Sunday, June 17, 2012

In The Beginning, There Were Aliens


PROMETHEUS

The first two Alien films (Alien and the brilliant, and brilliantly-named Aliens) are among the greatest science-fiction films ever made, with a fierce fanbase.  The franchise suffered after Alien3, Alien Resurrection, and the two abysmal Alien Vs. Predator films.   I have seen Alien only once and Aliens twice (and mercifully both Alien Vs. Predator films once, which is enough punishment for anyone).   Therefore, I am not as wrapped up in the mythos of Aliens as other people who are amazingly hard-core about the series.  As a result, I am able to approach Prometheus with different eyes: I can watch it as the prequel it is or is not meant to be as well as a film independent of the Alien world.

As a visual spectacle, Prometheus is undeniably beautiful to look at with great production value.  However, as a film, Prometheus doesn't have much in a way to hold us interested in the characters on screen or a story that holds together.

We have two scientists/lovers, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Greene) who discover cave paintings that appear to point to extraterrestrial beings having not only visited our world, but 'seeded' life on our little planet that eventually would turn into...well, us.

Allow me a small digression at this juncture.  I'm not the most faithful Christian, and at times I wander away from the Faith.  However, I do accept the basic tenents of Christianity.  As such, I believe in a God that created all things.  If I understand things, a belief in a Creator God is illogical and stupid.  It is more logical, more intellectual, and more rational to believe aliens from another world came to Earth and planted us or a semblance of us on this lonely planet.

Again, it is more scientific to believe aliens came to Earth and put us here than it is to believe a Deity made us.  OK...

In any case, this discovery in 2089 leads us to deepest space to track down the planet from which our planters, whom Shaw calls The Engineers, came from.  It is now 2093, and the Weyland Corporation has funded this little expedition.  Among those aboard are corporate lackey Miss Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the android David (Michael Fassbender), who has been keeping the Prometheus up and running while everyone has been in suspended animation.  To while away the hours, David has learned several languages, played basketball while riding a bicycle, and become a bit obsessed with the film Lawrence of Arabia, right on down to dyeing his hair a Peter O'Toole blond.

The captain of Prometheus, Janek (Idris Alba) is not all that interested in what exactly they might find on this world.  We have a crew of little interest to us because, all things being equal, they will be killed (hopefully in particularly gruesome ways).  And die they do, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Prometheus lands near a massive mountain which is really a complex of caves, all of which harbor a terrible secret.  David has his own secret agenda...or is it his agenda?  In any case, a mysterious entity has been brought aboard the Prometheus, and now everyone is in danger.  We get a few other twists (some shocking, some laughable), and we end with Dr. Shaw fleeing this planet, taking a decapitated David with her, out to keep seeking her Engineers while a familiar creature literally bursts forward...

Now, long-time readers of my site know that I have a particular pet peeve when it comes to film, one of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Never End Your Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel.   One could have a film that is coming close to Citizen Kane in genius, but if you hint or worse, flat-out state there will be a sequel to your story, you automatically get points knocked down from me.  Why?  I detest the idea that a film can be so good that we are automatically going to demand more.  The closest I have ever come to going against this rule is with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but in that case I know it is based on a series of stories by John Le CarrĂ©.   Prometheus is partly based on other films which have had, after Aliens, diminishing returns, so it's not an automatic that I would want to know more about what's going on.

In case I haven't stated it already, I HATE FILMS THAT SUGGEST A SEQUEL.  I HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE, HATE FILMS THAT SUGGEST A SEQUEL.  Did I mention I hate films that suggest a sequel?

By doing such, Prometheus gets points knocked down, points that it could hardly afford to lose, because if it weren't from Ridley Scott,  Prometheus would probably be dismissed as a grandly visual spectacle with not much at its core.   Just because Prometheus was directed by Scott I fail to see why it should get a free pass.  Prometheus is not a good film.  It doesn't matter that its director made Alien and the equally brilliant Blade Runner or the great Black Hawk Down or the good Gladiator.  A bad/weak film is a bad/weak film no matter who made it.

Granted, Prometheus has a great visual style.  Dariusz Wolski's cinematography is beautiful to look at, and he captures not only the amazing sights of early Seeding (what we might have called Creation) as well as the vastness of space but also the dark terrors within the massive mountain and the overwhelming whites of the Prometheus itself.

However, once we get past how great PrometheusPrometheus that is interesting.  The fault lies entirely within the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (a hero to a whole generation of nerds due to Lost, a show which I didn't care for and after watching the first season just to get a costume for a theme party, no longer cared to watch, but I digress).   Ideas, rather heady ideas at that about faith vs. science, the beginnings of man, what makes us human, are bandied about only to be dropped as soon as they get in the way of some good scare.  As a result, we're left with a frustrating series of set-ups (did aliens really plant us here? why?) are given to which Prometheus won't answer, and not because it can't (couldn't the Engineers really have taken a few minutes to record some 'we are your Makers' message).  It is because it doesn't care about those deep esoteric questions man has asked since he could first distinguish himself different than all other animals. 

