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Monday, June 11, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

Hey there Chaos fans. I know its been a while since I posted, but frankly, it's been a bit busy here in the Eye of Terror, with the forces of Chaos building mighty war machines and making sacrifices to the gods and... OK. Well, I've been busy doing work, family, and house-related stuff. On the 40K front I am working on some more Wyches and a few other surprises that I won't get into just now. However, I have also gotten a chance to see Prometheus. So, is it a grand return to the Alien universe? Or is it just a continual slide into mediocre sequels? Let's take a look...

You knew right off the bat that this movie would be unique since Ridley Scott was coming back to direct. He directed the original, groundbreaking Alien, so if anyone could/should do a sequel, its him. But, as a director, he is very, very hit or miss. When he hits, its huge- Alien, Blade Runner, Legend, and Gladiator redefined their respective genres, changing the very discourse of movie-making. Others have been solid, entertaining movies but not at all revolutionary, such as American Gangster and Hannibal. Others still have been misfires- I look at the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven, and I see the potential but it doesn't quite work. Then, there are the absolute failures- Robin Hood, G.I. Jane, 1492, and Black Hawk Down (yes, I view it as a failure). Now, some might say that this "inconsistency" make Scott a bad director- I say that's what makes him a modern great- you never quite know what you'll get from him, but you know that he has and does continue to push boundaries.

First thing first- this is NOT Alien. While it IS a prequel, it is not 100% connected either. It is indeed the same universe, and the "Space Jockey" is prominent, it simply isn't like Alien in terms of horror, tension, nor as a movie structure. It is quite different and unique, for good and ill. Ultimately, Alien was a slasher movie- the Alien could have been Leatherface or Michael Myers chasing down people... We have this unknowable thing that seems to exist just to kill. Now, of course, its a xenomorph and it implants in people and all that- but, at the end of the day, it is stalking people and killing them, a good, old-fashioned slasher movie.  Its a great piece of sci-fi, but at its heart it is a genre blending of sci-fi and slasher-horror, which is simply a brilliant conceit, and of course it is handled so well, with no moments of being meta or self-referential.  And for the record, Aliens, equally good as a movie, is simply a Romero zombie movie, but now with Aliens. Check it out- the "marines" have guns, but there's just too many Aliens, so they hunker down and barricade themselves in for protection- and you know how well that works out in zombie movies. Cameron did a great job on Aliens- he understood the genre-blending, and took it to the next logical step. (The rest of the Alien franchise doesn't exist to me- sorry). But that begs the question- what is Prometheus, then?

On the face of it, it is not really a horror movie at all. It is more sci-fi than either of the other two. The movie asks serious sci-fi questions: was the human race created by another race? What is our purpose in the universe? Can we control our own destiny? Does a "higher power" care about us, as children or kindred? Now, nearly every sci-fi venture has tried at least a cursory look at these questions at some point or another- Star Trek, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Battlestar Galactica (yes, both series), and more have all looked at these questions. Usually, the answers are either totally ambiguous or positively re-affirming- Kirk doesn't find God in STV, but believes he exists, for example. Now, this is where the "horror" comes in: there may be no solid answers, and those answers that are there are not in the least bit positive. Indeed, one can interpret the events of Prometheus as quite damning- we were created, but... our "creators" don't care for us, and indeed may well hate our very existence.

I don't want to hit too many spoilers at this point, because I think that all sci-fans should see this in theaters- love it or hate it (and there's arguments for both) it deserves to be seen and critiqued. So, let me boil down the basic plot outline, give a few pros and cons, and then my rating. Then, I'll delve into some spoilers, if you wish to have a look.

In several pre-historic cave paintings, the same painting of a large being (godlike) is shown pointing to 5 stars- each cave painting is separated over distance and thousands of years- the scientists investigating, Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway believe that aliens (Shaw calls them engineers) must be responsible for this, and perhaps they hold the answers of humanity's origins. Although it is not shown, the scientists convince the wealthy Peter Weyland that they can find these beings (imagine the director of 1492 doing a riff on Columbus asking Isabella for cash to find a new route to Asia). Weyalnd builds the state of the art Prometheus space vessel to bring the group of scientists to the source of these paintings. After 2 years in cryo-sleep, the crew finds LV-223, they land and begin to explore. They find ruins, dead "engineers", and of course... something terrible. Something that is so unpredictable, lethal, and terrifying that even the "engineers" had reason to fear. The crew must then fight for their lives- not only from without but also from within as several crew members begin to act on shadowy motives. Can they uncover the secrets of the "engineers"? Can they escape with their lives? Will their discovery threaten all of Earth?

