Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bwogmetheus (Prometheus Film Review)


"Good luck figuring it out!"

So when we critique a painting from a few hundred years ago we rarely know exactly what was going on in the artist's brain at the time. It may have been anywhere from "This will be my greatest work ever!" to "Meh. I'll leave it like that because I hate critics." It's my sincere opinion that we give far too much credit to folks who just did something first or, more likely, picked the right spot to keep the artwork so that it survived theft/burning/earthquakes/etc. only to be found centuries later and put in a museum where people pay lots of money to gaze upon its splendid mediocrity. I mention this context because I think it's important to keep in mind when reviewing anything - especially recent big budget space movies. Having said that, let's just pretend no one else is reviewing Prometheus and that we don't have any official words from anyone involved about anything. This is BW's review of the film after seeing it twice and watching the first few minutes of some boring videos about it on YouTube.

No, you don't get a link to them. I said they're boring.

Let's just throw some random things out there to begin with, shall we? No links or borrowing from other sources (although I'm sure someone else has noticed at least some of this stuff). Ready, set... evolve!

1) I think the "pattern" of stars Ellie and Charlie find in all those places is interesting only in one possible sense - it's a stupid constellation. But that's not fun, so let's go Inception-style on it: Notice the first time you see the ship (when it lists its vital statistics) that the camera pans across to reveal the engines and lights that seem to fit that same configuration. Sounds crazy, right? Leonardo DiCaprio thinks so too, but I'm not convinced. There are some extremely fishy throwbacks to 2001: Space Odyssey that have to do with alignment (among other things in the film) and it doesn't take too much imagination to just tilt the "stars" a bit and match up with the ship's engines. Just a little somethin' I noticed. Moving on...

2) I'm not totally sold that those opening shots were of Earth anyway. It wasn't labeled, and we know these "Engineers" - who we'll call Jedi from here on - have terraforming capabilities. I mean, yeah, duh, we're watching a movie starring (mostly) humans who definitely find things in caves in Scotland... Ireland... Muir Island?... Northern Europe, but that doesn't mean anything. Taking things at face value, there's no reason this couldn't be the planet they land on or an entirely different one altogether. It really bothers me that the ship we see here is not the same as the ones later too.

3) The film is chock full of the re-birth motif, which just fits with the whole life/death thing anyway. Next time you watch it, count how many times someone goes into or comes out of something. Don't go overboard now, I'm just saying we have a discovery made in a cave, people sleeping in pods, Jedi in pods, people exploring a cave that looks like a ship and nothing at all like female genitalia (What? Just me? Okay then. Nevermind.), a life cycle that requires someone dying, another life cycle that seems to require a sacrifice, blah blah blah. It's hard to point all these things out so if you want to come over some time we can watch it together.

4) Something a little more interesting, in the form of a hipster question: Why was David carrying Ellie's cross in his utility belt? We saw him put it in a little canister. Intriguing.

5) Also intriguing: The story being presented is that an alien race created humanity through ritual self-sacrifice, humanity discovered their whereabouts, humanity begins to suspect that the aliens for whatever reason decided to go back and kill humanity but were prevented (from a slight weapons malfunction, no doubt, in the form of a black plague that blows up your chest if you catch it - which isn't clearly explained... were they drinking the biological weapons a lot?), humanity in the form of a guy named Charlie catches it too and decides it would be better if someone killed him rather than having it spread to the rest of his buddies, humanity accidentally reactivates the Jedi ship of earth-death and destroys it via self-sacrifice, humanity in the form of a gal named Ellie decides to hijack another Jedi ship with the intent on asking the aliens what the dilly is (accompanied by about a jillion of their grape jelly bombs). Parallel to this is humanity in the form of Guy Pearce trying to elude death and, in the process, be a horrible father. The one human who is actually trying to meet the Jedi gets killed by one and concludes that there's nothing (presumably alluding to an afterlife, or lack thereof) whereas the rest of the folks that were just trying to get paid or make history or whatever get pulled into this larger scheme of... whatever the movie is about. You really should just come over and watch it with me.

6) We're supposed to believe these Jedi were amazing scientists and whatnot but if their security is any indication - they were more like Stormtroopers than anyone under Palpatine. What kind of defense mechanism plays back three-dimensional footage of the final moments of a ship's crew in the event that someone accidentally finds the ship 2,000 years later? Same goes for the bridge when David gets there - is that a real hologram that the computer forgets isn't real and responds by giving David a real globe or... I dunno. It's not really clear to me what that's all about, other than "Hey, the audience is probably really bored and this is going to take another ninety minutes - give them a fuzzy blue Jedi hologram sequence."

7) In Alien we learn not to trust androids. In Aliens we learn they're our friends. In Prometheus we learn that androids are jerks but have a real knack for survival at all costs, which is fine if you have legs and they don't. And I think that begins to describe the film in general: it never really commits itself in any one direction and instead sits back while we buy midnight tickets and wax philosophical about hidden meaning or why studying ancient languages would help in any conceivable way to understanding the Jedi.

8) There are three people that repeat themselves noticeably in the film: Janek the pilot ("If you can't be with the one you love..."), David ("The trick, William Potter, is...") and Ellie (variations of "Oh God!"). I'm now going to offer an interesting piece of actual analysis straight from the Bwogosphere to your eye sockets: I think this is a holy trinity of sorts. See, movies these days like to steal all our money by dazzling us with dead-ends and red herrings and Nicholas Cages and Tom Hankses. Anything to create a buzz works, and religious stuff is huge for that. Usually though, if you look hard enough, you can find that they're all telling the same few stories over and over again.

