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Archive for June, 2012

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

So, it all came down to this.  Both  previous prequels were met with mixed reactions, at best, but the advocates for the negative seemed to shout much louder than the positive side.  As I have covered in my own reviews here, there were some improvements from the first to second film, but many glaring problems existed with lapses in logic and intelligence, to be brief.  Coming to Revenge of the Sith, it is difficult to be entirely objective as I have fond memories surrounding the release of this film.  I thought that might impact my review a good amount, but after some refreshers and a deep analysis of the film, I’m going at it just as hard as the last two.  Again, it’s not a stubborn stance of hate against something new or different, it’s an objective point of view of seeing what is good and what is wrong about the film.  One thing that irritates me with sequels is when the filmmakers don’t have enough objectivity to actually fix the obvious problems from one film to another.  So, you know I have a few axes to grind down even further, and there is some summation needed for the overall prequel trilogy.  So, get real comfortable because this is gonna be a lot longer than I expected it to be.

After waging the Clone Wars for three years now, the evil Separatist cybernetic commander General Grievous has boldly kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) from the capital of the Republic.  Quickly sent into action on a rescue mission are Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) as a space battle is waged above Coruscant.  However, despite their ultimate success in this mission and the death of Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), more foreboding threats lurk ahead for the Jedi and the Republic.  Anakin reunites with his secretly wed wife Senator Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) who reveals she is pregnant.  This sparks repeated visions for Anakin of her death during child birth, and he becomes consumed with finding a way to avert this event.  As Obi-Wan is sent on a mission to track down and dispose of General Grievous on the planet Utapau, Chancellor Palpatine further manipulates Skywalker towards a dark path which is meant to see the fall of the Jedi and the Republic, and the rise of the Sith Lord’s Galactic Empire.

Let’s just get the bad out of the way first.  The film’s pivotal faltering crux is that Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side is exceptionally weak.  It stems from the foundation of a romantic relationship that made no sense to exist in the previous film, and never felt truly believable to begin with.  It came off more like teenagers in some glorified storybook romance with both having some delusion of what love really was instead of a naturally and organically developed relationship.  Anakin never matures, or really changes as a character at all.  I can take dark, troubled, and brooding, but the reasons behind it are just very one dimensional.  Yes, anyone who had a vision of their loved one that Anakin does here would have a flood of emotional reactions, but what Anakin does because of it and why he believes it will save Padmé comes off as naïve.  All of Anakin’s suspicions are unfounded.  He is disillusioned by his own built-in paranoia and distrust because he isn’t the all-powerful Jedi he was prophesized to become.  A prophecy that no one ever explains where it came from, or who created it.  A prophecy that causes a lot of damage to the conceptualization of the prequels.  Yes, Palpatine constantly puts ideas in his head, but remember what Ben Kenobi said in both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi.  “Vader was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.”  Nowhere in this film does it seem as if Anakin is “seduced” into turning evil.  He’s a desperate man searching for a long shot desperate solution, and as always, is selfish enough to not care if hundreds or thousands of Jedi have to die for what he wants.  It doesn’t feel like he’s truly tempted or lured there by way of its power tapping into his darkest impulses.  While the opera scene surely tries to support that idea, Anakin clearly states that the only reason he’s joining the Sith is to save Padmé’s life.  That is all that matters to him.  If the Jedi could do the same as Palpatine claims he can do, he’d stick with the Jedi.  There is no seduction involved.

My personal belief is that Anakin should have been a mature, honorable, and confident man who is swayed and consumed by power.  A man who seeks the means to restore order in the galaxy, which aligns with Vader’s statements to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.  I would expect that his motives are broader, encompassing a larger landscape instead of being manipulated into believing everything he does.  I surely have no qualms about the Emperor being manipulative as that’s always been part of who he is, but Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is more a result of Palpatine molding him there through lies and deception instead of Anakin making these choices of his own free will.  Darth Vader was a confident, intimidating individual with a sense of self-control.  I would’ve expected to see those qualities reflected in a young Anakin Skywalker.  A man mature beyond his years, and amazingly proficient in the ways of the Force.  Someone to be admired, not tolerated.  His fall is meant to be tragic, but instead, it only comes off as selfish.  It’s difficult to care about a character when he is not likeable in the least, and that is a failing which extends to nearly every aspect of these prequel films.

Thankfully, Anakin’s growing paranoia and suspicions leave us with very few scenes of him and Padmé gushing over one another, but we do get one scene too many.  Personally, said scene is cringe inducing.  The dialogue is horrendous, and the acting from Portman and Christensen do nothing to make it more bearable.  Outside of said scene, Natalie Portman comes off a little more mature than her performance in the previous movie.  This is likely due to her not being forced into a poorly conceived romantic storyline.  However, I do wish the “Seeds of Rebellion” scenes were kept in the film because they actually give Amidala an active storyline to personally involve herself with.  In the film as it is, she essentially sits around her apartment waiting for people to inform her of the latest plot developments and get emotional over them.  Again, Natalie Portman is one of the most talented and diverse actresses around today, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from her performances in these films.  There is some improvement from the flat, hollow Queen Amidala back in The Phantom Menace, but even with strong emotions injected into her character, it still lacks depth.  The relationship between Anakin and Padmé only ever feels fabricated.  It’s presented to us with a minimum of effort put into making it feel earned.  What makes it worse is that Natalie and Hayden have no chemistry whatsoever.  A really good actor can take something not so good and turn it into something worthwhile, but everyone has their limits.  You can’t do it all on your own, and George Lucas seems to have a tough time conveying his ideas to actors.  That is all I can chalk this up to because, outside of these Star Wars prequels, I have yet to see anything less than great performances from Natalie Portman.  She really can do it all, and she always does it exceptionally well.  So, while it sounds redundant, it seems necessary to say that I have to attribute the sub-standard acting qualities in these films to Lucas’ inability to communicate the depth and detail of his characters to his actors.  Of course, the poorly written dialogue doesn’t help matters, either.

With Samuel L. Jackson, I can understand the marketing appeal of casting him in these films, but he wasn’t made for a role like Mace Windu.  The wise, seasoned Jedi Master role would be better filled by a Morgan Freeman, Forrest Whittaker, or even a Laurence Fishburne type.  Jackson does have plenty of talent, but he seems to shine in more passionate roles.  Characters that aren’t conservative with their emotions, but that’s exactly who Mace Windu is.  Windu could have been the elder Ben Kenobi allegory for the prequel trilogy, if written with more perceptive wisdom and cast with a more appropriate actor.  Alas, he comes off just as one dimensional and clueless as all the other Jedi.  Many of his line deliveries are as flat and hollow as they get, especially when confronting Palpatine.  Samuel L. Jackson can be a marvelous actor.  Probably my favorite performance of his is in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, a film I love very much, and his Ordell Robbie is a performance filled with a lot of charisma, wit, and dramatic weight.  That’s the sort of role Jackson shines in, and shows what kind of talent he has to offer.  Mace Windu never offered that for Jackson because, unfortunately, it was never a role designed for him.

