Archive for the Alien Worlds Category

AFTER EARTH (2013)

Posted in 2013, Alien Worlds, Coming of Age Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Monsters, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , on June 25, 2013 by knifefighter

AFTER EARTH (2013)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane

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I have to admit I was pretty surprised to discover AFTER EARTH (2013) hadn’t yet been reviewed by our illustrious staff here at Cinema Knife Fight. They must have assumed that I’d eventually break my writing silence and review it, seeing as how I’m one of the remnant of M. Night Shyamalan fans. Yes, many of you might be surprised that AFTER EARTH is more than just a Will Smith (I AM LEGEND, 2007, INDEPENDANCE DAY , 1996) vehicle. The film is written and directed by one of my favorite directors, who created some of my favorite  horror/sci-fi films, including THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and SIGNS (2002), but after a series of underwhelming (to the general audience) films like DEVIL (2010) and THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010), the marketing department for  his newest film decided that his name not only doesn’t sell tickets, it might hurt, at least until he can build up a resume of new hits under his belt.

Although I enjoyed AFTER EARTH sometimes for reasons other than its predictable plot (the primary being I watched  it with my son Andrew who’s getting ready to head out to the Big City to find his way through the perils of corporate life), overall I was sadly underwhelmed by the movie. But it’s a great father/son bonding film. It’s sweet in some ways, as well.

But, as far as plot development and the overall script, I’m afraid the film is lacking on many levels.

I did say M Night Shyamalan is my favorite director, and he is. In fact I’d go as far as to say he’s one of the best. That being said, he is by far not the best screenwriters in the business. I will make one assumption based on the “Story by Will Smith” which scrolled across the screen at the end: perhaps Smith did more than come up with the overall story and actually wrote the bulk of the script, then had Shyamalan clean it up and make it look pretty. But if that’s the case Shyamalan should have told Smith the story was weak. Actually, the main issue was more that it was predictable. I knew (as did Andrew and most of the folks in the theater) what would happen in the climactic scene. Everything in the opening scenes existed only to point to this, and not nearly as subtly as THE SIXTH SENSE.

During a very hurried opening scene we learn that something bad happened to the earth ecologically, things went from bad to worse and the human race had to leave the planet to survive (in this way it opened much like this years OBLIVION, minus the invasion). Our technology had advanced enough (we assume) that we could settle on a remote system’s star using warp technology and now live on a decent planet with very little vegetation, red rocks, and cliffs. Very, well, Red Rocks-ish. Now, there was some other point about an alien race that did not like us, and decided to wipe us out by genetically engineering these man (and woman) eating monsters called Ursas which are blind (OK, so not the brightest aliens), but instead track humans through fear. The explanation for this worked OK, so let’s go with it. Over time, a number of human soldiers learned to master the art of fearlessness—feeling no fear, at all, and thus becoming invisible to the monsters. They began to teach others this technique while using this new blind spot to begin wiping the creatures out. They still exist, in limited numbers. It is never explained if more are being made or bred, or where the aliens are now…. again, the opening recap was pretty quick and hard to follow.

Oh, Will Smith’s character Cypher was one of the first to master this ability of feeling no fear after a near death experience. He’s a General now, a “war” hero and loved by many. He also seems to have carried his lack of fear into other personalities, like love and affection. Not that he doesn’t love his family, he just acts a bit stiff around, well everyone, including his son.

This is an interesting trademark of most Shyamalan films. His leading man is always played to near-stiff perfection. Bruce Willis’s character both in THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE (2000) never smiled and spoke quietly, in an almost monotone manner. Mel Gibson’s fallen priest in SIGNS, though obviously a little depressed, had deadpan expressions most of the way through (as did his brother played by Joaquin Phoenix… however that name’s spelled), and walked around with his arms limp at his side like they were  bound. I remember distinctly watching SIGNS (and loving it, by the way) and thinking that someday Shyamalan would have to cast William Hurt because the man is known for his deadpan, even-handed approach to leading-man-ishness (enter M’s next film, THE VILLAGE, 2004, starring Mister Hurt himself). So, seeing the usually animated Will Smith playing a quiet, introspective, emotionally-repressed father in AFTER EARTH came as no surprise.

Let’s give credit where it’s due to Smith and his son Jaden, who plays Cypher’s son Kitai. I think they both did a tremendous job with the roles they were assigned. Jaden played a whiny, needy teenaged boy, and did it well. I’ve seen him in the remake of the KARATE KID (2010) and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006) when he was younger and I know the kid can act. The problem with his character is they really pushed the “fearful child” angle (and his father feels no fear now, giving us the father/son angst angle, replacing sports or overachieving). Will Smith plays his quiet, brooding father well, keeping his cool but loving his son dearly. Cypher battles a slowly growing sudden fear —of his own death, but mostly his sons—as the movie progresses, mostly through cracks in his expressions and delayed stares. I know people have said his acting was wooden and stilted, but I disagree. For the part he and Shyamalan gave him, he did very good.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is neither original nor interesting enough to take such talent and make it truly shine. Smith’s Cypher takes his son with him on a routine transfer of a captured Ursa (one of the monsters) to some moon station where his men can practice not being afraid (and thus being invisible). An asteroid shower causes damage to the hull and after jumping into a worm hole to escape the asteroid, they end up outside of Earth (somehow, some preset location, the closest habitable planet?) but are too damaged to turn back. The ship breaks up on entry into the atmosphere. The crew is all killed, except for Smith & Smith. And the captured monster, which escapes and is seen no more (until, as you all have guessed, the climactic scene of the film).

Smith, Sr. is injured, resulting in Smith, Jr. needing to travel alone through some beautiful, lush terrain to reach the tail section of the ship to retrieve a homing beacon. The Earth they are marooned on is no longer destroyed, in fact it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with it. There were earlier comments before crashing that everything on the planet has adapted itself to be fatal to humans, a way for a dying Earth to rid itself of its biggest threat. My son Andrew had a good point, maybe AFTER EARTH was a sequel to THE HAPPENING (2008) where nature decides to kill humans by making them kill themselves. Maybe. However, there really wasn’t any of this fatal-to-humans stuff, except for some slugs which secrete a poison, and extremely cold temperatures at night. The rest are natural predators like baboons (in a pack or solo they can be dangerous, and Smith, Jr. threatens them), and lions.

Smith, Sr. is able to follow Jr. and act as his guide via a comm-link along this adventure, much like a Dad can be a mentor and guide for his son off to college or moving to the Big City via Skype or cell phone. As they move along there is the requisite bonding that takes place. Not as much as I expected, at least they made the Dad change only a little—they’re on the planet for a couple days max as it is. Complications happen, but I never felt too worried for the characters because everything was happening too by-the-numbers for my taste, the threats simply not threatening enough. One “danger” Smith, Jr. faced even ends up being a mode of rescue later. This particular detail I expected early on, but how it was done I thought was kind of cool, as kitschy as some people might possibly think it is executed.

So in the end, I’m saddened that my favorite director guy M Night Shyamalan made a movie I was less than impressed with (alongside DEVIL and the second half of THE LADY IN THE WATER, 2006). But there were some positive experiences in the movie—Smith Sr.’s acting, as understated as it was, and good visuals (alongside some iffy CGI moments, such as when Smith, Jr.’s flashbacks to how his sister died at the hands/claw of an Ursa in their home). Overall I think the director should stick to what he does so well, direct, and leave the writing to people who do that well (and as much as I really enjoy almost everything Will Smith is in, I think he should be kept away from the typewriter, too, if this is the result). Or at least, someone tell him what’s wrong before it goes any further than the screenplay. I’d hate to think someone of Shyamalan’s caliber doesn’t listen to honest criticism. Maybe Smith doesn’t. If it’s been done too many times before, if it’s predictable, someone should have spotted this and corrected it, not just rushed it to the distributor because of the star power, or marketing’s need to get it in print by Father’s Day.

It is a good movie to see with your boys, though, for a belated Father’s Day present..

So, reluctantly, I give my buddy M Night Shyamalan’s newest film one of two possible ratings:

As a standalone science fiction film with a large budget, major movie stars and directed by MNS: 2 out of 5 Father Figures.

As a movie—to rent—and watch with your kids, make it 2.5

That’s about it. Nice to be back here in these fine pages, and special congrats to our fearless leader, L.L. Soares, for taking home the Superior Achievement in a First Novel Stoker for his very original debut, LIFE RAGE. Nice job, my friend. You earned it.

