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It's like they deliberately screwed up the science
I can forgive the unanswered questions about the motives and biology of the aliens in Prometheus. After all, they're aliens! What I can't forgive is the awful, awful protocols shown by the human scientists, technicians, and spaceship crew throughout the movie.
To begin with, a legitimate scientific expedition would have started by releasing weather and observation satellites to orbit the planetoid for weeks, perhaps months before Prometheus ever landed. This would determine the most likely places to hunt for aliens, rather than just luckily finding alien structures. Then, the small, remote-controlled probes would be sent into the alien installations to map them thoroughly and take air and soil samples. When pictures of the dead aliens came back, the scientist would spend many hours determining likely scenarios and procedures to avoid a similar fate before setting a foot inside.
The biggest mistake the movie makes, though, is something I haven't seen discussed anywhere. People have written about the folly of the crew taking off their space suit helmets without checking for microbes or other contaminants. It's not just the air quality that could cause illness or injury. What hasn't been mentioned is the danger of the humans contaminating the alien environment. Good scientists are concerned to the point of paranoia about destroying a pristine environment and invalidating their results. This is why Mars rovers are sterilized before they leave Earth. Once an alien planet is contaminated, there's no way to know what's alien and what's not. The crew of Prometheus would have to undergo rigorous decontamination procedures both when exiting the ship and on their return.
Another question that I haven't seen discussed elsewhere is why would an expedition as well-financed and equipped as Prometheus not have more than one robot? Weyland would want to have as much redundancy as possible to maximize success. Moreover, the humans would need to be cross trained, just as astronauts are now, so that in case of injury or illness there would be someone to fill in the gaps. This goes for the scientists, flight crew, security, and every other function.
Wouldn't Prometheus be crewed with the absolute best people in every role? People who knew what the mission was and who had trained together for months before leaving Earth. There is no excuse for second-best in a first-contact mission that's exploring a dangerous alien world.
It's one thing to have a haunted-house movie filled with naïve teenagers, but it's quite another to see supposed top scientists do dumb things. With a little more thought, Prometheus could have addressed the plot holes I and others have noted, and as a result been a tighter film with more tension and surprises.
Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers (2011)
A Dull Morality Play
Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers is a four episode motion comic from Marvel Knights Animation that is based on the 2004 miniseries Loki. It is essentially a character study of Loki (David Blair); Thor (Daniel Thorn) spends the vast majority of the running time as a mute prisoner, with only a few brief flashbacks.
The story opens as Loki is celebrating his takeover of Asgard, with Thor, Odin (Joe Teiger), Sif (Elizabeth Diennet), and Baldar (James Hampshire) in chains. Loki soon learns that ruling an empire is not all it's cracked up to be. He must mediate in what seems like every petty squabble in the land, and his allies in the rebellion begin to demand payment on his promises used to secure their cooperation.
All of this comes off as a cheap Shakespearian tragedy, with Loki brooding and plotting but not really doing anything. As such, it is aimed at adults more interested in political machinations than teenagers more interested in action.
The artwork is the best part of the production. There is a real sense of dimensionality, and the character designs are quite detailed. Loki is portrayed as an old man with missing teeth and lined face. The Asgard warriors are musclebound and the females are full-figured, to say the least. The superb backgrounds fill the screen with beauty. However, the limited animation detracts from the overall effect with its jerky movements and static compositions.
Each episode is about 20 minutes of story, so I'm not sure why the producers opted to break it into four parts. It would flow better as an uninterrupted movie.
The ending is unsatisfactory. Completely unsurprising spoilerThor escapes and wreaks retribution on Loki. We don't see what happens to several principal characters or the fallout of Loki's villainy.
Thor fans will undoubtedly want to see this production because it adds some interesting layers to Loki's personality and his relationship with Thor, but I can't recommend it for anyone else. The limited animation, lack of action, and lack of a satisfactory payoff makes this a dull morality play.
The Captains (2011)
Candid Conversations Among the Star Trek Captains
This documentary is a series of interviews, actually conversations, between iconic actor William Shatner and the other actors who have played Star Trek captains. Jetting around the country, Shatner talked with Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Avery Brooks, Captain Sisco from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Kate Mulgrew, Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager, Scott Bakula, Captain Archer from Enterprise, and Chris Pike, Captain Kirk from the 2009 Star Trek movie.
Interspersed with the interviews were clips from a Star Trek convention Shatner appeared at in Las Vegas, where he met other Star Trek actors, including Rene Auberjonois, Jonathan Frakes, Robert Picardo, Connor Trinneer, and Nana Visitor, among others. Shatner also had a short interview with his old friend Christopher Plummer for whom he understudied at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario early in his career and who played the villainous Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). The only really obvious omission was Leonard Nimoy.
