' ' Cinema Romantico: Prometheus

Monday, June 18, 2012


Locke: "That's why you and I don't see eye to eye, sometimes, Jack because you're a man of science."
Jack: "Yeah, and what does that make you?"
Locke: "Me? Well, I'm a man of faith."

These lines are from the Season 1 finale of "Lost." The episode was written by Damon Lindelof. Damon Lindelof (and Jon Spaights) wrote the screenplay for "Prometheus". So while "Prometheus" will be very much billed as "A Ridley Scott Film" - and while it does contain numerous gorgeous and vast images - it has Lindelof's fingerprints ALL over it.

Consider the moment late the film - the context of which I will not reveal - when our main character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who has been without her precious cross pendant for much of the film has the pendant returned to her and places it back around her neck. This image clearly symbolizes Elizabeth holding onto her faith (she's a woman of faith, you see). Except then the android character, David (Michael Fassbender), says: "After all this you still believe, don't you?" That is such a hallmark of Lindelof it hurts. Why let the image speak for itself when you can show the image and then thwack the audience in the face with the words from your laptop to overemphasize the meaning of the image?

Crissakes, the name of the movie is "Prometheus." Remember, Lindelof, who co-created "Lost" with J.J. Abrams, was responsible for a character named JOHN LOCKE. Why simply allude to the noted English philosopher when you can just name the whole character after him? Prometheus was the Greek God who created man from clay, and as "Prometheus" opens in a spectacular wide open shot set against a thundering river we see some sort of extra-terrestrial being that looks suspiciously like a souped-up human who may as well be a cinematic Prometheus appear to sacrifice himself to create man. As in, us. Human folk.

Thus, a spaceship called Prometheus takes to the stars to track down a distant planet to act on the information Dr. Shaw and her fellow archaeologist/boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover in a secluded cave via a drawing which they determine to be both a map and invitation from what they suspect are humanity's creators. The mission is funded by aged billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and commanded by ice queen Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) whose tightly coiled blonde hair looks so frigid you could probably bounce a baseball off it. And that's why the ship's technical captain Janek (Idris Elba, kind of referencing Yaphet Kotto and Al Matthews at once) suspects she must be a robot, not unlike Fassbender's David the Android (who apparently styles himself after T.E. Lawrence) who in the tradition of androids might possess his own agenda.

The Prometheus sets down upon discovery of a potentially man-made structure ("God doesn't build in straight lines") and off the archaeologists and for-hire accomplices go and because this film still takes place in the "Alien" universe, well, for all the big picture queries it still wants to do the Monster Mash and make sly little nods to the original. (The best of which involves a nifty take on John Hurt's famous chest-bursting sequence, though it could certainly be a read in an entirely different light, too, depending on how seriously you want to take this whole venture.) And this often makes it feel as if it (sort of admirably) brings too much to the table.

Scott and Lindelof clearly made a film intended to be ABOUT what it is about more than about WHO it is about, which is why all the characters here go no further than archetypes. And that's fine. What isn't so fine is the way they insist on their film's deeper meaning by having these characters constantly, over and over, TELL us what the movie is about. That, admittedly, is one of the most ancient complaints on record - show instead of tell - but then Lindelof essentially has only ever written in exposition and, thus, Ridley Scott the auteur takes a backseat to the return of the franchise he originated. What all this exposition does, however, is cause the film - especially the later moments when it should be building a full head of steam and wrenching us with tension - to movie in frustrating fits and starts.

Granted, the film does a fine job of posing questions and planting seeds and gently dropping in theories and leaving its most crucial questions - How did we really get here?, What good is faith if science disproves it? - un-answered and allowing all of this to seep through your mind (not unlike the film's mysterious black goo) afterwards. It made me think about the conversation I had a few months ago where I was called on the carpet for the possible ridiculousness of believing so tried and truly in the Nativity Story. I mean, yeah, sure, I understand the absurdity of it at its core and that a lot of its elements have been disproved and even though I know the story is really more about faith than the story itself I still choose to believe that the story happened much like Elizabeth chooses to put back on that cross after all she's just gone through and discovered.

