Showing posts with label Space. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Space. Show all posts


Proto Man

So I finally saw Prometheus last night.

It was heavily buzzed last spring. I had as high of hopes as anyone else - probably even higher, to be honest. While my initial reaction to the announcement had been low expectations at best, that changed the more I saw. The trailer looked crazy and there was honest to goodness potential in Ridley Scott going back to the well for more of the once-great franchise. They even had Lost-alum (the admittedly divisive) Damon Lindelof on board to re-write the script and build the world a bit more. There was a great cast in line. Everything was lining up to be pretty damn stellar. 

Then the movie came out and the world of nerds on the internet collectively soiled themselves in anger. 

Once the negative feedback started online, I decided not to see it in the theater as I had originally planned. Instead, I waited to consume it in the same fashion I had any other entry in the fading Alien franchise: at home with some junk food and no expectations. So how was it?

Not bad.

While Prometheus was certainly not on the level with the original Alien or other staples of the genre like Blade Runner, it wasn't the cinematic abortion people were claiming it to be. In fact, despite a flawed story with arbitrary motivation and some contrived coincidences, I found it to be a grand and profound science fiction movie the likes of which rarely get made these days. Far from perfect but still enjoyable, there were plenty of moments where the soul of previous success would bleed through. Ridley Scott has had hits and misses, but when he gets on a good streak in a movie it can really build some momentum. Sure, it can be dashed on the rocks of characters who quickly become shouting morons, but there were more than enough entertaining moments to warrant its production.

Additionally, in a bid to stop typing altogether I dictated my thoughts into my phone as I sat in the dark, eating Whoppers and nursing a beer. Below is a full list of my notes, along with the clearer insight of having slept on what I saw in parentheses:

- Even the opening logo is that weird blue tint to it. (Must we do the orange/blue color shift every time?)

- The opening panoramas actually have that the Scott feel. (Pretty grand vistas and sweeping, heavy shots.)

- So is the intro of the movie the crux of the whole plot in a bad way? (Like, was that it? From what I had avoiding spoiling for myself in advance, seeing the first scene made me think 'Yeah, that's probably it, I should turn it off and save myself a couple hours. I was sort of wrong?)

- Even for science-fiction this dream reading business seems bogus. (Immediately forgetting Inception and, you know, space monsters and robots.)

- It's got a good look but the problem is that even the retro looking things clearly are more advanced than what was in Alien. (It's that balancing act of a PREQUEL being made 30 years later. Tech we hadn't thought of could be explained away as better funding by the Weyland Corp. Also, in Alien they were just a mining ship.)

- God awful accent. (Rafe Spall. Seriously.)

- Old make up still looks fake. (No matter how artfully applied and blended with CGI, my first thought was 'OMIGAD YOUNG PERSON IN MAKEUP. Why have Guy Pearce do that? Why not, say, hire an elderly actor?)

- I want the white sweatshirt. (Alright Rafe - I'll forgive the accent if I can have your weird hoodie.)

- There better funded that's what they have better tech. (My hand-waiving the jarring juxtaposition of this movie and Alien. See above.)

- That is one stupid scientist. (Dude. Even I know - DO. NOT. TOUCH. This was apparently establishing a running theme?)

- The geologist is clearly from a lesser film. (Sorry man, but your over the top acting was not due to script problems.)

- The engineer head coming back to my life momentarily is genuinely freaky. (No joke. A disturbing moment. Also? Totally animatronic, I found out.)

- Ask God why do we need robots? (A real BSOD moment for me. Never stopped to think 'Wait, why ARE we making robots in the first place? Simply to serve man? That's a cop out. Still chewing on this.)

- Apple TV remote visible on Shaw's couch. (Nice future tech, you thing I have on my coffee table.)

- That just went from bad to worse. (Blugh, that snake-thing snapping an arm and melting the helmet? That escalated quickly.)

- In the map room the difference between practical effects and CGI is still stark although it's good to see more Geiger. (It's hard to blend them, even all these years after Phantom Menace. Geiger's art is still so distinct and creepy, when used sparingly.)

