Ever feel like you`re not quite keyed-in with what`s popular? Ever been ashamed to say you like a particular movie, book, or music group for fear of pointing and laughing? I think we all have a few of these. This blog will ramble on about four films that are generally derided critically but hold a special place on my VHS shelf. So here`s your chance to call me a dick for my shit taste after ripping on the Lion King a couple of weeks back.
I’m going to get this one out of the way early on because in truth, I don’t think people hate it very much. It was a box office hit and got mixed-to-good reviews from decent media, but is reviled by the internet in general. A quick google search will reveal a baker’s dozen or so of pretty badly written articles detailing all the “plot holes” in this movie, which is a feat in itself as the writers of these articles seem to have no idea what the phrase “plot hole” actually means. I’m not saying my article is a literary masterpiece (but come on, I just used the phrase “baker’s dozen”, which my sources inform me was last used in a Yorkshire bread shop window in 1952), but a plot hole is not “guy wanders around the ship like an idiot because he lost the map”. That’s a contrivance sure, but a necessity in a suspense/horror movie and really no different to, say, Harry Dean Stanton wandering around the ship looking for the cat in a much more well-regarded entry into this franchise. Or anyone in any horror movie ever wandering outside in their pants saying “John, is that you? Quit screwing around you guys!” It’s part of this type of movie. And it doesn’t violate internal logic or reduce the subsequent plot to nonsense, so it’s not a plot hole.
But what is a plot hole? Tangent incoming. The most famous example is the oft-discussed “why didn’t they give the ring to the eagles” thing in Lord Of The Rings. It is better explained in the book that the eagles are really not all that interested until the late stages of the war, but I think it’s valid to an extent. A much more visible plot hole in the movie version of Lord Of The Rings (one which is barely ever talked about), is a much more textbook example however. In Two Towers, Frodo has a freak out and shows the Ring to a winged Nazgul in Osgiliath (this never happens in the book). The Nazgul is then scared off with one arrow, (which is lame in itself), but this one event basically unravels the rest of the story. How? Well, one of Sauron’s agents has SEEN the Ring. It has seen who is carrying it, where he is, who he is with, what he looks like. He knows it’s in the hands of a Hobbit wandering into Mordor, so Aragorn’s ploy with the Palantir (to make Sauron think Aragorn has the Ring), the Battle Of Minas Tirith, and the Battle at the Black Gate make absolutely no sense at all because Sauron should KNOW that the Ring is nowhere near Aragorn, or anyone else at Minas Tirith. THAT`S a plot hole, not “they didn’t run sideways when the ship was falling over”. End tangent.
So why is this movie awesome? Firstly, it`s a big ol` chunk of philosophical Sci-Fi, and I love me a bit of that (more on that later). To me the best Sci-Fi movies deal with who we are, where we are going and how we got here. Mix in a hefty dose of ambiguity and dangling mysteries and I’m there. Prometheus gives that in spades, throwing in Chariots Of The Gods (“They practically own South America”), and concepts of identity, evolution and human self-destruction. I love that David, as ambiguous a character as can be, is detached and changeable, capable of both acts of extreme kindness and extreme cruelty. I love that the Engineers, our creators, are depicted as being as flawed as we are. I love the triple-tier creator-creation thing (Engineers-humans-androids). The ideas of the movie are at the core of its appeal for me.
The cast is amazing, from Fast-Bender through Noomi Rapace`s optimistic, wide-eyed yet ultimately determined and indomitable Shaw right down to aforementioned comedy map-losing alien fodder. Ridley Scott rediscovers his roots and delivers some classic suspense stuff, employing a lot of empty space and cold machinery to pervade the movie with loneliness and isolation. And best of all, there are some genuinely unsettling horror moments – I can`t remember the last time I had such a strong reaction to a horror scene comparable to the “self-caesarean” set-piece. Horror doesn’t usually get to me these days, but I was shaking in my seat the moment I realised what Shaw was going to have to do. Excellent stuff, and deserves to be held in as high regard as Janet Leigh going for a shower, or a lunch date with John Hurt.
