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Prequels, sequels, and remakes are dangerous territory for any classic film. As such, I was anxious when last year I heard that Ridley Scott would be working on additions to two of my favourite films, Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982).

Early on Scott made it clear that the Alien Prequel and Blade Runner sequel would be parallel storylines ‘set in the same universe’ as the originals, rather than direct chronological expansions. I was optimistic as this method would allow Scott to take the best parts from the originals and alter the storyline, but without seriously upsetting how the originals are viewed.

On Monday night, after months of seemingly endless trailers, teasers, and spoilers, I finally got to see Ridley Scott’s Alien ‘prequel’ attempt, Prometheus. Easily one of the most anticipated films of the year, I desperately wanted to love it. Unfortunately, I have to agree with nearly every other critic when I say that it was a very poor film. Those expecting a film in the vein of Alien (or even its progressively worse sequels) will be let down. Prometheus is an entirely different film to Scotts original claustrophobic, dystopian, psychosexual nightmare.

The comparisons with Alien are easy to draw as explicit references and subtle allusions to it are made. Much has been said of actor Noomi Rapace embodying Sigourney Weaver’s powerful Ripley. However Rapace’s character, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, simply isn’t the same. Doctor Shaw is a passive protagonist who never really commands - as Ripley does in Alien - even when she is awkwardly thrust into the lead role. I saw this as being down to the undeveloped relationships between the 13 strong cast of Prometheus. Scott should have known how successful a small cast is of achieving genuinely human interaction, as his intimate crew of 5 (6 including Jones the cat) does in Alien. Confusingly, in Prometheus Scott decided to make the crew strangers to one another. The chance for interaction is further compounded later on when the crew splits up, a few staying on the ship and the rest exploring the moon.

Aside from the weak lead, one of the most concerning and irritating aspects was that Scott found the need to explain the origin or background of trivial features. From the first scene of an alien sacrificing itself to produce life on earth, to the dead father story for Shaw, the film was distracted and confused by a multitude of plot points.

The reason I am concerned by this apparent need for ‘origins’ is because I fear Scott will apply the same approach to the Blade Runner sequel he is working on. Unlike Ben Child at The Guardian, it was the mysteries of Blade Runner that first captured me and continue to intrigue me with every viewing. The complexity of the film is built through hints and allusions, miniscule details that are never visited on screen. Rachael’s comments appear to suggest that leather products are illegal, the vagueness with which the design and creation of replicants is treated contributes to the questions on exactly how human they are, and of course it is never resolved whether Deckard himself is a replicant.

In my opinion, leaving the viewer to consider and imagine makes an infinitely more enjoyable film. My worry is that the Blade Runner sequel will be treated in the same cack-handed manner as Prometheus, and will lose the humanity, claustrophobia, and mystery that defines the original.

@jclwilson

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Tacita Dean’s 11 minute silent eulogy to celluloid at the Tate Modern presented a problem when writing this review; would it be categorised as a film showing or an art exhibition? By virtue of its title and medium the answer should be obvious, however the work is much more complex. I believe it would be better described as an ‘experience’; exhibiting qualities of both cinema and gallery installation.

The art object is defined by its physicality, whether it be an oil on canvas or bronze sculpture, in contrast the film is a series of projected images, the celluloid itself is of no concern, existing merely as a helpful medium for the recording of such images. Dean’s oeuvre however has been defined by its attempts to address the physical nature of the film. The labour of carrying rolls of film, of meticulously cutting and sticking and the time spent contemplating and processing, cause, in her words, analogue films to made and seen quite differently to digital.

Various features have been employed throughout the exhibition, as in Brechtian theatre, to deny the seduction of the viewers senses, here in order to remind us of the physical nature of film and the process by which it has been made. I was made constantly aware, by the tracking holes visible on the projection, that the images flashing before my eyes had been carefully thought about, captured, and edited. The lack humans in the film prevents empathy, the lack of sound forces us to listen to the environment around us, I was reminded that I was merely an observer, uninvolved in the narrative.

Further confusion as to whether this is a display or film was brought about by the work’s sculptural qualities. The vertical format film is projected onto, rather than a screen, a vast monolith which stands a few metres from the end of the hall. It gives the work a presence that flat screens lack. I walked entirely around the projection, and was prompted to consider the aspects of film behind the camera or screen, the physical objects and labour we often forget about.

Dean shows us that film is a physical process, she celebrates the virtues of the medium. However this is in the context of the waning use of film and rise of digital cameras, the entire intention of this work is to remind us of the dying art of sooting on celluloid. Dean asserts that this isn’t a piece of nostalgia, as the very act of creating it shows the art isn’t dead.

Dean is trying to inspire the viewer by pushing the limits of celluloid, by shocking us she hopes to attract our interest. I saw parallels here with the avant-garde soviet film directors. Indeed the flash cut montage interspersed with tracking shots of steps instantly reminded me of the Odessa steps sequence in the Battleship Potemkin. However, the similarities I saw with the soviet directors made me question whether, if all that contemporary artists can do is regurgitate tropes from the earliest days of cinema, then perhaps film is indeed dead, or at least, stagnant.

For Dean though, my concerns for the medium are irrelevant, the importance of celluloid lies in the fact that, ‘its a beautiful medium, a different medium’. Though with the recent fall of Kodak, I worry whether this medium will last long.

@jclwilson

Yesterday I watched Metropolis in its entirety for the first time (including musical score). The film is quite strange, in the manner of much early cinema it is structured and directed as though it were a play on a stage. I found the pace of the film inconsistent, which made it difficult to watch at first. The technical effects were fantastic though, particularly the scene where Freder believes Maria is in love with his father. The depictions of machinery and the vast sets were likewise impressive. Often though I found the music inappropriate for the action on screen (unfortunately I haven’t determined which score it was).

My greatest concern though was with the message. Throughout the whole film an inevitable and violent decline is alluded to, the hedonistic excess of the upper city is compared with the functionalist austerity of the workers underground sectors. The viewer is constantly lead to expect a climactic finale of revolution, however no such occurs. The uprising of the oh-so-easily misguided workers is halted by a friendly exchange of words between the bosses. The hero is not the oppressed worker, but the inheritor of the rule, what is saved is not humanity but the existing social order of Metropolis.

However given the context that this film was made in, it’s no doubt that it had to carefully avoid inciting open revolt.