Tag Archives: James Cameron

‘Alien’ meets ‘Tree of Life’ in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’

Film review

Earthlings from the ship Prometheus visit the ship of humanoid aliens in Ridley Scott’s epic “Prometheus,” in which Scott unfortunately bit off far more than he actually could chew. 

Warning: Contains spoilers (if you really could call them that…).

I’m pretty sure that my companion and I weren’t supposed to laugh at the final visual of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” but we did, and that very apparently unintended laughter from the audience member, I think, underscores what’s wrong with the film.

Before I saw “Prometheus” yesterday — in 3-D at an IMAX, the biggest and loudest way to see it, at least here in Sacramento — I had read another reviewer compare “Prometheus” to Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” and while at that time I couldn’t see how that comparison could be apt, I see it now.

I wrote of “The Tree of Life” at the time of its release:

I get the impression with “The Tree of Life” that the 67-year-old Malick [he now is 68] had two films inside of him trying to claw their way out of his chest cavity like identical twin aliens a la “Alien,” but that he was concerned that if he didn’t put them into one film, he might not live long enough to get both films made, so he put both of the films into a blender.

Again, either of these two films probably would have been or at least could have been great, Malick’s ode to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (and to “Jurassic Park”) or Malick’s very personal (perhaps too personal) recap of his own childhood as an American baby boomer having grown up in Texas.

I also noted of “The Tree of Life” that “the story of the humans in ‘The Tree of Life’ probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

It’s kind of weird, in retrospect, that I mentioned “Alien” in my review of “The Tree of Life,” because now we have Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” which is like “‘Alien’ Meets ‘The Tree of Life,'” and the same criticism that I leveled of “The Tree of Life” is true of “Prometheus”: that “the story of the humans in [‘Prometheus’] probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

In the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” — and it’s a grand, origin-of-man opening scene that makes us think way too much of the grand, origin-of-man opening scenes of Kubrick’s “2001” and Malick’s “Tree of Life” – we have what appears to be literal cosmic vomiting, as a proto-human, humanoid alien apparently vomits his (its?) DNA onto planet Earth as its body disintegrates into a waterfall, further seeding planet Earth with its DNA, eventually leading to us human beings, which doesn’t make much more sense, scientifically, than the myth that Eve sprang fully formed from Adam’s rib. But if I understand “Prometheus” correctly (and can anyone?), Scott presents this as more or less scientifically plausible.

It’s fine to create your own cosmology, but your cosmology needs to make sense, needs to follow logic and reason, if you are presenting it as logical and reasonable. “Prometheus” is chock full of logical and chronological inconsistencies and contradictions. Were I to watch “Prometheus” on DVD and be able to stop and start it again, I probably could fill pages of notes of all of the shit that just doesn’t make sense.*

And that doesn’t make “Prometheus” deep and unfathomable. That makes “Prometheus” not very well planned out.

The acting in “Prometheus” is good, even though our heroine more or less is an Ellen Ripley reboot, and expect Ridley Scott and his army of technicians to sweep the Oscars with technical awards, and indeed “Prometheus'” ultra-special effects and BIGNESS do indeed draw you in, at least at times throughout the film’s two hours, and so as summer-movie entertainment, “Prometheus” more or less succeeds, but by trying to do way too much, and by not making much sense in the process, “Prometheus” lets you down.

The main problem with “Prometheus” indeed seems to be Ridley Scott’s outsized ego. “Prometheus” isn’t just the dude in Greek mythology who first brought the use of fire to mankind, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the name of the ship in Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film since 1982’s “Blade Runner,” and “Prometheus” isn’t just the humanoid alien at the beginning of Scott’s latest sci-fi film who apparently is the father (father/mother?) of all mankind on Earth, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the title of Ridley Scott’s latest film. “Prometheus” also very apparently is Ridley Scott — who wishes to remind you that he first brought the “Alien” franchise to mankind!

