Monthly Archives: June 2012

Brave Movie Revew

Directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Emma Thompson, and Billy Connolly
MPAA: PG – For Some Scary Action and Rude Humor]

The trouble with being Pixar as that everyone expects everything you make to be some sort of mind-altering masterpiece of epic proportions. And while Pixar is one of the few artists in the film industry that’s deserving of that expectation, it’s still rather unfair. Because of this, unless you’re some sort of God-like being who poops chocolate and cures world hunger with your rich excrement, the second you make a film that is “very good’ but not “OH MY GOD AMAZING”, the very people that have revered you for so long can turn on your in an instant. And while people like to consider the Cars franchise as just some sort of side-thing that Pixar does for Disney in order to sell lots of toys, people expect anything that isn’t related to that particular portion of Pixar’s pedigree to be as incredibly funny as Monster’s Inc., as heart-breakingly moving as Up, and as beautifully poignant as WALL-E.

So if I said that Pixar’s latest movie, Brave is a very good family film with a simple but very well-executed story, there will be a certain group of people who will be disappointed that it “didn’t make anybody cry like the end of Toy Story 3” or something equally ridiculous. I normally dislike talking about other people’s reactions to a movie (After all, this is supposed to be MY review), but it must be said: If you’re going to judge a movie, judge it on its own merits and its own flaws. Don’t base your judgement on the merits of previous movies. By that logic, John Carpenter’s They Live sucks because it wasn’t as good as Halloween or The Thing. That doesn’t make They Live bad at all; in fact, They Live is really damn good. It’s just that They Live wasn’t going for the same thing that The Thing was going for…

So yeah, proceeding to the actual review: Brave is Pixar’s first foray into many different things: The fantasy genre, the Disney Princess pedigree, and it also counts as the first film of there’s to have a female protagonist. It follows the story of Merida (Voice of Kelly Macdonald) growing up as the princess of an ancient Scottish Kingdom. Now tell me if this sounds familiar: She’s a princess, but she doesn’t necessarily want to be a princess if you get what I mean. Rather than being interested in dresses and manners, she’s more into archery, exploring, and adventuring in her free time. Of course her mother, the Queen (Voice of Emma Thompson), would rather she be into dresses and manners, so she calls out for the princes of the other kingdoms to vie for her hand in marriage to bring Merida closer to her position. As it turns out, it only further isolates her, causing her to lash out and run away so she can find a way to “change her fate” so she can be free from the domineering presence of her mother.

Will Merida ever find a way to reconcile with her mother? Will she ever learn to realize that it was she that was actually there for her all along? And most importantly, will she discover that the greatest strength one can have is not a sword but a family?

If this sounds overly trite, familiar, and predictable, I forgive you for dismissing the film upfront. But when I say that the film is still pretty darn impressive despite these familiar elements, it should serve as a testament to how talented the Pixar team really is. While it definitely feels less like pure Pixar, and more like Pixar’s take on a Disney film, the magic is still there and nothing about it feels cynical, or overly nostalgic. It’s just a simple story, but about as well-told as it can possibly be.

Of course, I can’t seem to explain why it is that makes it stand above other recent films that tried to ape the Disney formula. It’s one of those things where I honestly feel comfortable just saying “Well, that’s just how Pixar does it”. If I could come up with one reason, however, it’s that it feels kind of like a personal story. When you’re dealing with the domineering mother vs. the misunderstood daughter trope, it’s so overdone that there’s absolutely no way for it to register to anyone except the kinds of kids who are whining about their own domineering mothers. But there’s something genuine about the mother-daughter relationship in Brave. The “dialogue” between them (Those of you who’ve seen the film will get why I put “dialogue” in quotations) is very well-done and all the more honest because of the way it conveys the relationship visually rather than just with words.

