Sunday, June 10, 2012
In Space No One Can Hear You Snore
This piece is on Prometheus. Spoilers abound so beware.
There's a 1985 Tobe Hooper movie called Lifeforce, starring a very young and yet still oddly old-looking Patrick Stewart and a constantly topless Mathilda May, that's remained stuck in my mind throughout the years. The reason for this has nothing to do with it being any good -- on the contrary, it's an unmitigated piece of crap -- but more for the fact that for years after seeing it for the first time, I would find myself returning to it at regular intervals. The reason I'd continue to subject myself to something I obviously disliked intensely? Because I very much wanted to like it, and I always held onto hope that maybe at some point I'd hit on something I hadn't noticed before and the movie would click for me and fall into place. It was a great idea and I wanted it to be a great movie -- unfortunately, no matter how many times I saw it, it never became one. It just kept being the same piece of shit I remembered from the last time I saw the thing.
Ironically, the script for Lifeforce was written by Dan O'Bannon, the writer of my favorite movie of all-time, Alien, and that adds an interesting layer of synchronicity to my feelings about the nominal Alien prequel, Prometheus -- a film I've been waiting for in one form or another for 33 years.
I saw Prometheus on Friday night -- and I desperately wanted to like it; almost no other movie imaginable would receive the automatic benefit of the doubt from me as one that saw Ridley Scott returning to the Alien universe. And with that in mind, I gave the movie that benefit -- over and over again as I turned it over in my mind in the few hours after leaving the theater -- only to finally realize that if the movie hadn't been Ridley Scott's return to a beloved canon, I wouldn't even have bothered trying to rationalize my feelings about it and to assign deeper meaning where I simply wasn't finding any. I just would've come right out and admitted that the film wasn't all that great.
Make no mistake: Prometheus is a visual feast; it's worth seeing strictly for how lovely it is to look at and for how masterfully the 3D optics are used. I would recommend the movie to anyone based solely on that. Prometheus also has a couple of truly spectacular set pieces and one or two very nice nods to the original Alien beyond simply the revelation of who and what the "Space Jockey" is and where it might have come from. Beyond that, though, it's a mess. A beautiful mess -- but a mess nonetheless.
I'm just going to throw out the issues in a stream of consciousness fashion and let anyone who's seen the movie and who feels like it discuss whether they were bugged by the same things.
1. Okay, a trillion-dollar expedition into space with the aim of discovering the origin of man, the most important mission mankind has ever undertaken, and the 17 people hand-picked for it are the dumbest and most unlikable people planet Earth has to offer. Scientists don't behave like scientists. The captain of the ship seems strangely disinterested in his crew's peril. Characters do unbelievably stupid things seemingly without reason and thoroughly against what we know of their personalities through the meager amount of set-up we're given. (The two terrified crew-members who suddenly decide to play with the pretty alien worm; the two jokey co-pilots who instantly and complacently volunteer to martyr themselves at the ass end of space because a woman they don't even know says somebody's going to have to.) Jesus, I cared more about the kids getting picked off by Jason in Friday the 13th VII than I did about anybody -- anybody -- aboard the Prometheus. And what's worse, I really get the impression that the writers and director didn't care about the characters either.
2. Maybe Noomi Rapace can carry an American movie -- but she didn't carry this one. Again, I didn't give a damn about her.
3. While the C-section scene is admittedly excellent, the fact that Shaw then immediately -- after pulling an alien squid the size of a football out of her -- runs, jumps, gets the shit knocked out of her and isn't doubled over in excruciating pain the entire time required a suspension of disbelief I kind of couldn't muster. Also, why did no one seem to notice that she'd just hacked herself open and why didn't she bother to tell anyone, "Oh, by the way, there's an alien squid in the med-pod bay -- might wanna go check on that," instead of pretending it never happened?
4. While David was absolutely the most interesting character in the movie -- and Fassbender's performance was a lot of fun -- can anybody explain to me the motivation for 80% of the crap he does? Why poison Charlie? Why revel in the fact that Shaw is pregnant with an alien? Why then reach out to her at the end? DXM regular Votar has a good theory, which is that David isn't actually taking orders from Weyland and has instead been programmed by someone else and that his mission is actually, keeping with Alien tradition, to bring back a specimen for bio-weapons. This is the only possibility that makes any sense.
5. If Captain Janek is supposed to be the audience surrogate -- or the closest thing there is to one among the characters -- and if he's indeed right that the planet they discover is nothing more than a weapons facility, then why the hell did the Engineers tell humans about it? Why try to entice them to come for a visit? On that note, if what the crew of Prometheus finds is indeed the remnants of an accident in which the Engineers' bio-weapon got loose and killed a bunch of them, that means this is the second time at least that this has happened, since the Space Jockey in Alien was obviously the victim of his own cargo. That makes the Engineers the most incompetent alien race to seed our planet imaginable. Although admittedly I appreciate it if that's the point -- that we're a bunch of assholes who aren't the product of God or an enlightened species of space men but were instead created by beings that are as angry, petty and stupid as we are.
6. In reference to all of these questions, I blame and kind of hate Damon Lindelof. Despite its popularity, Lost was annoying metaphysical tripe that masqueraded as intellectualism -- and Lindelof seems to have brought the same ethos to Prometheus. No, churning out a script in which you can almost hear your own voice saying to the audience, "Ah? See? Interesting, isn't it? That's a big question, right? Bet that'll give you something to discuss!" while smirking smugly doesn't make you a genius or your work high-minded. It's cheap and easy to ask questions you don't even try to answer and create chaos just for the hell of it.
7. There are vast stretches of the movie that are just boring as hell.
Again, it took me about an hour or so after seeing Prometheus to admit to myself that the only reason I was trying to give it a pass on the issues I had with it was that it was ostensibly an Alien movie. Upon any kind of close inspection -- really any inspection at all -- the whole damn thing falls apart, and that obviously disappoints me greatly.
I should say, by the way, that I'm going to see it again -- mostly to see it in IMAX and truly immerse myself in its visual splendor, but also because, as with Lifeforce all those years ago, I really want to like it. I want to find something I didn't catch the first time that will make it all come together for me. I'm not sure that's going to happen, though.