At age 74, perhaps Scott thought that “Prometheus” might be his last film, and so he had to make a splash. Ironically, it seems to me that had he tried to make much less of a big splash, “Prometheus” would have been a much better film, because it isn’t a big splash — it’s a big mess. A very pretty mess, but a mess nonetheless. With “Prometheus” Ridley Scott bit off way more than he could chew.

There are elements of “Prometheus” that I like. I like the proto-human, humanoid aliens, and I would have liked to have known an awful lot more about them, but I suppose that that would have been too much like “Star Trek” for Scott, and again, I have the feeling that we aren’t told more about these aliens not because Scott was trying to be coy (although I don’t rule out that he decided to save some details for sequels, of course), but because he actually never bothered to flesh out his cosmology for “Prometheus.”

Reviewers have been raving about Michael Fassbender’s performance as David, the android. I like Fassbender — he’s good in pretty much every role that he plays — but David is only a mish-mash of androids that we’ve seen before in the previous “Alien” movies and in many other sci-fi films. The protagonist juvenile android of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” also is named David, whose “daddy” is the CEO of a corporation, just like “Prometheus'” David is the ’droid “son” of a CEO. (The symbolism, I suppose, is that sculptor Michelangelo created his own David. Deep!)

Yawn.

And the theme of the robot who knows that he doesn’t have a human soul has been visited many times before, not only in “A.I.” but with “Star Trek’s” Data, of course. (To “Prometheus'” credit, I suppose, the android David apparently does not, in Pinocchio-cum-Data style, long to be a real boy, as does “A.I.’s” android David. “Prometheus'” David seems to prefer his status as an android.)

But why do almost all of the androids in the “Alien” movies have to be decapitated or cut in two? As I watched the talking head of David in “Prometheus,” I really could think only of the android characters of Ash and Bishop in “Alien” and “Aliens,” respectively, who were decapitated and cut in two, respectively, but who kept talking. Why couldn’t Ridley Scott have kept David in one piece?

And why did Scott have David deliver lines that are so similar in their content and even in their cadence to the lines that HAL delivered in “2001,” such as something along the lines of: “I know that we have had our differences,  [insert hero or heroine’s name here], but I can assure you that I am fully functional now”?

David’s being the only one “awake” for more than two years while the human crew were in cryosleep as their ship traveled to its destination (the Earth-like moon of a planet far, far away) on a mission that most of the crew members were not briefed upon until after their arrival at their destination also makes David too much like HAL and “Prometheus” too much like “2001” (as well as their grand opening scenes that retell how humankind came into being).

And for fuck’s sake, I love Guy Pearce, but if you have a character who is supposed to be an old, old man, why not just have an old, old actor play that role? (AARP, are you listening?) It’s taboo these days to put makeup on a white person and have him or her play, say, an Asian or a black person, so why is it OK to just put makeup on a younger man to have him play a Yoda-old man? (Age progression is different. Pearce’s character, the CEO of “Weyland Corp.” and the “father” of android David, is ancient throughout the entire film.)

Many reviewers have noted that “Prometheus” appears to be Ridley Scott’s attempt to take back the franchise that his 1979 “Alien” started, and indeed, the final, very apparently unintentionally risible scene of “Prometheus” — in a which a proto-“Alien” alien bursts from the torso of one of the proto-human, humanoid aliens — seems to be Ridley Scott fairly screaming: “See? I gave birth to the alien!”

Admittedly, the “Alien” franchise went off the tracks with its third installment, but “Prometheus” hasn’t put it back on track.

Gee. Maybe James Cameron can rescue the “Alien” reboot…**

My grade: B-

*You are demanding at least one thing about “Prometheus” that doesn’t make sense, so fine: Why does the humanoid alien at the end of the film, who, we are told, has been in cryosleep for at least 2,000 years, decide, upon finally wakening, that he still must fulfill his destructive mission on Earth? How does he know that the mission is still a good idea? Is it not possible that things have changed in two millennia? And even with the humanoid aliens’ advanced technology, how was he (it?) kept alive in cryosleep for two millennia?