© Copyright 2013 by Daniel G. Keohane

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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MAN OF STEEL (2013)By Michael Arruda

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, DC Comics, Michael Arruda Reviews, Reboots, Superheroes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 17, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MAN OF STEEL (2013)|
By Michael Arruda

Man-of-Steel-poster2-610x904(THE SCENE: A diner.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits at the counter sipping coffee talking to a group of patrons about MAN OF STEEL.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Well, at least Russell Crowe doesn’t sing!

Normally I’d be meeting my Cinema Knife Fight partner L.L. Soares to co-review today’s movie with him, but he’s off winning himself a Stoker Award, so it looks like I’m doing this one solo.

If you folks would like to listen, I’ll review today’s movie, MAN OF STEEL (2013) right now.

(To WAITRESS)  Everyone’s breakfast is on me.  (The group utters a collective “thank you.”)  Don’t mention it.  I’ll put it on L.L.’s tab.  (laughs.)

Anyway, MAN OF STEEL is the new reimagining of the Superman story by director Zach Snyder, screenwriter David S. Goyer, and producer Christopher Nolan, who also received story credit.

It begins where all Superman origin stories begin, on the planet Krypton.  It’s a familiar story by now.  Krypton is dying, and Jor-El (Russell Crowe) is trying to convince his elders that they need to save the planet.  It’s a much more action-oriented opening than past Superman origin tales, as General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup to take over the land, and Jor-El, while a scientist, seems to have gone to the “kick-ass” school of science, as he’s quite adept at kicking butt when he needs to.

You already know what happens, as Jor-El and his wife send their infant son Kal-El to Earth before Krypton is destroyed, while Zod and his followers are arrested and sentenced to prison in deep space, thus sparing them from Krypton’s destruction.

The next time we see Kal-El, he’s already an adult, going by his Earth name Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) having been found and adopted as an infant by Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane).  Fortunately, the story jumps around and we learn about Clark’s childhood via flashback, and so we’re spared the time it would normally take to explain the traditional back story, which again, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know.

But even with the creative spin put on the story this time around, there’s still no getting past the fact  that the Superman tale has been told many many times, in the comics, in the movies, on TV, and even in cartoons.  Can’t we just throw Superman into a new adventure and skip the back story?

I recognize that in this case, the whole idea was to reimagine the story, to reboot the whole thing, and screenwriter David S. Goyer does deserve credit for telling this tale from a totally new perspective, but the bottom line is it’s not enough to overcome the fact that MAN OF STEEL has little or no depth when it comes to its characters and its plot.

There were parts of the screenplay that I really enjoyed.  Lois Lane (Amy Adams), for example, meets Clark before he even thinks about joining the Daily Planet.  She also learns right away that he possesses superhuman powers.  I also liked how the story utilized flashback. But one drawback to this style is the film never really establishes a sense of place.  We never get a feel for life on the Kent farm, which is fine by me, but we also never get a feel for life in Metropolis, which is less fine by me.  The story hops around all over the place, and it plays like a video game landscape.

Moving on to the characters, I enjoyed the General Zod character up to a point.  The story makes it clear what his mission is.  Right or wrong, he’s all about saving Krypton, and if it means destroying the human population of earth in the process, then so be it.  I also really enjoyed Michael Shannon in the role.  He makes a very cold General Zod.

(GENERAL ZOD approaches the counter)

ZOD:  Glad to hear I was so enjoyable.

MA: But on the flip side, Shannon’s Zod is no fun.  Compared to Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Zod in SUPERMAN II (1980), Shannon’s Zod is a bore with no personality.  This is a problem the film has as well.  It’s got no personality.  There’s no joy to it. It’s soulless.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

Russell Crowe as Jor-El.

ZOD:  That I’m not glad to hear.  I shall have to destroy you now.

MA:  Can you at least wait until after the review? I really would like to finish this.  If you stay and listen, you might hear some more good things said about you.

ZOD:  Really?  Okay.

MA:  Where was I?  Oh, yes.  MAN OF STEEL has no camp, little humor, and ultimately it’s no fun.

ZOD:  I don’t know how to take that. Is that good or bad?

MA: Well, if you’re evil, that’s probably good.

ZOD:  Okay.

MA:  I know they were going for a darker film, but this style worked better in THE DARK KNIGHT movies because Batman tends to be a darker character than Superman.

Russell Crowe fares very well as Jor-El. In fact, in his brief screen time, he was one of my favorite characters in the movie.  He’s a much more active Jor-El than Marlon Brando was in the first Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN film (1978).  It’s actually a superb performance by Crowe, who in a role like this, could have easily mailed it in, but he didn’t.

Superman meets Lois Lane....again!

Superman meets Lois Lane….again!

I’ve become a huge Amy Adams fan of late, and I really enjoyed her here as Lois Lane.    She’s strong, smart, and feisty, not to mention sexy, but one drawback is I didn’t think she and Henry Cavill shared much chemistry as Lois and Clark.

And that’s because Henry Cavill doesn’t generate much chemistry at all in this one.

ZOD:  He’s a wuss.

MA:  Quiet.  I’m reviewing the movie, not you.

ZOD: How dare you hush Zod!

MA: He’s not the most engaging Superman ever to grace the screen. Yet, I have to believe, judging by the way this movie plays out, that he portrays Superman here exactly the way he was supposed to.  But there’s something lacking.  He doesn’t have much of a personality.  He’s not the goodie-goodie Christopher Reeve Superman, but don’t expect a dark brooding superhero either.  He’s not Christian Bale in a red cape.  And that certainly is a problem.  One of the strengths, for example, of the recent Marvel superhero movies is their superheroes are so full of personality.  Cavill’s Superman is kinda boring.

ZOD:  Zod is much more interesting.

MA:  Kevin Costner enjoys some fine moments in his brief stint as Jonathan Kent, and Diane Lane is also memorable as Martha Kent.  Laurence Fishburne makes for a less cranky Perry White, but the rest of the new characters, military types and scientists, are all largely forgettable.

The biggest problem I had with MAN OF STEEL is it suffers from the video game syndromeit has that look of a video-game turned into a movie, and it contains long drawn out battle scenes that bored me to tears.  For all its creativity with its story, MAN OF STEEL lacks grandness and cinematic vision.  There’s no sweeping cinema here.  It’s just CGI effects, and none of them stand out.

ZOD:  I like long drawn out battle scenes!  I could watch them all day!

MA:  Well, I can’t.

The reaction I had to MAN OF STEEL was similar to the reaction I had with STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013).  I liked it, but I didn’t love it. There’s just so much going on in both films, you just want things to slow down a bit so you can get to know the characters more. Once the audience gets to know the characters in a movie, and if they like these characters, then they’ll follow them anywhere.  But we have to get to know them first.

Give the characters some depth, and then we will enjoy the action.

Director Zach Snyder inundates us with special effects, none of which really wowed me.  I wish he had spent more time on characterizations and plot.

I don’t really feel as if I knew Superman in this movie.  He’s upset at a young age that he’s different, and later as an adult he goes off in search of his heritage.  Once he learns the truth about his past, he goes off to fulfill his destiny.  Along the way, does he like Lois Lane?  Obviously, the answer is yes, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie.  More effort should have been made to define this new Superman, because right now, he’s not all that exciting.

WOMAN: But he’s so hot!

MA:  Okay, I’ll give you that.  But I think Amy Adams is hot, too, but sex appeal isn’t enough to make a successful movie.

WOMAN:  I think it is!

MA:  Well, I’m sure you’re not alone in that opinion.  But I need more.

One thing I don’t need, however, is more 3D.  I didn’t see MAN OF STEEL in 3D, as I’m sick and tired of shelling out the extra money.

MAN OF STEEL is not as good as THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), THE AVENGERS (2012), or IRON MAN (2008), nor is it up to par with SUPERMAN (1978) with Christopher Reeve.

I wasn’t a big fan of the previous Superman movie, SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and I’m not a big fan of this new one.

MAN OF STEEL is ultimately about trust.  Can Superman earn the trust of the world, or specifically in this movie, of the American government?  It’s also about General Zod attacking Earth so he can conquer the planet and reestablish the Kryptonian race.  Neither one of these two plot points did much for me.

Michael Shannon as General Zod!

Michael Shannon as General Zod!

I think Superman is a hard sell nowadays anyway because, one, his story is so familiar, and two, he’s so powerful it’s difficult to write interesting stories about him.  If you really wanted to make Superman darker, he should have gotten involved in some predicament that troubled his conscience or something.  About the only thing troubling Superman in MAN OF STEEL is whether or not the U.S. military thinks he’s good guy or not.

