In anticipation of the release of Prometheus my friends and I dove into the first two Alien movies again, seeking some context for the prequel. Now, while I had always considered myself more of an Aliens guy to Alien, I came to the realization that both of the films are much more flawed than I had remembered. The first film, considered THE sci-fi/horror film to end all sci-fi/horror films, utilizes it’s slow build to a fault. Where many see brilliance and excellence, I found something much closer to boredom. At almost-two hours, the film lumbers a bit, but still delivers on the goods with timeless moments like the classic stomach scene and a truly shocking moment when a curled up xenomorph reveals itself just when you think everything is going to be okay. And lastly, no matter what anyone says, it was absolutely ludicrous to go look for Jonesy.
And as for Aliens, well, it’s practically a drinking game waiting to happen (take a sip every time Bill Paxton says “man” at the end of a sentence, for example). And even though many will belabor the point that Cameron made it a straight action flick, I would argue that there’s still quite a bit of talking and building-up in the first hour-plus of that one. Now, the final hour takes no prisoners and no bullets were spared, to be sure, but it is hardly a mindless action film. I would actually argue that there is more meaning and intensity in it because of the Ripley story being so central to the film’s plot and her defense of Newt is the easy example of this. Great action flick, sure, and a fun movie to make jokes during, but all-time classic? I disagree. (Although, “Get away from her, you bitch” will go down as one of the greater lines in movie history)
Which brings me to Prometheus…
Yes, we’ve already had a review posted on this site about Prometheus. And in the review, our man Simon discussed the (mostly) pros and (few) cons of Ridley Scott’s epic prologue to the Alien franchise (make no mistake, it is a prologue). You’ll soon see in what ways that we disagreed about the quality of the film, but moreover I felt like our little site here warranted a second look at the recent release. While understanding that not everyone writes the same (consider me very happy about this, by the way, because boy do I like to think I’m special) I felt like I had to get my money’s worth and give you something else to chew on in relation to one of the biggest films of the Summer.
I saw Prometheus on Sunday (the same day as Safety Not Guaranteed, in fact) and since then, whenever someone brings up the movie, they ask me what I thought. My response has started out the same every single time, and since this is my review and you’re essentially asking me what I thought (or at least that’s how I’m looking at this relationship), I’ll start it just like we’re talking in person:
(heavy sigh) Ok, so here’s the thing…
Prometheus is a brilliantly shot, beautiful film. The opening credits (post-DNA sequence, and no that’s not a spoiler, really) will rank for me as one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen on film. Once the action moves to the planet/moon/doesn’t-really-matter where the bulk of the film takes place, Ridley Scott becomes more of an artist than a director as he paints us an at-times intense, other-times savage, and most-of-the-time engrossing picture that seeks to answer questions as large as the origin of life on Earth. But for me, after letting the film simmer in my mind for a few days while also looking back at some of the larger plot holes and are-you-kidding-me’s that the film contains, it’s hard for me to recommend it on more than “It’s nice to look at,” which is sad, truly, because at the end of the day, so is Anna Kournikova. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not the best thing for a movie of this scale to be compared to a title-less, retired-at-30, female tennis player.
There are a lot of fingers that can be pointed at when it comes to the Blame Game here. I think, though, that the core complaint resides in the story itself. I think what Ridley had was the opening scene, the crew’s search for the Engineers, and the subsequent response of the Engineers to the crew being there at all, and then he sort of threw in some extra stuff just to deem it entertaining. And apparently he gave us enough that some people began writing epic essays about the meaning of what so-and-so meant here and what what’s-his-name was doing there (side note: it’s a good read, really, but it just baffles me how we can delve soooo far into certain things).
For me, I found a lot of the debate about the deeper meaning of the film to be moot, as there were some very simple things that the film didn’t do well at all. For one, I’m not positive that there is an actual villain in this movie. I’m welcome to an argument on this (and I bet I’ll be getting one) but even seemingly villainous acts (I won’t mention them in detail for spoiler reasons) can be justified. Let’s just discuss one in particular without giving it away… let’s call it the Champagne Act. Where some could see a devious decision to really cause some pain for someone, one could just as easily argue that all he was doing was “trying harder” to produce answers to the questions asked of him. And if you want to move up the ladder on that one, well, I’m not so sure there is ill will in the desires at the top of that ladder. If you had trillions of dollars and had the capabilities of discovering where the origin of life began, I’m pretty sure you’re going to go to great lengths to achieve it, especially if you’re starting to look very much like Benjamin Button. My point is that we are never entirely sure what we are rooting for or against. We know the xenomorphs from the original films are ultimately our villain but aren’t they just the Native Americans to the Ripley Crew’s Manifest Destiny-ers? Are they not just defending what was rightfully theirs? Well, crap… there I go delving deeper into something. Break out the hypocrisy banners!
Additionally, there’s just a bunch of unanswered questions that can’t be answered by claiming ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake. There’s some sudden zombie action that occurs that really has no explanation, from both this film and the films that chronologically follow it. There’s added drama by some surprising, we’ll say, parental claims about two-thirds of the way through the movie. It doesn’t do much for the characters that it involves and it almost seems like it’s added in at the last minute to give us a reason to care more for someone when really, we don’t. There’s also the question of what one should do when running away from something falling towards you. Call me crazy, but perpendicular has always been my favorite kind of angle.
And for me, most importantly, there’s the much larger question about characters, and why we should even care if these people are surviving or not. In the original films, we rooted for Ripley to kick ass because no one would listen to her at first and then she was just so bad-ass that it made sense to desire her survival. In Prometheus, we know to “root” for Noomi Rapace’s Dr. Elizabeth Shaw because, well, we’re kind of told to. She’s the one crew member with “faith” and so we are supposed to relate to her struggle in the discovery of these beings that may or may not hold the answer to our origins. But save for one scene (a truly terrifying and intensely grotesque scene that rivals any moment in the five films I might add – kudos to Rapace for displaying a tremendous combination of sheer terror and unquestioned bravery) she gives us very little reason to cheer her on. It has been argued that the most favorable character in the entire film is an android (and not just because he’s played by the always magnificent Michael Fassbender) and really, if that’s the case, then why are we freaking out about the potential extermination of humans. Let’s just get it over with and let the white-blooded amongst us ride our bicycles around empty corridors.
It’s strange how a film like this can make you look back at other related films (in this case the subsequent films in true chronological order) and think differently. Looking at the places that this film failed and knowing that we have several films based on the events of this one, it does take away some of the luster in my mind, especially with the original director back in the chair. While Prometheus is not a failure of a movie, if the debate that it inspires is more on its merits and less on the messages that Scott was trying to put out there, then maybe it’s really not worth discussing that much after all (he said, after writing over 1700 words).
Look, I can understand the passion for a film like this (and the series for that matter) and my enjoyment of both this film and the originals is moreorless visceral in nature. I always appreciate a good science fiction film and I love the fantastical worlds that this type of film can take us to. What’s interesting to me, though, is how my original thoughts about this one after the first trailers came out have actually become true. I remember telling friends before it’s release that at the absolute worst, this would be a good film. There was no way that it could be bad. Well now having seen it, I have to stand by that original hypothesis. It is by no means a bad film. There is plenty to enjoy, especially visually. But for me, this was that worst-case scenario: in the end, Prometheus is just a good film. And this time, there was no Ripley there to save the day.
Side note: I feel like my man Jordan Hoffman said pretty much exactly what I did but in much fewer words. Damn him. Enjoy.