Fortunately, Ewan McGregor seems to pull through fine.  This is probably because he has full context of where Kenobi has been and where he will go to draw on.  He knows where to take his performance to sync the character up with Alec Guinness’ portrayal in the original films.  His heart wrenching performance at the start and conclusion of the final duel is everything it should have been.  It’s only too bad that the rest of the prequel films never earned those deep moments of character and emotion.  McGregor makes this younger, yet still wise Kenobi charming, compassionate, and overall a pleasure to spend time with.  He truly had a dimensional handle on the character, and filled it with personality and emotion to spare.  Ewan really gave it his all, and it shows through in every second he’s on screen.  The character might not have been written too greatly in these three films, but Ewan was able to rise above that more than anyone else.

Moving onto fresher ground, some of the lightsaber duels here are rather mixed.  The good ones are the opening duel with Dooku and the climactic Anakin versus Obi-Wan battle.  My main gripe is the sequence where the Jedi go to arrest Chancellor Palpatine.  Lightweight choreography between Samuel L. Jackson and Ian McDiarmid along with some bad editing to terrible close-up shots of cringable facial expressions make it tough to sit through.  Neither actor is convincing as a master swordsman.  Even before that, the editing of Palpatine slaying the other Jedi Masters is clumsy, shoddy.  It makes the movie feel like cheap B-movie schlock that couldn’t hire a competent choreographer or editor to make the sequence look decent.  Then, there’s the horrible line deliveries of bland dialogue at the latter end of the scene which makes the entire thing worse.  At times, it seems like Jackson, McDiarmid, and Christensen aren’t even trying as if the script drained the talent right out of them.  And this is the scene which directly leads to Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side.  I couldn’t ask for a worse build up to the saga’s most pivotal moment.  It encapsulates everything that is primarily wrong with the prequels – bad writing, bad acting, uninspired editing, and poor plotting.  Again, Anakin doesn’t strike out and join the Sith because of a sense of injustice at hand, it’s because Palpatine can maybe save the woman he loves.  He even shows regret and remorse over what he just did to Mace Windu, but still goes along with joining forces with Palpatine because of what he claims he might be able to do to save his wife.  Again, a desperate guy looking for a long shot solution.

Since I jut touched upon it, I do need to address the technical aspects of these three films, in retrospect.  What really strikes me is how dull the cinematography is.  There’s hardly ever any camera movement to punctuate emotional or dramatic moments, and scenes are blocked and plotted out with no originality.  While the action sequences are dynamically quite well handled, the dialogue scenes are very point-and-shoot, by-the-numbers work.  Very little effort is put into making them visually interesting aside from the CGI blue screened backgrounds.  I think not working on practical sets or locations greatly affected how these films were shot.  There are no environments to envelope the film in, to really move the camera around in to take advantage of what’s actually there.  Shooting in a tangible environment inspires a filmmaker to interact with it, and play with camera angles and movement.  Instead, everything is shot against a flat blue screen which inspires nothing for both the filmmakers and actors.  And as I said before, the editing is also very uninspired.  With the original Star Wars, George Lucas went for a less conventional method of editing the film by having the cuts drive the rhythm of the scene instead of it being dictating by the actors.  It created energy, pace, and urgency in the way scenes unfolded and how the story was told.  With the prequels, Ben Burtt approaches everything very conventionally, very clinically.  It’s just like the cinematography.  There’s nothing original about it, nothing creative in how anything is presented.  It’s all just there.

Another lackluster lightsaber duel is the overly long battle between Kenobi and General Grievous.  There’s some dramatic license taken at the beginning as Obi-Wan just stands there waiting for Grievous to throw off his cape, talk trash, and unfurl four lightsabers before even getting into a fighting stance.  Then, the scene goes on and on from a duel to a ridiculous chase to a more straight up fight.  There is something to be commended for a short, straight to the point action sequence.  Long and elaborate can work when it leads to a point, but the end result is the same here no matter the length.  The Yoda / Emperor duel is entirely pointless, and just sucks up time that could’ve been used to better story-driven effect.  It’s more of that ridiculous action hero posturing from Yoda which is entirely out of character.  Removing this fight sequence from the film would have no effect on the story or characters, and that is the very definition of a frivolous action sequence.

While the Anakin versus Obi-Wan battle is well choreographed, and I enjoy the action quite a lot, the dialogue exchanges within it also terribly lack passion and depth.  One would think it would be the most impassionate confrontation in the entire saga, but it just lacks that visceral emotional intensity.  The entire sequence could have benefited from being a shorter fight with more substantive interactions like the original trilogy duels.  The biggest difference with lightsaber duels in the prequel trilogy versus the original trilogy is the over reliance on high speed fight choreography instead of character-based conflicts.  You can only maintain interest in a high speed fight for so long before it has to boil down to substantive moments with the characters.  This is an impressive sequence, but Anakin and Obi-Wan are so evenly matched that there’s barely any back-and-forth peril.  While Anakin might be more powerful, Obi-Wan has the experience and discipline to compensate, and that’s what ultimately allows for him to defeat Anakin.  The sequence has plenty of merit with the magnificent digital effects, the changing location of the battle, and the slow descent into a hellish environment.  John Williams’ music reaches a major apex here with “Battle of the Heroes,” one of my favorite prequel trilogy cues.  Ewan and Hayden showcase immense physical ability and discipline making this an action highlight of the entire saga.  Despite any flaws, this confrontation has added so much more depth to the Ben Kenobi / Darth Vader duel in A New Hope for me.  It does feel like “the circle is now complete.”  The context now given offers up a more epic atmosphere to it like two old Samurai from an era long past battling for the last time.  Both men have been through this personal history that no one else in the film is really aware of, and so, that adds to the personal strength of it all.

The opening space battle sequence has always impressed me.  I know there are those out there that have their gripes with the entire rescue mission section of the film, and I can understand their issues with it.  There’s some extraneous humor that really isn’t needed with R2-D2, and a few bits and pieces in the space battle that could have been trimmed up or cutout for a tighter sequence.  Plus, it is extremely difficult to discern what ships are fighting on what side of the battle.  There’s no visual context to apply to it, and the scene is very jam packed with all kinds of crossfire and visual depth.  That’s how a space battle should be, but it really just becomes random background to the main action with Skywalker and Kenobi.  I can entirely advocate for all of that criticism, but with the sentimentality I have for the film, it does not bother me.  I enjoy nearly every moment of it because it does feel very Star Wars to me, and I think it’s a welcomed change to start one of these films out with an action sequence like the original film.  For a few of the films in the saga, a slow start works nicely by establishing an appropriate dramatic tone, but others like The Phantom Menace or Return of the Jedi just seem to drag along before anything exciting or interesting occurs.  For Revenge of the Sith, it definitely needed an energetic, dark, and dangerous tone set from the start, and I truly love that aspect of the movie.  Of course, the tone does become rather inconsistent with the humorous bits intercut with the darker or more perilous moments here, and tone has gotten more inconsistent with each subsequent prequel film.

