Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012) Gone But Never Forgotten

I was sad to hear that Neil Armstrong died yesterday. He was a true American hero and pioneer. He will be missed but he will live on in the history books of the world as the man who walked on the moon and said those iconic words as he planted the American flag on the moon’s surface.

I say that he was a hero. Of course he was. My somewhat limited definition of a hero is pretty straightforward. A hero is an individual who generations of schoolchildren and other more adult people look up to. They are touched by their achievements and strive to live their lives as the hero in question does.

I also say that he was a pioneer. My definition of a pioneer is also quite straightforward. As a child raised on stories of the settlers in the early years of America making their way across a country so vast to find places that no man had seen before, Armstrong fall in that category easily. He was making his way across space.

All the astronauts were heroes and pioneers, and they still are. Like the Star Trek narration states at the beginning of every episode, “To boldly go where no man has gone before.”

I was ten, almost eleven, years old when the moon landing was televised worldwide. I can remember sitting with my parents in front of the television and watching the ‘scratchy’ and noise filled images that came from space of these brave men and their first steps on the moon.

All of us in the room that day were excited and fearful. No one knew what this might mean to the world. We had not only broken our earthly boundary but we’d landed on another ‘planet.’ We were all very proud to be Americans that day. The first country in the world to put a real man on the moon to interact the the existing ‘man’ on the moon.

I do remember, much to my embarrassment, that just after Neil Armstrong had utter those words destined to go into the history books, I turned to my parents and said, “How come we can land on the moon, but we can’t get a decent picture of it? Why is it so fuzzy?” If I remember correctly I think both my parents laughed and then told me to ‘Quieten down’ until the broadcast was finished.

You can read books that were written about that time that have nothing to do with space and a lot of them will have made a reference to that event. The date 20 July 1969 is an important date for all of mankind not just for America. I remember reading a book by John Ketwig called …and a hard rain fell: A GI‘s True Story of the War in Vietnam. In it he tells of walking around the countryside in Thailand and telling, and showing with the aid of matches and a rubber band,  local villagers about the moon landing.

Neil Armstrong hero, pioneer, father, brother, man. Like Icarus, he flew and challenged the Gods. His words, “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” Will be his legacy for generations to come.  Neil has made his last journey, one that has taken him higher than the moon.

Neil Armstrong gone, but never forgotten. RIP great man, we’ll remember you as long as we breathe. I know for certain that I will.

Today Mars, Tomorrow the Universe

Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey
Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Monday was a real red letter day for NASA (You see what I did there?). Their nuclear powered discovery vehicle, the aptly named ‘Curiosity‘ has not only managed to land on Mars but it has sent it’s first pictures back.  Pretty exciting stuff and it’s guaranteed to pique the interest of every ‘wanna-be’ astronaut and space scientist the world over.

NASA is also one step closer to building that ‘giant’ rocket that will be necessary to send bigger payloads up into space. With a projected launch date of 2017, it’s beginning to look like a manned mission to Mars might just happen in my life time.

It’s about time.

NASA,  like everyone else, has suffered from the world-wide funding problems that plague us all. The space program has had some pretty devastating cutbacks in recent history and they are now moving ahead at ‘warp-speed’ to catch up.

With the world concentrating on the 2012 London Olympics and daily bad news updates of scandal, shootings and subterfuge it’s nice that outer space issues can still generate interest.

Most importantly, this Mars landing is a benchmark event. The next step will be, of course, a manned flight. If we can send folks to Mars and it turns out that we can use the planet as a ‘stepping stone’ to the rest of the galaxy, how wondrous would that be. We could literally explore, in person, the rest of the galaxy and the universe.

I can still remember the first moon landing in 1969. I was eleven and my brother was about three or four. We all watched this momentous event on my parent’s huge Curtis-Mathis entertainment centre. My father was, if you’ll pardon the expression, over the moon. He told us about one of his school teachers, Mrs. Jones.

She had told all her students that man would one day walk on the moon in his quest to conquer the stars. Needless to say, way back in the early 1940’s this was an almost heretical view. Man had only really come to grips with aeroplanes and jets were just making their appearance known towards the end of WWII. She was called ‘crazy old Mrs. Jones.’

My father said that she was fairly old (although to a child, anyone over the age of thirty is old)  when he was a child, but he hoped that she had lived long enough to see the landing and to hear those historical words. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

I like to think that she saw and heard her vision come true as well.

It was ‘crazy old Mrs Jones’ that I instantly thought of when the Curiosity sent back her first low resolution pictures of Mars surface. I can only hope that live long enough to see the first manned flight land on Mars.

