Kingdom of Heaven and the Shelf of Shame

kohWatched the Roadshow Directors Cut of Kingdom of Heaven last night; what a bloody brilliant movie that is. I think Kingdom of Heaven is possibly the best example of the transformative power of the Directors Cut- sure, the DCs of Watchmen and The Abyss are much better than their original cuts, too, but they remain flawed films in many ways, but the DC of Kingdom of Heaven is just, well, to put not too fine a point on it, a bloody brilliant movie, and is one of Ridley Scotts best films. His last truly great film, too, I suspect (I guess its only competition would be The Martian, but, well, I like The Martian but clearly Kingdom of Heaven is the better movie). This is the same guy who brought us Prometheus and Alien: Covenant? I find it so hard to believe; incredible. I make no apologies for stating that this film is one of my favourite all-time movies, which makes it a little odd to confess that I gave not seen it in several years….

Of course, I’ve watched the DC of Kingdom of Heaven several times before- first on a sumptuous R1 DVD edition many years back, and later when it arrived on a lacklustre Blu-ray edition (here in the UK, anyway). The reason why this post features in my Shelf of Shame series is that this copy is the Ultimate Edition steelbook, that contains the three cuts of the film via seamless branching (theatrical, DC and Roadshow cuts) with a second disc containing the exhaustive special features from that old DVD edition. To my frank disbelief I bought this edition back in 2015 and its been sitting on the shelf ever since, which is some kind of madness considering that, as I have mentioned, this is one of my favourite movies. Maybe its the length of the film. The Roadshow version, which features an Overture and an Intermission, runs well over three hours (as I adore the score for this film, I find that Roadshow version by some margin the best version to watch), and like Once Upon a Time in America, the longest films may be the greatest, but they do demand more time and consideration when scheduling.

Oh well, this lockdown and isolation we’re living during Covid19 has to be good for something, right? We have the time, I guess, to enjoy some of these longer films now.  And, er, I really need to rewatch Once Upon a Time in America, too, now that I think about it…

I hate double and triple-dipping but I’ll say here and now, this film desperately needs a 4K UHD edition. Please, someone, by all that’s Picard, make it so. This is one of Ridley’s greatest movies- they put that damned Robin Hood flick of his on 4K UHD, and those Alien prequels, but not this? Kingdom of Heaven looks fine in HD, but there is noticeable banding and blocking in some sections of this film, particularly during fade ins and fade outs, which I suspect is down to the sampling rate limited by the length of the film and the multiple branching over the single disc. Its hard to believe I’m berating a Blu-ray disc when it used to be the pinnacle of home viewing (I wonder how bad the DVD looks like?) but its clear to me that a 4K UHD would handle a lot of such sections, as well as the dark interior scenes, much better than a Blu-ray encode can manage.

I was really buzzing, though, after watching this. As its been a few years since last watching it, some of it surprised me, regards what I had actually forgotten, such as the layers of the storytelling, the different character arcs and moments, particularly in this extended version. Its quite complex and nuanced and features a great cast in great form, with brilliant direction and some really fine editing. Naturally its a beautiful-looking film, but some of the pacing and composition work… really, its the director at the absolute peak of his game, here. I can’t really understand why people talk about Ridley and mention Gladiator etc but not this, but I can only assume that’s because they saw the original version and not the DC. I recall watching that theatrical release back in, crikey, 2005, and being disappointed by it; sure it looked beautiful (as one would expect of Ridley, especially with period pieces) but the whole thing felt simplistic and formulaic. Which is why I rate this edition so highly as an example of just how good extended or directors cuts of some films can really be.

Harry Price: Ghost Hunter

harry1In 1920s London, paranormal investigator Harry Price (Rafe Spall) is called upon by rising political star Edwin Goodwin to investigate the odd goings on in the MP’s home and the apparent mental disintegration of his wife Grace, who seem to be the focal point of the bizarre goings-on. Harry teams up with the family’s maid, Sarah Grey (Cara Theobold), and the two attempt to investigate the haunting and deduce if a ghost or something more earthly is behind the horrors.

Christmas schedules always offer something supernatural, and often ideally period, in nature and Harry Price: Ghost Hunter fits the bill brilliantly- a well-made tv movie that was also patently a set-up/pilot for a tv series. Unfortunately I’m late to the party as usual, as this originally aired in December 2015 and that tv series never came, which is something of a surprise- considering ITV had huge success with other period dramas such as Downtown Abbey at the time, a mystery series like this on Winter Sunday nights seems a sure-fire winner, with Harry Price and Sarah Grey an ideal British Mulder and Scully for some period X-Files-like shenanigans.