- That is a slow non-guaranteed way to die and Charlize Theron didn't want to do it. (Seriously, setting him on fire? Probably would suffer for hours from complicated burns. You have guns. Shoot him.)

- I'm obviously not the first person to think Prometheus take place in the same world as Inception. (Cue the linking of that movie's universe, which makes the combined fictional universes Inception, Alien, Blade Runner and Predator.)

- Body horror in the medical pod a glimpse of things to come. (That abortion scene was one of the most disturbing things I've seen on film in a while. The opened cavity? Awful. A horrible look at the wonderful, sterile, male-driven world of medicine yet to come.)

- Arbitrary monster...( arbitrary. Shoe horned in for a scare/action scene? Waste of screen time.)

- Idris Elba is the best part of this and maybe David. (Okay, clearly David is the best thing about this movie, but Idris was pretty damn solid.)

- I would've believed it if they killed everybody. (A psych-out that I was willing to accept. If any movie had the stones to go bleak and kill 'em all, this would have been it. But alas, no.)

- Final alien was gratuitous, redundant and poorly designed. (Sorry, just didn't dig it. Even after all the build up. Show, don't tell. It was clearly the same Engineers and world of Alien, do we need to be hit over the head with it?)

So there you have it. Despite the high snark level of some of those comments, I really did enjoy Prometheus and will defend it to fellow nerds. It aspired to be more than it could, but despite a strong pedigree could not overcome some complex script problems.  If you're curious, I highly recommend it.

Still worth waiting to see after all the publicity.


Pure Menace

I went to see The Phantom Menace this weekend. Intentionally and with surprisingly high hopes, I should add. 

My reasons for doing so were varied, but I essentially wanted to see if it truly is as bad as the collective internet would have us believe. Though, really, it was a chance to hang out with a friend of mine and go to the movies, which happens so rarely these days. I had a great time with my friend, but the movie...what a fascinating misstep in the annals of film. 

Here's the short version for anyone not in the know: George Lucas was responsible (mostly) for some really great movies. He took a huge hiatus from a beloved franchise and when he returned to it almost 20 years later, he made a movie that has become synonymous with disappointment and fan-backlash. Since then, he made two more that only made incremental improvements, thus tarnishing the very series that brought him to prominence in the first place. Lucas cut a deep dividing line between his older work and his recent work, one body being heartfelt and the other being coldly focused at selling toys and crowding the screen. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 
I loved the Star Wars movies as a kid. As a teenager, my focus shifted (girls, music, what have you) and I never even saw The Phantom Menace in its theatrical release. I eventually rekindled my love for the series a few years ago, the nostalgia fueling a passion for which little else holds such high regard in my eyes. So when the Blu Ray editions of the six film series were announced, I was on board from the get go. Yes, the whole thing, not just the good half. I wanted the whole set, not just for completion's sake, but to evaluate the series with fresh eyes and new presentation. I hadn't seen TPM in ten years, and the only time I saw it was on a VHS on a small screen TV on a sunny afternoon. Hardly ideal viewing conditions. When I watched the movies on Blu Ray a few months ago I simply skipped large parts of TPM, wanting to get to the movies I love instead of enduring what I assumed was absolute dreck. 

I was mostly right in doing so. 

Going to the theater on Saturday, I had a fresh viewing experience ahead of me. The hatred and fervor behind the movie had died down. It would not only be on the big screen, but in 3D as well. This was the big selling point for the re-release and I'll admit, I wanted to see how it changed the movie. As it turns out, not even a fresh, forgiving perspective could fix the missteps Lucas took in constructing TPM from the ground up. The 3D, while subtly applied, didn't add a great deal, just more depth of field and a darker, frustrating image. In my home experience it was bright and vivid, full of clear imagery. This was muddled and sleep-inducing - the bulbs are never turned up bright enough on 3D projectors. While I enjoyed the whole ritual of going to the movies, our immediate reaction upon leaving the theater was amazement. We weren't simply trashing the film for the sake of dog-piling. It really is just that bad. 

Mr. Plinkett's review makes every single flaw with the film abundantly clear, as it is nearly as long as the movie itself. What I can do, though, is give more concise insight. 

