Romy Shiller

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Prometheus: Or, an open letter to Phil and a Review

In Film, review on June 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Everything ends, and Everything matters.

  Ron Currie Jr.

[warning: spoilers ahead]

I was inspired by what Phil said in A theory about Prometheus and the Space Jockeys‏. [Review Here]

For those of you that don’t know, Phil Edwards is the person behind Live For Films, the head-honcho, big-cheese or boss.

The following is not simply directed at Phil. There were many comments in response to his piece that influenced me.

I finally saw Prometheus. To get this out of the way – I liked it. The film came out in Montreal about one week after the UK.

Phil – I’ve been thinking of what you said and it’s highly rational. It might be interesting to note, however, that most films that are popular on this site require a leap of faith. Example: objects that transform into animated ‘beings’ or super-heroes with heightened abilities… All we can hope for is consistency, eh? Yeah, puddles of acid or breathable planet air might seem contentious [but explained as ‘terraforming.’]

To me, we can look at style here over substance. The aesthetic in the cave did harken back to Alien. I cannot look at Ridley Scott’s film without a ‘leap.’ Is the ‘world’ of this film believable? People seem to be looking for a ‘world’ that follows certain laws or rules. Scott may break certain rules but film is often like that. A “leap” might include certain story points.

I know that many people wanted an explicit Alien prequel, answers – I know that it’s frustrating for many people not to have things tied up in a bow. There were many aspects that linked it to Alien – but that was subtle not overt. A maternal metaphor continued [but it was hardly a metaphor] and especially in the cave, the style was very Alien – so much skeletal imagery. I do not need everything spelled out for me. Many people feel the same way.

Sure, there are simply badly written movies – in general, that’s what we’re here to decide…this is not a badly written movie.

Writer Lindelof saidEssentially what I proposed to them was that the movie didn’t need to lean as heavily on the Alien tropes that we were all familiar with. Eggs, face-huggers, chest bursters, acid blood, xenomorphs. I said that stuff can be a part of this movie, but I don’t think it needs to be what the movie’s about. 

There were certain scenes that seemed anomalous, I’m thinking particularly of the one between Dr. Shaw and the captain, but a relationship needed to be established to make his final action believable. A relationship that ran through the film would have been distracting and too much.

The opening/title sequence blew me away – visually super-stunning … the film’s look is one of the highlights.

An article that I read recounted a conversation with cinematographer Dariusz Wolski: With Alien…it’s a smaller drama. This film is an homage to many films, and it’s a comeback for the sci-fi film, something that Ridley [Scott] was responsible for creating. Alien and Blade Runner set a certain standard, but before that it was 2001, and before that it was Lawrence of Arabia and Ridley was aware of that.

Phil, you say that there is “the illusion of depth created by the visuals.” I respectfully disagree. I don’t see it as an illusion but more of an underline – “look at this” it screamed to me.

There some amazing comments in response to Phil’s piece. I want to address the problem with the medical pod set as a male default – even if it was built for Weyland. I am very glad that this is problematic to so many guys but unfortunately the ‘norm’ is considered male and females are a ‘deviation’ – even in this future. A utopian, egalitarian world would be nice but extremely unrealistic. Bummer.

Ideology is insidious, lasting – so it is not surprising to me at all to see this future.

Another thing – scientists are people who have varied personalities. Professionalism can be subjective. Another scientist [Elizabeth Shaw] calls the scientist who removes his helmet “a crazy bastard.” He is a risk-taker. Yes, even scientists can be “cowboys.”

 

Is Vickers an android? Well, her telling Weyland that it’s time to die is very similar to David wishing he were dead. I agree that it would be very interesting if she were a biological child.

She is more robotic than any robot I’ve seen. I think that because she’s so mechanical she’s probably human. Now THAT’S irony. Great acting choice.

Speaking of acting, Michael Fassbender is great. He was asked about his character named “David.” There was “Ash” in Alien and “Bishop” in Aliens but he was an earlier model of android. Did he reference their performance at all?

Fassbender: No. I don’t know why. Sometimes you do, like when I was doing Jane Eyre I watched asmany of the Rochesters as I could get my hands on, but for this I made a decision not to watch the Alien movies. I watched Blade Runner and I looked at the replicants. Well I looked at Sean Young. There was something in her character, a quality there that I kind of liked for David, this longing for something or some sort of a soul at play there, a sort of vacancy also, a sort vacant element. I don’t know exactly what, I just knew there was a quality there that I liked and then Hal from 2001 and then I sort of walked in with The Servant and Dirk Bogarde and that and then Lawrence Of Arabia, Peter O’Toole’s character of Lawrence and The Man Who Fell To Earth, David Bowie. So those were the kind of ingredients and then Greg Louganis, the diver, so that was sort of the mixture.

