Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus Unbound

Wow. What a stunner of a movie. Promethean, you might say ...

Ridley Scott (and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelhof) went back to the beginning -- and kept going. Yes, as everybody now knows, this is an Alien prequel. And a fine one.

Prometheus answers all the unanswered/implied questions of Scott's original 1979 movie and its sequels. In the process, this movie sows the dragon seeds of more questions. Brilliant. A few plot holes and science gaffs are still eating at my stomach lining -- but let them pass. This film is a lifetime achievement and I do it honor.

And it's not a repetition of past achievements.

Let's talk starships. The Nostromo from the first Alien was a low-rent, working-class, space barge. The Prometheus is a tricked-out, tangerine-flake, trillion dollar baby -- with FTL capability. 90-something industrialist/visionary Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), sent it out in search of old life and old civilizations. It's not a blind search.

It seems that two 20-something anthropologists studying ancient carvings discovered an alien invitation to join them in the stars for an intergalactic picnic. Those crazy kids are Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green ). Weyland, enterprising, aging tycoon that he is, found out about their research, and accepted that alien invitation -- which helpfully came with stellar coordinates. Weyland's the insanely rich dude behind the Weyland Corporation. He can afford to build a trillion dollar ship, though he can't make the trip. What with his inevitable impending death and all ...

So, a few light years and some uneasy hypersleep later, the Prometheus winds up in the vicinity of an earth-sized moon orbiting a ringed, gas giant. This orb looks as dead as Dillinger, until Holloway spots obviously artificial straight lines. A scouting expedition follows those lines, enters a lumpy domed structure, and finds what's left of the Space Jockeys. ("Space Jockey" is a fanboy term for the dead alien astronaut in the original "Alien." Scott prefers to call them "Engineers.") Whatever you call them, there's lots of dead alien astronauts here. Piles of them. A holographic record reveals that they were running away from Something. Something that burst out of their chests. Gee. Wonder what that Something could be?

The sense of wonder fades. Invasive body horror ensues. Hey, it's an Alien prequel. What did you expect?

David (Michael Fassbender), the smarmy, smiling, milk-blooded android (who resembles a walking, talking Hal 9000) participates in the horror by deliberately infecting Charlie with some alien goop. David's motives are pure; Weyland's programmed him to think the goop is the secret of life or something. But it's clearly the secret of death. Interspersed between a series of exploding heads and a pregnancy that goes very wrong, the movie reveals the truth.

The Engineers engineered humanity. They resemble giant human beings. Aside from their basketball-playing abilities, their DNA coding sequences are identical to ours. For whatever reason, they built our species -- and changed their minds. Now want to wipe us out. And they can do it.

At the heart of the lumpy pyramid, the Engineers have a toroidal starship. With a death mission. Destroy all humans. Yep. Until the stomach-bursting Xenomorphs killed most of the Engineers, that was the plan. The derelict Engineer ship has coordinates for Earth. It's stocked with instant-Xenomorph jars that'll wipe the slate clean on any planet.

The movie now reveals what the scary Giger aliens are. They're weapons of mass destruction which the Engineers use when they need a little mass destruction.

One Engineer still survives in hypersleep. He's ready to finish the job.

Weyland, surprise surprise, is still alive. David wakes the Engineer up. Weyland asks the Engineer for the secret of life. He gets a big surprise. The derelict ship takes off.

OK, OK. If you've seen the trailer, you know how the Prometheus stops the Engineers' ship. Humanity doesn't die. Life goes on. The sequels go on. You know what's going to happen.

And that's cool.

Yeah. Speaking strictly for me -- I have no problem with that. Prometheus has an archetypal road to follow. This movie can't surprise you. Anymore than the Bible or Jack and the Beanstalk can surprise you. You know what's going to happen; you know where it's going. It's an Alien movie. They burst out of stomachs, they eat you alive. Bad !@#$ happens.

The ideas can't surprise you either.

The message behind this movie is as old as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. (Which she subtitled, A Modern Prometheus.) Said message? If you play God, serious industrial accidents are bound to happen. Our makers played God. Humanity follows in their footsteps ...

Scott's been dealing with this theme since Blade Runner. Scott consciously echoes that theme in Prometheus. (Echoes of Roy Baty include Charlize Theron's character relating to her "father" and Peter Weyland, trying to meet his Maker.) Don't play God. That's pretty much it. We don't need that warning in 2012. We don't need to know there are some doors man weren't meant to open. Scott's not trying to warn us.

He's just showing us what happens.

Ridiculous science gaffs in an otherwise intelligent movie:

The human astronauts enter the lumpy alien pyramid and take their helmets off when they find the air is breathable. OK. Seeing as how it's an alien environment and you could conceivably get infected with alien microorganisms, that's a bad idea. The filmmakers wanted to get the actors out of their helmets, so it's forgivable. But, in real life, they just wouldn't do it.

David infects Charlie Holloway with DNA-altering alien goop. Basically, Charlie is a human guinea pig -- a test subject. It's SOP to isolate such test subjects from the general population. If you release an infected subject in the general population, it's basically a disease vector. That's bad.


section9 said...

The fanboy crowd at AICN have savaged this film. According to them, way too many convenient plot holes, plus the presence of Everyone's Old Friend at the end of the film as Fanservice, just drove people nuts.

Jockey wakes up: Hulk Smash! Shaw and David fly off to Jockey Homeworld (with what for supplies?) and expect to be greeted with a brass band.

Nevertheless, it is Ridley, so he gets a permanent Get Out of Jail Free card that someone like J.J. Abrams didn't get after Nu-Trek came out. I guess he'll tie up the loose ends in the sequel.

Marty Fugate said...

Hmmm. Didn't see that many plot holes -- at least in terms of tying in to the Alien series. It's a parallel story set in the Alien-verse. Different planetoids, for that matter, though presumably in the same solar system: The Nostromo wound up on LV-426; the Prometheus landed on LV-224. Most story discrepancies can be explained. The bad science can't -- though this can be forgiven for pacing/dramatic purposes. Scott had to show at least one Xenomorph, c'mon. As to the final pilgrimage, well, a bit of a stretch, but no harm, no foul. Noomi Rapace is hot, sir. If the Engineers have decided not to wipe us out, I can't imagine she'd change their minds.