“PROMETHEUS” (2012) Review

 

“PROMETHEUS” (2012) Review

When I first saw the trailer for director Ridley Scott’s 2012 science-fiction thriller, “PROMETHEUS”, I had no desire to see it. For me, it looked like another “alien in the spaceship” thriller that I have ignored for years. But after some persistent urging from a relative of mine, I finally saw it in the theaters. 

According to Greek mythology, Prometheus is a Titan and cultural hero who is believed to be responsible for the creation of man from clay. He also is also responsible for the theft of fire for human use, which enabled the latter to enjoy progress and civilization. Zeus punished Prometheus for the theft by sentencing the Tital to eternal torment. Zeus bounded Prometheus to rock, transformed to an eagle each day to feed on Prometheus’ liver. The latter would grow back and the eagle would feed on it again . . . day after day after day. What does this have to do with the movie, “PROMETHEUS”? Honestly, I do not know. I am not of the intellectual variety. Then again, I hear that Prometheus’ story is supposed to be a metaphor for human striving and quest for scientific knowledge, at the risk of unintended consequences. Hmmm. Now I understand why the filmmakers used this name.

Set in the late 21st century, “PROMETHEUS” is about the crew of the starship Prometheus that follows a star map discovered among the remnants of several ancient Earth cultures. Led to a distant world and an advanced civilization, the crew seeks the origins of humanity, but instead discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race. Although some members of the cast claim otherwise, it has been confirmed that “PROMETHEUS” was developed as far back as the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the ALIEN franchise, with both Scott and director James Cameron developing ideas for a film that would serve as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 science fiction horror film, “ALIEN”. The project remained dormant until 2009, when Scott again became interested. A script by Jon Spaihts served as a prequel to the events of the ALIEN movies. However, Scott chose a different direction for the movie, in order to avoid repeating the storylines of the past films. He recruited “LOST” producer/writer Damon Lindelof to co-write a new script with Spaihts. They created a story in which Scott claimed is not directly connected to the ALIEN franchise.

The movie began with a humanoid alien drinks a dark bubbling liquid, and then starts to disintegrate. As its bodily remains cascade into a waterfall, the alien’s DNA triggers a biogenetic reaction. The story jumps to the year 2089, when archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map among several unconnected ancient cultures. The pair believes the maps are invitations from humanity’s creators or “Engineers”. Peter Weyland, the aging CEO of Weyland Corporation, funds the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map. The ship’s crew travels in stasis while the android David monitors their voyage, until they arrive at Moon LV-223. Mission director Meredith Vickers orders them to avoid making contact with any of the “Engineers” without her permission. The Prometheus lands near a large artificial structure, which a team explores. The expedition team manages to find an alien corpse and believe it to be an “Engineer”. Their expedition takes an ugly turn they discover that the “Engineers” and other life forms on the moon prove to be a lot more dangerous than they had imagined.

After my family and I watched the last reel of “PROMETHEUS”, the relative who had convinced me to see the movie leaned over and offered her apologies. She even offered to reimburse me for my movie ticket. Why? Because I discovered that my original reluctance to see the movie had been justified. I disliked “PROMETHEUS”. Wholeheartedly. It turned out to be the kind of the movie that I usually dislike. Not only did it turned out to be the typical science-fiction horror film that usually turned me off, I found the movie’s intellectual aspects of the plot pretentious and incomplete. Were there any aspects of “PROMETHEUS” that I liked? Well . . . the entire cast gave solid performances, aside from some questionable accents from at least two of the cast members. I cannot deny that Dariusz Wolski’s photography was breathtaking. Or that Pietro Scalia’s editing was first rate. And Ridley Scott did a great job in maintaining a steady pace for the movie, despite its 124 minutes running time. Other than that . . . there was nothing else about this film that impressed me.

I have few questions. Why did Elizabeth Shaw assume that the aliens who had created the star maps, were creators of mankind? How did she come to this conclusion? Because she had “faith”? Who was she supposed to be? A second-rate John Locke? Or a metaphor of the Titan Prometheus? And how did she come to the conclusion near the end of the movie that the “Engineers” were out to destroy mankind, after . . . uh, creating them? And what is it about this crew that they make such stupid mistakes that end up endangering them? A good example would be the geologist Fifield and the biologist Milburn, who lacked the good sense to run for their lives after spotting the snake-like alien. And could someone please explain how Shaw managed to walk and run around both Prometheus and the moon so soon after giving herself a brutal abortion to rid herself of her alien spawn? I have one last question. Why on earth would Elizabeth (the crew’s lone survivor) even bother traveling to the aliens’ homeworld at the end of the movie, now that she believes they are out to destroy humankind? Was it so important to her to learn about the aliens’ motives that she was willing to risk her life in such a stupid manner?

Moviegoers raved over Michael Fassbender’s performance as the android David. I was too busy feeling confused about the character to consider any accolades for the actor. Exactly how are we supposed to regard David? As another Data from “STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION”? Or as one of the replicants from another Scott film, 1982’s “BLADE RUNNER”? At first, David seemed to be in thrall over human culture, Elizabeth Shaw and the moon in general. Yet, a reason that is never fully explained, he decided to spike Charlie Holloway’s (Elizabeth’s love interest and fellow archeologist) drink with a dark liquid he had found from one of the moon’s stone cylinders. Why did he do that? Again, the movie failed to explain. Some critics were also in thrall over Idris Elba’s performance as Prometheus’ chief pilot, Janek. I was too busy wincing at his attempt to re-create some kind of African-American accent. He had managed to do this successfully in the 2010 movie, “THE LOSERS”. What in the hell happened? As for Rafe Spall’s Southern accent . . . frankly my dear, it sucked.

I wish I could say that I liked “PROMETHEUS”. But if I did, I would be lying. I did not like it one bit. The movie tried to be some kind of profound tale that would leave many moviegoers asking questions. And in a way it did. But my questions about the movie only reinforced my disenchantment with it. What is really sad about “PROMETHEUS” is that it is the first Ridley Scott movie that has disappointed me since the 2001 movie, “BLACK HAWK DOWN”. Pity.

Favorite Films Set in the 1830s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1830s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1830s

1. “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993) – Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance starred in this excellent Disney adaptaion of Mark Twain’s 1885 novel about a young Missouri boy who joines a runaway slave on a journey along the Mississippi River toward the free states in antebellum America. Stephen Sommers directed.

1- The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

2. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002) – James Caviezel starred as the vengeful Edmond Dantès in Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie co-starred Guy Pearce and Dagmara Dominczyk.

2 - Pride and Prejudice 1940

3. “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) – Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Robert Z. Leonard directed.

3 - The Count of Monte Cristo 1975

4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975) – Richard Chamberlain gave an intense performance in the 1975 television adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Tony Curtis and Kate Nelligan co-starred.

4 - Impromptu

5. “Impromptu” (1991) – Judy Davis and Hugh Grant starred in this comedic tale about author George Sand’s pursuit of composer Frédéric Chopin in 1830s France. James Lapine directed.

5 - Amistad

6. “Armistad” (1997) – Steven Spielberg directed this account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad and the trials of the Mendes tribesmen/mutineers, led by Sengbe Pieh. The movie starred Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConnaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.

6 - Wide Sargasso Sea 2006

7. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006) – Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall starred in this 2006 television adaptation of Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, which is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. It focused upon the early marriage of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha Mason) and Edward Rochester.

7 - My Cousin Rachel

8. “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) – Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton starred in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel about a young Englishman’s obsession with his late cousin’s widow. Henry Koster directed.

8 - The Alamo 2004

9. “The Alamo” (2004) – John Lee Hancock directed this account of the Battle of the Alamo, the only production about the Texas Revolution that I actually managed to enjoy. The movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson and Jason Patric.

