Friday, February 01, 2013

Belated Notes on Belatedly Watching Prometheus

I write this under the assumption that everyone has seen and/or formed an opinion about this movie now. If you haven’t, that’s okay, too. You likely won’t understand a thing I’m talking about. I’d heard/read spoilers about Prometheus for six months since its June 2012 release and it was still a rather unique experience to see it for myself.

I found a copy of Prometheus on DVD at the library last week. I’d read all the negative reviews, heard it was a waste of two hours, etc. Regardless, this was the great Sir Ridley Scott returning to the very franchise/universe that kicked off his career 30-something years ago. I had to see how he screwed this up.

According to the general consensus on the Interwebs, most of the blame for Prometheus’ failure goes to co-writer Damon Lindelof, the guy who supposedly messed up the last season of Lost. (I never saw an episode of this much-written-about TV series, so I don’t know, except for all the people complaining of being disappointed throughout its run.) Lindelof supposedly drove the film’s emphasis from being an Alien prequel to another narrative maybe/just a little/somewhat related to the events of 1979’s Alien.

I can understand the desire for this—to a small, statistically insignificant degree. The bottom-line reason we were all excited for Prometheus was that we were assured it was set in the same universe as Alien, and rumor had it we stood a good chance of gleaning the True Origin of the Xenomorphs, the hideous quasi-reptilian critters which gave the world nightmares in 1979. 

We sorta-kinda got that. This handy chart, courtesy of will walk you through it, in case you suffer an excess of concern:

What I found interesting was how all my extensive post-viewing readings failed to mention the numerous shout-outs to that first movie. For something that was supposed to be a prequel, but not quite, it did a lot of pointing, waving and winking at its cinematic progenitor.

We’ll start with the title card. Thin, vertical line segments appearing out of the darkness, followed by other very thin, very vertical lines which make up the one-word title/logo of the movie. 

If you’re looking for God in outer space, you’re going to have a bad time!

We can let that one go. It’s only the first of so many.

The next one that comes to mind is the Poor Working Stiffs in Space Because They Need the Money angle that worked so well in Alien. We get that with a character named Fifield. There’s a scene in which one of the characters confronts him with something like, “Aren’t you excited to be on this Grand Adventure With Us Bright-Eyed Earnest Young People?” and Fifield snarks, in a working stiff’s accent, with a working stiff’s insouciance, that he’s only there for the money.

Yeah, you tell him. Except Fifield turns out to be a geologist who only slouches, smirks and snarks like a general laborer. Definitely the bottom of the barrel as such scientists go, and how on earth did he ever get hired for this trillion dollar mission? What did the Owner’s Vanity Project and Suspected Wild Goose Chase to Find and Meet the Creators of All Life on Earth even need a geologist for? Was Weyland Corporation hoping to find oil, too? 

Even worse, Fifield is the galaxy’s most stupid geologist. He has floating “pups” map the entirety of the buried spacecraft they’re exploring, but he can’t find his way out of said spacecraft when he gets scared, despite being in communication with the Prometheus and presumably having some sort of tech that could allow him to home in on the mothership’s signal.

What made the Working Stiffs in Space meme work so well in 1979’s Alien is that, midway through the film, we understood that these were just regular guys and gals being sent to their deaths by faceless, lizard-hearted suits in Corporate. We felt for them, because we could see such a thing happening to poor working stiffs like us. 

This conceit built on the then-radical images of a “lived-in” futuristic setting (however long ago or far away) from 1977’s Star Wars. These weren’t squeaky clean Starfleet flag officers debating applications of the Prime Directive after receiving direct orders from the fleet admiral on the viewscreen in the executive briefing room. These were flesh-and-blood people with dirt on their faces who would be lucky to brush sleeves with a low-ranking middle manager, and not get yelled at for it. 

Here in Prometheus it’s nothing more than a touchback to the original Alien—a reference that makes no sense in the context of a movie that’s supposed to be a prequel except when it’s not. In the end Fifield is nothing more than an abrasive, thick-headed chunk of monster kibble, like the not-so-working-class, but also unbelievably stupid biologist he gets lost to die with.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Guess what sprays out of the space-cobra when the Dumbest Geologist in the Galaxy tries cutting the space-cobra from where it’s wrapped itself around the Dumbest Biologist in the Galaxy’s arm? Although the acid blood apparently isn’t that acidic, as it only burns through the guy’s glass (!) faceplate to his face—as opposed to taking his head off, as that acid would have done in Alien, where the acid kept burning through deck plates on three or four or more levels of the Nostromo until it stopped. I guess this was an early stage in the evolution of mean-critter acid blood.

Yet another shout-out to Alien comes with the slime the android David comes across while he’s trying to work the control panel outside a large door. The translucent green slime was an indicator of the presence of the xenomorph in the first and second movies. You come across that slime and it’s time to check your weapons and your exits.

Here, it’s just—there. No reason. No xenomorphs, except as shown in this bas relief mural, which would indicate that the Engineers knew of these bitey-stabby, rip-you-apart horrors 2,000 years ago.

This is what happens when Georgia O’Keefe licks a psychedelic toad and begins working in bas relief. 

So where did the slime come from? Why is it on the control panel? Did a really tall xenomorph use this door last? (David has to climb to get to it; the Engineers were 12-feet tall, the Law of Inverse Cube be darned.) How long ago? Does that stuff never dry?

The android David, incidentally, is yet another reference to Alien, namely, the Tricksy Android With a Sinister Hidden Agenda. Except in Alien we didn’t know Ash was an android until he started bleeding milk. And Ash was operating under separate orders from “the Company,” as Weyland Industries was known then.