For starters, I still can't say with any certainty what the movie is about. I know, I know. Trade routes and Federation disputes, blockades and diplomats. It's insane. Three times, now, I've seen this movie and I still shrug at the actual supposed motivations. I can't event bother with paying attention to the nuts and bolts of the political process in the movie. I get so fed up with politics in my own life, I don't want to pay attention and get invested in ones in a fantasy world. Compare that to plots in IV, V and VI - rebel spies, revenge, running from the Empire. Simple, comprehendible motivations, despite the fantastical setting.

Wooden acting is another integral problem. The only lively elements were Jar Jar and Ewan McGregor, and even McGregor was limited to imitating Alec Guiness. He got much more loose with it in the following installments. Even here it was apparent he was the only one who seemed to know not to take it too seriously. Liam Neeson is stiff and distant, very hard to root for. Natalie Portman just didn't seem to know how to play her part. Ian Mcdermid at least had a sense from his prior experience to ham it up a bit.
On top of all it is the fact that the screen and the universe Lucas created was simply so cluttered at this point. While the first three movies suggested a rich, developed universe behind the story, here it was presented as a full on, unrelenting onslaught. Every inch of the screen was packed with action and detail. The clutter was mind boggling. Seemingly every character had had or eventually had a back story or a novel or a video game spin off. I don't want to have to know all that business - I want to be able to just watch the movie and follow the action on screen.
I know I'm being harsh. There were some cool moments. Seeing the Gungan city revealed in 3D in the theater was actually pretty breathtaking, as were some of the other establishing shots. The score was classic Star Wars. The lightsaber dual wasn't bad. There were moments where the original trilogy poked through, but they were so few and far between that they couldn't buoy the film out of slow, steady sinking process. It was, as I've said, fascinating to see how intrinsically flawed the movie is at every level. I also know I'll go see Attack of the Clones next year. I'm just a glutton for punishment and too quick to give second chances, I guess.


More Untraditional

So yesterday I extolled the virtues of the Futurama episode Xmas Story. Huge fan, I'm all about it. It was a game changer, for sure. The only thing better was the follow up, released a year later. Titled 'A Tale of Two Santas', this episode was even crazier and more over the top than the last. You want to celebrate Xmas? Go over the top with this under the radar episode.
The last Futurama episode had introduced us to the seasons greetings
in the year 3000. This episode sees the cast and crew digging in for their most cathartic and destructive iteration yet. Why observe the holiday in solemn silence when you can see the withered remains of Neptune or the legally mandated execution of a robot in the name of Xmas?
Here's the gist: the Planet Express crew is tasked with delivering letters to Santa, no matter how evil he may be. When the Robot Santa becomes trapped in an ice block, Bender takes on the mantle to become Santa for a night, enduring all forms of torture and mistrust in the process. You come bearing Tri-Ominoes? Good luck escaping unscathed. When he's brought before a jury, everyone in the Planet Express crew has to step up and prove his innocence.
This episode ups the insanity from the previous years Xmas installment in the best way possible. It's bigger. It's badder. The world is more established. The Neptunians are a grim, sobering bunch. Santas workshop is a horrible relentless place. There are more explosions and gunfire. More violence and jokes. Basically the cast and crew figured out there voice and hit it at full stride for this Xmas episode. Plus, a lovely holiday tune that starts with the line "We are free and fairly sober." Super fun stuff.
When people talk about the 'golden period' of Futurama, like they do with the Simpsons, this is an episode that stands out. Just ask Santa's friend Jesus. It's insanity at the best level. Keep reading. We're gonna hit dirt in a couple days...


Alien Essential

It won't all be zombies and ghosts.

