Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus (SPOILER ALERT)

Pardon me while I break from our normal custom for a moment.  Shady Grady usually does the Movie reviews around here, but as a sci-fi buff who's been waiting for the story of Prometheus for years, please indulge me for a moment as I attempt to express my thoughts on this complicated film.

First a bit of housekeeping.  

Caveat emptore: in this post we will talk about Prometheus spoilers.  If you have not seen the movie, this is your chance to exit stage left while you still can.

Proceed if you dare.

OK, let's get down to business.

I saw Ridley Scott's Prometheus this past weekend.  I have the utmost respect for Ridley Scott.  The man is a film creating genius.  His resume includes the landmark sci-fi films Alien and Blade Runner, as well as instant classics like Gladiator, Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down and American Gangster just to name a few.  All quality films within their own right. 

With respect to Alien, this movie set the standard for the genre back in 1979.  By now, most people are familiar with the chest-bursting alien inspired by the artwork of H.R. Giger that has now famously appeared in over half a dozen films (Alien, Aliens, Alien Resurrection, Alien vs. Predator, etc.).  But if we go back to the first Alien film made in 1979 (way ahead of its time by the way) the basic premise is that the 7 person crew of the Nostromo receives a distress beacon from a nearby planet known as LV-426.  The crew lands on LV-426 and they find an alien ship filled with the infamous alien "eggs" that house the now infamous spider-like "face-huggers."  While the away team is searching the alien ship, Sigourney Weaver's character (Ripley) later discovers that the "distress beacon" is actually a warning beacon to stay away from the planet.  Meanwhile, back on the alien ship, the away team discovers a huge humanoid character sitting in the pilot's seat of the alien ship surrounded by the alien "eggs."  He appears to have been dead for years and has a hole bursting out of his chest.  Movie fans have since named him the "Space Jockey."

The Space Jockey in Alien
Neither Alien or any of its progeny offer any explanation whatsoever as to WHO the Space Jockey is, WHAT he was doing on this ship, WHEN he died, WHERE he came from/was going, WHY he had all these alien eggs on his ship in the first place, etc.  Prometheus, as a prequel to Alien, ostensibly takes us back to answer those questions.

And it does answer some of those questions, but it also raises a lot of questions of its own that, of course, go unanswered.

That being said, I have to say I was somewhat disappointed in Prometheus.  It had big shoes to fill being the prequel to such an awesome franchise but it didn't quite fill them.

To get the admittedly nit picking technicalities out of the way first, this movie was filmed in 3D the same way that Avatar was, but this fact is easily forgotten halfway through the movie because there's nothing really impressive about the 3D selection.  For all intents and purposes, it was just a regular 2D movie with nice special effects.

My other technical beef was with the musical score.  Way too "upbeat" and "warm" for a dark movie like this.  I would have expected something much more serious. Something more along the lines of Inception, Dark Knight, Heat, etc.  The music didn't fit the theme of the movie.  It was too hopeful and "happy" sounding, if that makes any sense.

But that's neither here nor there.

The real disappointment comes from the substance of the movie itself.  Prometheus is about a pair of scientists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) who make a series of discoveries about ancient art which suggest that the origin of mankind has some connection to a particular constellation in outer space.  10 years later, a dying billionaire named Weyland (played by Guy Pearce) finances a space exploration team to take a ship to the planet LV-223 [note: this is a different planet from planet LV-426 in Alien].

So the entire purpose of this journey is to find signs of life on another planet.  A finding that, if true, would mean that WE, as human beings, are not alone in the universe.  That would be the single most extraordinary finding in the history of mankind.  Yet, the movie severely downplays this fact, as if it doesn't matter.  In fact, the significance of this fact is discarded within the first 60 seconds of the film when we see an alien being (later referred to by the crew as an "Engineer" as a hat tip to the fact that this race of beings engineered human beings) ingest a black substance which decomposes his DNA in a matter of minutes.  As he falls to his death, a large ship (presumably piloted by his colleagues) takes off and leaves the planet, confirming for us within the first scene that yes, we are not alone.  Alien beings do exist and apparently they have a penchant for committing suicide.  But seriously, there is no build up whatsoever to the discovery of life on another planet.  It's like they tell you the ending of the book in the first chapter.

I can't overstate how much this takes away from the power of the film.

After our heroes land on planet LV-223 the crew work their way through an ancient structure filled with seemingly endless underground tunnels and passageways that resemble a bee hive or an ant colony.  They soon discovery that the "Engineers" who used to live here have been dead for over 2000 years.  The only things that remain are a boatload of curious containers which ooze a mysterious black liquid.  Upon finding this black liquid, it doesn't take long for things to quickly turn south.  The crew discovers that the black liquid, and indeed the entire planet, is not an answer to the creation of life but rather it is specifically designed to end life on a massive scale.  The "Engineers" used the planet as a testing ground far away from their own home world much like how we might use an island in the Pacific Ocean to test an atomic bomb.  The "bomb" in this case is a deadly biological weapon that apparently killed all of the "Engineers" before they could carry out its intended purpose: to wipe out life on other worlds (including Earth).

The plot thickens when a crew member (David the Android played by Michael Fassbender) finds an "Engineer" sleeping in some type of cryo-chamber.  The old billionaire Weyland has David wake up the last "Engineer" and attempt to communicate with him in order to discover any secret of life that might keep the old man alive.  The Engineer, apparently not too appreciative of being woken up after 2000 years, proceeds to open up a can of whup-ass on everybody in the room.  Without missing a beat, he fires up his ship in an effort to take the bio-weapon to Earth.  While doing this, he engages the large Space-Jockey chair that we saw in Alien, confirming for the audience that the elephant-like character found in the seat in Alien is, in fact, an "Engineer" in a space suit.  Before the "Engineer" can take off, Noomi Rapace's character tips off the captain of the human ship (played by Idris Elba) and begs him to ram the alien ship before it can get away.  He does, killing himself and the rest of the crew, and knocks the alien ship back down to LV-223 where unfortunately, out of all the gin joints in all the world, it lands on Charlize Theron. Ouch.
Noomi Rapace attempts to use the escape vessel which detached from the human ship just before Idris Elba's kamikaze attack, but before she can take two steps inside, the "Engineer" bursts in the door and proceeds to lay the smack down on her (does this guy ever stop whupping ass?).  Rapace, who, by the way, had to self-perform an emergency c-section earlier in the movie in order to remove a nasty creature with tentacles from her womb that formed after she had sex with her partner who was, himself, infected by the Engineers' black liquid, opens the door to where she had trapped the tentacle creature and it grabs the Engineer.  Rapace makes a mad dash, hooks up with what's left of David the Android back in the crashed Engineer ship, and together they pilot another nearby Engineer ship in search of the Engineers' home world.  Just before the movie ends, we see the Engineer's dead body after having been smothered by the tentacle creature, and out of his chest bursts what appears to be an early form of the creature we all know and love from Alien.

Since the Space Jockey in Alien was found in his pilot's seat on planet LV-426, and not lying on the floor of a human space ship on LV-223, we can safely conclude that this movie does not take us up to the point where Alien begins.  Thus begging the question, why not?  If this story is the first of a trilogy, which Ridley Scott has intimated that it might be, then that's one thing, but if this turns out to be all that we get, then it leaves WAY too many questions unanswered.

From that perspective, the film was a let down for true fans of the Alien genre and for fans of Ridley Scott's work.  If you knew absolutely nothing about Alien then you will probably be entertained by the CG effects, the acting and the general plot of the movie.  It's not a "BAD" movie.  At all.  In fact it's pretty good. It just doesn't deliver what it should have delivered. 

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