Also, one has to beg the question of what the purpose was of abducting Chancellor Palpatine.  If this was a plot devised by Palpatine and Dooku, I can’t see how that particularly benefits Palpatine’s overall master plan.  Him being abducted removes him from his seat of power in the Republic to manipulate events towards his agenda, and gives the leverage of power to the Separatists in the war.  It’s kind of a long way to go to assume that it was an elaborate scheme meant to result in Anakin killing Dooku.  No guarantees that it would be Anakin being part of the rescue since he and Obi-Wan only just returned from assignments in the outer rim of the galaxy, and no definite guarantee that Obi-Wan would get knocked out for Anakin to potentially give in to killing Dooku.  If it was Grievous’ plan, that makes more sense since he doesn’t seem to know that Sidious is Palpatine, but then again, Grievous is depicted as being fully subservient to Darth Sidious and Dooku.  So, it’s highly unlikely he’d launch an offensive without their approval especially since Dooku is on board the ship.  Of course, as usual, these prequels hardly adhere to any sort of storytelling logic.  Characters do what they do because that’s what the script needs them to do.  This really harkens back to the nonsensical story of The Phantom Menace where the surface plot does not align with the behind the scenes machinations of Palpatine.  If Palpatine is not manipulating events to his benefit, all of this makes good sense, but George Lucas seems to not think beneath the surface of what he’s writing.  He approaches the story from the wrong perspective, and thus, it results in these different elements at play not aligning with one another.

George Lucas leaves a lot to be desired in this film because of many hanging plot threads, character motivations that are not explained, the lack of character development, and the stupidity of certain characters.  For instance, while I am a very knowledgeable Star Wars fan, and even own the Star Wars Encyclopedia, the average movie-goer never has a single thing explained to them about who the Sith are and why they are seeking revenge.  Everything about them is taken for granted as if you just happen to know this, or worse yet, don’t need to know this.  Because I am a knowledgeable fan of this franchise, I generally know that the Sith were driven to near extinction by the Jedi a thousand years ago.  Also, they have had only had a single master and a single apprentice since then because the Dark Lords of the Sith were too power hungry and deceitful to co-exist as a large organization.  They would all backstab one another for their own personal agendas to be furthered, and that contributed to their extinction as well.  However, none of this is ever mentioned or hinted at, let alone explained in these films.  In the original trilogy, the term “Dark Lord of the Sith” is never mentioned either.  So, even the term is brand new to those who’ve followed nothing but the films.  It is a gross oversight that the history of the Sith is never explored or implied in these films to give context to their motivations, and those motivations are the real crux of the entire prequel trilogy storyline.  In The Phantom Menace, the Jedi Council mentions that the Sith had been extinct for a millennia, but go into no detail as to why or how.  It’s a revenge movie that never says what the person is getting revenge for.  Quite frankly, that’s utterly ridiculous.

And of course, several characters go grossly undeveloped.  Count Dooku used to be a Jedi and Qui-Gon Jinn’s mentor, but no one ever gives any background on why he left the Jedi Order.  Just implying that he might’ve had contrasting opinions isn’t enough.  What kind of man was he really before he became a deceitful Sith Lord?  What we see of him is generally an act put on to fool everyone into following him to secretly benefit the agendas of the Sith.  Possibly the only honest scene we see of him is when he has Obi-Wan imprisoned in Attack of the Clones, and he is truly a fascinating character in that scene.  However, we are never given any further true insight into the man.  He’s just another pawn of Palpatine, and with such a talented actor in Christopher Lee, it was a deeply wasted opportunity to not flesh out his character more.

Also, Padmé Amidala might seem to have character development, but in reality, she’s a hollow vessel made to be whatever the plot needs her to be at any moment.  In Attack of the Clones, she consoles Anakin after his Tusken Raider mass murder confession, saying “to be angry is to be human,” and then, later marries him despite this cold blooded act of violence.  In Revenge of the Sith, she learns he killed Jedi Younglings, is shocked and dismayed at hearing this because she can’t believe that he’d do something like that, and then, says she can’t follow Anakin to the dark places he is going.  These are entirely contradictory behaviors and reactions that cannot be reconciled in my mind.  Padmé should be one of the most level headed, clear minded, and intelligent people in these films, but instead, she is written with so many incompatible and contradictory character traits that she should have canceled out her own existence.  Also, her dying of a broken heart or having “lost the will to live” comes off as terrible in this because of this.  Not to mention, she can’t find the will to live so she can raise and love her newborn twins?  Seriously, Lucas could’ve had her dying of a crushed windpipe or hemorrhaging or any number of medical complications from Anakin’s Force choke, but he chose “she’s lost the will to live.”  That puts an ugly nail into a so-called romance that was contrived and ridiculous to begin with.

Back to Anakin himself, it is hard to actually say he has “fallen to the Dark Side” when he’s still the whiny, selfish, impulsive, bratty person he always was.  He’s no different a character when he was a Padawan to when he becomes a Sith Lord.  All his turn to the Dark Side really does is free him up to not have to apologize for being the arrogant jerk he’s always been.  And of course, he contradicts himself as well.  His entire reason for joining the Sith is to find a way to save Padmé from dying in child birth, but once his megalomaniacal streak kicks in on Mustafar, he goes right ahead and tries to kill her himself while jumping to another unfounded conclusion.  There’s just no motivational consistency with these characters.  In many films, I’ve seen someone striking someone they love, but then, they quickly snap out of it when they realize the horrible thing they just did.  They come back to their senses.  Here, Anakin just keeps being an disillusioned arrogant jackass.  Again, this is not the Darth Vader we know from the original trilogy who is confident, intimidating, and in control.  Anakin is the direct opposite of that.

Fortunately, I can give a lot of praise to the Order 66 sequence.  From the newly dubbed Darth Vader assaulting the Jedi Temple to the Clone Troopers turning on their Jedi Generals, the sequence is rich with sorrow, dread, and ominous imagery.  The moment of Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa witnessing a young Padawan being gunning down on the landing platform is tragic and unsettling.  Right from the start of Anakin marching the troops into the temple to the final shot of smoke billowing out of it the next morning, the whole sequence is really well done.  It’s only a shame that, one, some bad child actor has to have a line of dialogue in it, and two, we don’t get to know any of these Jedi that are murdered.  There was an opportunity in these films to do something with a few of these characters so that an audience could come to care about them to some extent.  While the sequence itself earns my general praise, these are just interchangeable background characters being killed off who never had any emotional resonance on the story or audience.  It’s ultimately less about those who are killed, and more about those either doing the killing or who have to deal with the repercussions of these events.  That’s not necessarily bad or wrong, but it’s just a missed opportunity to have the sequence hit the audience harder on an emotional level.

A rather pointless character comes in the form of General Grievous.  He makes no independent decisions like a General would.  He demonstrates no tactical proficiency or command authority.  He just mindlessly carries out the orders of Dooku or Sidious, and is really just around as a plot convenience.  He’s also a comedic “mustache twirling” type of villain giddily laughing when he cowardly sneaks off to escape, or likes to strut around boasting his unearned ego.  It probably would have been better to have Dooku hang around for a while, and give more weight and purpose to his death instead of burning run time on this CGI waste of a villain.

