Thursday, June 14, 2012

Escape by Playing Stephen Stills' Accordion: Prometheus

**spoiler alert!**

I want to judge Prometheus as a prequel to Alien, but that wouldn’t really be fair. As best as I can tell, Director Ridley Scott’s new film is a prequel to Alien only in that it takes place before the events of that classic 1979 horror flick,  not because it ties into or leads up to it. But even when only comparing the films as distant cousins and not two parts of the same story, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.

Alien was wonderfully simple and straightforward: a crew of working stiffs in outer space are picked off one-by-one by a vicious alien. Prometheus’ story is scattered and a little convoluted. First we’re on a mysterious planet (Earth, right?) where we see a giant alien (later revealed to be a Space Jockey, similar to the creature found in the craft in Alien) break down on a molecular level after consuming a strange substance. Then we cut to two researchers in Scotland, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green) as they discover another in a series of ancient cave paintings that reveal a far-flung moon capable of supporting life. Then we’re on the Prometheus four years later as the crew reaches the moon. And so forth.

I found myself nitpicking small differences between the two films, so I decided to focus on a scene from Alien and another, similar scene from Prometheus: the destruction of the ships.

In Alien, the scene where Ripley engages the self-destruct sequence on the Nostromo and then frantically tries to stop it is incredibly tense. It’s bleak, dark, and nail-bitingly good. Some of that is due to Sigourney Weaver - the viewer cares about her character, Ripley.

In Prometheus, the sequence where Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and his two remaining crew members fly the ship into the Space Jockey’s craft isn’t just different in tone, it feels hollow. We didn’t get any insight into Janek other than the fact that he’s a fan of the music of Stephen Stills. And we definitely didn’t get any insight into the other two crewmen, other than the fact that they like to bet on stuff and they wanna bang Charlize Theron’s character.

While it’s made clear that Prometheus takes place on LV-223 and not LV-426, the planet from Alien and Aliens, it still felt like the new flick was leading up to the events of the original ‘79 movie.  In Alien, we only see a Space Jockey once, but it was a very interesting scene. The Jockey is sitting in a control chair of some kind, destroyed by a chestburster. A sequence near the end of Prometheus, where a Space Jockey sits in a similar control seat, results in imagery much like that mysterious scene from 1979. The sequence is a dead-end however, as the Space Jockey doesn’t die in the seat from a burst chest.

The acting in Prometheus is top-notch (more on that later), but one of my main problems with the film has to do with the characters.

Why was everyone on Prometheus an idiot? Charlie seemed to be more of a douchey Abercrombie and Fitch model than a scientist. Biologist Millburn (hey, played by Edgar Wright collaborator Rafe Spall!) tries to treat a hostile, snake-like alien like a puppy and pays the price. The guy responsible for mapping the alien structure gets lost in it for God’s sake!

Why the hell did Weyland pretend to be dead the whole time? What purpose did it serve? David the android (Michael Fassbender) seemingly flip flopped from good to evil back to good. Charlize Theron’s character Meredith Vickers is so cold and clinical at times that Captain Janek suspected her of being an android. But then they flirt and have sex. When we first see Vickers she’s doing angry pushups. Doing a pushup at the end of the film literally would have saved her life.

And finally, Noomi Rapace’s character, Dr. Shaw. When Shaw and the remaining members of the Prometheus crew finally find a Space Jockey, he tries to kill all of them and destroy their planet. And after Shaw’s squid baby finally kills the Jockey, Shaw leaves the find the Space Jockey homeworld. Seriously? You want to travel to the planet that the murderous space giants call home?

As its own film - while still scattered - Prometheus is pretty great. It’s a beautiful movie filled with gifted actors, especially Fassbender and Rapace. Especially Rapace. The scene where she cuts the squid baby out of her stomach in the surgery pod is truly a call-back to some of the more tense and stomach-churning scenes in Alien.

I appreciated that the film touched on life and death, creation and destruction, and creators wanting to dispose of their creations (and vice versa). Dr. Shaw wanted a baby until she realized what the creature inside her would become. Maybe that’s why the Jockeys wanted to destroy mankind.

I’ve been reassured that I need to watch Prometheus again, and I think that’s true. There’s sure to be a lot that can be gained from subsequent viewings. I really liked how the TED talk viral video featuring Guy Pearce that was released prior to Prometheus tied in with the film. There’s undoubtedly more of that to discover.

So Prometheus gets an Open Hatch rating, since I’m grading it as its own film and not compared to Alien. Like many folks, that film is too ingrained in my head and heart. And like Stephen Stills said, if you can’t be with the one you love...


  1. Great review Robert. I can see why you would be disappointed in some respects but totally agree that it's still a damn fine, exciting film. My head is still filled with questions though.

  2. Thanks, Pete. I actually can't wait to see it again.

  3. While I had some complaints with the film I actually liked the decision at the very end. Rapace's character pretty much counts herself as living on borrowed time, so a suicide revenge mission to their homeworld, in a ship filled with biological weapons, seems just the thing. If she were to try to go home she would be bringing these terrible weapons to Earth and she knows that somehow, someway they would get loose on the planet.

    1. Chip - I guess we do have to assume that each ship contains WMDs (not sure if they mentioned that or not).

      Another big question I have is: what are the rest of the Engineers even up to? Were the Engineers on LV 223 acting on their own in wanting to destroy Earth or did the species as a whole want us destroyed?

      I guess my point is, do Shaw and David even have anyone to commit a suicide mission against (if that's what they're doing) or did something happen to them?

      You raise some good points. Thanks for reading!

    2. I agree that those questions were not answered. I assumed that a sequel, if/when it comes, would address some of them.

    3. Here's hoping. I'd actually be very interested in a sequel or two.

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