Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: PROMETHEUS Part 1

Prometheus: A Multi-Part
Extravaganza of a Review



Sometimes a movie becomes so ingrained into our culture that it will forever change the landscape of film. Star Wars is one of those movies. Walk up to someone and say, “I am your father” in a low voice and you will get an instant reaction. Everyone knows Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Yoda. Even the preppy kids that sit at the cool table and make fun of your off-brand shoes know who these characters are.

When a movie reaches that kind of status--such a culturally defining, earth-shattering status, it’s basically impossible for a follow-up to meet the expectations of the masses. After 20+ years, no way was George Lucas gonna make everyone happy.

Now, before you flame me, allow me to follow that comment up by saying that I still think the prequels are piles of steaming garbage--poorly plotted, poorly paced, and with inexplicable choices made pretty much every step of the way. But, when reviewing something, you have to at least acknowledge how hard it is to objectively analyze something that is so deeply entrenched in your identity as a person, and as a culture.



The reason I bring this up is because you could make a similar argument about the Alien series. The first two films of the Alien franchise--Alien and Aliens respectively, were mega hits, redefining science fiction, horror, and movies in general. It gave us one of the first strong female leads in a science fiction movie in a genre populated almost solely by men, horrifying effects like we’d never seen before, and more penis and vagina imagery than you could shake a stick at.

Now, the Alien franchise doesn’t have the mystique and unmarred quality that the Star Wars movies had. Since the first two Alien movies were made, all of the subsequent follow-ups have sunk lower and lower in quality. So, it’s not a sparkling franchise. However, if someone were to say, “Hey, the creator of this series is coming back for a pseudo-prequel”? You’d be more than a little intrigued. And that’s what built up so much hype for Prometheus. If you look back to this post, you’ll recall that even I was stoked for this movie to come out. Ridley Scott is a great director, and since this was his baby, it seemed perfectly reasonable to expect another genre-redefining, jaw-dropping movie of epic proportions. And that’s exactly what we got, right? Right?






Oh...oh dear.

Although Prometheus is rocking a 73% on RottenTomatoes.com, it’s also been one of the most controversial and divisive movies to come out in a while. It’s generated much debate and scorn and praise, and honestly it’s the most fun I’ve had with the experience outside of a movie in a long time.

This is going to be a difficult movie to review because it is so controversial. I don’t want to be dismissive and write it off as an overthought mess, and I don’t want to be a doormat and garnish Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof with praise. I want to try to be as objective as possible, but, c’mon, I’ve still gotta be funny, right? So, this will be a somewhat sequential review, and I’ll try to analyze when I can. Because I have a lot to say about this movie, this review will actually be broken into three parts so that you’re not reading a novel-length review all in one sitting.



I want to talk about the good things first, because I want to spend time explain why the problems I have are real problems. So, first, and most obvious if you’ve seen the trailers, the movie is GORGEOUS. Out of this world, unbelievable gorgeous. This isn’t like something you’d catch in a cheesy action movie where the CG looks like a mediocre video game. These are high class, James Cameron’s Avatar level effects. The ship, the holograms, the planet, the creature effects, it’s all gorgeous.

Second, the score is like an orgasm for your ears. Within in the first 30 seconds of the movie, the wife and I leaned over to each other and said, at almost the same time, “Wow, the score is really good.” Take a listen to it and see what you’re missing, because it is awesome. I don’t just mean epic. I mean legitimately beautiful. It doesn’t just beat you over the head with bombastic amounts of epic, it takes its time and builds into a beautiful piece of music, with horns and strings mixing in a way that’s not usually heard anymore.

Third, the acting. The acting is, for the most part, incredible. They have a ton of fantastic actors in this movie and they do a lot with very little (more on that later). Idris Elba as the ship captain is great, funny, and fun. Noomi Rapace...I mean, she was the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. If that doesn’t speak toward her acting ability, I don’t know what could. And, of course, Michael Fassbender is great, as always. He delivers a nuanced, layered performance with tons of emotion coming through despite showing basically no emotion (because he’s an android). It’s a great job.

Okay, onto the actual nitty gritty.

The first shot that the movie throws at us is a big, muscular, bald, albino alien dude. He walks up to a waterfall, pulls out a little metal tin, and there’s bubbly black goo inside. He drinks it, disintegrates into pieces, and falls into the water, which sets off a chemical chain reaction.

 Erm...okay...I’m sure that’ll be followed up on later.

One of the issues with this movie is that it is sort of about the crew of Prometheus, the ship they’ll all be on later in the movie. However, if you have 6 main characters...it’s really hard to get an emotional connection. You can do a movie with a large cast and get it to work well (see: The Avengers), but you can also do it terribly and leave the movie a confusing mess (see: Legion).  

The Avengers worked because the movie wasn’t really about the plot. Think back to the movie. Stuff happened, but that’s not really what you cared about. You cared about the characters’ interactions. I mean, you wanted them to stop Loki from doing...something...with a glowey blue cube thingy...and it had something to do with an army thing...but the focus was on the characters and their relationship. And it was brilliant.

In Legion, the characters were just a device for the plot to work through--which is not how stories should work. Characters should inform the plot. Plot informing characters means you’ll have characters doing stupid things that doesn’t mesh with their character simply because that’s what the plot says for them to do.