The Jedi themselves consistently display an almost willful ignorance to what’s going on around them.  Maybe Lucas was trying to present them as having become overly confident in their perception of the absolute clarity and power of the Force, but so much blatantly unfolds right in their face that one would have to be willfully ignorant to not take action.  Every major negative event that impacts the Republic strategically comes to greatly and solely benefit Chancellor Palpatine, and none of the Jedi seem to find it all that suspicious until the war is over and Anakin actually tells them that Palpatine is a Sith Lord.  And of course, by this point Palpatine has almost indomitable control over the entire galaxy.  It’s even worse that it takes them well over a decade to perceive that there is a plot to destroy them at work.  I understand Palpatine is using his Sith powers to cloud peoples’ minds, but I doubt he’s so powerful that he can cloud the minds of every single Jedi throughout the galaxy every hour of every day.  Even then, they hardly need to use the Force to perceive this threat as the obvious evidence right there in front of them.  It never seems like anyone followed up on the investigation into Darth Maul’s origins after his death, or discover any allies he had that could further threaten the Jedi.  Even Obi-Wan’s investigation into the Clone Army is never resolved.  The Jedi never truly discover the hard facts on how or why Jedi Master Syphadias ordered the army, if it actually was him, how Jango Fett got tied up into it, who erased Kamino from the Jedi Archives, or anything else that weaves into and out of that mystery.  The Jedi remain willfully blind to these unanswered mysteries which are clearly ominous signs of a conspiracy that could threaten them and the Republic.  Fett himself says he was hired by a man named Tyranus, who is later revealed to the audience to be Count Dooku.  It’s likely to speculate that Dooku impersonated Syphadias after he was killed, and ordered the Clone Army himself in conjunction with hiring Jango Fett.  So, if the Jedi actually followed the investigation to full conclusion, they would’ve uncovered an elaborate conspiracy against them.  Instead, the plot requires them to be stupid so that these obvious hanging plot threads can come back to bite them in their collective posteriors.

Going both ways on the issue of character is Palpatine.  He is given a good amount of depth and a hint of back story to give him some dimension.  Ian McDiarmid has generally done a good job in the role, but there can be too many instances of disingenuous emotion that just make the character’s façade horribly transparent.  It’s only by way of everyone else being dumb as a post that no one ever notices how obvious Palpatine is every time he opens his mouth.  Also, when he unveils himself as Darth Sidious, McDiarmid starts hamming it up like crazy.  I don’t view that as a good thing.  How he portrayed the Emperor in Return of the Jedi is vastly different in tone than how he is in the prequels.  In Jedi, he was a deeply serious and intimidating villain who was creepy and ominous.  McDiarmid’s chilling portrayal penetrated deep into an audience’s consciousness, and deeply into the heart and soul of Luke Skywalker.  He had a grim, imposing aura to him that was more dreadful than Darth Vader which elevated the psychological threat in the situation.  He was over confident but subtle, and that’s what is missing here – subtlety.  McDiarmid’s performance in this movie is far too obvious and overt.  While he has solid low key, compelling scenes, such as his telling of the story of Darth Plagueis, he simply allows Palpatine’s ego to increasingly overflow throughout the movie.  Instead of transitioning into that fearsome character we experienced in Return of the Jedi, he becomes a cackling, over the top madman.  McDiarmid’s performance in The Phantom Menace was actually far superior and more consistent with his original portrayal.  It was a more serious, dramatic approach to the character with subtlety and intelligence.  Unfortunately, it only went downhill after that.  Also, it’s never explained why Palpatine becomes deformed from the Force lightning.  Nothing of the sort happened when the Emperor unleashed it on Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi.  With these prequels, George Lucas seemed more interested in having things cosmetically align with the original trilogy instead of conceptually.  He really can’t have it both ways.

When you go ahead with a prequel you can’t change your mind on the established back story and representation of the characters.  You can only flesh out what’s already there, and bring clarity to the more vague areas of these histories.  George Lucas just failed at that.  Everything about an honorable, noble, and admirable Anakin Skywalker that Ben Kenobi spoke about in those original three films is entirely eradicated in favor of this selfish, egotistical, and violent person that never seems like a hero.  The Jedi never seem like an order of wise protectors of peace and justice.  They come off like short-sighted, dumb as dirt, full of themselves fools who never follow through on any course of action they set out on.  Yoda continually acknowledges a swirl of negative and even violent vibes coming from Anakin, but he continually ignores the severity of what Anakin’s going through.  Considering that the Jedi had a bad feeling about Anakin from the start, one would think they would keep a close watch on him to make sure he doesn’t go off the rails.  Also, after Mace Windu learns that Palpatine is a Sith Lord, he originally goes to arrest him, but then, he insists to Anakin that Palpatine must be killed on the spot.  Beyond just the conceptual inconsistencies in these films, the writing itself can’t keep a character’s motivations and intentions consistent throughout a single scene.  It really is atrocious on so many levels.  Again, the problem is that there is no one to challenge George Lucas’ creative direction.  Whatever he wants, he gets even if it doesn’t make any blasted sense.

Some people say that the anticipation and hype built up for these films could never be lived up to.  I say that’s a pithy excuse for churning out substandard movies.  Plenty of films have been able to live up to immense hype time after time.  You can’t tell me that The Empire Strikes Back didn’t have massive hype around it leading up to its release, and that clearly exceeded all expectations.  It comes down to talented, competent filmmakers putting care and intelligence into what they do to produce a high grade feature film.  Over time, it seems that some filmmakers lose their focus or ambition to be as good as they once were, or in some cases, certain filmmakers lose sight of the fact that film is a collaborative process and they reject anyone’s attempt to offer an alternate point of view to potentially improve the film.  I am a filmmaker myself, and my stance has always been, “I know I have not thought of every great idea in the world.”  I encourage my cast and crew members to always help in the creative process so that we can make the best film possible.  However, George Lucas seems intent on his word being the only one that counts, and that is the first step towards creative failure.

As I’ve alluded to, I have a lot of fond memories from the theatrical experiences I had with this movie.  I saw it twice on opening night with a glorious digital projection screening the following week.  I went to see this in the theatre, at least, four times in 2005, and even did a DVD marathon of the entire saga when Revenge of the Sith came to home video.  I highly enjoyed this movie, and I still find good qualities in it that I continue to enjoy.  However, while all of these fond memories project some sentimentality onto the film for myself, they do not excuse the critical analysis it deserves.

The original Star Wars trilogy captured the imagination and wonder of people all over the world, and for me, it still inspires and entertains me greatly.  Unfortunately, these prequel films have not done the same for me.  They lack the vibrant, memorable, and iconic characters that came to define Star Wars, and are plagued with amateurish screenwriting wrought with underdeveloped concepts.  Lucas was trying to tell a story he didn’t have the skill to competently write.  There were too many elements at play that he could not put into a cohesive whole, nor was he able to flesh these ideas out so they had some depth and relatability.  I have no problems with telling a more complex Star Wars story with political aspects, but it has to make sense.  All three of these films are excellent examples of terrible screenwriting, or in the least, a screenwriter’s ambition outreaching his skill.

There was no ambition behind these movies, or creative drive to make them original or innovative.  More effort was put into advancing the technology of digital effects than crafting a solid, sensical, and lively screenplay.  Everything just reflects a lack of passion from most everyone involved – the wooden acting, the dull dialogue, the clinical non-action sequence cinematography, the by-the-numbers editing, and the clunky plotting.  There are a few positives to credit the films for such as mostly great lightsaber fight choreography, some good action sequences, John Williams’ incredible music, and a few bright spots with the casting such as Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee, and even Jimmy Smits, for what little he was given to work with.  However, these few highlights are grossly overshadowed by all the poorly executed elements of these movies.  I hope that I never commit myself to reviewing films requiring this deep of an analytical deconstruction, again.  However, I had to complete what I started so that I could move onto the praise heavy reviews of the original trilogy in their original theatrical versions.  Those will come in time, but for now, it’s time to rest my mind.  Thanks for bearing with these excessively long, in depth reviews of these disappointing movies.


