Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review of "Prometheus" movie




Bowing to my daughter's repeated requests, a few nights ago I went with her and my wife to see "Prometheus", the new movie from Ridley Scott which is a prequel of sorts to his great "Alien" from back in 1979.

However, anyone going to "Prometheus" expecting to find the same kind of intriguing characters and frightening scenarios with which "Alien" was rife will be sorely disappointed. There are some "jump" moments (when some weird thing suddenly leaps at the camera) and some "cringe" moments (when the director uses goopy, gory special effects, such as in the somewhat ludicrous*, albeit intriguing, scene where one of the crew uses an automated robot surgery pod to extract an unwanted alien parasite from her body), but nothing even close to the plethora of tense and scary moments in the original.

Part of the problem is in the casting (it's hard to beat an ensemble like the one "Alien" boasted, featuring Tom Skeritt, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright, Sigourney Weaver, and Harry Dan Stanton), but most of it comes down to the writing -- which is uniformly weak throughout "Prometheus", especially where it deals with establishing characters worth caring about. There are scenes where the viewer knows that he or she SHOULD care about this or that crew member being killed or tortured by some alien thing, but these characters are so flimsily, carelessly written that it is virtually impossible to muster more than an "Oh, that's too bad".

But that's not the worst part of the movie.

No, that honor belongs to the fact that the heart (if you can call it that) of the movie is based on the silly "ancient astronaut" idea first popularized years ago by the fantasies of Erich von Däniken. When I noticed the implication of this in one of the trailers for "Prometheus" a month or so ago, my heart sank -- THIS was the so-called "big, important idea" around which this movie would be structured?

And so it was. 

What a STUPID idea.

What an OVERUSED, stupid idea.

I had high hopes that in his voyage back to the sic-fi universe of "Aliens", with thirty-three years of maturing and thinking and imagining under his belt, Ridley Scott would craft a story which really would ask the big, profound questions that much of the pre-release hype had hinted at.

Instead, we get warmed-over "Chariots of the Gods" nonsense.

What an ENORMOUS disappointment.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the visuals are more than adequate to the task. (Of course, given how lightweight the story is, that's "damning with faint praise".) But the combination of models and CGI effects is impressive, and most of it fun to watch in a mindless kind of way, even if much of it is either stuff we've seen before or some slight variation of stuff we've seen before. 

But as my daughter Emily and I concluded this week in a highly-enjoyable marathon discussion of the current state of geek-friendly movies (highlighted most recently by "The Avengers"), it is no longer enough to just make great visuals. We all know it can be done. The incredibly talented artists and craftspeople who work on special effects and visual effects for movies have shown themselves to be capable of seamless realization of the most fantastic things, stuff which -- in the pre-CGI days -- would have been difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish.

It is STORY which is of paramount importance, now that anything can be realized on screen with seemingly casual breathtaking verisimilitude. We are past the period when a weak story could be mostly forgiven because of a surfeit of wonderful effects and mind-boggling visuals. That's why a movie like "Avengers" is something that I have gone back to the theater to see four times so far (something I haven't done in many years)… and why I very likely won't be seeing "Prometheus" again. Ever.










SPOILER ALERT!!!










Here's where I save you the money and time you would have wasted if you'd gone to see "Prometheus": You know the aliens, the "xenomorphs", from the original "Alien" movie and its sequels? According to the script of "Prometheus", they, along with a host of other weird and nasty critters, were created long ago by an alien race -- who, very imaginatively and creatively (yes, that IS sarcasm) look just about like us, only somewhat bigger and paler) as biological weapons. To what exact end, it is unclear… maybe that will be the BIG IMPORTANT IDEA revealed in a "Prometheus" sequel, if the world is unfortunate enough to suffer such an event. -- PL

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*Ludicrous in this way -- the woman in question wants to use the automated robot surgery pod to extract the alien embryo inside her, but when she boots it up, she gets an error message telling her that this machine is only programmed to work on males. 

        This, on a trillion dollar spaceship where there are several -- I didn't do an exact count, and I very likely won't be torturing myself with a repeat viewing of "Prometheus" to find out for certain -- female crew members, including the freakin' LEADER of the expedition, who also happens to be the DAUGHTER of the man who organized and paid for the expedition! 

Yeah, that makes a whole lot of sense. 