Maybe it was too obvious- admittedly its hardly high-concept, but the format seems to be a success, the period setting is pretty convincing as one would expect, and the cast perfectly fine. Two of the lead actresses also featured in Downtown Abbey, oddly enough. While Spall initially seems a bit of an odd fit for Harry Price, the subtlety of his performance wins through in the end and the brooding tension from his back-story (originally a charlatan and a devout sceptic, its clear he’s got a subconscious need to be proven wrong) suggests a clever narrative over a series of tales. Considering its period setting, its also deliberately modern, with the Sarah Grey character clearly a very modern woman struggling in the face of a very male-oriented world.

If I had any real criticism of it, its perhaps that the script obviously wants the best of both worlds- the investigators finally arrive at a rather prosaic explanation for whats going on, but it also offers a visual suggestion that there’s more going on than such a mundane solution offers (Grey herself witnessing a paranormal event that suggests that poor Grace is not seeing mere hallucinations at all). I don’t know if, had the format gone to a full series, that such a balancing act would have been able to be supported over a long arc.

So while I suppose its rather forgettable (it never went to series, after all, so clearly it was found wanting by the execs or the public at the time of its transmission) as a piece of Seasonal supernatural drama it works pretty well (watching this kind of stuff in the glow of the Christmas tree lights is a strange shade of perfect). Its just a pity, considering it didn’t go to series, that its so consciously setting one up over its last ten minutes, because it robs the film of proper closure, instead ending with that tease familiar in so many modern movies. Its all very well when you know Super Hero Caper Two, Three or Four is coming, but if that follow-up never comes it feels rather, well, all Alien Covenant, and that’s not good at all.

(Harry Price: Ghost Hunter is currently available on Amazon Prime in the UK).

2017 Selection Pt.7

2017gWell, after a  year of some success regards curbing my disc-buying, everything went out the window towards the end of the year. I mean, just look at that haul above, which dates from around Sept onwards I think. This 2017 selection update is clearly way overdue, and with so many additions I almost gave up on it, but I suppose that would have defeated the point of all those preceding posts so here we are.

So a quick run-through seems in order. The sales caught up with me with The Walk and Nocturnal Animals. You can’t go wrong at about £4 each. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was my favourite cinema experience up until BR2049 swept me away- I may be in the minority, but I do think Galaxy 2 is superior to the original. Wonder Woman didn’t particularly fill me with wonder but it was still cheaper than a cinema visit and I’ll inevitably rewatch it sometime.

While I quite enjoyed Alien:Covenant at the cinema, it fared less well on disc, but I chiefly bought it for the Ridley Scott commentary, which unfortunately I haven’t heard yet (come on Ridley, explain it to me, what’s going on with the Alien franchise?).  The Vikings, meanwhile, is a great catalogue release- it’s a brilliant film brought to HD with a beautiful picture quality and worthwhile extras. Brilliant. Then of course we come to one of  the releases of the year- the simply gorgeous Arrow edition of The Thing, here in its LE variant- a lovely matt-finish hard box with the Amaray slipped inside with a book and artcards and poster. Regardless of the package, it’s the remaster of the film that is the big draw- it’s perfect. I almost dread the inevitable proper 4K release one day- I’ve really brought this film too many damn times already.

Then Indicator’s Hammer box (the first of four, I believe) heralded the Autumn of big releases coming up. I just cannot resist Hammer, and while the Sony Hammers that Indicator have access to are not exactly the Premier league of Hammer their treatment is exemplary and I really rather enjoyed them all. Some nice surprises in this set.

So here we come to the start of the spending madness.2017h

In My Mind was an impulse purchase, a great documentary about The Prisoner, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. Season three of The Leftovers was another import due to there being no HD release here, which was followed by the exact opposite- a release that tempted me with one too many HD options. HBOs Westworld really impressed me when aired and was a disc release that I was looking forward to all year, and it turned out to be my first dual-HD format purchase, as I bought the tin with both 4K and blu-ray discs. Of course, I don’t have a 4K telly yet and have no idea when my current perfectly-fine Bravia will fail and cause any 4K replacement. Months? Years? It feels a bit silly but already future-proofing is on my mind. That slick packaging likely swung it.

La La Land was another sale purchase, and I really enjoyed it- I only hope I won’t regret not waiting for the 4K edition to come down in price. The Farthest is a simply brilliant doc about the Voyager space mission and Captain Scarlett in HD needs no explanation for anyone like me who grew up on a diet of Gerry Anderson magic.  Then of course two blockbusters I didn’t see at the cinema- Spiderman Homecoming and War For the Planet of the Apes, both great movies. They look great in HD but again, should I have stretched out to the 4K editions? I have a feeling that question will be a routine one going forward.

