Friday, June 8, 2012

In Space, No One Can Hear You Gab

Werth: It's here, Wise!

Wise: My Wizard of Oz press-on nails?

Werth: No, the much anticipated Ridley Scott-directed Alien prequel Prometheus!

Wise: Oh, then perhaps you'll be interested in this crocheted Alien wall-decor.

Werth: I'm excited to see the new moviebut I'm trying to keep my expectations low. I fear Scott's budgets and storytelling have evolved into monster-sized messes.

Wise: With recent disappointments like Robin Hood (2010)and Body of Lies (2008) to his credit, why would you think that?

Werth: I guess it can all be chalked up to Hollywood success, but Scott's career didn't start off so extravagantly. Scott's second film, Alien (1979) spawned a dynasty of six movies and counting, comic books, videogames and a rabid fanbase of fan fiction writers, expanding the film's story into epic, Star Wars-like proportions. But despite all of that, the first Alien is amazingly simple. 

The crew of the deep-space mining vessel Nostromo is awakened from their cryogenic sleep midway through their journey home by the ship's computer, Mother, because she has intercepted a distress call.

Wise: Making it the worst bit of Mother's advice since Janet Leigh stepped into that shower.
Werth: What the crew finds on the planet surface below is far from in trouble, however, and soon they are fighting for their lives against a seemingly unstoppable alien with two sets of choppers.

Wise: Martha Raye?

Werth: What made Alien so unique was that it was more than just a horror movie in space. Scott wove themes of feminism into the film by making the hero a heroine. Ripley as portrayed by Sigourney Weaver is not a terrified girl who screams and bites her hand when she is confronted by danger (that role is left to Veronica Cartwright who plays Lambert). Ripley is smart and inventive and it is her caution and chutzpah that allow her to survive.

Wise: That and the prospect of starring in three sequels. 

Werth: While many horror/sci-fi movies from that period look like they were made on a shoestring budget and practically beg the audience to laugh at them, Alien takes itself seriouslyin a good way. H.R. Geiger's set and alien designs are works of art. Scott's shooting style is elegant and purposeful with a slow-building tension that pays-off brilliantly with one of the best "gotcha" moments in film history. 
Its gore is startling, but not excessive, making the audience grip their seats more from what Scott doesn't show, than from what he exposes. Watching James Cameron's steroid-injected sequel Aliens (1986), really highlights how Scott's use of less in the first film was more. 
I have a feeling that when I sit in my stadium seat with my IMAX 3D glasses and watch Scott attempt to recapture Alien's magic through CGI sunsets and Charlize Theron's skintight jumpsuit, I'll be nostalgic for a simpler time.

Wise: Things are never simple in Black Hawk Down (2001), Scott's adaptation of the non-fiction book of the same name by Mark Bowden about the United Nations' 1993 peacekeeping mission to Somalia where a devastating famine erupted into civil war.  The film depicts an attempt by U.S. forces to capture two top lieutenants of Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid after the withdrawal of the majority of the peacekeepers.  During the raid, a series of mistakes, compounded by extraordinary bad luck, tumbles the mission into chaos, and eventually results in a re-evaluation of then-President Clinton's foreign policy strategy.  

Werth: Try taking that to a pitch meeting.  

Wise: It's a complicated film addressing complex issues and a tangled chain of actions and reactions.  And even though a raft of screenwriters whittled the 100 key characters from the book into a more manageable 39 role, the film still feels overstuffed.  
Josh Hartnett plays Staff Sergeant Matthew Eversman who takes command of his first mission after his lieutenant is felled by a seizure; Ewan McGregor plays nebbishy desk clerk John Grimes, nervously taking on his first battle; 
Orlando Bloom plays teenage recruit Todd Blackburn who quickly realizes he is in over his head; and Eric Bana plays swaggering Delta Force Sergeant Norm Gibson.   

Werth: Without all the war stuff, it could have been another Magic Mike.

Wise: While the cast may be a look book of handsome young Hollywood, Scott refuses to allow the picture to devolve into war film clichés by documenting the terror and stupidity of war as well as the heroics.  
There are gorgeous shots of helicopters zooming across dusty plains, a city haunted by civil unrest, and close-ups of men facing down terrors worse than they've ever imagined.  In some ways, Black Hawk Down resembles Alien without all the sci-fi trappings: the characters battle a faceless enemy that lurks around every corner, as well as the enemy that lurks inside. 
And like John Hurt's famously gut-busting encounter with the alien, these soldiers must confront the possibility that they have already succumbed to the horror that surrounds them.  

 Werth: So, Wise, are you ready to succumb to the Prometheus juggernaut?  

Wise: I'll keep pretending it's just Michigan J. Frog.  

Werth: Just bring your straw hat and cane to next week's Film Gab. 

No comments: