Monthly Archives: June 2012

Post-Prometheus Reflections

*being more of a reflection than an actual review, expect MAJOR SPOILERS 

As you guys know I finally gave my review of Prometheus last Wednesday, and the verdict was that it was a disappointment. Looking back on it, I feel like I may have set my expectations way too high once more (like what I did for my Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1). After all, I have to admit that I am a huge fanboy of Alien and Aliens and that may have clouded my judgment of Prometheus. With this, I decided to try to take a closer look at the film and critique it on its own terms: a post-review analysis judging Prometheus as a film separate from any preconceptions of Alien.

At best, I would have to say that the film’s biggest weakness is the script. The characters are mostly redshirts, you wouldn’t care for any of them if they die. While some would say that Shaw’s, Vickers’, and David’s characters are engaging, it was more of the actors’ talent than the script’s strength (after all, we ARE talking about Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Michael Fassbender playing them).

Another weakness of the script would have to be the leaps of logic and the plot-holes. While some might argue that the film is setting up for a sequel, remember that a narrative must have a sense of completeness in them. Fine, the film’s plot was complete in one way or another: Shaw prevented the lone Engineer from flying to earth, that much is resolved. However, that doesn’t one basic question: why create humanity if they’re only going to destroy it afterwards? It would have been fine if the aliens coming to destroy us were a different type, but it wasn’t the case for Prometheus, Engineers were coming back to destroy Earth. Why? This question leads to another point.

One notable critic which I religiously follow mentions that the film seeks to tackle more cerebral issues. I have to admit that film does pose questions, BIG questions. This is a film trying to address concepts about creation, life, and the God-question: how did life on Earth come about, and why did a deity create life to begin with? Separating my conservative Catholic values and formation, these are questions which have always intrigued me because they are indeed thought provoking. How would  the created come to terms with a creator knowing that we were nothing more than an accident? These are concepts asked time and time again in the history of philosophy, and repeated explored by one particular author who practically gave birth to contemporary horror. To throw these questions to summer audiences is a huge gamble, considering that most mainstream audiences are looking for something straightforward in a movie.

Additionally, asking the Big Questions in a movie is one thing; film craftsmanship is another. If there’s one thing that film appreciation classes in the University taught us, it’s that the film’s point must not be separated from the form. Simply put, the film’s message (for lack of a better term) must be weaved in the narrative: it’s not enough that a character says, “sexual perversion is wrong”, that would be preachy. The better way would be to show, using a film’s elements of cinematography, editing, screenplay, and others, HOW sexual perversion is wrong (which is why, again despite of my conservative Catholic upbringing, I was able to appreciate Shame because of its craftsmanship).

That’s what Prometheus lacked; the melding of form and content. The character’s simply asked (in the most basic sense of the word) the Big Questions. Then when something scary appears they go, “Ah! Our geologist turns into a zombie alien, kill it!”. And they do kill it. If anything, the screenwriters broke the “show, don’t tell” rule in basic narrative writing.

Which leads me to my last point; the film wanted to do A LOT of things.  It wanted to be a thought-provoking film, a summer blockbuster, and a pseudo-prequel to Alien. I understand that Ridley Scott wanted to make a film set in the same universe as Alien. That choice might have been a huge miscalculation on part of the director for in trying to make a blockbuster with huge ideas in it, one is sure to sacrifice one element in the film. Serious film aficionados are sure to enjoy the Big Questions of the film (despite the lack of craftsmanship), while the Alien fanboys would probably want to see more of the Space Jockeys and the xenomorphs.

“But Evil Dr. Bok, you could make a summer blockbuster film while answering thought provoking questions! What about The Dark Knight and Inception? They questioned the very foundations of law and order, as well as the truth and relativity of the world. They also included amazing action set-pieces! Prometheus did the same!”

True, but remember what I said about craftsmanship and the melding of form and content: the film’s content was weaved along the storytelling. I need not give explicit examples; just remember the endings of The Dark Knight and Inception. Prometheus does not of that: they separated the Big Questions from the filmmaking. The film wasn’t cohesive enough to juggle the form and the content. In the end, we have a film suffering from an identity crisis.