Here’s another logical problem: The automated surgery pod that operates on our heroine — if it was programmed for male patients only, as we are informed, how did it cut open and then close her uterus? (Was the alien being in her uterus? She was told that she was pregnant, so I assume so.)

Here’s another problem: How can you actually reanimate the head of a humanoid being that has been dead for centuries? (And isn’t it repetitive? Ash the android’s head was reanimated in “Alien,” for fuck’s sake. WTF is Scott’s obsession with reanimated heads?)

And yet another problem: If the humanoid aliens’ DNA were exactly like Earthlings’ DNA, then why are the humanoid aliens hairless, pale (translucent, really) and huge? If the DNA were an exact match, wouldn’t Earthlings be giants, too?

There are many more inconsistencies and contradictions, but those are good for starters.

**Lest you laugh, Wikipedia notes that “Prometheus”

…began development in the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the “Alien” franchise, with both [Ridley] 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.” By 2003, the project was sidelined by the development of “Alien vs. Predator,” and remained dormant until 2009 when Scott again showed interest.

I am not certain whether Scott and Cameron were working together or were working independently on an “Alien” prequel, but I rather would have had Cameron make the prequel than Scott…

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‘Locker’ in a world of hurt

Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, a U.S. Army bomb expert, speaks ...

Reuters photo

Vietraq War veteran Master Sgt. Jeffrey S. Sarver, pictured above at a news conference today, says that the main character of the film “The Hurt Locker” was based upon him — and that he even coined the term “hurt locker.” He is suing the film’s makers for having profited from him.

It’s too bad that the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences already have cast their ballots for best picture, which is to be announced on Sunday — because if they voted for “The Hurt Locker” then, they probably wouldn’t do so now.

First, the academy banned one of “The Hurt Locker’s” producers from attending the Oscars for having overzealously lobbied academy members to vote for his film.

Now, real-life Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver filed a lawsuit against the makers of the film, stating that the film’s main character is based on him. Reports The Associated Press:

An Army bomb disposal expert who served in the Iraq war is suing the makers of “The Hurt Locker,” claiming the Oscar-nominated film’s lead character is based on him and that they cheated him out of “financial participation” in the film.

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said at a news conference at his … office [today] that he filed the multimillion-dollar lawsuit in New Jersey federal court on behalf of Master Sgt. Jeffrey Sarver.

Sarver, of Clarksville, Tenn., claims screenwriter Mark Boal was embedded in his three-person unit and that the information he gathered was used in the film, Fieger said. The film is nominated for nine Academy Awards, including best original screenplay.

Sarver says Will James, the film’s main character (portrayed by Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner), is based on him and that James’ call signal, “Blaster One,” was uniquely his during his tours of duty, Fieger said. Sarver also says he coined the phrase “The Hurt Locker.”

Fieger says Boal’s embedded reporting — over 30 days in 2004 — led to an article the following year in Playboy magazine about Sarver, and that the story later was adapted by Boal for “The Hurt Locker” screenplay.

“If you do take the time to read (the Playboy article) and if you then go and view ‘The Hurt Locker,’ you will see — and there will be no question in your mind — that ‘Blaster One,’ Sgt. Sarver, is the character in ‘The Hurt Locker’ called Will James,” Fieger said. “The caveat in the movie that the movie is fictional and all the characters portrayed in the movie are fictional is a fictional statement in and of itself.” …

Yikes. That the screenwriter spent time “embedded” with Sarver in Iraq and then wrote the screenplay, and that the screenwriter even adopted specific, rather unique details about Sarver, such as his call signal and his coining of the term “hurt locker” — if this is true — seems legally damning, although I’m not a lawyer. 

You’re allowed to report what you witness, but then to turn what you witness into “fiction” and to profit personally from that “fiction” — that seems rather legally sticky to me.

