[Review] - Prometheus

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

If you want to be grand, be grand. If you want to be bold, be bold. If you want to ask interesting questions, be daring in your answers. In other words, "don't half ass two things. Whole ass one thing." But having seen Prometheus, the film I was most looking forward to this summer, I realise now that Ridley Scott was in an impossible situation. Because he was so vocal about wanting to make an Alien prequel, and then stepped back from that, it was impossible for him to make a movie that was it's own thing, because the expectation would be there for it to involve the Alien franchise.

What we're left with is a beginning and a middle, and part of an end to what could have been a truly great science fiction film. In the same way that Alien and Blade Runner are in the upper pantheon of intelligent, intimate, timeless examples of the genre. Unfortunately, Prometheus never rises to that level, and remains a fair entry to an increasingly over-burdened (and abused) genre of film.

Hit the jump to read the review, which contains many spoilers.

If all you are interested in is discussion about Alien stuff, it's at the very end.

I'm going to try something new, and start with what I liked about the film: the visuals. This movie looks beautiful. The title sequence, as the camera pans over various majestic sights of what presumably is an ancient Earth (one of the many things never explained), creates an immediate tone of grandeur and expansiveness that the film never really lives up to. The space porn, the side views of the ships, the alien planet, all of it looks lovely. The movie has a definable texture to it, which is obviously down to Ridley. A lot of directors have a visual style, but Ridley doesn't, preferring more to bend his style to the tone of the picture. His trademark, I would say, is the background detail that makes his films, good and bad, feel like they exist.

And except for a terrible bit of ageing makeup, and some spectacularly bad CG at the very end of the film, the entire film looks good. More then that, it looks practical. Nothing (save the aforementioned CG) seems computer generated, even when it is. Maybe it's because Ridley started working in film when practical was all they had, when a star scape was a painted mat the camera panned over, it feels like models and puppets and actual physical creations were used more then not. Which, again, makes the world seem more real then it is. That the actors can actually reach out and touch something, not just mime it, is a big deal when it comes to the suspension of disbelief.

It also helps that the score by Marc Streitenfeld is a perfect companion to the visuals, and is again blessed with a sense of grandeur that the story is never worthy of. There are cues throughout, twinges of Star Trek and Superman laced among the strings and horns (which are the official instruments of space), that actually serve to pull you in, the sense memories of those familiar series making you think you have more of an emotional connection to Prometheus. I often walk away from a film not having noticed the score, which is a bad sign, or having noticed it too much (also bad, possibly worse). It is the rare score (Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings) that actually plays a part in the story, and isn't just white noise to fill a scene. Thanks gods this score was as solid as it was, because there were moments that the film let me down, I could at least retreat into the music.

In terms of acting, this movie belongs to Michael Fassbender. Not because he out acts everyone else (he does that too), but because his character is the only one with actual meat on the bones. He remains fairly consistent in his motivations, and they don't resort to any of the standard robots cliches, which I was worried about, and found refreshing (especially considering that Ridley is responsible for a couple of those cliches with Ash from Alien). Noomi Rapace is the only other actor who has anything remotely interesting or important to do, mostly in the second half, but her character is uneven. Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Logan Marshall-Green make do with underdeveloped characters, basically one noters, who get a big scene to shine, and then fade away. Theron's Vickers especially could have been very interesting, a real antagonist rather then just someone who has to be mean to the scientists because scientists need being mean to. She has one true moment, that if it had been allowed to be explored, would have made her fascinating to watch without having to fall back on tired Darth Vader plot contrivances. As it is, like the rest of the crew, you're just waiting to see if and how she'll die.

