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There was no movie I was more excited for this year than Prometheus. More than The Avengers, more than The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, for me, stood above them all. It wasn’t just the Alien prequel billing. It wasn’t Ridley Scott in the director’s chair. It wasn’t the beyond stellar cast. It was the entire package that excited me. The movie checked every mental box I cover in advance of a movie’s release. As the Ultimate Spectator, I always try to be objective, but with Prometheus, I must confess my objectivity went out the window long way back on the road to Opening Weekend. After seeing the movie, I spent the remainder of this weekend hitchhiking back down that long stretch of highway searching for the pieces of my discarded objectivity. I am more than road weary, but I’ve composed my thoughts on the film as best I can. Some quick notes before we get started.
- On the Alien quadrilogy. Picture the four movies as four brothers growing up together. The first two brothers were incredibly successful, albeit for different reasons. Alien is one of the most suspenseful movies ever made. It’s well acted and well directed and still holds up today. Aliens is to Sci-Fi action what its elder sibling was to suspense and drama. It was frightening. It was exciting. It put Cameron on the map. Even with the advances in CGI over the last 20 years, the film still works. Alien 3, on the other hand, was an audacious failure. Fincher tried to be the third great director to jump on board this franchise, but it sunk underneath him. Luckily for him, he found the life raft that is Brad Pitt and floated to safety, fame, and Panic Room. Alien: Resurrection was really the Leprechaun in the Hood of the family. It’s like a douchey French exchange-student came to live in the Alien household, and decided never to leave. Loving parents in that home though. No matter how many times Alien: Resurrection crapped the bed, they always cleaned up after him.
- On the concept of spoiler alerts in written media. The beauty and shortcoming of the written word is that I, the writer, cannot impart knowledge to you without your active participation a.k.a. reading. That being said, if you don’t want to know details about a movie you haven’t seen, DON’T READ ARTICLES ABOUT THAT MOVIE. How hard is that? This isn’t TV or even radio. I can’t give you knowledge against your will here. Would you begrudge me if my column mentioned the score of a basketball game after the final whistle had blown? Of course you wouldn’t. Because if you were waiting to watch that game on your DVR, you would also wait to read columns about it. Why isn’t the same discipline applied to movies? The insistence of some to have SPOILER ALERT spelled out for them is predicated on the idea that someone would write an article about a movie and not include any relevant details from said movie. That’s a blatantly ridiculous predication. Any column discussing a film at length without “spoilers” is crap pure and simple. You won’t find anything like that here. Thank you for your patience and please enjoy the rest of the column.
Prometheus is a movie about a journey for answers. Not answers to the mundane questions that most scientists work to find; answers to THE questions.
- Where do we come from?
- What is our purpose?
- What’s the deal with ?
A crew of scientists and pilots fire themselves into the deep voids of space with an android, a corporate heiress, and all in search of these answers. From the outset, the film sets this pursuit as the central motivation for each of the main characters. Sure the ship’s crew and the “I’m just here to die first guys” are just in it for the money, but the rest are in it for the knowledge.
I’ve got no problem with this construction. In fact, I rather love it. Not because I am searching for those answers myself or worse yet that I believe this film can give them to me. I love the idea because I’m excited to see what the creative team behind the film came up with. Build a world. Build a story. Populate them both with characters and danger. Then tell us what you think. That’s what audiences were hoping for from Ridley Scott. His answers, his ideas, and his vision. But Prometheus offers no answers, only more questions.
