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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Science Fiction

'Prometheus': Should Ridley Scott return to sci-fi full time?

June 11, 2012 |  8:30 am

Director Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"Since making us cover our eyes and drop our jaws with 1979's "Alien," Ridley Scott has had a remarkably diverse career, even by the standards of established directors with broad appetites.

He's taken us into a world of political intrigue and bloody jousting ("Gladiator"). He's gone militaristic ("Black Hawk Down"), medieval ("Robin Hood" and "Kingdom of Heaven"), Japanese ("Black Rain") and undercover ("American Gangster"). He even tried the reborn wine guy in France ("A Good Year," even if it wasn't that for him).

Some of these adventuresome meanderings have been compelling ("Thelma & Louise"). Some have been less so ("G.I. Jane").

But the success of "Prometheus" this past weekend suggests something many Scott fans have suspected all along. Maybe all we really want from the director is to watch him do what he announced himself as good at from the start: explore a mysterious and troubled spacecraft far above the Earth, deep into the future.

"Prometheus" scored $50 million in its opening weekend, good enough for a strong second-place finish to "Madagascar 3" (and, it should be noted, garnering a better per-screen average). As my colleague Amy Kaufman pointed out, the Fox release was Scott's second-best opening ever (after 2001's "Hannibal"). The results hark back to "Alien," which is not only a similarly effects-driven movie with spiritual and scientific themes, but Scott's highest-grossing movie ever when adjusted for inflation.

More than just ticket sales, "Prometheus" earned Scott some of his best (if also polarized) reviews in a long time — and certainly some of his sharpest fan interest. Love or hate the movie, it's a conversation piece in a way a Scott film hasn't been in years.

The irony in the debate about whether the plot details the Michael Fassbender- and Noomi Rapace-starring "Prometheus" amounted to an "Alien" prequel — a battle waged with gusto by fans (and denied with gusto by Scott and the studio) — is that in the most important way, the movie did connect to the 1979 classic. Scott wasn't just revisiting science-fiction territory, he was using special-effects tools and the mysteries about the future to pose questions about the present.

From a box-office standpoint, the answer to the headline question is a resounding yes — few directors have done so many different things only to find success disproportionately in one realm.

From the perspective of Scott's — and our — interests, the answer is less evident, but, I'd argue, still clear. Yeah, we can hear all the comments already. Filmmakers should follow their heart and their story, challenging themselves with the new. Scott's done the sci-fi thing again now; he should move on.

Sure, some of the best directors — Danny Boyle, Ang Lee — never come close to repeating themselves. But even the most libertarian, let-directors-do-their-thing type might sing a different tune with Scott. The Brit has a particular gift for looking far off and seeing something that resides within ("Blade Runner," though set on this Earth, operates on this principle too.) Why doesn't he use it more often?

A filmmaker who keeps making the same movie or tries to reclaim past glories with endless spins on the same genre (see under: latter-day Tim Burton) is indeed boring.  But staying within a genre doesn't mean you can't also reinvent that genre or yourself (see under: Guillermo del Toro). The world's most successful auteur, in fact, sees the one-genre approach not as a prison but the culmination of a lifetime's search (see under: James Cameron evacuating all other projects to concentrate on "Avatar" sequels).

Scott may well listen to the voices that tell him to go period Rome or rural France. He's already preparing to direct "The Counselor," a legal drama with a drug-trafficking twist, and may make a sojourn to biblical Egypt afterward. But it's becoming harder to argue that he shouldn't just concentrate on booking return trips to outer space.


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— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Which Ray Bradbury title merits a 21st century film? [Poll]

June 6, 2012 |  3:56 pm

1980 "Martian Chronicles" scene
Over his half-century career, Ray Bradbury had a host of stories and novels produced for the big screen. He also had numerous properties in development at Hollywood studios — many of them put there not that long ago, relatively speaking.