This documentary was fascinating in how it revealed as much about Shatner as his subjects. Topics ranged from how they got started acting, to how each actor got their Star Trek role, to how the Star Trek experience changed their lives and affected their families, to philosophical musings on death, and many things in between. Most of the captains are classically trained stage actors who weren't necessarily immediately onboard with playing a science fiction character for TV. Bakula and Brooks both have extensive musical backgrounds, Bakula as a singer and Brooks as a jazz pianist. In fact, Brooks provided the documentary with a pleasing smooth jazz score.
All of the captains came off as intelligent, hard working, and frank. It was nice to see that they all still took their roles seriously and were truly humbled by the fan reactions to their work. Shatner, especially, seemed genuinely moved when he found out that the Canadian head of Bombardier Aerospace was inspired to take up aerospace engineering from watching Shatner on Star Trek. There was also a poignant scene at the convention where Shatner greeted a young wheelchair-bound man whose devotion to Star Trek seemed to be about the only thing that kept him going.
The interview with Stewart seemed to have the most resonance. It was obvious that there was genuine rapport between him and Shatner. When they talked about how the long hours playing their roles negatively impacted their marriages, it was heartbreaking. Mulgrew's take on being a single mother during her tenure as captain was also touching.
Shatner turned out to be an excellent interviewer. He kept things light and often humorous, such as when he conducted Pine's interview at a card table on a busy intersection or when he met Mulgrew sitting in a cardboard box. This allowed him to get his subjects relaxed and able to open up about some of the deeper questions. Shatner used his personal experiences to draw out measured responses from the other captains. Shatner has a reputation for being egotistical and antagonistic, but none of that was evident here. Maybe time has mellowed him out.
The Captains is a journey of discovery for Shatner that is an enjoyable look at the world of acting in general and the Star Trek universe in particular. It is a sincere glimpse into the heart and soul of Star Trek.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Arthur Claus (James McAvoy) is the bumbling son of the reigning Santa, Malcolm Claus (Jim Broadbent). Arthur is relegated to the Letter Department where he can presumably do no damage. Arthur's brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is the heir apparent to the title of Santa. Steve is handsome, confident, and in charge of the North Pole command center that monitors Santa's gift-giving flight around the world. The film opens with a bravura set piece showing how Santa is able to stop in millions of homes in one night. Hint: he has the help of thousands of elves.
When Arthur discovers that one gift was accidentally undelivered, he becomes determined to get it to the unfortunate girl before Christmas sunrise. Even with the help of his retired grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and a perky elf (Ashley Jensen) from the Wrapping Department, can Arthur travel around the world in time?
There have been many movies over the years where Christmas must be saved from disaster, but Arthur Christmas has a very creative take on it. From the opening scene where it's established that Santa is really a dynasty through the centuries, a title handed down from father to son, to the paramilitary operation to get millions of presents delivered in one night, to the misadventures of Arthur and his grandsanta as they try to make sure one little girl is not disappointed, Arthur Christmas is fun, creative, and original. Produced by Aardman Animations in association with Sony Pictures Animation, this CGI animated film delivers Aardman's distinct brand of quirky humor and style.
The art direction maintains the slightly skewed look of an Aardman claymation film. The character designs are asymmetric and the surface textures are realistic yet bold. The North Pole command center and Santa's high-tech sleigh are clean and modern.
Sometimes celebrity voice talent backfires, but here it works beautifully, the English accents lending a sense of gravity that heightens the silliness. Bill Nighy is particularly good, conveying wisdom that is tinged with resentment of the modern gift-delivery methods his son and grandson use.
Arthur Christmas is a funny, heartwarming, and poignant look at the Santa Claus mythos, adding a family dynamic that will resonate with children and adults. I expect Arthur Christmas will become a joyful holiday favorite for years to come.
Batman: Year One (2011)
Influential Batman Story is Faithful to Its Source Material
Snapshot: Batman: Year One is one of the most influential comic book stories of all time. The direct-to-DVD adaptation is very faithful to the source material, with excellent production values. It is well worth watching.
Batman: Year One could easily be called James Gordon: Year One, for it is Lt. Gordon's (Bryan Cranston) character that provides the overriding through story (Cranston even gets top billing). A world-weary Gordon arrives in Gotham City from his previous assignment as punishment for breaking the unwritten code of the policemen's brotherhood: he turned in a cop on the take. What he finds in Gotham is a force that is corrupt all the way to the top. Commissioner Loeb (Jon Polito) is firmly in the pocket of mob boss Carmine Falcone (Alex Rocco), and Gordon's new partner Detective Flass (Fred Tatasciore) is not only corrupt, but is also a violent sociopath who will do anything to intimidate crooks (or Gordon himself, for that matter). Meanwhile, Gordon's home life is rocked when he has an affair with Detective Sarah Essen (Katee Sackhoff) while his wife Barbara (Grey DeLisle) is pregnant with their first child.
And then a crazy man in a bat costume begins taking out bad guys.
Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie) has returned from twelve years of mental and physical training to avenge the death of his parents at the hands of criminal scum. He finds it's not so easy, and is almost killed on his first night out in a simple disguise. But a bat flying into his mansion quickly inspires him, and Batman is born.
