Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Take Two


Beware of Prometheus spoilers ahead.

Well, as promised I saw Prometheus again last night -- this time in IMAX.

Again, the visuals are so spectacular and immersive as to be worth the price of admission solely on their own. As for the story and the issues I had with it after seeing the movie the first time, many still remain, although I admittedly have a better feeling about the film overall having watched it carefully for a second time.

For one, I like David's character much better now and kind of let myself simply go with the flow when it comes to his motivations throughout the course of the movie. I think the giveaway when it comes to how David thinks and behaves comes when Charlie tells him, just before being dosed with alien goo, "You're not a real boy." David is at all times behaving like a curious child, one who does things simply to see what the outcome is; I'm not sure his agenda is much more complicated than that.

I actually found the storyline to be even more frustrating when trying to apply the lengthy analysis offered up by that one blogger who's now found himself to be the Rosetta Stone among confused Prometheus viewers. The bottom line is that in spite of all the mythological and religious inferences he gleaned from the film, the whole thing still didn't really make a lick of sense. And that's where I think the main problem lies -- in trusting in the meaning behind the movie. I'll put it like this: I like films that ask big questions and that don't provide complete answers. I like being made to think and feel and to even ponder endlessly and futilely. But I have to believe that I'm not simply being played -- that the writers and filmmakers had some idea what they were doing and weren't just throwing a lot of tenuously connected shit at the wall in the hope that something would stick and it would therefore all come off as intelligent and deep. I can't help but think that Lindelof's track record puts him in the latter category; I think he just grabbed onto a lot of quasi-Christian references (Shaw's cross and faith, the fact that it's Christmas, the Engineers being dead for 2,000 years, David washing Weyland's feet, etc.), metaphysical mythology (the prevalence of self-sacrifice, the dying king refusing to give up power, etc.) and references to the original Alien canon (the xenomorph mural, the early facehugger, the alien at the end -- which was admittedly still a lot of fun to see even if it made no real sense) and sledgehammered the story with them in an effort to seem profound even though he really had no idea what the hell he was doing or where any real connections were.

Finally, yes, the characters were as dumb, listless and unlikable as they were the first time around. Although I did consider that these qualities may have answered the question of why the Engineers want us dead.

Either that or they're just pissed that we've gotten to the point where we make movies like Prometheus and pretend that they're high art.

12 comments:

Joash said...

Good analysis. Your last sentence resonates with me, because I was expecting high art. Alien is one of my favorite movies because it works so damn well on both a visceral and intellectual level.

There is no doubt Prometheus is well-acted,lovingly crafted and enjoyable; but it also has complete lapses of logic and characterizations right out of a stock slasher movie.
The geologist and biologist are fucking Shaggy & Scooby in a haunted house. Getting high and petting a HOODED FUCKING ALIEN COBRA like you are Steve Irwin? Steven Stills' fucking SQUEEZEBOX? I could go on and on and on.

Prometheus actually has some thematic weight and asks cool questions, but as you pointed out, there is no perspective or exploration of those themes -- just a bunch of really sloppy writing and . Just straight up cheesy shit, a lot of which you already talked about. Oh, I read the analysis that you linked to, and if you need an explanation like that to elucidate the thematics/plot, then the filmakers have failed as storytellers.

Anonymous said...

We have irrevocably entered an age where any plot that cannot fit entirely within a tweet is too complicated for your general audience.

It is just a matter of time before we start making movies displaying body parts for 90 minutes that ultimately win academy awards for it.

Chez said...

First of all, being able to sum up a plot in one sentence has been a almost cliched reopen in Hollywood for years (it's known as "high concept"). And I hope what you're saying isn't meant as an enthusiastic endorsement of Prometheus.

Eric said...

@Anon.:

*Guy meets girl. Guy and girl fall in love. Guy loses girl. Girl comes back married. Guy makes tough choice. Wonderful friendship ensues.

*Kid gets rich. Becomes newspaper publisher. Goes broke, gets rich, leaves wife for lousy singer, loses best friend, dies. Missed his sled.

*Giant candybar in space makes monkeys smart and is doorway to God.

*Seven old warriors unite to save village from bandits. Most die, but virtuously. There will always be more rice; life goes on.

C.L.J. said...

I believe that the overall problem you're expressing can be explained by an interview with Scott, where he talks about trying to achieve something with a Stanley Kubrick feel. And he certainly did that, I think.

Kevin Davis said...

I think you guys are judging what was intended to be the first of two parts, hence the intentional open-ended plot points...

http://collider.com/prometheus-2-sequel/172444/

"“From the very beginning, I was working from a premise that lent itself to a sequel. I really don’t want to meet God in the first one. I want to leave it open to [Noomi Rapace’s character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw] saying, ‘I don’t want to go back to where I came from. I want to go where they came from.’"

" It’s a bit of each. You do a bit of each and I’ve opened the doors. I know where it’s going. I know that to keep him alive is essential and to keep her alive is essential and to go where they came from, not where I came from, is essential. That’s a pretty open door and then rather than going to that, I don’t see landing in a place that looks like paradise, that’s not how it’s going to be. There is a plan, yeah."

I'm highly skeptical of anything involving the train-wreck of forethought that was Lost, but keep in mind he came in later to advise on the script. My guess is Scott has a pretty good grasp as to what was left open intentionally so as to set it up for the next movie.

I enjoyed Prometheus on a similar level that I enjoyed Empire or even the Matrix... that it was a good movie in itself that lent questions that would be answered down the line.

warrenbishop said...