Another factor that shows that Pixar actually gets the Disney formula rather than just cynically rips it off, is that it understands a fundamental lesson that most people refuse to learn from Disney: His movies were sometimes completely, utterly terrifying. While I wouldn’t call Brave terrifying the same way I’d discuss how traumatized I was by Pinocchio, there are some moments that are surprisingly suspenseful, exciting, and thrilling. While it isn’t done too much to overwhelm the largely family-oriented audience, the sense of danger is there enough to keep the stakes in check.

If there’s a major flaw with the film, it’s the humor. Okay, let me rephrase that: If there’s a major flaw with the film, it’s the placement of the humor. Pixar is without a doubt unmatched when it comes to animated slapstick, and Brave is definitely really funny when it needs to be. However, there were a few moments where the humor was intrusive and forced, even if it was still acknowledge-ably funny. Going into further details on these scenes would lead to spoilers (Pleasant surprise: The trailers and marketing didn’t reveal a big plot-twist near the beginning of the movie), but let’s just say that there’s a visual joke involving cleavage in one scene (Don’t worry it’s handled as tastefully as it possibly could) and immediately after that we cut back to a chase scene with serious stakes. It’s not that it isn’t “funny”, because it is, it’s just placed in the wrong moments from time to time and leads to a sometimes schizophrenic tone.

The other flaw that comes to mind is that while the relationship between Merida and her mother is handled nicely, the side character aren’t given much to do. I get that it isn’t particularly “their story”, but there was potential in some of the other characters to be fleshed out and more nuanced. Particularly in the character of Merida’s father a.k.a. the King (Voice of Billy Connolly), who (given circumstances that I can not spoil) goes through a lot of hefty moments, but isn’t given enough screen time for it to register.

Thankfully, the movie ends on a very strong note. Pixar is one of the few makers of family film that seems to understand that characters are just as important as visual dazzle, and the action climax at the end is secondary to the emotional climax spurred by the mother-daughter relationship. While it didn’t move me to tears like Up or Toy Story 3 did, it definitely left me and a theater full of kids and adults alike very dusty. Because while we definitely see the ending coming, and it is filled with all those familiar elements, Pixar just has this “magic” to them that seems to do the trick every time.

Final Verdict: Brave is a flawed but remarkable film. Their visuals are stronger than ever, and the character relationships are handled to a tee. Despite a few gripes with tone consistency and some underdeveloped characters, there’s no denying Pixar’s talent still in full display on the picture. Not a masterpiece, but it’s likely going to be the best animated film of this year and pretty much the only sure-fire good movie that’s out this weekend.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more from this blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @CGRunyon to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to practice my archery. It’s in everything, these days! Bye!

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Beasts of the Southern Wild Movie Review

[Beasts of the Southern Wild
Written & Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry
MPAA: PG-13 – For Thematic Material Including Child Imperilment, Some Disturbing Images, Language, and Brief Sensuality]

A lot of people think that all critics are inherently cynical, which I could not disagree with more. Just because a movie critic’s job is to analyze something that someone else sees only as mere entertainment, doesn’t mean he’s a cynical ass who’s just criticizing something because he/she doesn’t know the meaning of fun. That being said, I think there’s a lot more cynicism in critics now than there have been in a while. Well, not with real critics per se (even though there are plenty of names I could name). There’s been this whole thing going on about how “all movies today suck” even though there are usually 10 movies I can name for any given year that I would consider must-sees.

Though it’s true that there’s a ton of things wrong with the movie-making process in modern Hollywood right now, I still think that every year there are at least two movies (mainstream or otherwise) that fit into the phrase “unlike anything else I’ve ever seen”. Last year, there were three movies that I would put into that category (The Tree of Life, Drive, the insanely underrated Hanna) and this year’s big “You haven’t seen anything quite like this” movie is Beasts of the Southern Wild. Beasts is not only this year’s most audacious film, it’s one of the most assured directorial debuts I’ve ever seen and it’s a powerfully devastating experience that will leave you in emotional stitches. In short, is it too early to call Beasts of the Southern Wild the best movie of 2012 so far? I don’t care, because I don’t think another movie will be able to top it!