2017g (2)So then we come into Decembers offerings. Two more tv series boxsets follow- season 7 of GOT and the sublime wonder that is the Twin Peaks series three set. When in the world I will actually get to watch them I don’t know (the last three sets of GOT have sat on the shelf waiting for the past few years- I love the show and having only seen them on Sky Atlantic over the in-laws are surely ripe for proper viewing without breaks etc but somehow it never happens). A few more sale buys follow- 4K/Blu-ray of the notorious marmite flick Valerian that might prove to be a disastrous purchase (haven’t seen it yet) and two anime titles from a Christmas sale at All the Anime; the tv series Terror in Resonance (actually in a deluxe set in a huge box that’s hardly shelf material) and the twin set of Genius Party/Genius Party Beyond, two rather curio films that I have been interested in for years but never seen.

Finally, last weeks Arrow release of The Apartment, one of my top ten fave films in a lovely set with some new extras and a book, and the extended 4K/Blu-ray release of The Martian. The latter has been on my radar for ages but was in one of those flash-sales at Amazon last week (I bought it whilst surfing on a break at work, and the price had already gone up again by the time I got back home later in the day). Bit daft really, I wanted it mostly for the commentary and addl extras but figured if I was double-dipping I might as well go the 4K route whilst doing it.

Christmas presents/festive sales may yet add to the selection and require another post. But clearly I already have my work cut out for me regards the to-watch pile. Breaking the barrier into 4K purchases is a troubling event that may prove to be a trend next year (I already have the 4K BR2049 pre-ordered) which frankly feels a bit silly knowing a 4K telly and Ultra HD player may yet be over a year away. But double-dipping is so frustrating maybe it’s the only solution. Will 2018 be the year I buy discs I can’t even watch yet? Shudder.

 

 

 

 

Alien meets its nemesis

…and it’s the US Box Office. Years ago one of the my favourite articles in the monthly Starburst magazine  would be Tony Crawleys annual box office charts, summarising the performance of genre films from the  year before. This was long before the internet, and it was always enlightening to see how certain films had managed at the box office. It was, of course,  no indication of quality -‘the cruelest cut of all’ was how Blade Runner‘s dismal performance was summarised; I’ll remember that line forever. Ever since, I’ve always been curious about box office, the vagaries of cinemagoers taste, critic influence and marketing issues.

So here is the sad case of Alien Covenant, which after a reasonable launch plunged in its second week at the US box office, with a 71% drop in takings. A current final tally of $71 million domestic is a pretty poor showing, and foreign return of $110 million won’t really help the film even break even on a purported $97-110 million (depending who you listen to) budget.

a1
ah, the good old days…

Its funny- the original Alien is perceived as being a huge hit and you have to allow for post-1979 inflation to really know what its then-£80 million domestic equates to in 2017 dollars, but I recall stories back then that the film never actually turned a profit for Fox (rumour  had it that creative accounting was at work to nullify people’s percentages on the profits). For curiosities sake: Aliens $85 million domestic in 1986, Alien 3 $55 million in 1992…

So does this signal another hiatus for the Alien films, despite Ridley Scott’s intention to shoot another sequel next year?

I wonder, what did the studio expect? We are living in a strange world for movies, where studios now have to dodge Marvel blockbusters and DC blockbuster-wannabes and -God help ’em- Star Wars films, and maybe the odd Fox superhero flick or Transformers movie. Where on earth Jim Camerons’ four Avatar sequels eventually fit in is beyond me. Indeed, there seem to be new blockbusters dropped every week in summer- its carnage out there (as King Arthur proved).  

Covenant was originally intended to be released later this year but was brought forward to May- unfortunately two weeks after the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 juggernaut ($336 million domestic, $461 million foreign) and just a week before the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie ($135 million domestic, $392 foreign). When you look at it like that, an R-rated movie (and belated sequel to the ill-received Prometheus) doesn’t really have much hope, does it? A telling comparison is the similarly R-rated Mad Max: Fury Road, universally acclaimed (which Covenant wasn’t) and assumed a hit, which earned $154 domestic and $224 foreign- superior by some margin but on a $154 million budget. So its hard to make out Covenant as some kind of disaster- disappointing yes, but these Alien films have long shelf-lives.

But does it kill any sequel? For all Covenant‘s faults (and I actually quite liked it) I would like to see that sequel, if only to put that Prometheus/Covenant storyline to a rest. It does seem rather doubtful at the moment. Clearly Covenant wasn’t a great film, but was its quality at fault here or rather the swamping of the box office with far too frequent blockbusters and cinemagoers always turning to the Next Thing? I have read that the Pirates of the Caribbean flick is actually deemed the more disappointing by its studio – particularly due to its $230 million budget (foreign box office saved the day for that one). So I guess all things are relative. Maybe Ridley will get one more shot after all.

