Prometheus

October 10, 2015 at 7:19 pm Leave a comment

I may be the last person to see this movie. That’s a good thing since I can judge this movie removed from the blockbuster hype surrounding it in 2012. What I remember from reading my social media at the time and the critics reaction Prometheus was considered to be either the best of the Alien franchise or the greatest movie of all time. I suppose that would be true if the only movies you have ever seen are Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection.  Not to say Prometheus was bad or anything. Compared to most of the movies I have been reviewing lately, it’s a masterpiece. I do feel like it was incredibly overrated at the time of it’s release and I am curious how many of the people who were going ape-shit over this movie in 2012 have watched it recently. And if so, have they reevaluated their opinion?

I will start with the positives since I am a booster. This movie looks amazing. You would expect nothing less from director Ridley Scott but it is really worth commenting on. The use of color, lighting, camera movement, and framing is nothing short of phenomenal. Also, they did a good job mixing digital with practical effects to create a credible experience. One of the problems I have had with big budget blockbusters in recent years are that their heavy reliance on digital effects in post production with every digit as visible as the zipper on the back of a 50’s creature feature monster suit. In this movie, they did a great job of mixing things up to the point were I didn’t really question anything. I would also like to praise the acting. Everyone was convincing in their role. They hit all of their notes. The dialogue flowed nicely. The interactions and relationships seemed genuine. While I may have problems with the character of Dave the Robot, I think the actor did an excellent job performing the role. Fundamental, this was a well made movie.

I do, however, have certain problems with the story. I realize that we are dealing with some pretty heady themes here, like the nature of creation. They were also setting up for an inevitable sequel, in which more will be explained and some of the questions I have about this movie may become clearer, I hope. But I have to judge this as a stand alone movie. The biggest mistake I made while watching was expecting Alien to show up and reek havok. You don’t really get to see an Alien until the end of the movie. I got over that halfway through the movie though and didn’t deduct any points for what is really my mistake. Sure, it’s an Alien prequel and one would reasonably expect to see Alien featured prominently in the movie. But the name of the movie is Promethus not Alien Origins.  The movie isn’t really supposed to be about the creature that I will refer to simply as Alien. I think it was smart to do something different with a prequel and play with our expectations. In fact, the anticipation of seeing Alien probably helped create a lot of tension.

The movie starts out with a scene that has been bothering me a lot. A tall, muscular, half naked man takes a shot of black goo, I per-sum given to him by a spaceship. He takes the Nestea plunge into a waterfall. His DNA changes and he flakes apart. This somehow destroys a lush and verdant planet. I can accept that. What I can’t accept is that I can’t really be clear on The Engineer’s motivations or plans. We don’t need a Bond villain explanation for  everything. It’s good that some things are left to interpretation. But we really need the basic structure of the villain’s machinations to be clear. Keep in mind, this is the opening scene. This sets the pace for the rest of the movie. It actually feels out of place, like it should have been a deleted scene or something out of the preview comic book that ties in with the movies release (which may or may not exist.) Even after watching the movie, the only thing I understand better about this opening scene is that the guy who took the shot of black goo will be referred to as an Engineer. That’s fine. We don’t know what Alien’s real name is either. I can’t tell if he was trick by the spaceship into taking the shot of black goo or if he did it on purpose. Why did they destroy this seemingly uninhabited world overflowing with natural resources? It is theorized later in the movie that the Engineer seeded our planet and created humans. I am okay with them not answering the question as to why. That is maybe the biggest question in the history of humanity and I am fine with them not getting an answer in this movie. But the best reasons to do this would be for scientific understanding and creating natural resources. Unless the black goo incident was an accident, which is what I choose to believe, there is no reason to ruin this planet’s environment aside from creating an atmosphere for the glass storm sequence that happens later in the movie. They didn’t do it to create a breeding ground for Alien’s because their eggs were all stored on the crashed ship. I think it is also theorized, or at least implied, the Engineers created Alien to kill humans. Or possibly they were subcontracted by Predator to give him something to hunt. But if they wanted to destroy all humans, then why not just have one of the Engineers take a shot of black goo and take the plunge into Niagara falls? I imagine the black goo takes up less resources than a batch of Aliens. Again, it’s fine if some of the Engineers motivations are shrouded in mystery. But I needed a few crumbs of information just to make the villains plan more clear to me.

