Jun 16, 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2

I didn't blog about Season 2 of Game of Thrones nearly as much as I did about Season 1. Some of the reasons are personal - shifts in priorities and interests - but mostly it has to do with my lack of real excitement about the second year of the show. It was unquestionably still great television, but I find myself not entirely thrilled with the direction it took.

One problem that Season 2 has is its source material. While Game of Thrones needed only marginal trimming and simplifying, A Clash of Kings is a much broader epic with a bigger cast of characters, more events and generally just not really a ten episode book. Entire storylines are cut or completely redone in order to fit the story into the small frame, and the simplifying has gone beyond anything in Season 1.

The other disappointment is the budget. This isn't really HBO's fault, considering how expensive the show already is, but the fact remains, that Game of Thrones Season 2 feels cheap. The production values are still great, the setting, costumes, special effects... everything is top notch. Except... the show does back flips in order to avoid having to show us the big guns. Daenerys' dragons are constantly caged, the cages covered with flaps. The direwolves are barely seen, and when they are, they almost never stand next to a human so that there would be no need to magnify them. Battles between armies are just as scarce as in Season 1, and honestly, by this point of the story the entire realm is at war. To show no battles is absurd, and makes the War of the Five Kings seem like a backyard brawl since you only ever see pompous pricks yelling at each other and talking about battles that happened "somewhere else".

And last but not least Season 2 suffers from the late True Blood syndrome in which every episode follows all storylines simultaneously, thus giving each no more than a few minutes. That means that no storyline progresses visibly in a single episode, and poorly hides the fact that many of them don't really progress throughout the entire season. An except to that rule is the fantastic Episode 9, written by Martin and focusing exclusively on the events at King's Landing.

However, the show is still amazingly well done in most every other aspect, and those are many and important. The acting is on a great level, with the fan favorites Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Conleth Hill (Lord Varis) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) once again stealing the spotlight whenever they appear. Other great performances are those of Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister, Stephen Dillane as Stanis Baratheon, Carice van Hauten as Melisandre, and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth. Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon is brilliant in his horridness, but I am not sure this isn't just the kid looking like an evil sleaze by default. Even Lena Headey has made the role Cersei Lannister her own and gives us much more than in the previous season, though still nowhere near what the character should have been.

All in all, so far HBO delivers, but I am happy that Season 3 will only cover half of A Storm of Swords, because this series deserves better, and the first year of Game of Thrones showed us that it can deliver when there is enough room to work in. Meanwhile, Season 2 is great but flawed, and it definitely didn't get me nearly as happy as I hoped I would be.


Jun 9, 2012

Movies: Prometheus

I am not a movie critic. I am not even a connoisseur of movies. I will always appreciate a good camera or lighting, music and script, but I don't go out of my way to analyze them, and I don't know more than the top people who work in those fields. I say this without any disrespect for the people who live and breath movies. They understand them better and appreciate them more. Except for when they don't. And in those rare cases my position of a well educated fan gives me more.

I don't care about Ridley Scott. Not that I don't care for him, I have nothing but utmost respect for the guy. However, he has never made a single movie that I've actually loved, and therefore I don't hold him on any sort of pedestal. I had no special expectations for Prometheus, and so it was hard to me to share in the overall whine of how not-phenomenal the movie turned out to be.

A direct (and sadly contradictory) prequel of Alien, the movie follows the crew of the ship Prometheus on its mission to a world where a couple of archeologists believe the ancient creators of humankind are waiting for them, having left clues to the location of the planet in ancient civilizations. Things go wrong - as they tend to - and the movie ends more or less with the alien pretzel ship in the awkward sitting position that the crew of the Solako will find it some decades later (and 33 years ago).

Now, as to why Prometheus is awesome - first of all, the visuals are often breathtaking. The first fifteen minutes give you everything you could possibly desire from a space opera, and for the most part the movie is a celebration of massive ancient alienry at its best. Even sprawling Scandinavianesque vistas aside, there are scenes that are just gorgeous, like the archeologists' first entry in the separate life pod, with its opulence, the screen showing pretty earth nature and unobtrusive classical music.

Music is another strong side of the movie. Not because it is that amazing and memorable - though it is surprisingly good considering what I've grown used to lately - but because of the subtle ways it's often used, especially in the end credits. And finally, two beautiful performances by Michael Fasbender as the android David who - while not groundbreaking in his portrayal, does a superb job of being otherworldly, and slightly menacing in his servitude; and Charlize Theron who proves that nothing works better in the hot summer as an ice queen, even if her character is almost offensively pointless.

"Pointless" more or less describes half the people in Prometheus, and the movie suffers from a complete lack of credible characterization. You care about Fasbender and maybe Theron solely because of the quality of their performance and in no way because of anything compelling about their characters. The rest don't have even that. The cast's main heroine Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, here without a dragon tattoo) has literally one scene to show anything memorable (you'll know it when you see it, and it's pretty gross), and is in no way a competitor for the Tough Space Bitch throne that Sigourney Weaver proudly sits on.

The plot is a little bit dumb. Inconsistencies with the canon aside, there is entirely too much Creationism in the subtext for comfort, and the entire "faith" theme that Rapace's heroine represents is simply insulting on an intellectual level. Concepts like "most fundamental questions evah", "faith" and "seeking answers!" fly about like ricocheting bullets, never really hitting any relevant mark. On the plot level, the reasons for the mission and the alien revelations - once revealed - are simply laughable. Not "cringe in anger" laughable, but laughable enough that Prometheus loses all credibility as anything more than a well made summer blockbuster.

And that's where the problem really is for the most disappointed viewers. Alien gave us a universe where spaceships can be old rattling lackluster things operated by lower working class people who could care less about boldly going anywhere or finding anything other than their next paycheck. It told us that in space no one can hear you scream. Prometheus gives us broad pretty vistas and some unmemorable monstrosities while characters talk big. It is a solid summer movie, and well worth the price of admission. But it will leave no mark in cinema whatsoever.


Jun 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury Dies at Age 91

Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes and many other beloved works, died this morning in Los Angeles. Details here.

May he rest in peace.