Tag: Blade Runner

Movie Review: Prometheus

It’s been a long time since there was an epic space film released in theaters. Avatar three years ago is probably the closest but it had the problem of not being a good film. Everything else in space has been intimate and narrowly focused. We’ve been lacking something large and smart like 2001: A Space Odyssey far too long. Ridley Scott heard our cries and made a movie that’s epic in scope and thematic ambition with the execution to match. Can Prometheus end the arguments about prequels being completely unnecessary now? Scott builds the universe he started with Alien by nearly remaking it with a mostly different focus. Where Alien was about working class people just trying to survive with some psychosexual thematic thrust thrown in for good measure Prometheus asks questions about the creation of life and what it means to be human through the prism of a journey to find our origins. It’s about how science works and what ends one could and should go to for the sake of discovery. It’s about religion and death and scaring the pants off you. It is a great film.

Noomi Rapace and her boyfriend (Logan Marshall-Green) are scientists that think they’ve found an “invitation” from the beings that created life on Earth pointing to a solar system much like ours far away in another galaxy. They go to an Earth-like planet in that solar system looking for these beings to ask them some questions about how and why they made us. It’s the question that drives much of our scientific inquiry, maybe the biggest question of all time with implications that are unknowable. Along for the ride is Charlize Theron as the liaison for the company that is paying for the trip, a company that is familiar to fans of the series. There are some other scientists on board as well, a geologist and biologist and the like. And a robot. Alien movies have to have a robot in them, and much like Aliens, Prometheus doesn’t keep it a secret that Michael Fassbender‘s David (a telling name, of course) is not a real boy. He’s there to talk to the aliens, having learned every language on Earth in hopes of using that bank of knowledge to communicate with them. Idris Elba is the pilot of the ship and represents the guy who’s just there to do his job. His costume underlines this, where everybody else looks quite futuristic, he seems like he would fit in quite well with the crew of the Nostromo in his jeans and a vest designed more for utility than looks.

When they arrive on the planet they see a structure that is certainly not natural and go investigating. Here the parallels to Alien become more apparent. Long hallways that look more organic than built, rooms of containers holding something insidious inside, waiting for an unfortunate soul to wake them. Much like the second season of Game of Thrones, Prometheus takes the text of the original film and tweaks it to its own ends. No scene is an exact replica and that is enough to make it quite different and shocking when something happens. In fact, much of the difference between the two films comes from the motivations of the characters, which is the best way to change a story. The crew isn’t on a salvage mission, they’re there to explore. Rapace is searching the ultimate answers, not just trying to get back to Earth. Fassbender isn’t there to bring an alien back to Earth he’s there to… well, that’d be telling. The mysteries of Prometheus are fun and interesting to consider and, again, they derive from the characters, not some plot necessity. The script is written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, the latter of which was one of the two primary writers for Lost, a show which thrived because each of the characters was interesting and well drawn so that they could drive the plot instead of the plot driving them. The script asks a lot of questions and answers some of them while leaving others for the audience to ponder after the film. It’s a thinker as well as a thriller and that’s wonderful to see.

Ridley Scott has had a long career of interesting if not perfect films, especially recently with good but flawed films like Kingdom of Heaven and Black Hawk Down. Here he returns to his beginnings (hey, that seems familiar!) and makes a smart, gorgeous, thrilling sci-fi film like Alien and Blade Runner, both of which appear in my top 10 of all time. It isn’t as good a film as either of those two, but I’m comfortable calling it his third best film. He began his career as a production designer and it shows in all of his films. Every world he creates is wholly realized. He reteamed with Alien designer H. R. Giger to design the new elements in Prometheus which ensures that the two films look and feel similar even though Prometheus has a much cleaner look to it, at least at the outset. The best decision Scott made in the direction of this film was to separate it from Alien in terms of scope. I already touched on this in the first paragraph of this review, but Prometheus really feels a lot larger than Alien ever did. We saw some wide shots of the Nostromo and the structure the crew investigates but Alien is mostly a film of interiors and cramped ones at that. This serves the tension of that film perfectly, but for a movie like Prometheus which is about exploration and adventure the scope needed to be grand and Scott accomplishes that perfectly. The ship Prometheus is often filmed from a great distance, showing its relative smallness and focusing more on the landscape of the new planet. The structure the team investigates is so large that some of the expedition crew gets lost within it. And the final setpeice is gigantic. Everything is big, which only fits a movie about where we came from and what it means to live and die.

