979 and being less than enamoured with the director’s subsequent output, with the exception perhaps of 1982’s BLADE RUNNER, I went into PROMETHEUS not expecting a great deal, but still hoping it would be somewhat of a return to form.

PROMETHEUS is Scott’s first self-generated genre film since 1986’s LEGEND (and by this I mean Scott commissioned the script based on his own original concept),

And PROMETHEUS does indeed resemble LEGEND in many ways – visually impressive, but with erratic pacing, superficial characters we don’t care about and a clumsily-staged finale.

At times the violence in PROMETHEUS is so over-the-top that it ventures into shameless exploitation. In fact, most of the various dispatchings of characters reminded me very much of Roger Corman’s exploitation pictures from the early 80’s, particularly (and ironically) his ALIEN rip-offs GALAXY OF TERROR and FORBIDDEN WORLD.

The death of Fifield (Sean Harris) is a case in point. It is ridiculous and uneccessary – incineration by flame-thrower, followed by splattery head-crunching by multi-wheeled vehicle.

Admittedly the visual effects are flawless, but this film has major problems in the script department, and genre scribes of Spaihts and Lindelof’s standing really should know better.

Apart from the seven or so principal characters, most of the crew of seventeen seem to be conveniently forgotten by the screenwriters soon after we meet them at the initial briefing. Why make the number of crew so large in the first place, if  they’re not actually utilized in any meaningful way ?

In ALIENS, at least Cameron had the good sense to wipe out most of the platoon early on in the piece, so as to leave a handful of survivors we care about to fight for their lives. In PROMETHEUS, most of the crew seem to just ‘disappear into the woodwork’ for no good reason.

Sloppy, very sloppy.

As for the performances, Idris Elba as Janek, the ship’s captain, is the only thesp who comes close to nailing the naturalism of the actors in the original ALIEN. Everyone else in the cast is clearly ‘acting’ – particularly Michael Fassbender as the android David. In ALIEN, Ian Holm’s acting style is natural and understated (and Lance Henriksen in ALIENS too for that matter). But here, from the outset, Fassbender is clearly not human – which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of how the androids are portrayed in the original films. And no, justifying this by saying David is an earlier model is nothing more than a lame cop out.

So … are there ANY positives?

Well … no … not really.

But for all of those eagle-eyed ALIEN nerds out there, there are several interesting little homages dotted throughout. Some less obvious than others.

Jerry Goldsmith’s original ALIEN theme can be heard during the ship’s descent to the planet. The bringing back of the Space Jockey’s severed head to the ship is straight out of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s original STARBEAST draft. The flying ‘mapping robots’ are a reworking of similar maintenance robots (referred to as ‘mice’) which appeared in Scott’s original ALIEN storyboards (but which were later scrapped due to budgetary reasons). And the Engineers’ dome-like ‘pyramid’ is a reworking of the original egg silo designed for ALIEN but never used, with the added feature of the elongated human head atop the Harkonnen fortress Giger had originally designed for Jodorowsky’s aborted DUNE film in 1975.

Egg Silo – ‘Alien’ by H.R. Giger

Harkonnen Fortress – ‘Dune’ by H.R. Giger

I’ve been aware of Scott’s concept for the Space Jockeys’ backstory for some years now – ie: in that they created the alien as a biological weapon to wipe out dominant life forms on whatever planet they chose to colonize. And for years I hoped he would never get to realize it. I mean, do we really NEED to know who they are? Isn’t it more – I dunno – alien – not to know?

For me, the idea of explaining who the Space Jockeys are defeats the purpose of calling the original film ALIEN in the first place.

As in:

a’lien a & n, 1. a. Not one’s own; foreign, differing in nature; out of harmony.

Space Jockey – 1979

Remember in ALIEN – the first time the Jockey was revealed – in that breathtaking crane shot? Didn’t it send frissons up the spine? Entice your imagination? Give you a sense of – awe? Like, holy shit! – what the F*CK is that? Of course it did – and that was the intent. I mean, let’s not forget, Scott hired Giger with the express purpose of creating this feeling in the first place! It’s like the first time we saw the monolith in ‘2001’ – its presence was enough – it didn’t need to be explained – it didn’t need to be anything other than an iconic image which inspired awe.

And so it is with the Space Jockey.

However, now Scott has well and truly ‘jumped the shark’ by reducing the Space Jockeys to nothing more than ‘bio-suits’ for a bunch of bald-headed humanoid neo-nazi astro thugs!

And that’s not all – THEY CREATED US AS WELL???

This clumsy shoe-horning of Von Daniken’s theory of alien intervention in human evolution into the ALIEN universe is something akin to Lucas using midichlorians to explain away the mystery of The Force in THE PHANTOM MENACE. Except in this case, the damage is far more profound, affecting the very integrity of the original films.

Yes, but has Sir Ridley forever ruined the mythos?