Alien: Covenant… Frankenstein meets Giger

2017.25: Alien: Covenant (CInema)

I usually avoid too many spoilers with cinema reviews, so I’ll warn now that spoilers lie ahead this time. There’s simply no other way of writing a review of this latest Alien film.

cov1

The importance of, and reliance on, the San Diego Comic-Con and other similar Cons all over the world, is a modern calamity and something that I consider with despair. The pandering to the tastes of geeks by Studios and film-makers and television producers is, frankly, a terrible mistake. Associated with this is the power of social media and the internet in sharing and disseminating opinions and observations. Why on Earth a professional film director or producer with years of experience and training suddenly has to pander to the opinions of a snotty twelve-year-old from the middle of Nowheresville to validate a multi-million dollar project created by hundreds or thousands of craftsman and technicians is a mystery to me.  I would include this blog in this horror but I know it has such limited visibility that this blog’s effect on the world is utterly inconsequential (so I consider myself not guilty, thanks).

I’ve mentioned this before- that the geeks have inherited the Earth, and we have all these bad genre movies now to thank for it.

First things first- I did not hate Alien: Covenant. I really quite enjoyed it. I found it disturbing and horrific and fascinating. And yes, frustrating too, which I’ll come to soon enough. Its clearly a better film than Prometheus, but what bugs me now is that it is clearly a lesser film than it might have been, because Ridley Scott, post-Prometheus, seems to have reconsidered his new Alien film projects largely due to the outraged geeks who criticised Prometheus for not having Giger’s alien in it. Simply put, with Alien: Covenant Ridley is giving the geeks what they want. The irony is, that might not be enough for them- or they may have gotten too much of what they asked for.

Yeah, I’m going to blame those geeks as much as Ridley for what Alien: Covenant is, and I’m going to be mighty pissed reading and hearing from all those angry geeks complaining that they have seen all this alien action before. They bloody demanded it, and now they have got it. Which raises issues regards movie ownership, and the influence of fandom on genre films and franchises today. The blame for Prometheus‘ faults lie wholly with Ridley, but I’m not so sure regards the faults in Alien: Covenant.

Back when Prometheus was released, Ridley was quoted, alluding to why that film was devoid of Giger’s creature, that he felt the alien was done, the creature exhausted by over exposure in the sequels to the original film (and of course those terrible AvP films too). It seemed a strange thing to say, but you know, Ridley was probably right. Prometheus has its problems, but the lack of Giger’s Alien isn’t really the worst of them.

cov3So Alien: Covenant has lots of alien action- Neomorphs, Xenomorphs, Alien eggs, Facehuggers, Chestbursters… its like Ridley is checking off a geek’s Christmas wishlist. And yes, he does so with considerable style and skill. The backburster/chestburster are beautifully and convincingly staged way beyond what the 1979 film could have managed. The Alien (or an evolutionary pre-version of the 1979 creature) is more mobile and convincing than previously depicted on film. Even the Facehugger manages to swiftly leap and creep around better than before. But they also seem the most disinteresting moments of this film, even if the sheer amount of gore and brutality tellingly inform the changes in films since 1979 (and yet, just as in 1979, it is the inferred horrors that are most effective here). The familiarity is this films biggest weakness. This is perhaps inadvertently reinforced by the soundtrack using so much of Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien score. At least Prometheus, with its original score, had its own identity. Alien: Covenant rather lacks this, and frequently hearing Goldsmith’s score doesn’t help matters- instead it just increases that sense of familiarity and reminders of the (superior) original. Its inevitable, I guess, that familiarity with the franchise impacts on successive entries- at its worst, Alien: Covenant feels like another reboot, like those awful Star Trek films or The Force Awakens.

This film improves whenever it deviates from this Alien heritage. At its best, this film is Prometheus 1.5 as it continues the story of the synth David and Elizabeth Shaw from the ending of Prometheus, and their quest to the Engineer homeworld. Seeded within it are fascinating glimpses of what Ridley perhaps originally intended to be Prometheus 2- but you always have the feeling that this is not the film that Ridley originally intended to follow Prometheus.

(Then again, I still remember my surprise that Prometheus was getting a sequel at all, and feel pretty lucky to have Alien: Covenant; at the very least we get a continuation from Prometheus‘ frustratingly open-ended conclusion).

Just as he was in Prometheus, the highlight of Alien: Covenant is Michael Fassbender and his deranged synth David, whose God-complex issues are further amplified by too much time on the Juggernaut contemplating the mysteries of the Engineers. Just as he has found humanity wanting, so too has he found the Engineers wanting. In a moment of truly apocalyptic  horror he dispatches an entire world of its life, bombarding the Engineer homeworld with the juggernaut’s payload of Black Death. Also, David’s search for perfection and desire/need to create life has resulted in Elizabeth Shaw suffering a truly horrific fate (for Prometheus fans, her fate must be as ill-met as the fates of Hicks and Newt in Alien 3, and there’s certainly an interesting symmetry there, one that raises its head for Daniels, too, at the very end of Covenant- what is it with the Alien franchise punishing viewer’s investment into its characters?).