The film works spectacularly as an exploration epic, but it also attempts to be a human story and that’s the only place where it doesn’t completely work. The Prometheus isn’t a working vessel like the Nostromo, there are some scenes where people talk about their feelings. These scenes aren’t bad or out of place or anything, they just aren’t perfectly integrated into the greater story. There’s a subplot about the two scientists that are leading the journey and their relationship issues which does connect to the grander themes but it just isn’t given enough time to develop as it could. Of the four Ridley Scott films mentioned in the previous paragraph, only one is best in its theatrical cut (Alien) the rest are improved in director’s cuts, so I hope that there are some scenes which can be included on the Blu-ray release which will enhance the interpersonal connections just a bit. It’s not a huge failing of the film, but it keeps it from being a masterpiece, unfortunately. This is a film that makes you think, not feel. That’s fine, but I could have used a bit more feeling, though I wouldn’t want to sacrifice any of the thinking.

In fact, the character that is the most interesting in terms of both thinking and feeling is David, the android. Here Scott draws not only upon the other Alien films for inspiration but Blade Runner as well. What makes us human and David un-human? How close can you get to humanity without being human? What happens when you know exactly how and why you were made? These are the questions posed by David’s existence and they are interesting. Michael Fassbender plays David perfectly, he fits right into that uncanny valley that the other androids in the series inhabit. He moves too smoothly, he tries to imitate human speech but it’s too perfect, almost like movie dialogue. His motives can’t be read on his face and he often questions why the humans are acting so human. It’s a remarkable performance, something we’ve come to expect from Fassbender in the past three years. He’s a fantastic talent and constantly impresses.

Finally, a quick word on how to see this movie. First, do it as soon as you can. Right after you read this, if you can manage it. Ambition needs to be rewarded, even more so when it actually reaches the heights it aspires to. Second, this movie actually works quite well in 3D. It was never distracting and it even added to the experience. I saw it at midnight in IMAX 3D and if you can manage that I’d recommend it. It’s a big, loud movie and it really benefits from the biggest screen you can see it on. An epic needs to be large. It’s worth the extra money for an experience like this one. I think I have a new movie to point to whenever I talk about experiences that only movies can provide. Something so grand and thought provoking at the same time. Showing worlds that don’t exist and exploring them thematically and through exciting action. It’s wonderful.

Make a Movie, Dammit!

Ridley Scott on the set of Blade Runner

It’s art. Anything is anything – Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

My good internet friend, Corey Atad, just posted a blog entry about what he wants from a movie. It’s called Tell Me a Story, Dammit! and I think you can tell what he’s talking about from the title of the post but you should go read it anyways because it makes some good points. Movies have been about storytelling for most of their existence. They’re a medium that does work particularly well to get a story to the viewer. The combination of sight and sound and motion makes a kind of Frankenstein’s Monster of books and music and photography. All of those mediums (media?) can be used to tell a story, though that is not a requirement of them. Music must have notes, books must have words, and photography must have images, and these elements are usually employed to tell a story. But must they? And must movies tell a story?

If you’re reading this you’ll probably agree with my statement that film is an art. It’s a way for an artist – or several artists – to get their point-of-view to you, the audience. Generally, that happens through a combination of the story the movie is telling, the words used to tell it, and the visuals and sounds that accompany the words and the story. But only one of these elements are essential to film as an art form. Take away one and the others remain to carry the slack. Film started as a silent medium, where the sounds were provided in-house and therefore not a permanent part of the experience. Each version of the film was different because the accompaniment was provided by a different musician and therefore the audio element cannot be taken as a a part of the art at that point. After sound became a standard feature it has stuck around, though this year’s silent film The Artist has been getting a lot of buzz. Maybe it will revive the silent film as a cultural force, though that’s probably just wishful thinking on our part.

Take Fantasia as an example of a film that doesn’t use words to get its point across to the viewer. Sure, there are a few bits of dialogue in the interstitial element where the conductor sets up the next section of the film, but those could just as easily be cut out of the film and we’d still understand exactly what’s happening in the film. Dinosaurs and demons are pretty self-explanatory.

