Sunday, June 10, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

I've been looking forward to being disappointed by this movie for months now. The premise always struck me as an incredibly ambitious direction with some real potential, and the trailers were nothing short of fantastic. But, like I said a few months ago, it's been three decades since Ridley Scott made a movie I like, so I couldn't shake the feeling this could go south.

Not surprisingly, this movie has some serious problems. Fortunately, it's also got a few strengths.

Let's start with the positive. This movie maintains Scott's track record with tone and atmosphere: there's a palpable sense of dread on Prometheus, just like there was on the Nostromo. For the most part, the suspense and horror delivers. Likewise, most of the effects are topnotch, though the CG stood out in a few sequences. Still, this may be the first movie I've ever seen in 2D where I've regretted not upgrading.

The horror aspect of Prometheus worked; I can't say the same for the science fiction.

The thing is, this isn't a movie where the SF stays relegated to the background: this film is less about horror and action and more about posing questions and expanding on the mythology of the Alien franchise. These are fantastic aspirations; it's a real shame the movie fails spectacularly in the attempt.

Spoilers follow, dear reader. Proceed at your peril.

The mythology it offers - mainly around the infamous "space jockey" from the original film - is relatively underwhelming. If you've seen the trailer, you've probably already figured out what they're driving at. On this account, the movie mainly just succeeded in removing any mystery from the strange dead giant. None of the details they filled in were satisfying, and the areas left unanswered lacked the mystique.

As for the more cognitive aspects of the production, if you're familiar with the genre, you're familiar with the ideas and questions it poses. They've played with variations on Star Trek TNG and X-Files, not to mention countless comics, novels, and short stories. This tends to be the case with most science fiction, which is why the best SF movies don't try to compete with with more than a hundred years of idea-driven speculative fiction and instead complement it visually.

The movie's real weakness, though, is in its characters and structure. The actors all do a fine job with what they're given, but in many cases what they've been given is utter tripe. Do we really care that the main character lost her father to disease as a child? Do we need to spend time dealing with her cliche psychological issues of inadequacy due to her inability to have children? There's an alien bio-weapons plant outside, people: get your goddamn priorities in order!  Do we really need yet another movie about holding on to one's faith when God turns out to be a dick from outer space?

In space, no one can hear you retell the story of Job.

Yeah, that's what this thing really boils down to. It's not an awful idea on its own, I guess, but if you're going that route, you need to make sure your dialogue is pitch-perfect, your characters are well-rounded and fascinating, and your story flows seamlessly. And Prometheus delivered on none of these things.

That said, the vast majority of this movie is engrossing while you're in the theater. It pulls you into its world, and the actors trick you into staying interested, even as their characters make baffling, irrational decisions at every turn. You'll love the horror when the film stops pontificating on faith long enough to return to the interesting stuff.

In short, if you're a fan of the genre, you'll enjoy the experience. But, as the closing credits roll, you're going to feel shortchanged by how much of the movie was pissed away on meaningless drivel. And you're especially going to feel ripped off by the last twenty minutes: the ending was downright awful. It's not actually a bad way to spend a few hours; just go in knowing it's going to make you more angry than intrigued.


Erica said...

It is the morning after.

I saw Prometheus yesterday afternoon. Came home and immediately watched Alien. I am not sure if I did this for some sort of clarification, as I did with "The Thing", or just to wash the general taste out of my mouth.

I didn't hate it, but I think I didn't love it either.

braak said...

In my opinion, Prometheus is a lot more compelling if you look at it as the prequel to Metroid.

Curtis D Williams said...

I was let down, both on a sci fi level and horror level. It misfired in a lot of places, especially the end.

Erin Snyder said...

@Braak: Agreed. The main thing I took away from Prometheus was that Charlize Theron is the only person alive who could pull off playing Samus Aran.

Jake Lucas said...

I enjoyed Prometheus as a whole, and most of the gripes I've had with it are actually with the reviews. I feel like a lot of the common complaints I've seen come from people who haven't grasped the central theme of the film.

More than anything, Prometheus is about the relationship an individual has with their creator (or parents) and how that can poison their relationship with their creations (or children).

Humanity in this film is obsessed with their progenitors. It's not just Human cast's obsession with the Engineers; Vicker's is obsessed with finding out what her father is saying while Shaw dreams of her father.

Even androids, as humanity's child, fall into this same obsession. We open on the Prometheus with David reverently watching over the crew of the ship. He watches Lawrence of Arabia and tries to imitate it's Human star. The film is laden with his questions and conversations with Humanity about his origins that directly parallel Humanity's own questions of the Engineers.

The major point I picked up on in this film is that one's own obsession with your creator can leave you blind to the abuse and neglect of those you create. When David questions the male lead about why the android was created, the man shrugs and says "because we could", to which David states "Imagine how disappointing it would be to hear that from your maker." This film revolves around the horrible things creators do to their creations. Weyland practically disowns is daughter, the Engineers were seemingly ready to destroy mankind (and the live one we see actually does kill a few), while even the creature that grew in Shaw's womb was forcibly ripped out of her womb. This turns the creations against their creators; David's sabotage and the Prometheus's kamikaze attack on the Engineer ship being some examples.

Shaw, despite being unable to bear children, is the only individual willing to be at peace with their relationship with their father/creator and embrace her roll as a parent. This happens at the end of the film when she comes back to David and makes peace with him. Just as she is climbing off the ship she is about to zip the bag closed on David and tenderly says "I'm sorry". This is the first and only time in the film that anyone gives any regard for their creation's well-being. The bag may seem careless, but consider the stables that hold her womb shut and its similarity in appearance to the zipper on the bag, as if she is allowing him to return to the womb.

I also think the films nihilistic tone on the nature of existence also plays into this theme. As Weyland dies, he proclaims "there is nothing", likely referring to a lack of an afterlife. It seems as if the universe, which in a way created us all, is ambivalent to the cares and concerns of all.

I also and interested in the murals that the Engineers had for the black goo/xenomorphs. It's hard to understand their relationship with the aliens, maybe they were a creation that turned on them, or maybe they were an ambivalent creator of sorts.

Also, getting slightly meta here, but the movies lack of answers for the audience almost seems like the parental neglect present in the movie, with us as the audience denied answers by the film and its creator.

While I agree characters were the weakest aspect of the film, I feel like some of the details you mentioned were essential for the film's point. Also, I heard 30 minutes were reluctantly cut, and I imagine that of anything that would be cut, character development would likely be it since it is less important than the beautiful imagery and the central theme.

Erin Snyder said...

@Jake: Uh, yeah. That's why I included the line: "In space, no one can hear you retell the story of Job."

Look, the characters were poorly developed, the plot was a mess, and the ending lacked any gravitas. Sure, there was a lot of thought poured into the background of this movie and just as much into the themes it toyed with. But a bad movie with interesting themes just begs the question of why we should care what the director's been obsessing over.

Matrix Reloaded was clever, too. That doesn't mean it was a good movie.