Prometheus

Some assembly required.

Lisa and I saw Prometheus last weekend. I found it to be an incoherent hot mess, but an entertaining one. Lisa’s reaction was more one-sided. She came out of the theater quoting Ripley from Act 1 of Aliens: “Did IQs drop sharply while I was away?”

Some thoughts:

* Critics have had a field day pointing out the movie’s many plot-logic holes and absurdities (if you haven’t seen it yet, this video from Red Letter Media is hilarious), but there are a couple I noticed that I haven’t heard anyone else mention. Even without aliens, the discovery of an Earth-sized planet with an almost breathable atmosphere—practically move-in ready—is, or ought to be, an amazing find, and an incredible return-on-investment for the paltry trillion dollars that we’re told the Prometheus expedition cost. Yet nobody in the film seems to realize this. Corporate ice queen Charlize Theron, who should be plotting to secure the rights to this huge hunk of real estate, instead just wants to go home: “God, I hope we don’t find anything.”

There’s also the Luke-just-happening-to-crash-in-Yoda’s-backyard problem. Maybe I missed the dialogue handwave that was meant to explain it, but I thought it was awfully convenient how the ship entered the planet’s atmosphere within sight of the relatively tiny alien base. I was also struck by how everyone on the ship seemed to assume this was the only alien base. When they found the dead alien, and Charlize was all “Oh well, they’re extinct, mission failed,” nobody thought to point out that there was a lot more to the planet than this one valley.

One reason you get these lapses, of course, is that interstellar adventure stories, even the ones billed as “hard SF,” are almost always set in a radically scaled-down universe much closer in size to the pre-scientific Christian cosmos than the vast cosmos we actually live in. So planets become single-biome stage sets, and the gulf between the stars becomes just another long commute. A related irony is the tendency of such stories to evict God from the universe and then immediately replace Him with highly implausible God-like aliens.

* Speaking of highly implausible God-like aliens, “Tracking Down Your Creator So You Can Interrogate Him” is a rich story trope, but I think Blade Runner made much better use of it. My favorite part of Prometheus—and what could have been the core of a much stronger film—was Robot David’s repeated attempts to point out that humans are themselves Engineers (they even share the same DNA!), so if they want to know what their creators were thinking, they could just try introspection. I’d have done more with this, and I’d also have done more to tease out David’s true nature. It’s all very well and spooky to have Weyland say that David has no soul, but what does that really mean? Is it true David has no emotions, or is that just something he’s programmed to say so people will be comfortable treating him as an object? Also, slightly off-topic, but what’s David’s legal status, and how was that legal status historically determined? (I actually find it rather surprising that he wouldn’t be regarded as a person with rights.)

The biggest disappointment of the film, for me, was the failure to develop Shaw’s religious beliefs in any way. She’s nominally Christian (I’m guessing Some Kind of Protestant), but I have no idea what she actually believes about God or Jesus or the afterlife or her place in the universe, or how any of that relates to her obsession with the Engineers. One way to bring this stuff out would be to have her talk to David about it. A smart theological dialogue between a human anthropologist and an android would be very much in keeping with the theme of the film, and a lot more compelling than the shallow riff on Erich von Däniken we actually get.

* Re: the tie-in to Alien, I liked the idea of the Engineers being bioweapon designers who got killed by one of their own creations. But the “surprise” appearance of the alien at the end, besides contradicting what we know about the aliens’ life-cycle, is needless overkill. Trust the audience to get it: Let the black goo be one type of bioweapon, and leave it as an unstated conclusion that the alien is a different bioweapon.

* “This medical pod is calibrated for male patients only” is a great laugh line, but ultimately doesn’t make sense. And the last time I saw someone recover from post-operative shock that quickly was in Logan’s Run.

* Lisa asks: “Why do people in the future use big bandages for underwear?” My best guess: because Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron had no-nudity clauses in their contracts, and wrapping women in gauze improv-wear that looks like it might fall off at any moment is an effective means of suggesting nudity. (See also: Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element.)

“Hey, dude, my eyes are up h-… Oh, never mind.”

* Idris Elba: “Hey Charlize, wanna fuck?” Charlize Theron: “With you? Ew.” Idris: “Hey Charlize, are you a robot?” Charlize: “OK, let’s fuck.”

Look, they’re both incredibly attractive human beings, and I’d love to watch them have sex in 3D, but come on. He’s really going to hit on his boss, a woman who up to now has shown no sign of having a sense of humor or play? And she’s going to say yes because… she needs to prove she’s a real girl? Much more likely: She hits on him, because she’s in the mood, because she can do whatever she likes, and because she doesn’t care about those two idiots lost in the storm.

* Also on the subject of Idris, it’s nice that his men love him enough that they’re willing to die with him, but it’s ridiculous for all three men to sacrifice themselves. “All due respect, you’re not a very good pilot, captain,” haha, but how good a pilot do you need to be to aim for the big alien ship and step on the gas? Given that the gentlemen in question are all different ethnicities, and given the other quasi-Bibilical imagery in the film, I couldn’t help wondering if this was meant to be some sort of weird allusion to the Three Magi. (“And lo, after the Virgin Barren Mary gave birth via robotic C-section, the Kings of the East came bearing gifts of gold, kamikaze, and myrrh…”)

* I could go on, but most of my other observations/critiques (“Run sideways, goddamnit!”) have already been made elsewhere. Of the other Prometheus reviews I’ve seen, I thought this Film Critic Hulk piece was especially interesting. And I love this infographic.

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