johnlink ranks PROMETHEUS (2012)

Been wanting to see PROMETHEUS since I first heard that Ridley Scott was returning to science fiction. I missed it upon its opening weekend as the temperature on this film cooled considerably. Finally managed to get at it on its very last day of release in my theater. Before seeing a second of the movie, I was glad that the hype machine had slowed down a bit. I’d much rather come into a movie with low expectations. SPOILERS BELOW, MASSIVE SPOILERS. For that reason I will say here that this is certainly worth seeing, but don’t read on if you have yet to see PROMETHEUS.

I watched PROMETHEUS (2012) in theaters on 7.2.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

I’ve said this on these pages before, but this is a point which is vital in considering PROMETHEUS. Film is a highly subjective medium. Before even considering any given movie, a variety of factors can influence how one feels about the subject. Are you in a good mood or a bad mood? Are you in the mood to see something from the genre you are about to witness? Are you seeing the movie in a perfectly tuned movie theater, or is your copy a bootleg full screen version on a 13 inch TV? Is someone kicking your seat? Were they out of Reese’s Pieces at the concession stand? Do you have something important to do later in the day which causes distraction? Are you tired? It goes on and on and on.

And then the movie starts. Just considering PROMETHEUS for a moment, here are some specific questions which will impact how you see this film. Do you carry a torch for the ALIEN series and want PROMETHEUS to be an extension of it? Do you like Ridley Scott’s sci-fi work, or are you indifferent? Are you a science oriented person prone to calling bullshit when people who claim to be scientists don’t act like scientists? Are you religious? Did you start the movie with high expectations, or did you know nothing about PROMETHEUS?

PROMETHEUS came to theaters riding a ton of hype for those who follow the movie industry. This was originally thought to be an entry into the ALIEN series, which Ridley Scott vehemently denied. He wanted it to stand on its own merits. But then the marketing was working pretty hard to make sure you understood that the two films were in the same universe. Ultimately, (and here is your last chance to get out if you haven’t seen PROMETHEUS) the film does have ties to ALIEN. First with the androids created by Weyland, and later in the moment when one of the engineers is incubated with something which looks a hell of a lot like the xenomorph of the ALIEN series. For some people this is too loose and silly of a connection. For others, it was not nearly enough.

While managing the movie theater over the past few weeks I have heard everything from “Best Movie of the Year!!!” to “Worst Theatrical Disappointment of My Life!!” Neither was waxing hyperbolic either, both really meant what they said. PROMETHEUS, it can be safely argued, is one of the most polarizing films of this fledgling decade.

So with all that out of the way, how did it do with me?

As pure entertainment, I was satisfied. There is enough action and enough of a fresh take on the space/alien/exploration theme to keep my interest throughout. The deaths came mostly as a surprise, and there was a natural transition into one of those movies where people die one-by-one (even if the movie’s last act starts killing in groups). So let me just say this: I was entertained.

I’m just not sure, with a movie like PROMETHEUS, that just being entertained is enough to be a success. This is a movie which wants to take a stand as serious, heady sci-fi. In some ways it succeeds. The Engineers are cleverly created, the themes about humans as science project work mostly, and the creation of the planet is pretty damn cool.

I talked to my brother just before seeing this. He is a physicist and had some issues with the scientists not acting sciency. He referenced Shaw saying she had no proof about the Engineers as Creators, but that she just believed her theory to be true. He also referenced Millburn (Rafe Spall), the biologist, freezing and not wanting to see the dead alien, but later being fascinated by the living creature which attacks him. When I saw the film, the Shaw quote was more eye-rolling than bad science, though I understand his point. With Millburn you could maybe say he froze at first and got used to seeing odd things, though I wouldn’t buy that explanation myself. For me, the biggest mistake has to do with Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). He spends his entire life searching for this stuff, sees one dead body (granted it is 2000 years old) and gets all depressed and decides that he’s never going to get his answers. Really? These beings have been alive for eons, they travel the universe with regularity, you know they have survived this long, but you see one dead body and you think all is lost? You haven’t even finished looking around the planet you landed on. You stumbled upon a settlement as soon as you landed, got out and searched that one place. That’s like aliens coming to Earth, landing on Mt. Everst, finding a frozen dead hiker from the 1800s and deciding “Well, guess there’s nothing else to see here.” The motivation which drives Halloway, then, is severely flawed.

Which leads to the biggest problem with PROMETHEUS: The characters. They are inconsistent at best. I like the Captain (Idris Elba) as a character, he was hands down, my favorite part of the movie. I was okay with Shaw (Noomi Rapace). I really enjoyed the android David (Michael Fassbender), and was pleased enough with Vickers (Charlize Theron). Everybody else was weak. It’s not that the acting was terrible (except maybe from Guy Pearce, but I’ll get there in a minute), but the characters were not well written. The first exchange between Millburn and the geologist Fifield (Sean Harris) is horrendously scripted. Millburn is pleasant and asks to sit down and Fifield blasts him, in an attempt to establish that he just wants the money. He doesn’t care about anything else. And I get establishing that people are there for different reasons, and that people react to adversity in different ways. But the set-up is just lazy.

What sucks, really, is that most of the acting is good. It’s just the writing which doomed a lot of these characters from the start. Even the actors portraying characters with random motivations do well in each particular scene. It’s the writing which makes the character unbelievable as a whole.