9 - The Big Sky

10. “The Big Sky” (1952) – Howard Hawks directed this adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel about a fur trader’s expedition up the Missouri River. Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin starred.

The 18th Century in Television

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Recently, I noticed there were a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 18th century. In fact, I managed to count at least six productions. Astounded by this recent interest in that particular century, I decided to list them below in alphabetical order:

THE 18TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

banished

1. “Banished” (BBC TWO) – I do not whether this is a miniseries or regular series, but it is basically about a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia; where British convicts and their Royal Navy marine guards and officers live. Russell Tovey, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and MyAnna Buring star.

black sails

2. “Black Sails” (STARZ) – Toby Stephens stars in this prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”, about the adventures of Captain Flint.

book of negroes

3. “Book of Negroes” (CBC/BET) – This six-part miniseries is an adaptation of Lawrence Hill historical novel about a West African girl who is sold into slavery around the time of the American Revolution and her life experiences in the United States and Canada. Aunjanue Ellis, Lyriq Bent and Cuba Gooding, Jr. star.

outlander

4. “Outlander” (STARZ) – This series is an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” book series about a 1940s woman who ends up traveling back in time to 18th century Scotland. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies star.

poldark

5. “Poldark” (BBC ONE) – Aidan Turner and Elizabeth Tomlinson star in this new television adaptation of Winston Graham’s book series about a former British Army officer who returns home to Cornwall after three years fighting in the American Revolution.

sons of liberty

6. “Sons of Liberty” (HISTORY Channel) – Ben Barnes, Rafe Spall and Henry Thomas starred in this three-part miniseries about the Sons of Liberty political group and the beginning of the American Revolution.

turn - washington spies

7. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (AMC) – Jamie Bell stars in this series about a pro-American spy ring operating on behalf of General George Washington during the American Revolution.

“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review

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“LIFE OF PI” (2012) Review

It has been a while since Hollywood went into a tizzy over a movie directed by Ang Lee. His latest opus turned out to be “LIFE OF PI”, an adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 fantasy-adventure novel. The movie earned at least eleven nominations and won at least four, including a second Best Director Academy Award for Lee. 

“LIFE OF PI” begins in early 21st century Canada; when a local writer is advised to interview a middle-aged immigrant from Puducherry with a very interesting story to tell. Pi Patel then proceeds to tell the writer about his family and childhood in Puducherry. According to Patel, his father owned a zoo and it was there he first met the zoo’s new Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. When Patel was 16 years old, his father announces his intention to move the family to Winnipeg, Canada. There, he plans to sell the zoo animals and live. Pi, saddened by the idea of leaving his family and his new love, does not tell the news very well.

The family books passage aboard a Japanese freighter called the Tzimtzum. During the voyage, the Tzimtzum begins to founder during a heavy storm, while Pi is on deck. Before he can find his family, a crew member throws him into a lifeboat. As the ship begins to sink, a zebra leaps into the lifeboat and injures himself. The rest of Pi’s family along with other passengers and crewmen die as the Tzimtzum sinks. Once the storm is over, Pi discovers that other animals had made their way into the lifeboat – an orangutan and a hyena. The hyena angers Pi by killing the zebra and then the orangutan. Before he can do anything about it, the tiger Richard Parker suddenly emerges from under the lifeboat’s tarp and kills the hyena. Pi is left alone with Richard Parker, in which the two continue the journey as wary adversaries. By the time their journey ends on the Mexican coastline, they have become friends before Richard Parker disappears into the jungle.

When I first saw the trailer for “LIFE OF PI”, I did not want to see it. Period. Despite my knowledge that the movie had been directed by Ang Lee – of whom I am a fan – I did not want to see it. I did not want to see a movie about a boy surviving God knows how many days in a lifeboat with a tiger. End of story. When the movie was finally released in theaters, I went out of my way to avoid it . . . despite the positive press from the film critics. And even when it accumulated so many Golden Globe and Academy Awards nominations, I still refused to see it. I finally came around and saw “LIFE OF PI” when it was finally released on DVD. Did I regret missing it while it was in the theaters? Hmmmmm . . . not really. But I must admit that it was a pretty damn good film.