English: Manned mission to Mars : Ascent stage...
English: Manned mission to Mars : Ascent stage (NASA Human Exploration of Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0) fev 2009 Français : Mission habitée vers Mars : étage de remontée (NASA Human Exploration of Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0) fev 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hunter Prey (2010): Survival of the Fittest

Every once in a while you find a little gem of a film hidden amongst the usual low budgeted dross that passes for entertainment. I’m not talking about the kind of film that is so bad it’s good. I’m referring to a film that, despite it’s low budget, looks and feels like a bigger budgeted studio release.

Hunter Prey  is that kind of film. It’s not a “stops your heart” kind of film but it is damn good. My daughter and I found this science fiction film as we were ‘cruising’ Netflix for something a bit different to watch. We both thought it sounded interesting so we gave it a go. The film entertained, and did not expect too much from it’s audience in the way of suspending disbelief. The acting was way over par compared to similarly budgeted films.

Directed by Sandy Collora, he also co-wrote the story with Nick Damon. It had a good solid cast, Damion Poitier (no relation to Sidney), Isaac C. Singleton Jr.Clark Bartram, Collora himself as a bounty hunter and best of all it featured the voice of the beautiful and talented Erin Gray. The entire cast apart from Collora and Gray have a solid background in the stunt world.

Collora got his start as a teenager working as an assistant at Stan Winston Studios, which is why the prosthetics and ‘alien’ make-up looked so good. This film looks like a real labour of love for Collora and considering that the budget for the film was under 500,000 dollars also looks tight and well put together.

At the start of the film we see a spaceship explode and what looks like an escape pod jettison down towards a planet. The planet the survivors  land on is a huge desert planet. If there is any water at all, it must be buried so deep that finding it would be an impossibility. There are four survivors from the crashed escape pod.

Two of them are by some rocks with their weapons held ready. The third and fourth are by the wreckage. As one survivor points out where the other two are he is shot and the one he was talking to dashes for the rocks joining his companions. Off in the distance is another survivor, he is armed and he is firing at the others.

The film then goes into ‘cat and mouse’ mode for the reminder of the film. We find out that the other survivor is a dangerous predator alien whose home planet has been destroyed. It must be captured alive. This is proving to be difficult as it appears that the alien is a pretty good marksman.

For the first quarter of the film, no one removes their head gear. The computer link they access, Clea (Erin Gray) tells them that she is analysing the planet and its atmosphere to see if it’s safe to remove them.

When they finally remove their head gear we see who these survivors are and despite their military behaviour and speech, they are not what we thought they were. The alien who spends the first third of the film killing his captors, isn’t what he seems either.

I will admit that I saw the ‘plot twist’ coming after the first fifteen minutes of the film. Mainly because I thought it would be pretty damn cool if that’s where they were going with it. It turned out they were, so I sat feeling pretty smug for the rest of the film.

As prosthetics were used for the vast majority of the actors, they all deserve kudos for the high calibre of their acting. Of course having an experienced professional like Erin Gray along for the ride, even if it was only her voice, added a lot to the believability of the characters. Clea’s interaction with Centauri 7 was brilliant. Gray manages to exude a warmth and humour to her computerised character. Combine that with Poitier’s performance and you have a pretty good double act.

The only thing that bother me though were those great prosthetics. I kept thinking that the aliens seemed awfully familiar. I finally realised halfway through the film that they made me think of Lou Gossett Jr. as the alien in the 1985  science fiction film Enemy Mine. When Hunter Prey  finished, I quickly checked and found that they only very vaguely resembled the alien in the 1985 film. I’ll have to keep looking to see if I can find out why the damn things looked so familiar.

I would write a whole lot more about this film, but to do so would spoil the fun. Like I said, I guessed the plot twist but my daughter, who is a pretty dab hand at ‘second guessing’ films, missed it completely.

One thing I did want to point out was the fact that Hunter Prey was shot entirely with a RED camera on location in Mexico, making it another digitally produced science fiction film like the film Monsters also made in 2010 and also shot entirely on location. Another excellent example of why digitally produced films can be just as good as the traditionally filmed ones.

The end verdict of the  film is that it’s great entertainment. We liked it so much we bought the DVD to see if there are any special features and to watch it a ‘few more times.’

Oh and if anyone has any ideas on why the damn aliens looked so familiar, drop me a line. Okay?

