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Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
Star Trek Episode II: Attack of K...
Four years have passed since J. J. Abram rebooted the Star Trek franchise with spectacular results. We finally have a solid sequel for all to enjoy.
I'm no Trexpert but I know common tropes like Dr. McCoy's cantankerous outbursts or the tribbles when I see them. Chris Pine is a wonderful actor but the script still hasn't furnished him with enough material or classy moments to outshine the likes of Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch. Yes, he can bed alien babes, get into fist fights and hang from dizzying heights but we have yet to see him display the tactical skills and strength of character that made Shatner such an iconic Captain Kirk.
Then again, Pine is doing very well at shouldering an immense burden. The movie is quite staggering in action and scale. Unlike the modest budgets of the space-faring action films in the 80s Abrams has been entrusted with a mind-boggling $230 million. Big money can be a big turn off since it usually implies complacency or compromise.
The creators are a teeny-wee bit guilty on both counts, but a bit of pandering is forgivable. The pressure to make back the money, not to mention the moral responsibility of pleasing all the hard-core fans, must be immense. He did seem fatigued during the London stage of the publicity gauntlet and apologised in advance to those who think he has compromised on essence of Roddenberry's creation.
If one tries to judge this film on the "classic" standard of Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (or even The Empire Strikes Back) then it pales into comparison. This is not the nostalgia talking here: it is a fact borne out a better script, better dialogue, better editing, and superior score by James Horner.
It maybe better to compare Star Trek into Darkness favourably to Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Both films start with a terrorist attack on a capital city, followed by an assassination attempt on a high-ranking political leader. The villain is then tracked across space to a remote location where genetically-altered soldiers are waiting to be activated for a war fabricated by a secondary villain.
As a Lucas toy boy I must say this film is leaps and bounds better. The scene where Spock and Uhura fight a superhuman bad guy on the roof of a hovering junk ship tops the pursuit of the bounty hunter on Coruscant and brings the Spock-Uhura dynamic to a nice conclusion.
The Kirk-Spock bromance is spot on once again and a scene where they bicker in an elevator brought to my mind a scene of Anakin and Obi-Wan (only much better of course).
There are course numerous other visual similarities to other sci-fi and fantasy genres like Mass Effect, Battlestar Galactica, or The Avengers, which have either been imitated consciously or have (more likely) seeped in through a sort of creative osmosis. And Peter Weller appears too, 'nuff said.
Despite the healthy mix of influences and sources of inspiration there is something not quite right about this film besides the obvious overuse of lens flares and over-the-top action set pieces (the film STARTS with Spock in erupting volcano!)I'm sure that critics and die-hard fans will identify the film's weaknesses in the weeks ahead. For some viewers Into Darkness may seem like a step backwards after a successful reboot; much like Quantum of Solace or Sherlock Holmes 2: Game of Shadows.
Yes, there are plot holes, missed opportunities and ways this film could have been elevated to classic status had a bit more thought been put into the script/screenplay. One the biggest disappointments (for me) was not ending the film with Kirk returning to the Enterprise after a stint in hospital only to find the bridge crawling with tribbles.
Extremely Dangerous (1999)
You've Bean Framed!
Extremely Dangerous is a Fugitive-type thriller starring Sean Bean (Patriot Games, Goldeneye). Bean plays a former secret service agent, convicted for the brutal murder of his wife and child, who escapes police custody and goes on the run in the Greater Manchester area. Byrne then goes undercover and takes down an organized crime syndicate and the corrupt authorities that set him up.
I like Bean because he can do almost everything from big-budget blockbusters to Shakespearean stage work and parochial TV. Fans will like this one, but it is difficult to recommend that casual viewers to go out of their way to see this. Extremely Dangerous is well-over a decade old now and will not blow you away with its modest budget. There are lots of scenes needed tighter editing, and the whole thing seems to a drag a bit over four episodes. The northern accents may also be a problem for non-Brits.
Saying that, there's a lot to really enjoy about Extremely Dangerous. The plot is strong and pretty plausible, the score was memorable, and the action was free of shaky-cam (since this only really came into fashion after 1999). Sean Bean's character moves through situations like a pro and does some really cool things: jumps from a intercity train as it slows on a bend; pickpockets a man in a clothes shop; steals a car from a long-stay car park; infiltrates lots of guarded buildings; beats up lots of thugs; and gets to point a gun at his ex-boss.
Prometheus tries to kindle new flame to the Alien franchise but fizzles out in torrent of special effects.