To prove that point, today's movie-themed Spooky Month post will focus on one of my favorite movies ever, let alone a quality scary one. It's a movie with a long and storied history, one I'll only partially be able to delve into. Regardless, let's cut right to the chase and take a look at Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece, Alien

Alien is a movie that inspires awe in me, both as an avid horror buff and as a simple audience member. I knew when I first saw it on VHS back in the mid 90s that it was a renowned piece of movie history. At the time I was just into the sci-fi and titular monsters, the design and lore of which were fascinating. The older I grew and the more I learned about the movie (and to lesser extent the diminishing sequels) the more I respected and appreciated the artistry and craft that went into making this hallmark of horror. Every little tidbit of information made it that much more impressive, in my eyes. But enough fan-boy gushing from me - let me explain what the deal is and why you should care, in case you've (sadly) missed out until now. 
Alien is a claustrophobic, dramatic science fiction movie that established one of the most subversive, original monsters in modern creation. Set aboard an interstellar mining vessel in the semi-distant future (a believable one with well-drawn human characters, not the cardboard-yet-fantastical George Lucas world), it tells the tale of a crew investigating a distress signal on a supposedly uninhabited planet. The ragtag, contentious crew accept company orders to land on the surface and venture out to see what caused the auto-pilot to wake them from their cryogenic hibernation. Among ancient wreckage awaited something...dangerous and absolutely unfamiliar. A crew member is brought back on board with something attached to him, which inevitably leads to an uncanny monster stalking the claustrophobic halls of their vessel. Already back on path to Earth, the near-defenseless crew struggles to survive against the lurking horror. This description is all in the hopes of enticing you without giving away surprises for a movie that's well over 30 years old, so if you have never had the fortune of being terrified by it, for the love of scary movies, see it now. If you already know, then you get why I have to beat around the bush on some of the more central elements. 
But let's assume you're familiar with the movie for a moment. What is it that makes it so remarkable? There are countless reasons, frankly. But is there any particular one that stands out as the backbone to the legendary status of this film? Certainly Ridley Scott's direction is integral, with his gorgeous framing and nail-biting pacing. I can include myself among the many people that swore up and down that the alien changed shape and size throughout the film, despite the concrete evidence to the contrary. His creation of enclosed sets for the mining vessel Nostromo were also a key factor, establishing a real space with palpable tight spots and a sense of being lived in. The cast did a fantastic job of portraying working class people in a future that otherwise would be cliched and hokey. They feel like a genuine band of dysfunctional coworkers with old disagreements and grievances, as well as disparate motivations. Sigourney Weaver did an impeccable job as the heroine, cementing her status as an action lead despite the dearth of women in the field. This casting choice is especially noteworthy considering that it occurred back in the ancient 1970s. 
Of course this all glosses over the most notorious element of all - H.R. Giger's unholy creation. Summoning inspiration from the most biological yet unnatural sources, Giger created a monster that unnerves us and disturbs that sense of normalcy in the mind. When seeing it for the first time, we are naturally repulsed yet intrigued by its simultaneously organic and mechanical elements. Furthermore, the manner in which it reproduces (let alone how it bursts onto the scene) are subversively abhorrent to our standards of tradition and the expected world. The idea of the creature's reproductive cycle and the parallels it possesses to rape and male pregnancy are well established, no doubt causing further unease in our subconsciousness as we watch the film. 
There are tons of little details that add to the movie, giving weight to unspoken themes or just adding to the world we're brought into. The idea of the ship waking up in the opening scenes is added to by framing shots of the monitors in reflective helmets, as though the machines were speaking. Corporate omnipresence Weyland-Yutani's motivations and questionable actions in the face of ethical dilemmas are ever the more prescient today, given the horrible repercussions depicted in the film. This is further elevated by our continuing advances in cybernetics and artificial intelligence. Unacknowledged things in the derelict spacecraft on the surface of the planet also suggest a deeper history to the movie - the Space Jockey is massive, clearly not a human. Further, what was the signal? A warning? A beacon? Attempts in recent movies are only semi-canonical and disappointing at best. The mystery here is so much more fascinating than a hard answer. 
Alien is excellent in every aspect. It is just as terrifying today as it was when it was first released. Quality presentation only adds to the experience. High resolution transfers, a widescreen TV and a dark, quiet place make it more of an immersive, unnerving experience. If you've never seen this masterpiece of science fiction horror, check it out as soon as possible. You want to see the monster? Go find it in the dark.


Totally Unrelated

Welcome back!