I wasn’t impressed.

I give it two and a half knives.

ZOD:  Are you done?

MA:  Yes.

ZOD:  Then it’s time for me to destroy you.

MA:  Wouldn’t you rather ask one of these fine young ladies out on a date?

ZOD:  Huh?  Do you really think they’d go out with me?

MA:  You’re Zod!  A great general!  Of course they’d go out with you!

ZOD (blushing):  Well, in that case—. (Turns to women next to him)

MA:  Okay, while Zod is busy with his new dating reality show, I’ll slip out the back door so I can be around to review next week’s movie.

Thanks for joining me, everybody!

ZOD (to WOMAN):  Did anyone ever tell you you’re the most beautiful woman to ever belong to an inferior race?  (She rolls her eyes and turns away)  What?  Was it something I said?

—END—-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives MAN OF STEEL ~ two and a half knives!

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STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Alien Worlds, Based on TV Show, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, JJ Abrams, Plot Twists, Science Fiction, Space, The Future with tags , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

0506100402startrekintodarkness (THE SCENE: The vastness of space. Drifting among the stars, we see the space ship the U.S.S. Enterprise. Camera moves in closer, and then we find ourselves on the bridge. L.L. SOARES is dressed in a gold shirt, sitting at the control chair, while MICHAEL ARRUDA stands nearby, wearing a blue shirt and pointy rubber ears)

LS: Engines full thrust. We have to get to Jupiter by dinnertime.

MA: Flying a starship in search of food is highly illogical.

LS:  Hey!  Stop taking your role too seriously!

MA:  Well, perhaps if I were playing Captain Kirk right now, and you were Mr. Spock, you could handle things differently.

LS:  No way.  I should be Kirk.  I’m the captain. Stop whining, Spock. You’re supposed to be cold and logical.

MA:  It’s illogical to assume that you would play the captain and I the first officer based on—.

LS:  There you go again! Stop with the logic crap!

MR. SULU: Gentlemen, can you please stop your bickering and review the new STAR TREK movie already?

MA: Sure. Why don’t you start us off, Captain.

LS: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is the new movie in the Star Trek franchise by director J.J. Abrams, who gave us such previous films as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) and SUPER 8 (2011), as well as television shows like ALIAS and LOST.

His previous Trek film, simply called STAR TREK (2009), was something of a calculated risk. By rebooting the original series with a new generation of actors, Abrams somehow was able to give us a movie that could please both original fans and people who were new to the franchise. While it had its flaws, I thought Abrams’ STAR TREK was a pleasant surprise, and the casting of younger actors to play these characters was pretty good.

MA:  I agree.  As a fan of the original series—the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, and company remains my favorite—I had my doubts about the 2009 film, but it was just good enough for me to put aside my affection  for the 1960s TV show and buy into what J.J. Abrams was selling.

I liked the alternate universe idea in that film very much, in that it allowed Abrams to basically play with the characters and stories in a way that would be refreshing and new, and hardcore fans wouldn’t be able to complain about things being “changed” since in this parallel universe things are expected to be changed.

It was a brilliant plot device, and Abrams uses it to full effect here in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS.

LS:  In this first sequel by Abrams, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS brings back Chris Pine as Starfleet Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the character made famous by William Shatner in the original Trek series in the 1960s, and Zachary Quinto as his First Officer Mr. Spock, the role originally made famous by Leonard Nimoy.

MA:  And once again, they are both excellent in these roles, which is a key reason I’ve enjoyed these new STAR TREK movies.  The cast, especially Pine and Quinto, is very good.

LS:  The new movie starts with a bang as Kirk and his ship’s doctor, “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are running through an alien red forest, being pursued by eerie, white-painted primitives, as an active volcano is on the verge of erupting them in the background.

MA:  Great opening scene.  A rousing way to start the movie.

LS:  They are there to prevent the volcano from killing all life on the planet, and giving the inhabitants a second chance to advance as a species. During this cultural rescue mission, however, Kirk has to make a desperate decision when Spock’s life is put in danger, and makes a choice that puts him in hot water with his superiors back on Earth. As a result, Kirk and Spock are both demoted, and Kirk is “relieved of duty” as captain of the Enterprise.

But, as any fan of the series knows, this won’t last long. And while Kirk accompanies the  Enterprise’s new captain (and the guy who was in charge of it before him), Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood), to a meeting of Starfleet elite, they are attacked by a man in a small, but heavily-armed ship, which results in several casualties. Kirk is called upon to hunt the murderer down, and in the process gets reinstated as Captain of the Enterprise (and Spock is reinstated as his First Officer).

Along for the ride are the usual cast of characters, including Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana from AVATAR, 2009) , who is also Spock’s girlfriend; Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg from SHAUN OF THE DEAD, 2004), John Cho (Harold from the HAROLD AND KUMAR movies) as Mr. Sulu, and Anton Yelchin as Russian crewmember Chekov (Yelchin was also in movies like the FRIGHT NIGHT remake from 2011, that you liked a lot, Michael, and TERMINATOR SALVATION, 2009). There’s also a new crew member, Carol (Alice Eve) who looks great in her underwear and who just happens to be the daughter of Commander Marcus (Peter Weller, ROBOCOP himself back in 1987), the man who sent Kirk and his crew out to get the murderous bad guy dead or alive, preferably dead. This is former Starfleeter James Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who you can also see as the Necromancer in the recent HOBBIT films) who just happens to really be a classic villain from the original TV series using an assumed name.

MA:  Carol Marcus is the character from STAR TREK II:  THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982) who, as was revealed in that movie, is the mother of Kirk’s son.  So, we know where this relationship will go.  Then again, it’s a parallel universe, so maybe we don’t know.  Perhaps this time around she’ll end up with Dr. McCoy.

(Door slides open and DR. MCCOY enters the bridge.)

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim!  Why is that Dr. Marcus always parading around in her underwear?  The crew’s distracted!  We can’t get anything done!

LS:  Maybe I should go down there and settle things down.

MA:  No, captain, you’re needed here on the bridge.  I’ll go.

LS:  Shut up, Spock!  I’m the captain!  I make the decisions! It’s only logical!

SULU:  Don’t you both have to stay here to finish the review?

LS:  Dammit.  He’s right.  McCoy, you’re just going to have to handle things yourself.

MCCOY:  Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a customer in a strip club!  But if someone has to lay down the law, quiet the crowd, and set that woman straight, it might as well be me.  (checks his wallet) I think I have just enough for a lap dance. (Smiles devilishly and exits.)

star-trek-into-darkness-spock-movie-poster

MA:  Moving right along.

As far as the baddie in this one being a classic villain from the original show—.

LS:  Shh! No spoilers here!

MA:  I wasn’t going to spoil anything, but carry on.  I’ll comment on this later.

LS:  Along the way, Kirk and his crew are used by villains on both sides as the Enterprise tracks Harrison down to a supposedly uninhabited area on the planet Cronos, which also happens to be the homeworld of the warlike Klingons.

Can Kirk bring Harrison to justice without setting off an intergalactic war? You’re going to have to see INTO DARKNESS to find out.

Like Abrams’ first TREK film, I found this one likable enough. Everyone is good in their roles, even if they can’t be developed anywhere near as in-depth as they were in a weekly TV series. In a way, a lot of these characters seem more like recognizable nationalities and familiar catch-phrases from the past than real people. And while I like the new cast, I don’t think they’re half as good as the originals.

MA:  I would have to agree with you here, but in the new cast’s defense, they’ve only been together for two movies, where the original cast starred in 79 episodes.  They had more practice.

But that being said, I prefer the original cast, too.

LS:  Also, the plot of this one is a little convoluted at times. At 132 minutes, it’s a little long, and they take their sweet time revealing who bad guy Harrison really is (see if you figure it out way before the big revelation, like I did). Also, there are lots of scenes, especially in the middle, that just seem like a lot of loud noises and giant spaceships and not a lot of substance.

MA:  Yeah, it’s a little long.  I didn’t mind the revelation about the villain coming later in the film though.  It added a nice boost to the movie, and I liked this.

LS:  Yeah, it’s worth the wait. Toward the end, things get better, and I found myself caught up in some genuine suspense as Kirk tries to make the right moves in this gigantic game of chess. The movie goes out of its way to include inside information that will make hardcore fans of the series very happy, while drawing in a new generation of fans.