Second thing to be sticking in my craw is the crashed ship. If it was a crashed ship. It was built as if to be a trap for humans when they come looking for it. I am really confused by all of this. So the series of cave paintings tell us that the Engineers visited Earth a few times and helped civilizations along the way. The most recent appeared to be Scotland about a thousand years prior to the time of the movie. Putting all of the pieces together shows the map to a place where the Engineers want us to visit and the humans are going to go. The Engineers are taking a real risk here. How can the Engineers be sure all of these cave paintings will survive until the day that humans discover space travel? Separated around the world by thousands of years, the map to the planet is only revealed when you put the pieces together. A lot can happen in a few thousand years. Wars, natural disasters, religious inquisition, or just plain bad luck could have destroyed any or all of these cave paintings. The planet they point the humans to is not even the Engineer’s home planet. And who is to say the humans will ever figure out the puzzle that unlocks the map. The Engineers put at least ten thousand years of planning into this and the fact that the humans could even figure out that several disparate cave paintings made by civilizations spaced thousands of years apart made a map is nearly a miracle. The whole thing could have been shot to hell easily. And why point us to a planet that the Engineer’s aren’t on. Unless of course this was always meant to be a trap. They may have created the second planet as a second home for humans then scrapped the plan in favor of operation Black Goo but where do the Aliens fit into that plan? The crashed space ship that Shaw and her team go to investigate is build much like a labyrinth from an Indiana Jones movie. I liked that in terms of aesthetics but it’s fairly impractical for space travel. All of the doors are sealed with secret codes that humans couldn’t possibly read without the assistance of Dave the Killer Robot, who can somehow translate everything with no frame of reference. I doubt it’s easy for an Engineer to get around this ship either, what with all of the pit traps around every corner. I really can’t tell if this was a ship that was suppose to leave with it’s Alien experiment only to end up buried for a few thousand years or a trap left for the humans to someday find then get attacked by Alien. It feels like a little bit of both and that just doesn’t work for me.

Elizabeth Shaw, our main character, and her band of misfit scientists pull some mighty large blunders in this movie. I can accept that our main character are not perfect. In fact, a character should have flaws to give them depth and make them identifiable with the audience. But there is a big difference between character flaws and being a shitty scientist. For starters, they scan the atmosphere of the planet and talk about what an inhospitable environment it is going to be. The problem is that the stats they rattled off are identical to the atmosphere for our planet. That’s just a minor flaw in the writing but pretty amusing none the less. What is not amusing is how they take their helmets off when they get into the crashed ship and start showering in a water fall. Even if the air is breathable, this is a completely foreign environment. You have no idea what kind of viruses or bacteria could be in the air. Even if your scanners aren’t picking up such things, this is an alien world which could contain diseases that your scanners won’t pick up. I don’t think I have to tell you how dangerous it was for them to take a shower in an alien waterfall. Minnesota has ten thousand or so lakes and if you swim in most of them you will get terribly sick. And that’s on our planet. They seem to take the helmets off for no other reason than plot convenience. If the crew on Promethus is monitoring what is happening in with the expedition team, then they could warn them about dangerous critters lurking on the ground or interact with the team to help navigate them through the crashed ship. That wouldn’t help the movie kill off characters so they go without the helmets. They also go with no weapons because they don’t want to threaten the Engineers that they don’t know for sure are in the crashed ship. How would they know that your weapons even are weapons much less feel threatened by them. There is a practical purpose for bringing weapons on an away mission. There could be wild animals over there that you won’t be able to reason with and will attack you and your team. You may need to shoot a lock off a door. You may need to protect yourself if the Engineers turn out to be hostile, which they are. Shaw is being PC here and it’s either to service the plot or for the producers to make a political statement to the audience. Even in Star Trek, with their enlightened future philosophy, would bring a red shirt with a phaser on an away mission. Usually set to stun. She couldn’t have had her security detail go in with a non lethal arsenal? SWAT Teams have that. In fact, they didn’t bring any useful equipment with them aside from Dave the Robot. They had no equipment for collecting samples. Instead, they just touch whatever slime or goo they happen to find. How else are we going to thin out the cast and get in some great kills?