I am truly sorry to say that Prometheus is another soul-sapping disappointment typical of Hollywood thesedays. It is nowhere near as good as the trailer would like you to believe. Not only does it fail as a suspenseful horror or action flick, it falters as intelligent science-fiction by asking lots of "profound" questions about our existence which it fails to answer. You would be better served in both respects by watching The Thing Prequel or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. And if you want a bald albino roider running about go no further than Far Cry The Movie.
Let's first say what is actually good about Prometheus. The sets, models, landscape shots, CGI, 3D effects, are all top-draw stuff. Ridley Scott has always been acclaimed as a visionary director and hasn't lost any of his touch on that score. The musical score itself by Mark Streitenfeld is another plus since it follows in the tradition of Jerry Goldsmith. The theme entitled "Life" is a very majestic and rousing piece that brings to mind a beautiful mix-match Blade Runner and Kingdom of Heaven. So there really is not a lot to criticize in terms of production values except for some really bad prosthetic make-up applied to radically age one actor.
The biggest problems are the lack of purpose, story and decent characterization. The writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Laurence Lindelof should take the blame here. Maybe they wrote a fantastic script which was subsequently dumbed down or mutilated in the politicized process of production but I highly doubt it.
Taking a Greek legend is actually a good starting point for a story about how mankind, in their arrogance and delusions of self-grandeur, seek out answers about existence and the gift of new technology to prolong their life-span. When they finally meet their makers (the Engineers) they get a nasty surprise in the form of giant supermen, infectious diseases and rapidly evolving serpentine lifeforms. Despite at least three belligerent threats, none work particularly well to drive the story.
It should have been told entirely from the perspective the quirky android David (Michael Fassbender) since he's arguably the least "artificial person" in the whole movie. Just dwell on that for a moment. A robot has more depth and character than the entire combined cast of 16 humans!
I guess the ones who are supposed to stand out are:
Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw, Logan Marshall-Green as Holloway (the Jar Jar Binks of Prometheus), Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, and Idris Elba (aka Stringer Bell) as Captain Janek. Sean Harris plays a geologist Filfield kinda bears a weak resemblance to Hudson. None of them come up close to calibre of the characters from the quadrology. Even Alien Resurrection, for all its flaws, had some witty and humorous dialogue courtesy of writer Joss Whedon of Firefly and Avengers fame.
In an attempt to please fanboys, Prometheus liberally brands itself visual references and lines of dialogue from the originals. For example, when Janek makes sexual advances towards Miss Vickers she turns him down coldly and he asks whether she is actually robot whereupon she gives the curt command: "My quarters. Ten minutes." Far from being the ice-queen equivalent of Carter Burke I warmed to her as the closet person to Ripley; Vickers was the only one with any common-sense regard for quarantine procedures and ship safety.
What made the originals so good was a strong protagonist played by Signourney Weaver who was supported at least five characters worth caring about. They were usually all closed in together by claustrophobic environments and the compelling drama lay in all their interactions and reactions to a largely unseen menace. In the first two films there are several sit-down meetings where a dwindling crew sit around a table to debating their worsening situation. You see them all change as the day goes from a normal workshift or milkrun mission to an escalating nightmare. The scenes of shifting balance of power after the death of Captain Dallas or in the APC after the first swarm attack in Aliens are key higlights.
There is nothing to compare in Prometheus. The crew are woken from hypersleep, they stroll down to the cafeteria where they pair off into separate corners of the room and fail to interact with one another. You know right here that something is wrong and the movie gets progressively worse, resorting to clichés already used up by hack-for-hire Paul Anderson for his double franchise-wrecker Alien versus Predator (2003).
Sorry, that is unfair. At least AvP knows what it is and doesn't adopt airs and graces like Prometheus. Honestly, there were times that I rather wish I was watching AvP Requiem with the pizza delivery boy and his high-school prom-queen.
Let's not get started on the exploding jockey head, the giant octopus facehugger, the zombie who takes out half the non-speaking cast, or the alien that looks like a buck-toothed hill-billy cousin to H.R. Giger's terrifying creation. I won't go on any more about the laughable gore, cartoon-like deaths or the plot holes through which one could pilot the Nostromo.
I usually love to sit through bad B-movies with friends just to laugh at such deficiencies and infelicities. One cannot be so lenient when they appear here because Ridley Scott and his moonstruck underlings really have no excuses.
I hate myself for sounding this bitter. I so-wanted the original creator to resuscitate the whole franchise and expand it in new exciting directions. But to quote the distraught voice of Elizabeth: "I was wrong. We were so wrong. I'm so sorry".