Fantasy Nation (Bright, 2017)

Bright_PosterNetflix has been focusing hard on original material over the past few years, especially now as they face the future of no Disney films.  Bright is their first foray into high concept, high budget action fantasy.

They brought together notorious Internet personality Max Landis (Screenwriting son of John Landis) and David Ayers (director of End of Watch and Suicide Squad) to present us with Bright.  Bright is a genre mashup, best described as a combination of Ayer’s own End of Watch and the 1988 sci-fi film Alien Nation*. Except, instead of aliens, it involves fantasy creatures.

Set in a version of our world in which elves, orcs, fairies and so on all exist and interacted with humanity for thousands of years, Will Smith plays the human cop Daryl Ward. His partner is the first Orc police officer, Nick Jakoby. Due to an incident where Ward was shot and Nick appeared to have let the perp get away, there is tension.  Nick pays lip service to the equality of the races when talking to his daughter, but he seems to struggle with it himself.

When the two stumble upon a young Elven Bright (a user of magic), they find themselves on the wrong end of gangs (both human and orc), evil elves and corrupt cops.  It is a chase through the city as they try and determine who they can trust and how they can stop the impending threat to the world.

Bright is not a terrible idea.  The film works hard to establish an existing racial hierarchy with it appearing to be Elves and Humans at the top, while Orcs face a lot of discrimination.  The film hints that the Orcs once threw their lot in with a dark lord, and so people generally do not trust them.

But this is also where the film falters. While it is a decent concept, some of the execution just feels lazy.  Smith has a throw away line about an orc being a “Shrek-Looking” thing.  Would Shrek exist in a world like this?  Would pop culture develop in the same trajectory?  Orc music is literally just death metal. Orc culture is basically “L.A. Gang Culture” stereotypes.  Sure, one character refers to having been a bus driver before moving to L.A., but we see no real examples of Orcs in any other life than gangs.

And to make things more frustrating, we never observe what kind of life Jakoby lives outside of being on the police force.  Oh, sure, he talks about how he has wanted to be a police officer since he was a child, and how he files down his tusks to appear less threatening. But we are told this.  And we know nothing beyond what he tells Ward. We see Ward’s home life.  We even know he is trying to sell his home.  We meet his wife and daughter.  Nick is likable in his somewhat teenage-ish exuberance and well intentioned demeanor.  Yet we never experience his life as an audience.  And the film really needs that.  This is where that Alien Nation comparison leaves Bright wanting. Alien Nation creates a real feel of the Newcomers trying to assimilate into the world around them. There are rich businessmen, street punks, teachers, prostitutes and most any profession out there. We are given important information through both show and tell. And it feels organic.  In Bright, it is all given through dialog.  There is some attempts to give us visual queue, mostly in the beginning where Ward and Jakoby are driving to work. This is mostly done through graffiti and Smith getting upset when they cut through Elven territory.

The villains are either stock characters (the humans and the orcs) or severely undefined.  While the film references the Dark Lord, the evil magic using elves seem to have very vague notions other than service to this Dark Lord.

This is not to say it is all bad.  I mean, the visual effects are nice.  The Orcs are appropriately brutish looking and the elves are both creepy and ethereal. The action sequences are exciting to watch.  But as much as I wanted to like this film, it just does not live up to it’s potential, especially when similar territory has done it so much better.

*I cannot take credit for this, the first person I saw make the reference was the talented comic book artist Jamal Igle. But this is by far the most accurate comparison.

The Hunter or the Hunted? Pt 5 (Prometheus, 2012)

Prometheus_PosterResurrection seemed to kill the franchise.  But after two Alien vs Predator films, Ridley Scott became very annoyed and wanted to right the ship.  Kind of.  The vaguely titled Prometheus would be set before Alien, but it was not a direct prequel.  Rather, it would be Alien Adjacent.  This certainly made for an intriguing idea, and trailers showed a lot of hints of the unfamiliar future with brief glimpses of familiar sites.

The final product is an imperfect attempt at an epic tale.  Borrowing heavily from Erich Von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, Prometheus opens with a gorgeous and vast shot of lakes and mountains.  We travel along this landscape until we come upon a “man”.  He is tall and muscular, with marble like skin.  A large spaceship (which is the same type of ship from the first Alien where the eggs are discovered) is leaving him behind.  He drinks a strange black drink and instantly his body starts to break down and he falls into the water, his DNA dispersing.

If you are not sure what Chariots of the Gods is, it was a book in the 70’s that claimed that all religion and technology we know today was the result of guidance from extra-terrestrials who were revered as Gods.  Prometheus takes this a step further, positing that mankind was created by these aliens.  They become known as “the Engineers” in the film.  Considering that Scott completely ignores the Alien vs Predator films, I am surprised he pretty much steals this concept from them.

The film leaps to the future, where we meet Elizabeth Shaw and her fellow archeologist (and boyfriend) Charlie.  They have been traversing the globe comparing various ancient sites, specifically the artwork of cultures from all over the world that share common themes.  They believe they have assembled the coordinates to a home world of “The Engineers”.  A crew is assembled by dying Peter Weyland to visit the planet.  They are told he will be dead by the time they arrive.

Once on the planet, the crew discovers an ancient ship with bodies of the engineers and holograms of them running from some threat.  Many poor choices are made and everything goes wrong.

The film gives us all sorts of “almosts”.  Almost a facehugger.  Almost an Alien. Almost the planet from Alien.  The film has grand attempts to explore themes of faith, diety, humanity and creation.  A lot of this focus is on Shaw and the Synthetic David.  David is one of the more interesting characters…he is also both sympathetic and disturbing.

The ending is a massive storm of confusion and destruction, in which Shaw becomes determined to discover why the Engineers have chosen the course they chose in relation to humanity.

Prometheus is gorgeous to watch, which breath taking visuals.  It is a stunning and spectacular feats with a strong cast, including Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Michael Fassbender.  Fassbender especially shines as synthetic David.

But the story seems only half cooked.  They have ideas at play that never meet fruition.  The unanswered questions seem allowable, as the film was clearly left open for a follow-up.  With Prometheus, we have a film that is not terrible but not quite great.  And if it was part one, it might even be a great start and set up.  But, that was not not meant to be.  Instead we are left with an incomplete story.

Prometheus Lost

So, Ridley Scott announced the title to the sequel to Prometheus.  And I was a bit surprised they caved this early.

prometheus_ridley_scott

I was one of the few who at least generally liked Prometheus.  It had some problems, such as the whole “what I choose to believe” thing was never grounded tightly enough to make sense as a solid philosophy and the final act is pretty crazy messy to the point of confusion.  Adding to the confusion was the similarities that seem to set up Alien, but clearly at the same time could not be the same ship found in Alien…and the filmmakers emphasized that this is a different planet, different ship…this was set in the same universe as Alien, but is a separate story.

And I like that idea.  The notion that there might be a film to line up more precisely with Alien, but that it would come after a divergent story in the same universe.  Rapace and Fassbender are welcome performers for me and I am curious to see the next step in that story.  But of course, the problem is…they are not just trying to appeal to me, who would have no problem getting interested in another Prometheus film.

I suspect the lukewarm reception has resulted in bringing the Prometheus story directly under the Alien name brand with the upcoming sequel being called Alien: Paradise Lost.  I see some potential confusing, what with Neil Blomkamp’s possible Alien five.  I presume that will get a re-title.  And ever since Alien Resurrection, religious and mythical titles seem to be the go to.

But I suspect they realized continuing Prometheus 2 would not have the attention getting power of actually calling it “Alien”.  This does beg one question…will we see the regular Xenomorphs this time around?

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