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Trailer Review

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 3.03/5 (17)

 

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Rating: The Good – 83.5
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 120 mins
Director: George Miller
Stars: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult

Few films have been as eagerly awaited as the fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise, not simply because of its jaw dropping series of trailers but because the highly selective George Miller, who hasn’t put a foot wrong since the third offering, was back behind the wheel determined to shoot the entire thing old school. Under a sand storm of hype, it opened to resounding commercial success with glowing critical reviews hot on its tail. Amidst such expectations, it’s possible for fans of the genre to be overly forgiving and for its disciples to be overly harsh. And it may just be that both will have a case.

In Mel Gibson’s place, Fury Road gives us an overtly (but appropriately) monosyllabic Tom Hardy as the former family man roaming the wasteland of a post apocalyptic Australia while dodging one manic tribe of lunatics after another. A self-described personification of the will to survive. When he’s captured by Hugh Keays-Byrne’s Immortan Joe, the leader of a cult like settlement of high octane warriors who turn him into a “blood-bag” (don’t ask!), he inadvertently gets dragged into an epic desert pursuit of Immortan’s wives fleeing under the protection of his most famous soldier, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Fear not if the premise feels a little bewildering, for it’s used to do little more than provide an admirably modest funnel for the high-gear auto carnage that runs non-stop for the first 45 minutes of the movie not to mention the final 25. Contrary to much of what we’ve heard, there’s plenty of CGI but it’s used on the periphery of the invigorating real life stunt work. The result: a feast of cranked-up, rust-eaten behemoths cutting swathes of dust trails through the Nambian desert, sideswiping, spearing, devouring the gravel, flipping like tossed coins, and exploding into rocketing balls of shrapnel! Within the wonderfully narrow parameters of the pursuit, and with no small help from John Seale’s (who came out of retirement to shoot this) cinematography, Miller brings this action to life with with hectic tension and pure excitement and there will come a moment when everyone watching will look away to give their eyes a rest and use that brief reprieve to exhale the words “Bloody hell!” or something along those lines. In the modern age of generic computerised action and simulated movie stunts, this isn’t just rare achievement, it’s a downright reason for celebration. More than that, it’s the blueprint for the future of the action genre!

But it gets better! The characters (though not well developed – wrong movie for that) are plump with personality and coloured with unusual mannerisms befitting a world so different to ours. And it’s in this regard, that writer-director Miller succeeds most impressively. For the first two acts, Fury Road completely owns itself. Dialogue, set-up, plot, characterisation, production and costume design are uniquely organic to Max’s anarchic world, meaning there’s a depth of originality to the movie that’s truly rare. Beyond an awareness that the three main characters are going to make it at least to the last act, little else is predictable. Even Hardy’s Max persona is unfamiliar, an erratic collage of communicative grunts and base intentions (to the extent that he sometimes sounds like a befuddled cartoon character). It’s missing the outback spirit of Gibson’s portrayal but it’s so damn wacky, it seems somehow more in line with this more deranged world. Theron’s Furiosa is played somewhat more accessibly than Miller’s character concept but she is nothing close to derivative in her mannerisms (though in all honesty, she’s still a little bland). Keays-Byrne (Toe-Cutter from the first film) is a law onto himself so its unsurprising that his Immortan Joe qualifies as unique. But that he (and again Miller’s character conception helps abundantly) represents the horror of this futuristic world so viscerally is legitimately arresting. Of course, as is the point, this degree of originality all adds to the integrity of the premise.

Where the film fails to reach the high ground of The Road Warrior and Mad Max, however, is in its final act. Maintaining a single link between premise and pursuit in the first half of the movie worked a treat so it’s all the more disappointing that they went overboard in explaining the motives of the final charge. Worse still is that those motives are no different to the motives of any number of post-apocalyptic characters from Logan’s Run to Battlestar Galactica. With each heartfelt emotion and yearning for a life of green and plenty we get slowly drawn back to normality and everything seems less exotically savage. Miller is essentially repeating the mistakes of Beyond the Thunderdome here. Letting familiar sentimentality intrude on a world where it doesn’t belong. There can be sentiment, for sure, but it should bear the hallmarks of its world’s stripped-down motives. Like those that carried us through the first two acts: survival with a splash of self-determination. Max says it himself in his opening monologue:- he is driven by the instinct to survive and nothing more. As streamlined and action-friendly a motive as you could hope for, an idea which the first two acts champion (to the film’s emphatic benefit) but which the last act loses grasp of. It doesn’t ruin the film, it just tempers its brilliance.

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Prometheus (2012) 2.29/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 54.4
Genre: Science Fiction
Duration: 124 mins
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender

There is a scene in Prometheus where two scientists are examining a fossilised alien head. One of them suggests about 10 seconds into the examination that they administer an electrical charge in order to reanimate the head. The other agrees this is a good idea. They do so. The head grimaces and explodes. This stupefying and idiotic scene encapsulates everything that is wrong with this film. Prometheus is arguably the worst case of lazy and ill thought out writing in recent Hollywood history. But worse still, is the inescapable feeling one gets when watching it, that the “minds” behind it clearly thought what they were doing was smart – or at least that they could convince their audience it was.

