The fire of the Gods burns disturbingly bright in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus
There is a certain moment in Ridley Scott’s sci-horror classic Alien when Sigourney Weaver and the crew of the Nostromo set down on a seemingly uninhabited planetary body known as LV-426. They do so in response to what seems to be a distress signal, echoing through the mysterious and unfeeling fabric of the universe that surrounds them. The source, they discover, is a derelict spacecraft, obviously once piloted by a strange (and strangely massive) extraterrestrial entity. Rotting away in what appears to be the cockpit of the vessel, its lifeless elephantine face stares forth into nothingness, the only clue to its demise being a gaping hole in its biomechanical chest. It is not long after this event that a certain member of the Nostromo crew happens upon the ship’s cargo: a series of grotesquely formed eggs, preserved in an energy field for what may have been centuries. It is through this scene that a terrifying parasitic lifeform is born; it also represents the birth of an entire cinematic franchise, one that continues to inspire love, revulsion, and tireless controversy to this very moment.
“Why was there a downed spacecraft on LV-426? How did it get there? Where did it come from? What was up with that weirdo alien and its monstrous cargo? Why didn’t this “prequel” just feed me the answers with a sizeable spoon!?”
Contrary to what is already unfortunately becoming popular belief, many of the answers to these endlessly debated mysteries are indeed present in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. I, for one, would consider it wise to ignore select reviewers and the so-called “Alien fans” currently trolling the numerous forums and message boards in the bowels of the internet, as this bizarrely conceived prequel of sorts is anything but the wayward disappointment they would like you to believe it to be. No different at heart than the 1979 film that inspired it, the beauty of this mythological addition to the Alien universe and why it works as well as it does is how it gradually sheds light on the mysteries of its fictional universe as it actively engages in establishing new ones. It is, in equal measure, its own separate beast, having far more on its mind than xenomorphic monsters and towering space jockeys.
A spectacle-filled science fiction odyssey. A revolting horror film. An epic philosophical think piece. An obvious prequel that just really isn’t. Conceptually speaking, Prometheus is all over the cosmos instead of the map; it’s the cinematic equivalent of a mental patient, albeit one obsessed with spiritualism, ancient alien doctrine, and the practical application of certain Greek metaphors. Citing the movie as ‘weird’ might be the understatement of the new millennium, which is, weirdly, why it succeeds so admirably despite itself. In a time when the History Channel has become less about history and far more about increasing its ratings through valueless programming, it’s easy to see why the subject matter of a show like Ancient Aliens has become a cultural laughing stock; what is far more difficult to comprehend is how Ridley Scott, along with screenwriters John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, somehow manage to lend the entire concept a peculiar validity.
The opening scene of Prometheus is perhaps the perfect cinematic expression of this celestial belief. The camera casually sweeps over what appears to be a vast and seemingly barren primordial landscape. A river leads to a series of jagged cliffs, where wanders a thing that has no earthly business being there. Hairless, muscular, and marble-colored from head to toe, its physical features are immediately recognizable, however inhuman it obviously is. What transpires practically amounts to that of a dogmatic ritual as the gigantic being consumes a mysterious black substance and collapses into a waterfall, rapidly disintegrating along the way. It is the very moment when all life began, and when all things civilized became the inevitability.
And so it eventually occurs. Through a jump cut more expansive in its time-hopping than Kubrick’s 2001, the audience lands on a Scottish isle in 2089, where youthful archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her breezily good-looking boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are in the process of unearthing an incredible find. Sketched on a cave wall and completely preserved for many a century, they discover what appears to be an ancient star map, along with the depiction of a somewhat recognizable humanlike figure. It turns out that the two have actually found many similar drawings in different parts of the world, which, of course, leads them to a staggering conclusion about the possible origin of the human species.
Cut forward again to 2093. Dr. Shaw, her boyfriend, and a diverse assembly of crew members are en route to an unexplored moon in the Zeta Reticuli system, categorically known as LV-223. Their apparent mission: to discover the astronomical source of the various star maps and the mythological beings that created them. A technological business tycoon known as Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has funded the expedition, and you’re on the right track if that name sounds eerily familiar. While the crew slumbers away in a state of hypersleep, the ship’s quarters are attended to by David (Michael Fassbender), a protocol android developed by Weyland to carry out whatever directives necessity calls for. Whether he’s monitoring dreams or obsessively watching Lawrence of Arabia or casually making a series of impossible basketball shots, there is an immediate sense that David may be more human than he chooses to let on. David is an 8th generation model, a synthetic “Weyland Type”; what ultimately matters is just how much of his creator he has flowing within him.
The essence of humanity in that which is patently inhuman is an ongoing theme in Ridley Scott’s science fiction universe, his 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner forever serving as the gilded rulebook on how to approach the matter cinematically. The presence of David in Prometheus adds to the richness of the film’s most consistently layered theme: the relationship between creations and their questionably superior creators. It is an issue that the unabashedly religious Elizabeth Shaw and her crew ultimately have little choice but to confront, as the Gods of old may not be the paradigms of advancement mankind would surely prefer them to be.
