Movie Review: Prometheus

Over thirty years ago, in 1979, Ridley Scott wowed audiences with a little horror movie called “Alien.” I say “horror movie,” rather than “sci-fi movie” because really – at its heart – that’s what it is. Even its tagline, “In space, no one can hear you scream” reflects that simple truth. Sure there were aliens, and a spaceship, and an android, and any number of science fiction elements. But ultimately it was a film about a monster that systematically killed off an entire crew of people before being finally defeated.

Then in 1986, another visionary director – James Cameron – transformed the franchise from horror, to action. Instead of one creature, there were hundreds. There were marines, guns, a mecha suit, guns, explosions, and oh yeah, guns. This is one of the exceedingly rare examples of a sequel that matches the original. And again, there were those science fiction elements, but ultimately it’s an action film.

The 90s saw two more sequels. Alien 3, directed by yet another amazing director – David Freaking Fincher – and Alien: Resurrection, written by JOSS FREAKING WHEDON. Unfortunately, these movies were terrible, and I prefer not to think about them. Alien 3 went through many, many writers, which undoubtedly contributed to the shoddy nature of the film. Alien: Resurrection was written (for some stupid reason) as a campy parody, but directed like an action-horror. So basically you have characters delivering terribly cheesy, ridiculous lines completely seriously, which makes it look even worse.

So, over the course of four movies – about aliens, robots, and spaceships – we have a horror movie, an action movie, a worse action movie, and a parody. Not one that I would truly consider “science fiction.”

Until Prometheus. This, at last, is truly science fiction. Not because it features different kinds of aliens and more sophisticated CGI, but because the focus of the movie is less on the monsters, or defeating the monsters, but on questions. Where did we come from? Why were we created? Should mankind be allowed to learn the answers to such questions? What makes someone human? What is the nature of the soul? None of these are new questions. In fact, they are some of the oldest questions out there. But they will never stop mattering.

You see, science fiction is not just about robots, aliens, dystopian futures, mutants, genetic engineering, cloning, or intergalactic travel. Science fiction is about the consequences of robots, aliens, dystopian futures, mutants, genetic engineering, cloning, or intergalactic travel. What does it mean if we can just clone our dead children? What does it mean if we can weed out undesirable traits in the population? What does it mean if we can live forever? Science fiction is about questions. And so is Prometheus.

In short, Prometheus is the story of a team of naive scientists out to answer some fundamental questions about the origins of the human race. After discovering an “invitation” or road-map to a distant planet, the team investigates an ancient structure. Inside, they find a number of large humanoids all gruesomely killed, and rooms full of ominous vases that ooze black goo. Any movie-viewer worth his salt can see where that is going. Infection, murder circus, monsters. Many questions are raised, some are answered. And now, to discuss the movie. Spoilers ahead.

First off, the best thing about this movie is the cast. The lead character, Elizabeth Shaw, is played by the fantastic Noomi Rapace, aka the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And while I personally preferred Rooney Mara’s portrayal, Rapace was fantastic. Then there was Charlize Theron as Vickers, the corporate representative. And last but not least was Michael Fassbender as David the android. These three characters formed the core of the story, and represented a lot of different goals. Rapace was a naive idealist, whose primary goal was to find our creators and ask them the questions. Theron was there on behalf of her company, to make sure the risks didn’t outweigh the rewards, and to make sure proper procedures were followed. And then there is David, who represents a boundless curiosity – unencumbered by morality – and obedience to his “father,” Peter Weyland – head of the corporation – who also wants to find our creators. His goal however, is not scientific but selfish, hoping the Engineers hold the secrets to life eternal. Other standouts, though in a far less substantial role, are Idris Elba as the Captain, and Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland.

The second best thing about the film, undoubtedly, were the visuals. Previous movies in the franchise focused on the negative side of the future – on corporations that run the world, about run-down space junkers and disgusting prisons. Prometheus though is not as bleak. The ship is shiny and new. The med-pod is super nifty. The holograms are clean and gorgeous. The CG is simply amazing, as are the sets, the props, the costumes, all of it. In fact, the only thing that stuck out as silly looking was Guy Pearce as a 100 year-old man. I just don’t know that his part was big enough, or his performance profound enough, that Weyland had to be played by a younger man. Why not some random old guy? Anyway.