If you’ve seen the film, you have some idea of what I’m talking about. The film is no doubt visually stunning. The planet, the ships, the sweet space suits – It all looked awesome. Nevertheless, if you’re like me, you walked out of the theatre feeling not quite satisfied. This feeling was caused by two parts of your brain set at odds with one another. The visual center was predictably rejoicing and . The logic center of your brain, however, was undoubtedly a dissenting opinion. Despite the film’s robust Rotten Tomatoes score among both critics and the internet proletariate, one must admit the logic center has a point. Ask yourself what, if anything, did the characters learn over the course of the film? Sure humans share their DNA with the Engineers, but beyond that all the answers being pursued are never found or never existed. Instead of ideas and knowledge, the story only produces more questions. The audience isn’t informed why anything happens in the film. It just does and the characters react. They react not out of knowledge of why these things are happening, but out of fear about what they might mean. The only one who seems to know anything for certain is David, the android, and his motives, if he has any at all, are shrouded beneath his inhumanity and “lack of a soul.” And again, how David knows what he knows is unclear at best and intentionally omitted at worst. This deliberate confusion doesn’t create intrigue. It serves only to undermine the story and the actors’ performances. With so little to go on, the motivations and intentions of each character came off as flimsy and cliché. The film would have been infinitely more entertaining had the characters, and the incredibly talented group of actors portraying them, had the answers the audience was clamoring for. What we got instead was a bad facsimile.
These ingredients above form a recipe for the Iron Chef of ambiguous stories. This ambiguity is covered quite nicely by the film’s beautiful photography and the looming sense of dread that only a can inspire. That is why my brain was fighting an operatic civil war as I walked out into the sun. In the time that has past, two possibilities for the creative motivations behind Prometheus have arisen in my mind.
- The directors and writers of the film crafted a world and a story that is fully realized and contains answers to all the possible questions might ask. Then they simply removed various scenes from the story to allow people to fill in the answers for themselves.
- The directors and writers of the film are in no way concerned with building a world the scope, size, and detail of which could never be fully realized in a single film. Thus they set together an interesting amalgamation of scenes none of which is borne of a central truth about the world in which they are set.
Both of these strategies are based around the idea that movies are better when all the answers aren’t revealed, and the audience must decide certain things for themselves. I couldn’t agree more. Bridging mental gaps or forming theories about what did or didn’t happen in a movie is part of what makes film awesome. It gives each viewer a sense of ownership over the film and ultimately inspires a deeper level of appreciation for it. An example of this type of intentional open-endedness is the final scene of Inception. Despite how you may feel about this movie, the final scene is rather perfect and quite apt for this discussion. The top continues to spin, and we never see if it falls or not. Why this works so well is that no matter which outcome was ultimately to occur, the movie’s plot still functions. If the top keeps spinning then it was all a dream, and somewhere, Marion Cotillard is patiently waiting for Leonardo Di Caprio to . If the top falls over, then it’s a happy ending for . Neither possibility causes the story to fall apart, thus that scene comes off as thought-provoking as opposed to logically flawed and disappointing. The story exists in two worlds, and it’s up to the viewer to choose between them. This approach to story creation and filmmaking works in the case of finite choices to single questions. It doesn’t, on the other hand, work in a churning sea of questions which of course brings us back to Prometheus.
The film, which Ridley Scott has told all who would listen that he intended to be ambiguous, has more unanswered questions than special effects artists in the credits. The pervasive nature of these questions throughout the whole of the plot won’t inspire the kind of discussion, speculation, and further appreciation of the film that 20th Century Fox, Scott, and the writers hoped they would. I expect they will do quite the opposite actually. All the ambiguity will simply silence the Prometheus conversation before it’s begun because there is so little common ground to start from. So many details, ideas, and facts from this movie can and will be disputed. I expect most fans will choose not to dwell on the film and instead will return to pining for The Dark Knight Rises.
Here’s the rub in this whole situation: Fox already has my money. Here’s the bigger rub: I don’t care.
It doesn’t bother me that I paid to see Prometheus. In fact, I will probably see it again. This may seem hypocritical of me after I’ve spent this entire column challenging the film on so many points. But the fact remains that I don’t know if the creative motivation behind this movies was #1 or #2. If it’s #1 then either they executed it poorly or there is a great 4-hour coming. If it’s #2, which I suspect it is, then it doesn’t make Scott or the writers any different from most creative teams in today’s day in age. Either way Prometheus is a movie, and while I may take movies more seriously than a lot of people, I can still see them for what they are. Ridley Scott doesn’t owe me anything other than entertainment, and on that he delivered. I had hoped for more, just like the characters in the film, but in the end it was still an enjoyable two hours and three minutes. And as with all things, I try to look on the bright side. They could have cast Marion Cotillard instead of Charlize.
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