Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi after a decades long hiatus with Prometheus, the story of a space expedition to a planet that was mysteriously mapped in 35,000 years old cave-paintings on Earth. In the vein of the classic Alien movie, what the expedition finds on this planet is not quite what they pictured.
If you follow this blogs Twitter stream, you'll know I've been quite excited for Prometheus. Not only due to Ridley's name being attached — after all, he made Blade Runner — but also because Damon Lindelof co-wrote the movie (who co-wrote Lost). Add to this the fact that Prometheus, while not an Alien prequel, is in fact set in the Alien universe. Making such a movie is a monumental task, and the expectations are huge. So as a mindgame, when I sat down in the cinema I put myself in the screenwriters place and asked myself what kind of movie would I have made, were I given this task. Prometheus hits nearly all the beats I found were necessary for being an Alien-universe movie (and a good one at that). The visuals are completely gorgeous, and there are oodles of Alien references for fans like myself. The movie is long but it doesn't feel too long. The plot twists are not totally expected. The music is good, and I most definitely felt I had received my moneys worth. Go watch it, you have my blessing. It's a worthy Alien successor.
That said, Prometheus is not perfect. Many characters feel under-utilized, and some subplots are either weirdly unsubstantial or just not brought to fruition. I would very much like to see an extended cut once Prometheus hits physical media, to see if something was left on the cutting room floor. I'm pretty sure, though, that most of the unanswered questions were ones that Ridley hopes to address in one or two sequels. Which I'd be fine with.
A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to the USA for SxSW, or South By Southwest, to meet my new coworkers at Automattic as well as help out with the WordPress booth. After a week of SxSW, The Wife joined me as we travelled to San Francisco, to experience California. Here’s a brief travelog.
As humanity struggles to fight the Inhibitors, a moving cathedral circumnavigates the remote world of Hela in an effort to always keep the gas giant Haldora at its zenith at all times. The celestial body and it’s mysterious behavior has caused entire religions to emerge on the planet below.
As a ragtag band of survivors on board the lighthugger Nostalgia for Infinity travels to Hela in a desperate search for a weapon against the Inhibitors, a special girl from the badlands of Hela, Rashmika, seeks out to find her long lost brother — a journey that takes her to the largest of the moving cathedrals — as it prepares to cross the Absolution Gap.
Absolution Gap oozes cool. It’s brilliant, hard sci-fi on every level that matters and Alastair Reynolds grasp of the subject is masterful. Absolution Gap is, perhaps, even more cool than my previous favourite in the Revelation Space series — Chasm City (Absolution Gap is the chronological last book in the series).
Alright, it was a bit slow in places — these books are long — but this level of cool deserves no less than five hearts.
In 1982, Kevin Flynn succeeded in creating a virtual computer world which he could physically enter. In 1989, Flynn disappeared, leaving his 8 year old son, Sam Flynn, heir of his Encom computer empire. As adult Sam inadvertantently gets digitized into Flynn's "digital frontier", he finds things are no longer quite as rosy as the childhood stories he was told of The Grid.
Tron Legacy is a visual and musical get-together in your prefrontal lobe. Within the first five minutes, the remarkable Daft Punk soundtrack will be blasting at you as Sam rides his Ducati through the city. This is the soundtrack Daft Punk were born to make, and this is the perfect movie to go with it. Just a few days ago, I finished re-re-watching Interstella 5555, the Daft Punk anime musical that accompanied their fantastic Discovery record; I kept thinking I wanted another Daft Punk musical. As it turns out, you can consider Tron Legacy to be such a musical — a visual interpretation of the dark house tones of the tunes.
A nice point of note on the 3D — this is the best use of 3D I've seen; because most scenes aren't in 3D — it even says so before the movie.
While the music propels this movie to greatness, the film itself is a delight. Jeff Bridges is great as usual, and the director understands his mannerisms. There's even the occasional trademark Bridges "man" uttering thrown in for good measure, and it's all such a perfect fit. Jeff Bridges, gorgeous techno-world designs, booming sound-design. Light-cycles. Olivia Wilde. A reference to "Sweet dreams" by Eurythmics. Daft Punk in soundtrack and canonized in situ. This film has got it going. I was absolutely and exhileratingly entertained for two hours, more than I've been in years. I completely love this film.
Okay, so the story isn't over the top great. There are moments — most of them — when Clu, a.k.a. digital Flynn, looks mostly rubber. At a couple of points, the pace of the film grinds just a little bit, and let's face it the concept itself isn't terribly deep. In fact, if you didn't enjoy video games in the eighties or early nineties, you're probably — most likely — going to find Tron Legacy to be confusing.
If you did enjoy videogames in the eighties or early nineties — even if you just like Daft Punk — Tron Legacy is absolutely something you should watch.
It's been barely six months since their last album, and here we go again. Kent's new album, "En Plats I Solen" (a spot in the sun), is absolutely awesome.
The dansable electro-synth-trend that started with their 2007 Tillbaka till Samtiden album has subtly continued towards the sound of New Order and as a whole towards a softer, polished summer-themed sound, which make the title all the more appropriate. As usual, the level of polish is astounding and the production value through the roof. If you like New Kent, you'll love this album. If you don't like New Kent, I'm here to inform you that Isola and Hagnesta Hill albums haven't disappeared and they're still as good as ever.
I find it mindboggling that Kent, only six months after their last album, can pull this rabbit out of a hat. Either the band is on a roll, or the story that floated around the Isola/Hagnesta Hill era are true; as it was told, singer/songwriter Joakim Berg wrote 30+ songs per album, only picking out a third or half for the album, some being released as B-sides, the rest disappearing to the ether. Perhaps he did this for Röd, and instead of releasing the pieces that didn't make it to that album as B-sides, collected them and added them to this album. Good thing he did, because it's a masterpiece.