The Good:

The movie has great ideas, no doubt there. As I mentioned above, it is asking big questions, and the answers that are given or hinted at are not at all re-assuring. Indeed, this is existential horror- all of our lives are insignificant, as nothing, in a hostile universe. At best a mistake, at worst- a crime to be expunged. Hehe- a bit of 40K Gothic horror right there, I think. I appreciated the darkness of the movie. There seems to be little hope by the end- for the crew, for us as individuals, and for us as a race. The lessons of the movie are bleak, and not all questions have clear answers, and faith may not be enough. I don't mind my movies being this murky, and as Scott has proved with Alien and Blade Runner, bleakness can be effective. It certainly is here. If Alien's tag line was "In space, no one can hear you scream", Promethus' could be: "Don't even bother screaming; the universe doesn't care".

The main actors all do a great job with their roles. Noomi Rapace is solid as Elizabeth Shaw. She is not in any way like Ripley- she's a scientist who has deep religious sentiments and is hopeful that she may be on the way to finding a wonderful, spiritual truth for mankind. Of course, it turns into a decent into hell, and she does a great job of showing the spiritual and physical strain this journey hits her with. If her warm and compassionate character is the yin, Michael Fassbender's David is the cold, calculating and truly inhuman yang. David is the requisite android on board, who is supposed to advance the mission- however, he has several agendas all his own, and he pursues them without any real moral compunction. He is neither good or evil- he is amoral, and Fassbender knocks it out of the park- just as he did when playing Magneto in X-Men First Class. The main cast is rounded out by Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Logan Marshall-Green. All three do a fine job, though Fassbender and Rapace are the highlights.

The special effects and the score are both absolutely top notch. Scott has outdone himself visually here- and we're talking about the director who did Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator here- all of which have stirring images and camera-work. Scott does an amazing job of making us feel as if we are seeing a real alien planet landscape- it is so striking, so otherworldly, and yet something we can relate to. Of course, then there's the "engineers'"... uh... dwelling (don't want to give too much away here), which is equally stunning. The designs of Geiger are felt here in these dark, labyrinthine corridors. Finally, the ship Prometheus itself is a wonderful ship inside and out- hearkening to the Nostromo but being far sleeker (and smaller). The movie is visually stunning. The score is great too- while Alien was minimalist (appropriately so), Prometheus' score is bombastic- fitting, considering what these scientists are looking for (and what they find).

The Bad:

The actual script/dialogue could use some work, as far as the secondary characters go. They are quite annoying and distracting from the high-minded dialogue of Fassbender et al. Some of the lines just fall flat, and the actors saying them just aren't convincing. There were certain bits of banter that just pulled me out of it- I was surprised at that from Scott. Then, there's the actions of several of these guys that don't make sense. I mean downright stupid- such as the Captain leaving things unattended at a critical point. Now, I cant tell if that is poor scripting, or if Scott is being so cynical about humanity that they are selfish and constantly mess up (which, if you read the movie that way, may certainly be the case).

Second is the pacing. Now look, I'm the guy who has sat through all three LotR movies in a row. I love movies that are given time to breathe and explore. I also love quick action too. Prometheus tries to do both, and suffers from this several times. The action scenes go by so quick, and then there's longer stretches in between that are occasionally too slow as compared to the rest of the movie. This makes the movie a bit haphazard. It needed to be one or the other- not both. Some characters, like Captain Janek, are good characters, but they don't get enough time to be built up (which hurts when Janek pieces a clue together, without the audience even knowing he knew to ask the question to begin with).  Finally, big questions are asked, themes hinted at, but they fall quickly by the wayside in a rush of action, and then decompression. Intentional? Challenging? A mistake? I don't know if this can be remedied by a "director's cut" or what, but the pacing is off, no doubt about it.

The ending- now, I don't mean the end of the story of the Prometheus. It's after that. Something happens- something is thrown in at the last minute to firmly tie Alien and Prometheus together- and it was handled poorly. Indeed, it was almost insulting. It was so unnecessary- it was almost as if Scott was told by the studio- you had better put this in so people will KNOW it is an Alien prequel. Let me put it this way- it could have been an after the credits wink wink to the audience... for a crappy B-movie. It should NOT be here, and it ruined the power of the ending a strong sci-fi movie.