MA:  I agree again.  The film gets pretty suspenseful towards the end, and I was certainly caught up in it.

LS:  While I liked STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, I didn’t love it. It still seems like a pale imitation of the original 60s show, even if Abrams does give it a solid try. Then again, even the original cast had a hard time translating the best aspects of the television show into feature films. Of the original movies in the series with the original cast, the only one I ever liked a lot was STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), which is kind of significant, as that was the second film in the first franchise and INTO DARKNESS is the second film in Abrams’ reboot.

I thought there was a lot to like about the new STAR TREK film, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the series, but there was also something about it that left me cold. I can’t put my finger on it: it’s like there were all these bells and whistles, but it lacked real depth. Maybe if I didn’t grow up with the original show, I would feel differently, but I give the new movie three knives. It’s well made and capable, things we’ve come to expect from Abrams, but I guess I didn’t walk away from it as emotionally satisfied as I thought I would be.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I liked it a lot too, but like you, I didn’t love it.  It’s kinda how I felt about the first one, and I think it’s because I like the original series so much.  I know my teenage sons love these new movies more than I do, and I’m sure it’s because I’m a bigger fan of the 60s show than they are.

One difference between these new films and the original series that I have trouble getting past—although it’s not necessarily a bad thing—is that these films are much more action oriented.  In terms of cinematic entertainment, that’s fine. It’s probably why they’re so successful.  They’re slick, they’ve got great special effects, and they’ve got some cool action scenes.  I can’t deny that I like this.

For example, the chase near the end where Spock pursues Harrison is one exciting sequence.  It’s as riveting as anything you’d see in a James Bond movie.  I don’t think the previous STAR TREK movies could make this claim.  So, in terms of cinema, this is a good thing.

But in terms of STAR TREK, it troubles me.  Gene Roddenberry’s vision of STAR TREK was science fiction based, and it was a forum where he hoped to explore social issues of the day but in a science fiction format.  This new TREK is much more action oriented than any STAR TREK before it.

LS: Yeah, I think you’ve touched upon my problem with it, too. There’s a lot of action, and Abrams is great at that. But there’s only enough time to delve into the characters in a superficial way, by playing on personality traits we know all too well. And that wasn’t enough for me. The original series was more about ideas, and the new series is more about dazzling us with action and explosions.

MA: Exactly. While I’m not necessarily knocking this, there are times where I wish the action would just slow down and take a back seat to some ideas.  It would also help us get to know these characters more.  I can’t fault Abrams for this, really, as even the original STAR TREK films edged towards action.  After all, the STAR TREK film which Roddenberry had the most control of, the first one, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) had no action at all and for most viewers was boring, although I do like this movie a lot, believe it or not.

LS: I remember being pretty disappointed with that one when it first came out, which is why WRATH OF KHAN, the film that came after that one, was such a big deal. It felt more like the original show, and had a great villain, which STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE lacked.

MA: I agree.  I was disappointed with STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE when it first came out as well, but over the years, it’s really grown on me.

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Getting back to today’s movie, although I prefer the original cast, I do like this cast a lot.  Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy might be my favorite.  He nails the character, and he reminds me so much of DeForest Kelley it’s uncanny.

LS: Yeah, he’s great. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s since way back when he played Julius Caesar on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS.

I also really liked Zoe Saldana as Uhura. She’s a strong woman and is given some significant things to do this time around. Although I didn’t believe her relationship with Spock for a minute – and thought it was one of the few missteps here.

MA:  Yeah, they don’t exactly share much onscreen chemistry.  I’m not sure a love story involving a Vulcan is such a hot idea.

LS:  And Simon Pegg as Scotty is another big highlight. He’s a scene-stealer here.

MA: The same can be said for Zachary Quinto as Spock.  And while there’s nothing wrong with Chris Pine as Kirk—in fact, he’s very, very good—he has the most difficult job of the entire cast.  He’s sitting in William Shatner’s captain’s chair, which is no easy task.  Shatner is just one of those larger than life personas.  He’s hard to replace.

LS: I agree with you. They all have big shoes to fill, and do a very good job. Whoever did the casting for these movies did a terrific job. And I do think Pine has the hardest job. Shatner was one of a kind.

(Door slide open and WILLIAM SHATNER steps onto the bridge.)

SHATNER:  I am— Kirk.  Did you hear me, Spock?  I— am Kirk.

MA:  Are you talking to me?  I’m not really Spock.  I’m just playing him for purposes of this—.

LS: Hell, Arruda doesn’t even look like a convincing Spock…

SHATNER (ignoring them):  To be first, to be the original, it’s all part of the human condition.  It’s what makes us— human, Spock, what gives us our identities.  We are unique.  We are hu-man.

LS:  What the hell is he talking about?

SHATNER:  What the hell are you doing in my chair, Picard?

LS:  Picard?  I’m Kirk.

SHATNER:  You have no hair.  How can you be Kirk?

MA:  He makes a good point.

SULU:  Gentlemen, the review, please?

MA (to Shatner):  Don’t you have some green women to chase?

LS: Or girls with tails.

By the way, Captain, you should see the new Carol Marcus in her underwear.  She’s hot.  And, she’s on Deck 9 right now. If you want, I could go check on her while you resume your captain duties…

SHATNER: Deck 9 you say? On second thought, as you were, gentlemen,. You’re doing a fine job.

(SHATNER exits without another word.)

MA:  Where was I?  The cast.

The rest of the cast is fun as well, and probably what I like most about this cast is that they succeed in capturing the essence and spirit of the original characters without coming off as caricatures.  I never feel as if they’re trying to impersonate the characters.  They make them their own.

LS: I don’t know. It’s not their fault, but there’s so little time here for character development among all the giant space ships firing at each other and buildings crashing. Sometimes they do come off as caricatures. But it’s not their fault. A movie that really explored each of the main characters’ personalities would run about five hours.

MA: I hear you, but a lesser cast would make it seem more obvious, I think.

I also thought Benedict Cumberbatch made a nice baddie here.  He was very convincing and was a formidable foe for Kirk and company.

LS: Yeah, at first he seems kind of like a cold fish, but as we get to know him, he’s a pretty strong bad guy.

MA: Again, the parallel universe concept worked for me here, although there were times in the movie where I wasn’t so sure.  For example, regarding the true identity of the villain, at first, I liked this, but then, when I saw where the plot was going, involving a certain sacrifice by a key character, I thought it was too soon in this new series for something so dramatic.  I mean, these characters haven’t been together for as long as the original characters had been together when a similar event occurred in one of the STAR TREK movies.  But then, the writers saved the day by tweaking this event yet again, and by the time it was said and done, I liked it.

LS: Yeah, one thing about this movie, I thought, was that it all comes together by the end. The way things are resolved make sense based on information that came earlier. It’s well thought out at least. Even if it does tie up loose ends a little too neatly.

MA: Which is a roundabout way of saying I think the writers—Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof—do a great job here.  They successfully breathe new life into classic characters and situations, and change just enough to keep things interesting without ruining the history from the older series and movies.  That’s no easy task.

LS: Like I said, it’s a formula meant to please old fans and new. Which is why these movies work so well.

MA: I liked the new-look Klingons, although I did wonder why they looked different.  I guess it’s all part of the parallel universe, but I’m not quite sure how the changes made in the first movie would affect the way the Klingons looked.

LS: They didn’t look that different.

MA: Really?  I thought they looked a lot different.

The special effects are also excellent.  There were some really cool shots of the ships, and I especially liked the shots where we see the ships first from the outside and then the camera tracks into a close-up of a crew member inside.  Those shots looked authentic, as if the camera was really filming the exterior of a real spaceship before zooming into a real person on the inside.  It was smooth and seamless.

I did see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS in 3D, it looked good, but again, I think it would look just as good in 2D, and it’s cheaper.

LS: Yeah, I saw it in 2D and it was fine. I doubt it lost much of its spectacle, and I’m just sick of paying extra for 3D effects that are almost always disappointing.

MA: All in all, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is a very entertaining movie.   It’s sure to satisfy fans of the series, and it’s good enough to please folks who aren’t familiar with STAR TREK as well.

I also give it three knives.

LS:  Perfect timing.  We’ve reached Jupiter.  Okay, Spock, you can have the captain’s chair now while I beam down for dinner. I’ve got a couple of gals from Ganymede waiting for me.

MA: Oh, that’s what the hurry was about. Do they have tails, by any chance?

LS: Actually, they do.

MA:  Well, I’m feeling a bit hungry myself (takes off pointy ears). I think I’ll join you. We’re done here anyway, and I’m done with this character.