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fable filled with equal parts realism and fantasy. It follows a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis) and her experiences in a shanty town somewhere off the coast of New Orleans called The Bathtub. The Bathtub is a community almost completely cut off from the rest of the world by a levee that extends across the southern coast of America. Despite not having the same technological resources we do, the people of the Bathtub are anything but miserable. Well aware that they’re one storm away from destruction, the citizens of the Bathtub live every day like it’s their last, with celebrations all around and a defiant spirit that looks at all of their hardships in the eye and says “We’re gonna keep on living, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us!”

That all changes, however, when a huge storm unlike any other ends up flooding the whole town. The storm is so strong and apocalyptic, it causes prehistoric creatures called Aurochs to thaw from the ice of the southern wild and head toward the Bathtub, further worsening the whole situation. Hushpuppy and her father Wink (Dwight Henry) survive the strong waters, but not everyone else is as lucky. Realizing that not everyone has survived, Hushpuppy embarks on a quest to save her beloved home and discover the whereabouts of her long-lost mother.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is an independently made picture, but you wouldn’t know that if you saw it and I didn’t tell you. Much like the resilient citizens of the Bathtub, debut writer-director Benh Zeitlin looks at the low budget and sees only opportunities to go in different directions rather than limitations. He looks at that low budget and goes “I’m gonna make this movie as big as I want, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop me!” Here is a film that strives for ambition even amongst its low budget, and somehow miraculously achieves it. People who complain that independent movies suffer because they’re limited to telling small stories will get a kick out of how expansive Beasts ends up becoming. It feels more like a sprawling, epic hero’s tale than an independent feature.

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I talked a bit in my Moonrise Kingdom review about how Wes Anderson was able to create his own little world with its own rules that feels very alive within his film’s framework. Beasts of the Southern Wild takes the daunting task of creating an entire world out of seemingly nothing, one-ups it, then continues to multiply it as it goes on. A whole world is created with so little that it mesmerizes you from the start. That’s because that spirit that I mentioned earlier is pervasive throughout the whole picture. And it becomes all the more devastating when that world is destroyed near the beginning of the film.

Before you go to the comments board ready to snarkily comment “A flood in New Orleans? That sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?” I’m just gonna address it now. The film definitely evokes a lot of the traumas of Hurricane Katrina. I don’t know whether to call it subtle or not, because while it’s definitely clear what the filmmakers are trying to do, they never for a single second ever mention the words “Katrina” or even “Hurricane” throughout the whole film. It’s simply the story of how our young protagonist Hushpuppy comes to process the tragedy and disaster around her. It felt like a good version of what Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was trying to do with 9/11. Whereas that film had moments of falseness and obvious manipulation (There’s a scene in it where the young boy collapses in exactly the same way the Twin Towers do), Beasts has nuance and grace that accentuate the tragedy more than any sort of tricks of manipulation can do.

This is especially because the whole story is told entirely from Hushpuppy’s point of view. We see everything through her eyes, and we are with her in every step of the way. It becomes so subjective in fact, that what may seem like a drama based on real events starts to take on fantasy elements. I was reminded of Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, which also took a real tragedy (The Spanish Civil War) and used the perspctive of a young, female protagonist to juxtapose the grim reality with her dark fantasies as she processes the events that unfold in front of her. In Beasts, we’re just as unsure of whether these fantasy elements are actually there or a part of Hushpuppy’s wild imagination, but whereas Pan’s Labyrinth used it to devastating effect to enhance the tragedy, Beasts uses it in a beautifully poignant way to further show that Bathtub spirit.