Warlock: The Armageddon (1993)

I truly like and enjoy the original Warlock from director Steve Miner.  While the low budget restricted its overall production quality, the good script and high caliber acting talents of Julian Sands and Richard E. Grant really made it something worthwhile.  It’s one of those films which showed a lot of potential, and that with a larger budget and stronger production values, it really could’ve been amazing.  The rights for the film eventually ended up at Trimark Pictures which came to specialize in some decent genre and B-movie successes, mostly direct-to-video releases, but were ultimately absorbed by Artisan Entertainment and subsequently Lionsgate Films.  With the rights to the first film, Trimark decided to make a sequel with those better production values.  Warlock: The Armageddon brings the Warlock back from oblivion, but this sequel would’ve been better off staying in oblivion.  The golden-maned Julian Sands portrays the Warlock far more devilishly in this one with a darker charm, but has no worthy or even respectable adversary this time around.  Sands essentially carries the entire movie, and any scene without him is rather uninteresting.  His charisma and charm on screen is so electric that you simply crave more of it when he leaves the screen.  The plot doesn’t offer anything all that engaging or particularly special.

The Warlock is brought back to recover a collection of gems that, together, can destroy all of creation (yes, again) by bringing his father, Satan, into our world.  Meanwhile, in some rural town two teenagers are chosen by some most unimpressive Druids to be trained and fight the Warlock.  Chris Young and Paula Marshall, respectively, portray these two youths, Kenny and Samantha, who aren’t too fond of their parents having to kill them first before being imbued with these new special powers.  As the Warlock dispatches of several non-formidable obstacles to obtain these gems, these two teenagers in love try to come to grips with what they have been tasked with, and fear for the evil that is coming for them.

I can’t wrap my head around how we go from the amazing character of Redferne, portrayed by the exceptional Richard E. Grant, to a couple of teenagers who frankly care more about what they’re gonna do on Saturday night than being the saviors of all creation.  These two amateurs are expected to go up against the unholy spawn of Satan and prevail?  I can only suspend my disbelief so much before a premise becomes laughable.  Truly, I was more involved in the Warlock and his quest to destroy humanity than caring about this rural pair of teens in love being forced into a situation they want nothing to do with.  There is hardly anything endearing or engaging about their half of the movie.  Honestly, I wanted this film to have nothing to do with them.  It’s rather sad when you come to actually wanting the villain to destroy all of existence.  At least we would have been spared more sequels.  Of course, Sands was not brought back for Warlock III: The End of Innocence, which was a non-sequel casting Bruce Payne in the title role.

This sequel is much gorier than the original, but the story and characters are far weaker.  It’s not a question of bad acting, it’s a question of a bad script.  Whereas the original film was written by the exceptionally talented David Twohy, the screenwriters of this sequel, Kevin Rock & Sam Bernard, have nothing of special note in either of their filmographies, and nothing at all written since the late 1990s.  Director Anthony Hickox had just finished Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, and I feel this film is worse than that uneven sequel.  Hickox directed some decent horror films like Waxwork & Waxwork II, but after Warlock: The Armageddon, he never directed, wrote, acted in, or produced another recognizable film.  At best, he’s proven to be a B-grade director not capable of producing anything without a hefty helping of cheese and over the top sensibilities.  Ultimately, looking over the credits of this film, the only notable talent involved is Julian Sands.  From the screenwriters to the director of photography to the music composer, there’s nobody of note here.  Charles Hallahan (The Thing) and Zach Galligan (Gremlins, Waxwork) do have roles here, but they’re essentially nothing more than inconsequential supporting roles.

On a technical level, the movie is well made with competent cinematography giving everything a fine polish and sheen.  It looks a little more cinematic than the first movie, but it certainly has its limitations.  Some sets are clearly more restrictive in size and style than what their real world counterparts would be such as the fashion show venue.  Also, one action scene takes place in a small American southwest town which looks like the back lot for some low budget western, aside from the parking meters.  The Warlock literally has a showdown with a couple of guys with shotguns dressed in bad western attire.  It’s another unsatisfying thing attributed to both the screenplay and the low budget.  They can’t afford to place the climax of the film in an interesting setting, so, it all happens in a forest-like environment where there are no production values to show off.  While earlier sequences were mainly on sets that did the best with the budget they had, the climax just makes it look cheaper with uninventive ideas of setting or action.  Of course, Anthony Hickox had the climax of Hellraiser III take place on the late night streets of Los Angeles, and showed a lot of explosions and action, but it ultimately amounted to pointless drivel that dumbed down that franchise to an achingly low level, despite the production values.  I can’t say that more money would’ve fixed the creative or artistic problems with the film.  It was a rather bland story to begin with, and the climax gets to the point where I’d rather prefer seeing the Warlock triumph.

I can say that the visual and makeup effects are entirely superior to the previous film, and that’s bizarre since this film’s budget was $4 million less than the first film.  Perhaps, it’s simply a benefit of the evolution of digital effects replacing optical composites in the four year gap between films that gives this sequel a higher quality in that area.  The powers of the Warlock are exponentially more extensive and destructive here than in the first movie, but it doesn’t matter much when the story loses the heart and the charm that the first had with Redferne.  You can read my earlier review of that film for a more in-depth insight into what really gave Steve Miner’s film so much promise.

Again, Warlock: The Armageddon is really cheesy and pathetically weak in nearly every facet with Sands being the only exception.  This sequel is okay if you want to see more of Julian Sands’ purely evil, sadistic, and wonderfully devilish performance, but that is all that is worth seeing in this film.  The original Warlock wasn’t any major blockbuster success, and so, Trimark probably didn’t feel as if all that much effort needed to be put forth for a sequel.  Again, Trimark was never known for very high quality films, but there are a few that I still heavily enjoy.  However, this is not one of them.  If the first movie was filmed as well as this one, and had this much gore – it would’ve kicked some real ass.  Unfortunately, what really is the most important aspect with both is good story and character.  This film lacks both whereas the original Warlock really had it in good amounts.  It was well written with some character depth and a consistently enjoyable premise.  This sequel was dumb on arrival with only Julian Sands bringing anything truly entertaining to the project. See it if you want, but you’re not missing much otherwise.  At best, it’s cheesy early 90s horror schlock.  I would better recommend watching the original Warlock, or if you really want some bad ass demonic vanquishing, try Constantine.  This was a franchise that hardly ever got going anywhere, and with this sequel, it’s easy to see why it was not a success.


Prometheus (2012)

For those not in the know, Prometheus was developed as a prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 science ficition / horror classic Alien.  While it still is that, Scott admitted a long time ago that it evolved into something more than that.  After seeing the film, I certainly see the broader canvas that this story is told upon, and how it can branch out beyond that far more narrow storyline of Alien.  I can’t say I was expecting anything specific with this film, just that I anticipated something amazing.  It’s hard to say if I exactly got that, overall, but let’s break it down a little at a time.