If “The Hurt Locker” wins best picture, it will be a forever-tarnished best-picture win. (I don’t think that there is any remedy for any buyer’s remorse that the academy might have. I’m not sure whether any Oscar ever has been revoked. [I could look it up, but, truth be told, I don’t want to know that badly enough to look it up…])

My guess is that “The Hurt Locker” will win best picture if the members of the academy decided to go with the underdog. If not “The Hurt Locker,” I think that the best-picture Oscar will go to the sci-fi epic “Avatar.”

“Avatar” has its flaws, such as the fact that it is derivative of so many other movies, perhaps especially the “Pocahontas” storyline, but I can see the academy giving the best-picture Oscar to “Avatar” not so much for the film’s achievements alone but also to reward James Cameron for his life’s work, even though his “Titanic” won best picture in 1997.

Had “The Hurt Locker” lawsuit come to light before the members of the academy voted for this year’s best picture, the Na’vi would be cheering right about now…

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In James Cameron’s magnum opus ‘Avatar,’ the Bad Guys R Us

Film review

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, Jake ...

Above: Jake Sully (played by the rather yummy Sam Worthington) inspects his brand-new “avatar” in the James Cameron epic (that’s redundant, isn’t it?) “Avatar.” Below: Jake, in his avatar, bonds with native Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana.

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, the ...

James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which I finally saw yesterday (I was waiting for the crowds to die down), is pissing off everyone, right and left. Cameron must have done something right.

Being such a political creature, if a film has the least bit possible sociopolitical bent to it, I’m going to notice it right off. In “Avatar,” such a bent abounds.

Most notably, in “Avatar,” we — the United States of America — are the bad guys. Well, not we, not really. “We” as in the military-industrial complex that has come to represent the United States of America around the world is the bad guy in “Avatar.”

I have read that, unsurprisingly, the wingnuts are not happy about this, especially given the film’s wild commercial success. (Fuck ’em.)

The villains of “Avatar” are an over-the-top corporate hack and an over-the-top colonel who work in tandem — not unlike how the Catholic church’s missionaries and the Spanish crown’s soldiers worked in tandem to conquer the “new world” — to conquer the lush planet of Pandora, which has an element (called “unobtainium,” ha ha ha) that the invading Earthlings want. (The Spanish monarchy wanted gold, of course, and the Catholic church wanted converts. We’re never told in “Avatar” what practical application, if any, “unobtainium” has, so my guess is that, like with gold, “unobtainium’s” main value is that it is, um, valuable…)

To conquer the tall, blue, feline-faced, tail-possessing people of Pandora — the Na’vi — the Earthlings (whom the Na’vi call the “sky people”) decide to infiltrate them with “avatars,” biologically fabricated Na’vi bodies that are inhabited by the consciousness of human beings controlling the biologically fabricated Na’vi bodies.

Now, the Na’vi natives are a bit too accepting of these “avatars,” whom the natives know aren’t fellow natives. If you weren’t born into and raised by the tribe, why would the tribe just accept you at all as one of them? I mean, if it were clear to us human beings that some alien race were coming to us in human bodies, would we embrace these aliens in human bodies as one of us? Prolly not.

But it would ruin “Avatar” if the avatars didn’t get some degree of acceptance from the Na’vi, and so they do.

Anyway, in “Avatar” the invading Earthlings clearly are the bad guys, and while watching what’s probably the biggest, loudest scene in “Avatar,” the Earthlings’ military forces destroying a site that is very sacred to the Na’vi, I couldn’t help but think of the internationally televised so-called “shock and awe” that many if not most of my fellow Americans got off on when the unelected Bush regime (yeah, the same regime that my fellow Americans just allowed to steal the White House in late 2000) illegally, immorally, unprovokedly and unjustly invaded Iraq, which had had nothing to do with 9/11 and which of course never possessed the weapons of mass destruction that the members of the Bush regime had lied through their fangs about, in March 2003.  

