Stealing black goo from the gods ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stealing black goo from the gods

My rating:

This should've been a major cinematic event. Ridley Scott, director of two bona fide sci-fi film classics - Alien and Blade Runner - not only returning to the genre after 30 years, but returning to the Alien universe with a story that is part prequel, part expansion of the franchise into new and highly ambitious territory. A film that dares to ask the Big Questions, in the tradition of pure, thought-provoking science fiction - the genre of ideas, not just empty SFX-fuelled spectacle. A film that might possibly redeem the Alien franchise, built on two classic films (and don't nobody dare argue with me that Aliens isn't a classic) but tarnished by a succession of increasingly-sucky sequels. A film that was as highly anticipated as any other "event" film of 2012, perhaps even more so than The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises. As good as those were, or might be, they haven't been 30 years in the making.

It should've.

A scientific expedition on board the starship Prometheus, funded by billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), is on its way to a distant star system. The expedition is led by archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who found an ancient symbol in several different archaeological sites that point towards this system; what they expect to find is no less than the origin of life on Earth itself. The crew also includes David (Michael Fassbender), an android with mysterious motives; Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the icy corporate overseer; and Janek (Idris Elba), the pragmatic ship's captain. On the planet designated LV-223, they find an installation built by the enigmatic aliens, dubbed the Engineers, who may have created the human race - but they will also find horrors beyond their imagination.

I think it's important, when reviewing a movie, to consider it as a whole and not just focus on the most glaring parts. A film can be flawed in some very fundamental ways, yet also contain many excellent elements. Such is the case with Prometheus, which has some stunning visuals, terrific performances, gorgeous production design and some standout thriller/horror scenes. And as a sci-fi film of ideas, it certainly succeeds at raising some fascinating questions about where we came from and why we exist at all in the universe. Where it abjectly fails is at tackling those questions in an intelligent manner - much less answer them. Be forewarned that a great many questions will remain unanswered by the time the credits roll, which need not necessarily be a flaw. The fact that so much of the plot doesn't make any sense - that's a flaw.

There are rants, complaints and tirades about the film's many problems all over the internet now, so I won't repeat most of them. What I will ask is a question that I haven't seen asked too often, which goes thusly: when the expedition enter the alien structure on LV-223 for the first time, they find a massive complex of tunnels and a central chamber that houses rows upon rows of cylindrical canisters that ooze a mysterious thick black liquid - not to mention a giant human head, plus wall carvings that shift and change, plus heaps more stuff to explore and analyse and learn about. And they're disappointed. Seriously, Holloway is so crushed by all this that he (very briefly) turns to drink. What is wrong with you?? You're archaeologists. You're scientists. You've made the greatest discovery of your age, a treasure trove that you could spend the rest of your life studying. Yet we're supposed to believe that within a day or two of their arrival, they've reached such a complete dead end in their findings that they're now taking pants-on-head stupid risks out of desperation.

I'm sorry, did I say the characters are acting out of desperation? I meant the screenwriters - namely, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, and since the latter rewrote the former's draft it would appear Lindelof is to blame. The plot moves forward by way of an Idiot Ball being vigorously tossed from one character to another. Again, most of the stupidities have been extensively catalogued already, so I won't go into them - but one other clear sign of writerly desperation is when the story hinges on characters coming to conclusions that don't appear supported by anything they've seen. Like when Janek surmises that the alien outpost they're investigating is a biological weapons testing facility. Never mind the question of why ancient aliens would invite our ancestors to come visit that; where did he even get this idea? I'm not sure we've learned enough about the Engineers to support that conclusion. Or even why Shaw and Holloway think they're going to find alien beings who created mankind just from a common pattern of dots on ancient cave paintings. Or why David thinks making someone swallow that black goo would do anything...

Sigh. It is, clearly and indefensibly, a movie whose plot makes no sense. And yet, 3-½ stars. It is visually and artistically gorgeous, as befits a Ridley Scott film. The amount of detail that went into designing the Prometheus spacecraft, the futuristic technology, the alien architecture and even the icky creepy-crawlies that eventually pop up, is simply jaw-dropping. The scene in the automated med pod is a bravura sequence of body horror, and the giant spaceship crash during the climax is magnificently realised; the entire movie is never not a completely engaging experience. The acting is near-flawless; it's fun to see Noomi Rapace play a character who smiles for once, Charlize Theron once again proves she's a brilliant character actor with the looks of a leading lady, but Michael Fassbender's incredibly subtle, nuanced and otherworldly turn as the android David is the highlight. As with Scott's last film, Prometheus has been polished to a mirror sheen of quality that few other movies can match up to.

Ultimately, its downfall is its ambition. The Big Questions that it asks - what if we weren't created by God but by aliens? To what purpose did they create us, and what would it mean if we discovered the answer? How does that parallel our own creation of artificial life, or for that matter, the children we bear? - simply aren't dealt with satisfyingly, but the fact that a big-budget Hollywood film even dared to ask them is pretty damn impressive already. At least Scott, Lindelof and Spaihts knew enough to leave some of those questions unanswered, perhaps for the planned sequel - because this film ends on a wide open note for a sequel. Yes, this film infuriated me with its insanely stupid characters and lazily-plotted storyline and ill-thought-out themes, and through the course of writing this review I frequently thought of knocking my rating down to 3 stars. But to Prometheus' loudest and most vehement detractors, I ask you this: if the sequel got made, would you watch it? I don't think there's one of you who wouldn't.

NEXT REVIEW: Jalan Kembali: Bohsia 2
Expectations: mungkinkah Syamsul Yusof kini menunjukkan sedikit perikemanusiaan?


Doc Smith said...

Again, a superb review - exactly what I thought seeing it. Answers really one question - how the exomorphs came about - one giant alien + one nasty wormy thing = one badass alien nasty BUT, as you say, WHY??? A bio warfare facility - what the... WHY??? Well, I'm thinking another movie. As Rapace and the dismembered android truck off into space to you-know-where, another movie will be called for to explain that. But please PLEASE don't use the same writers as the last one. Visually brilliant movie screwed by stupid mistakes in the storyline. And why kill Vickers off? More Theron would have been in order, not less!

Seriously good intelligent review of what should have been a seriously good - even great - movie.