By June 13, 2012

Prometheus Movie Review Spoilers Inside

I had the chance to see the movie Prometheus with Sedagive? and my pals Ajar and Bert on Tuesday. Here are my thoughts on the movie, and yet another test of

The Patented DrFaulken Movie Prediction System™.

For those of you who haven’t been to a movie in the theater with me yet, I have a very trusted and accurate system for judging if the film will be good or not. I follow the previews before the film. I award one point for a good trailer. I deduct one point for a trailer for a movie that I wouldn’t want to see, or runs counter to the movie’s genre. For example, if there was a romantic comedy trailer right before an action film, I’d give the movie a -1, even if the romantic comedy trailer seemed good.

  1. Possession – A modern take on the Exorcist, and while one might surmise Prometheus is a horror film, I prefer to think of the Alien franchise as science fiction with horror and action elements. Possession was too far out of genre, and not a good sign for Prometheus. -1
  2. Flight – Denzel Washington plays an airline pilot who crash lands a plane in miraculous fashion, saving the majority of the people on board. The catch? He was drunk at the time. At least he did a barrel roll. -1
  3. The Watch – An action movie spoof starring a bunch of knuckleheads who set up a neighborhood watch against alien invasion. I disliked the idea of the movie until the end of the trailer, and then the laughs started. A begrudging +1
  4. Savages – I’m giving this movie a plus for two reasons: polyamorous relationship meets the movie Taken. Does that add up to four reasons? Whatever, +1.
  5. House at the End of the Street – Another horror film, this one about a girl who gets involved with a boy who has a sister who killed their mom and dad and is now maybe possibly a ghost. What. -1
  6. Abraham Lincoln, Vampire HunterI liked the book, and I think the movie will be fun even if it strays from the pseudo-historical aspect of the book and is more action than historical fiction. +1

The Verdict: 0

Hrm.

I regret to say this, but I felt that Prometheus had its bright and dark spots and in the end wound up being amusing yet unsatisfying. I knew ahead of time that Prometheus was not going to be directly tied to the Alien franchise, but I was hoping to learn more about the Mala’kak alien race. The Mala’kak, dubbed the “Engineers” in Prometheus, are mostly known from bits and pieces of the various Alien and Predator movies and comics.

The “Space Jockey” or “Pilot” in Alien was the only major screen time an Engineer got until Prometheus, and unfortunately the latest movie doesn’t help us gain any significant information about them or their role in the “Xenomorph” alien species. Despite the elephantine appearance in this Dark Horse comic book interpretation, all other references to the Engineers indicate they are more humanoid than not.

Prometheus uncovers more about the physiology of the Mala’kak, but little about their culture, history, or motivations. It’s indicated early in the movie that a Mala’kak committed suicide in order to jump start human life on Earth. However, Prometheus doesn’t explain why they did so, and more importantly, why they intended to spread the Xenomorphs on Earth tens of thousands of years later.

Unlike prior depictions of the Mala’kak or behind the scenes commentary about them, Prometheus depicts them as hostile and mindless. This behavior makes no sense at all, especially given the opening scene from the film.

These little factoids were interesting, but offered no real value to advancing the Alien franchise.

I hoped to learn more about the Weyland corporation, which forms half of the uber-corporation Weyland-Yutani that rules the Alien universe. Like the Mala’kak, the Weyland company is mentioned mostly in passing or in pseudo-canonical fiction. How did Weyland come to assert their interplanetary dominance? They appear to make everything from starships to weapons to terraforming colonies, but how did they grow to be so vast? When or why did they combine with Yutani?

I really wanted a “fall from grace” style of origin to the company, similar to how everyone assumed Darth Vader walked a road to hell with good intentions in Star Wars. However, the information given in Prometheus was just as stale and boring as in the Star Wars prequels — instead of some sort of morally perilous path the audience could identify with, Peter Weyland and Anakin Skywalker were just self-centered little bitches. Peter Weyland doesn’t want to die, and Anakin wants people to wubs him and take him seriously. Both come off as petulant children in adult bodies, and I was quite happy when the Mala’kak ended Weyland’s selfish journey.