It's just another poorly-contrived scenario shoehorned in to add more tension to the mix, so the afflicted crew member has to figure out how to jury-rig the machine to do what she wants it to. I suspect the writers may have been starting to realize how flat and uninteresting their script was and how much it might benefit from an injection of drama. 

Oh, and after the surgery -- in which the woman's abdomen is sliced open, a writhing tentacled thing is yanked out, and her wide and deep incision THROUGH HER ABDOMINAL MUSCLES is stapled back together -- this crew member spends much of the rest of the movie running about furiously, exerting herself strenuously. The actress playing her DOES make a few pained grunts and expressions of discomfort along the way, and she does keep injecting herself with something (never find out what -- painkillers? stimulants? both?), but I didn't buy for a moment that it was physically possible for someone to do what she did literally minutes after a major surgery involving core muscles. Silly, silly, silly. -- PL

12 comments:

Brian said...

I think the surgical bed was a clue to the fact that Weyland was aboard, also. That bed was for him and only him.

I do agree with you on a lot of this, though, even though I liked the movie (and I had to get through my child-hood fears of the Alien movies). Damon Lindelof (Lost) was one of the writers. Not sure how much input Scott had in the writing stage. Thanks to J.J. Abrams' work on Star Trek (2009), I'm wary of any creative-types that are associated with him, as Lindelof is (I think Lindelof was involved in Star Trek (2009), also).

PL said...

"Brian said...
I think the surgical bed was a clue to the fact that Weyland was aboard, also. That bed was for him and only him. "

I thought of that too -- but it still makes little to no sense. This frail old guy is totally dependent on the other people in the crew to get him where he's going... and he's going to restrict access to a device which might save one or more of their lives, and in so doing maybe save HIS bony old ass?

I don't think so. -- PL

rob said...

Was it really that bad?

PL said...

"rob said...
Was it really that bad?"

The short answer is "yes". -- PL

Eric said...

I'll give you that Prometheus wasn't very good, possibly kind of awful, but Avengers was an incredibly boring bunch of serious nonsense.
The seeding of our planet with life that originated off world is a very popular idea. It was poorly handled in this film, but what do you have against he idea itself?

Eric said...

*the idea
Sorry for the typo.

PL said...

"Eric said...
I'll give you that Prometheus wasn't very good, possibly kind of awful, but Avengers was an incredibly boring bunch of serious nonsense."

"Serious nonsense"…? Isn't that an oxymoron? Or are you trying to say that you consider "The Avengers" to be SERIOUSLY nonsensical? I can see an argument to be made for that point of view, given how much suspension of disbelief is required to accept the existence of the various superheroes which make up the team, as well as things like a flying aircraft carrier, the "cosmic cube", and alien invaders on flying JetSkis, for example… but "boring"? I think only someone who is either clinically dull or was terribly offended by what they perceived as the "serious nonsense" of the Avengers movie (or both) could consider such a fast-paced, cleverly-written, entertainingly-acted movie like that "boring".

Of course, it goes without saying that -- while not strictly necessary for enjoyment of the movie -- it helps a lot if you grew up being a fan of the "Avengers" comics and that whole Marvel Comics universe, and can just sit there grinning as well-wrought scenes inspired by those comics play themselves out on the movie screen. For example, I never thought I would see a "Thor vs Hulk" fight scene in a live-action feature film, but there it is, and beautifully realized.


"The seeding of our planet with life that originated off world is a very popular idea. It was poorly handled in this film, but what do you have against the idea itself?"

I think the concept of "panspermia" (defined -- at least on Wikipedia -- as "the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and planetoids") is an intriguing one and quite possibly true. But that's not the concept upon which "Prometheus" hangs its proverbial hat -- instead, it's the old "ancient astronaut" idea first popularized by Erich von Däniken and subsequently thoroughly debunked (if you read skeptically-oriented publications, that is). I don't mind the use of that idea for storytelling -- for example, I really enjoyed Jack Kirby's take on it when he created "The Eternals" for Marvel back in the 1980's. And I recall at least one "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode which made good use of the basic idea.

But "Prometheus" was promoted as a film which would ask BIG SERIOUS QUESTIONS and make the people who saw it THINK. To sit through that movie and realize that what Ridley Scott and his writers think are BIG SERIOUS QUESTIONS have to do with an elaborate rehash of Erich von Däniken's goofy "Chariots of the Gods" thing was profoundly disappointing. -- PL

Eric said...

