Thursday, July 5, 2012

Definitive Alien marathon: 'Prometheus' , an appreciation

With the general review for the film currently under the microscope having the received sufficient praise for the efforts of the production designers and visual artists, it seems fitting that this supplemental article should concentrate more closely on the plot as well as the general ideas, thematic and character driven, which drive the film's core.

Needless to say, I have seen Prometheus multiple times at this point. It would only be fair given that each of the previous films reviewed and appreciated (or not) were viewed far too many times than I'd like to admit. The most recent visit to the cinema to re-watch Ridley Scott's ambitious sci-fi opus was the third in about three weeks. There are two facets about the overall story for which my own appreciation has grown significantly since the initial screening some weeks ago. Walking out of that midnight showing on opening day (early morning, really), my overall impression was favourable, but I did not love the movie. There was a sense of a missed opportunity despite that the film was mostly satisfactory in my mind and heart. Missed opportunity in the sense that during interviews prior to the picture's release, both the director and the screenwriter had focused the story in a different direction than the original version, Damon Lindelof, mentioned that Prometheus would touch on some grand ideas about the origin of human life and Man's place in the universe. Being a somewhat gullible moviegoer in this very instance, I somehow ventured into the film expecting something a little more grand in its thematic resonance, somehow letting the notion that Prometheus is, at its heart, a sci-fi adventure epic with some horror sprinkled about slip away into the background. In such a picture, grand ideas may initially drive the protagonists, as is the case with Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green), but at some stage in the plot the adventure and horror will have to take over. That is the sort of movie Prometheus wants to be and is going to be, no more and no less.

Is that a problem? Absolutely not. Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection all offer, to varying degrees, hints at bigger ideas, be they political, social or more emotionally based. It is either the validity of androids or clones as perfect duplicates of real people, how the big corporations will often leave those from whom it no longer requires service in the dust, or even motherhood and loves lost. Those ideas exist, but the series jumps from pure horror to action in one film to the next. That is what people remember most fondly about them, the action and the horror, not the intellectual side of the scripts, and it is precisely because the more intellectual sides only play so small a part in each chapter. They are there if one looks hard enough, but they are not the focus of the pictures, far from it in fact. For some inexplicable reason, many people, myself included, deluded themselves into believing that Prometheus would be different. Why would it exactly, no explanation can be provided that could leave me off the hook. Nevertheless, those big ideas that kick start the plot are very cool and fit nicely into the mould of old school sci-fi adventures. Shaw and Halloway believe they just may have uncovered a significant clue as to where mankind came from and set out to discover just that with the financial and technical help from a large corporation. As the earlier entries in the franchise painfully demonstrated, putting one's trust in Weyland Corp is not the brightest idea, which should provide a sufficiently clear idea to the audience that those representing the company more directly, mostly Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the android David (Michael Fassbender), must undoubtedly hold to ulterior motives unrelated to the love of scientific research Shaw and Halloway hold so dearly. 


Hence, the kickstarter in Prometheus is indeed way larger than in any of the other episodes. This is the origins of our species we are talking about here, not some mysterious eggs found in a derelict spacecraft. The fact that the picture continues to tantalize the audience, in particular by revealing that the fondly baptized 'space jockeys' are direct ancestors to humans is a very neat trick, tying in how the story of this film began with the original series. Even the opening scene of the film, wherein one of the soon to be called 'engineers' (by Elizabeth Shaw) stands alone atop a waterfall, sips a black gelatinous substance, only to die a horrifyingly painful death by falling to pieces, with the tiny remains of its blood and flesh falling into the water below and therefore creating new life on whatever planet it is one, is a wonderful way to shake up the audience. Beginning the film without that single scene would have made the audience too comfortable with the proceedings given how the next half our is rather similar to the original Alien film, with explorations of unknown locations. Scott opts to give the viewers something completely different and unexpected compared to anything that happened before in the series and later on ties it all together nicely.