This is the really interesting stuff to me. Ridley seems to have turned the Lovecraftian horrors of Alien into a modern re-working of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which tellingly itself had the subtitle The Modern Prometheus). Okay, none of its particularly subtle. David’s chamber of horrors, in which he stores/analyses his monster creations (including the awful cadaver of Shaw), is one of the finest creations of the Alien series. Its truly horrific and is enough to give one nightmares. Ridley seems to be saying that David is the real monster of the Alien films, and Fassbender is brilliant. In hindsight, maybe the android Ash in the original Alien was an indication of how the Alien series would become centered on artificial intelligence and its dangers for mankind?  2001‘s themes of alien intelligence and its part in the creation and evolution of man (a preoccupation of Prometheus) seems to have mutated into this Heavy Metal-styled Frankenstein abomination of xenomorphs, body horror and worldwide mass destruction.  Its heady, fascinating stuff.

cov4The corporate paranoia seems to have been noticeably dialed down, but a prologue with cold-hearted creator Peter Weyland clearly suggests and maintains his part in David’s deranged sense of superiority over all things and the responsibility Weyland has for all that ensues. Just as the Engineer’s Black Goo creation destroyed them, will artificial intelligence destroy man?

Alien: Covenant brings Walter, an ‘improved’ model of David, again played by Fassbender, into the story as a counter-balance to David’s (insane? corrupted?) programing. Lacking the feeling and emotion of David, Walter is governed by a sense of duty and responsibility and lacks David’s creative instinct. Perhaps Weyland Industries realised their initial mistake, but is it too late with David running amok in the heavens? One of Alien: Covenants worst offences is the poor ‘twist’ near the end involving ‘Walters’ real identity, which seemingly seal’s Daniels to Shaw’s earlier fate. Had it been better handled, it might have ensured one of the most brutally downbeat endings of the franchise. Intellectually it’s still fascinating but it lacks the punch that it deserved.

These new Alien films may be frustrating but they are also oddly interesting and I really hope that Ridley gets to make his intended next Alien film. Now that the geeks have had their fill of Giger’s creations perhaps Ridley will be able to further exploit the Frankenstein themes that interest him so much. What will David do next? What horrors will Daniels and Tennessee be forced to endure? Will the Engineers return, or some Space God that created them? Is the fate of all civilizations their own destruction at the hands of what they create as they achieve God-like technologies?

People forget, perhaps, how execrable Alien: Resurrection was or those AvP films- compared to them, these new films are almost high art. Maybe, Xenomorph aside, these new films aren’t really Alien movies but that doesn’t make them redundant.  For all the faults of Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, Ridley has at least for me made the Alien franchise interesting again.

If nothing else, I’ll always remember Alien:Covenant for putting a huge guilty smile on my face with the line “That’s the spirit!”  Ha ha. Priceless. And was that nail that Shaw keeps another reference to Batty, or some reference to the crucifixion (re: my Prometheus theory raised in yesterdays post)? Or am I over thinking things? Sometimes we have to remind ourselves, its only a movie, as John Brosnan used to say.

Prometheus Bound

The night before watching Alien: Covenant, I gave Prometheus another spin.

Here’s my thoughts.

prom1Somewhere in Prometheus there is a great movie, but we’ll never see it. Its lost somewhere in the jumble of hints and mysteries and confused logic, in the unfocused script that doesn’t know if it’s more interested in Space Gods and mythology than aliens and corporate monsters. Its no disaster, but it is a frustrating mess.

It doesn’t lack for ambition. Essentially it shares the same story as 2001: A Space Odyssey, and you don’t get more ambitious than that.  The fact that it feels wrong to mention 2001 and Prometheus in the same sentence speaks volumes. 2001 had Monoliths shaping and influencing human evolution (and perhaps, although its never shown, even humanity’s creation). Prometheus has humanoid aliens, the Engineers, doing it. The paintings on cave walls indicating a star atlas serves the same purpose as burying a monolith on the moon; its a test to establish a civilization’s technological ability. As usual though, the logic of Prometheus breaks down- sure, show a map for the Engineer’s homeworld, in order for humanity to meet its creator, but instead it turns out it is a map to the Engineers military installation where they create/store weapons of mass destruction; the logic simply doesn’t follow through, and this occurs time and again.