One . . . it had a good story. Lee, along with screenwriter David Magee did an excellent job in setting up Martel’s story on screen. The movie devoted at least a good half hour into Pi’s family background and his childhood. They especially took care in revealing his parents’ philosophies – something that would profoundly affect his harsh ocean journey from Puducherry to Mexico. They also did an excellent job in utilizing the literary device of the flashback, using middle-age Pi’s interview with a journalist. In fact, I believe that this device, along with Pi’s first-person (whether he was the 16 year-old boy or the middle-aged man) narration help keep the story alive for me.

There were other aspects of “LIFE OF PI” that impressed me. Mychael Danna won a much deserved Academy Award for writing the movie’s score. Mind you, I could not remember it for the likes of me. But I do recall how perfectly it meshed with the film’s narration. I also have to commend the beautiful visual effects created by the now bankrupt Rhythm & Hues Studios. Their visuals – especially of the animals featured in this movie – struck me as breathtaking. Although some of the animals, like those featured in Pi’s lifeboat, seemed real; while others like the meerkats on the floating island seemed more artistic than real. I especially enjoyed the sequence in which Pi’s lifeboat encountered a breaching Humpback whale and the school of dolphins.

I can see many shaking their heads over my review so far. How could I have enjoyed this movie so much, if I did not regret missing it in the theaters? Remember my reason why I originally avoided the film in the first place? I did not want to see a movie about a boy and a tiger in a lifeboat. While watching the movie, I found myself wishing that the entire sequence featuring Pi and “Richard Parker” could be shorter. It almost seemed to go on . . . forever. This sequence also brought back some not-so-pleasant memories of Tom Hanks and a volleyball named Wilson in the 2000 film, “CASTAWAY”. I felt relieved when Hanks’ character was finally rescued by a freighter in that movie. While watching “LIFE OF PI”, I eventually fell asleep before Pi and “Richard Parker” reached the floating island of the meerkats and Mexico. I woke up just in time to witness the escape from the meerkats island. Why did it have to take so long? I realize that the movie was about Pi’s emotional and spiritual journey. But did it have to take so long? Oh well. It was still a damn good movie that ended on a very satisfying note.

From what I had read, Ang Lee personally selected 17 year-old Suraj Sharma to portray the 16 year-old Pi. And I must say that Sharma gave a stupendous performance. Along with Lee’s direction and the visual effects, Sharma really made that movie. He did an excellent job in conveying Pi’s journey from innocence to heartbreak to spiritual maturity. And I am astounded that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to nominate him for a Best Actor award. What in the hell were they thinking? I realize that the competition was pretty tough for 2012, but still . . . he should have been considered among the top three nominees.

The cast also benefited from excellent supporting performances from Irrfan Khan, who was excellent as the mature Pi. Rafe Spall was charming as the Canadian writer who interviewed Pi. Tabu gave an emotionally satisfying performance as Pi’s mother Gita Pitel. And I was certainly impressed by Adil Hussain’s commanding portrayal of Pi’s father, Santosh Patel. Gérard Depardieu was certain memorable as the Tzimtzum’s unpleasant cook. And James Saito added a great deal of intensity to the heartbreaking scene featuring an interview between Pi and the older Japanese insurance investigator. It was good to see him again.

What else can I say about “LIFE OF PI”? It was a beautiful and heartbreaking adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel. Once again, Ang Lee proved to the world that when he puts his heart and soul into a film, he can create something beautiful. And he was ably supported by an excellent cast led by the very talented Suraj Sharma, Rhythm & Hues Studio’s visual effects and Mychael Danna’s score. I do not think I would ever love this movie. I am sorry, but I could not deal with so many minutes devoted to a boy and a tiger in a boat. But I must say that I enjoyed it very much.