I’ve just been to see a movie about the extinction of all life on this fragile ball of rock and it was the most uplifting two hours I’ve spent in a cinema this year. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, begins with the announcement that a seventy mile wide asteroid (with the sinister name of Matilda) is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks and follows Steve Carell and Keira Knightley’s road trip as they try to get back to their respective long-lost love and family.
Lorene Scafaria’s second movie feels like the pretty sister to von Trier’s Melancholia, with the end of the world acting as a backdrop to what really matters, Carell, Knightley and a mutt called Sorry‘s search for what they need to get through the rest of their – foreshortened – lives.
SaFftEotW is a much more heartfelt and touching piece of work than Scarfaria’s previous movie, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, mainly because Steve Carell can bring a sense of pathos and charm to any role; I suspect he could reprise the role of Hitler in a remake of the now infamous Downfall and we’ll all lie down like Sorry and have our tummies scratched.
On top of that, a great collection of the funniest women (Oh, Connie Britton you’ll always be my Mrs. Coach) and men in Hollywood turn up to add colour to a perfectly realised end of days, not least of which is President Bartlett himself, who in less than ten minutes screen time almost manages to steel the entire film. I think Ang is starting to worry that my admiration for Martin Sheen (and Carell) is turning into something about which we need to have a conversation.
Go see Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll question your sexuality, but you won’t be bored.
In 1974, Dan O’Bannon produced a science fiction comedy about a transport ship which ran into trouble with a sentient bomb. Dark Star was a critical and financial flop so O’Bannon’s revenge was to invade the nightmares of a generation with the Ridley Scott helmed Alien. Thirty-three years, five movies, four forests worth of comic books, umpteen video games and toys later and Scott has returned to play in the Alien universe once again.
Owing more to Nigel Kneale and Erich Von Däniken than Agatha Christie, Prometheus is as sprawling and ambitious as Alien was claustrophobic and intimate, and feels like those old 1950’s hard scifi epics of yesteryear. Unfortunately, while it’s entertaining and visually stunning, the increased sense of scale belies a lack of depth in the story.
There are several plotlines, each of which could be a movie in its own right: the Dänikenesque Engineers, the search for God and subsequent meditations on the nature of faith, the political machinations of a multi-planetary corporation, the creepy alien that just wants to be a real boy. But because we only get to play in the universe for just over two hours nothing can be followed up in a truly satisfying manner. Just like The Chronicles of Riddick – opening up a universe does not always mean the stories can justify it.
And while the performances were perfect (especially Fassbender’s David), the sets beautiful, the sense of creeping terror in keeping with the tone of the original Alien, Prometheus still feels like a synthesis of old ideas none of which really gel.
Unlike the movie’s namesake, Scott has failed to steal fire from the Gods, ultimately giving us a very stylish adventure which lacks substance.
There’s a long tradition among Western writers of lionising ancient ways of life, as if there’s something better about giving up all the trappings of modernity and wallowing about in the pain and dirt. The myth of the noble savage is responsible for such idiotic beliefs as the power of alternative medicine and the idea that anything that refutes the scientific process is necessarily true. Worst of all, it gave us Avatar – a movie that makes Smurfs 3D look like Citizen Kane.
Reign of the Nightmare Prince is just like Avatar – noble savages in tune with nature are attacked by evil technologists who want to take their resources – but differs in one respect; you care what happens. The story’s told from the point of view of one of the alien natives who’s returning from their version of Walkabout to find out monsters are killing off the rest of his people, and follows his attempts to muster a defence in the face of impossible odds.
Although it’s an entertaining and fun read, it’s not explained why the aboriginal population of an alien planet feels so human and a lot of the non-native attackers are almost as one-dimensional as Jake “I see you” Sully. Also, the end was so abrupt it felt like a sixth grader who’s suddenly reached the word limit on an English essay but don’t let that put you off.
Pet Noir is a collection of short stories by Pati Nagle, all based around the adventures of a genetically modified tabby cat working as a detective on a space station, and it sounded like it could be different. Unfortunately not. Sure, the trappings of science fiction are there – animal uplift, a space station, cloning – but if you scratch the surface all that’s left is a set of fairly standard cop stories.
The cat in question feels no more than a human pretending to be a cat and the other animals turn out to be mere ciphers, the universe is barely sketched out and the much more interesting story of how human (and animal) society has coped with the massive changes brought about by space travel, new sentient species, and future technologies has been completely ignored.
This time, the future’s so bright, it feels like 1980.