June 20, 2012

All the anticipation, all clever viral marketing, and that stunningly awesome trailer have all led to this:  2012’s “yeah, but” movie.  Prometheus is one of those movies designed to flood the internet with endless debates amongst nerds and/or film critics – it’s a not-quite-prequel to one of the greatest science fiction and horror films of all time, co-written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and directed by the ever dubious Ridley Scott, the director of two beloved masterpieces early in his career and a whole slew of middling-to-fascinating-to-downright-awful films ever since.  Big budget, an R rating, gloopy sci-fi horror and spaceships and a great cast and you have to wonder, is it any good?  Well, yeah, but…

There has been a lot of angry ranting on the internet about Prometheus, which is not shocking because, hey, “the internet”, but there’s a fervour in the vitriol that you wouldn’t get for something as equally nerd-baiting as The Avengers.  I think what Whedon did with that film was impressive, but its skill lied in scripting and structure – and yes, organizing the creative armies to get it all together – as opposed to getting across grand themes or metaphors.  Its aim was simple: entertainment, which it achieved with aplomb.  Prometheus, on the other hand, strives to be a big-budget, heady “hard sci-fi” spectacular, hoping to satiate our desire for summer cinematic thrills as well as map out a mythology that wants to explore the nature of our beginning, the possibility of creators, and the relationship we have with them and, to put it bluntly, “what it all means.”  The attempt should be applauded, I think, by everyone who tires of mindless spectacle, but that’s not to say Prometheus actually succeeds in what it attempts.  In a way, it’s a strangely schizophrenic film.  By placing us with a group of explorers and presenting us with huge questions, this film is exactly the opposite of its “universe-sharing” entry, Alien.  That film was tight and focused because it was about a bunch of normal, working class stiffs who get betrayed by the company they work for and wind up doing anything they can for survival.  By using its atmosphere and work-a-day, humdrum characters, it suggested a larger sci-fi future world whilst simultaneously allowing the ever-building horror to take central focus.  Prometheus, on the other hand, is unable to narrow itself down in the same way because of the subject material, and can on occasion feel like two different movies from one scene to the next (thankfully there’s very little of that confusion within individual scenes themselves, save for occasional scoring for “awe” when it should be something more horrific).  As such, your mileage may vary on how much you can overlook the tonal flaws (as well as the numerous possible plot holes, but that’s for another nerd to talk about).  For me, the general excellence of the individual sequences that the film devolves into were pretty good to utterly astonishing on their own merits, and as such as I was happy to overlook the disjunction, but I can’t argue with anyone who found it to be too much sloppy editing and just plain bad writing.

There is the context within which this film was made and released that I can’t help but factor in, but I’ll also be honest and say if I didn’t like the film at all, I would dismiss it as much as those that already do.  You can come at the film and blast it for trying to be smart, or “deep”, or even “Hard Sci-fi”, and failing miserably.  It certainly doesn’t, for me, fully succeed in any of those regards.  This isn’t 2001, even if it might put on airs that it wants to be for certain sections.  On the other hand, this a beautiful, occasionally provocative, and certainly ambitious project given the size of its budget and the studio’s hopes for it to be a (sort-of) re-launch of a lucrative franchise.  Without that budget, after all, and indeed without Ridley Scott returning to some degree of form after several decades of pretty, but uninspired, visuals, you wouldn’t have the miniscule Prometheus darting across the sky, or that disintegrating being in the opening shots, or the immaculate production design of both the ship and the Engineer’s base.

The humans, save for Idris Elba’s captain and Noomi Rapace’s True Believer Elizabeth Shaw, leave a little something to be desired.  “Humans” being used pointedly there, of course because as ever Michael Fassbender steals the show as the peculiar, child-like, and deeply inquisitive android David.  Scott loves to film Fassbender as he quietly stalks the ship in his mannered way, or as he watches Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia, taking on not only the effeminate qualities and the hairstyle, but the unknowable ambiguities of the character as well.  Indeed, David’s story fleshes out the them about creators and their relationship to the created better than anything else in the film, while also trumping Rapace’s Shaw for the sheer wonder of discovery.

Overall the writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, seem less concerned with the greater themes at work (creation/destruction, discovery, thirst for knowledge) that a better science fiction film might have concentrated on than they are with the mythology and the literal questions rather than the “big” ones.  It’s pretty disappointing on that level and I suspect that a lot is being intentionally left out for sequels to explore, but as soon as you accept that the plot is basically an episode of Ancient Aliens, you can let some of the subtler character work and the more awesome (and I mean that word specifically) cinematic achievements (this is the best looking film I’ve seen in 3D by quite some distance – doubly impressive for its photo-realism and its lack of jerky, “chaos” cinema) overshadow the clunkier, rougher edges.  I can’t blame anyone for hating or disliking a far from perfect film, but when it looks this good and it’s got David’s dance with knowledge, I don’t particularly care either.  Am I looking forward to a sequel?  Well obviously yeah, but…


2 Responses to “Prometheus”

  1. Ummmm . . . I’m sorry, but I failed to feel any enthusiasm for “PROMETHEUS”. I had this feeling that it was nothing more than an unoriginal science-fiction thriller pretending to be profound. Am I looking forward to a sequel? Hell no.

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