However dark and unsettling their actual journey, Shaw and her crew at least have the benefit a beautiful production to wander through. From the immersive set design to the atmospheric cinematography to the frighteningly realistic visual effects, the film is a veritable feast for the senses, its technical mastery on par with nearly every other aspect of its unconventional storytelling. It’s practically become a trend to see old masters of filmmaking attempt to return to a former glory with diminishing results. Spielberg nuked the Indiana Jones franchise like a certain busted-out refrigerator. Cameron did a space age remake of Dances With Wolves with a cast of Saturday morning cartoons. Lucas effectively reduced Star Wars to little more than a bloated marketing gimmick. Ridley Scott, however, returns to science fiction after a 30-year hiatus and makes the epic, disturbingly brilliant wonder at hand. An ambitious failure, or so Prometheus’s detractors would say. One of the most visionary films of the year, I’d say.
Martin (Willem Dafoe) sets his sights on capturing one of Australia’s most elusive mysteries in The Hunter
What is it about the modern Australian filmmaking community that they have produced several of the most engaging and masterful works of cinema of the last several years? First there was The Proposition in 2006, director John Hillcoat’s filthy and unapologetically brutal attempt at demythologizing the Western genre through the lens of 19th century Australian history. Then there was David Michod’s Animal Kingdom, which unerringly proved that an American like Scorsese wasn’t the only one who could pull off a powerful gangster picture. It seems only proper to add Daniel Nettheim’s The Hunter to their ranks, yet another example of this recent wave of Aussie cinema in favor of concerns and cultural ideas.
Even non-Australians have likely heard mention of the Thylacines of Tasmania at some point in their lives. More commonly referred to as Tasmanian Tigers, these strange marsupial creatures were reportedly hunted to extinction around the turn of the 20th Century, though the occasional eyewitness account suggests that small breeding pockets may still exist in the far-flung reaches of Tasmania’s primordial wilderness.
And that is exactly what Martin David will be paid to deliver. Hired by a shady biomedical company known as Red Leaf, he travels beyond the borders of Tasmanian civilization, masquerading as a biologist from a university just distant enough to avoid any potentially complicating inquiries. His true mission: To secretly hunt down and collect biological samples from what could be the last living Thylacine. He possesses no feelings or opinions about the animal, his situation, or the questionable intentions of his shadowy employers. Such is the eccentric mercenary’s disposition, the glimmers of his true personality only surfacing when he delights in a bath, listening to an iPod brimming with classical music.
Martin decides to take up temporary residence at the home of Lucy (Frances O’Connor), a single mother of two whose husband disappeared in the Tasmanian wilderness surrounding their home under mysterious circumstances. Her children take an immediate shine to Martin; He inadvertently strikes a connection with her son Bike (Finn Woodlock) while repairing the family’s electricity generator, while her daughter Sass (Morgana Davies) seems altogether comfortable practicing the use of adult language around him. Lucy is bed-ridden more than half the time as a result of a prescription drug addiction, leaving Martin with a certain degree of unwanted patriarchal responsibility.
His newfound fatherly duties, of course, are hardly a part of Red Leaf’s contract with the hardened mercenary, and the locals begin to grow just as suspicious of Martin as the company he periodically reports to. He gradually arouses the distrust of Lucy’s friend Jack (Sam Neill), not to mention that of a group of paranoid loggers, who believe him to be involved with an environmentalist movement threatening their livelihoods.
Such local concerns mean little to Martin, and they mean even less when he ventures into the most ancient parts of the surrounding landscape. Cinematographer Robert Humphreys captures the hallucinatory beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness with utmost skill and artistic precision. Whether Martin is setting a trap or coating himself in feces or killing wallabies for their scent glands, every action he takes is in service to obtaining his elusive zoological prize, and Humphreys’ extraordinary visuals complement the proceedings in the most imaginative and meaningful of ways. The very environment is as primal and mysterious as the character himself; perhaps only in a place such as this would a man like Martin ever entertain the idea of personal introspection.
I’ve always been opposed to giving away too much when writing about a film, and will therefore only admit that the outcome of this one is anything but simplistic or unsatisfying. Despite several understandable changes made to the original ending of Julia Leigh’s novel on which the film is based, the conclusion is as cathartic and thought-provoking as anything I’ve seen in recent years. Serving also as screenwriter, director Nettheim clearly understood the right method behind this story’s subtle and unspeakable madness. It is a work of intelligence and layered humanism, a triumph of complexity over coffeehouse intellectualism and corporate pretension. Hollywood take note: THIS is how you deliver a socio-ecological message.
I cannot imagine an accurate scenario involving an audience member walking away from Warrior and attempting to classify it in conversation as anything other than a Hollywood sports drama. It is therefore a testament to one Gavin O’Connor, serving here as both director and co-screenwriter, that this latest example easily ranks alongside the very best of its genre. Here is a film both brutal and tender, one which runs with its clichés and sentimental put-ons only to trade them in for powerful dosages of human authenticity. It proudly displays its cinematic heritage on its sleeve. It delights more frequently in hammering it into submission.
There’s a middle class underdog in the form of Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), his brutish, deeply pained sibling Tommy (Tom Hardy), and a redemption-seeking father who goes by the name of Paddy (Nick Nolte). Brendan is a former fighter-turned-physics teacher, married with children and desperately looking for the right kind of paycheck to keep his home from being foreclosed upon. Tommy is a former fighter-turned-Marine who returns stateside from Iraq under mysterious circumstances, also looking for the right kind of paycheck for other understandably personal reasons. Paddy is a former trainer-turned-recovering alcoholic, weathered and lonesome due to many years of hard living and looking to reconnect with the two sons that despise him. There also happens to be a heavily televised mixed martial arts tournament known as Sparta that promises a cool $5 million to the last man standing.
Go right ahead and calculate the math if Warrior’s equations seem hopelessly familiar. The real surprise of O’Connor’s rough-and-tumble tale is how purely, effectively, and affectingly it transcends its various tropes and seen-it-before plot mechanisms, rising to levels of depth and character complexity that few films of this type ever attempt. There is simply never a moment over the course of Warrior’s 2 ½ hour running time when the performances seem less than convincing, or for that matter less than award-worthy. The thoroughly British Hardy is virtually impossible in his all-American transformation into Tommy, whose barely contained ire and seething estrangement are ultimately shown to belie a sensitive, tragically arrested nature. The relatively unknown Edgerton emerges as a natural, while Nolte reminds the whole bloody lot of us exactly why he should never be ruled out when it comes to accomplishing so very much with what essentially amounts to so little.
O’Connor’s direction often matches the exceptional talent and believability of his cast pound for pound. The film is quiet and stately when it’s called for, viscerally devastating when it needs to be, utterly vitalizing when it wants to be. Its PG-13 rating practically seems like a hard-earned trick; the unflinching brutality of mixed martial arts is never sugarcoated or watered down or presented to be anything less than what it actually is, and neither is the adult nature of the film’s drama. Everything culminates in a showdown involving Tommy and Brendan squaring off against one another in the Octagon for the $5 million purse. O’Connor and his cast push this final sequence well beyond that which has generally come to be expected of an underdog-themed sports picture, the repeated violence no more than the means to a greater and more complex dramatic conclusion.
There will inevitably be those who will decry Warrior’s seeming conventions and unapologetically emotional storyline. I would simply advise them to take a closer look at its blood, sweat, and blistering tears. It is tradition well done that equally doesn’t care for the traditional, an absolute crowd-pleaser that isn’t afraid to be shattering and substantive. It is one of the most satisfying examples of pure Hollywood filmmaking I’ve seen this year. Perhaps it is also of 2011’s greatest.
There isn’t exactly a universe of things to say about…the trailer for THE THING. See, the thing about this prequel to THE THING…is that there are too many things to mention. One thing in particular…Oh Hellfire Club, I QUIT! Just watch the bloody trailer already!
Marvel Studios hit a surprising home run last June with the release of Matthew Vaughn’s X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, a new take on the classic superhero saga that seemed all but doomed to the acrid realm of cinematic failure. With a previous origin story centering on the legendary character Wolverine that completely failed to deliver in any likeable, memorable or defensible way, those of us without a taste for the traumatic held our collective gasps at the very thought of another useless X-themed picture, and I don’t mean one featuring Sasha Grey performing a series of particularly naughty sex acts. Could the cast pull it off? How could it possibly work? Would the rest of the world ultimately learn that the auditorium lights at the end of the initial screening steadily undimmed, only to reveal the twisted corpses of many a suicidal comic book geek?
The answer to the previous question ended up being a ‘no’. An epic, resounding, canyon-shattering NO. Even the vast majority of major critics had no choice but to yield to the film’s strange and unexpected level of excellence; for all its drama, spectacle, and clever historical ambitions, FIRST CLASS is a superhero/comic picture that bears little to no semblance to any other, and that meant in the most complimentary way imaginable.
If you somehow missed FIRST CLASS during its tragically brief stay at your local theater, then don’t fret: the DVD/BluRay will be released on September 9th, which is Friday as of this writing. I can’t readily recall when a major studio picture such as this one was released for home viewing purposes on any other day but Tuesday during a non-holiday period. The supplementary material is reportedly quite entertaining; those who may have at some point fantasized about seeing Michael Fassbender in the drabbest of drag will certainly not be disappointed.
Welcome to the questionably inimitable blog site of me, Brandon Rutledge. Here you will find a whole assortment of posts involving a vast array of subject matter, from fire ants to film criticism. Well, maybe not fire ants. I have little doubt, dear reader, that you will snoop around for a while and get the idea. Enjoy.