In the late twenty-first century, a team of scientists lead by Drs. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) discover clues to the origins of mankind on Earth.  With the aid of the Weyland Corporation, headed by the elderly Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), they launch a journey into deep space aboard the spaceship Prometheus.  Cave paintings from various ancient civilizations that had no contact with one another point to a distant star system where these scientists believe the answer to our origins lie.  Among the ship’s crew and other specialists in various scientific fields, the voyage is aided by the advanced Weyland Corporation android David (Michael Fassbender) who is caretaker of the craft who has been learning countless languages in order to potentially communicate with these alien “engineers,” if and when they find them.  Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is a liaison for the Weyland Corporation itself, and is overseeing the mission to make sure its interests are maintained.  As they explore this alien planet, dubbed LV-223, they face discoveries both amazing and frightening.  Eventually, what they seek becomes not what they hoped for, and they must battle a horrifying reality in order to save the future of the human race.

Before the review starts, which is in the next paragraph, two things about my theatre experience to note are that, one, there were no trailers screened ahead of this.  It went right into the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, and that was it.  No time was given to let the audience settle in and get ready for the movie once the lights went down.  It was exceptionally strange, and it took several minutes beyond the opening credits to sink myself into the movie. Why the theatre did this, I have no idea.  I’m very interested to know if this was an isolated incident or more wide spread.  Someone even had to run out of the theatre to grab a theatre employee because the curtains were drawn for a 1.85:1 aspect ratio when this was the wider 2.40:1 format.  So, for part of the opening credits, the partially drawn curtains were distracting.  The second thing is that I like sitting all the way in the back of the theatre.  Last row, top of the stadium seating.  When I saw The Avengers, the sound was a little low even sitting further down into the theatre.  This time, the surround sound speaker right next to me was very loud, and at times, the film’s score was louder than the dialogue.  And with all the reverb rich environments in the film, it made for a strange audio experience at times.  This certainly got better as the film went on, but early on, it was difficult to understand all of the dialogue sitting where I was.  Because of this, it took a long time to actually catch all of the main character’s names.  Thankfully, for this review, I have website resources to inform me better.  So, now, on with the review of Prometheus.

This is a film with a deliberate, methodical pace.  It certainly takes a while for the film to really get into the meat of the story.  It will certainly require your patience.  I surely do not mind a slow build, but the first act of a story is designed for you to get to know the characters and connect with them.  However, learning their names or not, I really didn’t start feeling much of a connection or distinction with anyone until the final act.  I think this is partly because there are so many characters populating the early half of the film that no one really stands out, aside from David, and so, it’s hard for the film to spend a lot of time with any particular character for long.  For at least the first hour of the film, no one is an obvious protagonist.  In Alien, it felt more like an ensemble piece, and you generally latched onto and cared about all of these characters.  Here, it’s not at all handled that way.  The film feels like it’s waiting for the heard to thin out before giving anyone a moment of prominence, and that contributes to a lack of character driven focus.

Something that contributes to this issue is that no one is explored in any real depth until the panic starts driving the story.  For instance, Dr. Shaw states what she believes this mission is all about, but at no time does she tells us why she believes this.  We’re just supposed to take it for granted that she does, and not ask those questions, yet the entire purpose of the movie is to ask questions.  It’s a scientific exploration, and science is all about being inquisitive.  She wears a holy cross necklace, and I’m not sure if that’s meant to imply that her scientific beliefs should have no more definite explanation than religious faith.  Scientists should be able to explain what they believe, especially when you’re dragging a good dozen or more people on a two year voyage into deep space.  It would add so much more depth and purpose to the character if she actually explained why she believes that the human race was birthed from an alien species to justify this large expedition.

On the stronger side, Michael Fassbender’s android character of David is remarkable.  His performance is the real highlight here.  In him, you see wonder, awe, foreboding, sinister intent, and child-like innocence.  He maintains a nice through line with the performances of Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen as the other droids of the Alien series, but makes David all his own.  He is clearly not human with a unique off-center performance.  No authentic emotion comes from him, but he can still appear personable, thoughtful, and courteous.  He is designed to be indistinguishable from humans, but over time, he clearly becomes well aware of his superior brilliance, making him truly feel superior to them in every way.  He has fascination with everything he observes and consumes.  He is, partially, a character we can see things through, experience them through his sense of amazement.  However, as the film goes on, you see ulterior motives surface in him, and that kept me highly intrigued as I did not know where they were coming from.  Were they his own personal twisted perversions, or part of someone else’s agenda?  The answer was quite satisfying to me, and cohesively tied in with the overall storyline.  Fassbender is truly the standout talent in this film, and David is an impressive creative achievement.

Now, I was rather put off by the fact that Guy Pearce appears here as only an elderly Peter Weyland.  He is only ever seen under heavy make-up and prosthetics to make him appear to be of advanced age.  It seems like an odd choice, but putting that aside, Pearce is excellent.  He has remained a captivating talent through the years, and really brings some poignant gravitas to the role.  Weyland’s motives behind supporting this expedition are entirely relatable, and Pearce’s grounded strength keeps it from being anything obsessive or off-kilter.  When he enters the story, he gives it an injection of weight and dread as his agenda motives everything forward from then on.

Again, later in the film, I really came to enjoy and connect with Idris Elba’s Captain Janek.  The actor himself described the characters as, “a longshoreman and a sailor, with a military background,” and that sums it up nicely.  He has that laid back style of confidence while also only minding the business of the ship and its crew, but clearly has the experience to make decisions like a military man.  As he forms a friendship with Dr. Shaw, you get to see some of his heart and soul, and that’s what clicked for me with him.

Noomi Rapace is the lead of the film as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw.  I don’t want to say she’s a Ripley allegory.  She’s definitely her own character with her own strengths and vulnerabilities, but I’m sure there will be those that try to make that comparison.  Again, it would have drawn me into the character earlier on if I had gained an understanding of her scientific beliefs, and why she is so committed to this expedition.  Just get more into her heart and mind a little.  However, when things start to become unhinged and chaotic, that is when Shaw becomes truly sympathetic and a powerful standout.  She comes to understand the truth of what they have discovered, but few others care about that except Janek.  She’s put through some hell when she has to cut an alien organism out of her own body in an intensely frightening and unsettling scene.  I love what that organism evolves into later on, and you certainly cannot put the pieces together until that later point.  Rapace brings a very compassionate, likeable quality to Elizabeth Shaw.  She’s fascinated by this discovery, at first, and continues to show enthusiasm and curiosity until things go awry.  Rapace is solid in this role showing heartfelt moments with Charlie, and carrying the more intense sections of the film with great skill and composure.  She fights through the maddening fear and physical strain, not giving up at any point.  She’s going to see everything through to the end, and that is the real gravitas Rapace brings to the film.  A very solid lead that does take a while to move into the forefront of the film, but when she does, she easily becomes someone to invest yourself into.

What didn’t grip me much was Logan Marshall-Green’s Dr. Charlie Holloway.  He seems either a little one dimensional or too concerned with himself to allow an audience to get into his character.  It’s partly how the character is written, but still, the actor doesn’t do much to show a real dimensional performance that could make him accessible.  We never come to know much about him, and all we know is what he hopes to find, not why he’s fascinated or compelled by the prospect of it.  We get the evidence that sparks the intrigue, but not why it means so much to him personally.  There’s no context given to Dr. Holloway to make him anything to think much of, and that’s definitely a big negative considering all that happens to him later on in the movie and how it affects Elizabeth.  Much of the supporting cast is the same.  Maybe a little quirk added to them here or there, but ultimately, they are nothing more than what the script needs them to be for the benefit of the story.  Again, there are so many characters in the first half of the film that it would be impossible to dig deeply into all of them, but sometimes, it doesn’t take too much.  Just the right hint of an endearing character trait, and the right actor to convey those elements of humanity.  However, I’m not going to mark this as a negative critical element.  Just a thought that could be used to enhance them further, but considering this is a horror film where much of the supporting cast is going to not survive, anyway, I can give it that concession.

