Sunday, June 17, 2012

Hail To The Gods

This film, Ridley Scott's Prometheus, was a disappointment. The trailers promised a really grand adventure with something profound at the core, but the reality seemed much more muddled. 

Archeologists Elisabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are heading a team sent deep into space to investigate a cluster of stars. This specific cluster was depicted on numerous ancient cave paintings and carvings from diverse prehistoric civilizations who had no contact with each other and who were separated by thousands of miles and years. The two archeologists uncover a new cave painting on Earth that also displays the star cluster and deduce that these depictions constitute an "invitation" to visit. Actually, the cluster appears to be a collection of planets, not stars, never mind that no ancient civilization could see planets (or a distant cluster of stars, for that matter), nor could modern technology see them well enough to have a map so accurate that we'd send a spacecraft a trillion miles distant to them. But the implication is that we are known to others in the galaxy--and perhaps something more.

The crew rides out in the research ship Prometheus, the mission's trillion-dollar cost having been privately funded by gazillionaire industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in heavy makeup). Everyone is held in stasis for the long trip except for the ship's android, David (Michael Fassbender). They are awakened when they reach their destination. Weyland's representative on the ship--the person controlling the money, and hence the mission itself--is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a domineering and unaccountably caustic person trying to corral a rather motley crew of 17, including the ship's captain, Janek (Idris Elba). (Another oddity: the world will have had to change if the captain of a ship does not retain ultimate command.) 

The thought is that the star cluster may represent the home world of those who created us. This very premise, once stated, is immediately challenged in the film by one of the ship's scientists who reminds us that having a "creator" puts the well-documented phenomenon of Darwinian evolution aside rather awkwardly. Further muddying these already completely opaque waters is Dr. Shaw's deep but unspecified Christian faith, the literal truth of which is also awkwardly set aside by the notion that space aliens, not Jebus, are responsible for our being here. The film grapples with these issues… not in the least. It's just a bunch of shit flying around on the screen to keep us disoriented or, if thick enough, disengaged. (I'm reminded of Arthur C. Clarke's Three Laws, the last of which is "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.")

The crew arrive and begin rapidly breaking every rule of good science and common sense to uncover… that things are not what they appear to be. Never mind that we have no idea what they appear to be. Unreality abounds, and not in a good way. Perhaps I'm swayed by NASA's long history of sensible liberalism, but I don't buy that anyone would put out this kind of money for an expedition and not vet the crew very carefully to ensure deep compatibility. But the story abounds with one interpersonal dust-up after another, and all to no discernible end. The crew are portrayed as a ragtag bunch of misfits and malcontents whose ability to work together is seriously in doubt from Moment One. Perhaps this is a throwback to Scott's original sci-fi blockbuster, Alien (1979). I confess I had never seen that film, so I made a point of watching it beforehand to be able to catch any connections that might get tossed out. There is a loose connection between the films, though they do not make a contiguous story. They share the basic plot of earthlings meeting an alien civilization and coming out the worse for it.

I struggle afterward to see if the whole business makes any kind of sense. It seems unambiguously to be bad storytelling, though the film is initially beautiful to look at. But even that begins to wane as too many things on screen just don't add up. Michael Fassbender's android David is intriguing to watch, and individual performances by Rapace and Theron and Elba seem fine. I just think it's a weak script trying to tell a story that needed a few more rewrites. There's no chemistry between any of the actors, and the story is too muddled to really sink our teeth into.  That just doesn't leave us with much.  Points for ambition, I suppose.

Grade: C-


Vancouver Voyeur said...

I kind of felt the same way about the movie. We just saw it yesterday. A lot of what these "scientists" did, was not very scientific. Trying to touch an alien worm? Seriously? You don't know what it is, what it can do to you, this is not how one would go about observing an alien species. Also the major leap that the drawings were an invitation was baseless. I also found it unsatisfying that once they woke up our Maker, it tried to kill all of them, and the monsters they created were meant to destroy life on Earth. Why? Is this what a technologically supior race would do to eliminate a problem species? It doesn't make sense to me. I didn't care for this movie. It threw too much stuff out there that didn't make sense or didn't connect to the overall story.

wunelle said...

I totally agree. Why do the creators have a shrine to humans? (Or are they just similar enough that it's them and I'm mistaken?) Why create us and then destroy us? "Sometimes to create the palette must be wiped clean" (or some such tripe); why? Maybe I'm just dumb as a bag of hammers, but there was never a 'click' of recognition of some deeper plot significance. By the end I was kind of irritated that he didn't do much better with these materials.

CyberKitten said...

Pretty much agree with everything you said. Initially nice to look at but *very* quickly pales as absurdity is piled on incomprehensibility. I'm normally a Scott & Fassbinder fan but this was very disappointing.