Opinion

Prometheus – review and analysis – aka Smart People Doing Stupid Things – by coregeek

It’s been over a week since I experienced Prometheus. I was there on opening day, first showing, with 3D IMAX glasses in hand, ready to be treated to the triumphant return of Ridley Scott to Sci-Fi (after a 30 year hiatus from the genre). No, my expectations were not wildly out of check. That description is what the excellently created trailer had been selling to all of us for months now.

I went, I viewed, then I mulled it over for more hours and days then I’d like to admit. I poured over reviews and analysis comparing Prometheus to everything from 2001 (good) to The Phantom Menace (bad). That’s a pretty wide range of quality of films. The funny thing is that I can understand the reasons for comparisons to both of those films.

I’ve wanted to write this article many different times, but I’ve found that difficult because it is such a frustrating film. In fact, I’ve written this very article in my head at least five different ways. What I’ve decided to finally write (which you are now obviously reading) is a hybrid review/opinion which tries to reconcile the reasons Prometheus has turned out to be such a polarizing film. (Note: The longer you read this, the more I delve into spoilers. There’s a warning when it becomes no hold barred.)

What works in Prometheus?

Without a doubt, Ridley Scott has proven once again that he is a master of visual storytelling. Prometheus is one of the best looking and most environmentally saturated films I’ve seen in a very long time. From the interior of the ship Prometheus itself, to the large and vast caverns, every environment drips with awe. In many ways, Prometheus is probably the best advertisement for 3-D cinema that I’ve ever seen. Once my eyes adjusted to the glasses, I pretty much forgot that I was watching a 3-D movie (in my opinion that is a good thing.) At the same time, I was continually wowed with the visual splendor that continues non-stop throughout the film. (Side Note: I will only view a film in 3D if it was created/shot in 3D. Conversions are terrible and I avoid them like the plague.)

Overall, the cast was terrific with two stand out players. I found Michael Fassbender to be quite fascinating and the most compelling character, which is quite the feat considering his character is an android devoid of feelings. Noomi Rapace also gave a brave performance with a script that called for some really grueling and what had to have been truly frightening sequences to film. The most notable occurring on an operating table. (If you see the film you’ll have no doubt understanding what scene I’m referring too.)

The production quality was phenomenal. I could not decipher where the real (practical) ended and the CG (digital) took over. The score and sound design were top shelf; both enhance the film exactly as they should. Overall it’s a very high quality production, in which everyone involved in the creation of should be very proud.

What doesn’t work?
This is where my own opinion gets divergent.

On one hand I want to say Prometheus is a surprisingly deep film that asks a lot of questions concerning the meaning of life and isn’t afraid to not answer those questions but rather to leave it up for the viewer to decide. That’s a pretty ambitious and noble quest for a big budget, summer tent pole film, that is loosely based on a pre-exisitng horror/sci-fi franchise.

On the other hand I want to say Prometheus is one of the most ponderous, pretentious and incoherent big budget films I’ve ever seen.

I really want to believe that Prometheus is more of the first film that I described. Unfortunately, I think it really falls between the two and at times leans heavy on the second description. Once it is over, Prometheus leaves the viewer with many unanswered questions, which has created a large and very vocal group of detractors on the inter-webs.

Just to go on record about my opinion of “thinking” films or “open ended” conclusions, I for one am okay with not being spoon-fed a films intent or agenda and in general I don’t have problems with open endings. What I do have issues with are contrived characters and plot devices that continually dumb down a film that is attempting to be clever and then that same film taunts me by claiming “I’m too smart for you” the moment I try to make any sense of it all. As a paying movie-goer, that’s just insulting. Still, I’d be willing to forgive Prometheus of all of it’s pretentious plot issues had it not severely suffered from what I’ve decided are it’s two major flaws.

Spolier Warning. Major plot developments discussed from here on!

#1 Major Flaw: Too many similarities to Alien. If Prometheus was really not meant to be a prequel to the Alien franchise, then why does it have so many similarities from first Alien film? The two films share the same solar system, the same corporation, the same alien species: Space Jockeys (in Prometheus they’re called engineers) and their crescent shaped ships. There are similarities to the egg room from Aliens and the black goo canister room in Prometheus. There are designs that feature xenomorph and face hugger (creatures from Alien) carvings on the walls in Prometheus. Both feature an android as a main character, whom has ambiguous ulterior motives and dies in a very similar fashion.

Prometheus even follows a similar outline to Alien: a group of people aboard a space ship explore the unknown on an alien planet, they discover dead Space Jockey(s), killer alien(s) abound, lots of bad things happen, the whole crew dies, and a single female heroine survives, flying into space. So it’s not a sequel then? Riigghhht! It’s practically a glossier, much less scarier remake. The overt Alien connection does Prometheus a major disservice because as a viewer, it’s difficult to watch the film without trying to formulate how it “fits” within the Alien canon. All of the similarities just create a lot of unnecessary confusion.

#2 Major Flaw: Smart people doing stupid things. Many of these characters are suppose to be scientists, biologists and others whom appear to be at the top of their given field, otherwise why would they be on such an important mission? Given that fact the majority of them have Dr. as part of their surname, well, you wouldn’t know it by their idiotic actions.

Some of those actions, many of which are major points that advance the story, include:
• Removing your helmet/breathing apprataus after only being on an alien planet for about 5 minutes.
• Realizing that your infected with something alienish, not telling anyone, then having sex with your girlfriend.
• Getting lost in a structure where you’re the guy in charge of the cool levitating gizmo robotic mapping devices.
• Leaving the bridge of your ship completely unmonitored while two of your crew are stuck inside an obviously hostile unknown alien environment, then turning off the monitor (their only lifeline to help) when you leave to go play slap-and-tickle with the hot shipmate. Then, when said members are discovered dead, nobody checks the recorded video system to find out what happened?
• Opening the bay door for a crew member whose gone missing and shows up doing the broke back crab crawl with a totally melted off helmet shield in an environment where no human could breathe. The same member then wipes out half the crew and nobody really seems to care or even comment about it.
• Discovering an obviously not friendly, alien, snake like creature then trying to coax it come to you like it’s a warm and fuzzy bunny.
• Almost being killed by being impregnated with a rapidly growing alien life form and not telling anyone, then going on a science field trip with the people (who just engineered your pregnancy then tried to stash you along with your unborn alien baby inside a cryo-sleep chamber) only minutes after it was violently removed from your body.
• The inability to run at an angle!

There are many more stupid actions by smart people that occur in the film but I’ll stop here because I eventually would like to finish this article. Due to their vast stupidity as a whole, it’s very difficult to relate to the characters and consequently the audience fails to connect to them. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen top writers interviewed about their craft and they all preach: “Relatable characters are the key to storytelling!” Had any of Prometheus’characters acted like they were on a very important mission to another fricking planet, and portrayed any sense of realism to they way they should have been trained and consequently conducted themselves (during such an important mission) the ambiguity left by the quasi-existential plot would been much easier to swallow.

The Bottom Line
In the end, Prometheus is only meagerly satisfying by offering up a mix of great visuals, high quality production values (including the best 3D ever), as well as a lot of smart people doing stupid things and enough unanswered plot lines/mysteries to fill a completely new season of LOST. At times Prometheus is awe inspiring, however its many flaws left me feeling empty wishing it was so much more and that Stephen Moffat had been brought on to write a truly soul searching script.

Seriously, run at an angle for crying out loud!

Top 5 Tim Burton Films – coregeek retrospective

Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows opened on Friday. Given the mixed reviews, tepid box office take and general reactions such as this, I’m re-posting this article which I wrote before the release of Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2010.

Beetle Juice

Macabre madness in a comedy where the phenomenal Michael Keaton (as Beetlejuice) steals the show from a very talented cast including: Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis. Beetle Juice is delicious mix of weirdness and laughs. A true cult classic.

Batman

Face it, comic based movies were a joke before 1989’s Batman. Burton ushered in a whole new wave of what comic based films could aspire to. Keaton proved to the world he was worthy of the cape. Nicholson turned in the performance of his career. Bassinger was gorgeous.

Ed Wood

Probably Burton’s most zany, yet a compelling drama at the same time. Depp and Landau were wonderful together. Is it the truth? Who knows, who cares? It’s a truly a celebration of what made Wood so captivating as the “worst director of all time.”

Edward Scissorhands

Sublimely eccentric fable about a boy with scissors for hands who falls for a girl. Laughs and tears ensue with a heartfelt bittersweet ending. Really? Could anyone else but Burton have made this film?

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Okay, okay, yes technically it isn’t a Burton film but he created the characters, wrote the story and served as executive producer. Nevertheless TNBC it quintessential Burton. Filled with quirky, funny and lovable characters (who aren’t always what they seem on the outside), great music and wonderfully designed sets in a world full of scares, charm and even life lessons to be learned. What’s not to love?

Agree? Disagree? Hit me back in the comments.

