Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Movies - Prometheus review / Snow White And The Huntsman review

FILM REVIEWS 

Review Scoring Chart - 10: Masterpiece; 9: Outstanding; 8: Very Good; 7: Good; 6: Above Average; 5: Average; 4: Below Average; 3: Bad; 2: Awful; 1: Reprehensible; 0: Non- Functional.

PROMETHEUS
Dir: Ridley Scott
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba
Running Time: 124mins 
 
Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe is one of the most anticipated movies of what should be a spectacular year for blockbusters, not least for fans who have seen the franchise dragged into the depths of ignominy with Paul W.S. Anderson's dismal Alien vs Predator movies. Having gone back and forth on the issue throughout the publicity campaign, one big question can now be definitively answered: Prometheus is an Alien prequel, albeit more in chronological rather than tonal terms. Where Scott's first foray remains know for its relentless brutality, Prometheus brings a more philosophical tone to its horror trappings.

It is, unfortunately, not an easy fit. Prometheus is a movie in two minds, dedicating the (more interesting) first half to questions over the relationship between creator and creation, and whether the latter has any more right to expect answers from the former than the former can decide the continued existence of the latter. Much of this is lost in the second half, which attempts to emulate Alien's survival horror tone but lacks the foundations to create the necessary suspense.
 
Scott's eye for spectacular visuals remains as keen as ever, assisted by a return to the H.R. Giger influenced designs from which the series began. With the first four Alien movies famous for never having left a soundstage, Prometheus - despite no shortage of CGI - is expansive in scope and visual variety, from the vast, barren surface of a once-populated moon, the blue-tinted biomechanical corridors running through what appears to be the mausoleum of an ancient civilisation, or the Apple-inspired blankness of a luxurious executive bedroom aboard the eponymous ship. Marc Streitenfeld's score is unsurprising, but finds the right tone for each environment, never iconic or memorable but conveying the right combination of grand-scale dread as everything goes to pot.

The movie's best chance of being remembered comes through its performances, particularly that of Michael Fassbender as android David. Androids have a distinguished history in this series, starting with Ian Holm's Ash, and Fassbender makes his character creepily extra-human, subtly overplaying certain gestures and emotions as a means of emphasizing his artificiality. He's helped by not having to keep his robotic nature secret, as Holm did, allowing him to make greater play of the questions created by David's existence. He's a character very much aware of his otherness, of existing in a state of servitude, and his relationship with his human creators echoes the humans' journey to ask the essential questions of their creators.

Noomi Rapace's Shaw (inexplicably characterised as English despite her strong Swedish accent) is no Ripley, but the actress consistently makes the best of some messy writing in her character's transition from the excitement of being on the verge of the biggest scientific discovery in history, to the horror of what it might mean. Charlize Theron's ice queen executive and Idris Elba's blue-collar captain are archetypes, but the actors' charisma make them engaging presences, particularly in a scene where Elba bluntly asks a question lingering since Theron's introduction.

Such strengths make it all the more unfortunate that Prometheus turns out to be a movie of many parts, few of which fit together with any elegance, if at all. The philosophical bent of the movie's first act is at odds with its need to turn into horror, reliant on illogical character behaviour and plot developments, adding to the inconsistent pacing to defeat any attempts at building tension. The potentially fascinating philosophical questions raised early on are never engaged with to any greater extent than cursory acknowledgment, reducing them and longstanding series mysteries surrounding the Space Jockey to an albino muscle man punching people across a dark room. The final shot, meanwhile, is an unnecessary slap in the face to the story's claims to self-sufficiency. Prometheus' ambitions to philosophical complexity only end up overcomplicating and underselling the revival of a series whose primary pleasures have always been simple, primal pleasures. [ 5 ]


SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
Dir: Rupert Sanders
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Sam Clafin, Bob Hoskins
Running Time: 127mins

If Prometheus' problem was trying to do too much and failing to give any of it enough depth and clarity to gel, Snow White shares similarly gorgeous visuals but suffers from a crippling lack of ambition, setting out with a potentially interesting take on the familiar fairytale at the start and soon descending into sub-Lord Of The Rings territory and a narrative structure which, like Men In Black III, renders almost everything between the movie's introduction and resolution superfluous. Charlize Theron's Ravenna is a clever variation on the evil Queen trope, driven by fury at her gender being diminished to their aesthetic attributes, to be judged and exploited by male authority figures. Fairytale politics are an ongoing topic of debate, and Sanders' Snow White initially suggests a pseudo-feminist subtext which sadly barely lasts beyond the opening fifteen minutes.

Theron herself has the most opportunity to have fun in her role, keeping Ravenna's sexual derangement on just the right side of excessive hamminess. She's a thrilling presence, particularly in suggestions that iconic symbols like the Magic Mirror could be the result of her disturbed mind, but barely interacts with anyone except her weirdly subservient brother, Finn, and spends most of her time in a single room in her castle. It's tempting to see this as representative of how the character is as imprisoned by her lust for power and eternal life as she ever was when under the thumb of powerful men, but the effect is still one of preventing the movie's most interesting figure from interacting with the story as anything other than a distant observer.

Kristen Stewart's role as the title character is altogether less interesting, whose only real destiny is to continue the unfair accusations against Stewart of being a one-note, single-expression actress. Anyone who has seen her in Adventureland or her Into The Wild cameo will know how nonsensical this is - she's never going to win Oscars, but is perfectly at ease tackling a more in-depth character when given the opportunity - but neither Bella nor Snow give her anything to do but look concerned and sit passively in the middle of a love triangle, which in this case is built up before being ridiculously abandoned at the last minute, as though afraid of disappointing anyone expecting her to make a choice between Hemsworth's Hunter or Clafin's Prince. If Stewart is to be vilified for becoming famous through badly-written roles, the same treatment is surely owed to Natalie Portman for her work on the Star Wars prequels. At the very least, she keeps her accent reasonably consistent (unlike Hemsworth, also struggling in a nothing role), delivers a dismal 'inspiring' speech marginally more convincingly than Orlando Bloom, and looks splendid in a suit of armour.

The movie has just enough interesting ideas, like a village of women who have disfigured themselves (slightly) to avoid attracting the Queen's wrath, to stay afloat through a central act that is more travelogue than story, but never links them together or develops them in any way. The plot struggles to balance loyalty to the original Grimm tale and attempting its own thing, leading to an excess of pointless diversions (the poisoned apple, handed over by Ravenna acquiring a power which could have ended the movie in her favour at least an hour earlier) and characters (the insufferable dwarves) which make for a tiresomely extended experience. Even the locations become steadily less interesting, from the hallucinogenic dark forest to the garishly over-coloured fairy forest. The tepid score is another component seemingly recycled from other, better fantasy movies.

The most frustrating thing about Snow White And The Huntsman is that all the ingredients are present for a distinctive interpretation of a fairytale so tiresomely over-adapted it has already been the subject of one disappointing movie this year. In Theron's Ravenna it hints at a more psychologically splintered take on the evil Queen trope, and many of the CG-enhanced (or created) landscapes outdo even Tarsem Singh for boldness of vision. If only it had stayed true to the strength of its convictions and given the central characters something - anything - interesting to do in their extensive screentime, it could have been one of 2012's unexpected cinematic treats. Unfortunately, this is anything but a fairytale ending. [ 5 ]

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