BUT... Just because a film gives you ideas to discuss with your theater-going pals around coffee afterwards does not automatically mean the film ITSELF was good. Right? There is the generally correct argument that a film only needs to work while you are watching it. To quote the esteemed Roger Ebert: "If you also want it to all be plausible in hindsight, you’re probably disappointed when a magician doesn’t saw a real person in half and leave the severed corpse on the stage.”

This is to say that "Prometheus" might be the first of its kind - a movie that actually works better when you are NOT watching it. Except I think that's a fairly severe problem.


Anonymous said...

"Just because a film gives you ideas to discuss with your theater-going pals around coffee afterwards does not automatically mean the film ITSELF was good." You took the words straight out of my mouth, Nick!! I have so many issues with the ideologies presented in the film and now that you mentioned it, the whole darn movie is an exposition. My colleague said that well, it'll be explained in the sequel. Now what kind of argument is that?? The only way to understand a movie is to watch the sequel?? That is just lame.

Btw, the Nativity Story is far more logical and consistent with historical findings, so it's not blind faith that I choose to believe in it.

Lasso The Movies said...

I like your thoughts on a movie that everyone seems to be telling me to go to the theaters to see. I don't make to the theaters very often because I have lots of young kids, so I try to wait for movies that everyone says are great. I have heard a lot of good things about this one, but I am not sure that I should make the trip. Your review has made me think that waiting five months and catching it on DVD may be the best way to go. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great thoughts, Nick. After seeing the film . . . and from what I've read about it (before/after seeing it), is that Prometheus poses questions, leaves them unanswered, and gains its goodness by being an "over coffee discussion" afterwards.

I applaud films that have you discuss over coffee afterwards. I respect it. Mainly because I enjoy films that purpose more than to only entertain, although I love me some fluffy, light, entertaining films as well. Your question is whether or not it's a GOOD film because it poses unanswered questions and leaves you to think, ponder, and discuss afterwards, OR if it's just a good movie in and of itself that isn't reliant on having that afterwards discussion, am I right?

Well, that will make me think for a while. Perhaps it will inspire a post from me one of these days.

Also, I'm with Ruth - I believe in the Nativity story, not by blind faith, but by active faith. Anyone can call faith blind, and everyone can has faith in something/someone or the lack of something/someone. I guess I'm just saying that I'm not blind when I openly choose to believe what I believe. Not to mention, the historical and logical findings (history and logic - two things I still don't base my faith on however) that support my belief.

Cheers, and sorry for the crazy long response. Excellent post, very thought-provoking, and probably a great over coffee discussion :)

Nick Prigge said...

Ruth: I do want to stress - not to get all religulous - that I didn't meant to imply that faith in the Nativity is blind faith. (Though, of course, that's what the person on the other side of the conversation thought.) Not at all. Because I really don't even believe, I guess, in "blind" faith. I just believe in faith, in whatever you choose to have it in. I didn't necessarily meant to take this review there but that is where my mind went afterwards.

Lasso: I wouldn't recommend it, though, of course, as you state, many people would. I think people should make up their own minds but it certainly wouldn't hurt to wait for the DVD. I suppose the visuals would look better on the big screen but that's for each person to decide how much it matters.

Kristin: No need to apologize for a crazy long response! Cinema Romantico supports and encourages crazy long responses! I love movies that leave me to ponder for days and weeks and months (see: "Somewhere") but I'm also steadfast that the movie HAS to work while you're actually watching it. And "Prometheus" didn't completely work for me while I was watching it. One man's opinion, though. That's all.

Castor said...

Excellent look at what ails Prometheus, Nick. Indeed, it's a movie with big ideas but completely unsubtle ways to make you think about them.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it had its moments that were tense and a little freaky but it never fully got off the ground for me. However, it’s a beautiful film the whole way through and one that should definitely be seen in 3D no matter wherever you may be. Good review Nick.

Nick Prigge said...

Castor: Thanks, my friend. Yeah, you and I are definitely on the same side in this battle.

Dan: Didn't see it in 3D but I keep hearing it looks even nicer that way. And despite my problems with the story, it did look nice.