Including “The Illustrated Man” (in development at Warner Bros. with Zack Snyder and Frank Darabont) and “The Martian Chronicles” (in development at Paramount with producer John Davis), no fewer than four Bradbury pieces currently sit in the feature-film pipeline waiting for a push from the right producer or executive. Which piece of material would you most like to see make a return (or first) engagement on the big screen? Mull, then vote in our poll below.




Author Ray Bradbury dies at 91

Hero Complex: Ray Bradbury a 'sci-fi' writer?

PHOTOS: Ray Bradbury's influence on TV and film

Ray Bradbury was a huge influence on the film world too

— Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from the 1980 Rock Hudson miniseries "The Martian Chronicles." Credit: NBC.

Ray Bradbury was a huge influence on the film world too

June 6, 2012 |  9:03 am

The death of Ray Bradbury Tuesday night at the age of 91 throws into relief not only his literary legacy but his abundant influence on the movie world.

Starting with the Jack Arnold-directed "It Came From Outer Space," about the crash-landing of a mysterious craft in the Arizona desert, in 1953, Bradbury's work has formed the basis of numerous films.

Rod Steiger starred in a 1969 adaptation of his futuristic short-story collection "The Illustrated Man." In 1983, Jason Robards took on Bradbury's horror novel, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," about a pair of teenage boys who experience nightmares when a carnival comes to town.

PHOTOS: Ray Bradbury | 1920 - 2012

And in perhaps the most notable big-screen spin on Bradbury's work, French New Wave pioneer Francois Truffaut helmed a version of Bradbury's dystopian book-burning classic "Fahrenheit 451" in 1966.

Bradbury's stories and novels also yielded many television adaptations, with the author also writing and creating the cable series "The Ray Bradbury Theater," a collection of standalone science-fiction and fantasy episodes.

In perhaps the most unusual collaboration between Bradbury and Hollywood, the author wrote the screenplay for the 1956 adaptation of "Moby Dick," which was directed by John Huston and starred Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab.

 New versions of Bradbury's work are scattered around Hollywood in various stages of development--a "Martian Chronicles" at Paramount, a "Farenheit 451" at Universal, an "illustrated Man" at Warner Bros.

FULL COVERAGE: Ray Bradbury | 1920 - 2012

Maybe more important than any particular film adaptation, however, is how Bradbury's aesthetic influenced a filmmaking zetigeist we now take for granted.

In print, he is often credited with elevating a genre from pulp to literature. His work had a similar effect on the movies, paving the way for the creation and broad popular acceptance of humanity-infused science-fiction hits ranging from "Star Wars" to "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to "Avatar."

[Updated at 9:56 a.m., June 6: "Close Encounters" director and science-fiction maestro Steven Spielberg released a statement calling Bradbury "my muse for the better part of my sci-fi career.... On the world of science fiction and fantasy and imagination he is immortal."]

Bradbury also left his mark on the fantasy genre, broadly defined, that would eventually yield "Harry Potter" and a host of other cultural landmarks. (Bradbury himself preferred the fantasy designation. “I'm not a science fiction writer,” he once said, “I've written only one book of science fiction [“Fahrenheit 451”]. All the others are fantasy. Fantasies are things that can't happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.”)

It's perhaps fitting that Ridley Scott's "Prometheus," emerging as the science fiction-fantasy hit of the summer, opens in the U.S. in the same week that Bradbury has died. It's hard to imagine it, or so many other high-profile films, without him.


Author Ray Bradbury dies at 91

PHOTOS: Ray Bradbury's influence on TV and film

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Fahrenheit 451." Credit: Universal Pictures

'Hunger Games': Which dystopian property does it most resemble?

March 23, 2012 |  5:00 am

Jennifer Lawrence in 'The Hunger Games': Click for more photos of the cast“The Hunger Games’” author Suzanne Collins has said that the myth of Theseus inspired her story of Katniss Everdeen bobbing, weaving and slaying for the entertainment of a depraved public. But Collins’ novels, and the Jennifer Lawrence film that will mint gajillions from it this weekend, call to mind plenty of more modern properties. Which one does it most, um, pay tribute to? The arguments, then a poll.