Well, not for those of us who remember ALIEN as a stand-alone – we can always ignore this ill-conceived, sloppily-made abomination.

But for subsequent generations, I’m sad to say the answer is yes.

Viewed in 3D at the V-Max Cinema, Westfield Marion, Adelaide, June 7 2012.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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UNDER THE RADAR – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and The Mothman Prophecies

Little film gems which escaped wide attention and perhaps yours too.

by greg moss

Under The Radar is a semi-regular post in which I bring to light little-seen films, which got lost in the crowd due to lousy distribution or were misunderstood at the time of their release, but which deserve to be seen for one reason or another.

First up this week …

TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992)

Directed by David Lynch. Written by David Lynch and Robert Engels. Starring Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, Dana Ashbrook and Kyle MacLachlan.

Homecoming queen Laura Palmer’s secret life of drugs, hallucination and prostitution spirals out of control, exposing a terrible family secret.

Why it’s worth seeing:

Figured it was time I feature something from David Lynch. It was a toss-up between this and The Straight Story (which I may still yet cover in a future post). And no, I won’t be featuring Dune any time soon as so much has been said about it already.

But having said that, if a fully-restored, Lynch-sanctioned version of his original extended cut of Dune were to suddenly surface – then I might be so inclined.

Despite the baggage Fire Walk With Me was forced to carry (being the spin-off of a highly-successful critically-acclaimed TV series) this film, remarkably, stands capably on its own.

In other words, you don’t need prior knowledge of the TV series in order to understand the events of the film. Actually, it would be an entirely different experience to see FWWM this way, but it wouldn’t lessen the impact, as the true concerns of this film don’t lie in merely tying up loose ends.

No – there is a something else going on here.

Some time after the infamous preview at Cannes, where the film received a hostile drubbing from critics, Lynch received a letter from a young woman who had seen the film, thanking him for articulating a terrible trauma which she had (like Laura Palmer) experienced as a child.

Needless to say, Lynch was extremely humbled by this.

In exposing what lays at the heart of Laura Palmer’s torment, the filmmaker is dealing with some very sensitive issues here.

Make no mistake, despite some flashes of Lynch’s trademark surrealist humor in the first act, this is a very dark film – a descent into the abyss.

But it is not without hope.

In the film’s final moments, when Laura is finally released from her torment, it is the happiest we’ve ever seen her – ever. And it’s not difficult to feel her joy, and yet at the same time, we feel an immense sadness at the loss of another beautiful, if damaged soul.

Undoubtedly this film belongs to Sheryl Lee. Seemingly without effort, she convincingly conveys Laura’s world-weary acceptance of her fate.

The film is not without its share of Lynchian weirdness and I’m beginning to suspect there is a possible connection (apart from the obvious) between FWWM and Inland Empire and perhaps even Eraserhead – as these are all stories which seem to deal with parallel worlds which are just as real as this one and (at times) converge on this reality.

Hell, maybe I’m completely wrong – and there is no actual ‘Lynchian Mythos’.

But I guess this is one of the joys of art –  as it can act as a spark to ignite the idea of ‘a possibility’ in the person who is experiencing it.

And having seen Roman Polanski’s Repulsion and John Frankenheimer’s Seconds just recently, it’s interesting to speculate how much influence these particular films may have had (if any) – on not only Lynch, but others of his generation.

As with all of Lynch’s features, the filmmaker’s customarily ominous sound design creates an unrelenting sense of dread. And his use of music is evocative as always.

Particularly effective is the throbbing, dirgy swamp-rock piece (which Lynch wrote himself) known as The Pink Room which dominates the notorious night club scene.

Perhaps David Lynch’s most reviled and misunderstood feature, Fire Walk With Me just also happens to be one of his most powerful and affecting.

Highly recommended.

Next up …

THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002)

Directed by Mark Pellington (writer-director – Arlington Road). Screenplay by Richard Hatem, based upon the book by John A. Keel. It stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing and Alan Bates.

Grieving Washington Post reporter, John Klein, begins to question his sanity when he becomes convinced a terrible catastrophe will befall a small sleepy riverside community.

Why it’s worth seeing:

The Mothman Prophecies is perhaps the best X-Files film never made. And no, I’m not suggesting it was ever meant to be part of the X-Files canon, but it certainly has the same ‘feel’ as that iconic series ie: creepy atmosphere, smart writing, all done completely straight.

Inspired by real events which occured in a small West Virginian town in 1967, where sightings of a half man half moth creature heralded a major disaster, this stylish supernatural mystery-thriller is unsettling in tone from the very first frame,  and director Mark Pellington sustains a sense of unease and dread right up to the extremely well-staged catastrophe which ends the film.

Richard Gere gives a fine performance, ably supported by Laura Linney and Will Patton and Fred Murphy’s beautiful cinematography lends the film a classy sheen not usually seen in genre films of this sort.

Highly recommended.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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