Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SF in Film

One of my favorite SF films last year was Woody Allen's time-travel fantasy Midnight in Paris. It was funny, touching, and had an excellent message that living in the present is all we have and no matter what WE think of it, someone in the future will think it's the best era ever. Alternately, I took away that no matter how much we want to the future to be better (I'm talking about flying cars, jetpacks, and 20-hour workweeks), if we don't live in the Now we'll never get to where we want to be.

(Of course I have a soft spot for the 20s, 30s and 40s as long as you drop out the Great Depression and World War II. There was so much creativity in those times, so much originality dripping from everything, that one couldn't have failed to be inspired. Plus - men's suits were terrific and men generally acted like gentlemen. And the hats. Yes. End of digression.)

The two SF films that have made an impression this year so far are John Carter and Prometheus. I loved John Carter when I went to the theater to see it with an audience of twelve other people, including my son. I found it to be a wonderful adaptation of the source material and true in spirit to what an Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars movie should be. I reviewed it on this blog and it's one of the most popular posts here. Go figure.

And yesterday I went to see Ridley Scott's Prometheus. I'd heard it was disappointing in a lot of ways, that it was short on character development and long on plot. I don't disagree with this assessment, by the way, but I think there was a lot of subtle character development rather than overt arcs of growth. One character's crisis of faith is terribly forced, as are 90% of the character interactions, and there's the fact that this is a group of scientists who are bad at being scientists but it's all in service to the plot. Would the film have been better if the characters had been given a little more attention from the screenwriters? Yes. Without question.

The character to watch, of course, if David. You really have to pay attention to everything he does, how he walks, how he talks, how he interacts. If you are willing to lose yourself in the story with him, you'll be rewarded. But you have to pay attention. Really, you have to pay attention to just about everything that happens, but David especially.

One event that leads to the survival of one character is so heavily implied rather than explained that it beggars description. The situation that put that character in danger is questionable in the first place, too. I'm avoiding telling you exactly what I mean but once you've seen the film you'll understand that this event had to happen and that the character had to be stronger than initially shown.

The ending, where there's a sudden turn that is unbelievable and something that should be avoided unless there's a reasonable explanation, is an obvious setup for a sequel. It's too obvious given the context of everything else that was implied during the film. It's a heavy hammer that says "There's more to come". It's not a good cliffhanger. If you're going to trust me for an hour and fifty-five minutes, trust me the last eight minutes, too, willya?

Finally, it seems that if you've read interviews with Scott about the film, and the stars, you'll enjoy it even more. It's a true creature of our time in that your appreciation of the film is enhanced by the ephemera surrounding it. Gone may be the days of going to a dark theater with a bucket of popcorn and a barrel of soda to get a complete storytelling experience. You'll like the film if that's all you see or read about it but there's more and you should be aware of it.

Still, go see it if you're interested. It trusts you to make the leaps you need to make to enjoy it. It's smart and scary and fun. I liked it. A lot.