LS: Sorry, three’s company, four’s a crowd. You’re no fun. I thought you’d be happy to be Spock!

MA (lifts hand and separates fingers in Vulcan greeting):  Live long, and prosper.

LS:  Gee, thanks.

MA:  That was for the rest of the crew.  This gesture’s for you.  (Flips him the bird.)

LS:  No, you’re doing it wrong.  It’s like this.  (Uses both hands to make an even more violently obscene gesture to MA.)

SULU (turns to camera and rolls his eyes):  It was never like this in the old days.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

LL Soares gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~three knives.

Michael Arruda gives STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS ~ three knives, too!

THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK AT 2012

Posted in 2012, 2013, Alien Worlds, Based on Classic Films, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Prequels, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, Television, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by knifefighter

You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant hills… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reachedTHE REMOTE OUTPOST.

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THE REMOTE OUTPOST LOOKS FORWARD, THEN BACK
By Mark Onspaugh

Well, the holidays have come to an end at the old Remote Outpost. The freeze-dried Christmas tree has been vacu-packed, the electronic menorah has been powered down and reintegrated into the antenna array, and the powdered eggnog and dehydrated turkey are on order for next year.

Now that the snart herds have moved to the Seventh Crater and the triffids are dormant, it’s time to reflect on that most marvelous technological advancement, television. We’ll try to adopt a more positive air going into 2013, at least on this rainy afternoon. (Besides, a “Worst Of” list would take many times the word count I am allowed.)

5 SHOWS THAT MAKE ME DROOL WITH ANTICIPATION

New shows are on the horizon, and some of them sound just peachy. Here are the ones I am most excited about:

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BANSHEE (Premieres January 11, Cinemax). Alan Ball has become one of those names you look for. He wrote the screenplay for the movie AMERICAN BEAUTY back in 1999, and has since been the creative force behind the television series SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 – Present). I am a big fan of TRUE BLOOD and recently came under the spell of SIX FEET UNDER (see below). So when I heard Ball was executive producing a new series, I got downright twitterpated. BANSHEE concerns an ex (or escaped) con who poses as the (murdered) sheriff in the Amish community of Banshee. As with other projects with Ball at the helm, the secrets our protagonist keeps are just the tip of the iceberg in Banshee. One of the characters is named Mr. Rabbit, who will be played by Ben Cross. Mr. Cross portrayed Sarek, Spock’s father, in the STAR TREK reboot of 2009. He also stars in the upcoming JACK THE GIANT KILLER (2013), which is NOT to be confused with JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (also 2013)—that stars Ewan McGregor. It looks like it’ll be Brits vs Scots in the land of the giants.

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BATES MOTEL (Premieres March 18, A&E). A psychological thriller that will give background on Robert Bloch’s beloved psycho. Hitchcock’s 1960 film is the initial inspiration, but beyond that, the producers will not be a slave to it or its sequels. The show is not, as one critic suggested, “How I Stuffed My Mother.” Besides Norman’s mother and her lover, the townspeople will also play a role in Norman’s descent into madness, and producers promise it won’t all be black and white, connect the dots. Norman Bates will be played by Freddie Highmore, the young actor so wonderful in FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007). Freddie has grown up, and actually looks like a young Tony Perkins. Norman’s mother will be portrayed by Vera Farmiga, who promises mother Norma Bates will be both sympathetic and layered. We all know Vera from such films as THE DEPARTED (2006), JOSHUA (2007), SOURCE CODE (2011) and the upcoming THE CONJURING (2013). BATES MOTEL is produced by Carlton Cuse of LOST (2004-2010) and Kerry Ehrin of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (2006-2011).

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DEFIANCE (Premieres April 15, Syfy). A lush science fiction drama where Earth has been remade into an almost alien world by extraterrestrial visitors who were denied permission to settle. After a long and costly war with humanity, the two species now live in an uneasy peace and try to make the Earth habitable for both. Defiance is the name of the town in the ruins of St. Louis, and where our protagonist, Jeb Nolan becomes head sheriff. There he must contend with humans, aliens, military types and various dangerous characters. From the trailers I’ve seen, this will be no cheap-looking, terrible CGI suck-fest. It is tied in with a game, but what show isn’t multi-platforming these days? Hopefully the writing will give us another BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009) or SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).

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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD AND CHROME (Premieres February 10, Syfy). I was around when Glen A. Larson first introduced us to Cylons and humans whose names were the same as some of our more ancient gods and goddesses. I didn’t much care for the show, but watched it because I was starved for SF on TV. When the (then Sci-Fi Channel’s) remake was announced for 2004, I just shook my head and chuckled. I ignored it, until a friend hit me over the head with the DVD’s. I quickly became an ardent fan, and was sad when the (regrettable) ending aired. Now we have a chance to visit that universe again, as we see young “Husker” Adama and his friends in the first war with the Cylons, before the skin jobs made the scene. Like the many incarnations of STAR TREK, I anxiously wait for the chance to geek out in a world that is interesting and well-formed. Here’s hoping it’s as good as its predecessor.

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VIKINGS (Premieres March 3 on History). Cable has often found fertile ground in examining (often in lurid detail) historical events, places or infamous families. DEADWOOD (2004-2006), THE TUDORS (2007-2010) and THE BORGIAS (2011 – Present) gave us all the scandal, gore and sex we were never taught in history class but always suspected (or hoped) was there. While perhaps not wholly accurate, all these shows had/have sumptuous production values, good writing and acting. Now comes the saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, who, legend has it, was descended from Odin himself. VIKINGS will be produced for the History Channel, who brought us that bang-up version of the feud of the HATFIELDS AND McCOYS (2012). VIKINGS was created by Michael Hirst, who created the aforementioned TUDORS, and one of its stars will be Gabriel Byrne, who has been in such movies as STIGMATA (1998), END OF DAYS (1999) SPIDER (2002) and GHOST SHIP (2002). By Odin’s eye I will be there!

WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!

If I’m wrong, I am usually man enough to admit it. Two shows I came late to the party for are THE BIG BANG THEORY and SIX FEET UNDER (2001-2005).

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BIG BANG is shown initially on CBS (on Thursdays at 8pm EST), and then rerun about a billion times a day on TBS and Fox. Even though I love science fiction, pop culture and DC comics (all of which BB has in buckets and bales), I thought the character of Sheldon Cooper (portrayed by Jim Parsons) was just too two-dimensional. A friend of mine is very devoted to the show, and kept tempting me with anecdotes about appearances by Wil Wheaton as an evil version of himself (Wil was the much-loved or despised character of Wesley Crusher on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, 1987-1994), and a Spock action figure voiced by Leonard Nimoy himself. I finally watched the show for more than one episode, and found that Parsons is quite brilliant. It’s not easy to portray such an unlikeable character and make him endearing. I have to admit, when he approached Penny (about her intending to break up with his roommate) and said, “Please don’t hurt my friend,” I actually teared up. The entire ensemble is terrific, and there are lots of references to physics, DC superheroes, Star Trek, Star Wars and sex —and who doesn’t love one or all of those things?

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SIX FEET UNDER is no longer with us, but lives on in DVD form. Created by Alan Ball, it revolves around the Fishers, a family who owns a small but honest funeral home in L.A. Patriarch Nathaniel Fisher is killed in a bus crash while driving one of the family hearses. Though dead, Nathaniel often appears to council or annoy one of his family, and is played by the amazing Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR 2001, CABIN IN THE WOODS 2011, JACK REACHER 2012). His family includes son Nate (Peter Krause of THE LOST ROOM, 2006 and currently on the NBC drama PARENTHOOD), son David (Michael C. Hall, now the star of DEXTER), daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose of the recent remake of COMA 2012) and wife Ruth (Frances Conroy of AMERICAN HORROR STORY). Each episode begins with a death (not always the one you expect) and that corpse’s impact on one or more of the family and/or staff. At times, the deceased will interact with a character. In addition, a huge funeral home conglomerate is trying to put the Fishers out of business, and each member of the family has secrets that are coming to light.