But anyway, we’ll cut Prometheus some slack for asking the Big Questions.  So Engineers use the Black Goo to shape human creation and through repeated visits over millennia shape our evolution, visiting primitive cultures and indicating where they come from. It might strike some as a leap of logic to assume all this is some invitation- perhaps if it had been described as a ‘test’ it might have been more plausible/interesting to the plot.

It might be worthwhile to mention the Prometheus timeline here as I think that might solve one of the films many mysteries/confusions. Ridley Scott suggested during the press for Prometheus that Jesus might have been an Engineer. I think that may have been more than an offhand remark- it may actually be a clue. The expedition exploring the Engineer’s base soon find the corpse of an Engineer which is carbon-dated to over two thousand years old- a holographic recording indicates he was killed during some moment of panic in which several engineers were fleeing some danger. We later see the hapless Fifield and Millburn stumble upon a pile of dead Engineers, having suffered some violent calamity likely linked to those fleeing engineers. Later, David reviews a holographic recording on the Juggernaut’s bridge in which the engineers access a star map and set their destination as Earth- these Engineers seem calm and to not be in immediate danger, so I would suggest this scene predates the earlier one.

So I would suggest this. Two thousand years ago, the Engineers revisit Earth to see how things have progressed. One of them is who we know now as Jesus, who teaches some words of wisdom to the primitive Terrans. Some of it gets lost in translation. Jesus the Engineer gets crucified, begs forgiveness of ‘God’ for this sin. But the Engineers are not so forgiving and decide this particular evolutionary experiment is at an end. So back at the military installation it is decided to send a juggernaut to Earth and bomb it with its vases of Black Goo, wipe out all life and start the experiment all over again. Hence the scene of the star map and the Engineers planning the route. However, things go awry loading up the vases of death and there is a breakout of the Black Goo, resulting in all the dead corpses, the hologram of the fleeing Engineers and the abandoned state of the installation. The last surviving Engineer puts himself into suspended animation to await rescue, which apparently never comes.

Fast forward just over two thousand years, and guess who shows up? Our heroes of the Prometheus. The Engineer is understandably pissed off at his very target waking him up. He kills them for this affront and decides there is no further time to waste,  activating the ship and setting off to bomb Earth all by himself.

You know… it sort of makes sense. And usually I love this kind of stuff; films that foster all kinds of thinking and theorising. 2001 itself was the master of this- people still debate that film today. But Prometheus is no 2001, and the film’s mysteries seem more from ill-judgement and confused storytelling than any deliberate master plan.  Instead it spends too much time getting audiences side-tracked with superfluous nonsense:

prom2You find the head of an alien being and take it back to your ship. Its the biggest discovery in all of history. Instead of quarantining it or starting labwork, you go all Frankenstein and start trying to reanimate it, after its been dead for two thousand years, somehow causing it to explode. What the hell is all that about? What do they expect it to do- wake up and start chatting with them?

Expedition lead Meredith Vickers tries her hardest to be an utter corporate bitch. She shares few scenes and little empathy with ship captain Janek. Then all of a sudden she turns up at the bridge flirting with him and they go off for casual sex. It doesn’t add anything to the plot; the ensuing relationship has no impact on what happens later. What’s it doing in this movie?

A little earlier, Janek has spotted life signs from one of the robot scanners mapping the alien installation. Signs of life! Set the alert sirens! This is the biggest discovery ever! Instead, he shrugs it off and doesn’t tell anyone, thinking that maybe the scanner is faulty (I think it’s actually picking up the intermittent/cryogenic signs of the sleeping Engineer but that’s never explained either). Janek instead rings up Fifield and Millburn who you remember got lost and are still back in the installation, to tip them off. One of them – I think it’s Millburn- actually checks his map on his forearm and reports his location to Janek. But hang on, I thought they were lost. They’ve got a map all this time and know where they are? My brain hurts. Nothing is making sense.

Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, our star-crossed lovers/archeologists (thats star-crossed lovers with zero screen chemistry- there is some terrible casting in Prometheus). Charlie is pretty upbeat, wildly ecstatic even, at what they have discovered and realises the magnitude of what they have found on the planet. But something in the alien decor doesn’t appeal to him and he suddenly decides it’s ‘just a tomb’ and his mood goes a complete 180 and he hits the bottle and acts like a complete jerk. What? Later he comments about giving life and Shaw pouts that she cannot have kids and boom with the subtlety of a xenomorph crashing into the room its set up for Shaw to get impossibly pregnant from Holloway’s Black Goo-infested sperm.