So that leaves us with a story and visuals as the remaining elements of film. I think you might be able to guess which isn’t essential in my estimation. Almost all movies have a story. This is undeniable. I can’t think of a movie that lacks a story, save for experimental films like the ones Corey uses in his article. There are movies that are made of visuals and sounds and nothing else. Pretty colors on a screen do not tell a story. But they do present a point of view, a way of seeing the world. They must, because they are an artist making a work of art. That’s the whole point. They need not wrap their worldview around a story. And it is still a film. It’s still light captured and then projected in quick sequence. That’s film. That’s movies.

In the end, I’d twist Corey’s words a bit. I think movie makers owe us movies that mean something. Movies that share with us their point of view so we can see if ours is changed or affirmed. So we can understand a different way to see the world. So we can experience different things. It should have images that move, even if they are simply juxtapositions of stills – I’m looking at you, La Jetée – and anything else is icing on the cake. Maybe all of the movies I like have stories in them. Maybe most have a dedicated soundtrack and words. But I’m not going to limit the medium and say that they must include those elements. What if the next movie to enter my Top 100 List is a silent, wordless, characterless, storyless sequence of pictures? What if we missed out on the greatest film of all time because we demanded that all movies have a story? Wouldn’t that be sad.

Top 100 Films: The _4’s

The 4’s contain, by a lucky coincidence, the oldest and newest films on my list. They span a period of 85 years. Every movie but one is in a well defined genre, the other being mostly just a drama. Besides also containing the longest title on my list,  four of the movies are from before I was born.

94. Hanna (2011)

Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Saoirse Ronan and Cate Blanchett

I just missed your heart.

A fever dream of a movie. Hanna is a coming of age tale with a dark side, told like a fairy tale and impeccably directed and acted. It is always moving forward, whether it be plot driven or character based. An early contender for the best film of 2011.

84. All the President’s Men (1976)

Directed by Alan J. Pakula. Starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford

You’re both paranoid. She’s afraid of John Mitchell and you’re afraid of Walter Cronkite.

When a movie about reporters figuring out a story is so compelling you know the movie is great. It takes a lot to get a movie that involves almost no action to feel so stimulating. Of course, the acting helps, as does the direction. There’s a lot of All the President’s Men in Zodiac, and even though I like the latter better, the former is still fantastic.

74. In Bruges (2008)

Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson

I’m sorry for calling you an inanimate object. I was upset.

As dark a comedy as you can get, Martin McDonagh’s feature length directorial debut is one of the best first movies of all time. Intricately constructed and immaculately detailed, it’s got a lot going on so it might take a few times to get everything. But that’s just an excuse to watch it over and over and over again. As if you needed one.

64. The General (1926)

Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. Starring Buster Keaton and Marion Mack

If you lose this war don’t blame me.

Buster Keaton is known for incredibly complex stunts that intensify as he goes along. Some of the action scenes here are 15 minutes long. There’s a lot to be awed by, but one of the best elements is how Keaton is able to build a character through these actions scenes. By the end of the film you really know who Johnnie Gray is and why he does what he does.

54. The Quiet Man (1952)

Directed by John Ford. Starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara

I have a fearful temper. You might as well know about it now instead of findin’ out about it later. We Danahers are a fightin’ people.

A good old fashioned love story. Full of kisses in the rain and fighting and dragging your wife across the Irish countryside. Almost mythic in how big it plays the emotions, The Quiet Man is a wonderful romantic comedy with great chemistry between Wayne and O’Hara, perhaps the only woman that could match up to Wayne’s powerful presence. If only there was a restored print that was widely available, the current dvd is a muddied mess that does no service to the beauty of Ireland and O’Hara.

44. The Social Network (2010)

Directed by David Fincher. Starring Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield

I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look so tough.

When The Social Network hit theaters there was some controversy over whether the movie portrayed the truth of the founding of Facebook. There are exaggerations and outright lies in the movie. Luckily for us, it’s a movie and not a historical document. As a film it is a fascinating study of ambition and the things you lose when you get what you want. It is certainly biased but it is no less of a movie for that.

34. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Directed by Shane Black. Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer

Wow, I feel sore. I mean physically, not like a guy who’s angry in a movie in the 1950’s.

Delightfully meta and self-aware without being too cute about it. The relationship between Downey and Kilmer is the heart of this film. It makes you remember how awesome Kilmer is. Shane Black knows his buddy cop movies and works with the tropes quite well.

24. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Directed by Andrew Dominik. Starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck

Look at my red hands and my mean face… and I wonder ’bout that man that’s gone so wrong.

