Review: Prometheus

Spoiler free.

To say I’ve been a little bit excited about this film coming out would be perhaps somewhat of an understatement. I am a huge Ridley Scott fan and of the efforts he has made in the genre of science fiction, both films are in my all time top fifty*.

What with experimental Twitter campaigns and a whole bunch of different trailers (some perhaps giving away a bit too much for my liking) – excitement was at fever pitch. The question is: did it live up to the hype?

I think I can quite safely say, for me at least: Yes. It did.

However, Prometheus is not perfect. Not by any stretch. In fact, at one point in the film (after probably the most intense scene of 2012 to date) I let out an audible ‘WTF?’ when something pretty major just gets brushed to the side without question… Just, mental. But, as an immersive return trip to the shadowy world of the Weyland Corporation and everything around and therein, Prometheus wins.

We’ve been too long without a decent return trip to this universe of morally ambiguous androids and engineers. Admittedly, seeing the film in 3D at Britain’s biggest cinema (London’s BFI IMAX) definitely helped, but Scott’s hand and vision is clear throughout and we, the audience, benefit for it. Much has been lauded in the past about Ridley’s attention to detail, his penchant for creating actual things that exist in real time and space (as opposed to leaning too much on the sometimes clunky and too easy to spot CGI), and rightly so. Fans will be pleased to hear that, in Prometheus, that reputation continues unabashed.

Everything from the space suits (SUIT UP!) through to the choice of spatulas in the mess kitchen (no joke) has been thought through and it shows. That’s not to say that the film is CGI free, of course it can’t be, however, when employed, it too excels.

That’s the visuals taken care of, what of the cast?

Michael Fassbender is perfect casting as the ship’s resident android, David. Cold, quiet and utterly believable – it’s actually really hard to put a definition on what it is exactly that he does that nails the dead-behind-the-eyes, only-human-in-appearance robot. He’s part H.A.L., part Pinocchio and very, very well done. Good job.

Noomi Rapace, as the conflicted scientist and Ripley heir apparent, Dr Elizabeth Shaw, is also brilliant and shines here in her first (proper) English-speaking role. Shaw’s story-arc is probably the best and most interesting of all and, after one particularly harrowing scene, the entire theatre was on the edge of their collective seats – myself included – just waiting to see what she would do next. Arresting stuff.

Charlize Theron does well also, as does Idris Elba, but special mention must go to Brit-actor-playing-an-American number two, Rafe Spall. I had no idea he was in Prometheus so it was a pleasant surprise to see his face pop up out of cryo-sleep 15mins in. I’ve seen him in stuff before and I am a fan; his comedy grin helping him steal the short scenes that he appears in, wonderfully.


Well, yes. Quite.

The tagline ‘The search for our beginning could lead to our end’ is pretty spot on. There are obviously Alien elements throughout and, when the film closes, there is no doubt left as to where we came from and, maybe more importantly, where the eggs are laid for the Nostromo and her crew over the years ahead. Yes, there are a couple of gaping plot holes (and some really dumb ass character decisions), yes some of the scripting is on the clunky side but, oh my, there are some fantastic elements to Prometheus and I am bloody glad I saw it in the way I did.

In fact, I’m actually quite tempted to see it again.

And, while it doesn’t have the depth of suspense or the over-arching wrapper of horror/fear as its predecessor (as it will of course be forever continually compared against), Prometheus is a rather good sci-fi film and – faults aside – is one I would definitely recommend you go see.

Whatley out.

*I’m a filmy. I don’t do top tens or top fives. It’s top fifties all the way.


the social network

— a film by David Fincher

I am a fan of David Fincher. I’ve seen everything since Alien3 and loved nearly all of it. When it was announced that he would be lensing ‘the facebook movie’; among the naysayers, I was not.

A few months back, the trailer hit.

Superb. This past Monday I was invited to a preview screening care of Sony Pictures and it left my brain buzzing.

First off; the film on its own is a fantastic watch. Although, and it is an odd comparison to draw, very much like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the social network I think will only speak to people of a certain age. What is that certain age? I don’t know.

Actually, scratch that. it’s a generational thing. Fact.

Whatever way you look at it, the social network really is a great film; there is Fincher throughout, but quietly. Almost like he’s whispering in the background and steering gently from afar. His custom clean, dark-shaded visuals, of which he is a master, are there but the flights of camera-based fancy are almost non-existent (save for a set of stunning establishing shots at Henley on Thames; tilt-shifting never looked so good).

This is a Fincher film all over but he’s adult enough to step back and let it shine on its own. Good job.

For me, the title ‘the social network‘ itself is an interesting play on words, in that while it’s obvious that it refers to the software platform that our protagonists are squabbling over, it also resonates as a nod to the group of friends who started out on this journey together and furthermore, the ensemble cast that present them to us.

Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly believable as the nerdy but gifted Mark Zuckerberg character (a point to which I’ll come back later) and holds the film together well. For anyone that’s ever watched a single episode of The West Wing, the throwaway remarks and razor sharp dialogue will be distinctly Sorkin and, although the story is boldly told from different perspectives and narratives, it is clear that ‘Zuck’ is our hero; anti-, tragic or otherwise.

Justin Timberlake, as Napster founder ‘the evil Sean Parker’ is surprisingly very good. I’m not sure why I say ‘surprising’, I’ve always thought that he’d be quite a good actor however, there’s always something nudging at you when he’s on screen. That small voice in your head saying ‘Hey… Hey! That’s Justin Timberlake up there!’, but once you get past the first 10mins or so it settles down and you can enjoy his performance which, by the way, is as good as he is dislikeable. You want to punch him in the face. A lot.

Spider-Man-in-waiting, Andrew Garfield, is probably my favourite thing from the whole film. You feel his pain, his hurt, his lack of judgement, his anger.. All of it. He is a very talented actor and, for someone so young, brings immense gravitas to what could’ve quite easily have been just a one note role.

Fincher explains in the production notes that he’d never worked with such a young cast before (Aaron Sorkin also mentioning he’s never written so young either), so he pushed for take after take after take, sometimes up 80 or 90, just to make the language more casual

“If you’re not speaking at speed, then I won’t believe it”.

When Eduardo Saverin arrives late one night looking worn out from flying, it’s because Andrew Garfield had been shooting that scene for five hours and his exasperation shines through. It’s a punishing, yet fantastically rewarding technique. Love it.

Finally, on the casting front at least, a hefty hat tip to Armie Hammer who to plays both the Winklewoss twins with an ease that is almost unnatural. I’ll admit, he’s the only one of the main cast I haven’t seen in anything else before, however if he can play two of himself with ease (I can’t imagine the line learning, shooting technique, SFX etc that were needed for that casting decision), then he definitely deserves some special attention.

Sounding like Xerses from the 300 and towering over Jesse Eisenberg like a pair of Grecian Gods, he embodies the Harvard final final club elites perfectly. Jeremy Irons would be proud.

So what of the film? Well, it’s a tough one. The different times I’ve talked about it with friends and colleagues since viewing have produced multiple responses;

  • “It’s an Aaron Sorkin script, with a Fincher wrapping.”
  • “It’s a modern day myth”
  • “It’s all still so fresh.”

I’ve said it a number of times already, the film is great… BUT you find yourself watching it all with a healthy pinch of salt. I’ve read interviews with Mark Zuckerberg. A lot of interviews. His views on privacy, sociology, business… all of them are there if you look hard enough and there are certain characteristics which don’t come through in the film. Yes, we’re six years on (just six years) and no doubt he’s changed a fair amount but still, some of it didn’t ring true for me.

Which actually, isn’t that surprising given that Zuckerberg was the only one who refused to meet with the film-makers before, during or after production. C’est la vie. When you watch this film, remember you’re watching the characterisation of a real person. One that has been drawn and painted, by others, without any approval from the source. That’s all.

Let’s put it this way; if you’re under 40 and you have a Facebook account, see this film. If you’ve been a part of (or worked within) a start-up culture, see this film. If you’re a fan of Fincher or Sorkin, see this film.

The aforementioned bold decision to not stick to one core narrative will leave you wanting more, reaching for those parts still left untold and somehow feeling that you weren’t given the full story…

But I guess that’s the point.

No matter if you end up seeing the the social network or not, the final word has to go to Zuckerberg himself:

“We build products that 500 million people see…

…if 5 million people see a movie, it doesn’t really matter that much.”


The HTC Magic; 3 steps from perfect

James Whatley, finally gets his arse in gear and review the Vodafone HTC Magic

“Oh oh oh, it’s Magic!”

So sang the great 70’s British pop band, Pilot.

Little did they know that 30 years on, their lyrics would be used in conjuntion with my love for this wonderful device. This, the second of the Android OS handsets to hit the industry as we know it – the Vodafone exclusive HTC Magic – has been a joy to use and has also, shockingly enough, kept me away from my much-loved N95 8GB.

Shes a beauty
She's a beauty

Yes. It really is that good.

However,  just like the aforementioned 1975 chart hit, when you move deeper, you see a different story. The next lyrics in the song being…

“Never believe, it’s not so.”

Sometimes, you spot the wires.
Sometimes, you see the cards slide under just there.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that can shatter the illusion.

You see the Magic gets so many things fantastically bang on the money, so perfectly right, but under closer inspection – cracks begin to form.

Let’s put this into context, some of you may remember when I trialled the first Android device, the T-Mobile G1. I said at the time, quite openly, that I wasn’t a fan.