We meet two characters, archaeologists Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) that have discovered a cave painting of a bunch of men pointing toward a weird planet collection in the sky. This matches several other paintings and carvings all from different and independent cultures. Since these configurations don’t match anything you can see on Earth, they want to go to this configuration because they think it’s an invitation. When asked why they want to go, they say it’s because they believe the aliens from these planets created us. That’s quite a conclusion to jump to, don’t you think? Even if you had evidence that these aliens came, beyond a few drawings in a cave, what would make you think they created us? What if they just came and helped a pre-civilization species of human get started.

To be clear, according to the movie, their assumption is correct. That’s what the Albino man was doing. By destroying himself and falling into the water, he set of a chemical reaction that eventually resulted in humans. Still, how can they reach this conclusion with so little information? Remember: PLOT!

This also raises several questions about Albino Man. Why did he kill himself to create us? Was that his intention? Why were the aliens so far away from home? If their goal was to create life, why did they leave? If it wasn’t, what was that black goo for? The movie answers none of these questions. I think they’re supposed to be answered in the possible sequel...maybe.


One plus for this movie is its ambition. It poses some really interesting questions, and deals with some particularly heavy themes. The existence of God, the creation of life on Earth, and who we are as a result are all called into question, and those are interesting questions to ask. It’s admirable for this movie to go there, especially when they could have just cranked out another schlocky, big-budget science-fiction-action movie ala Transformers and Battleship. So, they get points for the attempt. But they also have to earn points for execution. In skateboarding, you don’t get the points for trying the hard moves, you get points for completing them.

They obviously get the money to fund the expedition, because the movie jumps forward several years.  David the android (played by Michael Fassbender) is wandering around doing random things while the crew is in stasis, asleep.

This is an example of where the movie really shines. When the movie stops shoving you through the plot at a full throttle speed and just lets things happen, some really great bits shine through. For example, this android, despite supposedly not having any emotions, enjoys the movie Lawrence of Arabia. He’s so infatuated by it that he practices quoting it in front of a mirror while he styles his hair like Peter O’Toole’s in the film. He sword fights. He studies languages. He even eats oatmeal, an interesting character trait given that he’s an android and doesn’t have to eat. This seems to hint that, deep down, David wants to be human. It’s never explicitly stated, just hinted at through the writing and the performance, and it’s a brilliant segment.

Once everyone wakes up, the film begins introducing the crew. We’re reintroduced to Shaw and Holloway, and then we’re introduced to Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). There’s some tension between the archeologists and Vickers. Since the expedition is receiving corporate funding, their archaeological plans are going to play second fiddle to the corporation's interests. This upsets the scientists, obviously, but we never really find out what the corporation’s plans are. What we do learn is that Vickers thinks this whole mission is a waste of time. She does not believe that we were created by aliens.

We’re introduced to the crew, but we learn that they don’t know why they’re on this mission. They signed up for a mission that is light years away from earth, and they don’t know what the mission is!!! What if they’d signed up to murder big-eyed alien kittens in the Snuggleumpkins Quadrant of the SquishyWishy Kitty System?


But still, that’s not a huge issue. That’s an issue that you can kind of shrug off. However, a slightly larger issue is how the film introduces the crew. There’s not any real character development in this scene, the film just kind of says, “Here’s the crew. They’re the crew.”

We have a southern-accented and vaguely effeminate Biologist who wears granny-glasses circa 1954.

We have his counterpart, a bad ass, tough-guy, punk-rock looking Geologist. He’s skinny, he’s covered in tattoos, he’s got a scraggly beard and a mohawk, and a low, whispery, intimidating voice. He’s “just here to get paid.”

Not gonna lie, my first reaction to seeing these two guys? “Oh, hello cannon fodder. You’ll be the first to go.” It was so obvious that they were going to die they might as well have had targets painted on their asses AND worn red shirts.


We’ve got the captain, played by Idris Elba. He’s sure is captainy! This is one of those moments where I can testify to the fantastic performances in this film. Elba plays one of the more interesting and entertaining characters and he has NOTHING. We learn literally nothing about him...at all. But he brings so much personality to the role that you instantly like him.

Finally, we have 2 other generic crew members. There’s White Guy and Asian Guy. The most character development that they get is a bet that they make about why they’re there or something. It’s a tiny running gag that’s not particularly funny, not important, and it doesn’t do anything really to develop these characters as people.

With the crew introduced, the movie can really get underway. Next time, I’ll talk about some of the movie’s problems concerning plot, from plot holes to characters doing things simply because the plot says so.

Have you seen Prometheus? Do you agree with what I’ve said so far? Any places where your opinions differ?  Which characters were your favorites, and which ones did you dislike, or feel could have been written better?  Let’s discuss it in the comments.

2 comments:

  1. The Alien movies are pretty big in my family. I grew up watching them. So I'd been looking forward to Prometheus for a long time. I think you're right - it looks amazing, and the performances were great, especially Michael Fassbender. He's a total genius. But the writing was pretty lazy in some parts. The do-it-yourself C-section scene was what finally did it for me. I mean, really? But all that said, I liked the movie overall. Not as good as I'd hoped, but enjoyable enough. I hope they do make sequels. I'd go see more.

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    Replies
    1. I actually like the do-it-yourself c-section scene, but I don't feel it was built up to properly. I talk about that in one of the later parts.

      I don't know if I'd pay to go see a sequel in theaters or not, but I'd be interested in where they went with the story. I'd rent it on DVD for sure.

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