"The Running Man:" Collins may have held up a mirror-of-the-grotesque to our current reality-television culture. But writing as Richard Bachman, Stephen King anticipated that culture with his 1982 novella about a man who joins a life-and-death game show in a dystopian America. Seeking medicine for his sick daughter, Ben Richards (thin and weak, nothing like the superhuman Governator-to-be who would incarnate him in the 1987 movie) goes on a hair-raising run while a television-watching nation throws back some popcorn. There’s even a similar play on the government-backed Gamemakers: the government-backed Games Networks.

"Battle Royale:" The cult Japanese novel (1999) and movie (2000) has already gotten the Web-erati hot and bothered, especially with Collins’ saying she hadn’t read the book or seen the film. It’s easy to imagine why she might have: Koushun Takami’s novel and the Kenji Fukasaku movie that followed employ a similar premise to “The Hunger Games:" A group of kids are isolated and told that they must fight to the death until only one survives. Like the America-turned-Panem of Collins’ novels, the Japan of “Battle Royale” has devolved into some kind of amorphous, ominous land of little, where the government sees all and allows nothing.

REVIEW: 'The Hunger Games' is a winning story of sacrifice and survival

"Blade Runner:" Whenever a new sci-fi story comes around, there’s always that guy who says “Didn’t Ridley Scott do that already?’ That guy has a point here —sort of. Though it doesn’t contain the man-versus-machine element, “The Hunger Games” owes a debt to the 1982 Harrison Ford classic: There’s an American dystopia, a theme of hunter-and-hunted and a lot of people reading a lot of meanings into it.

"Nineteen Eighty-Four." We don't need to go through the motions on this one, do we? George Orwell’s 1949 novel tells of the dark and troubled land of Panem — er, Oceania — ruled by the Capito l— um, Party — a shadowy organization that is always watching and mandates that people follow its exact whims. Any reviewer reference to the Capitol of “The Hunger Games” as a Big Brother-type entity only reminds us that Orwell had a Big Brother too — the original.

"Lord of the Flies:" A couple of films put their own spin on the classic, but the premise of the William Golding novel is on its own spare, terrifying and not at all dissimilar from “The Hunger Games.” After an unspecified disaster, a group of well-heeled young boys crash on an island. They try to band together, but their Darwinian natures get the better of them and they engage in ruthlessly primitive behavior in the name of survival. Unlike “Hunger Games,” here it’s human nature instead of government dictates that prod them to savage behavior. Tomato, tomahto.


Review: 'The Hunger Games'

"The Hunger Games:" Parents ask 'should I take my kids?'

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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Jennifer Lawrence "The Hunger Games." Credit: Lionsgate

Berlin Film Festival: With 'Iron Sky,' Nazis land on moon

February 15, 2012 |  6:22 pm


Nazis on the moon.  It’s hardly the topic you’d expect from a Finnish film at the artsy and often earnest Berlin International Film Festival, which takes place in a city that sometimes feels weighed down by its history.

But one of the most talked-about films in this year’s festival has turned out to be “Iron Sky,” a quirky sci-fi parody with aspirations to political satire that has grabbed the attention of international press and audiences as much for its creation mythos as its plot. The movie also will be screening next month at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.  (You can watch a trailer below.)

“Science-fiction has been going around this idea for a long time -- circling around Nazis in space. Why circle? Why don’t we just do Nazis in space?” asked Timo Vuorensola, the film’s director, pointing out that the Galactic Empire in "Star Wars" and several worlds in "Star Trek" are clearly modeled on Nazi Germany.  “Every science-fiction TV series has its Nazis -- and every science-fiction film has more or less its Nazis -- well, not every one, but many epic ones.  So this is taking that one step forward: Let's just make it about Nazis!”  

Vuorensola, who is also lead singer for a Finnish industrial metal band, has just one previous film under his belt: the 2005 space spoof “Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning.” The low-low-budget film was released for free online, and has been downloaded millions of times.

