Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Prometheus

2012, Ridley Scott

[there will be spoilers]

With the work schedule being as demanding as it is in recent months, as we as the black hole of time that is having children, my internet trolling time has been reduced to, oh, I'd hazard a guess at about 75 minutes a week (take looking at naughty gifs on tumblr out of the equation and it's probably more like 45).  I tend to use what little non-work related computer time I have to write about the entertainment I'm consuming, rather than fall into the social media trap, or enter the rabbit hole of, say an Onion AV Club or other entertainment reporting/reviewing site.  Point being that if it's not on a podcast I'm not really hearing about it.  So my exposure to Prometheus has been limited to the reactions of Doug Benson and his guests on the Doug Loves Movies podcast.  And that limited exposure was intentional. 

I was super jazzed to see Prometheus before it arrived in theatres.  David and I were planning this as our inaugural Ultra AVX experience film, but schedules really didn't align for it to happen (and I'm not terribly sure it was screened in the Ultra AVX theatre anyway).  As excited as I was to see it, I just couldn't get it together to see the film (especially in trying to coordinate schedules with the wife who, upon learning Michael Fassbender was in it, suddenly expressed a deeper interest in attending with me).  As the weeks passed, I tried as hard as I could to keep myself in the dark about it, and given my limited net time, it wasn't that difficult.  The spoilers offered up by DLM were as follows: there's a vomiting sequence, there's an "abortion machine" (as Doug called it), it was an "origin of humanity" plot and that people were really disappointed that it wasn't a proper Alien prequel or questioning why it needed to be one.

With this limited knowledge (and next to no exposure to the trailers or commercials or posters or really any advertising... and now that I look the many, many, many posters are all astonishingly cool) I could enter the screening with nearly virgin eyes.  I did know that the film was originally not supposed to be an Alien prequel, and then was rewritten to be so, and many such sordid details surrounding its inception I had read about last year when the film was in production, but even still... I was going into it mostly fresh.  And I fracking loved it.

First off, I know people were disappointed because it wasn't an Alien movie, in the sense that there weren't all the expected bits that go along with the Alien franchise.  Those aliens are damn scary, and it's a brilliant concept, and when done right, tremendously thrilling to watch, but I've been so steeped in Aliens for the past 20 years from repeated viewings of the "Quadrology" to the many, many, many comic book stories, I know what to expect out of an Alien story all too well.  With Prometheus, I had no idea what to expect.  It didn't match the rhythm and beats of any of the Alien films to date and, in fact, toyed with them even a little bit.  Hell, I wasn't even so sure from the start that Prometheus was supposed to be a horror, or at least suspense movie.  One of the great things about having next to no preconceived notions of a film is the sense of discovery.  At first, I thought, given the tidbits about it "not being an Alien movie, but set in its universe" and an "origin of the species" film, I thought it would be more along the lines of Mission To Mars, only done right.  The first act pretty much held firm that.  Unlike Scott's first tale in this universe, which was ominous from the beginning, this film was a bit brighter, more optimistic. 

But quickly it ratchets up the tension, in the second act and it continues to do so throughout the film.  I loved that it very quickly introduced the idea it had about the origins of humanity rather than tried to keep them as a reveal for later in the film, or even as a Macguffin for the characters to chase after throughout the movie.  No, rather than discovering where we came from, the film tells us flat out from the beginning that we know where we came from, the question instead is why.  The crew of the Prometheus is in search of an answer (or so they think, but there's other things going on in the background that toy with it).

The film introduces (or re-introduces) the "space jockeys" as seen early in the first Alien movie, and extrapolates on who they are... somewhat.  They are indeed the creators of humanity, referred to as the engineers.  They design life, not just human life, but life across the galaxy.  But, as we quickly learn, they've also designed death, biological weapons, killing machines, and there are a few examples of many creatures that are "Alien-esque", like rough drafts or mock-ups of what we've come to know, love, and fear. 

The question of why "we" were created is never explicitly answered, at least not by "our" creators, but as the various biological weapons of the Engineers escape (as well as we learn the true nature of the Engineers themselves is revealed), it would be my best guess that humanity itself is yet another biological weapon.  A warfaring race intent on destroying itself and everything around it.  That's my inference, at least, and it's great for a film to give you that leeway rather than spelling it out for you.

Scott's direction here is masterful as always, but even more entrancing was the visual design of the film.  It takes much of the aesthetic of Scott's 1979 film but manages to punch it up to our expectations of blockbuster movies today... puch it up, but still feel at home in the universe he first built.  The film looks fantastic.  The sequence of the holographic Engineers is one of my new favourite sci-fi movie moments.  It looks incredible and stirs a feeling of glee inside me just watching it.

The cast, including Noomi Rapace, Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron, are uniformly great.  Guy Pierce as old man Weyland is a bid of an odd casting choice, caking him in make-up and providing him minimal screen presence (but notable billing) but again, he does everything he's needed to do.  Everyone is committed to the film and buying into what's happening.  There are nods, overt and not so, to Aliens films of yore, and your mileage will vary on how much you like it depending on how obvious they are to you.

If there's any complaining I have about the film, it's that the final sequence with the Engineer and the life pod, seemed to be completely studio mandated and tacked onto the story in a logic-less manner.  It's a cool sequence, but purposeless except to tie in some more Aliens allusions.  Beyond that, nothing but pure thrills for me.  It's set up for a sequel but doesn't demand one, but I do want one.  To be perfectly honest, I believe I like this even more than any of the Aliens features (although only repeated viewings will tell for sure)..


(P.S. I have a theory that the Engineers ship full of biological weapons of death is responsible for what's lurking under The Cabin in the Woods)