The film has several biblical references beyond a Jesus. In the bible, God also changes his mind, decides to wipe out humanity and sends the great flood … In the story of Noah’s Ark, God wants to cleanse the earth of humanity’s ‘wickedness.’

It might also serve us to regard the original myth of Prometheus: Prometheus is a Titan, cultural hero, and trickster figure who in Greek mythology is credited with the creation of man from clay [hmmm] and the theft of fire for human use, an act that enabled progress and civilization. He is known for his intelligence, and as a champion of mankind.

Many of Scott’s films have substantial themes eg. Thelma & Louise [producer],

Blade Runner, Alien – I think that he raises important issues. This film asks about the significance of our existence – a theme that runs through most of his films.

I like that David gets ‘miffed’ [even though that is ‘apparently’ not possible – good clue for when he wishes Weyland were dead] when told he was created ‘because they could.’ I kept thinking of – Alien Saga androids, replicants, cylons…

Dad and my mom referenced Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in relation to specific aspects of this film – the name Dave or David, the computer sounded like HAL, the aging of Weyland was similar in ‘look’ to the other film. I find it quite significant that this film evoked another. They went beyond Alien and saw similarities in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Now, obviously this film is not of the same caliber but there were commonalities.

Scott believes that Stanley Kubrick’s haunting 1968 epic 2001: A Space Odyssey…is as fresh (and perhaps more relevant) today as the day it premiered. 

Scott appears to be heavily influenced by Kubrick. An article I read says, “The film’s [2001: A Space Odyssey] primary themes include the origins of evolution; sentient computers; extra-terrestrial beings; the search for one’s place in the universe; and re-birth all seen within a cold, foreboding light.  Viewers often read the monoliths as signposts of our discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Shortly after the film’s release, however, Kubrick told a New York Times reporter that it’s more a matter of the other beings discovering us.”

I like that this film raises important questions. The debate your piece awoke in many of your readers Phil, speaks to the spark this film has. Even though we may disagree – I salute you.

Men in Black III: Or, Now you see me, Now you don’t

In Film, review on June 5, 2012 at 11:17 am

Have you ever wondered how nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?

 

 Jasper Fforde

Background: Agent J travels in time to MIB’s early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Writers: Lowell Cunningham, Etan Cohen

Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin

I saw Men in Black III. It was entertaining, well paced and fun. It is not a classic but an okay way to spend movie fare. There was a problem with certain shots – I’ll get into it later but on the whole the editing was good and so was the acting. I am pre-disposed to liking time-travel themes and this one came with good historical detail. The sixties segment allows for some mildly clever jokes – about race relations and pop culture, among other things – and includes an impressive recreation of the launch of the Apollo 11 moonshot.

Fifteen years after “Men in Black” and 10 years after ‘Men in Black II,’ Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as alien-managing Agents J and K, respectively, in ‘Men in Black III’. Agent J discovers that both his partner’s life and the fate of Earth are at stake when Boris the Animal escapes imprisonment and messes with history, so J travels back in time to 1969 to help a young K (Josh Brolin) stop Boris before they are trapped in the past forever.

Agent J goes back in time to when his partner, Agent K arrested Boris ‘the animal’ at Cape Canaveral in 1969. Boris is evil and has it in for ‘K’ who had shot off his arm. Boris goes back in time and a new sequence of events leads to an Alien invasion. So J has multiple agendas. J wants to rescue K and prevent the new Alien invasion. A sub-plot is discovering the past relationship between Agents ‘O’ and ‘K. ‘O’ is the new boss (contemporary) played by Emma Thompson.

The director was concerned about the story-line. Barry Sonnenfeld said, All these movies are hard. This one was harder than a lot of them because there was a lot of pressure; just pressure because we’re reinventing a franchise. We’re doing time travel. What if we screw up and Josh Brolin is no good and the audience hates us for breaking up a fantastic iconic duo, which is Tommy and Will. That was like Will Smith and my single biggest concern.

I enjoyed seeing younger versions of ‘O’ and ‘K.’

Like in X-Men: First Class, there is something satisfying about peeking into the origins of characters. Also, observing the fashion and some ideologies of a different era is so interesting because so much has changed. Unlike a history book, time becomes animated.