However, the main reason why we’re able to completely crawl into the perspective of this young character so immersively is because Quevenzhan√© Wallis gives a power-house performance that is honestly one of the fiercest child-performances I’ve ever seen. Remember that other thing I mentioned in my Moonrise Kingdom review when I talked about how much I enjoyed the child actors in that movie for being so refreshingly deadpan? Well, what makes Wallis so engrossing here is that she’s more than just deadpan: She’s entirely natural. There was never a single moment where I thought that she was “performing”. It’s one of the most authentic child performances I’ve seen in a long time, and it reminded me ever so much of Linda Manz in Days of Heaven (Especially in the gorgeously lyrical narration). Also, she’s fierce. Wallis actually feels like a force of nature herself. Her Hushpuppy is brave, unique, but still vulnerable enough to feel real and further the stakes. In layman’s terms: She actually acts like a real child with hubris that’s as big as her stature is small, and Wallis plays her tremendously.

The whole movie stirred a lot of emotions within me, and while you can definitely attribute that to the whole spirit of the film, the assured direction, Wallis’s fantastic performance, and the timely Katrina allusions, one of the biggest factors in how emotional the film is is the music. This may sound weird, but the soundtrack feels like a character of its own. With a score co-composed by the writer and director Benh Zeitlin, believe it or not, the opening scene of the film shows one of the Bathtub’s many holidays, treating us with a gorgeous explosion of joy, drinking, feasting, and lots of pyrotechnics. And during this scene, an incredible theme with hints of both traditionanl orchestra and bluegrass violins slowly rises and rises in tempo, volume, and energy until it reaches a peak. The soundtrack is just as important in capturing the personality and spirit of the Bathtub as the aesthetic and performances, and it entraps the viewer in its strange spell even further.

I have only one complaint with this film and it isn’t even much of a legitimate complaint: I wanted to see more of the Bathtub before it was destroyed. I totally got why they shifted to the disaster (a.k.a. the driving force of the narrative) relatively early on, but the scenes in which the whole town simply celebrates being able to live another day were so magnificently done and had such astounding life to them that I wanted more of it. It really speaks to the quality of a film where you realize you want to spend more time immersed in its unique world, and the fact that Zeitlin and company were able to do it with such little resources is an astounding feat.

The movie starts opening in select theaters at the 27th of June, but will hopefully expand to more and more cities via positive word of mouth and (hopefully) awards buzz. I can’t stress this enough, though: No matter what city, state, country, continent, whatever you’re in, you should seek out Beasts of the Southern Wild as soon as possible. I hate to potentially oversell something to the point of sheer hyperbole, but I loved this film so much and it had such a powerful effect on me that I can’t help but recommend it to absolutely everyone. It’s ambitious, it’s beautiful, it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and it made me and an entire theater of adults weep like babies. Hell, I already can’t wait to see it a second time. Seek. This. Movie. Out.

Final Verdict: Beasts of the Southern Wild is a revelatory movie, and reminds one of the possibilities of the medium. On such a low budget, it has such an epic, sprawling scope while still managing to tell an intimate tale of survival and community. The performances are excellent, the look is gorgeous, the music is beyond incredible, and it gives a deservingly beautiful ode to the enduring spirit of the Bayou. Also, the final 20 minutes of the film will break you down to a weeping mess of tissues. I will proudly vouch that guarantee.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more from this blog and following me on the Twitter-machine @CGRunyon to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to practice my catfish-whacking abilities. Bye!

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Moonrise Kingdom Movie Review

[Moonrise Kingdom
Written & Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, and Bruce Willis
MPAA: PG-13 – For Sexual Content and Smoking]

I never really understood the hate for Wes Anderson’s films. Yes, I get how a lot of viewers seem to hate an overuse of “quirk”. I also get how Anderson’s sort of style can seem artificial and insubstantial to certain viewers. But at the same time, I never really found any of his films insubstantial. There’s a reason why many wannabe indie filmmakers have imitated Anderson’s strange sensibility time and time again: He uses those quirks to show a certain truth about human behavior, and uses idiosyncrasies to show us feelings that the human heart doesn’t normally let out but still lurks inside of all of us. In lesser, imitating, artificial films I can see that quirk being a problem, but I never really found that problem in Wes Anderson specifically. Also, if your sole reason for disliking his films is because his style is “indie” and you associate everything that is “indie” with hipsters, then I’d like you to shut the fuck up and re-evaluate your definitions of those words.

Sorry, I lost track. So Moonrise Kingdom is the latest Wes Anderson effort, and in typical Anderson fashion, the plot is simple to digest. Out in the fictional island of New Penzance off the coast of New England, two young love birds named Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) run away from their homes in order to have a week together after being pen-pals for too long. In response, the parents of Suzy (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and Sam’s boy scout team (Led by Edward Norton as their scout leader) go on a huge search across the whole island to search for them. It’s a simple story, sure, but with all that being said, it’s also one of the best and most enjoyable movies of 2012 so far.

Now, I’ve enjoyed all of Anderson’s work, even his lesser stuff like Life Aquatic. However, while I’ve always found his films enjoyable, this was the first time I truly felt an emotional connection to the material. You can argue on it being there for Rushmore and The Royal Tenanbaums (And while Life Aquatic is my least favorite, I found the final act of the film to be surprisingly emotional if a little inconsistent), but Moonrise Kingdom was the first time I felt like it all came together on a thematic level and an emotional level. Because of this, I’d even argue that this is Wes Anderson’s best work since Rushmore and my new favorite among his films so far.

Before I get into that emotional center though, I should begin this review by talking about how enjoyable the movie is as a whole though. As is usual for Anderson, he gives the film a life of its own. The island of New Penzance its own rules and logic, almost as if it were a fantasy world. While you can definitely attribute this to Anderson’s usual little stylistic quirks, another factor that weighs heavily is the fantastic cast. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, dear god if there were any more amazing actors together in one film it would be almost overwhelming. They all clearly have a lot of fun stepping into Anderson’s world for the first time (Except for Bill Murray, who’s collaborated with Anderson four times before), but they also play everything excellently deadpan and straight. There’s never any winking at the camera, and it becomes all the funnier because of it. Since everyone isn’t playing the material for laughs, not only is it funnier for it, there’s a richness to Anderson’s small world that would make Prometheus and The Hunger Games jealous.

And all those names I mentioned above were all just the supporting characters. In addition, we get a terrific cast of child actors that, like the adults, play through the film in a hilariously deadpan style. This is a godsend, because the usual problem with child actors is that they always tend to over-emphasize their lines and are way too obvious about how much “acting” is going on, if you see what I mean. The kids here, however, are charming not because they’re trying to be charming like an annoying Disney Channel actor.

Rather, they’re charming because they feel naturalistic and, most importantly, awkward. It’s hard for awkwardness to be portrayed in a coming-of-age story without losing its authenticity, but Anderson knows exactly what he’s doing. The relationship between Sam and Suzy is handled so well because there are elements of awkwardness that accompany the charm. This is especially due to the two leads, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, having delightful chemistry even among that thin layer of awkwardness. The fact that they can do that is kind of mind-boggling considering how most movies about “first loves” tend to feel fake. Here it feels both charming and genuine, which is a hard combination to pull off.

Anderson’s style isn’t lost, of course. As is expected of his work, everything is beautifully framed and gorgeously colorful without being garish. The details he puts into his environments have as much character as the inhabitants of the island. Plus, there are a few instances where Anderson’s love of stop-motion animation is used in a few subtle ways. The set-design is able to have a magic, fantastical quality to it while still being grounded in reality. It feels like magical realism, like a children’s fable seen through more adult eyes.

However, what made the movie work for me more than Anderson’s previous work is that the themes feel so much more defined this time around. While this is definitely a story about first-love on a surface level, it reveals itself later as a coming-of-age story about people trying to hold on to what little youth they have left on a deeper level.

