Alien

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful

It seems that every classic is to have an entourage. The loneliness of such films as Alien, Star Wars, and King Kong is too much to bear for the hearts of movie execs, so companions are made for them. Sequels, prequels, remakes, and spinoffs are what Hollywood does most, though not necessarily best. At times, this proclivity has born sweet fruit. Though sequels are rarely as good as the original, if the original was any good at all, there have been some smashing successes. Even remakes have some achievements to be noted. I am, however, unaware of a prequel or a spinoff whose makers could hold their heads high and proud once their creation hit the silver screen. Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, is unable to break out of this trend and be the first.

Set some years before the events of Victor Fleming’s work, it tells the tale of the wizard himself, a travelling magician from Kansas making a meager, day-to-day living. A magician is a trickster, of sorts, and Oscar Diggs (James Franco) has a character well suited to it. Though one gets the sense that at his core he is not entirely amoral, he lies to friend and stranger alike. He lusts after money and women, whom he tricks for his own benefit.

It is this very duplicity in his nature that gets him running from trouble and sets him on course for Oz. After flirting with the wife of a circus strongman, he escapes the enraged husband in a hot air balloon just as a tornado begins to ravage the landscape. As happened in the original film to Dorothy, the tornado transports him to the magical Land of Oz. There, he meets Theodora, a witch played by Mila Kunis.

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Live Free or Die by John Ringo

Live Free or Die by John Ringo

In 2010, John Ringo published the first book of the Troy Rising trilogy. Titled Live Free or Die, it is a story on a grand scale, a great symphony of a book but by an author who probably should stick to bagatelles. Though it started well and had my interest, it was a chore to get through most of it. There was enough creativity and verve for a short story, but by the end these had faded and I was glad to be finished.

It is the kind of story I imagine Ted Nugent would enjoy reading. Filled with gun-toting, rugged individuals who thrive on infuriating the Thought Police and composing odes to capitalism, the book might almost seem libertarian until one realizes just how besotted with militarism and American exceptionalism the author is. I have no problem with a man a bit rough around the edges, a touch short on couth and decorum, but Ringo at times goes beyond that into deliberate callousness, especially as regards sex and race.

There are many sensitive liberals who both need and deserve a little rattling from time to time, if only for our amusement, but there are just as many conservatives who could use a dose of circumspection, introspection, and nuance. I am tempted to suggest we lock Ringo in a room with his diametric opposites, to see if there might be a mutually beneficial rubbing off, but I am afraid someone would end up dying.

Live Free or Die begins with an alien race that establishes a portal in our solar system. They have no goals except to neutrally manage the portal, but the next race that appears is bent on imperial control of Earth. They begin by destroying some major cities and then demanding tribute. Though this species, the Horvath, is technologically backwards in comparison to other civilizations in the galaxy, they are yet far ahead of humans.

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Prometheus

Prometheus

One cannot help but notice that, cinematically speaking, director Ridley Scott’s best days seem to be behind him. They were glorious days, though short lived; nothing after Blade Runner could compare to his second and third films. One might also note that he left his best days behind at precisely the time when he left behind science fiction. It is understandable, then, if one supposes that a return to the genre that made him might also be a return to form. Alas, it is not so. Scott’s latest feature, Prometheus, is a disappointment even for one whose expectations were not that lofty.

Prometheus returns us to the universe of Alien, that sublime work of sci-fi horror that remade an entire genre. This time, it is the late twenty-first century, a few decades before Ripley, Dallas, Parker, and the rest will land on LV426. Cave paintings all over the world, and from many different millennia, have been found to depict a giant gesturing to the stars as smaller, human forms worship him. Through means not satisfactorily explained, two scientists, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), determine that this is an invitation from a race that created our kind. Not only that, but they are able to pinpoint the star system to which we have been beckoned. The infamous Weyland-Yutani corporation bankrolls a scientific expedition to the system and danger ensues.

A strange approach to the movie is taken, one which is a peculiar fit for a prequel to Alien. Whereas the original started when the story started, introduced us to believable characters whom we slowly came to know only by how they acted and interacted, and got down to the business of slowly creeping us out before scaring us senseless, Prometheus attempts a good deal more. It begins with an ill-advised prologue in which we see one of the mysterious beings, instead of discovering them for the first time with the crew later in the movie. After the prologue we see the prelude to the expedition, the scientists discovering one of the cave paintings, something rendered entirely unnecessary when they explain it all to the crew anyway after coming out of hypersleep. They even spend some time with character back story.

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The Thing

The ThingThe Thing, a remake of a remake of a solid sci-fi/horror film directed by, despite what the credits may tell you, Howard Hawks, is being projected onto silver screens in dollar theaters across the country right now. While a viewing of the movie does not immediately make clear why theater space would be made available for such a project, I strongly suspect that in the current climate of more-CGI-less-story-less-character, none of the other reels delivered to theaters contained anything more promising. In other words, for about the same reason I occasionally find myself eating broccoli. The best thing I can say for it is that there were a handful of stretches, some of them two or three minutes in duration, in which I forgot how forgettable the movie was.

In this third generation version, a young, good-looking scientist is asked to come to Antarctica and given no clear reason why. She is only told that it is important. When she arrives, she discovers the scientists stationed there are excavating an alien spacecraft buried in the ice a hundred thousand years ago. They have found a creature, also buried in the ice, that they believe came along with the ship. It is nothing more than a blurry form under the translucent surface, and next to nothing about it has been discovered.

They dig out a block of ice containing the extraterrestrial but, because this is sci-fi/horror, it escapes and is so unfriendly that people start dying. The rest of the movie is a desperate fight to survive in the most inhospitable environment offered on this planet that still has breathable air. For those keeping track, yes, there is a black man in this movie. No, he doesn’t make it. And that’s not a spoiler, either. As soon as I reported the monster’s escape from its prison you knew no black man was going to live long enough to read the credits.

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