[4.0 stars] Prometheus (2012) on IMDb [Amazon Link]

A small pat on the back for the University Near Here: they've taken over the niche once filled by dinky private-sector theatres driven out of business by the big chains: they show second-run movies, often just before they're about to come out on DVD. If you're within a reasonable distance of Durham, New Hampshire: the upcoming showings are here. Prices, even for non-students, are reasonable. Parking… well, that can be a challenge. E-mail me if you need advice.

So that's how I saw Prometheus in (woo!) 3-D, finally, after missing it in the theatres.

Produced and directed by Ridley Scott, who directed Alien back in 1979. It's a sorta-prequel; you might want to re-watch Alien to refresh your memory before you watch this.

(I say "re-watch Alien", because if you haven't seen Alien, my guess is that you're not the sort of person who would want to watch Prometheus.)

Anyway: a trippy opening scene shows a primeval lifeless Earth being visited by a flying saucer; a humanoid being disembarks, imbibes a burbling substance, and immediately disintegrates into the surrounding environment, his bodily fluids setting things up to produce… well, us.

And then we jump from the distant past to the (comparatively) near future, where star travel has become possible. A team of archaeologists discover ancient clues pointing to humanity's origins in an obscure star system many light-years away; one of the moons there just might be able to support LifeAsWeKnowIt!

So a fantastically expensive expedition to the system is mounted, bankrolled by the mysterious Weyland Industries. (They even have their own website.) Two of the archaeologists, Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are onboard. There's an android, David (Michael Fassbender), to take care of the crew in hibernation. An ice-princess representative of Weyland, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Piloting duties are handled by Captain Janek (Idris Elba). And there's an assortment of scientists and grunts, who, for purposes of this movie, might as well have been given red shirts with "Purina Alien Chow" stenciled on the back.

Although Shaw hopes to find Answers to Big Questions, like "How was humanity created?", she and the rest of the crew rapidly turn to more mundane questions, like "How do I kill this thing?" and "How do I get off this planet alive?"

It's a cliché to say a movie's visual effects are stunning. But—holy cow—the visual effects are really stunning. You'll believe a big-ass spaceship landed on a strange world, and is immediately dwarfed by the landscape and alien artifacts. It's very impressive. And, once the violence begins, perpetrated by all sorts of hostile beasties, you'll believe that too. I found myself averting my eyes at one particularly nasty 3-D bit.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:45 PM EDT

The Brothers Karamazov

[Amazon Link] Every so often I get the feeling that I'm overindulging on literary junk food, that I really should eat some bookish vegetables. I was inspired by this post, where Steven Landsburg details his impressive 2011 summer reading. Among his conquests was The Brothers Karamazov, which he deems "Arguably the greatest novel ever." Landsburg was merely echoed Freud, who opined that TBK was "the most magnificent novel ever written". OK, fine, I can try that. I checked out the Peavar/Volokhonsky translation, deemed to be pretty good, from The University Near Here's Dimond Library. Their translation had a somewhat Biblical cadence; I almost felt like it should have book/chapter/verse numbering.

It was tough going, although I finished in time to get the book back to the library without incurring an overdue fine.

It's the epic tale of the Karamazov family, headed by the father, Fyodor, who is, by all accounts, a very bad guy. Abusive toward his (two) wives, neglectful toward his (three) sons, and just kind of an all-around jerk. He's probably also fathered an illegitimate child via a disabled girl who died in childbirth.

The legitimate brothers are Alexei, Ivan, and Dmitri. Dmitri, the oldest, is a hothead and a wastrel, perpetually enraged in the (accurate) belief that Fyodor is withholding the inheritance he's due from his long-dead mother. The middle kid, Ivan, is (seemingly) the smooth intellectual; he's written a famous essay advocating for a theocratic Russia, while he himself rejects God. Astonishingly, Alexei seems to be a genuinely good person; at the start of the book, he's doing a monkly thing at the local monastery.

There are also a host of other characters, many of which you need to keep track of. What doesn't help you do that is the Russian habit of calling people by different names, seemingly at whim. Thanks to Wikipedia, for example, I can tell you that Alexei is also referred to as " Alyosha, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, and Lyoshenka." Repeat for the other major characters. Fortunately, the version I read had a small cast-of-characters entry at the beginning that you can consult when you're confused. Which I was, a lot.

Squirreled away in these many pages is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, social commentary, philosophical and religious disquisitions, and sordid soap opera. But mostly talk. All the characters talk to each other, all the time; and they're usually rambling incoherently or lying, either to others, or to themselves. No wonder Freud liked it.

Again via Wikipedia: Dostoyevsky intended the story of the Karamozovs to continue in future works, and it shows: at the end, I found myself saying: "Yes, and then what?" But he died shortly after publication, so we'll never know.

I also couldn't help but reflect that the book was written a few decades before Russia was to slip into a nasty totalitarianism. In the US, on the other hand, Mark Twain was writing stuff about Tom and Huck. And (in contrast to Russia) we kept muddling along with bourgeois democracy. Cause and effect? Over to you, literature majors.

Last Modified 2012-09-18 3:46 PM EDT