Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Prometheus" Didn't Exactly Set the World on Fire (UPDATED)

Since I mentioned "Prometheus" once or twice during my last post, I thought it would be fair to explain my overall feelings on the movie and also my theories regarding some of the parts that were left somewhat open-ended.

First of all, I didn't hate the movie. I actually enjoyed it. Don't think I would go see it again in theaters, but I might buy the Blu-ray or at least watch it on Netflix at some point. I kind of put it in the same overall category I would put the Matrix sequels and the Star Wars prequels: I enjoy watching it, and I can get lost in some of the bigger ideas that the movie touches on, but as a film it is definitely more than a little problematic.

Since better writers than I have already explained the overall failings of "Prometheus" far more adequately than I, I'll be as brief as I can be with this part. I'll also keep things spoiler free before the jump.

With a couple exceptions, none of the characters made a lot of sense. One of the most frustrating things that can happen in a horror movie (or any movie really, but horror is where it can be a serious deal-breaker) is when a character does something a reasonable person would never do. The best moments in horror movies are when you know a character is about to do something stupid, but you also know that the only reason you know it's stupid is because you're looking at it from the outside. If you were in the character's position, you would probably make the same stupid mistake. But when a character does something you would never do even if you were in that exact same position, it's not scary, it's just annoying. You WANT the character to die. That happens more than a few times in "Prometheus".

Another big problem is that the film doesn't have very good structure. I talked a lot about the Hollywood Formula last time, and to apply it here, you run into a lot of problems. The protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw, has a clear goal at the beginning of the film, one that she shares with a few other characters: To meet the Engineers (AKA the Space Jockeys). The movie has many deuteragonists for Elizabeth to play off of, but the most notable one would be David, though he isn't very effective in this role because he's kind of doing his own thing for most of the movie. Aside from David, the cast is full of people who either also want to meet the Engineers (and their desire to do so doesn't really conflict with Elizabeth's goal), so the movie doesn't really have an antagonist. Nothing is really keeping Elizabeth from meeting the Engineers other than the fact that she has to go looking for them. So the central conflicts of the movie are very loosely defined and not very interesting. We don't really care who lives or dies or whether or not Elizabeth gets to meet the Engineers.

Where the movie largely succeeds is in presentation. Quite a few aspects of the story are told brilliantly and visually without needing to info-dump, which is rare in science-fiction. However, doing it this way is a bit of a double-edged sword because you end up leaving a lot open to interpretation.

This is where one of the writers, Damon Lindelof comes into play. You might know him better as one of the major creative writing forces on the TV series "Lost". Similar to "Lost", "Prometheus" leaves as many doors open as possible and whenever if closes a door, it opens three others. Anyone familiar with "Lost" knows that this can become frustrating very quickly, and "Prometheus" is no exception. Speculation is a lot of fun, but there's a difference between leaving a story point vague in order to ask a fundamental question with two very different answers that can change the entire meaning of the story in order to provoke a deep philosophical discussion, and leaving a story point vague because you wanted to be mysterious. Lindelof has a serious problem with doing the latter more than the former.

That being said, there are a lot of little things that I really enjoyed and the bad parts weren't bad enough to sour the experience for me. From here on out, I'll go into more specific detail, but this will require a SPOILER WARNING. Proceed after the jump.

One thing I really enjoyed was the unanswered question about Meredith Vickers' history. It's revealed that Weyland is her father in some respect, but we don't know whether she is an android like David or an actual daughter. If she is an android, that raises a few questions about why she was put in cryogenic stasis with everyone else, but it also marks her behavior as trying very hard to be more human. She has a last name (one that differs from her creator), she had sex with Idris Elba to prove that she wasn't just a robot, and she seriously resented David. It also means that she might have survived getting crushed by the space ship and she may return in a sequel. However, if she isn't an android, it shows that she and her father have very serious issues. He may have rejected her because he wanted a son (hence why he treats David as more than family than her and why she's so cold and traditionally masculine) and/or because her mother left him (hence why her last name isn't Weyland). This question colors all of her behavior in the film in interesting ways.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the very beginning. You basically see an Engineer dropped off on (presumably) Earth, where he drinks something and then decomposes instantly and entirely, however a single strand of his DNA survives and is implied to spur on the creation of all life on Earth. The question is, was this intentional or not?

Let me explain. If the Engineers set out to intentionally create human beings, that goes in line with Elizabeth's hypotheses throughout the film. They made us, something made them realize it was a bad idea, and so they set out to kill us.

However, there's an alternate possibility. What if humans were created by accident? Think about it this way. The Engineers produced several ships carrying weapons of mass destruction and we assume this was intended to destroy the life on Earth. But what if they were ACTUALLY intending to destroy THEMSELVES? Think about it like this. If they were creating weapons of mass destruction to wipe out Earth, then the weapons accidentally go off and kill their research station or whatever, why didn't other Engineers come by and do a clean up? Maybe they INTENDED to wipe themselves from existence for... I don't know, REASONS... and the guy we see at the beginning of the film is committing suicide on a lifeless planet with a liquid that will completely erase his entire existence and dissolve in the water... or at least it was supposed to.

It's just a theory, but it would certainly explain why the surviving Engineer would try to kill the humans. Maybe it was thinking "Crap! We were trying to wipe ourselves out, not create a spin-off! Die!" In other words, they never changed their minds, they never wanted us to exist in the first place.

But that theory doesn't really hold up to scrutiny, but then again, nothing really does so far. If the Engineers intended to use the death ships on Earth, why go through the elaborate process of giving them a map to the Death Planet and then waiting for them to become capable of advanced space travel? Wouldn't it have been easier to just send the death ships to Earth from the beginning rather than invite humans to come to the planet first where they can possibly stop the death ships?

This is the problem with Lindelof. You can't tell if he actually knows what's really going on and he's stringing us along or if he has no clue what's really going on and is just messing with us. Given how "Lost" never really came together at the end, I'd guess the latter.

Still, the sheer speculation about everything is a lot of fun. It's why "Lost" lasted as long as it did.

Then again, there are parts that just plain make no sense at all. Like, why did David infect Elizabeth's boyfriend? Did he know what would happen or was he just messing with the stupid meatbags? Either way, how did doing this help Weyland at all? The only logical explanation I can think of is that David somehow knew what the black goo was, he knew that if he infected the dude who had sex with Elizabeth (which might have been influenced by the infection, who knows?) she would get pregnant with some cool new species that Weyland could use for something (which would explain Weyland's persisting obsession with the Xenomorphs in the "Alien" series). There's really no reasonable way he could have known all of that, but I guess that's the only reasonable explanation. That sort of thing is really frustrating because it's just plain poorly-written.

Ultimately, I would definitely see a direct sequel to this movie since they brought up enough interesting new ideas to continue on without "Alien" baggage (we got the Xenomorph at the end, that's good enough for me) and so long as Lindelof knows enough to put a cork on asking too many new questions, a sequel could definitely be very good.

So yeah, I liked "Prometheus", even if it had a lot of problems and it didn't live up to its hype machine.

The movie had one HELL of a trailer, though.

UPDATE: One of my friends pointed out this interesting post on someone else's blog that explains just about everything in the movie. Though I think it presumes the writers are way smarter than they actually are and that it still doesn't explain why the Engineers decided to kill us in the laziest way possible... It would be like us nuking a country by building a nuke and then inviting their scientists to come check it out before launching it at their country. Just sayin'.