20 June 2012

Review: Prometheus (2012)

In 'Prometheus', director Ridley Scott revisits the SF horror territory of his breakout film, 'Alien', this time with a much bigger budget. Set before 'Alien', an exploration space ship travels to a desolate planet to search for an ancient civilization that contacted our human ancestors. Of course, in this sort of film, the explorers find something much more terrible and deadly on the planet.
The first half of the film is so-so but the plot goes off the rails in the second half. Some potentially interesting threads are presented then forgotten. A lot of the setting and twists do not make sense at all. The climax and its lead up are just ridiculous and arbitrary.
Even with fairly low expectations, this is a very disappointing film.
2 out of 5 stars.

21 January 2011

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein (1957), Audio CD read by Lloyd James (2004)

'Citizen of the Galaxy' is one of many juvenile SF novels written by Robert Heinlein. It tells the story of a boy named Thorby. At the beginning of the novel, Thorby is a child slave on a feudal planet, who is bought by the beggar Baslim. Baslim becomes his surrogate father and teaches him the value of education and hard work. However, Baslim is more than a mere beggar and leads a mysterious second life. When the police arrest Baslim, Thorby flees the planet on a space freighter.

The early part of the story about Thorby's adventures with Baslim on the Arabian-Nights-like planet are moderately interesting. Once the boy begins his journey on the space freighter, the story grinds to a halt as Heinlein brain dumps his study of anthropology on the reader. Perhaps back in the 50s, the idea that there could be societies based on extended families was new and exotic but in this age of the multiculturalism, Heinlein's laborious explanation is tedious. At that point, I gave up continuing the story.

1 out of 5 stars.

29 October 2009

Review: Westworld (1973)

Sometime in the future, people can act out their fantasies in resorts populated by human-like robots. Two vacationers, Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) and his friend John Blane (James Brolin) holiday in the 'West World' theme park, where they get involved in wild west set pieces, including shoot-outs with a particular robot called the Gunslinger (Yul Brynner). Other vacationers go to other parts of the resort, 'Rome World' and 'Medieval World'. Of course, the robots go awry and decide to do away with the guests.

Writer-director Michael Crichton's cautionary tale about technology going bad is surprisingly clumsy at the start, given his prior experience as a film writer and director. There are slabs of dialogue between the vacationers explaining how the theme park and the robots work, followed by even more exposition between engineers as they try to figure out what is going wrong with the robots. One feels that Crichton strayed too far from the technology that he was familiar with because the technobabble is very vague and does not stand up to mild scrutiny.

Where he does well is to create a believable tone and setting on a very tight budget, with parts of the film reminiscent of 'The Andromeda Strain'. The blurred line between humans and robots is illustrated in one striking sequence, the night-time collection of the 'dead' robots by emotionless human technicians. The film also features some of the first CGI effects, showing the Gunslinger's point of view.

Yul Brynner, who has virtually no lines of dialogue, is the most memorable is the implacable Gunsligner. Dressed in a similar costume as his character Chris in 'The Magnificent Seven', Brynner simply dominates all his scenes. The chase through the deserted resort complex is one of the best ever made.

3 out of 5 stars.