The mystical planet of Pandora holds a very special type of iron ore so valuable that a permanent human settlement has been made just to extract the precious substance. As the mining operations delve deeper into the native lands of the local population, Jake Sully — a paralyzed space marine — is given a second chance in a cloned Na’vi body, so he can infiltrate the locals and help them relocate from an especially rich ore deposit.
Avatar is absolutely, gorgeously visually arresting. Watching Pandoras underbrush and floating mountains is like watching a Myst age come to life. The graphics by Weta are so well done that you completely forget (or consciously block out because you want to believe) that you’re looking at something that doesn’t actually exist.
James Cameron has clearly taken his inspiration from the backlit waterfall-and-scenery masterpieces found at your local pizzeria, not to mention classic rock cover-artwork. Which is great, because I totally love those things:
Avatar has been hailed and promoted as a cinematic game-changer; a paradigm shift in how we watch movies. Based on my single experience with 3D, it’s not. At this point, it’s important to note that the cinema where we saw Avatar seemed to have some old-fashioned tech-trouble; the curtains didn’t retract to cinemascope size until 5 minutes into the movie and the pre-movie-adverts were unfocused. That said, the 3D in the Pixar movie trailers prior to the movie were absolutely superb. Which leads me to believe the 3D in Avatar had its share of issues which I’ll try to deal with here.
First of all, it’s all very dark. You’re essentially wearing sun-glasses; which means for you to get a fully lit experience, the theatre needs to increase the brightness.
Secondly, there’s an issue of focus — not the camera-specific focus, but directorial focus. Take the jungle-scenes, for instance. Cameron clearly wants us to be looking at the main protagonists, so he keeps them in focus while any foreground leaves are focus-blurred. We’ve seen this in countless movies, but when suddenly those leaves are also projected into z-space, your brain tells you those leaves are right there, so if you — voluntarily or involuntarily — want to focus on said leaf, you’ll either be annoyed that you can’t unblur them by concentrating really hard; or you’ll get a headache. Because you see, that focus is not real, it’s burnt-in. Which presents something of a problem, because the film is the film and it can’t satisfy any angle or focus you — the viewer — wants satisfied.
Another oddity is the subtitles. By definition, these should be in front. So they’re given 3D depth. Which completely messes with your mind at the odd times when something in the movie, a character for instance, is placed closer to you in z-space than the subtitles, yet the subtitles are still “in front” at their lower z-depth. Some may not notice it, but my sensitive can’t-play-3d-games motion sick brain vomits at this logical conflict.
I’m sure these are tech issues. I’m sure that in a properly set-up, well-lit cinema the 3D is great. I’m sure that once projectors can churn up the framerate, camera panning won’t turn your brain into goo. I do, however, think that directors who decide to 3D their movies need to make difficult choices as to when and when not to use the z-space, meaning only when it adds to the film and not simply all the time. For now, I prefer gloriously flat.
The Overall Serving
Avatar is not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination. Like all other epics out there, it’s a bit too long. It’s predictable and filled to the brink with stereotypical villains and clichés (I wonder why the planet is named “Pandora”, could it be because it unleashes hell when opened, like the box?). Cameron even copies himself on more than one occasion, mixing the story from Titanic with elements from Aliens. Add to that a lot of silly things, such as subtitles set the Papyrus font when natives speak to each-other, a design decision so excruciatingly dumb that the mind boggles.
But these are all trivial issues compared to all the other levels on which Avatar works. The story gets under your skin. Within long, the smurf-like natives stop looking goofy, their odd names, behavior and peculiar language starts to seem real and before you know it, you’re enveloped in a classic love-story despite it being set in a supremely alien world. Avatar brings sci-fi to the masses, and for that reason more than anything, I completely love it.
“Röd” (Red) is the newest (released today) album from Swedish rock-turned-electro-pop band Kent; a band arguably responsible making a masterpiece of every album. Red is no different. The sound is, if that was even possible, even more electronic, dansable and polished than their last album, Tillbaka til Samtiden.
While hard to exactly label, it’s clear that these guys have been listening to Depeche Mode, Royksopp, New Order and The Cure. On top of that, I get the vibe that these guys have enough money, enough life experience and enough of a distaste of the media, that this tristesse and malaise seeps into the very music. Not only in the text, but in the titles and the rapidly style-changing music. Here’s one such odd (but awesome track) from YouTube:
Here’s another good song.
I can’t decide whether this one is better than their previous outing, but one thing is for sure: it’s a six heart experience.
Nevil Clavain has lived for four hundred years and he has seen his share of war. As the depth of a new threat awakened decades ago — The Inhibitors — becomes clear, Clavain is forced to reconsider his allegiances. Meanwhile, the mysterious Ilya Volyova has plans for her cache of self-aware doomsday weapons.
Redemption Ark is a superb sequel book. It’s littered with cameos and direct storyline continuations set up in both Revelation Space and Chasm City (and even some of Reynolds’ short stories such as Galactic North). Yet it is also a great story in its own right and you could, if you wanted to, read it without having read any of the other books.
It’s hard sci-fi and clearly the work of a working scientist; the result is super-modern space opera sci-fi, the kind which probably isn’t disproved until centuries from now. It features mindboggling ideas and bunches of BDOs i.e. all you could ever want from the genre. Redemption Ark is a bit on the long side, but it’s still a pleasure to read.
The chronology of these books is a bit confusing. While Revelation Space (2000) was the first “in-universe” book Reynolds wrote, it’s storyline was set after both The Prefect (2007) and Chasm City (2001) (both standalone novels). As such, Redemption Ark is the first direct sequel to Revelation Space. It is followed (story-chronology-wise) by Absolution Gap (2003).