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Around Town: 'Last Picture Show' and Duncan Jones

November 17, 2011 |  6:00 am

A 40th-anniversary reunion screening of “The Last Picture Show,” a tribute to the vintage TV series “Insight” and a personal appearance by filmmaker Duncan Jones with screenings of his films “Moon” and “Source Code” are among the offerings this weekend.

Director Peter Bogdanovich and stars Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Timothy Bottoms and Eileen Brennan join host Luke Wilson on Thursday evening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater for the special presentation of “The Last Picture Show.”

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Around Town: Black cinema, Sidney Lumet, monster movies and more

October 6, 2011 |  6:00 am



Halloween is coming early to the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre and Cinefamily’s Silent Movie Theater.

Director John Landis looks at monsters in the movies Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at the Egyptian. The director of 1978’s “Animal House,” the influential 1981 horror film “An American Werewolf in London” and Michael Jackson’s 1983 music video “Thriller” has written a book, “Monsters in the Movies.” Landis opens the monster mash with two pre-code classics: 1933’s “Island of Lost Souls,” based on H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, and Rouben Mamoulian’s visually striking 1931 version of “ Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” for which Fredric March won his first lead actor Oscar in the dual role. Landis will appear in person at the screening. On tap for Saturday is a Frankenstein triple bill: 1931’s “Frankenstein,” 1935’s superior sequel “Bride of Frankenstein” and the underrated 1939 “Son of Frankenstein.” The retrospective concludes Sunday evening with two black-and-white ghost chillers: Jack Clayton’s 1961 “The Innocents,” based on Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” and Robert Wise’s “The Haunting.” http://www.americancinematheque.com

Cinefamily celebrates the sequels to famous horror films Thursday night with a triple bill of 1981’s “Halloween II,” 1987’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors” and 1984’s “Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter.” http://www.cinefamily.org

The UCLA Film & Television Archive launches its ambitious two-month-long retrospective “L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema” Friday evening at the Billy Wilder Theatre. The festival looks at some 50 African-American filmmakers who attended UCLA from the mid-1960s through the late 1980s. Julie Dash’s 1991 drama, “Daughters of the Dust,” and her 1975 short, “Four Women,” open “L.A. Rebellion” Friday evening. Dash will attend. Scheduled for the late afternoon Saturday is Zeinabu Irene Davis’ 2011 documentary, “Spirits of Rebellion: Black Film at UCLA." On tap for Saturday evening is Haile Gerima’s 1975-79 drama “Bush Mama” and Bernard Nicolas' 1977 short, “Daydream Therapy.” Nicolas will attend. A panel of the “L.A. Rebellion” filmmakers, including Dash, Davis, Ben Caldwell and Larry Clark, is scheduled for late Sunday afternoon, followed by several experimental shorts, including Barbara McCullough’s 1979 “Water Ritual #1: An Urban Rite of Purification.”

The archive’s screening series at the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles continues Wednesday with a David Cronenberg double bill: 1986’s “The Fly” with Jeff Goldblum and 1983’s “Videodrome,” starring James Woods. http://www.cinema.ucla.edu

John Leguizamo, appearing at the Ricardo Montalban in “Ghetto Klown,” will be stopping by the Egyptian on Friday evening after his performance for the 10th-anniversary screening of Baz Lurhmann’s revisionist musical “Moulin Rouge!,” in which he costars with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman as painter Toulouse-Lautrec.

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Around Town: Steven Spielberg and a rare 'Trip to the Moon'

September 1, 2011 |  6:00 am

Steven Spielberg

The American Cinematheque is celebrating the early films of Oscar-winning director Steven Spielberg this week. The Aero Theatre is featuring two of his sci-fi classics: 1982's blockbuster "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" -- this is the 2002 extended cut re-release not the original -- and his first foray into the sci-fi genre, 1977's "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." And on Wednesday, the Egyptian presents the 40th anniversary screening of "Duel," the ABC TV movie that put Spielberg on the map as a filmmaker. Dennis Weaver stars in this lively thriller as a businessman driving on a stretch of deserted highway who suddenly finds himself being menaced by an unseen truck driver. The film did so well in the ratings it also had a brief theatrical release. Screening along with "Duel" is the automotive thriller "Vanishing Point," which is also celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. http://www.americancinematheque.com