Instead, once we are taken on this journey to find our Creators (for lack of a better word), Prometheus decided it had to be an action/horror film rather than an intellectual exercise.  There isn't anything wrong with that, but it is strange that a lot is asked only to never be answered.  For example, who really are all those holograms that are racing around the Prometheus' crew as they explore this cave (which by the way, is really a ship)?

Going further into the 'questions that are not answered' deal, at the end of Prometheus, the Engineers (whoever or whatever they are) appear to be getting ready to launch an attack, apparently to Earth.  Why?  We don't know.  How?  By means of what I took to be some sort of Death Star-like giant death ray.  So it's up to Dr. Shaw and the Prometheus crew that is still alive to stop them. 

Do I care?  Not really. 

The script also really fails to give us any interest in seeing any of our characters survive, given that on the whole they are a rotten lot.  David for an android is particularly malevolent (giving lie to the idea that they are an emotionless lot), but it is never made clear why he is implanting things himself.  For that matter, it is never made clear why this android decided he needed to dye his hair a bright blond, but I digress.

We get what is suppose to be a 'shocking twist' (something else I detest--so-called shocking twists that are painfully obvious) in regards to the mysterious Mr. Weyland (Guy Pearce, unrecognizable in Armie Hammer's J. Edgar make-up, but not in a good way).   Was his character necessary?  No.  Did it slow down Prometheus to where the film lost almost all momentum?  Yes.  Was his character laughable and badly acted?  Absolutely.

Michael Fassbender is one of the best actors around, and with a better script I think his David would have been an iconic character, that android who is starting to become human and may not like what it is making him into.  However, it appears at a certain point both Fassbender and Scott pretty much forget he is an android and David becomes less mechanical and more 'evil human who wants to kill our heroes'. 

Logan Marshall-Green (who looks a lot like Tom Hardy, just a thought) didn't convince me he was a brilliant scientist.  He did convince me that Dr. Holloway was a bit of a jerk, right on down to his more devout girlfriend.  Marshall-Green's character is so unlikable that when he meets a grisly end (or should I say, TWO grisly ends), one should be cheering.

I digress to say that I did a lot of laughing in Prometheus.  Almost every time someone is dispatched was a moment that I found hilarious more than horrifying: whether it was being set on fire or have their head run over or an alien go into them through their mouth or getting decapitated or having a giant spaceship fall on them, I thought it was quite funny.  I'm not a sadist by any stretch.  Instead, I think it came from the fact that we were never allowed to know anything about our characters.  As much as I'm loath to compare films, at least in Alien and Aliens we get a slow build-up to the horror, and in that interim we get to know all the people.  Prometheus doesn't allow that.  Instead, we just get little bits to know that they have no chance of leaving the planet alive.

I will give credit to Rapace for doing what she could with the script that didn't give her much to do.  However, even in what is suppose to be a horrifying sequence where she has to get the Alien seed out of her, I couldn't help chuckling.  Seeing a giant claw remove the squid from her brought to mind several other films: the claw itself, Toy Story ("I have been chosen"), the squid, Men In Black ("Congratulations.  It's a squid").  I even thought I heard Dalek sounds in the cave/Engineer ship, but as a Whovian that might have been my mind hearing things. 

Come to think of it, maybe having Daleks aboard would have livened things up in Prometheus.  Certainly would have made things more entertaining.  Yet I digress.

Oftentimes, Prometheus was so reminiscent of other films that one found the idea of a mash-up more interesting than in the film itself. 

Ultimately, while Prometheus suggests that it IS the beginning of the Alien saga (and in a manner I found more annoying than thrilling), it also suggests that it ISN'T, but that it will spin its own series apart from the previous Alien films.  For me, just having the idea that there will be more films is just one monster too many for me to tolerate. 

As everything is falling around her, Dr. Shaw tells a decapitated David (since he's an android, he's still around) that she wants to know where The Engineers came from, then leaves a voice-over message saying she's continuing the search.  If this isn't a violation of that Golden Rule Of Filmmaking (and if the voice-over isn't already another nail in the coffin--something I really dislike is voice-over), I don't know what is.

As it stands, I didn't find much of interest in Prometheus (apart from the visuals), but it is the idea telegraphed that there will be more Prometheus-related films that is something I cannot stand for.  I can only say that the best thing to do is to get away from this...

DECISION: D+ 

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