I definitely got the sense that at least in the first half of the movie they were trying to create something like '2001' - however I think one of the key differences between 'Prometheus' and '2001' - is that you definitely got the sense that Arthur C. Clarke and Kubrick had a fully developed, completed vision of who the aliens were, what their agenda was etc. - and that Kubrick only hinted at what they were up to, and there were definitive answers about the aliens etc. The problem with 'Lost' and Lindelof's work is that you don't have that feeling. I always sense that he's just kind of making crap up, throwing it on the wall to see what sticks - instead of revealing part of a fully articulated artistic vision.

I don't think there were any 'ultimate' answers behind the many, many, many unanswered mysteries in "Lost" because none of the writers had thought things all the way through. I thought the same thing watching 'Prometheus'.

However, unlike "Lost", I'm going to see "Prometheus" again, and I'll buy the Blu-Ray with the Director's Cut version with a 1/2 hour of additional footage. While the movie is FAR from perfect, I still find what's there to be intriguing enough to merit multiple viewings. I have to give them credit for that.

Anonymous said...

I found this website (full of Alien information) to be quite informative regarding what happened in Prometheus.

http://avp.wikia.com/wiki/Engineer

Click on the links within each page to find out more about the Alien Universe.

Eric said...

Like warrenbishop said, 2001 gave the feeling Kubrick and Clarke had a cohesive vision and knew the answers (or at least that each had a vision--Clarke's sequels to 2001 strongly suggest his vision was different from Kubrick's, though no less coherent). I think there's also a misapprehension about 2001 to the effect that it's an incomprehensible film, when in fact it's a remarkably straightforward film in which the unanswered questions are pretty essentially MacGuffins (e.g. it doesn't really matter whether HAL went nuts because of conflicting programming instructions (Clarke's answer to the question), alien intervention (a popular hypothesis in some circles) or a simple mere malfunction (implied by the film itself)--because in spite of being a thread seemingly central to a third of the film and the "plot" that most people remember, HAL and the Discovery are really just a subplot and HAL's homicidal spree is just a clever and well-hidden deus ex machina to reduce the movie's cast to the one, single stand-in for all humanity who is advanced to the next evolutionary stage by the Great Cosmic Whatsits--ending the story begun during the Africa sequence).

Prometheus doesn't give the feeling of being thought-out; it gives the feeling of shit thrown at the wall to see what sticks. And this feeling gets corroborated by the art designer admitting that the "xenomorph" mural was really just an Easter Egg for Alien fans to spot and Lindelof comparing plot points to U2 playing hits in concert (it's an Alien film, so somebody has to get face-raped by an alien, Lindelof is saying, because that's what the fans paid their money for, he thinks).

Finally (sorry for the windy comment): a few people have tried to defend Prometheus as being the opening chapter, saying Scott and Lindelof will answer questions in Prometheuses or maybe Prometheus^3 or, heaven forbid, maybe he'll wrap everything up in Prometheus: Resurrection or Prometheus Versus Predator. Sorry. Look, that's just a lousy defense for all sorts of reasons. One being that a film generally ought to stand on its own legs or you can't call it a success. If I have to pay attention to your viral campaign or come back for a sequel to understand what the hell it is you were trying to do, you haven't made a great movie, you've... I don't even know what you've done, actually. What the hell was the point of that, of making a $150 million dollar, two hour adjunct to an advertising campaign and collection of websites? And second, unless you're pulling a Peter Jackson and filming everything at once, it's kinda irresponsible to think you're going to get to make more movies. It's awfully presumptuous to think you can't make a flop and awfully optimistic to think that even if your movie's a smash, your studio will still be able and willing to make more movies when the industry's as mercurial as it is. (And do we need to mention that the key to Peter Jackson pulling a Peter Jackson was convincing the studio Lord Of The Rings was a nine-hour movie that could be sold in three parts? And so he didn't repeat poor Ralph Bakshi's mistake, making about half of a Rings movie and never being able to get the money to make the other half before the rights slipped from his hands and it didn't matter.)

Besides which, it's a defense of Prometheus that pretty much concedes the movie fails on its own terms, isn't it?

warrenbishop said...

Like Chez, I went to see 'Prometheus' again this week. I understood some of the character behavior a bit better on the second viewing, there were some subtle character interactions I missed the first time, but there were still some plot holes, and bizarre behavior that still drove me crazy.

The scene where Shaw stumbles into Weyland's quarters. She's in surgical bandages and covered in blood, and no one says "Hey - why are you covered in blood?" If you stumbled into my livingroom covered in blood - I'd ask a question or two. Then, she doesn't mention to anyone "Oh and by the way, there's an alien squid monster down the hall - just FYI..."

The sad part is that since it didn't feature cars transforming into robots and smashing things - I'm willing to cut it some slack. I'll take a flawed 'Prometheus' over 'Twilight', 'Hunger Games', 'Transformers', etc. etc. any day of the week.

Hopefully we'll get a 'Prometheus 2', and with any luck Damon Lindelof (or Akiva Goldman) won't be allowed anywhere near the script.

Fred Sowder said...

If there is a sequel, I don't think it's going to be "Prometheus 2" since the ship is nothing but bits and pieces now.

Anonymous said...

It was a dreadful movie at many levels. Yet one more example of a film which relies on its effects in lieu of story. The first Alien film was low budget, certainly in comparison. Most of its effects were special effects not visual effects. The difference is you have to conceive it and make it happen on the set with the actors; you can't paint it later with a computer.

Some of the imagery was quite beautiful and the film is technically excellent but none of that can make up for a disaster of a story, lame dialogue and the blankness that is Ms. Rapace's face. She's going to fade, I'm certain. She is as expressive as a rock -- which worked perfectly in the Millenium films but not so much here or in any other English-language films she's starred in. The irony is that Ms. Theron would have been much more interesting in the Shaw role.