Prometheus works best when it is taking the broad strokes. When it gets to the details, it falls apart. Mostly because the movie never actually sets a thesis for itself, though there was a scene where Fassbender's David does use 'thesis' where most movies would incorrectly use 'theory.' So, points for that. Is it a movie about belief, and what it means to believe in something so much and have that ripped away? Is it a movie about what it means to be alive, and what constitutes life? Is it a senseless monster movie, without any soul? I don't know, because it doesn't. Like writer Damon Lindelof's series LOST, the movie tries to appear smarter then it is by asking big questions, but doesn't bother to actually answer any of them.

Because of the uncertainty of the themes of the film, the characters have no arcs to follow. Rapace's Shaw struggles with belief, but only once it seems plot relevant, and not that much as it turns out. Elba's Janek is just a caricature of duty and honour. Even Guy Pierce's Peter Weyland, who is equal parts Emperor Palpatine and King Lear, was more interesting as the arrogant, fearless young man seen in the terrific TEDTalk promotional video.

And even when the movie isn't asking questions, it trips over it's own scope, and brings to surface more uneasiness then anything else. If the Engineers created us, that must have been millions of years ago. So, all the cave paintings from thousands of years ago was when they came back? How exactly did astronomers use a vague picture of six spheres to extrapolate a celestial coordinate? Why would the map lead back to a military complex rather then the home world? That would be like giving someone looking for Washington DC directions to McMurdo Station in the Antarctic.

I'm generally wary of any movie that includes a chalk board scene. For those that don't know, a chalk board scene was named for the scene in Back to the Future Part II where Doc Brown uses a chalk board to explain to Marty (us) the rival time lines theory. Generally, if a movie is so complicated that the ideas have to be included in a scene where they are explained directly to us, rather then letting the audience figure it out for themselves, it's also the sort of movie that will probably screw up those same details. As always, the science stuff bothered me. David being able to read and speak the Engineer's language because he learned the root forms of every human language is as stupid as me learning the Saxon roots of English, and expecting to be able to speak Aboriginal Australian. Of course, this movie wasn't really big on subtly. Every time they needed a gun to go off later on, they first pointed at it and made fish lips to the camera. Hey, nice medical pod. Gosh, it's sad you can't have children. Gee, this space raft seems like people could survive on it if anything happened to the ship. There is no context for the introductions, it's just there because it needs to be later on.

Most disappointingly, the movie doesn't end when the credits role. It makes the presumption that there will be a sequel. That they will have further opportunity to answer the questions this film just flat out refuses to answer. What was the virus/plague/ooze disease, and why did it seem to manifest in wildly different way with each infection? Some people it exploded, some it turned into monsters. Was it the same thing that the Engineers at the beginning of the film drank, because that just rewrote his DNA, so were they planning on making Humans Mark 2? A story needs to be stand alone, and not reliant on another film that may not happen, to tell it's own story. A sequel should never be needed, only wanted.

And finally, the Alien connection. It was damned if you do, damned if you don't. If Alien stuff wasn't included, people would complain because they wanted an Alien prequel. Put too much of it in, and people would complain that the movie didn't stand on it's own. And sadly, Prometheus couldn't find a good balance. For most of the film, it works. The Prometheus looks and feels like the Nostromo. There are allusions, shout outs, and vagueish sorts of references to the original without it forcing the better film down your throat. The troubles start when those vague references become explicit, because none of them feel organic (I'm a big fan of organic story telling: the plot should go where it wants to go, not where you want it to go). They feel shoehorned in, and play no part in the Prometheus story. I liked the weird eel thing in the pot room, I thought that was a great proto-facehugger. Something that feels familiar, but isn't what we expected. Then it disappears, and isn't mentioned again. What is, and made no sense, was the giant Chthulu fist fight, and subsequent proto-xenomorph that it bore. They weren't plot relevant, they didn't arise logically, and they have no baring on the future of the story. That planet has been left behind, they won't be revisiting it. So why include it? Because it was expected, which is as good a reason not to include it as I can think.

And two astronauts trying to outrun a miles long spaceship as it falls towards them, and literally jumping out of it's way, was hilarious. In that moment, laughs were not the intention, but they were the result.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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