Sunday, June 10, 2012


Late Friday Movie Review -- Prometheus

I admire Ridley Scott a lot; there are few directors who can create atmosphere as well as he. I still think his first feature film, The Duellists, is a minor masterpiece, and his earlier science fiction work, Alien and Blade Runner, important milestones in sci fi film. (These three films were his first three; that's quite a career beginning). I also really liked Black Hawk Down and (the director's cut of) Kingdom of Heaven. I would have liked Gladiator more if I hadn't already known the biography of the Emperor Commodus. OK, so that brings us to Prometheus, Scott's latest and the kinda prequel to Alien. Four word review:

Not all that good. Three word review:

Beautiful but meaningless.

Part of the film's failure goes to these facts: Every character is unlikeable in one or more respects and the universe they inhabit is incredibly hostile and deadly, emphasis on the 'incredibly'.

Let's start with minor quibbles. 3% concentration of CO2 is NOT deadly, it is in fact the minimum safe concentration. 10% is deadly (death within 30 minutes, which is just the measurement the movie used). (By the way, 3% is nearly 850 times our concentration here on Earth, still it somehow controls all our planet's weather, or so some say). You cannot hear roaring engines out in space--there is no medium for sound wave transmission. Kubrick could get that exactly right, why not Scott? The star system Zeta 2 Reticuli (where the movie says the moon they land on is located) is 39 light years distant from Earth. You cannot get there in 2 years. You cannot get there in 39 years (as traveling faster than say .7 of light generates massively deadly radiation). The biggest stumbling block to space opera is the incredible distances versus the speed limit. Most movies merely ignore the immutable laws of physics. Like this one. There is no such thing as artificial gravity. Not now, not in 2091. Not in 4091 for that matter. Just spin a large barrel shaped spacecraft and walk upright on the inside walls. Sheesh. I have to think of everything around here... Oh yeah, the guy who maps the inside of the beehive installation gets lost in the beehive installation. Right, pull the other one. Can planets, if there are any, rotating around a double star generate life? Wouldn't the necessarily chaotic orbits preclude a stable enough environment to generate it? Just asking (Zeta 2 Reticuli, as the name implies, is a double star system). OK maybe it is merely an outpost, but why put the outpost on the cave drawings, etc. And how did the system get on the cave drawings, etc.? Something in the DNA? Some later visit or visits? Why would a second visit be necessary? Finally, you can't choose to believe. You either believe or you do not; belief, as P. B. Shelley pointed out, is involuntary. It is distinct from faith, which I compare most closely to the human emotion of love. Does Shaw have faith or is she delusional?

Now let's talk about the stupid plot and casting mistakes this film makes. Why Guy Pierce in unconvincing latex wrinkles? Are there no actual elderly actors out there? Why not use Lance Henriksen? He's pretty old now. Why is Guy Pierce's character on the ship? Isn't David a much better conduit for immortality than asking an unknown alien race for a little help here? If there is flowing water on a planet and a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, it already has life on it. So there is an irreducible conflict vis a vis the suicide of the alien at the beginning (near a famous Icelandic waterfall, I believe) which dumps a lot of DNA into the water which leads sometime later to we humans having exactly the same DNA as the aliens. Then why aren't we all marble skinned, hairless and 10 feet tall? If I dumped a ton of raw DNA into a river would a bunch of fully formed creatures drag themselves out downstream a few minutes later? Ridiculous. So much for the hominid fossil record. History is bunk apparently for the writers (on whom I place all the blame for the film's failure). Why the murderous hostility of the single surviving alien? Is there a cogent explanation for that within the confines of the Prometheus universe? What was the point of infecting Dr. Holloway? So he gets infected, infects his paramour Dr. Shaw, and then welcomes immolation. What a pointless arc. I'm aware it ultimately leads to a somewhat different version of the xenomorph in Alien.

After two paragraphs of bitching, let me pivot and talk about the good things. Michael Fassbender as David is awesome, perfect. Noomi Rapace is great as the plucky incarnation of Ridley in the earlier films. Uh, oh. I'm running out here... Oh, Idris Elba is very good as a sort of working class starship pilot (who is hip to late 20th Century minor rock musicians), and Charlize Theron is good as a second robot "child" of Pierce's character, although she really is pointless to the whole of the plot. It all hinges on Shaw and David, coincidentally, the only human survivors. The rest are, nearly by definition, redshirts.

Let me take a second to answer a question some of the slower viewers seem to be asking. Why didn't the last surviving humanoid alien die in the chair with a chest burster wound? Dimwit, that's what happened on a different ship on a different planet (although still in the same star system). (Check out the LV numbers if you doubt me). We know from Prometheus that there are many ships of the same design (although different from the design of the ship in the first scene--strange that). So the giant humanoid aliens are near godlike in their abilities. So what kills them? Hubris? And what is in their bag of genetic tricks (which leaks out of the urns something fierce--is there something wrong with the urns or are they supposed to do that? And why are they safe stored in the ship but leaking fiercely inside the installation?--sorry I digressed in mid-sentence) what is in the genetics which leads to an acid blood, jaw within a jaw, bipedal alien with a banana head? You can't have the black stuff produce a white fleshy tentacled monster one time (interacting with human DNA) and the black non tentacled exoskeleton of silicone and protein polysaccharides xenomorph (interacting with, well, human DNA) the next. It just don't add up.

Is the general deep theme of the movie merely rewarmed Frankenstein (Mary Shelley's original, that is, which, by the way, was subtitled The Modern Prometheus)? The creation of the scientist goes unbound and deadly and destroys the creator? Is that it? Really? Have there been no new thoughts about science and creation since 1818?

The bulk of this review is unanswered questions. That's not a sign of a well written movie, and it is not. My final questions. Here are the combined previous achievements of the two writers of this: The Darkest Hour; Cowboys and Aliens and some TV shows generally episodes of Lost. Is that a resume you let near what was to be the reawakening of the multi-million dollar Alien franchise after the unfortunate AVP cul de sac? Are those successful credits? What, were John Scalzi or David Howard or Christopher Nolan unavailable?

UPDATE: The news is that World War Z has hired Damon Lindlof, the Lost, Cowboys and Aliens, Prometheus writer, aluded to just above, to rewrite a movie that was completely shot about a year ago. Re-shooting is said to be extensively planned. Mistake, guys. Big mistake.


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