The Review: It’s been thirty-three years since Sir Ridley Scott first announced himself to the world at large with Alien. Inspired by the epic sweep of Star Wars and the potential that such images and ideas had in the cinema, he took a small crew into space, ripped them to shreds and terrified audiences everywhere. During that thirty-three years, we have come to find ourselves living in a world of sequels, where seemingly no story is ever truly concluded, and so the thought of Scott returning to that world, in which many others had played with different ideas but only James Cameron had received similar acclaim for, excited audiences the world over. The potential of another Alien film like Alien seemed too good to pass up, a chance for a further exploration of the world, and one which had many unanswered questions, not least what else was on LV-426 when the crew of the Nostromo set down on company orders. In the months preceding the release of Prometheus, excitement reached fever pitch, then rapidly turned to angst; the trailer seemed to deliver enough Alien related goodness, but when discussion even turned to the classification that the film would receive, with seemingly nothing less than a 15 / R rating satisfying the fans, all watching previous Alien movies in anticipation, could anything ever hope to live up to the high expectations set for it?
Except in the rush to proclaim this an Alien prequel, with the expectations of the same qualities as the original, everyone seemed to forget that no two other Alien movies have ever sat in the same genre. Alien was effectively a haunted house movie in space, for all its sci-fi trappings and unbearable tension; Aliens the classic war movie, the Dirty Dozen sent to pick off the enemy in black; Alien³ was a nihilistic prison movie, despairing at the nature of life and death; and Alien Resurrection had mutant DNA running through its core, the darkly comic contrasting with the horror of the cloned creations. It should come as no surprise to anyone willing to give it a moment’s thought that Prometheus is keenly ploughing its own furrow, looking to explore not only how the aliens may have come about, but also how we came about as well, and Prometheus could well be the first pure sci-fi of the series.
Consequently, it stands alone as a film that can be watched without pre-knowledge of the series, but one that also calls on the themes of each of the earlier (or is that later?) films, even if the key call out to Alien Resurrection initially appears to be incredible basketball skills. The core motifs of the series – other than a giant black alien with two mouths and acid for blood – are all present and correct. There’s the strong female lead in Noomi Rapace, a different twist on the gradually empowered Ellen Ripley who’s looking for answers she may not want to find; the corporate tool, in more than one sense of the word, as Charlize Theron lays down the law and takes matters into her own hands in equal measure; the friendly grunt (Idris Elba) who’s unshakably on the side of good, and the absolute standout here, David the android (Michael Fassbender), who’s working to his own agenda but avoids the more Pinocchio-like clichés of other obvious robots. This sense of familiarity in the characters, coupled with Prometheus telling a new story using many of the story beats of the other films, gives Prometheus an oppressive sense of familiarity, and for anyone familiar with the series a gut-wrenching sense of inevitability sets in as whatever’s still on the planet starts to reveal itself.
Prometheus then becomes a fascinating mix of the old and the new; grappling with new ideas that extend well beyond the claustrophobic scope of any of the films with Alien in the title, but at the same time having some fun with the old ideas and investing new life into them. The one thing guaranteed to disappoint those most hoping for another film cut from exactly the same cloth as Alien, rather than just cut into a similar style, is that this is more sci-fi than horror, looking to engage your mind rather than send it screaming. On the ideas front, the only failing is the insistence to have to explain some events in total and absolute detail, especially given that this leaves as much open to speculation as Alien did; to attempt to leave much unexplained, and then practically shout explanations in your face for the remainder, is both disconcerting and ultimately disappointing. For anyone else who’s ever contemplated either the nature of existence, or even what that blue fluff collecting in their belly button is, there should be a decent amount to enjoy. When Scott does turn his hand, in a few brief moments, to horror it’s the equal of anything in the series, queasily uncomfortable scenes that could leave you clasping your belly, Ripley-like, in sympathy. Prometheus is about two minutes too long (and those are absolutely the last two minutes – if you’ve any sense you’ll leave when you see the duffel bag, and you’ll enjoy it more on its own terms if you do), but the marriage of big, unexplained ideas and gorgeous cinematography and production design mean that there’s life gestating in the warm body of this franchise yet. Fancy another go, Cameron?
Why see it at the cinema: Visually stunning, which almost goes without saying being a Ridley Scott film, and there are just a couple of sequences that you’ll want to see so you can chat with your mates in the pub afterwards.
Why see it in 3D: Ridley Scott does about as well as anyone has with 3D in terms of creating a depth of field, and the crisp images and bold shots work pretty well with the extra dimension. Despite the dark sets and gloomy images, the image has been sufficiently brightened that you can still watch indoors with sunglasses on and make out everything that’s happening. If you’re a fan of stereoscopy, then do make the effort for Prometheus.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: The Millennium trilogy has undoubtedly been a publishing sensation, but with the general public’s reticence to watch anything with subtitles, we’ll only truly know once David Fincher’s Dragon Tatto movie has been released if there is the potential for a movie version of these stories to truly connect with a global audience. What we have here, though, is a chance to at least assess the originals in their completed form. Niels Arden Oplev’s version of Dragon Tattoo was an original and compelling piece of work, but Daniel Alfredson’s The Girl Who Played With Fire was less successful, betraying its TV origins when the first movie felt cinematic and also feeling weaker in terms of story and construction.