It also has an amazing soundtrack by Mark Streitenfield, and in this day and age when minimalist percussive arseholery is en vogue, it`s nice to hear some flippin` good stringwork.
I honestly believe a lot of the hate for this film comes from pissed off “Aliens” fanboys who were disappointed that it didn’t tie up into a nice bow and lead into “Alien”.
“dur hur! Where are the Xenotrons? Worst movie everrrrr”
Sure, it has its problems. Guy Pearce’s make-up is terrible and the crew of the Prometheus seem a little too keen to kill themselves, but nothing`s perfect. Give it another look, there`s a lot to love here.
Speaking of philosophical Sci-Fi…
…Or, “It`s not as good as 2001.”
My God, you`re full of shit.
Yeah, this is a point that should be addressed. It`s not 2001. It explains a lot of stuff that maybe should have remained ambiguous. The casting is very odd. Hard-man, tanned Roy Scheider as a NASA scientist? John Lithgow as an engineer? Bob Balaban, a short, white, beardy Richard Dreyfus avatar cast as a computer expert named “Chandra” who was clearly supposed to be Indian in the book? Helen Mirren`s stuffy but ultimately misunderstood Russian Captain is really the only character who jumps out as well-cast. Despite this, it really does hang together and delivers on a number of levels.
2010 is the belated sequel to Kubrick`s legendary 2001: A Space Odyssey. Arriving in 1984, there are 16 years between original and sequel – I believe only Psycho 2 took longer to arrive.
The story involves a joint US/Soviet mission to recover the missing spacecraft Discovery from the first movie and find out why the on-board computer Hal (once again voiced by the incomparable Douglas Rain), went nuts and what happened to the astronauts Frank Poole and David Bowman. There`s also the matter of the mysterious giant monolith orbiting Jupiter to sort out.
I saw this when I was very young, my dad taped it for me and my brother because it was on too late. We watched it the next day and I remember not understanding all of what was going on, but being mesmerised by the opening sequence where stills from the first movie are overlaid by a text computer report culminating in the famous (but never actually spoken in the movie of 2001, fact fans), line “my God, it`s full of stars”. To this day, it’s still one of the most atmospheric recap sequences in sequel movies (I realise it’s not up against much – perhaps Superman II could give it a run for its money though). I hadn’t seen the original movie, but the prologue performed the way all good exposition should – it brought me up to speed and made me want to see what happened next.
As a kid of the Star Wars generation, I was fascinated by the fact that here was a Sci-Fi movie with spaceships and planets, but no aliens, no droids, no Wookies and no lasers. It made me think about Sci-Fi in “real” terms. And yet there’s a “ghost”, there’s the unseen presence of the force controlling the Monolith and the hinted at, but ultimately unseen, life on Jupiter’s moon Europa. My eight-year-old mind was opened up to a new kind of Sci-Fi, one which embraced ambiguity and asked questions about our origins and destiny.
It`s not all spaceboot-gazing though. In between all the austere scientific musings are genuine character moments (Floyd and Curnow discussing where to get the best baseball hotdogs), creepy moments (“It is very important that you believe me. Look behind you.”), and even a little tearjerker at the end when Hal and Chandra say their goodbyes (“Will I dream?”, “I….don`t know.”).
Also, the soundtrack Is only one of three I can think of that employ the legendary BLASTER BEAM (Google it up, it`s as cool as it sounds), there`s some pioneering CGI in the scene where the Monoliths multiply on Jupiter, and it taught me how to count to ten in Russian.
I love movies like the aforementioned Prometheus, Sunshine, Interstellar and Event Horizon, all of which (some would argue) are better movies (apart from Event Horizon, I doubt many people would argue that), yet all of these more well regarded movies have 2010`s fingerprints all over them, not 2001`s. Interstellar in particular is often talked about as an homage to 2001 when really it has vastly more in common with 2010. All of these movies feature a derelict ship or a lost previous mission, a signal of some kind, and a variation on pseudo-scientific supernatural activity. So I suppose that`s my final defence for this movie – it`s way more influential than its hallowed prequel. That doesn’t make it better, it just makes it different.