Weyland’s daughter and most probable heir winds up dying in the film, which really makes me wonder how the company ascended to greatness after the film. Again, interesting narrative and cool visual effects, but nothing to propel the mythos of the Alien franchise forward.

I could talk about the plot holes, or the completely unrealistic recovery of main character Elizabeth Shaw following her Cesarean birth of an alien. I could mention out the dodging of the typical Xenomorph life cycle, from egg to face hugger to chest burster to drone or queen to egg — Shaw seemed to give birth to a face hugger directly and that seemed pointless. I could point out that the vast majority of the characters felt like set pieces, just like props in the ship. The theme of creation versus evolution is flirted with and then left without a conclusion or even an interesting rhetorical cliffhanger. If anything, the movie seems to assert that life goes on, and there will be no history nor any answers. That’s a valid life-view, but it makes for a fucking boring ending.

Prometheus was an amusing film. I’d enjoy it more if it were a rental, or if I saw it at someone’s house. I don’t think it’s worth paying full price for it at a theater. If I didn’t know and care so much about the Alien series I may have liked it a bit more, but as-is I have to place it behind Alien 3 but before Alien 4 in the series. The visuals were wonderful and there were some queasy, horror-filled moments, but nothing to make it as remarkable or groundbreaking as the first two Alien movies.

Just like my movie trailer prediction system, I give Prometheus a solid meh.

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1 Comment on "Prometheus Movie Review Spoilers Inside"

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  1. Ajar says:

    Yeah, like we discussed after the movie, I agree with a lot of what you said. I think it would have been a lot better if it had dropped the Alien connections and focused on the machinations of David and Weyland. Instead of trying to be a mix of Golden Age SF, big idea movie, and horror movie — and failing at all three — it should have focused on the first one or first two, which would have left a lot more room for the characters.

    I will say that the visuals and acting performances were so good that I wouldn’t rule out seeing it again when an extended cut is available. Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Noomi Rapace were all amazing. But the quality of the acting is exactly why the movie should have given the actors more to work with! Instead, they got a schizophrenic hodgepodge of trite ideas and horror movie tropes separated by a few instances of solid “dream big” science fiction.

    SPOILERS ABOUND

    I didn’t have a problem with the nature of the film’s answer to the “why are we here?” question, because I think the universe presented in the film should be a bleak and even nihilistic place. But even though the “answer” moment was itself excellent — the man who travelled 30 light years to become immortal is killed as an afterthought, and his “son’s” final words to him are “you know there’s nothing” — I felt like they didn’t earn that payoff at all.

    I thought there were countless moments where what was “cinematic” trumped what made sense. That happens a lot in movies, but I expected more of something directed by Ridley Scott and claiming to be high-concept SF. The biologist who has come 30k light years freaks out and runs away when he sees a dead alien — well then why the fuck did he come along? He and his “top-flight geologist” colleague then somehow get lost while wearing suits that track their exact location; no wonder the others just went back to the ship, assuming the biologist and geologist had beaten them there. Then, the dynamic duo return to the room filled with vases, and notice that black goo has escaped from the vases. That’s okay, though, they decide to just hang out. And then when the biologist sees a living alien, he’s not afraid of it at all — he wants to play with it! These clowns were the best and brightest who could be recruited for an expedition we’re told cost one trillion 2089 dollars? This entire sequence of events occurs purely to get the dynamic duo horribly killed so that one of them can return to the ship later as an infected “zombie” and get melted, leading the Captain to conclude that the black goo is a bioweapon. All of this, and both characters, could have been excised completely without affecting the movie in the slightest — beyond making it somewhat better, that is.

    Why does the terraforming machine that generates a breathable atmosphere also generate a sandstorm in exactly the wrong place and wrong time? Because it made for a cool scene where the characters run away from it, that’s why.

    What’s the point of showing us the xenomorph at the end? That whole thread — Shaw’s infection -> pregnancy -> C-section -> growth of facehugger to giant proportions -> battle with engineer -> xenomorph “birth” — could also have been cut from the movie. They would have had to find another way to kill the engineer… oh! I know! Why don’t they run away from his rolling ship, hoping he’ll chase them rather than thinking to veer sideways out of its path!

    http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2012/06/13

    And on, and on, and on. Gah.