It is very cool to see the pop culture of another era  [Warhol], the fashion [long hair], aesthetic [furniture, cars, ambiance…] and problematic race-relations [profiling]. Amidst a sci-fi story there’s a history lesson, and while it’s too violent for kids, I think that many adults will get something out of it. The film goes beyond a sci-fi story in fun historical accuracy.

The story evoked other films, the relationship between J and K and why K has a hard demeanour. The idea of ‘possible realities’ is truly based on a Quantum Physics concept.  So even though the story is fiction, much is based in truth

Smith says, What I love about science fiction, like I Am Legend, is that you can sit a serious idea at the center and have this blockbuster wrapping. That’s my flavor. With ‘Men in Black III,’ we connected to the destructive nature of secrets and how a relationship can get repaired and go to another level by exposing that secret.

The problem with certain films that are available in 3D is that certain shots are manipulated to create an effect and, for me, it is obvious and detracts from the film. In this film, which I saw in 2D, I knew which shots would be used in 3D and instead of focusing on the story; my attention was centred on the shot. So, an unintentional problem occurred because of a 3D agenda.

CJ Johnson of ABC Radio (Australia) says, Director Barry Sonnenfeld was the cinematographer on Misery, Raising Arizona and Blood Simple – and there is no doubt he has a signature, comedic camera style that works for his material.  It really wasn’t bad. Huh.

Alien films and the Maternal

In Academic, Film, review on June 1, 2012 at 9:01 am

Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse.Rebecca West

[*Entire article is a spoiler alert – if you are planning on seeing the films for the first time, watch out!] I’m watching the Alien films again. There are four films in the Alien Series (known as the Alien Legacy): Alien (1979, dir. Ridley Scott), Aliens (1986, dir. James Cameron), Alien 3 (1992, dir. David Fincher), Alien: Resurrection (1997, dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet). There are so many aspects of these films I could talk about but I choose to focus on the ‘maternal.’

I am certainly not the first person to explore the maternal theme but I do have a unique voice here. “[O]ne of the most interesting additions to the subject of family horror is Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and its first two sequels, Aliens (1986) and Alien3(1992). The idea of the family is particularly present in a distinct form in each of the three films, as is the theme of motherhood.” (Full Sail University Online) There is a contemporary / anniversary edition box-set of the films with director commentary, special editions and a director cut. (cool!)

So, the first film establishes the maternal theme. The ship’s main computer is called ‘mother.’ On the foreign world eggs are discovered. The life-form that first attacks, impregnates the male human host with a deadly off-spring. It rips through the chest in a birthing analogy. Ripley, in a very maternal manner, saves a cat from the ship’s imminent destruction.

Ripley – our sexy, tough, mother-figure hero. “Ellen Ripley is a fictional character and the main protagonist of the Alien film series. She is played by the American actress Sigourney Weaver.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia) She has been appropriated by gender specialists. Basically, she kicks ass.

Make no mistake about it. It’s very important to maintain a status-quo in this franchise so our female hero is made maternal and so is the beast. We contextualize “difference” by normalizing. “Science fiction films have become the genre of post modernity and its representation of futuristic worlds, inhabited by cyborgs, aliens and monsters. They highlight the constructed otherness of identity and through the focus on difference, sci-fi challenges the known and accepted categories of identity.” (University of Leicester). We can be scared but we’re safe in contextualizing. We all have mothers after all. Heroes or beasts.

All of the films keep Ripley in her proper place by aligning her with the maternal.

In Aliens, Ripley wakes up to find that she has been in suspended animation for 57 years. Her biological daughter had died in her mid 60s. She meets Rebecca/Newt who is approximately the same age as her biological daughter was when Ripley left – around 10. Ripley becomes Newt’s surrogate mother. Newt’s biological mother was killed by an Alien. Ripley’s new foster daughter, like her, is a survivor. While a biological link is absent there is a connection in sensibility.

Newt asks Ripley if the Alien bursting through the chest is like humans giving birth. Newt also asks Ripley if she has children. Ripley never laments over a husband, boyfriend or partner. We can assume she was a single mother – a role that she continues to manifest. “The battles with the Aliens are interesting if we consider them in terms of motherhood. When Newt is captured by an Alien and taken back to the nest, Ripley is compelled to find and rescue Newt. This situation must be reminiscent of Ripley’s loss of her own daughter (refer to Aliens – Director’s Cut) and serves to reinforce both her attachment to the sole survivor on the colony world LV-426 and her determination to carry out her promise to find her if they became separated … In the final battle scene with mama Alien, Ripley’s motherly instincts remain and she defends her daughter by transforming herself into a cyborg. When the Alien mama is destroyed, Newt accepts Ripley as her mother and refers to her as “mommy”, rather than Ripley…” (University of Leicester)

The Queen Alien is called “mom” by a marine. Ripley incinerates her eggs after Newt is abducted. We can assume this is revenge – Ripley is going to blow-up the plant anyhow. At the end of the film Newt calls Ripley “Mommy.” In your face much?

