June 2012 Archives
June 7, 2012
In the build up to the release of Prometheus I've read a lot of people stating how much they loved Ridley Scott's previous films. In reality they mean Alien and Bladerunner.
Alien is a film where some people try and survive a killer alien on a spaceship. Yes it looked radical for the time, yes it was a big screen space film, but it's really just and effective, stock horror thriller, with one genius scene. It's not intelligent speculative fiction, it's not full of thoughtful extrapolations, it looks cool and makes you jump.
Bladerunner on the other hand looks wonderful and has some depth, but let's not forget that the depth came from the source novel by Philip K. Dick, not from the director of the film. The film and the novel differ significantly in tone and also plot but the original concept, the core of the story, was provided by the wonderful PKD.
So what should we have expected from Prometheus, the much hyped Alien prequel? May be an effective, high budget, gorgeous looking sci-fi horror thriller with a perfunctory plot? Well, that's what we got. To be fair it's a bit better than that due to some wonderful performances by Charlize Theron, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender. The scene where David is introduced on the Prometheus is brilliant, with Fassbender cold and calculated and so far into the uncanny valley it's scary. Another big plus is the fact that within five minutes there is a big spaceship on screen with text titles stating that the ship was 3.27*10^14 km from Earth. Spaceships and proper scientific units, bonus.
The film is let down by pretending to be more than the straightforward 'man trying to survive killer aliens' plot and suffers from pretensions of intelligence. Which wouldn't be so bad if the plot could stand up to those claims but it can't. The characters often make stupid decisions, there is only one moment where two of them choose to do the most sensible thing for their survival, but shortly after they seem to have forgotten any worries. The lack of awareness of Science Fiction is a major flaw. All those years in the future the characters would have read and seen Science Fiction, they would know not to act in the cliched manner that often results in death.
Ridley Scott has said that this is the first film in a trilogy and Prometheus suffers from that, leaving too many unanswered questions and too much left unsaid. It's the old problem when a mediocre trilogy could have been distilled into a brilliant single novel rather than padded into three volumes. Prometheus feels like that.
However, despite the problems, if your expectations are set correctly the film is fun. Not spectacular but it has some good moments.
I should also mention that I saw the film in 2D, none of that light-lossy, extra expense, terrible when you wear glasses, gimmick we've come to know as 3D. I don't need the "extra" depth or things jumping out at me thank you very much.
June 3, 2012
I almost didn't start watching The Walking Dead as I'm not a fan of horror and zombies seemed to have been overplayed recently, with cliche upon cliche. However the buzz around the quality of the comic, and the fact that I was intrigued as to how Andrew Lincoln would cope doing an American accent, tempted me.
The first hurdle for me to overcome is that the lead character is not Egg from This Life, fortunately Andrew Lincoln does a decent job of becoming a US sheriff and I managed to push fleeting images of him running a cafe to the back of my mind. The second hurdle was that The Walking Dead isn't 28 Days Later despite both starting in a similar manner (along with many other "waking up in hospital after the apocalypse" stories I suppose), but that's just the start and they diverge quickly. The third hurdle was that I don't like gore, which I overcome by repeatedly telling myself it was just makeup, it was just makeup, it was just makeup. Finally the biggest hurdle to overcome was the well worn nature of the genre; what could possibly be added to the plethora of zombie apocalypse stories?
Fortunately, despite the well publicised gore, what the series does really well is tell a story about a gang of characters that we come to, rapidly, care about, or in some cases hate. Involved in either case. If you didn't know that the source material was a long running comic you may well guess, it has that feeling of time invested in the writing and the characters. Of the story being written over time, with a vision, and not by committee in a rush to meet a filming schedule.
Season 1 was six episodes, which is the usual length for a new UK series and short for a US one. It feels like a good length to me: six episodes of high quality, see if people like it, if so make more. And the quality of the first six episodes is high, with some wonderfully widescreen moments as our heroes come to grips with the fact that the city (Atlanta in this case) is a danger disaster area, overrun with the dead. They have to come to terms with the fact that the world has changed, that there is no quick cure, that there is no holdout of civilisation amidst the ruins of the city. Whilst at the same time negotiating group dynamics and personal relationships, fraught and strained amidst the turmoil. The characters feel rounded, meeting conflicts and making decisions, becoming new and different people. Fighting to live after the apocalypse.
The Walking Dead is in the midst of airing on UK terrestrial TV (after having aired on satellite and cable first), so if you haven't seen all of season two yet you might want to come back in a few weeks before you read the remainder of this post as there will be spoilers.