Here we have Ellie (not Ellen, don't get lost now) who admits to being unable to bear children ("to create life" in her approximate words) yet through some miracle is able to. That miracle is, of course, the intervention of David - who's not quite human but seems to be pretty adept at human-ish things. This is a direct modern correlation to the immaculate conception. We wouldn't actually show a virgin on-screen because we're all hip and trendy nowadays with our sexuality, but the stated fact that Ellie can't conceive is a reasonable equivalent. David is described by Guy Pearce as never able to grow old and never die - these are attributes usually (and easily) associated with the Father personage of the Christian trinity. It's David that knows more than any member of the crew about what's going on (even so far as what others are dreaming), and he doesn't need to sleep or eat either. He orchestrates things in a way that seems to indicate an (almost) total knowledge of the situation. And who is it that saves humanity, who states that his sole reason for being in the film is to make sure none of the baddies make it back to earth no matter what the cost - even if it's his own life? Janek (this would be Jesus, for those of you following along at home). He even dies with guys on either side of him who seem to enjoy betting/gambling (questionably criminal behavior) like the criminals on either side of Christ's cross. So ol' BW thinks that's a pretty important component to the movie, and not a terribly original one.

Beyond the trinity theme, and the myriad birth/death themes, is the broader one of the saving power of faith. Ellie is repeatedly presented as a believer (presumably Christian, but it doesn't matter for the theme to work) - so much so that it's the only reason she's brought along (Darth Pearce mentions this to her, via Vickers I believe). The only time she takes her cross off is when David removes it and that's when we have the horrible alien birth. She quickly finds the ring that Charlie left her though, and I believe that is used to take it's place. Her faith in the Christian God has been sufficiently shaken (though not broken, I think) so she reverts to something even deeper and more intimate (in our Hollywood values system): True Love. She's constantly saying things like "Oh God!" but later, when she's on her back in the dirt before David radios her, she begins apologizing... not to God, but to Charlie. Her faith is what saves her, and she's the only member of the crew presented as having any. "Ah!" you say, "But David survives too!" And you're right.

David survives because he, too, has faith of a sort. He is on a journey of his own of self-discovery as regards whether he actually has a soul (note his face when Darth Pearce mentions this in his ghost-commercial introduction). We are left to believe he has died because he's only a head and the Jedi killed everyone in the room, right? Well guess what - he lived! It's a miracle! This is the curious android equivalent, I think, to life after death. He forged his own path, which was pretty jerk-like and selfish by most accounts, and when that all came crumbling down (and he lost his body) he was forced to make a choice to depend on someone else for survival. Something he was probably already leaning to already since he carried Ellie's cross with him into the ship and because he had already saved her life at least once (I suppose you could count wanting her to go into stasis with the alien baby as an attempt to keep her alive as well). In his own way then, he's dealing with faith and love.

"Okay BW," I hear, "Ellie and David both have these themes of love and faith - what about Janek though? If he's this Jesus-type shouldn't he get equal treatment?" Right again! He does. Aside from his song lyric quote (about love) he's the only other guy on the ship who, ahem, gets some. It's love in a simple form and he's a simple guy. His faith is equally simple: He doesn't care much about the details, he believes they've found some bad guys and believes he's the only one who can keep them from hitting earth. It's interesting to note that while there's no direct connection between his accordion and the flying of his ship, the Jedi also have pseudo-musical pilot/captains. Maybe they use the fabled Ocarina of Spacetime.

"Wow! I never thought about it like that!" you say. I know, and I don't think you really need to read too much into the details of the movie because you won't find anything other than cute little Easter Eggs. The movie was supposed to tell us all about the origin of the aliens and, well, you see what we got. It was a re-telling of some central themes wrapped in big budget effects and franchise lore specifically designed for the audience NOT to come to any conclusion. Instead, J.J. Abrams-style, we are meant to consider every nuance and deleted scene in microscopic detail without ever just saying "Hey! Where's Ripley?!"

And that's what you should've said, because if we can put a computer-generated Arnold in a Terminator prequel that doesn't really read like the rest of the Terminator movies, we can put Sigourney Weaver as her own great grandmother in an Alien movie that doesn't really have anything to do with Alien.

With Brightest of (Kryptonite In Front Of The Alien Mural?) Greens,
BW

P.S. Yeah, there's tons more interesting things in there, but I don't care much about them. It's like a school of red herring decided to swim right through the middle of a documentary on Seed Theory and they were being chased by Dan Brown so some obsessed Alien fan thought it would make a better Ridley Scott film so he e-mailed the highlights and left the rest to computer effects. The noise that gets repeated a couple times (starting with the ship at the beginning), David's head being put in a bag just like the one he used to bring back the canister, how did that little thing that came out of Ellie grow to monstrous proportions, how everyone calls the structures pyramids and they have all this religious significance (statues, friezes, etc.) but there's no one else on the planet (it's like building a cathedral on top of NORAD after everyone dies in World War III, right?), why the black goo kills people but if they procreate before they die it impregnates the partner too and morphs according to the genetic makeup of the host (Ellie gets a supersquid, Jedi survivor gets a xenomorph reject, Mr. Biology gets... nothing because we forgot about him after the shock-scare), the straight up DNA match between the Engineers and humans which doesn't seem to mean anything, the anti-trinity of Pearce, Vickers, and Charlie, the alien head exploding... why?, Vickers' med pod only calibrated for males (doesn't sound like a good survival technique to me, even if it's for her cranky Dad), where did the "snakes" come from that attacked Mr. Biology and Doctor Rock McFacemelt (or how and why the good doctor appears outside the ship all twisted and froglike before assuming a completely normal stance to wreak havoc on everyone), Ellie genuflecting when the Engineer emerges from the pod and does he understand her speech, and how David's head is literally used to kill Pearce. And others... really, just come over and watch it with me already.

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