Ridley Scott

Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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Contains some spoilers for both films

It’s hard to believe that when Blade Runner first came out in 1982, it was a major flop. These days it stands as one of the acknowledged great films of the 20th century, but that’s only because history has been reedited in hindsight. At the time it struggled to find an audience, with cinemagoers more interested in the user-friendly likes of Star Wars and ET – The Extraterrestrial than the dark, confusing fare of The Thing and Blade Runner. The very thought that the latter’s reputation would grow to the point where it could spawn a sequel 35 years later could scarcely have been more absurd – which just goes to show how hard it is to predict the future. Read the rest of this entry »

The Martian (2015) [Blu-ray]

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Contains some implied spoilers

I first read and reviewed Andy Weir’s book The Martian back in 2014 and was very impressed by its scientifically detailed story of how astronaut Mark Watney survives alone on Mars after a catastrophic accident occurs during a manned mission to the red planet. It was only after reading it I learned that a motion picture adaptation was already underway, and I was very much looking forward to seeing it.

martian1I felt that I needed a little time to allow my memories of the novel to fade a little in order to be fair to both versions, but it turned out that the book was so vivid that it’s stubbornly stayed firmly lodged in my mind. And from what I can tell, the film follows the the source material to a remarkable degree, with not only the events of the book faithfully recreated but also the tone and purpose respectfully retained: writers in general can only dream of a film version staying so close to their manuscript. Only toward the end does the movie start to deviate, with all the problems of the arduous land rover journey pretty much entirely dropped in favour of an extended sequence in space to give a more visual and visceral all-action finale together with a greater involvement from the supporting cast. While these changes may strain some of the hard-won scientific authenticity established by the rest of the story, I do think they make for a better climax to a feature film and so are changes entirely for the best. Read the rest of this entry »

The Martian, by Andy Weir

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Clearly Andy Weir started researching and writing his book well in advance but he could have hardly timed the publication of his first novel The Martian better, coming as it did in the wake of the enormously successful 2013 film Gravity starring Sandra Bullock. That movie shares this book’s overriding theme of one person struggling to survive against the odds in space when disaster strikes on what should otherwise be a ‘routine’ mission – although unfortunately, real life disaster as well as those in fiction remind us that space travel is a dangerous business and never as routine as we like to think it is.

While Gravity is set in orbit around the Earth, The Martian is located considerably further afield – and the title has probably already let slip the fact that it is set on the surface of Mars, sometime in the near future when such manned missions prove viable. An emergency mission abort and evacuation during a fierce dust storm results in one of the six astronauts being killed and left behind – only, it subsequently turns out that he’s not actually dead after all. It’s far too late for his crew mates to be able to turn around and come get him even if they knew he was still alive, so Mark Watney has to survive on his own as best he can with the woefully insufficient and inadequate equipment and provisions he’s been left with. Those were meant to last a month; now he needs to find some way to stay alive for two years. Read the rest of this entry »

Prometheus (2012) [Blu-ray]

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Contains no intentional spoilers

The marketing for the release of Prometheus on DVD and Blu-ray promises that the film will reveal long-waited answers to key questions. Which is outrageous, because the one thing that this film pathologically resists is making anything clear or answering anything at all, even as it piles on a whole boat load of new questions to bamboozle you with.

Now for me, this is not necessarily a bad thing in a movie. A film that artfully obfuscates and teases, which leaves you speculating and discussing theories for weeks afterwards, is entirely welcome – especially if it means that it avoids having to give really trite, hokey answers in the film itself. Stanley Kubrick demonstrated this perfectly with 2001: A Space Odyssey, where some of the original plot ideas would have had the eyes rolling in the aisles accompanied by groans of aesthetic pain, so instead Kubrick dialled it all back and left the whole thing as the proverbial mystery wrapped in an enigma for people to puzzle over and read into it what they bring to it.

Ridley Scott attempts much the same trick with Prometheus: much is implied and hinted at, and there are some very deep ideas and symbology laid over the fairly sparse plot, but he manages to keep the details vague enough to stop it being too embarrassingly overtly close to Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods 70s pseudo-science territory, The X-Files’s conspiracy arc or to invoking the cringeworthy concept of something akin to a space alien Jesus. You can read all those aspects in and roll your eyes on your own time, but at least Scott avoids overtly forcing it upon us in the two hours of running time.

The story, then, can either come across as tantalising and thought-provoking, or as frustrating and full of plot holes and oversights. It’s very much a case of the eye of the beholder on this one, and either view is valid. And maybe the film caught me on a good day, because I’m firmly in the ‘tantalising’ camp even while I’m fully aware of its deficiencies. Read the rest of this entry »