Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Space Horror Mini Movie Appraisals: Prometheus (2012), Pitch Black (2000), and Screamers (1995)

I think it would be pretty cool to review three space horror movies that I haven't gotten around to reviewing yet. While I'd love for all of these movies to have their own reviews, I don't think I have enough to say about these movies to have content enough for full reviews of each. Prometheus itself is so incredibly popular and talked about that there's not much more that I feel I could add to the conversation. Pitch Black, although excellent, only leads me to say one major thing about it, and Screamers, while I have the most to say about that movie, has a simple yet effective story, but little else to offer.

So, starting with Prometheus, this prequel to Alien, made by the same director as that movie, Ridley Scott. It was his first time returning to the franchise since Alien and... yeah... I have a lot of the same problems with this movie that I had with the first one. While I think the movie looks absolutely gorgeous (and it really does) it relies heavily on CGI, even if that CGI is some of the best I've ever seen. The story itself is fairly bland, full of plotholes, characterization misses, and generic alien environments. It doesn't fit well looks-wise into the Alien franchise, and *probably* should have been a completely new franchise that works on its own without the Alien franchise limiting it. Now, I love Aliens, but that doesn't mean that any other movie in the franchise really appeals to me. I also truly think that this movie, even while having those stunning visuals, is basically a really awful movie.

I hate the acting. The characters, except for David, are largely uninteresting, have no discernible or qualifying features, and are really, really flat in general. David, played by Michael Fassbender, is brilliant though, and he continues the legacy of all the Alien films I've seen having the best character (and actor) being an android. The plot makes literally no sense to me. As a biology major with a concentration in genetics, I have no idea why the archaeologists somehow figure that the "Engineers" created humans or why these archaeologists have any say when it comes to actual genetic samples that need interpreting. Look, you have a biologist for a reason and you're supposed to use him... I mean, yes, he dies quickly and stupidly, but the plot could have been worked better. I'll even throw out my own hypothesis here: If the DNA of the Engineers and humans are the same, then that points out that we are probably descended from them rather than created by them. It would make a great deal more sense serving as a hypothesis rather than humans being created and still being 99.9% similar to chimpanzees in the end anyway. It basically dissolves the theory of evolution, which would be a pretty ignorant thing to do (no offense meant, but it is the best explanation of why genetic material is so similar even across large taxonomic gaps). I truly wish more thought would have been put into the science rather than the visuals, but... what is a big-budget film these days except a movie that puts style over substance?

Other complaints are more varied, including complaints about make-up, random dead people not being dead anymore for some reason, and a male only operating tube thing. None of those make me happy. They're all terrible and stick out in a movie that should be much better structured all around with a powerhouse of a director, and a ton of money behind it. I really wondered why some of the make-up effects were so bad, particularly on Guy Pearce's character. I have to mention him specifically because he looked just plain silly. The movie also delivers no tension, no real character moments, and a generally ridiculous plot that makes no sense and ultimately ends with a whimper. This isn't horror so much as stupid.

I can't help disliking this movie. I can't recommend it. If you want a good Alien movie watch the first movie or Aliens. Avoid this one.

Pitch Black is all kinds of brilliant. I've seen the theatrical version, the edited for TV version, and the Director's Cut, and I've loved them all. It's a wonderful film no matter how you watch it and a great space horror flick to boot. I can't recommend it enough if you want a really good horror movie, a really good space movie, or a really well acted story and character based movie. Riddick has quickly become one of my favorite characters movie fiction. While I don't like the second Riddick movie anywhere near as much, this one really works on every discernible level. Vin Diesel plays the perfect Riddick. It was like the role was made for him and him alone, and that's not something I say about most characters and their actors. Nobody else could ever play Riddick, and that's about the highest praise I could give about a character. Radha Mitchell also does a great job as Carolyn Fry, pulling out a surprisingly emotional performance that I thoroughly enjoyed.

While the plot is simplistic, I think it works incredibly well. I love the characters, the situation, the beginning, the end, and the middle. It is one of my favorite movies I newly saw this year. I can't help recommending this film as much as I possibly can. Watch this movie if you want a movie sort of like the Alien movies, but all kinds of different nonetheless. I found this movie incredibly enjoyable, much more enjoyable than any Alien film, and easily one of the best horror movies taking place in space/on another planet outside of Pandorum, Sunshine, and Event Horizon. It is horrific in all the right ways, has some great directing courtesy of the wonderful David Twohy, some pitch-perfect visuals, and an alien that rivals the alien from the Alien series for purely horrific and terrifying. If you haven't seen this movie you need to.

Screamers, a movie about opposing military bunkers on a planet with an important natural resource during a civil war, has an incredibly complex plot, some really interesting moments, and harbors one of the better stories I've seen in movies of this time period. Based off of Philip K. Dick's short story "Second Variety" and starring Peter Weller, I don't think I could easily dislike this movie. It has some similarities to Dick's Blade Runner as well, specifically the reliance on robots/androids for things humans cannot or will not do. In this case the robots are killing machines bent on destroying the other side of the conflict with no ethical reservations. These robots eventually start evolving, become closer to human, but never having emotions, and always bent on destruction... uh... kind of.

I guess there is some room for the robots to evolve and at least one (maybe two) of the robots seemed to develop quirks in their personalities, specifically in regards to either having emotions (love and hate) or being able to pass well as humans. The robots are named "screamers" because when they attack they give off a high-pitched shrieking sound, whether they are little underground robot or more evolved models.

The human robots seem to be both creepy and heavily advanced from humans. They can pass as humans, among humans, for days without being found out, but just like in Blade Runner their fatal flaw is that they cannot pass perfectly. In this case they show their true colors by having tics and random repeats of certain phrases or motions. Also a model will look the same as a model of the same type, which is convenient. This movie features some blood and gore, but a decent amount of actual tension as well to create the horrific atmosphere. When the main characters are in the enemy bunker they've been going towards for half of the movie to help sign a peace treaty between the two sides, but find it tomb-like and full of death- well, I don't remember too many other moments that were quite as effective at creeping me out in other movies of this type. It's actually funny just how creepy an army of murderous robotic children screaming at you can be. I would have never expected that particular thing to be terrifying.

All-in-all, this movie is fun even if it is not perfect. I would call it average if not for a few wonderfully tense scenes towards the middle and at the end of the film. Check it out if it sounds interesting. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

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