Sunday, July 27, 2014

Prometheus (2012)

Director: Ridley Scott

Imagine you're really hungry and you sit down for dinner in a restaurant where the chef is a known master. You are then brought out a small amount of a phenomenal appetizer. You ask for more from the waiter, but instead he brings you a small plate of stale SPAM. You'd rather not eat it, so you just hold your nose and wait. Eventually, the waiter removes the SPAM and brings out another small plate with a tiny portion of a masterfully prepared soup. You quickly devour the four or five spoonfuls of this masterpiece, again asking for more. Once again, the waiter refuses and instead brings out a cup of cold ramen noodles. On this goes, all the way through your meal, alternating excellence and baffling inadequacy.

If you can imagine this strange hypothetical, then you have some idea of what watching Prometheus is like. It tantalizes you with moments and elements of brilliance, and then gives you something that makes your eyebrows want to dance right off your face.

When you look at the basic plot structure of this prequel to the Alien canon, it looks good: a team of scientists treks several light years across the galaxy to find creatures who not only left messages on Earth ages ago, but which also may very well have planted the very seeds of life on our planet. Once the team gets there, they discover not some benevolent creator race, but rather a bizarre structure that seems to exist for some unspeakably horrifying purpose. Once the methods of interfacing with the structure are puzzled out, it starts to reveal its history to the explorers, though not in ways that they had hoped.

David, as he puzzles out the aliens' interfacing system.
Unlike the costumes, sets, props, and visual effects in the
movie are beyond reproach.
Sounds decent, right? And honestly, it is decent. More than decent, actually. If you focus solely on the major story points, it's actually a pretty good one. And if you allow yourself to be dazzled by the amazing visual effects - and they are truly spectacular - then you might not see what so many people have complained about, and you might think Prometheus is fantastic.

To the critical movie-goer, though, there are more than a few problems with the movie. One is that the de facto protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), is a bit annoying. For some reason, the writers saw fit to make hers some sort of religious crusade to prove the existence of some benevolent God based on the death of her missionary father on Earth. Why? The story is fascinating enough without it becoming some form of religio-psychotherapy for one of the characters. On top of that, her love interest and colleague, Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), is a total snoozer of a character.

Which brings us to one of the major problems: the human characters. Essentially, not one of them is well done. The scientists - you know, the ones who were supposedly hand-picked by a company that invested a trillion dollars in this venture - are either fully idiotic or a oddly detached. Not very realistic, if you ask me. The pilot, played by the ever-magnetic Idris Elba - is ridiculously "too cool for school." So much so, that even when the crew first set eyes on the the very first proof of alien life, he simply gazes passively and cracks off a few flippant one-liners. Absolutely no sense of the wonder and awe that he should be feeling with the audience. It's as if the writers were trying to give each and every person some kind of quirk or cliched personality trait just to make him or her interesting. The result is a crew of 2-dimensionals that I mostly didn't care about. What happened to scenes like the classic dinner table one in Alien (before John Hurt's chest pains), or even some of the more casual humor of the space Marines in Aliens? There was virtually none of this in Prometheus.

Of course, the movie wouldn't have been complete without
a little teaser at the end to create the obvious link to
Alien movies. This happy little guy gives it to us.
If we really want to nerd out with our critique, we can talk about David. David is the ship's android member. Androids have always been a major part of the Alien narrative. With Ash in Alien and Bishop in Aliens, the bar was set extremely high for interesting synthetic humans. David does play a key role in the story, is interesting enough, and is played extremely well by Michael Fassbinder. However, David is noticeably more advanced than either Ash or Bishop, both of whom are created many decades after David. On top of that, there are far too many of David's bizarre actions that are never fully explained. He exhibits clear signs of human emotions, which speaks either to sloppy writing or unresolved implications. What it amounted to was frustration for me as a viewer.

These problems are impossible for me to ever overlook completely, but the movie is not terrible. It ends on an interesting note, and it all but guarantees a sequel, which is scheduled to come out in 2016. Honestly, I'll go see it. Prometheus had just enough to it that I'm willing to give Ridley Scott a chance to right the wrongs of the first one. After Alien and Blade Runner, the man has earned at least that much.