At first wary of each other, but ultimately realizing they are the only two morally true protectors of Gotham City, Gordon and Batman begin to make a dent in the corrupt police force and the mob that controls them.
In a brief appearance not very instrumental to the plot, prostitute Selina Kyle (Eliza Dushku) decides to emulate the mysterious bat-man, who in her mind has some kindred fetishes, and literally becomes a Catwoman burglar.
The directors made a deliberate decision to remain very faithful to the graphic novel, making it appealing to the fans who expect a lot from one of their favorite stories. The script hones very closely to Miller's terse original. The animation keeps the spirit of the original art, wonderfully carrying the action. It has an anime flow added to it from the Korean studio (MOI Animation) that did the production. The ugliness of the city and its inhabitants comes through in gritty detail. The city becomes a character in itself, creating claustrophobia that closes in on Gordon and Batman.
The voice talent, especially Cranston as Gordon, do a wonderful job conveying the tone of the story. The only small exception is McKenzie's Batman. I understand they wanted a younger, less confident sounding voice, but when we are so used to Kevin Conroy, it's hard to switch. And it's not like Conroy didn't do a terrific younger version in Batman: Gotham Knight (2008). But as Batman gains confidence through the course of his first year, so does McKenzie's voice gain strength.
Batman: Year One is a nice complement to Batman Begins (2005), which took many of its elements from Miller's scenario. Batman Begins focused more on Bruce Wayne's training, while Year One focuses more on Batman's indoctrination into the world of crime fighting.
Be advised that Batman: Year One is not watered down. The sexual situations, dialog, and violence are not for children!
Batman: Year One is a well-done tribute to one of the greatest Batman comics of all time: the story of crime-fighting badass James Gordon and his partner, the man in the bat suit.
The Open Track (1916)
Exciting Early Serial
I saw this at Cinecon 47 with a live piano accompaniment. Helen worked at a train depot and got involved with a federal investigation of some counterfeiters. At one point Helen must chase down and stop a runaway locomotive to save the lives of two T-men. This sequence is full of thrills that stands up even today. Helen's jump from a speeding motorcycle to the train is spectacular. Once again, we see an early female protagonist in the movies; the likes of whom we really didn't see again for fifty years. The restored print of this film was excellent. I don't know if other episodes in this serial exist, but this is one that film buffs should seek out.
Stronger Than Death (1920)
Interesting Historical Film
I saw this film at Cinecon 47 with a live piano accompaniment. It depicted a period of the British occupation of India that looked fairly accurate. The half-Indian/half-British character was treated with scorn by both the Indians and the British, despite him being the wealthiest person in the region. Unfortunately, it was clear that the actor was simply a white man with dark make-up. The plot was full of melodrama: the governing British colonel was depicted as an alcoholic wife beater, his son was a selfless Army doctor trying to save a village from cholera, the washed-up actress/dancer fell in love, all while the half-breed was inciting the locals to riot. Nevertheless, I found it to be slow and not terribly interesting. The actors emoted and the sets looked like they were recycled back lots. The film restoration did look good.
An Early Action Heroine
I saw Chapter 5, The Chinese Fan, at Cinecon 47. It was a beautifully restored print from an archive in New Zealand. An early serial from the Edison studios, it features a plucky female reporter who, in this episode, sets out to review a new play in Chinatown and then gets mixed up with the kidnappers of an heiress. It was interesting to see Dolly treated with respect by her colleagues at the newspaper where she worked. Early films obviously had no problems with strong female protagonists; where did they disappear to for the next 50 years! It's too bad the other episodes of this serial have been lost, but this one is a must-see for any student of film history.
Moon Over Her Shoulder (1941)
Fun, Romantic Comedy
I saw this at Cinecon 47 and was pleasantly surprised. It's not the kind of movie I normally would see, especially with the kind of short synopsis it would undoubtedly get in a plot summary. But it was funny and very well received by the Cinecon audience. The performances were excellent, and although the plot was definitely contrived, it made sense in the context of the movie. Basically, it's a love triangle with lots of misunderstandings, the kind of movie plot that has been around since time immemorial. The ending was a bit of a surprise, too. I hope that this gets a wider distribution, either on DVD or on TCM, because it is worth viewing.
The Flying Scissors (2009)
In the same vein of This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind, The Flying Scissors is a mocumentary, i.e., a comedy disguised as a documentary. The subject is the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The film chronicles the lives of several aspiring RPS champions who are planning to attend the Nationals. As you would expect in a film like this, the contenders are a bunch of misfits with dysfunctional families and weird personal behaviors. About 3/4 of the movie is the exploration of the backgrounds of the players and tournament organizers. The final act, the tournament itself, is actually a bit of a let down after so much buildup. There just wasn't as much tension milked out of the contests as I thought could have been. Overall, I enjoyed this movie and recommend it for people who enjoy mocumentaries or the "sport" of RPS.