Set in the same universe as Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi classic Alien, Prometheus counts as a “prequel of sorts”. That said, the premise, story, and characters couldn’t be further from that film. In place of the contained and small scale of Alien’s story, Prometheus plays out on as broad a scale as the writers’ imagination could muster as with their realisation that they just couldn’t replicate the majesty of Alien with traditional story telling (small story – massive effect), they tried an alternative route and went for a “big” story which they assumed would produce as big an effect and nobody would realise the difference. Talk about falling flat on your face on both counts. Firstly, the big story they chose was as hack and unoriginal as you get in the genre of science fiction. The idea of humans discovering evidence on Earth that the human race has been engineered by aliens is one that has been done to literary exhaustion by everyone from Star Trek: The Next Generation to the X-Files and even Erich von Däniken. Worse still, its use in the context of the Alien universe had two related and unforgivable results in that it went ahead and explained one of most fascinatingly unexplained features of the original (the identity of the ‘space jockey’) and did it in far too uninspired a fashion as the mystery deserved.

If the premise to Prometheus leaves a lot to be desired, then the plot it throws up and the characters who populate it are flabbergastingly worse. Characters whose motivations are rewritten scene by scene to suit whatever special effect laden sequence the guys in charge had in mind for those corresponding parts of the film. Or characters who are left completely undeveloped until such time that similar moments require them to be and always in the most contrived fashions. This leads to rushed moments of trite exposition being peppered throughout the film leaving the whole project an utterly incoherent fiasco. This lack of focus spills over into the dialogue too. Simply put, there isn’t a single line of substantial dialogue in the film and each conversation feels like it was written with no broader story in mind. And of course, all of this is borne out in how little we care about every last one of the characters.

Hence, one of the cornerstones of Alien‘s success – character construction – appears to be the last thing on the minds of the writers as the tool to realising their big bombastic story – the use of gargantuan special effects – became the only thing driving this movie. This is a common flaw in directors who excel early in their career but struggle to maintain that edge. Lacking the inspiration of their youth, they cling onto the more technical facets of the production which they can control. And so, special effects become the focus of the film while the real task of a director – tying them into a coherent story where they serve it instead of taking precedence over it – is forgotten.

Thus, despite the spectacular visual effects, Prometheus boils down to a series of alien-related sequences utterly disconnected from each other in both plot and pacing. Different species of aliens emerge, knock ten bells out of random crew members (some of whom we hadn’t even seen before!) only to disappear just as quickly and contribute no further to the story line. It is complete mayhem. The random collision of half baked ideas in the minds of writers who were too confused, uninspired, or deluded to realise how stupid they were.

But wait! Scott has one last trick that might fool his fans into thinking Prometheus isn’t such a dumb film – or at least into willfully ignoring that it is. A series of subtle connections between Prometheus and Alien tied up in a remedial philosophy about humanity, creation, and our need for God/s. Both of these tricks amount to an exercise in flattery which differ only in who they are aimed at. Linking Prometheus with Alien through a series of subtle events or utterances is intended to flatter the fans of the earlier masterpiece. Give the fans an opportunity to show off their knowledge of the original and they may feel positively towards Prometheus because it should make them feel like an expert at something. The question is whether or not these ‘knowing nods’ amount to good film making. Of course not! Each of those clues could’ve just as easily been incorporated into the Prometheus video game in the exact same manner but that wouldn’t have made the video game enjoyable to watch as a movie. They are mere flourishes. The second form of flattery comes with the crowbarring of a remedial understanding of trite philosophical pondering (the kind teenagers start to engage in when they first develop the capacity for abstract thought) into the train wreck of their story. This is essentially intended to flatter young adolescents because it should give them the sense they’ve figured out something complex. Of course, they won’t have but hey, they won’t realise that for a couple of years and in the meantime they may mistake that flattery for cinematic resonance.

To say Prometheus is a disappointment is a massive understatement. The thoughts of Scott going back to a genre he helped forge was immense in its capacity to excite – even if he had blown hot and cold since Blade Runner. The set design, visual effects (perhaps some of the best ever), cinematography (wow!), and performance of Michael Fassbender as the android David were all sensational and they could’ve been sewn into a triumphant film if the writers and director knew what story they wanted to tell and were inspired enough to craft it well. Overall, Prometheus is a perfect demonstration of how Alien was itself down to the calibre of people working around Scott and the inspiration he received from them and in turn fed back to them. It seems an apt moment to remember that in Alien, he had Dan O’Bannon working on the script, H.R. Giger designing his creatures (and in his own way shaping the mythology), and Jerry Goldsmith composing the score (could his minimalist, low-key, and creepy music be any more different to the ‘big’ soppy Prometheus score of Marc Streitenfeld?). That’s no ordinary crew and a far cry from Lindelhof, Streitenfeld, and company. That’s not an exoneration however. As a director with as much clout as he has, Scott should’ve ensured he was surrounded by the right people. Alas, Scott is not the same director he was thirty years ago and if we’re being honest with ourselves, we should’ve realised that the first moment we heard that he was seriously considering releasing a PG13 cut of Prometheus.

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