So, I can't get into more without spoilers, so it is here that I bid you adieu, unless you want to read a few spoilers, which I place below... As for the movie, I give it three out of four Marks of Chaos. It's a thought provoking movie, with great effects, strong main characters, and solid suspense. Its not fantastic though, due to some pacing issues and some questionable dialog and actions that don't seem to fit in with the rest of the movie- making for an occasional jarring experience. Perhaps a director's cut can alleviate this? Regardless, if you are a sci-fi fan, you owe it to yourself to see this- even if you come away not liking it, it will cause some thought and discussion, which so many movies can't be bothered with on ANY level. I think the movie succeeds, but even if you view it as failure, it tries hard to push the boundaries of what s sci-fi/horror film can be.

Still there? OK. I don't want to go into every single thing, but I want to hit the big points/spoilers:

1- One Engineer created mankind. That is the implication of the opening scene. Now, was this directed by the engineers as a whole? Or... was he a rouge? Did he kick start human life on his own accord? If so, that would give a new meaning to the title Prometheus. So, was mankind a planned event? Or the act of a renegade? Or was it an experiment not meant to get this far? Which leads us to...

2- Why are the engineers now hostile to humanity? They seem to be mad at humanity, and its apparent that the "black mutagen" was meant to wipe us out. Is it to erase the mistake? Or has  humanity grown too powerful and/or wicked? Or weak, if it comes to that. Of course, the "black mutagen" was too much for the engineers to handle, and the engineers on LV-223 are wiped out. Now, why other engineers on other planets didn't act against Earth, I'm not sure, yet. So, the "mutagen" is a bio-weapon, as Captain Janek suggests (how he comes to this conclusion, I'm not sure- as I cited earlier- he just come out of the blue with this- he needed more screen time).

3-  One of the themes seems to be that man is wicked/imperfect/sinful. While Shaw is a good person, the same can't be said for... Weyland himself. He is hiding on board. He wants to meet the engineers, thinking they might cure him / give him the boon of immortality. Now, he is not a "nice" man- he has been instructing David to lie to the crew, and is only looking to benefit himself. However, Weyland himself is a creator too- he created David. He has "created", but has not taught David anything of morality, respect, compassion. Weyland has rejected this responsibility- he uses David, and that's all. Oh, and Vickers is an android too. The evidence is right there all the time. She may or may not know it, but she is. Look closely for those clues.

4- As for David, he is amoral. The things he does puts everyone at risk, as he seeks answers to what is happening on the planet. Ostensibly, he is doing Weyland's bidding. However, I think its more complicated than that. David simply wants to be his own being. Interestingly, Holloway wonders to David about how Weyland is seeking his maker while ignoring that which Weyland himself has created. Later, David says that all children want to see their parents dead. If one is looking to judge humanity, just look at their works. If David is an example of man's work, you can see how the Engineers might judge humanity as lacking. Indeed, what does David tell the cryogenically frozen engineer when he is reawakened? That brings me to the last point...

5- The only living engineer becomes very hostile, attacks the humans, and then begins to prep the ship to fly- apparently for Earth. Did the engineer not know what happened while he was in stasis? Was there a malfunction, or was it that there was no engineer left alive to wake him? As for David, I suspect he tells him that the humans have invaded (duh- they are standing right in front of him) and killed his brethren, which leads him to attack. To stop the ship from heading to Earth with the "black mutagen",  Captain Janek heroically flies the Prometheus into the ship, wrecking both- one of the most thrilling moments in the movie. However, Shaw knows there are other Engineers out there... and she still wants to know WHY things are like this with the Engineers.

Now, this all adds up to a bleak tale, in which humanity is weak and sinful, and the Engineers seem to be quite hostile toward us- whether we were created by accident or not. I haven't even touched on Shaw being "impregnated"...My views you have read, but I have seen other views- people have plenty of theories on all of this, touching on things I haven't even considered yet. Some have a more positive take on the events here, though I look at them as an existential crisis. That is what I like about the movie- there's lots of angles you can look at the movie from. I really need to see this again, so I can dissect it further...

Anyways, that's my 2 cents. Until next time...

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