Friday, June 08, 2012

The Official Black Owl Review of "Prometheus."

SO YOU KNOW: SPOILERS        SPOILERS         SPOILERS (all images property 20th Century Fox)

I believe, in my life, I have seen a handful of "perfect" films.  Now, in my mind "perfect" does not necessarily correspond to "best" but they are films which present their subjects in such a way that no change could improve the way they play out.  The first perfect film that comes to mind for me is always "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  The character of Indiana Jones, the pace, the evil Nazis, the memorable moments: all of it meshes to perfection and presents an action-adventure like no other.  I also like to mention "Conan the Barbarian," the Milius version from 1982, not the 2011 version.  The movie has almost no dialogue, but the imagery, the violence, the bastardly nature of Conan are just pitch perfect as a fantasy movie.  The 2011 version really just serves to point out the greatness of the original.  Nothing would make it better.

A third "perfect" film is Ridley Scott's 1979 SF/Horror classic, "Alien."  From the everyman "space trucker" characters to the disturbingly sexual overtones of the hideous xenomorph, to the plausibility of the tech and design, "Alien" is truly perfect.

So perhaps thinking "Prometheus" would be as good was a mistake.  Don't get me wrong, "Prometheus" is a very good film, and though not as scare oriented as the original offers one truly horrific scene that made the entire theater very uncomfortable, and yet fit with the story.  There are a couple of excellent performances, and the set and shot designs are stunning.  But...  

Let me start with what doesn't work, so I can get to what does; because what does work, works wonderfully.  This film is flooded with actors, and has barely any characters.  As much as the aforementioned everyman crew of the first film made plenty of mistakes and had their share of..."special" moments, many of the actions and reactions of the characters in this film defy even the strangest Hollywood logic.  Charlie, one of the scientists whose research led to this mission seems inconsolable when "all" they find is absolute evidence of all his theories and, oh by the way, the origins of Human life on Earth.  Fifield, the punk-rock geologist (see what I did there?) who TAKES A JOB TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE freaks out at the first sign of alien life... which is quite dead.  Even more bizarre, the BIOLOGIST who has the opportunity of a life time freaks out and wants to escape when he sees 2000 year-dead alien bodies, but thinks it's a good idea to pet the very alive very squirmy wormlien.  Additionally, there's a bunch of people running around who never get names, so when they get whacked, you just don't care.  Taking the time to show us those people could have been better spent investing us in the characters whom we do know; I barely sympathize with Doctor Shaw, and she's the one asking the big questions which are the crux of the film.  

There's some inconsistency with the threat as well.  There's black oil (did someone get Chris Carter's permission?) that turns worms into evil snakes, and geologists into zombies, and when ingested as only a drop makes mopey archeologists want to be burned to death.  But said oil also was used by the Engineers to infuse (through a haunting scene of self sacrifice) their DNA into life on Earth.  And when apparently channeled through a couple of human reproductive systems (including one that doesn't work) makes humans gestate Cthulhu-like babies that will later mix with an Engineer and make a proto-xenomorph (more on this later).  I appreciate that some of the ambiguity is intended, particularly on the part of The Engineers who seem intent on destroying human life having created it, but the Oil comes off as a bit Deus-Ex-Machina to me doing whatever the writers need it to do when they need it.  I also had a hard time suspending my personal disbelief that Dr. Shaw could have a Caesarian to remove a particularly violent little octo-thulhu and then sprint down alien hallways and rappel off alien ships.  Just didn't work for me.

So what does work?  A hell of a lot actually.  Although they missed some bets on these details, the big stuff is pretty damn good.  The character who works really damn well is David, who I think also provides the focal point of the big questions.  Charlie is so distraught he can't confront his creators about their purposes, yet repeatedly treats humanity's creations with disdain.  David is an outcast among his so-superior creators, while those same people seek their parents and expect answers.  Fassbender is as usual perfect in this role, and I actually found I appreciated the movie a bit more placing the story around him rather than Dr. Shaw.

The sets are truly stunning with enough visual link to "Alien" to know there's some connection, but enough questions left that you know you don't have the whole story yet.  This is NOT LV426, so how does one of the Engineers with a ship full of Xenomorph eggs get there?  How did Weyland become Weyland-Yutani?  How does Weyland-Yutani KNOW there will be an Engineer ship full of xenomorph eggs there when seemingly the first xenomorph progenitor only comes into existence on LV223 after Dr. Shaw and David leave to find the Engineer homeworld?  Why DID the Engineers seed Earth with their DNA, planning to revisit it with the Black Oil millions of years later?  How did it wipe out this base?  Why did they leave a map for us to find their secret weapon of mass destruction base?  Is the Black Oil really the next intended "upgrade" in our design?  What else will the proto-xenomorph "breed" through to become the steel-jawed Alien I crapped my pants to in 1979?

Whoa.  Obviously I stumbled into what the movie does best; it makes you think about it.  You want the answers as much as the characters did, and perhaps more than the ones who didn't even know why they were there (and I still don't know why they were there...).  It is a great movie to speculate over, and you can't help but move into real life questions about our place in the universe from there.  In that, complete success.

So yes, a very good film, with a lot to offer.  I like it, but really think it could have been more, could have been tightened up, could have had one more re-write.  I am looking forward to seeing what subsequent viewings do for me, and what little things are going on I just downright missed.  Though I am disappointed it wasn't better, it is not a disappointing film.  It's borderline great.

But not perfect.

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Nice review Dan. I was entertained, to say the least, but I think I was expecting something so much better after all of the promotion for this flick. Maybe it was too much like Alien.