‘Captain America’, ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, ‘Harry Potter 7.2′ – mini reviews

I’ve seen all three of these films within the past two weeks and I’ve totally put off writing my reviews. Writing three full reviews at this point seems a bit daunting so I’m going to go with mini reviews instead. So here they are in the order that I saw them.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’
Director Joe Johnston does a really great job of setting the mood with awesome period design and sentiment. Chris Evans nails the right likeability and believability of the title character. Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene he is in. Hugo Weaving tries hard with a rather one note character but comes off mostly bland. At times I was pleasantly reminded of Johnston’s excellent and underrated ‘The Rocketeer’.

‘Captain America’ is solid summer fare but I was left wanting more. Although one could argue that it’s perfectly setup to prime the viewer for next summer’s ‘The Avengers‘ which also stars The Cap and a whole slew of other heros.

Bottom Line: Good but not great.

‘Cowboys & Aliens’
This one is hard for me to write as I really wanted ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ to be the revelation of the summer. It has a great director (Jon Favreau) and likable cast most notably Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. Craig was solid but Ford was mostly all over the place. I was not impressed with the aliens or their reasons for being on the planet.

This genre mashup should have been a complete riot. Unfortunately it wasn’t.

(I’ve been trying to understand my disappointment and I guess the issue I had was: ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ doesn’t bring anything new to either genre. If it was just a western or just a sci-fi film neither would be very good. Two cliche ridden, mediocre films mashed together just make one bloated mediocre film.)

Bottom Line: Only okay, with a dash of good here and there.

‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2′
I was really hoping for a film this summer that delivers in only the way huge summer movies can (especially after seeing so many good but not great films) much to my surprise HP: 7.2 redeems a lackluster summer. Heading into the summer I had high hopes for HP: 7.2 but was unsure if the filmmakers could pull it off. After all, I’ve already read the book so I knew what to expect and somewhat figured they (filmmakers) wouldn’t be able to do the book’s finale justice. Boy was I wrong!

Two full hours of thrills combined with genuine heart and heartbreak caps an 11 year saga in a breathtaking cacophony of blood, sweat and tears. A major win for fans of the saga and a good sit for the casuals who get dragged to it by rabid family members.

Bottom Line: Awesome, finally a proper summer blockbuster that deserves the title.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 – Review-ish

At this point with the 7th installment of a film you’re either already onboard with the series or not. It pretty much makes said film critic proof. So I’m really not going to critique this installment as much as comment on the world of Potter.

Those whom are still on board most likely fit into 1 of 3 categories: fans of the books, fans of the films, or both. I’m a mixture of both. I’m a fan of the books in which I read all 7 quite rapidly as soon as they were published. I am probably however only considered a “casual fan” as I’ve only read the saga once. For the record I found all of the books to be imaginatively fun and exciting.

The films on the other hand have been quite hit or miss for me. The first two films were only okay. It seemed like the filmmakers were trying too hard to be too faithful and I felt the movies seemed bloated and bogged down in their own importance.

Fortunately the 3rd film really turned things around for me. Expertly directed by Alfonso Cuarón (the most talented filmmaker of all the H.P. installments) “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was a fast and furious film that managed to hold onto the essence of the book but also was throughly rousing in its own right. Maybe not so ironically this was the film that most “true” book fans derided due to its lack of adherence to the book.

I digress… For the remainder of the films and books I really don’t remember too much. They’ve all kind of jumbled together in my brain. I do know my second favorite film is the one that concludes with a showdown at the Ministry of Magic. I was just reminded by my 10 yr. old, walking “Potter Encyclopedia” (aka-Emily) that I’m referring to “Order of the Phoenix”.

So where does this final installment fit in? Heck if I know. It somewhat meanders all over the place but what I was surprised by was how much time many of the scenes were given to breathe, which is not always the case for “kids films.” There’s a lot of despair all over this Part 1 and you really begin to feel and understand the hopelessness of the unsurmountable task that is asked of the Harry, Ron and Hermione. Don’t get me wrong there’s some exciting stuff too but this one is really a slow burn that is leading up to what should be a spectacular finale in Part 2. Now that’s the part I really want to see!

Bottom line: Potter fan? Then you know you will see it regardless of what anyone else says.

Rated PG-13: In theaters now.

Despicable Me 3D – thoughts

I’m skipping a full review since Despicable Me has already been out for several weeks.

In short it’s a great family film. I was really impressed with the quality of the animation and the story. It was original, funny and at times touching. Not quite to the deepness level as a Pixar story but touching none the less. The 3D was fine and not annoying. The geeklets and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Bottomline: Worth a trip to the theater if you’re looking for a family outing.
Rated PG: In theaters now.