In that respect, wishing that the director and screenwriters planned something absolutely out of this world is setting expectations ridiculously high. The film certainly provides its share of slick moments, some horrifying moments and wraps it all in a story about scientists who venture deep into space to place they never should have gone to in the first place, messing with things and beings they never should have encountered at all. It's classic sci-fi horror. The so-called engineers are never explained to the fullest extent. It is made clear that humans and these towering titans share incredibly similar DNA (a DNA test is taken with the bloody remains of an engineers head found in what at this stage in the film the characters and audience believe is a cave), hence Shaw's conclusion that our kind must certainly. The beings even share similar physical semblance with our kind. Taller, more stocky, with a different skin colour than anything known on earth, but the bipedal, two eyes, two ears, one nose and simple mouth look indicate the unmistakable biological relationship. The fact, or supposition, remains that we came from them, which makes the realization that they were , at one point (and still are, as is revealed later on) united in desiring to wipe out the human race all the more puzzling and exciting. 


It is with this plot point, more than any other, from which many of the complaints aimed at the story stem from. Why do they want to destroy mankind? My response, and any reader may call it a paltry defence from a fanboy if they see fit, is as follows: what sort of directorial or screenwriting decision could have been made that honestly would have satisfied the majority of audiences. How often is it that people whine when films are too on the nose these days, especially films created within the Hollywood system. Now we are to complain that a film is being too opaque? Let's be consistent with what we want here... For that matter, why not come up with some of our own reasons. Even after the initial screening, some relatively decent ideas already began to formulate and gestate in my mind. Assuming that, as our space travelling and life giving ancestors, these engineers were far more sophisticated than ourselves, it would seem plausible that they should feel disappointed in the resulting behaviour of the human race, one always in the midst of conflict for what, in the eyes of our aforementioned parent race, are petty reasons. If humans can not get along as the engineers had hoped, especially on a beautiful planet with bountiful resources as Earth, then to hell with them. Squash these insects and hit the restart button. Clearly, as evidence by the first scene and their subsequent plan to dispatch the vile, bio-chemical weapon that is the mysterious black goop, they have such capabilities. For lack of a better term, the engineers are disowning their children, wanting to establish a more competent species for Earth. Is that so hard to digest? It's a sci-fi adventure film, people!

Some last few lines should delve into the nature of the black goop. Once again, Prometheus has received its share of criticisms for not fully explaining what the goop is or how it operates. It is a biological weapon, that much should be obvious. How it operates is, admittedly, more nebulous and Scott is not terribly clear about the matter to the point where it can, in fact, be a bit confusing, but therein lies some of the fun about it. One thing should be obvious enough: it drastically modifies one's biological makeup in ways that vary depending on the quantity one is infected with. Charlie Halloway is given a tiny dose through a ruse played by David and slowly, over the course of about a day, sees his body deteriorate. Fifield (Sean Harris), who received a whole bucket full in the face, turns into a ravaging zombie a few hours later. The infected Halloway makes love to Shaw, who is then pregnant ten hours later with what looks to be the original facehugger. Is the film playing a bit fast and loose with the rules? Yes, perhaps. That being said, it can be concluded that maybe this biological weapon is still in development stages, or maybe it simply has many properties, all of which negatively effect creatures on the lower end of the evolutionary scale than the engineers are. It can modify or destroy life in the most shocking, provocative ways, it just depends on how much one consumes, be it intentionally or not.

As for the final reveal, that being the original baby xenomorph erupting from the chest of the deceased engineer (which did battle with the full grown monster Elizabeth Shaw ejected from her body via a painful abortion), it does feel a wee bit too much like fan service. Some guesses have claimed that it is the original queen, which in some ways makes sense given that the humungous, octopus type facehugger was created within Shaw, a woman. My qualm is how did that start from the black goop, which David transferred to Halloway, who infected Shaw through his seed, who then aborted the pseudo-facehugger, which then impregnated the last remaining engineer on that specific planet? Maybe that question is pointless. Maybe the baby exenomorph, the existence of which will result in the horrors in the previous four films, was the ultimate weapon the engineers hope to contact through usage of the goop all along. 


And that brings this long Alien marathon to a close. Thanks to all those who read the reviews! They were a lot of fun to write.


Franco Macabro said...

Liked your article, I've seen the film two times myself, I wrote a review for it but didn't analyze it, I'm looking forward to writing a smilar article to this one on my own, enjoyed your take on it, and I totally agree with you on it. I saw it that way as well...I think the final result is the Aliens we've come to see in the previous films...maybe this explains why they are "the perfect killing machine"

edgarchaput said...

@The film Connoisseur: Thanks for the vote of confidence! I've noticed it's getting a lot tougher to defend this film out there on the internet. Those who don't like it very much are especially vocal about whatever problems they have with the movie.

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