Moving on, the production design maintains aesthetic touchstones with the Alien films, but upgrades them.  Considering we’ve never truly seen a state of the art vessel meant for scientific exploration, this makes sense.  The Nostromo was a freighter, requiring nothing more than the bare minimum technology to do its job.  The Sulaco was a military transport ship which didn’t need anything special to complete its missions.  However, the Prometheus is a science vessel needing the most sophisticated technology available to thoroughly accomplish its mission.  That is a welcomed way for the filmmakers to take advantage of modern day technological advances, and apply them to what a vessel of this sort would be like in eighty years without betraying what was established in the other films (which chronologically take place after this film).  The ship’s interiors as very reminiscent of the Nostromo, but with a little better living conditions and a generally more inviting appearance.  All of the alien technology and architecture is definitely in line with the franchise as H.R. Giger was brought back to expand upon some of his ideas and world.  That absolutely helped to create a wider and richer culture for this species, and yes, the Space Jockeys are extremely integral and vital to the story here.  That had always been one of the big things Ridley Scott had wanted to explore about this mythos, and I’m glad that is the major focus of Prometheus.

The visual effects are truly awe-inspiring.  Nothing low grade here.  They can be very enveloping, and key sequences are likely stunning in a 3D presentation.  As usual, I stick with the standard 2D theatrical experience.  Ridley Scott really allowed the visual effects to live up to his more than three decade long standards.  The more intense effects are immensely effective.  The various life forms they encounter are startling, frightening, and impressive.  They share some design elements with the franchise’s facehuggers and Xenomorphs themselves, but they keep it subtle.  This is clearly a different ship with a different engineering of these creatures.  So, that gave the filmmakers freedom to do more with their ideas, and present something more varied, yet still related to what is familiar.  The more environmental effects of space and the planet LV-223 greatly add to the film’s atmosphere setting the tone for the entire film.  Ridley’s not afraid to make the visuals dark and very shadowy lighted really only with flashlights, and that only enhances the creepy, unsettling nature of the alien structure’s interior.

The cinematography of Dariusz Wolski is very much in line with Ridley Scott’s visual sensibilities.  It’s even more surprising since he’s never worked with Ridley before, but has done some notable work.  He was cinematographer on The Crow, Dark City, Crimson Tide, and all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  The lighting and camera is very solid, atmospheric, and effective.  Light and shadow mixed with some of Ridley’s signature smoky environments make for an incredible visual tone.  They create the sense of danger and mystery that these characters are engulfed, but it doesn’t stop with just the visual aspects.

The musical score by Marc Streitenfeld was amazing and enveloping, much like some of the visual effects.  The theme he composed for Prometheus is heard quite often, and it is haunting, enchanting, mysterious, and wondrous.  It sets a perfect tone for the film, and the remainder of the score is equally as rich and effective.  I would highly recommend purchasing the soundtrack which contains nearly an hour of the film’s amazing music.  This really feels like a musical masterpiece as it complements the complex tone of the film so well.

Now, the big question is if this really is a good prequel to Alien.  I believe it is an excellent pseudo-prequel, and I use that terminology because Prometheus is so much more than just a prequel to Alien.  As you’ve probably figured out by now, Prometheus does have more than its fair share of graphic horror and scares.  While Ridley Scott has made a film that has a far larger scope than Alien, he entirely keeps it within the same tone as that film while adding to and expanding upon it.  It’s even more frightening of a film at times because it’s not just alien organisms using human bodies for gestation, we’re dealing with genetic engineering.  Things that can infect your body and transform you into something inhuman.  The film does explore the origins of humanity as a species created by a far more advanced race of beings, and the desire for answers as to why.  This opens the film up to some philosophical discussions amongst its characters that are decently explored, but don’t weigh down the film.  Prometheus is a film that can stand on its own aside from the franchise.  It has its own strength, its own direction, and its own motivations to follow through on that are bigger than the franchise has ever explored.  This could easily branch out into a whole other franchise leaving the facehuggers, chestbursters, aliens, and so forth to their own machinations.

The other question is, well, does this answer the questions one would have walking into this film knowing it is an Alien prequel.  Partially.  It answers a few questions, but leaves many hanging in suspense, capturing, at least, my compelling interest.  Let it be known that this film does not have a definitive ending.  It is truly setup for another dangerous and fascinating adventure with the surviving characters which is far more likely to explore the ideas and questions raised in this film, and hopefully, bring us many of those answers.  I knew this walking in, and that took the edge off an ending which could’ve been a little sour and cheated in my mind.  It’s not an abrupt end as it does segue way nicely into a conclusion, but getting there does feel a little rushed.  In a film that took a gradual pace with establishing everything, the setup for the sequel segue ending is run through with a much faster pace than expected.  It works well mixed in with some frightening action, and maintains character motivation and determination.  The pace was just a little throwing.  This might’ve been because I kept expecting a hanging conclusion to the film, and feared for an abrupt cutaway to credits every so often.  Thankfully, that did not happen.  The ending does have me enraptured to know where this storyline can go, and how a further fleshed out exploration of these ideas and characters can be enhanced through another film.  I surely think a second viewing, more evenly positioned in the theatre, will feel smoother for me.  I have no doubt that a sequel would answer these questions, and not leave the Alien prequel connection unsatisfied.

The only truly spoiler section of this review will be this paragraph, and so, skip over it if you wish to remain free of them.  The film reveals that the human race was created and descended from the Space Jockeys, who have a very pale and human appearance beneath the “exoskeleton” style space suits we saw in Alien.  It is eventually learned that they decided to eradicate humanity with ships full of organisms designed for that very purpose.  It is not answered why they decided on this course of action, which was halted two millennia ago when these organisms broke loose and killed the crew.  However, the thought that ran through my head was echoing Ash’s statement in Scott’s original film – “perfect organism.”  Perhaps, the Space Jockeys finally achieved perfection in genetic engineering, and decided that all inferior life forms they engineered should be wiped out to make way for their ultimate creation.  Still, there does seem to be more rage, more visceral determination with this motive from just how the one still living Jockey acts.  He’s violent, murderous at the sight of human beings, and immediately begins to kill them all.  He appears dead-set determined to complete this mission at all costs, and leave no human living anywhere.  So, while my speculation might have some validity, there certainly appears to be a more personal, primal motivation to their agenda.  And while we don’t get to see the classic title character of the Alien franchise, the Space Jockey does give birth to a similar being.  I would likely call it a prototype Alien.  There are similarities in the design, but it’s much less developed and more angular.  This is the image that closes out the movie, and gives a little fan service that is nicely placed.  Like much of the film, it leaves you hungering for more.  It would have been amazing to see the original creature appear on screen, but if Ridley Scott wants to save that for a sequel to give that film the big pay-off, I can subscribe to that idea.