Dave the Robot is a character is just don’t understand at all. This character is written like he read most of the script, except for the part where he gets ripped in half. In the crashed ship, he is able to read and understand all of the Engineer’s language, figure out the puzzles that open the doors, and do whatever the script needs him to do. I can accept that he is an advanced robot, capable of learning. But like any computer, he is limited by his programming. If he has no frame of reference for understand something, how is he suppose to know it right away? This is a completely alien environment with an alien language. Even a robot would need some time to figure this all out. His actions seem quite random and without motivation. The most we are really given is that he is like the humans and wants to gain a greater understanding in regards to his creators. How does slipping Charlie, Elizabeth love interest (?), help him to this end. Dave finds some black goo, not unlike the stuff from the beginning of the movie, while on the crashed ship. He doesn’t tell anyone about this because he is programmed for secrecy.   He decides the best thing to do with this goo is slip it into Charlie’s drink because Charlie is being a jerk to him. This action only makes sense if he saw the beginning of the movie and wanted to see what the black goo would do to a human. The scientific robot thing to do would have been take it to the lab and study it. Run some tests. Then poison Charlie with it if you think it would help Peter Weyland, Weyland Corp founder and the only person he has loyalty to, become immortal. What if this black goo only gave Charlie diarrhea? What greater understanding would Dave have got from that? What if it had made Charlie immortal? He used up all of the black goo he found on Charlie. I guess Peter Weyland, believed to be dead, very old, and stowed away on the mission, he’d be out of luck and Dave would be scrap metal by the end of the week. In another scene, Dave stumbles across some 3d recordings made by the Engineers. While visually impressive, they are very confusing and obtuse. Dave understanders every bit of them though and keeps it a secret from the rest of the team. Why? If he had help from Shaw and her team, he might have a better understanding of what it is he just saw and that would increase his odds of saving Weyland’s life. Instead, he keeps it a secret and it leads to his boss getting killed. Good job. Then there is the uncomfortable Shaw abortion scene. I won’t get into the politics of this because that’s not why I do these reviews. I will say, it was a pretty horrific scene and the closest in tone that this movie gets to the other Alien movies. Dave’s actions only make sense if he had seen those movies and knew what a chestburster was. Elizabeth appears to be pregnant, which she can’t be because she is infertile. The ultrasound shows what appears to be an Alien. Dave says this is a wonderful thing and he will put her into cryo sleep until they get to Earth and figure it all out. If Dave’s quest is to gain greater understanding, then why wouldn’t he want to take this Alien out of her and study it? Later, after Shaw has survived her abortion of the Alien, he comments on her survival instincts. Dave took a liking to her, watching her dreams, while they were in flight and she was in cryo sleep. She might be the only member of the crew he doesn’t want dead. She has been nothing but nice to him and he has a bit of a robot crush on her. How would he know that the chestburster would kill her? For all he knew, she might have just given birth to a perfectly healthy 8 lbs Alien. Also, the urgency with which Shaw acts when she learns about the Alien inside her leads us to believe that she has also seen the other Alien movies and knows what a chestburster is. How does she know that this thing is going to kill her? She doesn’t. But her actions lead us to believe she knows exactly what is going to happen and exactly how to fix it. In the end, with all of this having happened, Shaw makes a deal with Dave to commandeer another ship (how does he know there are other ships on the planet and how does he not know if those ships contain Aliens?) and she trusts him to pilot it, persumingly while she is asleep. He just got all of her friends killed, including her true love, and she trusts Dave’s disembodied head to pilot a ship to the Engineer’s world, which she has no clue where that is (Dave probably does though) while she is asleep. Can you see a problem with this?

I could probably get even more nitpicky but I think I spelled out some of my primary concerns with this movie. If you still believe Promethus is the greatest movie of all time, good for you. I would encourage you to watch more movies though. This isn’t a bad movie. It’s fairly entertaining so long as you don’t think about it too hard. Overall, it stands on its own as a watchable movie and very enjoyable. Certainly, as a visual spectacle it is worth seeking out. If you haven’t seen this movie since it’s release, I hope you watch it again soon and perhaps think about some of the things I said.

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Entry filed under: Action, Horror. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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