I figure if you're reading this you probably watched the Oscars. The Venn Diagram was most likely pretty close together on that. Maybe I'm being presumptuous, but who knows? Regardless, I'm in a movie mood. Makes sense, right? Either way it bears repeating: Moon is a fantastic movie. It deserved accolades in 2009 and absolutely warrants repeated viewing today. I mentioned it the other day when posting about Max Tannone's awesome soundtrack mash-up based on the idea.

Directed by Duncan Jones (or Zowie Bowie, if that helps) and starring the always-interesting Sam Rockwell, Moon is, as I have previously written, a sad and quiet film, full of poignant and melancholy moments. It's the lonely, heart-rending tale of Sam Bell, the sole Helium-3 miner on the surface of the moon, accompanied only by computer A.I. GERTY, voiced by Kevin SpaceyGERTY, by the way, is a wonderful companion piece to Sam, in a delicious homage to Kubrick's 2001. Sam is responsible for overseeing the operation on his lonely outpost in our near-future, manning the station all alone. 

Mostly alone.  

During a seemingly routine day, Sam ventures out into the lunar landscape to check on potential problems and stumbles across a wrecked vehicle. Like any sane person, Sam brings this mysterious stranger back to the station, where he makes a disturbing and disorienting discovery - it's him. Sam is faced with Sam. No answers, immediately. I was quite perplexed on my initial viewing of the movie - Sam is faced with himself and hardly seems to question the situation. What happens from there, though, is both wonderful and tragic. Working through the context with GERTY's assistance, Sam begins to piece together just what strange business is afoot on the lunar surface. I won't go any farther into the details, to save your own discovery of an amazingly intelligent piece of honest-to-goodness Science Fiction, more Bradbury than Transformers. These days it seems if you hear the term Sci-Fi it inevitably means huge robots fighting each other or some terrible, bottom of the barrel guilty-pleasure schlock. Moon, in contrast, is a breath of fresh air. It's so smart and subtle. You really have to see it in action to appreciate the understated beauty of the film. It received it's share of accolades upon its initial release and currently holds a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, if that's any help.
Moon is fantastic in every sense of the word. It's touching and human, grounded and out of this world. It had a small theatrical release in 2009 with high praise, yet little wide-spread appeal. Since then it's gained steam and reputation from its excellent production and heart. I really do love this movie and feel that if you have any patience for science in your movies you really should give it a fair shake. Netflix, Redbox, Itunes - however you can, dig up this hidden gem and see what can happen on the surface of the moon that can move you. It's wonderful.


Red Rover


Today has been a jam packed day and as a result I haven't been able to sort out a proper write up on a couple different things I've been working on. They'll be posted eventually but in the mean time I wanted to share something that has been boggling my brain as of late.

One of the fantastic and literary gifts I received this Christmas came from my younger brother. Said gift is a great read which I'm just finishing up and will do a proper run down when it's officially finished. The book in question is How I Killed Pluto And Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown, a hilarious and fascinating analysis of one of the most controversial scientific decisions of the decade. Personally, I get it so far. Tiny little planet, on the verge of the Kuiper Belt, other things Brown is breaking down in a clear and concise manner, with a solid dose of humor, to boot.

What I've been struggling with while reading, however, is the scale of the universe we live in. I find myself completely distracted from thinking about the literally astronomical distance between our celestial bodies. I know this will come across as a nothing post, people will read it and think "oh that's nice" and move on, but that just bums me out.

Please, in our cluttered and manic lives, try to take a moment and attempt to picture the absolutely massive scale of the  Solar System and the void between planets. Think of Mars and how far away it is. Think of the fact that simply because you're alive to read this you most likely will not live to see a person touch Mars. After the budget cuts NASA has seen as of late, such a monumental event won't be accomplished by us, that's certain. But! We have put a robot up there. That little guy has taken pictures. Please, let that sink in. It works almost as the opposite as WALL-E. Check out this amazingly moving XKCD comic to get a little better perspective.

In lieu of a proper write up, I'll leave you a few pictures of an alien landscape we'll almost never set foot on, yet is still within our grasp.

Peace out.