In the end, the film suffered the Spider-Man 3 syndrome: in trying to include a lot of things, certain parts of the film were left half-baked. While the Lovecraft inspired questions were definitely appealing, they weren’t handled properly enough. However, I would have to give credit to the filmmakers for their gamble. They did come up with one of the most visually arresting films of 2012, and that alone would merit the surcharge for IMAX.

Still a 3.5 stars out of 5.

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Prometheus (A Review)

This was on my most awaited list for 2012. I was vigorously following the marketing of this film. I prepare for this film by watching Alien. And when I finally got to see this awhile ago, all I could say was, “Hmmm, well I was kinda expecting this.”

Beyond a doubt, Ridley Scott is definitely what one would call a “visionary director. In the beginning of his career with Alien and Blade Runner, Scott exhibited a very visual eye. His visual compositions are amazing and all you need to do is recall the following: the claustrophobic interiors of the Nostromo and the Space Jockey ship from Alien, the opening shot of Los Angeles in Blade Runner, the battle sequences in Gladiator, and the chaotic streets of Mogadishu in Black Hawk Down. These films show Scott at the top of his game. However, if there’s something that these films have which the rest of his most recent films (yes, including Prometheus) do NOT have it’s a decent, or at the very least, a competent screenwriter.

The Good

Like I said earlier, when it comes to visuals Ridley Scott is definitely your man. The cinematography, the production design, the puppet effects, the make-up effects, and the visual effects are definitely well done. Specifically for the production design, the filmmakers decided to go “old school” and build physical sets instead of going CGI.

When the CGI enters the scene it’s just as pretty. The star map in the Space Jockey ship was really pretty, as well as the other HUD on board Prometheus. Ridley Scott was going for an epic feel to the film with regard to production design, and the CGI just enhances the feel ten-fold.

As for the 3D, I have mixed feelings regarding its implementation but with regard to dimming and blurring, I don’t recall seeing anything distracting from the experience. I’m actually glad that Ridley Scott didn’t bother too much with in your face 3D effects and even uses the whole 3D effect as an experiment with tension (I’m referring to a particular scene, you’ll know it when you watch it).

As for the suspense, the film does not do with the claustrophobic tension from Alien and opts for a more straightforward sense of suspense. It’s not as scary, gory, and terrifying as Alien, but it works for most part.

Additionally, both Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace are very pretty to look at here. :))

Also, Michael Fassbender gives a terrific performance as the android David. He practically stole the show.

The Bad (SPOILER ALERT, in some portions)

As I’ve always said time and time again; while primarily a visual medium, film is still driven by a narrative. Now while Prometheus‘ plot and story aren’t horribly bad, I’d have to say that it felt quite forced.

If you’ve been following the film’s development, it supposedly evolved from a straight-up Alien prequel to some sort of “pseudo-prequel”/ original story which somehow involves the Space Jockey from the original Alien film, and that, according to co-writen Damon Lindelof,  if a sequel would be made it would be titled Prometheus 2 and not Alien.

I’m not entirely sure if his definition of prequel is different from THE definition of prequel (though in a postmodern world, one gives his own meaning of the truth), but I’d have to say that based on what I’ve just seen, I definitely saw a prequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien. Believe me, I went in to watch an original story which would involve ancient astronauts laced with Lovecraftian cosmic horror undertones (which again, Alien borrows from). I went in to watch a Lovecraftian story where naive and unscrupulous men and women would search for knowledge which definitely isn’t meant for them. I wanted to watch a film which to relies on these story elements alone that easter eggs to the original Alien would feel like a cherry topping on an otherwise superb ice-cream sundae. But alas, we do not live in a perfect world.

The film’s script felt like fan-fiction. Now I don’t know if it’s because I’m all too familiar with the Alien mythos that Prometheus left me with a very irritating itch, but I have to say that the film’s attempt at being a pseudo-prequel to Alien did the film more harm than good. The philosophical musings are underdeveloped, and clashes with the half-baked attempts to tie this film to the Alien franchise. While the film does not have the usual Alien tropes of xenomorphs, facehuggers, and chestbursters (SPOILER ALERT), the snake-like creature, the face-hugger prime, and the creature gestating at Noomi Rapace’s womb replaced them. Admittedly, it was interesting to see these creatures in action, but in essence these are simply the prototypes of the xenomorphs from the original series: prototypes meaning half-made, concepts, incomplete, uninspired.

There were also moments when the characters’ action do not seem at all believable. The climactic scene with the crash of the alien craft was preceded by a totally random character realization that I went, “Wait a minute, did I miss something here? Why’d they decide on that immediately.” The explanation as to why the Space Jockey (or Engineer as what the characters call them, and SPOILER ALERT again) created humanity and decide to kill them is severely lacking and unconvincing (and if this is some deliberately plot-hole for a sequel, oh you bastards!).

The Verdict

You could argue that this film is supposed to appeal to non-fans of Alien, that this film was meant to be stand on its own free from the tropes of the aforementioned film. However, the images and the last shot of the film  counter the idea of creating an original story independent from Alien and instead gives us a film desperately trying to break free from Alien‘s shadow only to discover a ball and chain attached to its leg.

Granted, I enjoyed moments of the film. The visuals are great, but they’re expected from a Ridley Scott film. There are portions of suspense but not to the level of Alien. Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron are definitely eye-candy for this film, and Michael Fassbender gives another impressive performance in his ever growing repertoire.

However, the biggest hindrance to my enjoyment of this film is its own identity crisis. One could imagine the film asking itself, “Wait, I’m supposed to be an original story. WHY THE HELL ARE THOSE XENOMORPH PROTOTYPES BUSTING MY CHOPS?!”

I never thought I’d say this, but the Alien franchise seems to be a horse beaten to death already. The mythos has been overexposed already. It’s too familiar already. Yes, the idea of the ancient astronaut, while not exclusive to the Alien mythos, has already been touched upon in Stargate during the 90s.  Though it’s an interesting idea, there is no need to tie it to Alien.

Simply put, Prometheus falls under the bad category of prequels: the type of film which sets the audience up for the first film of the franchise. I knew beforehand that the end of the film would explicitly feature a xenomorph. I just didn’t expect that the journey to seeing how that xenomorph came to be was exactly what I speculated before the film was released. Now, I usually do not mind predictability in plots, but I do love being proved wrong in movie guesses occasionally.

3.5 stars out of 5.

 

Act of Valor (A Review)

* a pretty long disclaimer. you may skip ahead if you like…

Before I start, I would like to tell you guys (at least for those stumbling upon this site for the very first time) that I am a Filipino. My mother was born in San Miguel, Bulacan; and my father in Angono, Rizal. I was born in San Juan, Metro Manila, thus being a full-blooded Tagalog. And I’ve been living in the Philippines for the past 25 years.

Some members of the Filipino community (Stateside I think) have found this film, Act of Valorto be really insensitive to the portrayal of Filipinos in this movie. Now (consider this as a SPOILER ALERT) the Filipinos in this picture were portrayed as jihadists, as suicide bombers, hired by some Chechen who for some reason really hates the United States. The plan is to blow sh*t up, thank you very much, because F*ck Imperial America.  The offended Filipinos said that the portrayal of my countrymen in this film would pretty much hurt the Filipino image, most especially those who plan to enter the United States.

Now, as a Filipino, I personally do not mind this portrayal of my countrymen. In fact, I find it interesting and pretty bad-ass that Filipinos seem to be getting more exposure in Hollywood these days. Additionally, I would say that now I am more proud to be one simply because the Yanks now consider us monkeys from the Pearl of the Orient as a threat to be reckoned with (I don’t know if this makes sense, but what the hell). Take note, however, that my issues with this film go beyond the “racial stereotyping”. I love movies. I love entertaining movies. I most especially love well made entertaining movies. Even if the film’s storyline is dumb to begin with, as long as the craftsmanship is good, that’s good enough for me. I am not swayed by any underlying polical or moral dimensions (unless it becomes way too distracting), so if ever I end up giving a low review for this film, it isn’t because Filipinos are bad in this film: it’ll be because this IS a badly made film.