No, subtlety is not Prometheus‘ strong point. Which is infuriating, really, because it’s trying to be a science fiction film of Big Ideas instead of just another bug hunt, and it looks utterly gorgeous. Advance word on Alien: Covenant seems to indicate that Ridley has second-thought things and is heading back to familiar bug-hunt territory, which might cheer Alien/Aliens fans but actually has me rather uneasy. In just the same way as I really like the film noir/doomladen nightmare of Alien 3,  I quite like Prometheus going  somewhere else, into Space Gods territory-  it is just so annoying how clumsy and stupid and, yes, bad it is at the same time. Maybe going back to Alien basics is the right way to go.

I suppose there is a line of thought that Prometheus only really goes wrong when it is trying to wrap itself around the whole Alien mythology. Certainly the Engineers being the Space Jockey’s of the original, dispelling the Lovecraftian mysteries of the 1979 film, is a major misstep which threatens to derail the whole franchise. I sincerely wish someone had found some other way of linking Prometheus with Alien, if even just that the hunt for the Engineers would eventually lead humanity into deep space and the signal that the Nostromo was sent to investigate-  leading to it instead of the Engineers being the architects of it. Indeed, perhaps the Engineers having fallen foul of it themselves. You go find the Engineers homeworld and they are all dead. You investigate the horror that overcame them and stumble on a derelict and some eggs. Something as simple as that, while developing all sorts of Space Gods stuff about creation and evolution.

The funny thing is, for a pretty frustrating movie, I’ve rewatched it several times now and its generated all sorts of writing here on my blog and elsewhere on the internet. So while it did many things wrong, it must have done something right, to generate so much attention and thinking? Will Alien: Covenant, I wonder?

I still wonder if Ridley has a Prometheus: Director’s Cut or Prometheus Unbound somewhere that, while it cannot possibly fix it, might actually be a better movie.

 

Blade Runner 2049 at Cinemacon

2049aIts pretty much all over the web now so you may have already read about it, but at Cinemacon in America, Sony Pictures who co-financed the film and have International rights to distribute it (Warner will distribute the film in the States) has shown 5-6 minutes of new footage. From all accounts it was very impressive stuff, utterly beautiful visuals and quite dark too. I won’t go into detail of the scenes shown, as you can find that easily enough elsewhere if you want to know. I suspect it indicates it will at least form part of the first proper trailer for the film that is likely due anytime soon, so I’m sure it will be on the internet soon enough (more was teased for Wednesday, so that may indicate a trailer is imminent).

But it has got me thinking about ‘going dark’ sometime soon. Modern trailers show way too much of films; even teasers tend to. So I’m in two minds about even watching the trailer when it surfaces. The Alien: Covenant trailer is great but it leaked too many details of the film, and I don’t want a similar experience with something as anticipated as Blade Runner 2049. Can I even manage to avoid details in the months up to release? Its still seven months away and trailers/clips won’t be the half of it. We’ve already had Edward james Olmos reveal that Gaff has a (minor) part in the film.  Its something about modern films; its rare enough for a film to be as genuinely secretive as Blade Runner 2049 has been up till now, but Studios don’t tease anymore, they show. Some trailers are almost three-minute versions of the entire movie they are advertising. They seldom leave any real surprises and are all too keen to show the ‘money’ shots.

Of course I’m curious. How can I not be? I so desperately want this film to be good. Considering I originally felt that Blade Runner doesn’t need a sequel… well, in a way I still don’t. Its my favourite film and its a single entity, always has been and no sequel was ever intended when it was made. It dates back to that strange era when Studios weren’t launching franchises with every bloody release. Back to an era when scripts had a beginning, middle and an end and no cliffhanger/tease of a further, better film. It was 1982, and films were better back then. They were films, not ‘products’ or trilogies (Star Wars and Bond et notwithstanding, I realise I’m making a pretty sweeping statement, but hell, did Spielberg rush into an ET 2? I rest my case- nowadays I doubt he’d have much choice). So anyway, it doesn’t need a sequel, but more importantly, it doesn’t need a bad sequel that tarnishes with the originals reputation or how we ‘read’ it. Prometheus went some way in spoiling rewatches of Alien by revealing the Lovecraftian Space Jockeys are big bald aliens in suits. I don’t want something in Blade Runner 2049 doing the same with Blade Runner.  Let’s not reveal that Deckard was a Nexus 7 or that Holden a Nexus 5, or that Batty didn’t really die, he was just rebooted and went on to fight in other battles Offworld.  Its difficult I know.  kudos to all involved in even daring to make it, and make it good, but please, yes, let it be good.

So I’m sitting and wondering, is this time to ‘go dark’ and avoid Blade Runner 2049 info like the plague? Will it even be possible?