What was less successful, really, were the characters. I mean, they were almost all scientists. But they were so painfully dumb. I mean, sure you find a bunch of ancient relics pointing to the same star system, you assume it’s an invitation. OK, I can live with that, even though I would be pretty skeptical. Then you get to this planet, and you see giants violently murdered, but no trace of what killed them, and you’re not suspicious? Or – and this is the big one that killed me – you find an evil space cobra hissing in menacing black goo, and you refer to it as a sweet girl and try to pet it? REALLY? Have you not seen Jurassic Park? I mean really. It is hissing at you and screaming at you and it’s an alien on a planet full of dead giants that CREATED HUMAN LIFE. How are bells not ringing???

Also, it really bothered me that things were only sort of set up for Alien. I know it isn’t so much a prequel as a parallel story, but it kept almost setting up Alien, without quite getting there. Why was the final Xenomorph at the end not fully Xenomorph? Why was it on the lifeboat rather than an Engineer ship? Why did Prometheus have a room full of evil goop jars, but Alien had a room full of eggs? Does the proto-Xeno from Prometheus lay all those eggs? Why does it go back to an empty ship rather than stay on the ship it’s on? What happened to all those jars? My point is – and I’m not trying to nit-pick – why set things up at all if you aren’t going to fully commit?

Along those lines, Prometheus raises a lot of questions. Not just plot-hole questions, but actual questions. For example: was the Engineer at the beginning on Earth a million years ago, or was that another planet? Are there humans out in some other galaxy? Why did the Engineers create us? More importantly, why did they try to destroy us? How did the characters figure out that’s what they were doing, because all I saw were floating lights and planets. Why didn’t they destroy us? Why invite us to find them, if they wanted to kill us? If they changed their minds about killing us, why did it kill everyone on the planet?

Now, I get that part of the theme and point of Prometheus is to raise those very questions, to discuss the importance of asking questions. And I get that a sequel would, presumably, set out to answer some of those questions. But really, that’s a LOT of questions. I mean, I just think it’s ultimately dissatisfying to raise so many questions without actually answering, well, any of them.

And that is ultimately what I felt about Prometheus: unsatisfying. Some of this can be laid at the feet of my own high expectations. I allowed them to get so high. But I don’t think that can be the only problem. Some of it lies with Prometheus. For example, what kind of movie did it want to be? A horror movie? Well, there were creatures jumping out at people. There was definite body horror. There was chasing and scrambling and running and screaming. But it wasn’t a horror movie. An action movie? Well, there was some flame-throwing, and some shooting and tasing, and fighting. But it wasn’t an action movie. As I’ve already said, it’s a science fiction movie. It raises questions. It explores implications. Except that it never really said anything about them. It left a little too much open to interpretation and extrapolation (or to theoretical sequels). And that, ultimately, led to a sense of let-down.

Now, I realize that I’ve been pretty harsh, but I really did like the movie. Michael Fassbender was incredible. He was so fantastically child-like in his curiosity and sense of wonder. He was so deliciously evil in his experimenting and plotting and secrets. He blew my face off. Charlize Theron played cold and bitchy and ominous so well, but then brought unexpected sympathy – not to mention being the only truly competent character other than Idris Elba. Noomi Rapace was an excellent expy of Ripley, and expertly conveyed a sense of terror at all the right times. The movie was truly gorgeous, and it did get my heart pumping many times. I thought it was well-written and well-directed. As I told my brother when I saw it, “I liked it. I didn’t love it. But I recommend it.”

And now, readers, I say the same to you, especially if you’re a fan of the Alien series. If you’re not, just go watch Alien and Aliens, and ignore the rest.

Advertisements

For the Week of June 7th

What’s up guys! Welcome to another edition of “This Week In…” – my weekly column that breaks down the big things happening across the Pop Culture spectrum this week. The first week of the month is always crowded, which means there might just be something for everyone. So sit back, relax, and keep your arms and legs inside the carpet at all times.

