Monday, June 18, 2012


The huge drop at the box office for the second week of Ridley Scott's Prometheus is pretty easily explained: People don't particularly want to see it.

Fanboys, however, who had inexplicably based their whole summer around this film--well, this and The Dark Knight Rises, and I'll get to that--feel compelled to offer their own tortured explanations for its less than stellar grosses.  Audiences just didn't get it, they say, what with it being so sophisticated and all, or its sophistication (they love that word, and will use it even when it doesn't apply) was somehow a bad fit for a summer movie release, thus ignoring that Alien, the very film to which Prometheus is a prequel (although don't get them started on the whole prequel thing, either) was, of course, a summer release, and was instantly iconic in a way the new film could never hope to be.

The belief that this would be a good movie despite all evidence to the contrary is a hallmark of fanboy behavior.  Harder to explain is why they thought Prometheus would be any good.  I love Alien as much as anybody, and admire Ridley Scott's direction of it, but he was clearly not the dominant voice in that film's creation.  It was screenwriter Dan O'Bannon who suggested bringing designer H.R. Giger on board, and everything so well-remembered about the film--the Space Jockey, the row of eggs, the face-hugger and, of course, the title character--seemed to have sprung fully-formed from Giger's head.  Scott filmed it all well, sure, and he assembled a great cast, but O'Bannon's script and Giger's designs are the reason the film is so beloved.

But to the fanboys, all that mattered was that the director of Alien was returning to the same universe.  Never mind that he hadn't made a wholly satisfying movie since...well, since Alien, actually, and that was over thirty years ago.  A long string of dismal work (Black Rain, 1492, Robin Hood) gave no reason to believe this was anything but a desperation move, but Fan Nation was out in full force.  Mere mentions of the film online, in any forum whatsoever, were met with unasked-for comments promising the film would be great--presumably because Harry Knowles said so--and after it came out, Fan Nation threatened to eat itself, as rabidly pro-and anti-Prometheus factions popped up to argue the merits of a film that really can't support the attention..

But hey, great news.  Soon this will all be behind us, as The United States Of Geekdom will turn its easily-provoked focus to The Dark Knight Rises.  Fans have met even the most insignificant news items about this film with orgasmic glee--It has a running time of over two-and-a-half hours!  Epic!--so by mid-July, some sort of official consensus will have formed around Prometheus, and even the fanboys themselves will be left wondering why they made such a big deal about it in the first place.

Saturday, June 02, 2012


Men In Black 3 may have finally knocked The Avengers from the top spot at the box office, and what with Ridley Scott's deeply unnecessary Alien prequel Prometheus opening next weekend, the summer movie season is finally here.  But however all the upcoming releases may fare financially, I doubt any of them will do what Joss Whedon does so astonishingly well with The Avengers: Make it look easy.

Make no mistake, this is just a popcorn movie, and on some level, a fairly cynical one, the latest attempt by Marvel (and its new Disney overlords) to implant its brand on the consciousness of every moviegoer everywhere.  As such, it's the culmination of a series of movies now clearly revealed to be mere prequels.  These ran the gamut from good (Captain America) to bad (Iron Man 2), with most falling somewhere in between, but they all carried the unmistakeable air of Product, branded entertainment meant to provide a momentary diversion, then be forgotten.

And yeah, The Avengers is itself just a disposeable piece of entertainment.  But what entertainment!

For TV auteur Whedon, the architect of such beloved series as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, this is strictly a job for hire.  He's a well-known fanboy himself--hell, he's written for Marvel Comics--but this isn't one of his own creations, and he can't do anything with the characters beyond what Marvel will allow.

But he can scribble in the margins to his heart's content, and it's in these small character moments that the movie finds its heart, rising above its purely mercenary origins.  Whedon realizes that this is primarily a story of broken souls who come together to find a common purpose--the type of thing he specializes in.  And, by showing how they fall apart and reassemble, he somehow finds a way to make the whole thing--dammit--moving.

Which is great and all, but where the success of The Avengers may actually bode well for future Big Summer Movies is in its expertly unfussy storytelling.  Even its massively cliched opening sequence--Good Guys battle Bad Guys over a Macguffin, complete with a hokey "outrunning collapsing ground" bit--is thrillingly put together, its action cleanly staged and instantly readable, with none of the whip pans or frantic overediting so common to modern action cinema.

In fact, the greatest delight of The Avengers is how essentially old-fashioned it is.  Despite a huge budget and all the technology in the world, Whedon never feels the need to show off.  He's like Howard Hawks or Raoul Walsh, here to tell a story, not make a spectacle of himself.  Or, to phrase it another way, he's the Captain America of filmmakers: A solid tactician, always to the point and eminently professional.

Friday, June 01, 2012


Janie and I drove down to the cemetery where her parents are buried, about forty-five minutes south of Des Moines, but, at first glance, a different world.

Rows of crops on either side of the lonely paved highway.  Gravel roads branching off to who knows where.  And, as we entered the town where her grandparents once lived, a modest little sign: WELCOME TO MILO, then below that:  Please Help Our Boy Scout Can Drive.  For a moment I thought I'd been transported back in time, maybe to the very small towns I'd grown up in myself.

But of course, no.  We passed by a park, where a small child played on the merry-go-round as her mother talked on a cell phone, oblivious to her.  We drove past the farm once owned by Janie's uncle.  Many of the buildings she remembered from her childhood had been torn down, and what remained had obviously been converted to other uses.  A Lexus sat in the driveway, and two pickups, but no farm equipment was in sight, and a few horses represented the only visible livestock.  The surrounding fields were obviously owned and maintained by somebody else, somebody who didn't live around here.

Sure, we all know change is the only constant in this world.  It's a given, as certain as the ultimate destination of our trip: a cemetery.  We laid flowers on the graves, the graves of people I'll never meet, then we moved on, past the same lush fields and through the same town, but somehow they didn't look as inviting as they did only a few minutes earlier.    

"I don't get down here as often as I'd like," Janie said as we headed back home.  "And every time I leave, I feel like I'm leaving something behind."

"You're not, though," I said.  "It left you.  All you can do now is live the rest of your life."

She took my hand, and we drove back in silence.