Despite also originally being produced for Swedish TV, Hornet’s Nest bests the previous film in both areas, having more momentum and energy as well as feeling more rounded. The fact that it starts to tie some of the threads together from the previous two no doubt helps with that, but there’s some narrative shuffling at the beginning which only serves to raise the stakes. In a way this is odd; Dragon Tattoo felt self-contained, and the natural assumption would have been that its sequels would have seen Salander and Blomkvist continue to team up to get to the bottom of crimes, like a half-punk, half middle-aged Scooby Doo, but actually what we’ve had is three variations of tone and concept as part of the same over-arcing story.
The first movie was absolutely a detective story, and the second was more a thriller than anything else. This final chapter retains elements of the thriller, arguably implementing them more effectively this time around, but at the core is a courtroom drama. I don’t wish to give too much away as there are narrative threads running throughout the trilogy, but it’s Lisbeth’s story that is the focus and the repercussions that spread out more like shock waves than ripples. Noomi Rapace has been outstanding throughout the trilogy and that’s no different here; starting out beaten and withdrawn, but actually still the same old Salander beneath the façade.
Michael Nyqvist probably carries more of the story in this episode than in the earlier outings, and Lena Endre’s Erika Berger also comes more to the fore. Again, the acting from the supporting roles is pretty faultless, although it’s still Rapace that stands out. Aldredson’s direction is a little more efficient here, although it’s still not at the level of the first movie, but all in all this is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and it’s only the middle which is the slightly weak link. David Fincher, the bar has been set.
Why see it at the cinema: If you’ve seen the first two at the cinema, then you should absolutely make the effort for the third. Even if you somehow caught the others by other means (and shame on you if that was the case), then this is still worth the trip out, especially for the higher tempo parts which benefit from freeing themselves from their TV confines.
The Score: 8/10
The Review: Normally a movie these days will generate sequel expectations if the box office is strong enough, but it’s rare that trilogies are presented in a ready-made form. Here, though, is the second part of the book sensation that has been the Millennium trilogy, originally intended for TV transmission but finding its way into cinemas, as will the final part in a few months. The first was the compelling tale of how two mismatched characters, Mikael Blomqvist and Lisbeth Salander, were brought together. So naturally, the second story does its best to keep them apart.
Remember Nils Bjurman from Dragon Tattoo? (Actually, if you don’t, now is the time to dig out the DVD, as there’s no recap and your knowledge of the original is heavily assumed.) The plot thread regarding Lisbeth’s guardian felt resolved in the original, but is used here in a sensible fashion as a catalyst for the second chapter’s events, which revolve around Lisbeth in ever decreasing circles. Despite being separated, there’s still a strong sense of the two working towards a common goal, as Blomqvist has ties to some of the murder victims and Salander is implicated in the murders and works her usual unconventional methods in an attempt to clear her name.
Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace are among the cast and crew returning from the first movie, and while familiarity doesn’t exactly breed contempt, the central actors occasionally feel a little too easy in their roles this time around, without quite the same level of performances. How much of that can be put at the door of replacement director Daniel Alfredson, who replaces the original’s Niels Arden Oplev in the only major production member change? There is no doubt that Oplev applied not only a cinematic sheen to Dragon Tattoo, but also made the most of the Swedish locations, and for whatever reason Alfredson has lost a lot of that feel, but also some of the dynamism and freshness that caused the first to stand out from the crowd. There’s also slightly less subtlety with some of the staging; for example, the dragon tattoo itself gets more of an airing here than it ever did in the first, just in case you have for a few moments forgotten what you’re watching.
It’s Stieg Larsson’s story that’s at the heart of the movie, though, and for the most part the material keeps things going at a good lick. Despite his slight failings, Alfredson’s pacing doesn’t give you time to dwell too much on the plot, which is slightly simpler than the original and as such not quite as satisfying, although it does have the advantage of avoiding Dragon’s extended coda at the end. Unfortunately, the final act is where the implausibilities of the story start to creep in and mount, with allusions to another middle-of-trilogy movie, not least in that the wrap up isn’t as tidy here in an effort to draw you in for the final chapter. One can only hope that the conclusion is a little more cinematic and also returns to the feel of the beginning of the trilogy.
Why see it at the cinema: There’s a nice shot of a barn on fire, but other than that it’s painfully obvious this was intended for TV and not the big screen, unlike its predecessor which benefited extensively from a larger viewing area. But if you’re a fan, it’s worth the trip – just.
The Score: 6/10