So, anyway, if all that character stuff is annoying, Peter Weyland, a 103 year old man played by 45 year old Guy Pearce, is simply bad. I do understand that the idea was to cast someone young so that they could do all this viral marketing with Pearce playing Weyland as a young man doing some fictional TED talks. No problem. Brad Pitt played an old man in BENJAMIN BUTTON and it looked amazing. Weyland looks like shit. And not like shit the way a 103 year old should, but like the kind of shit I would look like if I asked some random person to do my makeup and try to make me look like I was 103. I don’t mean to be harsh here, I’m sure the people who did the makeup work are very talented. But whoever approved the final look made a big mistake. Any reality the film was setting up was hurt by watching a young man clearly pretending to be an old man. Heck, they could have just cast Kirk Douglas and asked Michael Douglas to do the marketing stuff. Problem solved!

All that said, there are some absolutely great suspense sequences in this film. I loved the bit with David discovering the ship for the first time. My heart was racing through the first encounter with the snake-alien thing. I thought the abortion scene was not just good, but really, truly awesome. I know some people had a problem with the way the Engineer dispatched everyone in the climax, but I had no problem with it, I liked it in fact. It was actually one of the more logical points of the film. I mean, really, if some mice got together and formed up some intelligence and had the audacity to wake up a scientist and ask him why he is experimenting on him, I’m pretty sure the scientist would have the same regard for the mice as the Engineer does for the humans at the end of PROMETHEUS.

Another problem people had involved the motivations of David. I don’t think he was acting with hostility towards Holloway when he gave him the alien tonic. I think Weyland asked him to do something drastic, and David did his job. He even checked with Halloway to make sure he was okay with it (in his own way). When he learns Shaw is pregnant, it is the scientific part of him which leads him to want to see what becomes of the fetus. When he is beheaded, it is necessity which allows him to move on, free from emotion, despite the differences he had with Shaw. Of all the scientists in the film, David is the most consistent. With all the talk of belief, faith, and God; perhaps that was Ridley Scott’s point: Humans can’t be good scientists because their humanity gets in the way. Of course, I vehemently disagree with this point. Scott may too, since the ones who act on science and reason rather than emotion (David, Weyland, and Vickers when she fries Halloway) are generally the villains.

The inevitable question of whether or not Vickers is an android is valid. I think yes, if only in the way that we don’t see her death fully. People have begun to compare her to Ash, the secret android of the first ALIEN film. There are arguments both ways, but I like to think she is. What is it with Scott and leaving that human/not-human question hanging? First BLADE RUNNER and now PROMETHEUS. He loves calling humanity into question as a way of examining what it means to be human. Regardless, the Vickers question is one of the best remaining questions from PROMETHEUS, in a film which doesn’t leave as many big questions as it would like to.

They’ll certainly make more of these films. I’ll go see them. I’m curious to see how the ALIEN mythology plays into the ongoing PROMETHEUS story. I just hope they get more consistency into the proceedings. I hear there is a much longer Director’s Cut coming out for the home release. I hope it answers some problems, because PROMETHEUS is a very disjointed and unbalanced film. The characters aren’t motivated as well as they could be and many of the reactions feel less than genuine. The film also contains more illogical leaps than I would like from heady sci-fi. I really hope a Director’s Cut addresses some of those problems (and it wouldn’t be unprecedented in Scott’s career; just look at BLADE RUNNER as a prime example of a film which found itself in follow-up releases).

I’m glad I saw this. I’m glad I can be a part of the debate. I was certainly a little disappointed, but that is also undoubtedly due to the fact that I had expectations. Is this a better film than my last sci-fi review, PITCH BLACK? Probably. But PITCH BLACK was a film which was released with zero expectations, and I walked away feeling better about it than I did PROMETHEUS. But I certainly couldn’t objectively say one is worlds better than the other.

But, then, film isn’t an objective medium, right? Which brings me to the part of the article where I try to objectify a subjective medium:

SCORES

FILM: 4; MOVIE: 8; ACTING: 7; WRITING: 3; BONUS: -1

The negative bonus point is for the poor makeup work. Just inexcusable in a film with so much attention to detail, and which gets so much of the look right otherwise.

4+8+7+3-1=21

FINAL SCORE: 5.25

 

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~ by johnlink00 on July 3, 2012.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks PROMETHEUS (2012)”

  1. Guy Pearce, makeup and performance combined, bugged the hell out of me, and that revelatory scene with Weyland and Vickers was the only time I truly thought to myself, “This is incredibly stiff,” with regard to the acting and plotting. I find that I usually am able to overlook such things unless they really stick out like that, and it’s likely because I get so caught up in the cadence of the film and all the elements within, and I like taking the film as a whole if I can as a result, which is why I personally can’t necessarily break down the elements at the end of my reviews the way you do. You are right, in retrospect that some things can be made better with a director’s cut (though Pearce would involve a lot of expensive reshoots), but, overall, I too was generally entertained and fascinated by the film and its ideas, and cannot wait for sequels!

  2. I know what you mean about being caught up in the cadence of the film. I really try not to even consider what score I am going to give something until I actually get to the end of the article, have finished all my thoughts, and then am able to consider what I want to score it. It can be tough with some movies to find that objectivity, for sure.
    As for a Director’s Cut… with Blade Runner all that went into the Director’s Cut was previously shot stuff, which Scott intended to be in the film in the first place. With that movie, the studio was overbearing during the edit process and cut a bunch out, and then forced him to tack on a voice-over sequence for the end of the film (which he has admitted to only doing in a half-assed way after the studio threatened to bring someone else in if he refused to do it). Prometheus is a film for which it would not surprise me to learn that Scott’s original thought was to have a three hour film. It feels to me like there are pieces missing, and that it may be those missing pieces which result in a somewhat disjointed film.

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