Prometheus (2012) Some Assembly Required

Like the rest of the world, I have been eagerly anticipating the release of this film. Although I will admit to having a little bit of trepidation, with the bad taste that  the “prequel” of The Thing”  produced still lingering in my mouth. But I have to say, as prequels go, this was a corker. Although director Ridley Scott has gone on record stating that this film  is not really a prequel, per se. It is set in the same universe (gee thanks, Ridley. I didn’t see that one coming), I mean come on. The sets on the alien world, the finding out what the “space jockey” from Alien really was. This was a prequel, right down to the fact that the owner of the company was obviously a relation of  Charles Bishop Weyland  that we first meet in Aliens vs Predators. So stop being so fey and coy Ridley, cos like it or not this is a “prequel.”

The film starts with a spaceship hovering over a landscape that seems to be mostly rushing water. A big albino type fellow drinks some kind of gel-like substance and starts getting some green moss-like looking stuff growing on his skin. His body starts breaking apart and then falls into a waterfall. As the rest of his body disintegrates we are treated to images of DNA strands changing, breaking apart and reforming. I will admit, this whole sequence left me a little confused. It was not until I got home and looked up the film on  Wikipedia that I found out that this was the “seeding” of Earth. Cue face-palm.

After this “seeding” we are now in 2089. A team of archaeologists are in the Isle of Sky Scotland and have found cave paintings showing a big chap pointing to six “planets.”  Fast-forward to 2093 and we are on a spaceship. It is on it’s way to the six planets that were on the cave painting.

The first person  we meet is David (Michael Fassbender) he is a robot. The kind of Artificial Intelligence that is prevalent in the Alien verse. He is obviously a predecessor of the ‘evil’ Ash that we met in Alien. Fassbender is beyond brilliant as the ‘robot’ David. We see what his everyday routine is during the two year journey to the planets. He plays basketball while riding a bicycle, he watches films (and seems especially attracted to Lawrence of Arabia), learns languages, eats, drinks, and  (somewhat disturbingly) listens in on the dreams of his fellow passengers while they are in hyper-sleep.

David, we find out, was a special creation of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) who is financing this trip. Weyland tells the crew (in a holographic “beyond the grave” message) that David is in essence his surrogate son. David’s level of AI is so high that it appears that he can have opinions, likes, dislikes and hidden agenda’s. If Fassbender doesn’t get at least an Oscar nomination for this performance, I will be amazed.

We then meet Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) a type-a personality whose job is to make sure this little expedition goes as planned. Theron and Fassbender are by far the most interesting characters in the film. Theron was told to “blend” in the background in a lot of the scenes and all that does is make her character  appear suspicious and a little threatening.

The “heroine” of the film is Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw. She is the Ripley of this little space opera. Unfortunately Noomi is not Sigourney Weaver. Don’t get me wrong. I think Noomi Rapace is a brilliant actress. I saw her performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. And it was right after her stunning work in that film that she got the role of Shaw. I just didn’t, and still don’t truth be told, see why the main protagonist of the film had to be a woman…again.

We’ve seen it all before, most notably in Alien and Aliens. Ripley was a “kick-ass” heroine. Shaw just doesn’t have quite the same impact. In fact none of the characters have a lot of impact. The only exceptions are Vickers, David, and Janek (Idris Elba) who for some reason are more fully fleshed out as characters. Even the appearance of Weyland towards the end of the film is very scant on character development.

I got the feeling while watching this film that a lot of it wound up on the editing room floor. What was left had a feeling of being uneven or disjointed. It also had, what I felt, were “see Spot run” scenes. After Shaw’s husband is vindictively contaminated with alien goo by David, we are given a short scene between Elizabeth and her hubby. We are spoon fed the following information: Elizabeth cannot conceive and her husband still loves her in spite of this and makes love to her to show it. We didn’t really need the scene or the information it gave us. When David finds the alien life growing in Elizabeth’s body, we could have filled in the blanks. The knowledge that Shaw cannot conceive is extraneous to the film’s plot and serves no real purpose.

I would have liked seeing more of Theron and David and Janek. These three were the best written and acted in the film. I realise that it sounds like I did not like the film.

I did like the film. A lot.

I liked the premise of it and the execution of events once they arrived at the planet. And yes, Ridley, I saw direct connections between your prequel and the rest of the Alien verse. So despite the fact that I felt there was a lot of footage that never made it into the finished film. I still enjoyed it and will probably get the special edition DVD when it comes out for the  ‘making of’ features.

Over all it is definitely worth seeing in the cinema. I saw it in 2D and not 3D so I don’t know if this changes the overall look of the film, but I am not tempted to re-see it in 3D to find out.