Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Prometheus (Ridley Scott 2012)

There are a few moments when you can almost convince yourself that this will turn out to be a decent, perhaps even watchable film but really that’s just hope overriding what’s on the screen.  The whole thing feels like it was written by a high school student and not even a particularly sharp one at that.  Who else would care so much about the Silence of God?  Other than Bergman fans of course.  That’s not how it’s phrased in the film but really that’s the point of questioning the Engineers, especially since for a group of scientists they have remarkably little interest in anything else.  Even what seems to be humanity’s first contact with non-terrestrial intelligence creates less response than a random sitcom viewing. 

And also:

*  The opening creation sequence (geddit?) is quite impossible.  Beings that advanced could surely come up with a more effective method than one involving suicide (or maybe he already knew what it’s like to watch the rest of the film).  But the DNA bit doesn’t work – throwing frog DNA into a pond doesn’t create frogs.  If the point had been that this started the evolutionary process then how could human DNA possibly match the alien’s since the intervening species’ DNA would not?

*  Drawings from pre-literate cultures are the best that these aliens could do?  Cultures who have no interest in or even concept of realism but are still expected to reproduce a dot pattern accurately.  You’d think the aliens would be better off sending a message with, oh I dunno, a black obelisk on the moon.

*  Theron’s entire part has no purpose.  The character could have been completely removed and it wouldn’t have affected the film at all with the one exception of the death she caused which could easily have been assigned to another character.

*  There’s so little else going on that when early scenes mention a lifepod and an automated medical machine you know they will play an important part later on.  Screenwriters might mention the Chekhov principle but really this just indicates scanty background and unimaginative writing.

*  What was the point of having a young actor play an elderly man?  Particularly with such unbelievably ineffective makeup?  There are after all plenty of older actors around.  I was certain there would be a rejuvenation sequence because that’s the only reason this made any sense.

*  I thought the last season of 24 pushed the amount of abuse we’re expected to believe a character can handle and still function but this ups it – woman has major abdominal surgery (competely unmentioned is the damage such a large growth in “ten hours” would have caused) but manages to run around and yell and run around and run some more and then crawl up into a ship and then lower a heavy body down and so on and so forth.

*  What was David the android doing giving the black goo to the scientist anyway?  He acts like there was a purpose but surely there’s no way he could have known any of what would happen.  Either way the film leaves this completely unexplained, apparently more from clumsiness than artistic ambiguity.  Maybe the extended director’s cut (saints preserve us) will re-instert deleted scenes explaining this, explaining everything.

*  Ridley Scott et al also don’t bother to explain any of the major questions driving the story – why did the Engineers do this, why Earth, why the message, etc.  I suspect they were trying for a sort of naturalistic openness but really it comes across more like they never bothered to finish the script. 

*  Why is Ellie surprised that David knows how her father died?  He explains it’s because he watched her dreams but more likely he just read her file.

*  I’m not much bothered by coincidences when they make the story more efficient.  So when the ship first lands on the planet they just happen to find buildings immediately and then just happen to first go into the one that has the elements that will drive the story – ok let’s go with that.  Why spend time showing the ship flying around.  Except that when you realize the point of the film is searching (or Searching) then it would be appropriate to show.  A few dissolves, maybe a title like “five days later” and really any half-way decent director wouldn’t have needed any more screen time but would have deepened the story.

*  And while we’re on coincidences don’t you like how the hologram just happens to show only the specific portions the ship’s crew needed to see?  And in much lower quality than my cell phone?

*  Stories usually break down if pressed too hard, even ones that happened in real life.  (This need to put a fiction-type closure on actual events is what drives conspiracy theorists.)  The poster child for this of course is the chauffeur in The Big Sleep but it's so common that this isn't even really a problem.  Prometheus is a different situation - there's almost nothing but narrative gaps, unmotivated actions, implausible behavior (biologist trying to pet a toothy alien worm anybody?) and just sheer unblinking stupidity.  This is starting to repeat the point but it's hard not to wonder how all these people with all this money managed to create something like this when there was supposedly a high level of creative control. But then you yawn and think it's time for pie.