Ha Ha! I'm seriously tickled by your response. I mean that as a compliment. Thank you for responding!

SPOILERS AHEAD for those of you that didn't see avengers

Their may be no excuse for the use of a colloquial term such as serious nonsense; however, you must concede that for a NON fan, the film has little emotional resonance, and in my book, that equates to a failure on the part of the story teller. I've watched countless films for which I hold no affinity to the characters prior to viewing, but afterwards, come away with some emotional attachment/sense of wonder/inspiration/satisfaction. Turtles #1 has that in SPADES. everything in that issue has a reason, follows some clearly skewed but logical direction. There is a clear understanding of motivation for every character, no matter how crazy. Avengers only served to hurriedly explain why I should care that a bunch of privileged people have to work together when they don't want to in order to do something they are obligated to do. Oh and by the way they are the ONLY ones who can do it( the x men Spider-man and the Fantastic Four are apparently on vacation). And that is where it falls apart for me.
If I was a general, and an Alien invasion were on the horizon - sure I'd want the Hulk, the arms dealer billionaire, and the thunder god, but the last people I would enlist to fight would be the ones holding a shield and a bow and arrow. I don't care how strong the shield is or how practiced the archer is - relying on a bow and arrow to save my family/country/planet - pretty damn stupid.
Also - the cube was a helluva deus ex machina - and if Loki were a true terrorist, he would have killed Furry in the opening reel, and then movie would have been over because none of the superheroes would want to play nice with each other.
the biggest issue being that the turning point for all the heroes in the film is the death of one rather forgettable agent. Millions of lives at risk but one guy dies and suddenly Captain America is all upset? A war hero is pissed that he didn't sign a few baseball cards for a superfan, and must NOW save the world?
Weak Storytelling. That's all I have to say. I don't mean to challenge a legend -in all sincerity you are a legend - and I've read through a good amount of your notes over on the other blog - picking up tips on the hows and why's of good solid storytelling - so it fascinates me that you didn't come out of this film shaking your head - that is all.

I'm also deeply concerned that I've made more grammatical errors somewhere in this post...I know how much you hate those.

Eric said...

Great. I started off with "Their" instead of "There". Perfect.

PL said...

"‪Eric‬ said...
... you must concede that for a NON fan, the film has little emotional resonance, and in my book, that equates to a failure on the part of the story teller."

I can't really concede that, because I can't watch it as a non-fan, and thus don't know if for a non-fan, the film can't have any emotional resonance. I suspect that there is SOMETHING that non-fan audiences are getting out of it, given the numbers of people who have seen it. Whether for non-fans that thing is emotional resonance or something else is not for me to say. Anecdotally, neither my brother nor my wife are fans of the old Avengers comics, and they both really liked it. Make of that what you will.

"I've watched countless films"

AAARRGGHHH!!!! See blog post here:

http://plairdblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/countless.html

re: misuse of "countless".


" for which I hold no affinity to the characters prior to viewing, but afterwards, come away with some emotional attachment/sense of wonder/inspiration/satisfaction. Turtles #1 has that in SPADES. everything in that issue has a reason, follows some clearly skewed but logical direction."

Given that we're talking movies, I'm a bit confused -- are you referring to the first issue of TMNT, or to the first live-action TMNT movie? If the former, thank you for the compliment, and if the latter, I agree with you.

"There is a clear understanding of motivation for every character, no matter how crazy. Avengers only served to hurriedly explain why I should care that a bunch of privileged people have to work together when they don't want to in order to do something they are obligated to do.
"Oh and by the way they are the ONLY ones who can do it( the x men Spider-man and the Fantastic Four are apparently on vacation). And that is where it falls apart for me."

Eric, I think that's unfair, and really goes against the "comic book logic" that we have all come to accept in the many years since the Marvel and DC universes were created, to wit: The reason we don't see, for example, the X-Men coming to the aid of the Fantastic Four every time Galactus threatens Earth is that the X-Men are very likely off battling Magneto at that moment. Or the Sentinels. Or whatever. And vice versa.

And your comment seems particularly ungenerous when you consider that one of the truly amazing things about this "Avengers" movie is that we DO get to see multiple heroes -- characters who are legitimate stars of their own movies -- working together in the same story, the same movie, to confront the same threat. That is unprecedented… and I think it is extraordinarily cool.

PL said...