In Alien 3, “Newt is killed when the EEV crash lands on Fury 161. To check for the possibility of an Alien, Ripley asks medical officer Clemens to perform an autopsy on Newt’s body. During the procedure and later during the cremation of Newt and Hicks’ bodies, Ripley is clearly distressed and obviously misses her ‘nuclear-family’.” (University of Leicester)

In Alien 3 the doctor who finds the shuttle-wrecked Ripley on a prison world asks if the dead Newt was her daughter. In a forlorn manner Ripley she says no.

The birthing metaphor is continued. Just as the humans are cremated an alien is born.

Rosi Braidotti said “Science fiction represents alternative systems of procreation and birth, ranging from the rather child-like image of babies born out of cauliflowers, to monstrous births through unmentionable orifices.” (Womb Invasion) An Alien, bursting through the chest is a horror-birth.

Ripley discovers she is carrying an Alien Queen inside of her. “In Alien 3, the Alien won’t destroy Ripley, as it knows Ripley is its species future (ie nurturing the unborn Alien Queen). The Alien is now the protector of Ripley yet it continues to kill the prisoners – whom it views as a threat to both itself and the unborn Alien Queen. Ripley’s role reversal and transformation to mother /destroyer is complete when she sacrifices herself to destroy the xenomorph growing inside her. (ie Ripley is essentially the Mother of the unborn Alien Queen infant).” (University of Leicester)

She is now a potential mother and rather than unleashing the monstrous offspring on humans, she kills herself. She is finally a mother and martyr.

The end – maybe.

The franchise continues with Alien: Resurrection written by Joss Whedon and with Winona Ryder – interesting…

– I thought you were dead.
– I get that a lot.

Ripley is cloned: “As for Ripley, she is no longer the do-good-motherhood heroine of Alien-films past. With her genetic make-up a scrambling of human and alien genes, she possesses great strength, acidic blood, and a sense of connection to the aliens. Yet at the same time, she is instinctively repulsed by the aliens and unsure of her purpose. Yes, the new Ripley may be physically superior, but she is also emotionally vulnerable.” (Alien Resurrection Movie Review)

In the following this dialog takes place:

– And in a few hours, it’s gonna burst its way through your rib cage and you’re gonna die. Any questions?
– Who are you?
– I’m the monster’s mother.

So ‘difference’ – the monstrous, the un-wed and childless female – is contained, contextualized and re-absorbed. In my book You Never Know: A Memoir I say; “Difference is something that most people avoid. Fitting in becomes a goal. Personally, I think difference is valuable. It is the “same” that irks me. Variation is not the same as inconsistency. One can be incredibly multi-tonal and consistent.” (Shiller, You Never Know: A Memoir, p. 23.)

Alien vs. Predator (2004, Dir. Paul WS Anderson) – “The film was released on August 13, 2004, in North America and received mostly negative reviews from film critics. Some praised the special effects and set designs, while others dismissed the film for its “wooden dialogue” and “cardboard characters”. Nevertheless, Alien vs. Predator was a commercial success, grossing over $172 million against its $60 million production budget. The film’s success led to a sequel in 2007 titled Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.” (Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007, Dir. Colin Strause) – “Warring alien and predator races descend on a small town, where unsuspecting residents must band together for any chance of survival.” (The Internet Movie Database) – attest to the popularity and longevity of the series.

Oh, mother!

 

Bibliography

Alien Resurrection Movie Review, Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Full Sail University Online
, “Motherhood and the Other: A Comparative Look at Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3.”
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Shiller, Romy. You Never Know: A Memoir. Victoria, BC: Trafford. 2008.

The Internet Movie Database.
Accessed June 1, 2010.

University of Leicester. GENDER [/alien vs. ripley…] “GENDER, TECHNOLOGY AND REPRESENTATION IN THE ALIEN LEGACY.”
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.
Accessed May 30, 2010.

Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia
.
Accessed June 1, 2010.

Womb Invasion
Accessed May 30, 2010.