When Sam and Suzy escape from their homes, they’re not only trying to rekindle their relationship, they’re also trying to stave off maturity for one simple week, even if they’re aware that it could be their last week. You also have the khaki scouts, led by Edward Norton’s scout-master character. Each of these scouts are literally youth militarized. It’s almost as if their own youthfulness has already been stolen from the adults. Soon, though, when all the adults of the island start searching for Sam and Suzy, we realize that they too are missing something. When they search out for Sam and Suzy, they are also searching for their own remaining youthfulness, and when they eventually find what they’ve been looking for, they see to their sad realization that it can never be attained again.

They’re trying to capture and adulterate that youth, much like how the parents confine Suzy in the individualized compartments of their house (Not dissimilar to the Tenanbaum house) and like how the scout-master militarizes the khaki scouts. But this type of theme is personified when Tilda Swinton’s character shows up, who plays a Social Services employee searching for Sam (who is an orphan) in order to place him in a specialized orphanage that looks more like an internment camp.

This material isn’t new, but it’s presented in such a beautiful and poignant way that it’s easy to give yourself over to the movie and be swept up by it. I hate to oversell it, because it is mostly just a movie that you enjoy because it is a pleasant, charming experience, but it’s elevated by that subtle sense of longing and sadness that is flowing like an undercurrent throughout the film. There really isn’t much else I can add to the film (hence why this review is shorter than my usual length), so all I can really say now is that this movie is likely to expand into more and more theaters in the future and you should give the movie a chance when it reaches your city.

Final Verdict: Moonrise Kingdom won’t convert Wes Anderson skeptics. But they should still give this film a chance since it’s easily Anderson’s warmest movie in a long time. It’s a gorgeous, poignant coming of age story filled with genuine heart to match Anderson’s funny idiosyncrasies. A joyful experience that leaves a surprising emotional impact.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by following me on the Twitter-machine @CGRunyon to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to get someone to make some sort of Moonrise KingdomFight Club mash-up video. Bye!

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The Podcast Returns! E3 and Prometheus

It’s been a while, huh? Well, we’re finally back with a new and improved, hopefully weekly version of the CinEffect podcast. If you’re wondering what happened to us and why we had a hiatus, the answer could be shortened in two words: Mevio are a bunch of fucking sell-outs.

But yeah, you get the idea. Now we’re under a new hosting site, Podomatic, which will hopefully work smoothly or us. Regardless, our new episode (which was split in two due to being overtly lengthy), discusses only two topics: E3 and Prometheus. So have a seat and listen to our ramblings as we discuss how disappointing every E3 press conference was and how totally not disappointing Prometheus was.

Listen to the Episodes here:


Part 1:
(0:00) Life – Prometheus OST
(1:00) Introduction

(3:33) E3 Introduction
(4:29) Ubisoft Conference Overview
(22:51) Microsoft Conference Overview
(32:51) EA Conferece Overview
(38:03) Sony Conference Overview
(50:03) Nintendo Conference Overview

Part 2:

(0:00) Prometheus Review
(37:35) What We’re Watching Next Week
(42:47) Links and Podcast News
(43:52) Alex and Chris rip on ‘Savages’
(44:43) Prometheus Trailer Music

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Prometheus Movie Review

Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron
MPAA: R – For Sci-Fi Violence Including Some Intense Images, and Brief Language]

[Warning: While this review contains no spoilers for the film itself, there are a few things I mention that might hint at some things that may be best left unread if you’re planing on seeing this film with as little spoiled as possible. You’ve been warned.]