One of the half-dozen or so recent westerns that take a more thoughtful track than the typical good guy vs. bad guy idea you see in so many older films of the genre. This movie is about fame and adoration and legend. And it is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what Dominik does next.

14. Sunshine (2007)

Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Cillian Murphy and Rose Byrne

At the end of time, a moment will come when just man remains. Then the moment will pass. Man will be gone. There will be nothing to show that we were ever here… but stardust.

Sunshine gets a lot of crap for its third act. Allow me to state, here and now and for eternity, there’s nothing wrong with the third act of the film. It’s a different way of explaining the same idea that runs through the rest of the film: what do we do in the face of such power? And the final five minutes are supremely beautiful in both the visuals and the themes they express.

4. Blade Runner (1982)

Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer

Fiery the angels fell. Deep thunder rolled around their shoulders, burning with the fires of Orc.

The future never looked so grimy and gorgeous at the same time. This neo-noir is the best sci-fi movie ever made. It’s not perfect, there’s a romantic subplot that I don’t particularly care about, but that’s small fries when it comes to the sheer brilliance of the rest of the film. It’s telling that Ridley Scott started as an art director because the look of the movie is so singular.

The other parts of the list:

The _0’s section

The _9’s section

The _8’s section

The _7’s section

The _6’s section

The _5’s section

The _4’s section

The _3’s section

The _2’s section

The _1’s section

Blade Runner sequel-thing will not be the worst thing ever

We’re not computers, Sebastian, we’re physical.

Blade Runner is unarguably one of the best movies of all time. The combination of noir and sci-fi is genius and gorgeous. The movie’s heart is the feel of it. It evokes future Los Angeles with all of the crappy weather and grimy streets that you’d expect. And the awesome umbrellas, too. This abundance of style can be attributed to one man: Ridley Scott. The production designer turned director understood how to make the future alien but recognizable. And it’s all misty and stuff. Cool. But now there will be a sequel. And as we all know, sequels inevitably ruin original films. Turn them into cash grabs that amp up the sex and violence at the expense of ideas and characters. Is nothing sacred anymore?

But wait! I have here a copy of the Movie Making Rule Book. Let’s turn to page 482, the beginning of the sequel chapter. Of course, we’re too early into the movie’s life to even know if it is truly going to be a sequel. We know, today, that Harrison Ford will not be in it. Which means that Deckard won’t be in it. Which means that it will likely be a spiritual sequel if anything, with future Los Angles as the only recurring character. Unless they get Edward James Olmos back to spout his weird made up language hybrid. That’d be fun. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, back to page 482: “A sequel is not inherently different from any other film. It, too, must tell a story. It, too, must have characters. It, too, must exist in a certain place and time. It, too, must have something to say. The only difference is that it might look back to the previous film for inspiration. A character, story element, location, or even thematic thread might continue from the earlier entry. Those are the rules.”

What wisdom! I’m sure that we could come up with numerous sequels that were not crap. The Empire Strikes Back is often cited as the best Star Wars film. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is the third film in a series. A lot of people think that The Godfather Part II and Aliens are better than their predecessors. These people are not right, but they’re entitled to their opinions. And the Bourne sequels are better than the first film. Are there more bad sequels than there are good sequels? Yes, of course. There are more bad movies than there are good movies, so, according to the Movie Making Rule Book’s decree, it would follow that there are more bad sequels than good. Because there are no rules for making a sequel. There is nothing in the idea of a sequel to a story that makes the sequel automatically bad. When the only thing we know about this sequel is that it is going to be produced and directed by Ridley Scott we have so little to go on that we might as well know nothing. If we are to form an opinion based only on this news we would probably do better to think it’s going to be great, not horrible. But we have been so trained to hate everything we hear about sequels we forget that they are no different from any other film at their cores. If there is anybody to trust with the legacy of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott is the one. The man who created the world in the first place is, at the very least, not a reason to be afraid of the sequel. And has another follow-up to a beloved sci-fi movie of his coming out soon. Prometheus is a semi-prequel to Alien, the only similarity that we know of is that they exist in the same world. Which is all we know about this Blade Runner sequel. So, if Prometheus turns out to be crap you can start to worry. But really, the only sane thing to do is to form an opinion after you see the film. Until then it’s all meaningless speculation. At least wait until there’s a trailer, internet.