The hardware was (and still is) very, very basic – you might even say toy-like – and  is extremely creaky. The software was first generation; great if you’re Google-centric, painful if not.

And I quote:

Anyway, the point is, as simple and as (supposedly) easy it is to sign up/in into a G1 phone – if you don’t have a Google-centric life, then this phone is not for you. Think about it. Think about it a lot. Then think about it again.
And on top of all that, the camera’s crap and the phone feels like a fisher-price toy.

One thing I said about the G1 that carries through to this day, in regards to the Android OS at least, is that you get the BEST experience if your communications are Google-centric.
I doubt this will ever change.

But what about the Magic? That’s why you’re here right?

Well, look and feel wise the hardware is a massive improvement over it’s predecessor and overall, not since Nokia released the E71 have I found a phone such a pleasure to hold. The plastic casing belies a smooth, almost seamless finish which slides into the hand effortlessly. This phone implores you to play with it.

Upon switching on the first time you’re greeted with the gushing bright redness of the Vodafone welcome screen, and of course, the now as-standard Android/Google sign-in process. Something that should be pointed out at this moment is that since my first play last year, I’ve moved all my comms over to Google Apps. It’s only something I’ve done recently, but after too many annoyances with Yahoo’s still-born attempts at anything mobile, something had to be done and, if I’m honest, I’m loving it so far.

Being able to sign into the Magic with my Google Apps account makes a world of difference. This is the shape of communications devices of the future, without a doubt.
Google Talk IM integration, Google Maps, push email, OTA sync with contacts and calendar, the list goes on. When it comes to consuming content of any kind; texts, emails, IMs, web pages, this phone truly shines.

Then there is of course Google’s own app store, the  Android Marketplace. The few games and apps I’ve downloaded have proven useful and fun in equal measure. Extra points go to both Robo Defense and Abduction for quenching my Flight Control thirst that I seem to have acquired of late. The paid apps were simple enough to purchase too. I was hoping for operator billing to handle it all on the back end, but instead found that it was all run through Google Checkout. However, I popped my debit card details in once and that’s it, job done. Perhaps Ovi could learn something here, what do you say Ben?

The Magic’s camera is 3.2mp, and even though it lacks flash, the picture quality is surprisingly good.
See below for comparison shots between the Magic and another 3.2mp camera phone, the Nokia 5800.

Can you tell which one’s which?

But when we return to the hardware, we arrive at the drawbacks that make me tug on that invisible string that I’ve secretly attached to my beloved Nokia. The one aspect that lets the Magic down is content creation. Yes, the image above looks great, but the angle required to take the photo annoyed me. The Magic, not having a dedicated camera key, means that the image capture button is actually on the screen. Not a deal breaker admittedly, but it niggled.

Next, the sharing of that image. The default options are Gmail, MMS or Picasa, none of which I’m interested in. This means I had to download and install an app specifically for this function, Pixelpipe to be precise and – ugh – what a terrible, terrible UI. I was unsure of what images were going where and/or how to upload them. This resulted in erroneous Twitpics, un-titled photos and ultimately, a very unhappy Whatley.

Finally, and this one is the deal breaker for me, we get to the one thing that – if done correctly – would put the HTC that little bit closer to being my N95 replacement.

Text. Input.

The Magic comes with Google Android v1.5 – aka ‘Cupcake’ – out of the box. That means it has the on-screen touch keyboard (which is handy, given that unlike the G1 before it, the HTC doesn’t flip out to reveal qwerty-based goodness underneath) which can only be described as infuriating. The keyboard, either in portrait or landscape makes text input such a long drawn out process that it borders on painful. Writing something as simple as a text message, is such an arduous task that it requires a level of concentration that I’m simply not used to when it comes to such a simple undertaking.

Bear in mind that this is coming from someone who can write text messages in his pocket, without looking. You can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating this is for me. So close, so close to being perfect, but let down on something so basic.

I was discussing the Magic online recently when I said:

“Using the HTC Magic is like upgrading to the latest Swiss Army Knife, only to discover that your favourite parts are missing.”

And I stand by that. The Magic is an awesome, awesome phone. It (much to Ben Smith’s annoyance) even comes with Latitude – something that T-Mobile are yet to switch on here in the UK – which is again, more bags of awesome. Not only that but also, the Magic has arrived on my beloved Vodafone; super-fast, super-quick and super-connected.

However, when it comes to picking  a new phone, text entry matters, for me at least and the on screen keyboard trails a paltry third place behind the 5800 and the iPhone.

You’d think that after all that, I’d be back on board with my N95 8GB. But no, the Magic is still going strong. I’m putting up with the niggles and the faults, for now.
I tried to switch back to my Nokia at the weekend, the result? With sadness in my eyes, I looked down upon my 5MP lovely and said outloud:

“This just isn’t fun anymore”

I am under the Android spell… now if only I could put it on my Nokia.