This is a little outside my normal format, but the following ramble focuses on Ridley Scott’s first successful foray into the TV / Streaming market (he’d had other attempts in the past but none launched, though his shelved pilot for The Vatican would be cool to see), and what I think so far, Ridley Scott completist that I am.
As any semi-regular reader of thekneejerkreaction will know, Ridley Scott can easily be counted in my Top 5 Favorite Directors, along with his late brother, the dearly missed Tony Scott (True Romance).
Over the years I’ve come to see Ridley’s filmography in 3 separate tiers.
In Tier One are absolute classics like Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001) and The Martian (2015).
Next you have Tier Two, where you have solid titles like The Duellists (1977), Thelma and Louise (1991), White Squall (1996), Matchstick Men (2003) and Kingdom of Heaven – Directors Cut (2005) that easily carry the moniker of Good Movies (among others).
Then there’s Tier Three…where I would lump good-looking duds like Legend (1985), Someone To Watch Over Me (1987), 1492: The Conquest of Paradise (1992), G.I.Jane (1997) and Prometheus (2012), movies that carried his signature look, but were mostly just shit on the page. He has others that can also be slapped into this category but those aren’t our focus here.
And the less said about The Counselor (2013), the better (miserable fucking piece of garbage that it is).
So, though Sir Ridley is ‘tried and true’ with several of his titles, the chance of another visually stunning misfire was also entirely possible. This is even more so in light of how I feel about his recent return to Science Fiction, namely coming back to my beloved ‘Alien’ franchise. I was cautiously optimistic when I first got wind of Prometheus’ production, as I had high hopes that it would be The Alien Prequel (that I never wanted to begin with) that would right the wrongs that have peppered the franchise since 1992.
Then I saw it.
And was strongly let down!
For the most part, I find Prometheus often cringe-worthy and, at times, borderline unwatchable. It is SUCH a wasted opportunity, made palatable by that slick Ridley Scott sheen that was just happened to be thrown onto a shitty script that thought it was far smarter than it really was. So, he definitely burned me there.
Everyone shits on Alien: Covenant (2017), but for me there’s a certain level of guilty pleasure enjoyment to be had with that one. Yes, its script is festooned with idiotic, illogical actions perpetuated by paper-thin characters in a story that doesn’t realize its full potential and is often quite stupid.
But it undeniably got me closer to what I wanted, as new ‘Alien‘ content goes, even just aesthetically.
Fast forward three years and we are now gifted with a new science fiction offering, this time as a mini-series for HBO Max / Crave.
Raised by Wolves takes place sometime in the 22nd Century, after Earth, beset by massive wars between the Athiests and the Believers, was ruined, causing all inhabitants to flee into space. One craft, carrying a pair of androids named ‘Mother’ (Amanda Collin) and ‘Father’ (Abubakar Salim) crash lands on an uninhabited planet named Kepler 22B. The two artificial caretakers labor to produce a viable human colony with what little they have, but those efforts come under threat by the arrival of a massive colony ship from Earth, named Heaven and carrying a crew of fanatical ‘believers’.
I’ve only watched the first two episodes so far (though I may just plow ahead and review the next ones too, for your reading pleasure), as they are the only two directed by The Man himself, Sir Ridley Scott, but I will say so far…so good….even if inexplicably weird at times.
I’ll give my impressions of Episode One –1 first, then slap down the notes I jotted during Episode Two – Pentagram.
Right off the bat, one thing that stood out was this was Scott tackling science fiction from a different slant than expected, especially in certain design elements (though the religion-is-bad theme is right up his alley). Some, like the costumes, seemed like they’d be right at home on a 1950’s sci-fi comic book cover, very much not embracing the rough and gritty, lived-in aesthetic first seen in Alien and damn near perfected in Blade Runner. Now I do write this knowing that I’m only looking at the first two episodes and that the scope will likely change, leaving room open for the other directors (including one of Ridley’s sons, Luke) to inject a little more Ridley back into the proceedings. That being said, this isn’t a complaint, per say. It all still carries ‘that’ RS look (so far), even though I will admit that some of the direction / compositions felt a little journeyman-like.
Hell, there were a couple shots, particularly right in the beginning, that were downright lazy! Almost every shot of the small craft that transports the main characters to Kepler 22B breaching the atmosphere and crash-landing at the series’ opening can be traced back to near-identical shots seen in both Prometheus and Alien Covenant. I dare say it again…it seemed lazy. But it didn’t last long. I found the episode largely satisfying, especially when it unexpectedly caps off with a very ‘artistic’ demonstration of high velocity blood-letting. While the pacing and some story elements weren’t as dynamic as they could’ve been, I was genuinely intrigued by where the story might be headed.
I should also give a quick mention regarding the cast, which is mostly comprised of an international bevy of actors I don’t yet know…which helped me greatly to accept the characters I was following through the story, not just watching the famous people pretending…again. The acting is strong, especially by the two android leads, even if certain actions or traits are admittedly questionable.
Overall, I enjoyed the first episode and can’t deny that it left me curious about where the story would eventually go.
Which brings us to Episode Two – Pentagram…
This time around, I found myself jotting down notes as the episode played out.
They are as follows:
–Better episode. I had written this a mere 10 minutes in, as the feeling right from the get-go for this second episode was more in line with what I’d been hoping for, especially the smattering of combat scenes in the flashback that kicks things off. Luckily the ‘better episode’ness continued.
–Grittier. Not so retro sci-fi. Coming back again to the combat scenes and the state of the world the fighting takes place in, there were definitely shades of Ridley’s own superb Black Hawk Down which, to me, is NEVER a bad thing.
–Feels more ‘Ridley’. Right there. That. Fans of the man’s past work will know what I mean when they see it.
–Awesome android character, Delbert. The two characters we follow through the ruins of Earth come across a near-destroyed medical android, who they opt to take with them in their bid to escape the planet (it happens to be proficient in plastic surgery). The movements and mannerisms came across as both ultra creepy and strangely endearing. Very cool.
–Effectively tense. There’s definitely some tension as risky plans are concocted and put into action by the two atheist characters who need to find a way to escape the doomed planet.
–Helmets at the beginning are silly. On the nose. The Believers, also known as the Mithraic, are clad in armour that can only be compared to the classic look of the Knights Templar, the Catholic military order that operated from 1119 AD to 1312 AD. In keeping with the largely anti-religious theme of the show, this detail was a little too obvious in its inspiration for me.
–Religion. Again, on the nose. As I’m sure you’re picking up, there’s a distinct theme at work portraying the evils of organized religion and how it’s the root of SO MUCH MISERY throughout history; a sentiment that I wholeheartedly subscribe too. That being said, a bit more of a subtle touch would’ve been good.
–Opening credits start at 12:33. Ok then. This caught me off guard, given that they seem to start out of the blue a chunk of the way into the episodes run-time.
–Music solid. This is something I haven’t touched on yet but the music score for these first two episodes was cool and appropriately sci-fi. I liked it.
And there you have it.
So far, I’m enjoying Raised by Wolves and am very curious to see how the other directors fare when it comes to imitating Ridley’s established style. With regards to him directly, I feel comfortable saying that he successfully applied his expected sheen to this new series, as opposed to a feature film, and I would welcome further forays into the TV / streaming market from him and Scott Free Productions. It’s not without it’s faults…but what is?
Raised by Wolves can now be seen on Crave / HBO Max.