Music

Well guys, according to Metacritic and Wikipedia, there are a TON of new music releases out this week. But unless you’re a fan of Alan Jackson or Bobby Brown, there really isn’t much out that I’ve actually heard of. Which – granted – doesn’t mean a whole lot, but still. The only two releases that even remotely piqued my interest were from punk (ish?) rock bands The Hives and The Melvins.

The Hives are from Sweden, which I try not to hold against anyone, but having lived in and loved Norway, I make no promises. They are most famous for this song, which was basically a flash in the pan for most people. I enjoy them, but really only in small doses.

And then there’s The Melvins, who formed in 1983. That’s basically thirty years ago guys. Thirty. Years. This week will see their NINETEENTH studio album release. NINETEEN. What. I have no opinions on them at all, but WOW. That is a LOT of music.

Movies

I love when two very different movies come out the same week. In some ways they’re competing (what with resources being fixed for the average movie-goer), but at the same time, they are clearly going after audiences that rarely overlap. This week, the two major releases are Madagascar III: The Reckoning Europe’s Most Wanted. I enjoyed the first Madagascar movie, despite my overall opinion that it’s just too… big… What I mean by that is really hard to explain, unless you’ve seen that episode of The O.C. where Summer starts dating a rip-off version of Seth, whose comedy is described as “big.” The Madagascar franchise has increasingly gone that way, by hiring more and more big name actors, devoting more time to lemurs dancing, and now – in the single most obnoxious trailer I have ever seen – Chris Rock. I swear, I’m only excited about this movie coming out so that that trailer will die.

I am vastly, categorically, geometrically, INFINITELY more excited about Prometheus, a sort of pseudo-prequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal ‘Alien.’ This is Scott’s first return to the franchise he started, and his first return to science fiction since the even more seminal ‘Blade Runner.’ Oh, and did I mention that it’s written by Damon Lindelof – co-creator of LOST? And if that wasn’t enough, Charlize Theron is there for the men and Michael Fassbender is there for the women/gays. Guys. I am freaking out over this.

Television

Monday – Eureka is back after a couple weeks off! I recently caught up on this series (finally), and by that I mean I watched four seasons in like five days. It isn’t perfect, and there are a lot of things I’d have done differently, but you can’t argue that it’s entertaining and generally light, with flashes of brilliance and a TON of heart. Tonight’s episode feature my uber nerd-crush Felicia Day, and the team’s attempts to pull her out of the “Matrix” she’s trapped in. If that isn’t your jam, you can always watch the beginning of a new season of Hell’s Kitchen, or a new episode of the fantastically awful Teen Wolf.

Tuesday – TNT kicks off its lackluster summer programming with Rizzoli & Isles, which is somehow starting its third season? Do people love not-so-subtle lesbian overtones that much? And speaking of overtones, there’s also the start of Franklin and Bash. Which is just so bad y’all. It’s not even laughably bad like Teen Wolf. It’s just awful, and there’s no enjoyment to be had from it. So please don’t. There’s also MORE Hell’s Kitchen, and the return of Tosh.0, which has started relying even more – let that soak in – on gimmicks like fashion. W/e.

Wednesday – Duets. Which should really be called “Totally NOT The Voice, How Could You Say That???” Also new eps of Royal Pains and zzzzzzz look I’m sleeping because I’m bored already.

Thursday-Saturday – zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday – Sunday. Thank you, TV gods, for Sunday. We’ve got the season 5 finale of Mad Men. The show has always had phenomenal finales, and I’m sure this one won’t disappoint. Will we see Peggy again? Will Don make it a year without cheating? How will the firm move past the shocking Event of last night? Will Betty, inspired by a sudden upsurge in motherly ability, lose those last 20 lbs? Will Pete ever come clean about his affair with Rory Gilmore? I DON’T KNOW so watch.