Yeah, it takes a big, tough, studly nation to attack a relatively defenseless one.

In the middle of all of this, the conflict between the rapacious Earthlings, who are represented by a very American-like military-industrial complex, and the Native-American-like Na’vi (they even wear warpaint and let out war cries), is Marine Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington, who appears to be in just about every movie these days, which is OK with me, since he has a definite certain sexiness about him), who unexpectedly finds himself recruited to man an avatar. (Of course, he has to make a deal with the devil: for infiltrating the Na’vi and helping to subdue them, the wheelchair-bound Jake is promised that his paraplegia will be cured.)

As you already know from the previews, after he’s been manning his avatar, Jake changes his allegiance from the military-industrial complex to the Na’vi.

You probably already suspect that Jake ends up being the big hero of the film, and that of course he and his female Na’vi companion, Neytiri (wonderfully played by Zoe Saldana), go from their initially tense relationship (which showcases some great dialogue) to becoming lifemates.

That the white Marine, instead of one of the Na’vi natives, becomes the big hero of “Avatar” has pissed some people off, I read in today’s news. Reports The Associated Press:

Near the end of the hit film “Avatar,” the villain snarls at the hero, “How does it feel to betray your own race?” Both men are white — although the hero is inhabiting a blue-skinned, 9-foot-tall, long-tailed alien.

Strange as it may seem for a film that pits greedy, immoral humans against noble denizens of a faraway moon, “Avatar” is being criticized by a small but vocal group of people who allege it contains racist themes — the white hero once again saving the primitive natives.

Since the film opened to widespread critical acclaim three weeks ago, hundreds of blog posts, newspaper articles, tweets and YouTube videos have said things such as the film is “a fantasy about race told from the point of view of white people” and that it reinforces “the white Messiah fable.”

The film’s writer and director, James Cameron, says the real theme is about respecting others’ differences….

Adding to the racial dynamic [of “Avatar”] is that the main Na’vi characters are played by actors of color, led by a Dominican, Zoe Saldana, as the princess. The film also is an obvious metaphor for how European settlers in America wiped out the Indians.

Robinne Lee, an actress in such recent films as “Seven Pounds” and “Hotel for Dogs,” said that “Avatar” was “beautiful” and that she understood the economic logic of casting a white lead if most of the audience is white.

But she said the film, which so far has the second-highest worldwide box-office gross ever, still reminded her of Hollywood’s “Pocahontas” story — “the Indian woman leads the white man into the wilderness, and he learns the way of the people and becomes the savior.”

“It’s really upsetting in many ways,” said Lee, who is black with Jamaican and Chinese ancestry. “It would be nice if we could save ourselves.” …

Yes, come to think of it, “Avatar” is basically a futuristic “Pocahontas” in which Jake Sully would be John Smith and Neytiri would be Pocahontas.

And it did occur to me while I was watching “Avatar” that it seemed off that a a white guy who wasn’t even one of the Na’vi would end up as their savior.

I understand why historically oppressed peoples wouldn’t be pleased to see a white guy emerge as the hero, but I think that “Avatar’s” surprisingly subversive message succeeds as it does because it’s the white guy who realizes that what the military-industrial complex that he has been a member of has been doing is wrong, and so he decides to fight for the other side.

And it’s not just the character of Jake whose allegiance changes; there’s the character of a great Latina fighter pilot (played by Michelle Rodriguez, of whom I’d like to have seen more of in “Avatar”) and a few others whose allegiance changes, and this kind of pop-culture image in which the “turncoats” are the heroes can’t be good for the U.S. military-industrial complex, which expects its soldiers to be blindly obedient cannon fodder who die for rich white men’s fortunes while believing that they are fighting for such noble causes as “freedom” and “democracy” and “God” and “Jesus” and puppies and kittens, for fuck’s sake.