I think the best compliment I can give Prometheus is that, even sixteen hours after seeing it, my mind is still alive thinking about it.  Synapses are still sparking, and I think I need to see this again.  There is so much to absorb and process that additional viewings are certainly needed to let it all settle into my mind.  Even as long as this review is, I don’t think it thoroughly covers every thought I should have about it.  However, for allowing a reader to determine whether it’s worth their while, I’m sure I’ve said plenty.  While there are aspects that could have been done better in terms of making the characters stand out more and allow the audience to get to know them better sooner, overall, I think this is an exceptionally successful film.  It is a very intelligent work of science fiction and horror that screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof and producer / director Ridley Scott should be commended for.  It’s been too long since we’ve gotten a science fiction film of this caliber with some sophistication, artistry, imagination, and intellect.  I’m sure there will be many mixed reactions out there, and again, I’m still uncertain of my final perception on it, but I am definitely hooked into what Prometheus has to offer.  It’s only unfortunate that it appears to be only one half of a whole, and with Ridley Scott already having two other film productions upcoming, including the sequel to Blade Runner,  it’s going to be a good couple of years before we get a continuation for Prometheus.  Thankfully, Ridley seems to churn out films pretty quickly.  There’s rarely more than a two year gap between his films, sometimes all of a single year, but by no means, do I desire for him to rush anything along.  Prometheus was a film a long time coming, and I think it was a generally worthwhile wait.  We’ll just have to see if that second half of the whole makes good on the potential shown here.


Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

There are countless interpretations of vampires out there.  Whether it is from Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, John Carpenter, or Joss Whedon – vampires will continue to be explored in literature, films, and television.  What Anne Rice has presented the world is a very classical, romantic, and aristocratic view of nosferatu.  It seems that many may have soured to this interpretation in recent years, at least in the filmed media.  With films like The Lost Boys, Fright Night, John Carpenter’s Vampires, and the television series of Angel and Buffy The Vampire Slayer integrating vampires into a modern setting with pop culture references and humor.  Still, Anne Rice’s view will likely remain the most traditional perception.

Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) has chosen to grant an interview to a persistent reporter in Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) in present day San Francisco, California.  Louis is, in fact, a vampire.  This easily takes Daniel by surprise, and is even more shocked to learn it is true.  Louis tells the tale of his life in darkness, as a vampire.  After the death of his wife and child in the year 1791, life lost its meaning for him, and he welcomed death at every turn.  Although, it would never come until he met Lestat (Tom Cruise), who offered him a new life where pain, death, and disease would no longer be a burden to him.  Still, he would have no idea the endless agony that would await him.  Louis spins the tale of two hundred years from Louisiana to Paris and beyond.  Encountering others of his kind, leaving a trail of blood, pain, sorrow, and death behind him.  It is a compelling and enthralling story which has many twists and some surprises.

There’s so much to praise about this film.  Director Neil Jordan gives us a beautiful sense of time and place.  With so much of this film being a period piece extending from the late eighteenth century to the present day, that is the most critical element in this film.  The landscapes are indeed gorgeous with a rich depth and a textured history.  The production designs and values are impressive and masterful.  This is award winning work.  I don’t think I really have the words to express how spectacular, epic, and grand it all is.  Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography compliments it all greatly and beautifully.  I have never seen anything else from Jordan, but I know that this film shows an immense breadth of artistry that I’m sure transcends into his other films.  Though, elegance is essentially the one word to describe this film.  Every second is filled with it from Elliot Goldenthal’s classical score to the performance of the actors.

Brad Pitt is sympathetic as a tortured man condemned to endure it all forever.  As a vampire, who knows for certain if he has a soul (again, depends on your chosen interpretation of them), but it becomes hard to dispute that Louis does.  He so tries to fight against his nature, to be a decent person, and thus, eventually finds nothing but agony from this eternity.  He does not seek death – he could easily step into the daylight and let himself fry – but some form of peace and solitude from eternal damnation.  Pitt portrays and emotes all of this to a tragic degree, but by the late twentieth century, he seems to have come to terms with most everything.

The flip side of this comes from Tom Cruise.  His Lestat finds nothing but pleasure and wonder in his reign as a vampire.  He is somewhat reminiscent of Julian Sands in Warlock – someone with a high sense of elegance and charm, but underneath this gentle facade is pure, delicious, sadistic evil.  Although, Lestat is far more naturally cultured and arrogant.  Up until this film, Tom Cruise had been the young heartthrob leading man with the million dollar smile.  He was the hero, the nice guy.  Here, he shows us his dark side, a striking performance that showed the world he had a talent no one imagined he had.  Cruise wouldn’t step into another dark, let alone villainous role for another nine years in Michael Mann’s Collateral as the sociopathic contract killer Vincent.  As Lestat, he shines with ease, and enjoys every magnificent moment of it.  Kirsten Dunst won several awards for her portrayal of the girl who would be eternally young by way of the blood of a vampire.  Those awards were well deserved, and easily launched her young career forward starring in dozens of films in the subsequent years.

The story eventually moves forward to Paris where new characters come into play.  Stephen Rea portrays Santiago as a very playful, mischievous, but still sadistic creature of the night.  It’s a fun performance, giving the film a different spark of life when it really needs it.  After the departure of Lestat from the story, these new personalities are quite welcomed.  Antonio Banderas, as always, is marvelous.  As Armand, he carries much weight about him, and has a powerful presence and allure.  He easily becomes the main antagonist at this point in the film.  He is more directly evil and seductive than Lestat.  Outside the view of the public, he makes no allusions to being anything but what he truly is.  Louis calls he and his minions monsters, and that is indeed true.  The final talent to mention is Christian Slater.  While his role is minimal, it is well played with an apprehension and fear.   The late River Phoenix was originally chosen to play this role, but when he met an untimely and tragic death, Slater stepped in to deliver a solid performance.

Louis’ story is filled with much emotional richness with so much tragedy, love, heartbreak, and pathos.  It surely has a different quality to something like Highlander where immortals are still human, can still do most things any other person can, but simply have to live for centuries on end enduring life on a larger canvas of time.  Here, Louis is tortured because he has become something ungodly and so against his nature.  He’s a man who comes to realize that he only traded one kind of pain for another, and now, must live with it for eternity.  It’s a journey that might be a little romanticized, but it is mostly sorrowful and somber.  His story is populated with rich, fascinating characters in a wide, sprawling, gorgeous world.

Overall, I must say that this is a remarkable film.  It is wonderfully constructed.  Everything blends and weaves together in an enrapturing narrative.  The editing remains wholly coherent and competent.  You never got lost in the timeline of events, or in the few flashes from the present to the past.  Anne Rice adapted her own novel for the film, and while I know nothing to the novel itself, I surely get the feeling that it is faithful from how much care clearly went into the film.  The film also definitely has its share of scares and frightening moments while gore is kept to a respectable minimum, but showcases some wonderful makeup work.  The movie concludes with a Guns N’ Roses cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” which I find very appropriate.  The lyrics of the song are very much akin to Lestat and those like him in the film.  Many never liked this cover deeming it tacky, but I truly enjoy it.  It was the last thing recorded with anything resembling the classic line-up of the band.  However, as far as the film goes, it was critically and commercially successful.  I have no qualms about it, and give it a perfect score!  While it might not be every horror fans’ taste, this is an extremely well made film showcasing an abundance of talent in every frame from everyone involved.  It gets my highest recommendation.