And then of course, there’s True Blood. Ah True Blood. Waiting for me with open, overly-muscled and/or puncture-wound-ridden arms. Willing and eager to fill the void left in my week – and my heart – after Game of Thrones ended (spectacularly btw). Will the return of Russell revitalize the show, and return the delightfully campy mood of season three? Will the return of Reverend Newlin bring back the high quality of season two? Will the death of Tara free the show from her bad acting and overly-depressing storylines and incoherent actions? Will the inclusion of The Authority be sufficiently menacing, and catalyze action, or will it only serve to bog us down in EVEN MORE boring vampire politics? Only time will tell, but I’m hopeful.

Comics

DC Comics – Action Comics kicks off its “summer storyline” with Clark being hunted by Earth’s foremost hunter, looking for the ultimate game – aliens. More controversially, we’ll also be getting the first of the Watchmen prequels. These were met with intensely violent fan reaction, in the adorable way that only Internet/comic nerds can muster. I have no doubt however, that these will be blockbuster titles despite/because of that, and I truly believe the company has thrown its best talent at the challenge. And then Animal Man continues its apparently phenomenal run that I totally promise I will definitely read someday soon for realz.

Image – Morning Glories #19! The last issue was – as always – epic, revealing, interesting, and confusing. As Season One/Year One draws to a close (I think) this year, the book should be moving to some sort of momentous reveals, questions, cliffhangers, and shakeups in the status quo. So do yourselves a favor and get the trades and Marathon Mode this beast.

Marvel – Most “importantly,” we have a new installment in the Avengers vs. X-Men saga, with Issue #5, the end of Act One. So far the story has been pretttttty boring, so maybe moving into a new act will help? Maybe? Fingers crossed? There’s also a SLEW of tie-ins, and the always satisfying X-Factor

Books

And finally, books! This week has two releases I could get excited about. From Sword and Laser:

Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon’s Children) by Alastair Reynolds
The first of three novels in a series called ‘Poseiden’s Children’ set at different points over 11,000 years of future history. Blue Remembered Earth focuses on an industrialized Africa as humanity settles the rest of the Solar system.

 Alastair Reynolds is a time-tested author, both of novels and on io9.com, a sci-fi/fantasy blog I read daily. This book interests me because it sees Africa as the center of the world, rather than America or China or Russia or India. It’s a refreshing change, and the idea of looking at different points, rather than telling one long story, is also pretty cool.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory. Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you know what the term “redshirts” means. If not, allow me to explain. In the early days of Star Trek, the crew would encounter some new Space Mystery each week. They would invariably send down a team to investigate. Since the show was about the officers on the bridge, they couldn’t just send some grunts with actual, you know, qualifications down there, so they would send the bridge crew. The captain, the first mate, the head doctor. The people that run everything. I’m pretty sure this is bad leadership. Anyway, once down there, there would always be some fighting. Since the show is, again, about these people they can’t die. So how do you show that The Stakes are REAL? You bring along some nobody (in a red shirt), and kill them. Every. Episode. And so the term “Redshirt” was born. Redshirt: aka Cannon-Fodder.

Anyway, I like that this book plays with the idea, and shows some characters getting genre-savvy. I’m very interested in this one guys.

And finally, if you’re like me and enjoy the Sword and Laser podcast/video show, they/we are reading “Tigana” this June. I haven’t bought it yet, because I’m still in denial that May is over and that I failed to finish “Hyperion” on time, but I’m sure I’ll get over that soon as Summer Boredom sets in. So, won’t you read it with me? You can find all the pertinent information on http://www.swordandlaser.com

And that’s it for today! Come back on Wednesday when I discuss Comics! Not sure if I’ll be discussing the DC Universe’s newest/oldest gay hero, Green Lantern (not the one you’re thinking of), or the Watchmen Prequels, but I guess we’ll see huh? And then on Friday we should get a post from Will on movies! And, if you’re lucky, I may just review Snow White and the Huntsman, which yes, I saw on yes, opening night. Peace!

2012: The Summer Blockbuster Rises

I’m so excited right now. After 4 1/2 months of utter cinema garbage (“The Three Stooges,” really Hollywood?!), it’s time for what many consider the golden age of yearly theater-hopping. While this is a promising time every year, some summers are more generous than others. Take 2009 for example. It gave us great films like “Star Trek” and “Up,” but also delivered “Terminator Salvation,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

In recent years, the summer blockbuster season has become a little lackluster in my opinion. Part of this is due to the fact that 2008 was the greatest summer for movies since Steven Spielberg introduced audiences to a killer shark in 1975’s “Jaws.” My proof? How about this list of films?