So, I might as well skip to the big question on everyone’s mind: Is Prometheus really a prequel to the seminal horror film of 1979 Alien? Well…uh, kinda, I guess. It’s hard to explain. While it was originally intended to be a prequel to the sci-fi horror classic, the project that eventually became known as Prometheus changed into its own separate entity and started looking at much larger ambitions in its horizons. The problem, of course, was that Scott was still interested in the whole “It’s an Alien prequel!” hook to begin with, so it started leading to some confusion on whether or not the film really was a prequel or an entirely original creation. After finally seeing it, however, I can safely say that the answer is irrelevant because it works on both accounts. Prometheus is equal parts an intelligent, thought-provoking sci-fi film; a thrilling action-horror hybrid filled to the brim with suspense and intense moments; and a clever nod to fans of the original Alien while still being accessible for people who have never even seen a xenomorph.

So here’s what’s happening: A pair of archaeologists in the year 2089 discover a series of artifacts all linked by a strikingly similar image of a series of stars or planets. Using their high-tech tools to pinpoint if there’s a match somewhere in our galaxy, they discover a planet that can possibly link to the origins of mankind itself; hinting that perhaps if there is a god that brought life to our planet, it certainly didn’t come from “our planet” if you see what I mean. So they go on an expedition to an alien world that literally has them, in a way, looking for God.

Now, the idea of “Looking for God in Space” is an idea that’s been used before (As seen in Sunshine, 2001: A Space Odyssey, that one awful Star Trek movie that William Shatner directed) but here it is used in a very interesting manner. For one, it implies that if God really is in the unknown realms of our universe, He’s kind of an asshole. Another, it hints at a lot of other eerie things about mankind’s creation that I will not spoil but still offer striking philosophical debate. So regardless of whether it’s a new idea or not, it’s one filled with intelligence and deep ambition, and the movie actually manages to engage your intellect most of the time.

Things quickly turn to shit for the crew, however, when we see that parasitic extra-terrestrial organisms (Remind you guys of anything, hmmmm?) inhabit the planet and are picking apart the crew one by one. And if that wasn’t enough, it turns out that the super rich organization that hired the crew has a secret agenda (Sound familiar, hmmmmm?) plus there’s an android that has something sinister lurking in his wiring (Ringing any bells, hmmmm?). While the movie definitely echoes the original Alien film a lot, there’s something about it that keeps it from feeling derivative or a knockoff of Alien. I don’t know how exactly to describe it, perhaps it was just the philosophical material that elevated it, or the distinct visual style, but I still found myself being surprised by a lot of what Prometheus had to offer, even when it was deliberately saying “Hey! Remember that one movie you love?! It may seem like I’m ripping off of it, but I swear I have totally good reason for doing so!”

To me, the main reason why Prometheus works as well as it does is easily Ridley Scott’s direction. Ridley Scott has a difficult filmography. He’s made some of the most classic films known to man (Alien, Blade Runner) and he’s made a few other very solid films along the way (Black Hawk Down, American Gangster), but more than all that combined, he’s made a staggering amount of duds (Robin Hood, Body of Lies, Gladiator, etc.). You never know what kind of Ridley you’re going to get, but one thing I’ve always thought was that whenever Ridley did sci-fi, it led to masterful results (Even though he’s only done two sci-fi films, those two films are astounding classics that will stand the test of time).

While Prometheus isn’t quite up to the level that Alien is on, it’s probably the best example of Scott’s talent in what feels like decades. Not only is this one of the most gorgeously photographed mainstream event films I’ve ever seen, with a beautifully otherworldly atmosphere that is equal parts lovely and disquieting; Scott also really nails the dread with almost nothing. There’s a true sense of unease and menace in the earlier scenes. And when it ratchets up in suspense, the movie never really lets up after that. Even the quiet scenes after the first monster attack give unease to the viewer. I really don’t get why Scott doesn’t make more horror movies, because he’s so damn good at it when he does.

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More like Michael Fappbender <3.

