Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheus Problems

In preparation for Prometheus, my girlfriend sat through Alien (yay!), Aliens (woo!) and Alien 3 (meh!) whilst the flatmate and I needed no such preparatory work. To coin a phrase from our American cousins - we were already psyched. It's a Ridley Scott film in the Alien universe - should be a good'un.

Well it wasn't.

As the final credits rolled my initial reaction was to physically shrug. I wasn't excited, or angry - hot tears of rage were not rolling down my handsome face - I didn't have any visceral reaction at all. There had been some good bits, and the whole thing looked great - but that was about it.

Let's list the problems. Geeks enjoy a list. Here's mine.

1) The engineers - our progenitors - are as dumb as a bag of spanners. For whatever capricious reasons they first gave life to us, then wished to destroy us. Fine - I'll get to why that's stupid in a bit - but let us suppose for the moment that makes some sort of sense. They build bio-weapons to do the job, but do so on a planet miles from anywhere, because the risk of screwing up on their home worlds is too great. Of course they could have done the work on Earth - they're about to screw it over anyway. And they do it with a bio weapon that can target them as well as native lifeforms/humans. They're really really advanced, and that's their best plan? They have spaceships the size of skyscrapers and a deadly self mutating bio weapon that hurts them as efficiently as it hurts us is their very most cunning plan? A few weeks with a hunting platform and a machine gun would probably have done the job thousands of years ago. Or a better targeted bio-weapon, or a chemical released into the atmosphere - or nukes given the time scales they deal in - almost any other method would occur to a biologist/chemist/physicist from the 20th century. So .. to recap - big thickie aliens.

2) Guy Pierce / Mr Weyland's appearance on the ship. Goodness me - what a surprise. And Charlize Theron was his daughter! And Luke was Darth's son! The shocks keep piling on! I especially liked her delivery of 'father' as if we hadn't seen that a billion miles in advance. Also, look for the staging of the scene - very similar to Bulletproof Monk - but that may have provided further hammy dissonance to a scene that only I noticed. But anyhoo - all terribly terribly obvious. Nice work putting Mr Peirce's name in the pre-credits by the way. "Hmmm" thinks audience to self, "we wonder if he might be turning up again..."

3) Guy Pierce's makeup. Why? Why not hire an old actor? If you're not going to get an aging-in-reverse payoff, what's the point? The makeup looks like makeup, so it's only worth the suspension of disbelief if we get a reason for it. Unless the reason is so the audience will *think* that might happen then be shocked by Mr Weyland's sudden death. That would however be intelligent and subtle, two non-distinguishing features of this film.

4) Bad Science. I'm not going to mention the bad physics in the film, but rather the absolutely terrible scientists aboard the Prometheus. One glaring example - "okay chaps, we've found an alien head - the single most important find in the history of almost every major field of science. Perhaps we should take tissue samples in a very carefully regulated laboratory environment? Or perhaps scan it using multiple topographic and deep scan systems before even *considering* touching it? Nah, let's pump it full of electricity for no reason, in an open room, after our robot chum has ripped it's helmet off, then watch it explode. We also like putting knives in the microwave to see what happens." It seems strange that by 2090 the scientific method has been thrown out of the window to be replaced by crass stupidity. It must be assumed that Elizabeth and her science chums have trouble getting accidental damage cover. Or any kind of insurance.

5) She was supposed to be English? I read afterwards that Elizabeth Shaw was meant to be English. Due to her intriguing wobbling accent in the film, this was news to me. I thought Russian, French or Swedish at various points.  Noomi Rapace, I would ask the language coach you spent a pretty penny on for your money back - she/he stitched you right up.

6) DNA Dumbness. Okay, I can grasp the idea that we share DNA with the aliens - even the notion that we would use double stranded helixes or 23 chromosomes would be remarkable and perhaps conclusive - but our DNA is exactly the same? Hello! They have blue skin, are twice our size, are covered in weird black veins, have no hair - you might notice if one was sitting on the bus next to you! Unless he was wearing a hat. Clearly we're not genetically identical. Similar would be remarkable enough, unless you truly fear your target audience are morons.

7) Fearing your target audience are morons. And have shotguns. Elizabeth Shaw is the worst scientist ever, that much is certain. She also bases her .. let's charitably call it a theory, on belief. The evidence she has accrued should be enough for a testable hypothesis, but she explictly states that belief is her driving force. The plot does next to nothing with her faith - I think her crisis lasts about five minutes. But it's the whole thing with the crucifix that sticks in the throat - it seems as if somebody wasn't prepared to risk an American audience revolting at the idea we were created by aliens without hanging an absolutely massive sign over the film saying "don't worry, god is real, and he's out there, even if this film seems to run contrary to your favoured fairytale from the very first scene". If belief was a theme that was intended to add flavour to the central character, and not just an exercise in studio arse covering, then it simply didn't work. It wasn't presented powerfully enough to work as a central thread.

8) Advanced aliens are evil. Okay - this has been a problem for sci-fi ever since we've needed bad guys, but it makes absolutely no sense in the context of this particular film. Warlike bastard aliens with no empathy who utterly destroy everything they meet, including their own progeny make NO SENSE. How the fuck did they cooperate enough to build spaceships? But anyway, leaving that aside, what the hell motivates these chaps? If it's capricious fun, then why did the alien at the start of the film sacrifice himself in such a horrible fashion to create life? The other alien we saw fought like hell to survive, so life means something to these chaps. In fact, as they SHARE OUR DNA, everything that matters to us must surely matter to them. Empathy is part of our genetic heritage, along with a survival instinct.