IT’S SO HARD TO SAY GOODBYE, FAREWELL, AUF WIEDERSEHEN, GOOD NIGHT

Two of my favorite shows are saying “adieu” this year (inarticulate sobbing here)…

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One is FRINGE (Fox, Fridays 9pm EST), which began in 2008 as a sort of new take on THE X-FILES (1993-2002) but evolved more into a love story and a search for redemption. Though complex, I never felt lost in the mythology as I came to be with THE X-FILES. The central core of characters Agent Olivia Dunham, Peter Bishop, Walter Bishop and Astrid Farnsworth are all wonderfully played by Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and Jasika Nicole, and ably supported by Blair Brown as Nina Sharp, Lance Reddick as Philip Broyles and Leonard Nimoy as Dr. William Bell. Noble as Walter is one of the great characters of recent SF TV, a genius and mad scientist who had parts of his brain cut out so he would not become evil and callous, unlike his counterpart on a parallel Earth. The elective surgery has left a man with a taste for sweets, inappropriate sexual banter and a craving for LSD and music of the 60s and 70s. If you never gave this series a try, do so. I, for one, will sorely miss it.

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BREAKING BAD took one episode to hook all of us here at the Outpost. It concerns a high school chemistry teacher who discovers he has cancer. Looking to make money to pay for his treatment (and to take care of his family once he is gone), Walter White (the just awesome Bryan Cranston, once the father on MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE 2000-2006) turns to making meth with a former student, Jesse Pinkman, portrayed by Aaron Paul. And he’s real good at it. His product is so good it’s soon drawing the attention of tweakers, dealers, cartel members and DEA agents. Complicating matters is the fact that his brother-in-law works for the DEA, and is not the lunkhead he seems to be. What is fascinating is how Cranston essays a good man who gets into a dirty business, and transforms over time from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde… This is not only someone who becomes evil, he enjoys it. BREAKING BAD airs on AMC (the last episodes of the final season will be airing soon), but you’ll want to watch it from the beginning.

I’ll close out this year-end wrap-up with a list of shows I think are well worth your time:

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BOARDWALK EMPIRE (HBO) —A bloody and dark series about Atlantic City in the 20s and the rise of organized crime, with Steve Buscemi at the center of it all.

GAME OF THRONES (HBO) —Warring kingdoms, sex, gore, dire wolves, dragons and things undead. What’s not to love?

THE WALKING DEAD (AMC) —A wonderful series where the living are just as important as the living dead, with brilliant makeup, effects and many WTF! moments.

JUSTIFIED (FX) —A Federal Marshall returns to rural Kentucky in this bitchin’ series from the mind of Elmore Leonard. Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins are lawman and outlaw who were boyhood pals. Brilliant.

SONS OF ANARCHY (FX) —Hamlet on Harleys. Also brilliant.

ARROW (CW) —Green Arrow without the Smallville soapiness.

THE NEIGHBORS (ABC) —A very human family moves to a cul-de-sac filled with aliens. The seemingly one-joke premise continues to be inventive, delightful and hilarious.

BOB’S BURGERS (FOX) —My favorite animated show. Unattractive characters (literally) and hilarious send-ups of family sitcom sweetness.

SHAMELESS (SHO) — The saga of the Gallaghers, who are grifters living by their wits in Chicago. Many of their efforts are often derailed by the worst of the lot, their patriarch, played by William H. Macy. A U.S. version of a Brit show, and hilarious.

LUTHER (BBC America) —Idris Elba is amazing as a British detective in this dark and inventive series.

FACE-OFF (Syfy) —The only reality show I watch—sure, some of the drama is manufactured through writing and editing, but the contestants come up with amazing effects makeup—without CGI!

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

In the Spooklight: ALIEN (1979)

Posted in 2006, 70s Horror, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Classic Films, Cult Movies, Horror, In the Spooklight, Michael Arruda Reviews, Outer Space, Ridley Scott, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by knifefighter

Since we just reviewed PROMETHEUS (2012), here’s an IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN (1979), first published in the HWA NEWSLETTER in January 2006. It will also be appearing—shameless plug! —in my new IN THE SPOOKLIGHT ebook, set to come out later this year by NECON EBooks!

—Michael Arruda, 6/13/12

In The Spooklight: ALIEN (1979)
By Michael Arruda

When I first saw ALIEN (1979) at the movies in the summer of ’79, as a 15-year-old kid and budding movie critic, I remember leaving the theater disappointed. I thought the scares were too few and far between, and it simply wasn’t as gross and disgusting as I had been led to believe. See, in those days, there was nothing like the thrill of being grossed out at the movies ah, youth!

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthoodALIEN grew scarier.

ALIEN is a film that, in spite of its reputation as an all-out-stomach-churning-gross-fest back in 1979, really draws its strength from a combination of strong acting performances and taut direction.

The alien itself isn’t really on screen that much, but when it is, it scares the you-know-what out of you. Watching the alien in ALIEN reminds me of watching Christopher Lee as Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). Both menaces are so scary they trick you into believing they’re on screen more, because when they’re off screen, you’re still frightened and carry that fright with you, similar to the way a flash bulb remains in your vision after it’s flashed, only longer.

ALIEN sports an outstanding cast, led by Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt, as the leaders on the spaceship, The Nostromo, which answers a distress call in deep space from a mysterious derelict spaceship on an equally mysterious planet. The strong cast also includes John Hurt, Ian Holm, Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, and Veronica Cartwright, all playing crew members of The Nostromo.

The trek along the alien landscape towards the derelict ship is weird and creepy, and is another reason why ALIEN works so well. It gets under your skin long before the titled alien even appears.

A strange squid-like creature attaches itself to the head of one of the crew (John Hurt) and lays an egg inside his body, which leads to the most famous scene from the movie, where the baby alien bursts through the chest of actor John Hurt. This scene is gross, and still packs a punch. Thus the alien is born, and now the fun really begins. Of course, for the rest of the film, the crew has to fight for their lives against a seemingly unstoppable creature. (Too bad the makers of the recent ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) forgot this and reduced the aliens in that film to target practice.).

The direction by Ridley Scott is right on the money. He makes ALIEN a nail-biter and fills the film with suspense scenes that make you very uncomfortable. My favorite is crew member Dallas’s (Tom Skerritt) search for the alien inside the air ducts, which, suffice to say, doesn’t end in the man’s favor.

There’s a great music score by Jerry Goldsmith, which also adds to the mood, and the sets are dark and grim. They give the film a real gritty feel. You get the sense this is the way a spaceship of the future would look, as opposed to the fantasy images from say, STAR WARS. The special effects won an Oscar.

Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay is full of realistic dialogue, and the crew members seem like real people, even griping about low pay.

ALIEN is a fine example of how some films get better with age. Today, years after its initial release, it’s scarier than ever. “In space no one can you hear scream,” warned the tagline in 1979, but in your living room they sure can, so to be safe, when you watch ALIEN, you might want to warn your neighbors.

—END—

© Copyright 2006 by Michael Arruda

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Monsters, Prequels, Ridley Scott, ROBOTS!, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on June 11, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PROMETHEUS (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An alien world, much of which is composed of desert. L.L. SOARES is sitting on a lawn chair next to a tent. He’s stretched back, getting rays, when MICHAEL ARRUDA happens by, driving a moon rover)

MA: Hey. You do realize that excessive sun isn’t good for you.

LS: Who are you, my mother?

MA (dressed as an elderly woman): What are you doing sitting around all day! Clean your damn room!

LS: Now there’s a scary image—you as someone’s mother!! Anyway, there’s six more hours of daylight. Leave me alone and let me get a tan.

MA: I would, but we’ve got a movie to review.

LS: Oh yes, the much-anticipated PROMETHEUS. I almost forgot.

MA: Almost forgot? I think the sun has fried your brain! PROMETHEUS is one of the movies you and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. How could you “almost forget” about it?

(In the distance, a humongous space ship takes off into the sky)

MA: Wow. It sure is nice to have an unlimited budget here in Cinema Knife Fight Land.

LS: Oh yes, in the realm of the imagination, we can do anything!

MA: Okay. If you can do anything, how about starting with a review of PROMETHEUS?

LS: All right I will, if that will make you happy.

MA: Please do.

LS: Ridley Scott’s new film, PROMETHEUS, is a prequel to his 1979 masterpiece, ALIEN. Let’s make that clear from the get-go, shall we? Scott and other people involved have been very cagey about whether or not the events of this movie occur before the story of ALIEN. Well, wonder no more. The ambiguity is gone. PROMETHEUS is clearly a prequel.

MA: Yes it is, although I would have enjoyed it more had there been more references to ALIEN.

LS: PROMETHEUS begins with an odd scene where a muscular albino alien is standing on a cliff over a waterfall.

MA: I liked this scene. I thought it was a very cinematic way to open the movie.