“I’ve got a new goal….world….DOMINATION!”
We like our movies in boxes. We divide them into categories so we know where to look in video stores, so we know what choices to make in the cinema. It`s an action movie? Well, I’ve seen one of those and I liked it. I`ll go see this one because it might give me a similar experience. Horror, Comedy, Rom-com, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Arthouse, Chick-Flick, whatever you want to call them, the list goes on. This is perfectly rational and human but it means that when bizarre films which defy categorisation come along, nobody knows what to do with them. Studios don`t know how to market them so they get shoved into a box that doesn’t fit, and people turn away in droves. The end result is usually a spectacular flop – see “Big Trouble In Little China”, “The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Fifth Dimension” and of course, “Hudson Hawk”. ALL of those films are in my top twenty. But why?
Hudson Hawk is flippin hilarious. It’s action packed, clever, stuffed with grandiose OTT performances, great setpieces and Andie McDowall impersonating a dolphin. And given that I’m peppering this article with random quotes from the movie, I have to throw in that it`s more quotable than Withnail And I. Yeah I went there.
“Hey Mister! Are you gonna die?”
Bruce Willis plays Hawk, a cat burglar by trade, released from prison and pressed into one last job. Along the way he encounters villains named after candy bars (after trying a stint where they were named after STDs), psychotic butlers with “dry British wit”, a Catholic church organised like a spy agency, exploding auctioneers and a scenery munching Richard E Grant and Sandra Bernhardt as the villains of the piece.
“The Pope warned me never to trust the CIA.”
In what other film will you see cat burglars timing their jobs by the exact amount of time it takes to sing “Swinging On A Star”? Where else will you see a car chase where the protagonist spends half the time speeding down the freeway on a medical gurney, throwing handfuls of change at tollbooths as he passes? What other climax sees the protagonist luring a savage chihuahua to its death by throwing a ball out of a castle window?
“I`ll kill your friends, your family, and the bitch you took to the Prom.”
“Betty Joe Bialowski? I can get you an address on that if you want.”
It is an insane film. It mixes Catholic church mythology with Da Vinci conspiracy theories way before Dan Brown could write (some would argue that still hasn’t happened), it is both comedically slapstick and gratuitously violent and it breaks the fourth wall whenever it can, to great effect. It is utterly gleeful in doing all of these things together and therein lies its failure.
“Looks like you won`t be attending that hat convention in July!”
I firmly believe that if they`d nixed the numerous “fucks” and kerbed some of the hypodermics-in-face violence we`d have had a classic 90s screwball comedy. Think Animaniacs meets Monty Python. People just. Did. Not. Get. It.
“I can`t think of anyone I`d rather play Nintendo with.”
It`s interesting to note that it has been disowned by practically everyone involved, and remains an embarrassing footnote on Bruce Willis`s CV alongside “Look Who`s Talking”. It`s a flippin riot though and I can`t recommend it enough.
“How am I driving? 1-800-I`m gonna fucking DIE!”
Two films from the same franchise? You’d better believe it. I`ll state upfront that you needn’t worry about me putting Alien Resurrection or those execrable Alien Vs Predator films in this list though, they deserve their position as floaters in the great toilet bowl of bad moviedom. Alien 3 isn’t perfect, but those movies make it look like Citizen Fucking Kane.
To me, Alien 3 is ALMOST the best movie in the series, and Ridley Scott and James Cameron should be thankful it was plagued by production problems and studio interference, otherwise it may well have taken that crown.
“But they killed Hicks and Newt! It`s like an Ealing comedy full of chirpy cockneys! Ripley dies at the end, it`s so downbeat! And the CGI is terrible!”
