(Planet Me)
Sunday, June 10, 2012

“Prometheus” is a Marmite of movies. You love it, or you hate it. But here's what you need to know : If “Prometheus” is a prequel to “Alien”, then “Downfall” is a sequel to “A Bridge Too Far.”

And here's what else you need to know : if you forget that “Alien” existed – and thus, forget that “Alien” brings with it baggage and expectation the size of a small galaxy - , “Prometheus” is a brave, bonkers slice of classic science-fiction that nobody would have expected. Ridley Scott, at 75, should now be slowing down and mellowing out – doing a Coppolla, and making films nobody wants to watch. “Prometheus” is a big, questioning vision. Yes, there are aliens in this. But there are not Aliens. It isn't a bug hunt, or a monster film. It's a film about something much bigger than the Monster In The Dark.

The Quest. That old movie trope. The search for the ultimate thing that drives human beings insane. (In Time Bandits, it was a Fridge.). This is what that film discusses : humans beings search for the ultimate prize, whatever that is. Some pay the ultimate price. If you want a tag line then “For the ultimate prize, you must pay the ultimate price.” Thank you very much, that will be £10k.

Many of you will be unhappy with this film. There will be a lack of killer aliens. A dearth of scares in the dark. All manner of shortcomings if you want a great big scary monster film. Not every film can be Aliens, nor does every film want to be Aliens. “Prometheus” is the best “Prometheus” it can be, not a shadow of “Alien”. But we live in a world where “Alien” exists, so “Prometheus” cannot be untangled from it. “Prometheus” is about the quest for knowledge, the need to know the answers that may not exist, and the insane lengths we may go to to reach that knowledge.

It opens with a moment before history on an unspecified planet. Marked with vast, Kubrickian vistas of barren, beautiful nature, Scott draws us to a conclusion through the use of almost intuiative imagery. With an intelligence rarely seen in these types of film, the script, title, and “Prometheus” theme feeds in – one might say, steals – from mythology and ancient film, in a measured and considered way that shows that at the very least, this film has a script that has been thought about, and dialogue that is almost interesting : so far beyond the appallingly dull placeholder dialogue that plagues so many films today with forgettable The narrative progression is relatively linear, though where the film starts, and where it ends, are two wildly different places.

The film does have its weak points : a couple of characters are easily telegraphed as the necessary Idiot Protagonist who does the usual thing of poking objects with sticks and trying to hug it out with a hydra headed killing machine. “All this Tiger needs is a cuddle” might be the type of thing their character says. With such lightweight characterisation, you are forgiven for considering that this film really needs to skill up its survival mechanism. Human beings may be flawed, scared, and do things that are bone-crushingly stupid, but if that is the case, why put such flawed people as the weak links in such an event? Send a robot in. People are stupid, but not necessarily as stupid as the writer thinks.

It would have been easy to keep the whole Haunted House In Space cliché, and build a mythology around it that would allow for endless cases of “Hunt And Kill In The Dark”. To their credit, Scott and his team have taken this theme, and made it far bigger. It traces from the beginning of human evolution to the moment that homo sapiens takes itself to meet the next species in the galaxy. On a thematic level, this gritty remake of “2001 / 2010” is Scott grappling successfully with some of the biggest themes there are. Who made us? Are we the result of the Bootstraps theory of evolution? What happened in the past that brought us to where we are now?

Prequel is such a cruel word. When a franchise runs out of steam (and short of “Alien Vs Predator Vs Jason Vs Freddy 3D in Space!”, there wasn't anywhere left for those films to go), you go back. To the beginning : a trend built by George Lucas, but also, in franchises such as “The Thing” and “X-Men”, practically the only option left. Sequels tend to veer from the original flavour of the film and go to bizarre and absurd plot points. The prequel only has one place to go to, and unless it's the risible “Hannibal Rising”, it generally promises much. Where “Prometheus” wins is that it takes existing mythology and reinteprets it so thatt whilst the other films remain unchanged, there is also a significant, added dimension. Sometimes, mystery and myth is a benefit. Other times, the hinted at depth demonstrates a far deeper tale.

Instead of the ever more diverse films that, after Alien 3, descended into laughable farce, “Prometheus” opens a seperate can of worms. Whilst it is, ostensibily, an “Alien” prequel, “Prometheus” is, in fact, something far more complex : a film about mankind's first encounter with an unknown genus, and one that also opens many of the key unanswered questions of life : the same ones that Scott was tackling in “Blade Runner”, but perhaps here, more articulate :

Who am I? Why am I here? Who is God? What made me? What do I do next?

Perhaps it should be retitled to something like “Psychotic Spaceship Of The Gods.” As is often the necessary narrative requirement, there are leaps of logic, which, if you think about them too much, might unravel the whole thing, but can be excused. Human beings are not logical, especially not in the face of some of these events. And if we were all logical, life would be very very boring. And, in times of great danger, humans are often capable of acts – physical and mental – we are not normally aware of. Logical examination of the narrative does not ring true in every respect – there is an emotional truth that logic cannot exclude.

On the other hand, any science fiction with £200,000,000 thrown at its production, generally, has to contain a certain number of events to satisfy bored tweenagers and lure in the more affluent 24-55 demographic. If you want a lot of explosions, some gory deaths, and some big setpieces adjoined to a philosophical debate on the nature of mankind and our origin, then “Prometheus” is an ideal film for you. Certainly, far better than your average stalk-and-slash, blood-and-guts balderdash, this film takes its horror, which is not inconsiderable, seriously : the true horror is not that of an unknown creature using your intestines as a adventure playground, but of the possibilities of our imagination.

On its own terms, as a modern day science-fiction horror film, “Prometheus” is far superior to the majority of its peers, with a vision and idea bigger than you would predict. An unexpected, and considered film that reaches for the stars beyond its reach :and almost gets there.

I enjoyed this very much. If you were looking for it to seamlessly end where Alien begins, then you're bound to be disappointed, but I liked that it asked so many BIG questions and didn't provide answers. I loved - for instance - that we didn't get subtitles at a crucial moment so we don't know for sure what was said (to pick one example).

I also completely agree that this film sees Scott exploring the themes of Blade Runner at least as much as those of Alien.

Not perfect, but more than a week later and I'm still thinking about it, which in an age of the instantly forgettable blockbuster, has got to be a good thing right?

(as an aside, I watched Alien again last night, on a big HD TV for the first time, and the increased resolution nearly ruined it for me ... nearly. It was made in 1979, and at high resolution the sets look like sets, the models look like models and the matte drawings look like drawings (the guy in the suit always looked like a guy in a suit anyway). Great film though, but sometimes less is more, as Alien / Aliens showed us so clearly.)
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