Friday, June 15, 2012

WTF Prometheus or Whoops, God Hates Us! : SPOILERS

I would, in all honesty, rather be writing a positive, possibly even glowing, review of Prometheus right now...but I can't. Because unfortunately the movie was kind of a story mess and, though it had good (even excellent parts) they were undermined by either mediocre or downright misguided moments that, as a whole, made for a film that is its own worst enemy.

Let me start off by saying that my expectations were as follows:
1. Horror/Sci-Fi
2. A story.
3. Characters you want to watch.
4. An entertaining movie experience.

What I did not expect (or require) it to be:
1. Alien.
2. Bladerunner.
3. Deep.
4. Perfect.

All things considered, those aren't such bad expectations. Unfortunately, the movie went for a pretty strange philosophical tone that meandered and then completely lost its way...and somewhere along the line it forgot to develop nearly any of the characters, pick a narrative arc, or execute on even one of the myriad plot threads to any satisfying degree.

Here's the thing: movies are a storytelling medium. You can certainly play around with structure and how you want to realize your story in that format...but if, at the end of the day, you have a barely functioning narrative that's sort of like story ping pong on haven't succeeded. And Ridley Scott is too experienced and adept a director and storyteller to be given a pass on that.

A few other things to note: I happen to like both sci-fi "lite" and sci-fi "serious". I have no issue with asking the "big" questions, so long as you're making some attempt to explore them meaningfully, not haphazardly. I don't even need "answers" to those questions, I'm comfortable with coming to my own conclusions, or just having a good old fashioned lit critique wank about symbolism and themes and what have you. Or, on the opposite end, I'm perfectly fine with an entertaining romp that's no deeper than a shallow pool.

But in order for either of those to work, the story has to be there and it has to matter. The characters need to have personalities, arcs, purpose. And certain kinds of inconsistencies really need to be ironed out or it just yanks you right out of it, so you're spending more time wondering why everyone is being so patently stupid/annoying, instead of being immersed in the world the filmmaker is supposed to be creating.

I mean, I just think it's a crime against humanity to cast Idris Elba and nothing with his character. I guess he was supposed to be a well-worn captain who's "seen it all"...but when the most development you get is him (successfully, somehow) picking up Charlize Theron with "Are you a robot?", you feel a bit cheated.

As for the other characters...well. There's Shaw, who while developed, was strangely naive and kind of stupid. Ditto her boyfriend, though other than some kind of weird banter with a robot, was fairly void as a character. Vickers, the Ice Queen, had about zero reason to be there and did nothing particularly interesting except set someone on fire. Oh, and forget how to run sideways. That was...odd. Everyone else was just...there. Not very integral to the plot in any real sense, or alien fodder. My favorite was the Stoner Geologist and Groupie Biologist, who were kind of an awesome Team Discovery Channel for a few minutes. They had the good sense to avoid the dead alien corpses and unknown "life" signs...right up until the mapmaker got lost, and the biologist decided that a suspiciously cobra-like alien was like a kitten. They pretty much did complete character 180's in the space of a scene. It was weird.

I would have found Shaw's character more compelling, I think, if the grand total of backstory with her had been something more than her and her dad talking about what happens when you die. As a motivation for going into space and assuming you'll find god, it was a bit weak. And then a sudden "I can't have children" weepy moment out of a nowhere, that was so obvious and telegraphy it was painful. She was, however, extremely badass in other scenes and I think Noomi Rapace is pretty awesome. The character just wasn't very dimensional, and the ones she did have, were kind of blah.

Which brings us to the character that everyone is rightly talking about, and the one that almost makes up for a lot of the movie being a convoluted mess. That would be David, the robot, played by Michael Fassbender. Of the many things he does well in this role, being not-sexy is probably the most amazing. I kid, though it's true. His mannerisms, voice cadence, everything down to the way he smiles and just...observes...was uncanny and just shy of human. The effect is mesmerizing and disturbing, and incredibly compelling. I wish the movie had been about him because he was the only character I got any sense of wonder from at all. Plus, since he didn't have human emotions or ethical issues, he lived in this oddly poetic pseudo-villain state, while having an interestingly philosophical pov. David seems more aware than any of them that finding "god" is probably not going to be what they expect/hope.

There has been some interesting analysis of the movies themes about said "search for god", and possible explanations for the myriad things that are kind of just dumped on the audience without any attempt to explain (or maybe importantly) explore them at all. As I said before, I don't need answers to everything, but maybe breadcrumbs to being able to put it all together would be nice. Giving me an opening scene with a disintegrating alien that becomes DNA of something, then jumping to ancient wall art, then space, then some goo, then "whoops, god hates us because we killed Space Jesus"...I mean, I get it. I do. I got what they were intending. They just didn't execute it well. Or possibly, as my husband says, it's all actually a satire...although it had the weirdest tone for one if it was.

I don't want to be all negative, and if you liked the movie as a whole, I envy you. I just see such basic story problems and go, nope, sorry, I can't. Call it a consequence of doing this for a living, but all I could see at a certain point was where a story editor should have stepped in and said "Ridley, no. You can do better." If you're going to spend this much money on a film, cast really great actors, and take this much time...the least you can do is care just a little about whether what you're intending and what you're actually doing lineup.

I mean, I know Alien 3 and 4 were pretty crummy, and he's probably gotten sick of the whole franchise. And I know Scott's had all kinds of issues with studios mucking around in what he does. But at the end of the day he still gets to make movies that people will see, so I don't think it's too much to ask to get the story straight and functional. Layer on top of that like crazy, but get the basics down. It shouldn't rely on characters doing literally the stupidest things possible or mystery goop that may or may not be magic psychic "cum" or whatever that destroys or creates...unless you maybe mention that. I'm down with a story that's basically about how human beings suck and destroy everything they touch...but I have to give a shit about the characters and narrative on some level to even want to bother with thinking that long about it.

In the end, the movie was worth it for David for me...I just wish we'd been watching his weirdo, 2001 Space Odyssey, Peter O'Toole watching, dream creeper, story instead.


  1. I suspect that there's a director's cut just waiting to come out on DVD that takes care of all these holes. Because, as you said, Scott is just too good of a filmmaker to mess up this badly. I suspect also that Scott didn't want to make an Alien prequel, but was pressured/forced into it by the studio, which fragmented the story he was TRYING to tell.

    Good review. Helped me verbalize a lot of the trouble I had with the film, also.

  2. I had to wonder if Ridley Scott wasn't pissing on his audience a little bit here, in general. I realize even as I type that it probably isn't worth pursuing further. It's just Ridley Scott, who gave us Legend, and it's just a movie.

    Check out the two versions of Legend available through NetFlix. The Tangerine Dream American release edit/version is like a bad drug experience, while the European edit/version is masterful. I echo Snarky Writer on that point, with the caveat that Ridley Scott did the edit on both, with no real external coercion. He admits it himself in the documentary... he just got "paranoid."

    When all is said and done, however, you are still left with Guy Pearce's makeup. bazinga!

  3. Visually stunning, storywise a big meh...but my biggest peeve is the total disregard for science in this movie.

    Many others have commented on that already, so I won't go into too much detail here, but...

    - A lot of effort and budget were put into the visuals of this movie.
    - A fair amount of effort and research was put into creating a realistic 'Engineer' language, experts were employed to take care of this.
    - But oddly enough, no attempt was made to make the science (believably) accurate or make the scientists behave like actual scientists...