Monday, June 19, 2017

Prometheus: Film Platypus

In preparation for this summer's Alien Covenant, I went back and did something I should have done a while ago, watched Ridley Scott's Prometheus. The film marked Scott's return to the franchise after being there at its creation in 1979 when he directed Alien.

The Alien franchise is a bit of a mish-mash, which each film in the series having its own unique director who exercised considerable freedom. Scott's Alien is a simple yet elegant "monster in the house" horror film. James Cameron's Aliens blends "monster in the house" with Ellen Ripley as the "dude with a problem" who must willingly confront and destroy the monstrosity from which she originally fled. As opposed to the original movies limited cast and claustrophobic feel, Cameron gives us an action flick with plenty of "red shirts", a "boss bad guy" complete with an evil lair, varied locations, and cool sci-fi gadgets galore. David Fincher's Alien 3 promptly eradicated all of Cameron's work by killing the supporting cast off and brought us back to the original "monster the house" but made crucial changes to the tone with a dystopian setting, apocalyptic cult, and a much grittier heroine who ends the movie by killing herself off. Of course a franchise worth that much money can't be killed off so we had Alien Resurection which even Joss Wedon's writing apparently couldn't save. That was the state of the series when Ridley Scott returned to direct a prequel, Prometheus.

I liked Prometheus. It sets the entire series in a wider context by showing us Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and synthetic David 8's "quest for the golden fleece"gone horribly wrong. Elizabeth Shaw is a very different focal character from Ellen Ripley ensuring that while the movie contains many homages to its predecessors it never becomes a simple re-imagining. Noomi Rapace nails the complexities of portraying an educated, post-evangelical, missionary kid, struggling with infertility and a passionate, but emotionally stunted boyfriend (sound unbelievable? Welcome to my entire age group!). Michael Fassbender's David 8 gives us a new take on the poor, persecuted, but ultimately devious androids from the prior movies. His fastidious reverence for Peter O'Toole's Lawerence of Arabia reminds me of more than a few tormented young aesthetes I've known. I enjoyed watching these two play off each other and the rest of the cast. I would have enjoyed continuing to see their growth and adventures as "Dr. Shaw and the Amazing Severed Head -in Space!". Sadly, that's not to be. At any rate, as you'd expect from the two focal characters (and the movie's title), Prometheus is about creation -that's "the Golden Fleece" or "Elixir" the principle cast is trying to find. It's a fitting topic for a director at the height of his career and for an epic film in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. Scott handles it well as we see various characters respond to the challenges posed by the question of our own origins and our own role as "sub-creators".

That said, I understand why the film split both fans and critics. With each of the original Alien films having a distinct vision and a distinct genre (not to mention all the video games and comic books from 1979-2012!), there is no core "Alien Experience" for Scott to offer. Attempting to cover all the bases would have produced the schlock-fest of the Alien Versus Predator franchise. What Scott and company seem to have attempted was to tell a new, contextualizing, story in the Alien universe in the epic style of Scott's mature career (Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven) with plenty of homages to the original material. It's a very different tone and project from prior Alien installments, but is also fair-play given the smorgasbord of the franchise. Where the movie did strain is where it was caught on the horns of telling a new kind of story while still honoring the old material. More fundamentally, it was the friction between trying to merge a "golden fleece" story with the old "monster in the house". The more philosophical scope of Prometheus also risked breaking audience suspension of disbelief the more large-or-squishy-aliens-killing-people-or-each-other it involved. This would be a violation of what Blake Snyder calls "double-mumbo-jumbo" in his book "Save the Cat".

Those are my thoughts thus far. I'm disappointed that Scott and Co. had to kill so much of the story they were setting up to tell with Prometheus due to fan blow-back, particularly the loss of Dr. Shaw, but I understand that's the game if you're a film-maker and Alien Covenant looks to be a worthy, if more predictable, entry in the franchise.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus

As part of my Save the Cat homework, I'm working my way through the Alien series. It also has the added benefit of getting me ready for a viewing of Alien Covenant, whenever that happens.

In addition to all the Alien material, I've also been taking a closer look at some of my favorite comic book artists. Mike Mignola and his team have been right at the forefront with Helllboy: Into the Silent Sea and Hellboy: The Midnight Circus along with Witchfinder volumes I-IV. On a very different end of the spectrum, I've also been looking back through Doug TenNapel's old black and whites. My eye is specifically on the use of shadow and highlights and last weeks Alien-inspired mini-comic reflects that.

This week again merges my two fields of study into my ongoing quest to become a better artist. The above picture is a refinement of my first Alien homage refined with Prismacolor markers and colored pencils (no computer editing). The second is a new piece composed entirely in Clip Art in grey scale with a final red filter thrown on top to simulate emergency lighting. Both show that I have a lot more work to do, though getting a tablet to use with the Clip Art program might help as well.

In the meantime, I'm still mulling over my viewing of 2012's Prometheus as well as the five-minute net intro to Covenant. Once my thoughts are in good order, I'll present them here in the context of what I've learned from reading Save the Cat.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Comic Fun: Creative Platypus

This summer, I'm spending some dedicated time with my art markers and copy of Clip Art Studio. As part of this artistic endeavor, I've put together a rudimentary comic inspired by Ridley Scott's Prometheus and Alien Covenant. My goal was to try illustrating in simple black and white under the influence of Doug TenNapel's early work and Mike Mignola's Hellboy. So here we go...

Thursday, June 01, 2017

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Ok, so one more before I close up shop for the night. Incidentally, have you noticed that the focal character in each Alien movie is a woman? That makes it rather unique in a male dominated genre. When I was in college, the one unforgivable sin was not inviting the our female friends over for an Alien marathon.

So, Ripley, Shaw, Daniels... Why is it always a woman? Is it a matter of "give me the same thing... but different"? Is it that images of motherhood and birth dominate the dark language of the films? Does one necessitate the other? Given Alien's roots in H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, the choice to consistently move away from an academic, male, hero is a decisive one. It's given us some great characters and a great string of movies (I leave the exceptions up to you).

In Space, No One Can Hear Lovecraft Scream (Cont.): Creative Platypus

Here are two more entries in what's shaping up to be my Alien-inspired oeuvre. These aren't taken from any movie in particular, but rather involve images from across films, comics, and concept art surrounding the series. After looking the material en masse, it underlines the Save the Cat principle of "give me the same thing... bu different!" That's what these movies are: giving us the same thing by different. We, the audience, are paying for story, but fundamentally we're paying for the "Alien Experience" one more time.

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea: The Platypus Reads Part CCCXII

Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea

S.T. Coleridge: U bless Snek
Mike Mignola: Bless Snek? U crazy?
S.T. Coleridge: Y U noe bless Snek? U bless Snek
Mike Mignola: U bless Snek, Snek et U: CHOMP!

That's about the shape of it, and well taken it is. Of course, there's also the nods to the styles of Prince Valiant, Gustave Dore, and Arthur Rackham, not to mention the allusions to Moby Dick, Diogenes, Robert E. Howard, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. If you're a Lit Geek and a Pop Culture Geek, then it's still pretty hard to get cooler than Mike Mignola. Oh, did I mention that he critiqued the entire 19th century scientific project in the same terms as The Abolition of Man? Yeah, cool stuff.