In Prometheus, the android David is answerable only to the CEO of Weyland Industries and would have no reason whatsoever to put that dab of black goo into the archaeologist’s drink except out of curiosity or perversity or both. No Sinister Company Agenda here. Tricksy Android is tricksy because, well, there wouldn’t be much of a movie if he wasn’t.

This is a good time to hit the pause button on my lists of complaints and gratuitous Alien references and talk about what I did like about Prometheus. That could only be Noomi Rapace as Ripley stand-in Dr. Elizabeth Watts and Michael Fassbender as David the Tricksy Android. 

“Good grief, how many gaping holes are in this script, anyway?”
“At least they’re not dripping slime. Unlike a certain agent I’m going to fire when this gig’s done.”

Not that their characters make a lick of sense. In a series of cuts during the mission briefing scene that made me question Ridley Scott’s ability as a director, it’s implied that this story is mainly about Dr. Watts and David. Which it is and it isn’t. SPOILER ALERT in case you’re really invested in seeing this, but they are the only two characters who get out of this alive. So there’s that.

David is interesting inasmuch as we see him puttering about the good ship Prometheus for the two years it takes to reach its destination. He’s alone while everyone is in hypersleep. While ordinary humans would spend the years going insane, David occupies himself in between routine maintenance duties watching movies and taking in interactive video lectures on ancient languages, all the better to communicate with the Engineers when the ship reaches its objective. (Couldn’t he just download all that info into his head Matrix style? Never mind.) He takes an interest in Dr. Watts’ childhood memories, which he can observe by tapping into the hardware of her hypersleep pod. David also styles his hair like Peter O’Toole in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

David gets picked on a bit by the male archaeologist (whose name I’m not looking up; he was such a cipher) and the only reason I can think of why David would spike his drink with the X-Files-ish black goo (a lot of people made that connection; they really should have come up with something else) was out of some sort of petty revenge.

Still, he’s a smooth, perfect foil for Elizabeth “Ellie” Watts. “Ellie?” Like “Ellen Ripley?” Yes, I’m such a geek I know Ripley’s first name. And, no, they couldn’t have been this cheesy. No. I refuse to believe it. The writers couldn’t have been this lazy....

In another shot I saw telegraphed from the git-go “Ellie” and her boyfriend link hands as they look at the 35,000-year-old cave painting showing a constellation that would have looked a lot different at the time because everything in the universe is in motion, etc. Yet I never believed their relationship. Or that she was such a die-hard believer in Jesus. As far as I could tell, the cross she was complaining at decapitated David to get back was nothing more than sentimental value, something that tied her to her father, who died of Ebola on some African missionary gig. Of which David knows about. And rather coldly, sadistically teases her about. Among other things. Why? David’s weird, that’s all.

Her relationship rings false and so does her faith. Major narrative fail. Except this is Noomi Rapace playing this poorly scripted character, and  I just can’t stop looking at her:

What do you get when you cross a Spaniard with a Swede? One of the most perfectly sculpted faces on any woman I’ve ever seen...and, ladies, you can’t fake what’s in those eyes. The lights are on, and someone is most certainly home. 

I can’t think of any other actress I could have watched throughout this. My heart aches even more seeing what stupid things the stupid script puts this perfect vision of womanhood though. By the way, does this scene look familiar?

My Internet must be broken. My Google search rendered me this not-quite-desktop-worthy shot of a bloodied Noomi Rapace in her underwear. 

An attractive young woman in her underwear working against time. It still wasn’t as bad as the Dark and Stormy Night in which so much gratuitous sex and murder occurs. Yes, we’ve got that, too. 

Let’s look at more pictures of Noomi Rapace. 

Such a beautiful profile in such a gorgeous set in such a stupid movie. Why, O Lord, why?


All right, that’s IT. Screw you guys, I’m going home.

And that’s it. I loved looking at Noomi Rapace. Michael Fassbender was delightfully warped and interesting to watch. Otherwise, there was so much fail in this story I came to lose respect for Sir Ridley Scott. As a director he should have known better. There was so much failure in character development, believable science (they took their helmets off in an alien atmosphere; are you kidding me?), believable action, narrative logic—I have since come to the conclusion that Ridley Scott isn’t the Great Paradigm Setting Director he’s been hyped as for the last 30-odd years. He’s simply been very, very lucky with scripts.

There’s supposed to be a second movie in which Noomi Rapace and the disembodied head of Michael Fassbender will encounter the Engineers on their home turf, which I’ll probably watch just for Noomi Rapace. And maybe Micheal Fassbender’s android will do something interesting against the godlike beings whom Ridley Scott has already determined as hostile. Scott is of the school If You’re Looking for God in Outer Space You’re Going to Have a Bad Time. Too bad Scott and Gene Roddenberry never got together to have a conversation about this.

I frittered away the better part of a night clicking around the Internet after watching Prometheus. If you wanted to like the movie as badly as I did and are interested in What It Could All Possibly Mean, this is a good site. As for (almost) everything wrong with the film—so much I didn’t even get around to covering here—there’s a site called Honest Trailers that sums it up quite hilariously. They do quite the number on other movies, too. Based on what I saw there it’ll be a while before I bother with The Avengers, either. 

Besides, I’ve long known Joss Whedon is tremendously overrated. But Ridley Scott? Sir Ridley? The man who gave us Alien, Blade Runner, even Thelma and Louise? This is just so much harder to take.