I've been waiting more than 30 years for a Ridley Scott directed anything related to his 1979 sci-fi/horror/suspense masterpiece Alien. No sequel to Alien, much like a related, space western whose popularity got Alien (and Blade Runner) made, has ever supplanted the pure and unique charms of their source.
Somewhat sadly, but not unexpectedly, Prometheus is not nearly as adept and on its game as Alien. It only backhandedly tries to be a horror film -- closer to sci-fantasy, albeit a dark and sometimes Lovecraftian one. But don't buy into the line that Prometheus is not a direct prequel to Alien. It totally is.
In 2089, two scientists, Elizabeth and Charlie (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) discover a connection in the art of disparate ancient cultures, a body of stars that translate into a map, and perhaps an invitation. The dying uber-industrialist, Peter Weyland (an almost unrecognizable Guy Pearce) commissions a starship, Prometheus, to find what Elizabeth believes to be the "engineers" of human life on Earth. Elizabeth and Charlie's hard work earns them a two-year trip to the new world.
The crew, comprised of fairly unmemorable job descriptions, are kept in cryo-freeze, under the watchful eye of David (a typically superlative Michael Fassbender), the ship's android. He spends the bulk of the journey deconstructing the entirety of Earth's languages, to perhaps speak with the "engineers."
Of course, once they get to the moon, (LV-Two-forty-Something) things quickly get weird and go awry, as the explorers plunge to the depths of an ancient monolith, and unearth the secrets of the first known alien civilization. Turns out, they may have created us, but they might not necessarily like us.
The charms of Alien lay as much with its casting and the organic writing of the characters as its eerie tone and groundbreaking FX. Prometheus has a pretty splendid cast on display, who generally elevate the thinly-sketched characters they embody. But none of them, save perhaps Fassbender, are as memorable as any one character from Alien, or even Aliens.
Prometheus does look gorgeous -- sometimes stunningly so. Ridley Scott's reliance on actual sets and surprisingly minimal CGI lends the film a look worthy of its predecessor. The cinematography of Dariusz Wolski captures the atmosphere of Alien, and Ridley Scott's vision of it, while the art design is comfortably familiar to fans; rows of eggs replaced by urns that leak the Black Oil from The X-Files, apparently; the Giger-esque, ribbed corridors of the mother ship, and The Space Jockey -- all tantalizingly nostalgic.
The script by Jon Spaihts, punched up by Damon Lindelof (Lost) meanders between over expositive plotting and trite themes of man seeking his creator -- begging the obvious questions as if asking them were enough, and never providing even a cursory answer to the motives of the antagonists -- at least not until Idris Elba, as Janek, captain of the Prometheus, pretty much explains it to those who might be rightfully confused by Lindelof's half-baked allusions and Scott's somewhat uneven direction. After an hour-and-a-half it suddenly remembers it's a horror film at heart, and that last reel might be the best.
But what really hamstrings Prometheus is a lack of tone. Neither scary nor particularly suspenseful, and diluted by ideas too big for its appetite, the story drifts with Lindelof's inability to create a convincing, enigmatic backdrop, cohesive themes, or give his narrative a sense of immediacy -- even in the hands of Scott -- while fans, in a somewhat masturbatory way, enjoy something that looks and sounds like the one they love.
I'll see it again. There's some stuff to love in Prometheus, and likely subtleties overlooked.
In the pantheon of its universe it's a worthy, if deeply flawed addition to an iconic franchise.
4:44 Last Day On Earth
It's not like there's a lack of End of the World movies. They occupy at least some part of every summer.
But Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay disaster-fests; Irwin Allen-inspired schlock like 2012 or Transformers: Dark of the Moon -- ensemble films where humanity bands together to avert extinction -- have been somewhat supplanted by films like Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, or the upcoming Looking for a Friend at the End of the World, that tell stories of a humanity seemingly sentient and satisfied enough to accept their fate without the requisite murder-rapings and mass chaos one would normally associate with the end.
Which is way creepier than the idea of trying to dodge some alpha freak who wants to build a throne out of human skulls before the meteor, or whatever, annihilates all mankind. Everybody knows that when you introduce the idea of mass extinction people mostly go apeshit. The idea of people who are largely unfazed by eternity is more alien -- their fruitless choices more disconcerting.
So it goes with the new, Abel Ferrara penned and directed, 4:44 Last Day on Earth -- possibly the last film you'd want to see if you knew you had less than 12 hours to live.
Cisco and Skye (Willem Dafoe and Shanyn Leigh) are spending the last hours of their lives holed up in their grungy New York loft. Turns out Al Gore was more right than he ever could have imagined. The ozone layer is timed to dissipate at 4:44am, at which point all of humanity will be fried golden crispy. Cisco and Skye make love. She paints her last painting, splashing colors on a canvas stretched across the floor. Cisco Skype's friends and his broken family order Chinese food and pay the delivery boy hundreds of useless dollars. Cisco and Skye are alternately loving and cruel, and are really squandering their last day on Earth almost as much as Abel Ferrara squanders good will.
That's a huge disappointment because, at his peak, Ferrara was a real master of the tones he wanted to strike in his films. Ferrara's stylized visuals and propensity for picking a killer cast made films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant --basically the films that had him flirting with Scorsese --engrossing crime tales. Suffused with themes that spoke directly to his Catholicism, while providing the audience with pulpy tales, they delivered on their narratives and performances, while injecting the right amount of arty pretension. And, at his best, the pretension works. But, at his worst, you get 4:44.
Dafoe seems adrift as Cisco, as if Ferrara isn't giving him much direction. As written, he flies between moments of clueless optimism and desperate selfishness. He's just trying to hold together a semblance of calm, only somewhat successfully. Shanyn Leigh is a paragon of acceptance until strife erupts with Cisco. What Ferrara is ham-fistedly trying to do here might work if he didn't drown it all in his laborious direction, overly obvious political agenda and self-indulgent posturing.
Climate change is occurring. As is the depletion of the natural resources that are the last snapping tendon holding society together -- the recent study in Nature detailing the beginning of our decline by 2025 was providentially timed to make 4:44 Last Day on Earth more prescient than it actually is. But the way Ferrara hammers that message home, amidst stock footage montages of the Dali Lama, Zen hucksters and faux newscasts taking humanity off the air comfortably; reek of unfiltered navel gazing with barely a nod to narrative cohesion or caring if you are boring the shit out of the audience.
The best scene finds Dafoe leaving the loft and visiting sundered friends (Natasha Lyonne and Paul Hipp, enjoying far more natural performances than the leads) at their apartment. The have a farewell as they remembered each other, as they always were. If the whole movie were like that, divested of pretension, invested in humanity, 4:44 might have found the warmth and gravity it desperately tries to manufacture, though it does succeed in making the end feel like sweet relief.
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