LS: He ingests something that appears to be acid (and also appears to be alive) and commits suicide, falling into the raging waters below. We’ll be seeing him (or, more of his kind, at least) later on.

The story then shifts to Scotland. It is the year 2089, and scientists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover a cave that has prehistoric drawings on the walls. The drawings include an image they have seen many times before: a giant figure reaching out to the sky, in the direction of five spheres. They believe this image is a message, since they have found it in other caves, in other parts of the world.

Using the image as a map, they are able to track down a planet in a solar system far away that has an earth-like atmosphere (although the carbon dioxide levels are rather high). Charlie and Elizabeth are sure the messages are telling them that this planet is the cradle of civilization—the place where aliens they call “Engineers” came from, and came to Earth to create us.

To get there, the scientists need cash, and this is readily provided by the Weyland Corporation, a mega-corporation with seemingly unlimited funds, headed by Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce, in heavy old man make-up). Weyland, through a hologram, tells them he was very eager to find out if the scientists are right about their findings, but he has appeared to have died in the meantime (the craft has taken a few years to get there). In his place, as the corporate person in charge of the expedition, is the cold and authoritative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). She makes it clear from the get-go that while Charlie and Elizabeth are the ones who initiated this expedition, Meredith is calling the shots, since it is her firm’s money that bankrolled it.

(Sigourney Weaver’s character from ALIEN—RIPLEY—comes by, carrying a very large gun)

RIPLEY: You guys see a big ALIEN go by here?

MA: No, we haven’t.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

RIPLEY: Thanks (she goes in that direction)

(The tent behind LS shakes)

MA: What was that all about?

LS: Who knows? As I was saying….The ship is piloted by a man named Janek (Idris Elba) and his team. The expedition is made up of a several other scientists, as well as an android named David (Michael Fassbender) who was created by Weyland to be his eyes and ears. David clearly has his own agenda when it comes to the mission, and often does things that everyone else is unaware of (things that are not always in their best interest). During the initial voyage in space, David is only one “awake” in the ship, while the rest of the travelers are in suspended animation.

Once they reach the planet, they find strange dome-like structures there, that clearly were not made by nature. Too eager to wait, a group of them immediately go out to investigate one of the domes. What they find there is rather remarkable, and potentially very dangerous.

The rest of PROMETHEUS shows us what they find in that dome, what it represents, and the can of worms the scientists open up by disturbing the site.

I went into this one with very high hopes, and clearly PROMETHEUS is one of the movies Michael and I have been most looking forward to in 2012. Personally, I am a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, and the idea of Scott returning to the “world” of that movie was rather exciting. Scott is a top-notch director, who was not involved with the various ALIEN sequels, so his directing the prequel is something of an event. He also hasn’t made a science fiction movie in decades, and since this is also the man who made BLADE RUNNER (1982), a lot of people were eager to see him return to the genre. After all, how many filmmakers can be credited with creating two films that many people consider to be among the best of cinematic science fiction?

So, considering the expectations I had going in, it is almost impossible that PROMETHEUS could have lived up to them. That said, the film is very good.

MA: Nah, I’m disagreeing here right away. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with PROMETHEUS, and for me, it didn’t have to do with high expectations. I just didn’t find PROMETHEUS to be a great movie. It’s a good movie, but it has a lot of flaws.

But I’m jumping the gun here. You were about to say why you thought the film was so good. So, what did you like about it?

LS: First off, the direction is top-notch, as you would expect in a Ridley Scott film.

MA: I would agree, up to a point.

LS: The cast is also above-average. I thought everyone did an excellent job here, and the cast includes many of my favorite actors. Noomi Rapace was Lizbeth Salander in the original Swedish films based on THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy. She was intense and extremely believable in those movies. Here, her Elizabeth Shaw is softer and less guarded—dare I say it, more human—but in her way, is just as tough.

MA: No arguments here. I liked Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw a lot. Rapace created a very resilient heroine in Shaw, and I thought she was strong enough to carry this movie.

LS: Idris Elba is someone Michael and I have been watching for a while now, first noticing him for stand-out performances in movies like 28 WEEKS LATER (2007), THE UNBORN (2009) and the remake of the slasher film PROM NIGHT (2008).

MA: Yep, I’m a big fan of Elba.

LS: I thought that he often was better than the movies he was in. More recently, he appeared in last year’s THOR and was an alcoholic Vatican enforcer in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE. But his star has actually shone brighter on television than in feature films, for the most part, especially his role as Stringer Bell in the stellar HBO series,. THE WIRE, and his lead role in the current BBC series, LUTHER, which has been earning him much acclaim. He’s quite good in PROMETHEUS as Captain Janek, and even brings a sense of humor to the role, like in a scene where he tries to talk ice queen Martha Vickers into bed.

MA: Yeah, I liked that scene, but for the most part, I thought Captain Janek was just your standard good guy captain. I had no problem at all with Elba’s performance, which I enjoyed, but I thought the character was one-dimensional and not that exciting. I expected him to take on a more heroic and central role as the movie goes on, but that didn’t really happen.

LS: Actually, it did. He does do something very heroic toward the end.

MA: Yeah, I know, but for me it was too little too late. I mean, the action he takes is dramatic enough, but long before that, I wanted him to be a key player, and I didn’t feel he was.

LS: Let’s face it, Janek was a supporting character. Everyone can’t be the lead. Considering how many strong characters there are in the movie, I think they did a good job of giving everyone ample screen time.

MA: Oh, he’s in it enough. He’s just not that interesting.

LS: As for Vickers, it seems like actress Charlize Theron can do no wrong lately. I loved her in last year’s dark dramedy, YOUNG ADULT. And we just saw her as the evil queen, Ravenna, one of the high points in the movie SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Here, she’s another cold, unapproachable woman—a type she’s done several times before, and which she’s good at. I have to admit, I like it when she plays characters that are more outside of the “ice queen” box—characters who are a little more vulnerable, perhaps—but she makes the best of this role.

MA: Theron’s fine, but I thought Vickers was terribly underwritten. I wanted to know much more about her, and I wanted her to have more screen time, and play a more prominent role towards the end of the movie. She’s a very cold character and is almost more robotic than the actual robot character, David, in this one. I wanted to know why.

LS: Well, there is a scene where Idris Elba’s character asks her if she’s a robot!

As for Michael Fassbender, as the robot David, he might just be the most interesting character in PROMETHEUS.

MA: I think he is.

LS: Created to act and appear human in every way, David is not as subservient as he first appears, and clearly is more in control of the situations the crew comes across than anyone else. It should come as no surprise that Fassbender is so good in this one. He’s been impressing us in a lot of movies lately. Fassbender was also in 300 (2006) and was the British Lt. Archie Hicox, a memorable role, in Quentin Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009). Since then, his star has only continued to ascend. Last year alone he was Magneto in the above-average superhero flick X-MEN: FIRST CLASS; played psychiatry pioneer Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD; and played a sex addict, in a fearless performance in British director Steve McQueen’s movie, SHAME. Fassbender just seems to be very good at everything he does, and his role here, as David, is no exception.

MA: I agree. I like Fassbender a lot, and I think he gave the best performance in PROMETHEUS. The only problem I have with his character David is we’ve seen this before. David is an android with a private agenda, apparently working in secret for the Weyland Corporation. This is clearly reminiscent of the character Ash (Ian Holm) in the original ALIEN, who had the same agenda, and was working for the same company.

LS: I think that was intentional, don’t you?

MA: Absolutely, but I still found it repetitive.

(One of the monsters from the PREDATOR movies comes by, carrying a gigantic gun)

PREDATOR: You guys see an ALIEN come by here?

MA: Nope. We’re reviewing a movie here.

LS (points): He went that-a-away!

PREDATOR (closes his helmet): Thanks!

(PREDATOR runs in that direction, turning on his cloaking device to become invisible)

(Tent next to LS shakes again, and there is the faint sound of giggling)

MA: Hmm. What’s the deal with the tent?

LS: How should I know?

MA: What are you up to?

LS: Nothing. Let’s just finish our review.

The rest of the cast is also quite good, with other stand-outs including Logan Marshall-Green as Elizabeth Shaw’s fellow scientist (and lover) Charlie Holloway. He plays just the right combination of cockiness and earnestness here. And Sean Harris is also a stand-out as the unorthodox geologist Fifield, who seems more like punk rocker than a man of science at times (however, I’m sure it’s quite possible to be both).

The effects are pretty impressive here as well. The movie was released in both regular and 3D versions, and while I didn’t get to see this one in 3D, I bet it looked pretty good in that format as well. The spaceships, the alien landscapes, and the alien creatures we see are all pretty flawless and believable, which only enhances a movie like this.