And then you have the CG effects, which are mind-blowingly awesome. Usually, the problem with using CG is that no matter how may pixels it has, it still looks “CG” and totally unreal. A movie like Green Lantern or X-Men: First Class can have million of dollars on its budget and still look like a cheap piece of ass. Very few films are able to make the CG feel seamless with the live-action (James Cameron’s Avatar is masterful at this, even though it isn’t a very good movie). Prometheus totally gets this. The CG used in this film is unobtrusive and enhances the world the characters inhabit, rather than distracts the viewer. It is little touches such as that that makes the film’s world even more immersive.

On top of all that, the cast is terrific. Some characters aren’t really given much to do, but they’re all played by a smorgasbord of great actors. The main standouts are Noomi Rapace, who perfectly embodies the strong yet vulnerable heroine of Dr. Shaw without aping Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley; Charlize Theron as the captain of the expedition who is playing a deliciously despicable villain-ish character; but the biggest standout of them all is easily my mancrush Michael “The Fass” Fassbender as the fastidious android with an ambiguous agenda. Playing a robot character is much tougher than it initially seems to be. While people joke that all it takes is remaining as still and emotionless as humanly possible, there are a lot of subtleties that go into such a character that I can’t really explain but you just “feel” when you’re watching it. Michael Fassbender perfectly captures those subtleties, echoing hints of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth and Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence portrayal in Lawrence of Arabia, but still distinct enough to be enjoyed on its own and has an eerie quality of menace and ambiguity. You never know what he’s going to do next; only what he’s capable of and how that could turn ugly if used in the wrong manner.

If there are any flaws in the film, they’re all script level. Nothing major, like a lot of other critics seem to be complaining about; but they’re definitely noticeable. The script isn’t all bad. There are some moments of sheer brilliance, especially the opening scene and how it adheres to the golden rule of “show and don’t tell”. But of course, the flaws are there, and while the movie really sucks you in, they are still rather distracting. For starters, there are a few scenes here and there where the characters behave rather stupidly. I won’t spoil how, but let’s just say that you should never treat creepy tentacle monsters like cute little puppies unless you’re delusional. And while Noomi Rapace is great in this film, she isn’t given anything to do with her romantic love-interest, which includes some boring dialogue that’s meant to make their relationship feel meaningful but instead comes across as hollow.

Also, while there are some fascinating and intelligent ideas all throughout the movie’s thematic tissue, it doesn’t go deep enough into them. It hints at them a lot, and it’s enough to make it smarter than the average blockbuster and stir post-movie debate, but a lot of viewers I’ve read all throughout the internet were disappointed that while the themes are deep the plot itself is rather thin. And it is. Without spoiling anything, there’s a moment when Noomi Rapace asks the question “Why? Why were we created, and why are we about to get destroyed?” and rather than going balls deep into philosophical territory, it instead spirals into an action scene that references the original Alien (Albeit, a badass action scene that references Alien in a very clever way). This doesn’t really make the movie “dumber”, but it is a missed opportunity, considering the potential for more substance.

All that being said though, I can overlook a movie’s flaws if I’m swept up in the experience, and Prometheus really is an experience. Visually, viscerally, and intellectually.

Final Verdict: Prometheus is more compelling and intelligent than almost any summer blockbuster in a long time. No amount of minor script problems can detract from what is a stunning experience. The grand visuals and great performances alone are enough to recommend it, but it also works as an edge-of-your-seat thriller filled with spectacularly intense set-pieces that will leave your jaw on the floor. The startlingly philosophical undercurrent is icing on the cake, even if its potential isn’t fully realized. Regardless of your opinion, it will leave you with much discussion after the viewing, and few movies, let alone mainstream event films, are capable of that.

That is all. If you liked this review and would like to read more, you can do so by reading more from this blog as well as following me on the Twitter-machine @Enigma6667 to hear more of my general ramblings on film, video games, and other such things. By following me, you not only get an endless stream of updates on what’s going on with my articles, you get to stroke my massive ego in the process. Do at your own risk.

See ya next time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta check the pregnancy test results. Yes, I’m a man. Yes, I’m worried. No, it’s not what you think it is. Happy face-hugging, everybody!

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