Damn, this poster is cool…

AlienCovenantI refuse to get suckered by those marketing boys, but crikey, they seem to be doing everything right with Ridley’s latest, Alien: Covenant. First the trailer looked great, then they released a really nice video short/prologue to set the film up, and now they go release this fantastic poster. Even those of us burned by Prometheus will be getting the hots for this movie. I guess job done, publicity boys. Over to you Ridley…

So they’re bringing guns to a Xenomorph fight..?

ac1So looking at the picture above from Alien: Covenant, it seems they’re bringing guns to a Xenomorph fight. Like that ever ends well.

ac2

…or they could try knives. No, I don’t think that’s going to end well, either…

ac6…no, it really looks like it ended how you would expect.  Maybe a flame-thrower then…?

ac7Well, maybe not. With all the best will in the world, flame-throwers can rather get out of hand…

ac4So Nuke it. Nuke it from orbit. Its the only way to be sure. Just be sure to check for stowaways first.

ac8

Especially before you decide to take a shower. That really looks so wrong….no, thats not going to end well, either…

Ahhh, Ridley’s been having fun. Roll on May, eh?

 

Some Blade Runner 2 Trivia

Blade Runner 2 is now scheduled for release October 2017 (bumped up from its original January 2018 slot) so we really are closing in on something that was once either incredibly unlikely or even impossible. Just to make things a little weirder, Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Alien: Covenant, is due out in August 2017. Its enough to freak me out.

Here’s something interesting I stumbled upon whilst looking up the latest Denis Villeneuve/ Blade Runner 2 news on the ‘net and trying to avoid the clickbait. Someone on the IMDB message-board was asking what’s the longest stretch of time between a film and a sequel being made. Blade Runner was released in 1982, and the (untitled) Blade Runner 2 film is set for 2017, which is a gap of 35 years. Some examples of other long gaps the poster mentioned are The Hustler (1961) and The Colour of Money (1986) = 25 years,  Psycho (1960) and  Psycho II (1983) = 23 years, The Godfather Part II (1974) and  The Godfather Part III (1990) = 16 years.

There are likely other examples, but a responding poster noted there is a Brazilian horror -film franchise with a longer gap;  This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse (1967)/ Embodiment of Evil (2008).  But I think there may be a case for Blade Runner taking the prize for a Hollywood film series. One I can think of is The Odd Couple (1968) and The Odd Couple II (1998) which is close at 30 years, but still short of the Blade Runner gap. Maybe someone reading this will be able to think of something obvious that I’ve missed.

Blade Runner 2 is scheduled to start filming next month (I’ve read it starts shooting in Budapest but don’t know how true that is, like everything else, much about this film -including its proper title- is a mystery). But yeah, we do know it starts shooting in July. The more I think about that… its really weird. I guess all the design work is done, the sets are being built now, costumes are getting ready… it messes with your head, thinking about it. Imagine what it will be like when the first set photos get released or the first teaser trailer in six months. I guess it won’t be long before some of the secrecy gets lifted a little, at the moment it feels like the lull before the storm. Anything is possible right now.

On the whole  everything seems promising, and as someone who was critical of a sequel at first, I’m currently quite looking forward to it. Up to now everything I have read about it seems positive. News has been scant about the film other than updates on the cast, which is looking as impressive as the film’s backroom talent – Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright were confirmed awhile ago, but more recently Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre) and Mackenzie Davis (The Martian) have been added to the roster, as well as some names less familiar to me- Carla Juri, Sylvia Hoeks and Ana de Armas, which already indicates the film has more women’s roles than the first film featured. God only knows what that means.  But Mackenzie Davis in the picture below looking very Pris-like is an unnerving coincidence…

Mackenzie Davies, looking rather like Pris here...

Funnily enough Denis Villeneuve has another film due out this year, and it’s a sci-fi film too- Story Of Your Life is based on an acclaimed short story of the same name by Ted Chiang (note there is a rumour going around that the film’s title has now changed to Arrival).  The film stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker, and concerns aliens arriving on Earth and the military recruiting an expert linguist to determine whether the aliens come in peace or are a threat. I’ve avoided reading the original story so know little more than that, other than its serious science-fiction inferring the film is firmly in the CE3K camp of First Contact rather than that of  Independance Day. In anycase, its Villeneuve’s first genre entry and so will be very interesting to see prior to his Blade Runner 2.

Of course one of the questions fans have about the new film concerns the music and whether Vangelis will be involved, and this has yet to be resolved. I rather suspect Vangelis won’t be composing the films score. Villeneuve usually has Johann Johannsson composing the scores for his films and I expect the same to apply here- which is good, as having a creative team familiar with each other always bodes well for a project. Nothing has been announced yet, but Johannson stated “Back in the studio working on a very special project to come in the next year.” on Facebook which has his fans already wondering, but he has signed a new album deal so it is likely something for that or some other film project. It certainly feels too soon for work on the Blade Runner 2 score, unless he is preparing some source music for on-set use (i.e. background music for in a bar or something). Who knows?