Thursday, July 05, 2012

My Two Cents: Prometheus

Science fiction in cinema pales in comparison to the best literary science fiction, but a few films do approach that level of quality. I’ll admit from the get go that I’m a big fan of both Alien and Blade Runner. Alien is a Lovecraftian-the-elder-gods-will-eat-us-all-in-a-haunted-house creep fest of the highest order, whereas Blade Runner intelligently addresses within the tropes of Hard SF the ambiguous ethics and codes of morality that, as a species and as a society, will we have to face sooner or later as the Singularity approaches. Addressing large issues in a rather small way; that is, as a police procedural occurring within a logical, realistic setting, is a stroke of genius. Blade Runner is the better film. Alien and Blade Runner are extremely good looking films, and a young Ridley Scott’s reputation as a filmmaker is assured. Both films, and their relevant source material, provide plenty of fodder for metal (for better or worse).

Naturally, I’ve seen, and digested, all of the Alien related films since (for better or worse), none of which remotely approaches the disconcerting, visceral sense of horror than that of the original vision of Scott, David Giler, Walter Hill, and H.R. Giger. When Prometheus was announced, like many, I was ecstatic to hear that Scott was not only entering the realm of science fiction once more, but that Prometheus would have connections to Alien, possibly as a direct prequel. A brilliant marketing campaign over the months leading up to the film’s release only added to the fervor.

WARNING: SPOILERS (although the film has been in theaters for several weeks)

I’m not going to espouse upon the mythological underpinnings of the film (here is a great review/ dissection of the film from that perspective), which are the reasons for the film’s existence. Rather, my fault with Prometheus lies in the direction of the film’s flagrant disregard for the scientific method (not to mention Darwinian evolution given the premise of the film outlined in the first scene; it can be safely said that Prometheus is a creationist fantasy without the god). For a film that is billed as “high concept SF,” and given that Scott’s other SF films do employ Hard SF tropes, that is inexcusable. The film also appears to be heavily edited, rushed, and whittled down; I suspect that a greatly expanded “Director’s Cut” will appear on Blu Ray/ DVD in the near future. Perhaps then, some of the film’s problems will be corrected.

The film’s premise regarding the purpose of the mission of the starship Prometheus is given one scene with no rational discussion of the plausibility of what is passed off as convincing evidence, but is essentially nothing more than circumstantial, at best. You’d expect that the film’s two nominally scientist protagonists, Shaw and Holloway, would have trumpeted their supposed discovery to every gullible media outlet and cable TV “news” channel that would have listened. No lip service is paid to what would amount to be a heated academic debate, especially if trillions of dollars are to be invested in an investigative mission to the star system in question. Obviously, that debate never took place as the “ragtag” crew is briefed on the secret nature of their mission only after being awakened from suspended animation with no prior knowledge of the mission’s premise. Nonsense, even though the financier of the project, Peter Weyland, is obviously using the mission as a means towards his own stab at immortality, and has no intention of using whatever discoveries that may be in the offering for the betterment of mankind.

Prometheus lands on LV-223, the starship’s destination, with virtually no survey of the planet (actually a moon of a ringed gas giant nominally within the star’s habitable zone) taking place. Lip service is paid to an atmospheric analysis, but no other types of remote sensing surveys appear to occur. Not to mention that a landing spot is seemingly picked at random, only for the ship to land right next to what are apparently the only artificial structures on the moon.

A serious investigation of what are obviously alien structures would take weeks, if not months, before anyone would even entertain the notion of actually trying to enter the structure. Nope. Barely five minutes after landing, a scouting party immediately sets out to enter the structure without any sampling equipment (other than their environment suits and a bag; “glow balls” notwithstanding), or weapons for that matter. By this point in the film, you pretty much know what’s coming and you really no longer care given the obvious stupidity of the crew. In fairness, a story does have to move along and an argument can be made that the expedition has to proceed quickly if resources are limited and survival is an issue, but, then again, you wouldn’t waste valuable ship resources on a basketball court (Alien Resurrection), now, would you? The lackadaisical attitude of everyone involved suggests otherwise.

The coup de grace of idiocy comes in two forms. First, five minutes into the initial exploration of the structure, the crew, inexplicably, take off their helmets  after a sampling of the atmosphere inside the structure reveals that the air is breathable (but, so what?). Second, the characters Fifield and Milburn, described earlier as a geologist and a biologist, respectively, are trapped inside the structure after a series of events. Naturally, and predictably, Fifield and Milburn end up being dispatched by the biological weapons/ alien antagonists of the film, but in a manner that is, shall we say, easily avoided by anyone with a shred of common sense. Good riddance, as my ability to care about any of these characters quickly evaporates. Well, almost all of the characters; that is, except for Michael Fassbender as the android David, who flat out steals the film and is the only engrossing element.

The remainder of the film downshifts into a predictable pattern with various crew members disposed of, Peter Weyland’s attempt at immortality, and a climax leaving open the option of a sequel. Visually, the film is quite stunning with gorgeous landscapes, plausible, near future extrapolations of computer technology, and there are a few creepy moments. But the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy the film by anyone with an understanding of the scientific method and Darwinian evolution is just too much to overcome.

You could go on to nitpick at this movie ad nauseum; artificial gravity, the whole nonsensical bit involving identical DNA, throwaway lines from supposed scientists such as “Don’t be a skeptic,” the post-surgery biological weapon growing to enormous size (a problem since Alien), etc.

Can you overlook these lapses? I couldn’t.

1 comment:

nickabe57 said...

this is easily THE BEST commentary/review Ive read on the film. thank you sir, whoever you are.