Thursday, June 14, 2012

Movie Review - Prometheus

Genre: Sci-Fi
Premise: (from IMDB) A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.
About: This is a loosely connected “prequel” to Alien, directed by Ridley Scott. Hollywood’s new go-to sci-fi scribe, Jon Spaihts (Passengers) wrote the original draft. Lost alum Damon Lindelof came in to clean it up.
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof

I’ve tried to avoid all online Prometheus discussion but it’s been difficult. It seems like everyone’s got an opinion on the movie. From what I’ve been exposed to, the criticism seems to be pointing towards the script. And that surprises me. Because I thought the script for Prometheus was pretty damn good!

I mean, let’s go back in time here for a second. Do you remember Alien 3? I don’t have any idea what that movie was about. I think it was about Ripley having an alien baby in a Brooklyn jail or something. And Alien 4? Wynona Rider played a robot in that movie. Nuff said.

Prometheus, even though it’s only loosely connected to the Alien mythology, is the best Alien film since Aliens BY A COUNTRY MILE. Now I know that’s not saying a whole lot. But even had those films never been made, I’d still look at this as a really good film, and EASILY one of the best films of the summer (it might even be the best – I’ll wait til fall to make that judgment).

So what’s it about? Well, I’ll try to stay as spoiler-free as possible but there’s a lot going on here so you probably want to avoid the rest of the review until you see the movie.

“Prometheus” is a “deep space” vessel that takes humans to faraway planets to explore them. But this particular expedition is special. Scientist Elizabeth Shaw and her husband have discovered a series of cave paintings that turn out to be a map to a planet in another solar system.

Trillionaire Peter Weyland is impressed enough with their research that he bankrolls an expedition there. The idea is to find aliens and ask the big questions. Where do we come from? What is the meaning of life? Weyland will actually be dead by the time Prometheus makes it to the planet but he wants to make sure that future generations don’t have to die, like him, not knowing these answers. 

Besides Shaw and her husband, Prometheus carries a crew of about 15, headlined by heartless crew supervisor Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and android David (Michael Fassbender). Meredith thinks this entire expedition is bullshit and just wants to get it over with and go home. David is a bit like a pissed off grown-up Pinocchio. He just wants to be real. And he’ll do anything in his power to have that.

Well, when they get to the planet, they immediately come upon a series of artificial domes. Once inside one of these domes, they find the remains of an ancient intelligent species who were trying to get away from something. This becomes the central mystery of the movie. What were these aliens trying to get away from? What is it that got them all riled up? And even more importantly, who killed them?

As the crew of Prometheus tries to figure this out, we learn that the key players on the ship have a few secrets they’ve been hiding. When those secrets come out, and are combined with a suspicious virus found on the planet, these guys aren’t going to be worried about the meaning of life. They’re going to be worried about saving their lives.

Okay, one of the first complaints I’ve heard about Prometheus is that it’s slooooow. From someone who attacks tons of amateur writers for taking forever to start their screenplays, you’d think I’d be all over this. But to me the opening of Prometheus wasn’t slow. As long as you’re building towards something, as long as we’ve set up a goal, then the story is progressing. The speed at which that story will progress is relative to how interesting that goal is to the individual audience member. If it’s a goal we want to see achieved, the story will move rather quickly. If not, it won’t.

In this case, the crew is going to check out a planet where our possible ancestors came from. That’s a pretty damn strong goal. And if you’re still not sold on the pace being quick enough, go watch Alien again. I mean if you want to see a movie where “nothing happens” for the first 30 minutes, watch that film. They spend like 15 minutes of screentime waking up and turning on the ship. I think there’s a 3 minute scene of JUST the ship landing.

But really, both movies have a similar setup. There’s a mystery that needs to be solved (in Alien, the ship has pulled them out of hyper-sleep because of an unknown signal on a planet they’re passing) and a crew has to go solve it. Where Prometheus splits off from both Alien and Aliens is that once that initial mystery is solved (spoiler: our crew finds out this species is, indeed, responsible for human life), a NEW mystery is introduced (what were they doing here?). Whereas in Alien and Aliens, after the initial mystery, they turned into straight horror movies, this movie is more about finding answers. It’s designed to be slow, to build, to make you wonder. And again, your enjoyment of that will depend on how interesting the mysteries were to you individually. I *did* want to find out what these aliens were up to, so I was totally into it!

The next big complaint about Prometheus was that it had tons of plot holes. Well here’s the thing about a good mystery. If you’re into it, you’re not scrutinizing the plot. Sure, there can be a plot hole so big, you can’t ignore it. But in my one run through the movie, I didn’t see any of these big plot holes (though I’m sure you guys will point them out!).

Was everything always clear to me? No. I felt there was some murkiness involved with the aliens. I wasn’t entirely sure what they were running from. But in the end, I got it. They came here to experiment with these weapons and shit went wrong. Was it the greatest explanation known to cinema? No, but it made sense to me. I was satisfied.

And yes, I saw the hilarious Red Letter Media video detailing a lot of these holes. But come on, any script enthusiast can do that with any movie. I mean I can do it with that guy’s favorite movie of all time, Star Wars. How come the most sophisticated battle station in the universe can’t track where our heroes are inside of it? How come Storm Troopers aren’t waiting outside the trash compactor in case our heroes escape? How come when Storm Troopers are looking for rebels on Mos Eisley, they give up because…a door is locked (“It’s locked. Let’s keep moving.”)?

All in all, the plot holes he mentioned were pretty small. Yeah, I too wondered why someone would run in a straight line when the ship above them was falling down in a straight line. But that wasn’t a script killer for me. There was FAR MORE good here than there was bad. And script-wise, for a big budget summer movie, I’d argue that outside of Pixar, this is as good as it’s going to get. I mean, it certainly made more sense than freaking Inception.

The moment for me when I gave myself over to this movie – when I said, “You know what? This is a legitimate flick,” was the surgery scene. (Major spoiler) In the middle of the movie, Shaw is impregnated with an alien fetus that is growing rapidly inside of her. The ship is equipped with a sort of robotic automated surgery tube. You go inside of it and it performs whatever surgery you need. Shaw realizes that the only way she’s going to get this fetus out of her is to perform surgery on herself. 

Unfortunately, the machine doesn’t perform abortions. So she has to manually program a surgery into the machine that’s only SIMILAR to an abortion. She hops inside this thing, all the while feeling this entity inside of her trying to bust out, and watches as the machine rips her stomach apart and takes the foreign body out of her.

The alien organism is alive by this point, and trying to reach its tentacles down and kill Shaw. The only thing preventing it are the machines’ fragile clamping auto-tools. So Shaw is trapped inside a 2’ by 7’ coffin with a killer alien inches from her body, while getting sewn up from a machine performing an incorrect surgery on her. I mean THAT’S A FUCKING SCENE!

That’s what told me these writers had come to play ball. There are SO FEW SCENES you can write into a major Hollywood film these days that haven’t been done before. Yet I’d never seen that scene before. I was riveted.

[ ] what the hell did I just see?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the price of admission
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

WHAT I LEARNED – If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s the gamble you take when you rest the majority of your story on a mystery as opposed to a threat. The first two Alien movies worked so well because of the established threat. If you don’t have that threat, your mystery better be uber-inspired, because you’re asking your audience to care only about that. Since audiences aren’t very patient these days, that’s a risky proposition. But I thought Prometheus’ gamble paid off and it worked. What did you guys think?