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" also is this week's flick at the Outdoor Cinema Food Fest on Saturday evening at the Northridge City Little League. http://www.outdoorcinemafoodfest.com

One of the sensations of this year's Cannes Film Festival was the re-premiere of George Melies' seminal 1902 fantasy film, "A Trip to the Moon," which was featured in its newly restored, hand-colored version. The film will be screening Tuesday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theatre, along with several other silent goodies, including a restored "A Trip Down Market Street," a 1906 film shot in San Francisco just days before the famous earthquake hit. Tom Burton, head of the preservation department at Technicolor in L.A. who was in charge of the restoration of "Trip," and historian Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, will be discussing the films. http://www.oscars.org

The Aero Theatre presents Joel and Ethan Coen's 1987 comedy "Raising Arizona" on Thursday evening. Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter play a married couple with baby fever who can't conceive and so decide to kidnap a tyke. http://www.americancinematheque.com

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Around Town: True crime, reel comedy, cowboys, aliens, rock docs and more

July 21, 2011 |  5:30 am


Crime takes over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theatre this weekend with an eclectic roster of favorites beginning Thursday with the 1970 drama "The Honeymoon Killers," about the famed Lonely Hearts Killers Raymond Fernandez (Tony LoBianco) and Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler). Humphrey Bogart gives one of his most complex performances in Nicholas Ray's acclaimed 1950 film noir, "In a Lonely Place," screening Friday along with Robert Altman's 1973 version of Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" with Elliott Gould as gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Saturday's early evening screening is Luis Bunuel's surreal 1962 film, "The Exterminating Angel," with David Lynch's offbeat 2001 mystery thriller, "Mulholland Drive," screening later in the evening.

LACMA's Saturday monster movie matinees continue with the 1959's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," with James Mason and Pat Boone; the Tuesday matinee at LACMA features MGM's all-star 1933 comedy "Dinner At Eight," directed by George Cukor.  http://www.lacma.org

Two comedies starring Steve Martin at his wild and crazy best -- 1979's "The Jerk" and 1986's "Little Shop of Horrors" -- screen Thursday at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The laughs continue Friday evening with a series of shorts starring the great silent comedians Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

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Around Town: Rock docs, disco tributes, sci-fi favorites and more

July 14, 2011 |  6:00 am


The American Cinematheque screens "Barry Lyndon," Stanley Kubrick's lavish 1975 epic, at the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday evening in Hollywood. The drama, based on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, stars Ryan O'Neal in the title role and won four Academy Awards, including one for John Alcott's cinematography. On Friday, the Egyptian celebrates the 25th anniversary of David Cronenberg's revisionist take on the sci-fi classic "The Fly," starring Jeff Goldblum in the title role, with a screening that's part of a double bill with John Carpenter's 1982 film "The Thing." On Saturday, the Egyptian presents its yearly tiki celebration with a screening of the 1951 South Sea melodrama "Bird of Paradise," starring Debra Paget, Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler, in addition to live music and a fashion show.

The Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica celebrates the 1991 film "Hudson Hawk" on Thursday evening with special guests, including director Michael Lehman and writer Daniel Waters, schedules permitting. On Friday, the Aero kicks off its three-day centenary celebration of Ginger Rogers -- "Backwards and in High Heels" -- with two of her best musicals with Fred Astaire from 1936: "Swing Time" and "Follow the Fleet." On tap for Saturday are 1935's "Top Hat" and 1937's "Shall We Dance"; Sunday's offerings are 1934's "The Gay Divorcee" and 1938's "Carefree." http://www.americancinematheque.com

"The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye," a film about Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV founder Genesis P-Orridge and his unique relationship with his late wife, opens this year's "Don't Knock the Rock" music festival Thursday at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. The festival, founded by filmmaker Allison Anders and her daughter Tiffany Anders, runs through late August. Highlights include the world premiere of "Rhino Resurrected: The Incredibly Strange Story of the World's Most Famous Record Store."

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