Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus

First things first: Is is better than Alien? No. Is it better than the first sequel? No. Will it go down in history as a classic film? Not a chance.

The year is 2089. Scientists have uncovered ancient drawings which depict a far-away star system. Fast forward a few years later and the main characters are on a ship to that star system—yes, it really exists and it just so happens to be on a planet remarkably like Earth. Humans can't breathe on the surface, but....

I'm getting ahead of myself. Discussing the plot at all will pretty much spoil it. Let's just say, overall, Prometheus compares less to the science in 2001: A Space Odyssey and feels more like an extremely expensive episode of Ancient Aliens. Like that show, there are huge leaps of logic. This just isn't the film hardcore science fiction fans wanted. 2001 was great because it found a way to marry Clarke's respect for science to Kubrick's obsession with mysticism in a round, even relationship. Prometheus dumps the science angle entirely and prefers crapping out unadulterated doses of woo-woo.

To say Ridley Scott's Prometheus borrows heavily from Kubrick is putting it lightly. It borrows heavily, too, from the Alien films, but it isn't quite sure whether it wants to be a horror film, like the original, or an action film like James Cameron's sequel. The result is a constant tug-of-war between the two styles which makes for a stilted pace. If you're expecting a tonal prequel to Alien or Aliens, you're going to be disappointed. 

the space jockey

Fans have debated about the meaning of the so-called space jockey. We were promised a definitive answer in Prometheus. I can tell you A) the filmmakers make good on their promise and B) the answer isn't disappointing. No, the only thing that's disappointing about the big reveal is the way it's presented. 

Let's get the bland stuff out of the way.

Charlize Theron has never seemed so robotic in her entire career. The writers promised they'd fleshed out her character when they learned she was playing the role. Well, if they did, I can't imagine how one-dimensional the character must have been to begin with. Guy Pierce appears in old-age makeup that looks so phony you don't accept him as a character, but as an unnecessary special effect. See the video below: 


You couldn't make Pierce's character more distracting if you tried. You just don't need a young man playing an old man in a movie unless you see the character as both a young man and an old man in the same movie. What we have here is a young man playing an old man because that young man played the young man in a fucking YouTube commercial of all things. 

Another problem is the fact Prometheus attempts to avoid its Alien ancestry by dancing around the expected tropes. There are times it feels like one of the numerous Alien rip-offs from the eighties and early nineties. Most of the action takes place in caves and corridors, not on a ship per se, but the formula's still the same. It's an entirely new direction, sure, but it isn't in any way original. 

How many more flaws are there? Let's say about one every ten minutes or so. For everything that wanders off course ("sucks" is probably too strong a word), there's a little bit of awesome to make up for it. My strongest complaint is this, though: they shot a really spectacular movie. Unfortunately, I think most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. The film has way too much crammed into it, all of which is pretty good, but it just doesn't seem to spend enough time with each of its many elements to bother introducing them. It could have made a great novel or HBO miniseries, but two hours really doesn't do the ambition justice.

Here's my final complaint: they gave a lot more away in the trailer than they should have. If I say anymore, I'll give it away myself. But if you've seen the trailer and you have a decent memory, you'll probably be able to put two and two together long before you should have figured it out. 

When I went into this movie, I wasn't sure about Michael Fassbender as David the android. He turns out to be the most intriguing character of the entire seventeen-man crew, but most of that comes down to the mystery surrounding him. Does he really have emotions? If not, why does he act the way he does? How can he idolize Peter O'Toole if he does lack humanity? Or is he merely programmed to behave as if he idolizes O'Toole? 

I want to talk about what makes Prometheus watchable, but I just don't want to ruin it for you. The less you know about it going in, the better. Those questions I have surrounding David the android? There's a dozen other questions like it, left hanging in the air, and that's part of the reason Alien stood the test of time. It's as if Ridley Scott decided to answer some of our questions after thirty years, but wanted to give us even more to digest.

I'm okay with that, I guess, but I'll forever think the Ancient Aliens garbage is too disingenuous, if not downright stupid. Here's hoping there's an extended cut in the future. I'm looking forward to that more than a sequel... and let's not kid ourselves: there will be a sequel. 

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