Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Night Eternal; well thank goodness that's over with

I have blogged previously on Del Toro and Hogan's masterful (as in, full of a character called the Master) The Strain and The Fall, and have to open with the confession that I only bought, and very painfully read, The Night Eternal so that I might have the chance to write a mean-spirited critique of a book I would otherwise not enjoy.

I have been suitably punished for such a petty aim, because The Night Eternal is an entirely fitting climax to what has gone before. I wrote earlier that the trilogy was going to need a hell of a big finish to make up for the ground that it had lost; I can't rule out the possibility that this advice was overlooked, but if - as they should be - Del Toro and Hogan are reading my words as though they were the word of God himself, what I meant was PUNCH IT UP DUDES, YOU'RE RUNNING OUT OF ROAD! Clearly, I don't have billionaire Mexican film directors hanging on my every word, because the ending of the NIght Eternal is flat and uninvolving and just plain wrong.

Not that I want to waste a huge amount of time on this, but what went right? Well, as I started into the last lap of the death march, and the book sketched in the vision of a world after two years of nuclear winter, chaos and vampire predation, my main thought was; the whole damn series should have started here. There's enough in the "previously on The Strain" opening internal monologues that you could quite easily dispense with the other two books and just read this one. That thought carried me through the first thirty or forty pages, or what would probably be the pre credits sequence of the eventual movie, and then we were back into the familiar urge to throw the book across the room. I persevered, reminding myself that this is the price you pay for wanting to poke fun at bad writing, but man, it never even got enjoyably bad. The same faults I've already ranted on about are there, so why rehash all of that noise?

Instead, let me just vent a little on how New York City is not the goddam centre of the world. I'm sure it must feel that way to the people who live there and are constantly treated to reminders of how important their city is - though most of these reminders are actually filmed in Toronto because it's cheaper and vastly less unpleasant - but in reality any rational vampire master overlord destroying the world and rebuilding it from scratch would pick a HQ with nicer weather, better water quality and well, a hell of a lot fewer New Yorkers, though in fairness, the Master is ALL OVER that last requirement. The whole world has been treated to a dose of the armageddons, but no-one in the book ever gets any further from the five boroughs than New Jersey. It's like an episode of Friends, though vastly less true to life. 

Other grumbles; we're told at the outset as an aside that the Master had all the world's cars crushed so that they couldn't be used as weapons, but from then on in, cars are all over the damn place; not just stashed away in mountain fastnesses by the plucky rebels, but just flat out abandoned hither and yon all over the New York Streets so that they can be used as cover and impromptu getaway vehicles. In New York? A city where less than 10% of the population (statistics may have been pulled out of my ass, estimates can go up as well as down) actually own cars and on-street parking is something most people have only heard about? I was cutting Hogan a break thinking he was just writing what he knew, and then that? But it's the whole thing of sketching in a new kind of world and then not even bothering to stay consistent with its rules. When writing's as bad as this to begin with, only the story will save you, and for that everything has to make a lot more sense.

And the story of the vampires? Well, I just have to share this, because it is perhaps the stupidest vampire origin story and happy ending since Bram Stoker walked the earth. I suspect - without having the patience to check - that even Stephanie Meyer's Twilight is actually less dumb, and she openly admits she didn't know anything about vampires and just wanted to write a story about the importance of abstinence. And glitter, I think. Here's the deal; the original seven vampires come to pass when God sent not two, but three angels to give Sodom and Gomorrah a talking to, and the third one (who is not in the canonical biblical account) went all rogue from the sudden shock of having fun on earth and started snacking on humans, and then on the other angels. So God, who doesn't seem to have been either a good planner or an especially good manager, tackled this problem by having the bad angel chopped up into seven pieces and scattered to seven different places. Keep in mind, now, this is your actual God. On the one hand, he's omniscient, so he really ought to have seen all this coming. And on the other hand, he's supposedly all merciful, so this seems a little excessive. And on the other other hand, he's just sent these three clowns to turn Sodom and Gomorrah into a parking lot, so maybe not that merciful after all, but if so, what's the big deal about one of his staff snacking on the targets instead of letting them get collectively vaporized? So there we are, seven helpings of angel delight, buried good and deep and forever separated, yadda, yadda, yadda. What happens next makes me wonder if Del Toro was consulting on Prometheus, because lo and behold, all this buried evil can somehow manifest itself as tendrils of blood which somehow turn into worms which somehow burrow their way into people and turn them into vampires. Because - hell if I know, actually. Anyhow, it all ends happily, since the human cast blow up the last remaining resting site of all this crap with a nuclear bomb they somehow know how to repair, obliterating all the whiniest and most dislikable surviving characters, and liberating the lost soul of the wrong 'un angel who somehow ascends into heaven. Which if that was a fix, why wait til all the other stuff, huh? 