REVIEW

And now for Act of Valor. This film is probably the closest we can ever get to a Call of Duty movie. The elements are all there: good American military people, bad terrorists with bad accents, lots of sweet military hardware,  FPS-style cinematography, and explosions which would make Michael Bay cream his pants (well, not exactly, but it’ll still give him a boner). Now, some of you might have issues with the overly simplistic and pro-American storyline (and the negative portrayal of the non-Americans), but believe me when I say that those complaints are unfounded and irrelevant. But first, let us start with…

The Good

I think the film’s promotional material made it clear from the beginning who its target audience is. This film is for military enthusiasts, geardoes, action junkies, and patriots. The action sequences of this film are some of the best since Black Hawk Down. The amount of military hardware in this film (though few for those expecting Michael Bay-ish pron shots) are portrayed in a more plausible way. The SEAL Team insertions, combat tactics, and etc. are all portrayed with much attention to realism as possible. In short, this is definitely Call of Duty the Movie (minus the ridiculous storylines the series has been spewing out recently).

While I have to admit that the story’s nothing new, it more than works for a film which aims to highlight just how bad-ass the SEALs are. Of course, we have the usual tropes of a soldier with a baby on the way in order for us to sympathize with the character. I didn’t mind that. That’s all you need to know about the character. In short, while criminally predictable, this is a film with a solid plot which doesn’t distract us from the main highlights of the film (American bad-assery).

The Bad

While it was an interesting premise to use actual Navy SEALs in this film, the execution of it wasn’t flawless. Sure, the portrayal of their combat tactics were spot-on (hence the choice for Navy SEALs), but still, this is a film. They were trying to paint an illusion for us. And, unfortunately, the illusion is nearly shattered with their awkward (though not cringeworthy) acting. Don’t worry, the acting isn’t all that bad: t’s just that the SEALs’ limitations in acting pop up at the most inopportune times (namely the character development scenes).

Additionally, while the initial wow factor of the action sequences definitely packs a punch, it starts to sizzle out by the final shoot-out in the third act. The opening rescue mission had a UAV, two mini-gun armed gunboats, snipers, and some bad-ass SEALs. The second shoot-out had tactical positioning, helicopter gunships gunning Filipino terrorists down, and some bad-ass SEALs. The final shoot-out just had, well, bad-ass SEALs. What I’m saying is that they seemed to run-out of some pretty cool ideas for the final shoot-out that they elected to do a standard shoot ’em up. Don’t get me wrong, it was still pretty exciting. However, placed next to two really cool action set-pieces, the last one kinda fell short.

Finally (and this is where my being a Filipino has to be allowed to rant), while I said that the negative portrayal of the Filipinos wasn’t a big problem for me, the spoken dialogue was. I’m sure this wasn’t a big problem for non-Filipinos but the Tagalog dialogue in most scenes here were really, and I mean, really distracting. It wasn’t that they spoke in a really bad accent: they spoke lines which most Filipinos wouldn’t even say. I’m guessing the translators made the translators a bit too literal in some parts that it actually made me laugh in some parts. And don’t even get me started when the main baddie speaks to his suicide bombers in Filipino: fine his character’s an Eastern European, not a native speaker, but for goodness sake his accent was so laughably bad!

The Verdict

This film knew what it set out to do, and it knew its target audience. It set out to give a realistic and a favorable portrayal of the American Armed Forces, and they did so decently enough. While this storyline is nothing new, the plot was solid. The filmmaking was well done, though the choice to use authentic Navy SEALs wasn’t executed properly enough in the more dramatic portions of the film.

Overall, this is a decent action film, and possibly one of the better portrayals of American soldiers on cinema since Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers.

Recommended, but not for everyone.

3.5 stars out of 5.