"Also - the cube was a helluva deus ex machina - and if Loki were a true terrorist, he would have killed Furry in the opening reel, and then movie would have been over because none of the superheroes would want to play nice with each other."

I don't think the Cosmic Cube (or the "tesseract" as it is referred to in the movie) really fits the classic definition of a deus ex machina. As for what Loki may or may not have done vis a vis killing Fury, if your proposition is that doing so would have meant the movie ended at that point, then I'd say it's a good thing for us viewers that he didn't do it. Anyway, he assigned his mind-controlled minion Hawkeye to do it for him, and I think it's entirely believable that the arrogant Loki could not be bothered to check carefully to see whether or not Hawkeye's pistol shot had actually killed Fury.


"the biggest issue being that the turning point for all the heroes in the film is the death of one rather forgettable agent. Millions of lives at risk but one guy dies and suddenly Captain America is all upset? A war hero is pissed that he didn't sign a few baseball cards for a superfan, and must NOW save the world? Weak Storytelling. That's all I have to say."

I respectfully submit that you might want to go and watch "Avengers" again, because I think you're missing something there. Remember that the character of Agent Coulson had been established pretty carefully through multiple appearances in various movies leading up to "Avengers", and to call him "rather forgettable" is something of an exaggeration, in my opinion. And it's not like without Coulson's death, the heroes aren't going to fight for Earth against the aliens hordes -- of COURSE they are! It's just that when Loki brutally kills Coulson, for no good reason, it helps to bring them together and work as a team rather than as a group of unconnected heroes.

Granted, it might have been accomplished in a better fashion. Off the top of my head, I can't think of how that might have been done.


"I don't mean to challenge a legend -in all sincerity you are a legend - and I've read through a good amount of your notes over on the other blog - picking up tips on the hows and why's of good solid storytelling - so it fascinates me that you didn't come out of this film shaking your head - that is all."

I appreciate the huge compliment, but I guess I found "Avengers" to have a much greater "fun" quotient than most of the movies I've seen in the last few years, and was willing to cut it some slack on its (in my opinion) few weak spots… such as the somewhat awkward line from Tony Stark when he's talking to Loki and says something like "If we can't save the world, you can be damn sure we'll avenge it!"… which makes no sense if you think about it.


"I'm also deeply concerned that I've made more grammatical errors somewhere in this post...I know how much you hate those."

You're right that I get irritated by errors like that, but especially when I make them! Thanks for your comments. -- PL

Eric said...

No, Thank you! Thought we disagree, I thoroughly enjoyed our little tête à tête on the subject - I can't wait to read your next review.

Of course I would like to clarify two things:

"I've watched countless films"

AAARRGGHHH!!!! See blog post here:

http://plairdblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/countless.html


This usage was intentional, as a nod to your post :) I couldn't resist...

"Turtles #1 has that in SPADES. everything in that issue has a reason, follows some clearly skewed but logical direction."

I was indeed referring to the comic. In my very humble opinion there is no separation between comics and film when discussing story - a good story transcends it's medium.
Turtles #1 would make a great half hour of film or television on it's own - as is, no tweaks or changes needed. Set in the time of its writing, it could almost have a Tales From The Crypt/Outer Limits/Twilight Zone feel to it (not every episode was a gem in those series, but hopefully you see my meaning). It's great man versus nature/animal/himself all in one. I think it could be incredible.
Of course, my point was - that it ONLY works because the legwork of the story teller has been done, which is why it can/has migrated so easily across to any other media and work. It could be a stage play, a puppet show, a radio broadcast...BUT - I don't think Avengers (the movie not the comic) would work so well that way. Picture trying to execute those set pieces in a high school production, or with hand puppets and I think the story would quickly show as an embarrassment without the beautiful work of ILM to support it. On the other hand, TMNT #1 could be a bedtime story or a campfire tale.
Clearly, I'm gushing, this wasn't intended to be a "this versus that" rant, but it's the easiest comparison to draw in this forum. I'd have rather spent money on a story of THAT caliber - a story that leaves one satisfied (in my opinion) than watching the Avengers OR Prometheus, or any other film I've viewed this year. The numbers at the box office, are thanks to the incredible work done by the VFX masters at ILM. the picture has done big numbers because it's pretty, it's spectacle ,and most importantly, it's billion dollar marketing. A great story - doesn't need to spend such big dollars on marketing - a small add in the back of a little magazine can do wonders. Word of mouth will do the rest.