MA: I saw it in 3D, and while I enjoyed the visuals of the alien landscapes and spaceships in 3D, I have a feeling it looked just as good in 2D. Let’s put it this way. There weren’t any scenes where I sat there thinking, “this is so cool in 3D. I’m glad I saw this in 3D!” As has been the case with most 3D movies we’ve seen in the past few years, the 3D effects are almost an afterthought.

LS: If I have any complaint at all, it is the pacing. At just over two hours, I found that certain parts of the movie seemed stretched out and slow, throwing off the movie’s pace a bit. It was something I almost “felt” more than saw. And it’s funny, because early on, things move pretty briskly. We’re not in Scotland looking at caves very long, before we’re suddenly on a spaceship, approaching an alien planet. But once on the planet, there were just some scenes that seemed longer and slower than they should have been.

MA: Yeah, the pacing was slow in places, but interestingly enough, the pacing isn’t one of the things that bothered me about this movie.

LS: Considering how excited I was to see this one, I thought it might be that rare film that passes the four knife mark. But after seeing it, I was actually on the fence about whether to give it 3 ½ or 4 knives. A very good film, but not a masterpiece. I really expected even more from Ridley Scott, if you can believe it.

But what the hell, I ended up giving PROMETHEUS, four knives out of five, one of the best ratings I’ve given for a movie this year. It’s smart, it’s ambitious, and I really enjoyed it.

MA: I gave THE AVENGERS four knives, which is the highest rating I give movies (a five knife movie would have to be perfect, and that’s never going to happen!) and I think THE AVENGERS blows PROMETHEUS out of the water.

LS: No way! They’re two very different kinds of movies: one is pure fun, and the other tries to be much more than that. But I think PROMETHEUS is as good as THE AVENGERS. In fact, I think it’s better.

MA: Yes, they are two very different movies, but THE AVENGERS pushes all the right buttons and is nearly flawless, whereas PROMETHEUS, while good, falls short.

LS: And while it’s going to be very rare that we rate anything higher than four knives, it is possible. I gave KILL LIST four and a half knives earlier this year.

MA: PROMETHEUS could have been something truly special. It asks great questions—who made us? where did we come from? where do we go when we die? — but it gives us answers that are clearly inferior to these questions. I kept thinking, these are the answers the writers came up with?

LS: What if we found out the answers and they really were a letdown? Wouldn’t that be rather ironic?

MA: I thoroughly enjoyed the first half of PROMETHEUS. The movie had an awe-inspiring science fiction feel to it, and I thought the film was heading towards moments akin to things found in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I enjoyed the story, the visuals, and I liked the idea of humans on a quest to find our creators. I was definitely going along for the ride.

LS: I’m glad you brought that up, because I thought there were a lot of parallels between this movie and Kubrick’s 2001. From the clues that scientists find that tell them there was life on other worlds (in PROMETHEUS, it’s the cave paintings providing a map, in 2001, it was the more physical artifact of the Monolith), to a machine that has its own agenda and turns on the people who think they are its masters, to even the pacing and some of the visuals (the alien space ship here looks somewhat like the orbiting space station in 2001).

MA: And there’s some good suspense along the way as well. The scene in the cave with the weird snake creatures is one of the more intense scenes in the movie, and I absolutely loved the scene where Elizabeth has to perform surgery on herself to remove a certain “addition” inside her body. It’s by far the most intense scene in the film.

LS: Thanks for bringing that up! The surgery scene is one of the best in the movie! I loved that scene.

MA: But that’s about as intense as the movie gets. Later, as it builds towards its conclusion, I found the suspense lacking.

And in terms of awe-inspiring science fiction, the film hits its climax in a really cool scene when David discovers, among other things, a 3D map of our solar system, and at this point I was looking forward to the “where do we go from here” stuff. Unfortunately, where we go is strictly standard drama.

Compared to ALIEN, for example, PROMETHEUS is a dud when it comes to that kind of suspense. It’s not that scary.

LS: Yes, I think this is one thing that should be pointed out. Even though PROMETHEUS is a prequel to ALIEN, it is not a horror movie. Sure, there are some scary creatures here, but overall, PROMETHEUS is more a movie about ideas. Maybe that’s what threw off the pacing for me. I thought it was building like a horror film, slowly ratcheting up the suspense, and it wasn’t. It’s not that kind of movie. While ALIEN was unabashedly a horror movie set on a space ship, PROMETHEUS is a science fiction film that doesn’t follow the same blueprint at all. It’s not meant to be a rehash of ALIEN. It’s a completely different animal.

MA: I agree with you, but the problem I have is that in spite of this, PROMETHEUS still gravitates towards the horrific, but unfortunately it’s rather tame horror. And then, getting back to it being a movie about ideas, it doesn’t finish the job by giving us a big payoff. I liked the fact that it was about ideas, but I wanted these thought-provoking ideas to take me somewhere.

The “Engineers,” for example, prove to be about as intellectual as the alien monsters themselves. PROMETHEUS is missing that grand moment when everything comes together and you say, “Wow!”

There’s no Wow.

LS: I think I agree with you on that. I think that’s another reason why I had a problem with the pacing. In a way, there is really no payoff. There is an ending—and a set up for a sequel, I should add—there are major things that happen, but you’re right. There’s no big Wow. The question is—can it still be a great movie without one?

MA: I found the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to be muddled. There were several moments where I found myself scratching my head, like when Captain Janek is suddenly talking about having to protect Earth from this alien race who has been building weapons of mass destruction. What weapons of mass destruction? And how does Janek know this?

LS: The weapons of mass destruction here are biological. The things in the pods. Those are the weapons. The alien ship is full of them. That’s how Janek knows—the same way we know.

MA: Yeah, I get that, but I found it an odd way of saying it, and for me it was a distraction. Why not just say these dudes are messing around with biological experiments so let’s get the hell out of here!

I also wondered why Peter Weyland was played by Guy Pearce in “old man” make-up. I thought perhaps it was because at some point in the story he’d somehow be getting younger. Nope.

I was also disappointed with the answer to the “Why were we created?” question. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I found the answer unimaginative and disappointing, which goes back to there not being a grand “Wow” moment.

LS: I didn’t think it was unimaginative at all. And if it was disappointing—well sometimes things in life are much more underwhelming than we had hoped.

MA: And I also was disappointed that the famous discovery early on in ALIEN, where the astronauts discover the giant alien pilot sitting in his ship with his chest cavity exploded, isn’t recreated here in PROMETHEUS. I thought sure that image would be one of the last images seen in this movie, but that’s not how things play out.

LS: Yes, that’s strange. The giant alien pilot is explained. In fact, it sounds like that’s the germ of where PROMETHEUS, the movie, springs from, in a way. But, you’re right, there’s no scene that exactly replicates that image from ALIEN.

MA: I wanted more of a direct connection between PROMETHEUS and ALIEN.

With or without the hype, I expected more from PROMETHEUS. I liked its imaginative visuals and storyline early on, but later, when I expected it to become very suspenseful and dark, it doesn’t cut it, mostly because it never gets all that dark. And I didn’t like the answers it provided to its thought-provoking questions.

LS: I think you were looking for a movie that was much more like ALIEN, and PROMETHEUS isn’t it, because it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a different kind of movie, and I actually found it refreshing that it didn’t follow the rules we expect from sequels and prequels. As for the answers, just because you are disappointed in them doesn’t mean they aren’t thought-provoking.

MA: But that’s why I was disappointed. I didn’t find them thought-provoking. Seriously, in terms of it being a movie about ideas, it’s no 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, that’s for sure!

I give it two knives.

LS: We sure disagree on this one. I think you’re the one who’s been sitting in the sun too long. Speaking of which, I think I’ll go back to working on my sun tan now.

MA: Okay. I think I’ll take this moon rover for a spin. Sure you don’t want to come along?

LS: Nah. I’m in the mood to relax and contemplate some thought-provoking questions.

MA: Really? Like life, the universe, and everything?

LS: No. Since we’ve got an unlimited budget here, I was wondering more about what I’m going to have for dinner. Steak or lobster?

(One of the monsters from ALIEN pops its oversized head out of the tent)

ALIEN: I’d recommend the steak! (hands LS a beer) Here you go buddy, thanks for watching my back!

MA: I should have known..

—END—.

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives PROMETHEUS ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives PROMETHEUS ~four knives.