Posts Tagged ‘Alien’

Few films evoke such wild anticipation as Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Not only does the film see the seventy-four year old director return to the science fiction genre for the first time in thirty years, but it also sees him return to the territory of his seminal 1979 film Alien; perhaps the film that defined him as a director. Not a fan of sci-fi, Scott took on Alien knowing the scope of his vision would make for a truly striking space-set horror, but with the part-prequel, part-spin-off Prometheus Scott has much bigger fish to fry – the very origins of mankind. What he achieves is thrilling, intriguing, but bound to be divisive.

From the outset it was difficult to know precisely what to expect from Prometheus. As the marketing team released more footage and posters, the film’s cryptic evocation of humankind became recognisable, but simultaneously so did its resemblance to Alien. It was as if Prometheus was promising to provide new theories for human existence, as well as the outlandish organisms of Alien (designed by Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, who provided murals for Prometheus).

In narrative terms, Prometheus resembles its predecessor surprisingly closely, but its thematic focus is different. Instead of the space age blue collar workers of the previous film, we are introduced to scientists and researchers, eager to discover and communicate with an advanced species well versed in space travel. Aboard their space ship named Prometheus the scientists are lead by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Their mission is funded by Weyland Industries, represented by the icy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron – on frosty form). Conflict arises when the scientists suspect that Weyland Industries have ulterior motives for locating extraterrestrial life.

The film is brilliantly cast, particularly with Michael Fassbender representing android-kind as David, an existentially complex being like those in Scott’s Blade Runner. The problem arises however when we realise that the ensemble are simply not as well drawn as the characters of Alien; this lets slip cliché lines and superficial drama that ticks plot boxes. Fortunately, Scott’s choice cast guide us through the scripting superficialities with aplomb. There too is occasional comedy, courtesy of Prometheus’ captain Janek (Idris Elba) and even Fassbender himself.

The film is at its most intriguing when the crew encounter the Alien-esque world, for which is it most anticipated. Scott utilises the alien species’ ability to conceive, birth and evolve rapidly to amp up the horror, as he did in his previous film – this is a welcome return. While the varying creature design in Prometheus does not live up to Giger’s achievements for Alien, the film still continuously provokes our curiosity, before rewarding us with a violent dose of horror. Despite his interest in the loftier themes of existence, Scott still knows that his job as a director is to shock, move and entertain.

But what of the film’s answers for man kind? And how does this fit with Alien? To say too much would be irresponsible for viewers to-be, but Scott tells a tale that does away with Darwinist theories and revels in a compelling fiction for which you must be willingly suspend your disbelief. He also evokes a new horror that will inflect future viewings of Alien; evidence in the evolution of the Xenomorph (Alien) species itself.

As to be expected with a story that has taken thirty years to follow up, not all audience members will feel satisfied. Some audience members will wish they knew less, others will want to know more (and for those a Prometheus sequel feels due). As for audience members who have not seen any of the Alien films, Prometheus will thankfully not alienate them. For this viewer though, Prometheus is the most compelling Alien instalment since the 1979 original.

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Directing for Hammer Horror, James Watkins (Eden Lake) brings The Woman in Black to the big screen, complete with a much anticipated new role for Daniel Radcliffe. Critics have taken to the film with beady eyes, highlighting the simplicity of the plot, addressing the sparse characterisation and treating Radcliffe’s performance with pedantic scrutiny. When all is considered though, their in depth examination seems laughable in the face of what is a first-rate horror film like one we haven’t seen in years.

Based on Susan Hill’s novel, The Woman in Black tells the tale of a young solicitor and single father, Arthur Kipps who heads to a desolate mansion on the English coast to see to a deceased woman’s paperwork. Kipps has a young son to provide for and the sadness of his wife’s death (who died in child birth) still hangs upon his shoulders. Upon arriving he is informed by the locals that he should not visit the mansion, as they believe it is haunted by a darkly clad female apparition. Applying reason to the situation Kipps decides to see the job through, as he must prove his worth to his employer for fear of losing his job.

Radcliffe’s first serious non-Harry Potter performance is in good hands with James Watkins who gives him a mature role, playing a grief stricken father. While Radcliffe’s acting range is discernible, Watkins plays to his strengths allowing us to invest suitably in his dilemma. Building the authenticity of the story Watkins selects some superb locations, particularly the mansion itself – the design team dressed Cotterstock Hall in East Northamptonshire to create the epically creepy Eel Marsh House.

Watkin’s shooting style brings to mind classics of the horror genre, notably Psycho, Halloween and Alien. The movement of the characters and the coordinated use of close ups and shallow depth of field keep us on edge knowing that something sinister is lurking near-by. The design and lighting combine to give us a sense that the woman in black herself is omnipresent, building a constant sense of tension. Use of CGI is limited and thankfully so – often the effects feel like some of the cheapest tricks, but Watkins reins it in. He also deserves credit for rejecting the initial proposal that the film should be shot in 3D – this would have destroyed the classical creep of the Edwardian set story.

Amping up the scares towards the end, in a fashion particularly comparable to Halloween Watkins makes The Woman in Black first and foremost a thrill ride, but this is not to say that the film lacks substance. The payoff requires credible emotional investment from the audience and it carries it off with precision, allowing the fear of the woman in black to make a real impression. This film, like the novel it is adapted from, is designed to haunt you after it has ended. Perhaps when you are home alone, or just going to bed it will come back to give you one extra scare – when you buy tickets to see a horror film that is what you pay for and The Woman in Black welcomely delivers.

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