Anyhow, thank goodness it's all over because it was absolutely terrible. When the book goes to the charity shop, common decency requires me to put a note into it warning the buyer not to read it.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheus; it's time to go past, into the back.

This could all get fixed in due course. Ridley Scott is a devil for bringing out long and long awaited movies that don't really work as expected and then taking them back to the garage and giving them a few whacks with the lump hammer. He's done it with the good ones and done it with the bad ones; there are more versions of Blade Runner than cast members at this point, and at least three versions of Alien. That's the good ones; over on the debit side, the messy and confusing Kingdom of Heaven was retooled for video, and Robin Hood exists in three different versions, though it's hard to imagine any way in which making THAT longer could make it any better. So when I say I'm disappointed with Prometheus, I say it in the knowledge that conceivably Scott could do a factory recall and somehow make it NOT disappointing. But right now, it's hard to see where he'd start.

On the one hand, Prometheus is too long. I've long had a simple working definition of this; a film is too long when I think it's too long. If I've got time to come to this conclusion, there's a problem. I didn't think Heat was too long, because there was always something I wanted to see next. I thought The Unbearable Lightness of Being was too long at first, and then when it ended my outraged reaction was "Not now!". With Prometheus, I endured it till it was over and then said thank goodness and left the cinema. So, on the first hand, too long. On the second hand; not enough movie has been packed into that length. What we get is beautifully shot, but despite the use of perfectly good actors (Idris Elba, wasted again; Michael Fassbinder, rather too successfully impersonating a robot), not terribly interesting. When people get nobbled, we don't care, particularly, and although it's icky when it happens, it's not shocking, somehow. It's all rather flat.

Another interesting development is that we now know that the future has dark ages. The Prometheus is traveling through space long before the Nostromo, but has WAY better computers. Plainly at some later point, civilization collapsed, or Weyland Yutani used up the whole supply of some rare element in their cooler-than-cool displays and after that everyone had to make do with keyboards and DOS. I remember watching the original Alien and thinking the space ship and its computers looked amazing; and of course, the spaceship and computers in the new one have to look equally amazing for the new generation of movie goers…. And we wind up having to think of why technology seems to have slid backwards as the future goes forward. This problem has come up before with SF prequels, and it is one of the small but nagging reasons why we shouldn't let people DO SF prequels. Or anything else with prequel in it.

Anyhoo, Prometheus sets out to answer a whole series of questions about where the famous aliens came from, to much the same effect as all those times when we set out to find out where Santa Claus comes from. Origin stories are an absolute pox of the superhero/Marvel adaptation genre, and it turns out that they can be a pox on other things too. The original Alien just worked, full stop. Aliens didn't mess significantly with the formula, and worked. The next two movies messed with the formula and really didn't work. About the Aliens vs Predator notion, it's best to be silent.In short, the story's been told perfectly, and it's time to move on. Going back to the well has not been a good idea.

At times in the movie, the only fun to be had is watching them laboriously move all the pieces into place for the audience to go "Ah-ha, that's where that must have come from." Sadly, they were so determined that every plot beat in Prometheus would echo a plot beat in Alien that they wound up monkeying even that up. With great diligence, they carefully built up to the moment where we get to see where the Space Jockey in the first film gets into the chair in which he's found in Alien. Fine, if a little heavy handed. And then, purely so that they could echo Ripley's last fight in Alien, the goddam space jockey comes back to attack her, and gets ironically mangled by a proto-alien, thus ensuring that he WON'T be where he's been so carefully positioned. And you know what? I don't care whether that was Scott having a senior moment or executive interference; for the life of me I can't figure out how the hell that one's going to be fixed by any conceivable director's cut.

PS: I found this today (9 October), and it's well worth a look to cover all the things I decided I couldn't rag on in case miraculously this blog entry was read by somebody who hadn't seen the movie yet.

 PPS: I found this as an early Christmas present, and for the sake of two minutes out of your life, it's a wonderful encapsulation of just  some of the things which don't add up in the movie. Which is out now in DVD and Blu-Ray over packaged editions, and from the lack of general fanfare about new features, I've concluded that Ridley thinks it was just fine the way I didn't like it.

PPPS: This Basic Instructions cartoon contains the marvellous comment "It was the kind of disappointment which can only be appreciated on the big screen", which perfectly captures the way I felt about the movie, and indeed about a lot of other movies.