9) What the bugger was the start about? I had to read up on the film afterwards before I realised what was going on with the initial alien. My own stupidity, or rotten scene setting... I first thought he was a simple alien chap on some unnamed world who had taken a magical potion that blew him to bits as part of a ceremony to celebrate the overhead spaceship turning up. Then I assumed he had been punished for some reason and was about to turn into the first prototype alien - what with all the black stuff swirling about and his body turning black. And by halfway through the film I'd mostly forgotten about him entirely. That was Earth was it? Ah, okay. He couldn't just drop the magical potion into the water? He had to get properly ripped to bits for the process to work? Best. Scientist. Ever.

10) The everything's fine guy. Every horrorish film has one - the chap who approaches the moment of his horrible death with blase insouciance. We have a biochemist (bioengineer? Biologist of some sort) who approaches the clearly-going-to-fucking-kill-him waving alien tentacle thing in a room he had already avoided, in an alien setting that we have established terrifies him, where an unknown moving thing has been detected, underground, cut off from the ship .. I mean - come on. You'd run like buggery to get away from that. What you wouldn't do is approach the hissing snake like alien lifeform, never encountered before in the history of your species, in a room full of oozing canisters (which weren't oozing before you turned up) near to the room you found earlier full of alien corpses, some of which you yourself had commented, had been eaten from the inside! Unless you were the very worst written character in the history of films since Jar Jar Binks.

11) 17 crewmembers, 5 characters, 12 dullards. Not a good ratio of interest to bodybags. Elizabeth Shaw is well acted and has a bit of backstory. The ship's captain established himself well with his rather cool seduction of Vickers. Elizabeth's sure-to-die boyfriend had some personality, even if it wasn't exactly that of a scientist. At least he was enthusiastic. David and Vickers were playing similar roles, but at least they were established - everybody else was disposable junk. Some of the crew had about three lines each, and those lines didn't exactly establish character. What I did learn near the end of the film, was that the captain's two loyal crew members were gay. But not for each other. Otherwise why exactly did they choose to sacrifice themselves instead of spending two years of insane bliss sharing a life support vessel with Charlize Theron? She might have been a bitch, but she would have come round in the end if you cooked her enough dinners. Perhaps they truly didn't trust the captain of their ship to hit the world's largest target, which begs the question what his major role was onboard ship - playing the accordion?

12) Let her live - she can't harm us now. Okay, so Elizabeth realises (is told) that she is now pregnant. She hits the two now evil medics in the face and runs to the Chekov's DIY surgery machine, which has been programmed with data for just one of two sexes popular with humans. At no point does anybody come to get her. They don't chase her - and when later she finds them, they don't throw her out of the airlock. In fact they invite her along. Why not - up until now there has been literally no reason for Weyland to even have her on the ship - may as well bring her along - her and her simmering resentment.

13) David's remarkable programming. David can speak out loud a cuneiform language he has only seen written down - perhaps he extrapolated what it might sound like using his magical robot brain. That said it was a bloody confident first sentence - he could have been asking the gigantic alien spaceman if the fridge door has been left open and where the nearest boulangerie is. But there's more - David, when discovering an alien ooze he has never encountered before and could not realistically have been pre-programmed to expect to encounter, immediately decides to give some of it to one of the humans on board the Prometheus. Was his plan to get Elizabeth pregnant for later study? That's a rather convoluted plan - going via a third party. Was he just pre-programmed with general purpose be-a-bastard routines? If getting her pregnant was the goal, why tell her? If impregnanting women with alien dna is his default setting - you know, just in case they land on a planet full of alien bio-weapons - why not bring along a cargo hold full of kidnapped street walkers? Has he become randomly psychotic after two years watching David Lean movies? We never really get to know enough about him to work it out. Or care.

14) The poorly chosen crew. So, your name is on the side of the ship, you own the company but you feel you need to travel in secret. Your crew is not made up of insanely loyal Weyland corp workers, but a rag tag bunch of hired types and even some unnecessary scientists whose loyalty to you is so variable you feel the need to travel in secret. Why? Why does any of that stuff make sense? Why isn't meeting the aliens the purpose of the trip? It's your company remember?

15) Everything else. The variable chain of command (at least 4 different people seem to think they're in charge of the mission, one of whom actually has Captain rank, but clearly isn't.) The baby alien that as many other people have pointed out, grows to twenty times the size without any available food. Does it have magical swelling cells? Does it eat furniture? I didn't even realise it was the same thing initially - it didn't occur to me it could have grown by a factor of that much until I twigged that must have been where it came from - after all we had already encountered a great big tentacle thingy in the cave - that seemed a more likely source. Other things that make no sense - running in a line that is the same line the enormous falling spaceship is rolling in - why would you do that? One look behind you and you'll start running at an angle. Unless you are a complete halftard. And the big-head-for-no-reason room. And the fact that every ancient tablet had the same set of stars on the side. Did the aliens travel around with their star charts written on the side of their spaceship? There are many other problems with this film, but I've only watched it once, so this will have to do - other than to mention the inadequate script, the throwaway characters, the fumbled science and the complete and utter absence of a point to the whole venture.

That said, it filled a couple of hours with pleasing effects and it was much better than a Lucas prequel. I also hope Charlize Theron and the chap who played Captain Janek get a film together - look at the above screenshot - they should have been the protagonists of this story.


Robin Jubber.