Back To Their Roots
By Carl Kozlowski
In their new films, directors Ridley Scott and Wes Anderson return to brands that launched them
Nearly every great artist hits a dry spell at some point. For directors Ridley Scott and Wes Anderson, the dry spell in each of their careers seemed to hit at about the same time, in the middle of the last decade.
For after winning the Best Director Oscar for Gladiator in 2000 and directing the box office smash Hannibal the following year, Scott tried to make a genteel comedy with his frequent star Russell Crowe and proceeded to have a really bad year when A Good Year bombed at the box office. And after starting his career with the triple whammy of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and the Oscar-nominated The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson lost a step with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and scored rave reviews but little box office returns when he made the stop-motion animated film The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
But both have returned to the well with their newest films, with mostly good results. Scott opens Friday with Prometheus, a sci-fi/horror epic that isn’t a prequel to his 1979 classic Alien but sets the stage for it nonetheless. Anderson, meanwhile, is trying to reclaim the quirky classic charm of his first trilogy with Moonrise Kingdom.
The cast of Moonrise is amazing, showing just how badly even top Hollywood talent is dying to work with the whimsical king Anderson. Featuring Bruce Willis as a humble and lonely police chief of a fictional island off the New York coast, plus Bill Murray as the father of an ostensibly troubled teenage girl, Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as her mother and Edward Norton as a scoutmaster who springs into action when one of his boy troops runs away, it’s easy to admire the cast and the always-unique visual sense Anderson brings to the screen.
What’s less easy to grasp this time is a story that isn’t too compelling. Anderson reins in the stylistically excessive sprawl that overwhelmed The Life Aquatic while opening up the too-limited world of TheDarjeeling Limited, showing us life on an island through a child’s eyes in 1965, a time before children’s sense of the world was inherently corrupted by changing social mores and rampant media.
The story follows the escaped scout and his attempt to run away with the troubled girl and naively forge a life together, at least for the nine days they have enough supplies to last. There’s charm in their attempts to act sophisticated and some laughs to be had in the adults’ over-the-top reactions to it all, but the sheer amount of quirky details flying by on a constant basis renders it all too precious for us to really care about until the surprisingly affecting ending. Moonrise is like a work of art that’s nice to look at in a museum, but you wouldn’t want to analyze it regularly at home.
Meanwhile, Prometheus is a sci-fi epic set about 75 years in the future, when a team of scientists is flown into space to track down a planet seemingly referred to in numerous cave paintings around planet Earth. The businessman financing the expedition believes that the ruling creatures of the planet in the paintings might have visited Earth at the dawn of time and created us, rather than God.
But an astronaut on the trip, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), maintains a belief that the typical Western Earthling’s version of God created all life, including those of the aliens they are pursuing. As she and the team around her hurtle into space and land on the planet they are seeking, they find that they have stirred up trouble far beyond what they ever could have anticipated.
Prometheus is a complex, rich, adult piece of sci-fi that dares to mix scary moments in with deeply philosophical discussions on the nature of existence and where all life originates. Not having seen Alien or Aliens in a very long time, I’m judging the film on its own terms, and believe it was a haunting, well-acted and ambitious piece of work that has incredible visuals from top to bottom on a massive scale across the style spectrum from Anderson.
But other critics who were passionate fanboys of the prior Alien films noted some scary moments but generally parsed it to pieces, pointing out what they deemed to be plotholes in the film’s connection to the other films in the series. It seems that the more you’re into the first two films in the series, the less you’ll be into Prometheus. But if you’re looking for a good scary thoughtful film in its own right, not to mention one that had a scene so intense I was clasping my cheeks for five solid minutes in terror, this might just do the trick.