  • “The Dark Knight”
  • “Wall-E”
  • “Iron Man”
  • “Hellboy 2”
  • “Wanted”
  • “Tropic Thunder”
  • “Kung-Fu Panda”
  • and many more

Find me a list that tops that and I’ll be happy to relinquish the claim. Since then, the summers have grown a little duller for the most part. It’s seems to be a little more “Green Lantern” and a lot less “Toy Story 3.” But I believe in my heart that 2012 can be the year to end all years for summer audiences (also for Mayans). Here are the movies that I’m most excited for this summer.

MAY

“The Avengers” – May 4

Duh. Old news for you guys. It came and conquered last weekend like the Hulk in a china shop.

“Men in Black III” – May 25

I remember when I saw MIB II back in 2002 and my little movie-loving mind was disappointed by the lackluster sequel to a film I had grown to love as a kid. That being said, I cannot wait for the series’ redemption to finally come through ten years later. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to hear Josh Brolin talk like Tommy Lee Jones for 2 hours.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” – June 1

When Kristen Stewart was originally cast to play the “fairest of them all,” my eyes nearly rolled out of my head. I could name at least 50 actresses I’d rather see in the role. The more I see of the film itself, though, I’m intrigued by the dark tone. Also, Charlize Theron looks deliciously evil and Chris Hemsworth has had me sold since he first picked up Mjolnir.

“Prometheus” – June 8

Ever since this project was announced, I have been trying to stop rocking back and forth with uncontrollable fits of excitement. Ridley Scott returning to the world of his 1979 sci-fi classic “Alien” and with one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory? It’s too much to bear. Do yourself a favor and go into this film as blind as possible. It will be scary, gruesome and fantastic (I hope).

“Brave” – June 22

Coming hot off its first critical failure, look for Pixar to be in full swing with the tale of a Scottish princess yearning for freedom and adventure. Even if it’s only half as good as movies like “Up” and “The Incredibles,” it’ll be worth watching.

“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” – June 22

What’s summer without a little apocalyptic comedy, right? This film stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley as two people who are looking for happiness during the earth’s final days. With such an interesting premise and likeable stars, I’m more than a little hopeful.

“The Amazing Spiderman” – July 3

I’m usually the first in line to hate on reboots, but after the horrifying taste left in my mouth after Emo Peter Parker took over in in “Spiderman 3,” I’ll take any fresh ideas. It also helps that the casting seems better this time around. The only thing that really worries me is how much I may hate the 3D.

“The Dark Knight Rises” – July 20

This is probably the film I am most excited about for this summer. I’ve been a die hard fan of the Caped Crusader for as long as I can remember and, like everyone else with a pulse, I love what Christopher Nolan has done for the franchise. Judging by the latest trailer, this looks like a fitting conclusion for the trilogy.

“The Bourne Legacy” – August 3

I love the popularity Jeremy Renner has received in the last 2 years. “The Bourne Legacy” will be his 3rd big action movie in about 9 months (“The Avengers” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”). I trust that he will be a worthy replacement for Matt Damon and can’t wait to see where the story is taken.

“Total Recall” – August 3

On the same day, we get a remake of the classic 1990 film that followed Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s adventures on Mars. With a great cast (Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston) and today’s technology, it could be a great summer outing (or it could be a lame rip-off, but hey…..).

“The Expendables 2” – August 17

I know I shouldn’t fall into the trap, but with Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme added to the original cast, I’m genuinely interested. We’ll see what happens when the world’s rowdiest nursing home travels to the local theater.

“Lawless” – August 31

Few things can beat a good crime film, and this one has an amazing cast to get things started. Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Shia LaBeouf and Gary Oldman play cops and robbers in this Depression-era shoot ’em up.

Who knows what the summer of 2012 has in store for us simple moviegoers? It would take a whole lot of bad execution for things to go awry, but as sports fans always say “that’s why they play the game.”

Until next month, happy viewing.