Yes, yes, and yes. All of that MAKES the movie. But hang on, terrible CGI? This was 1991 bud. No Jurassic Park for a couple of years, Terminator 2 wasn’t even out until later that year. No CGI here. If you mean the optical compositing of the ROD PUPPET Alien then you might have a point. Personally I think the rod puppet looks and moves really well, just half the time for some unknown reason they couldn’t get the light levels to match, which is why it looks like it “pops out” of the frame in various places. Fact fans – there is ONE very short CGI shot near the end of the film, done on a Commodore Amiga, no less (I had one of those!). Free Mars bar to the first person who can tell me what that shot is. But apart from that, no CGI.
There’s a lot of lore about the production of Alien 3. I’m going to avoid it for the most part as we would be here all day, but it`s worth Googling just to see how crazy it got. Multiple directors were hired and fired before the studio settled on the then unknown David Fincher (if only they’d known, eh?), there wasn’t a finished script on set and the movie’s release date was set before production had even begun. Ripley was in it, then not in it, then in it again (the Ripley-less script, focussing on Hicks and Bishop, is worth a look), and the end result was re-cut without Fincher’s consent, resulting in him disowning the movie. But I’m going to focus on what I like about it.
Well, what’s to like? We are thrown into a world that might as well be hell. It`s dark, dirty and oppressive, lots of browns and rust tones, something that would typify David Fincher’s later work. The look and atmosphere are amazing, it’s like Franchis Bacon and Heironymous Bosch having a tea party in Silent Hill. Couple this imagery with Elliot Goldenthal’s masterfully haunting soundtrack and you have one of the most uncomfortable yet alluring environments in mainstream cinema.
Into this hell-hole drops Ripley, an angel from the heavens who brings the Devil with her. As a kid, like everyone else who loved Aliens, I was devastated by the deaths of Newt and Hicks, but isolating Ripley and giving her no friends and no touchstones to her earlier life is key to the way the movie works. Here Ripley is world-weary and alone, in contrast to her character in earlier films (Alien – eager, up and coming, inexperienced ensign given a baptism of fire, Aliens – vengeful and payback-hunting soldier who proves herself), she appears as a retired veteran, fatalistic and determined. This allows her to deliver possibly the best line in the franchise as she stalks the Alien in the bowels of the facility, “You’ve been in my life so long I can’t remember anything else”. Haunting stuff. This exemplifies her attitude as a woman who has given up caring about herself, but still has a fierce duty to humanity.
Throw in an incredible supporting cast of mostly British character actors (Charles Dance, The Tetley Tea Folk Man, that guy from Jurassic Park 2, Doctor Who no.8, Danny from Withnail and I, and did I mention CHARLES FUCKING DANCE?!), all of whom have their chance to shine (though Doctor Who works best if you watch the assembly cut as he gets a hell of a lot more to do), and you’re on to a winner. The stand-out guest spot goes to Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon however, a self proclaimed “murderer and rapist of women”, who ends up being Ripley`s closest ally, saving her from a rape gang, becoming her confidant and sacrificing his life for her by CONVINCINGLY squaring up to the Alien in a fight you know he’ll lose. Taking a character who would, in any other film, be an evil scumbag, and making him your protagonists’s best hope typifies a lot of what this movie does – a topsy turvy flip of making the unpalatable essential to survival. It plays out like some fever-dream – black is white, right is wrong, enemies are friends, friends are enemies and the only way to win is to lose.
It’s muddled, yes. And certainly in the theatrical cut, it’s sometimes choppy and illogical. But it has an atmosphere unparalleled in the franchise, and satisfyingly and logically ends the Alien trilogy. That`s right, TRILOGY. There were no more Alien films after this….
Also, I`d like to confirm that yes, that was an entire article on an Alien movie on the internet which didn’t use the “X” word ONCE. What am I on about? Next time. NEXT TIME.
So there`s four unpopular movies that I love. I’m glad I got that out of my system. Do you love any unpopular movies? Let us know!