I mean, fuck. Before “Avatar” began, I had to watch an endless fucking recruitment advertisement for the National Fucking Guard. (The recruitment ad didn’t show any maimed or dead soldiers, of course, but looked like something out of “Top Gun,” as usual.) The U.S. military-industrial complex has millions if not billions of dollars — our tax dollars — at its disposal to brainwash our young people into believing that the U.S. military really is about defense and patriotism instead of about what it really is about: war profiteering, feeding the endless greed of the military-industrial complex and the greedy fucking white men who run it and who personally profit from it.

Trust me, oppressed peoples of the world, “Avatar” does much more for your cause by having its hero a white guy — a Marine, for fuck’s sake — who realizes that he’s been fighting on the wrong side and then switches sides, than it would have done for your cause had its hero been one of the Na’vi natives.

The millions of young American males (and females) who see “Avatar” might think twice before joining the U.S. military, and that’s a good thing for a planet that probably cannot survive a World War III.

Indeed, Cameron’s intent, I believe, was to send a message of peace, and it’s whitey, with his (and her) beloved military-industrial complex, who needs to get that message more than does anyone else. Those long oppressed by whitey already know the value of peace.

The Associated Press reports that Cameron wrote the AP in an e-mail that “Avatar” “asks us to open our eyes and truly see others, respecting them even though they are different, in the hope that we may find a way to prevent conflict and live more harmoniously on this world. I hardly think that is a racist message.”

Agreed.

The AP also reports of “Avatar”:

“Can’t people just enjoy movies anymore?” a person named Michelle posted on the website for Essence, the magazine for black women, which had 371 comments on a story debating the issue [of whether “Avatar” is racist].

OK, that’s a valid question.

Although it’s a rhetorical question, the answer to the question, for me, anyway, is no, I can’t just enjoy a movie anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed “Avatar.” It is a visually stunning film, and I love its profuse use of greens and blues and purples, which, actually, reminded me a lot of “The Princess and the Frog,” which, come to think of it, is a bit like “Avatar”: Both films have heroines with African blood in them (Zoe Saldana apparently has African blood in her) who meet up with bumbling men whom the heroines have to turn into heroes, and both films largely take place in green, blue and purple, swampy, lush settings.

“Avatar” succeeds on the sensory level (as it should, given the millions and millions of dollars that were put into it ) — although the ubiquitous DayGlo stuff does get a little bit tiresome after a while and although Pandora’s plethora of creatures, including its Na’vi, look way too much like Earth’s creatures, including its human beings — but sue me if I am able to enjoy a movie on more than one level.

I can multi-task; I can take in all of the technical achievements of a film like “Avatar” while seeing its obvious sociopolitical statements, statements that I can’t be accused of having pulled out of my moonbatty ass because James Cameron himself says are his intended statements.

It’s a rare film that can entertain and that can stimulate public debate on important sociopolitical issues, so kudos to Cameron for having achieved that with “Avatar.”

“Avatar” is such a cultural achievement that I have to wonder if from now on people are going to go around saying to each other, in all seriousness: “I see you.” (Even though it’s a bit cheesy, I kind of hope so…)

Yes, “Avatar” is a bit derivative of other films, not just of “Pocahontas” but also of Cameron’s past films — we even get the “Alien” series’ Sigourney Weaver as a protagonist in “Avatar” (I have to say that I found Weaver’s avatar to be a bit creepy-looking, to look a bit too much like Weaver), we get the manned robots that we saw in “Aliens,” and we even get “The Company” in “Avatar” (is the amoral, profit-piggy, generic “The Company” in “Avatar” the same one that was in the “Alien” series, I wonder?).

But “Avatar” succeeds on its own and probably will be Cameron’s magnum opus. 

My grade: A

P.S. I read a news account that President Barack Obama took his girls to see “Avatar” recently. Mr. President, I sure the fuck hope that you learned something, and that having your girls there with you drove the point home.

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