June 10, 2012

Prometheus

Ambitious, gorgeous, thought-provoking, but imperfect. My Grade: B
In the week leading up to Prometheus, I watched my Alien DVD (1979) with the commentary track on. Near the end of the film, director Ridley Scott openly ruminates on making a prequel. Scott and Sigourney Weaver agree that a prequel would have to answer fundamental questions about the origins of Alien: What is that horseshoe-ship? Who is the space jockey? Where do the Aliens come from? If you have soaked your brain in the Alien movies as much as I have, good news: Prometheus answers those questions thoroughly, and those answers make very satisfying sense to me. If you have only a casual appreciation of the Alien movies, the movie is still satisfying, but all the pieces won't snap as neatly into place as they do for me.
Ridley Scott has honored the dedication fans feel for his original Alien story. Scott has examined the origins of the Aliens in a broader context of the meanings of life itself, and our place in the universe, without marching out the slimy eggpods, facehuggers, chest-bursters, or xenomorphs we have seen far too much of in the last 20 years.
The premise and much of the plot is very similar to Alien: spaceship lands on mysterious planet, the true nature of the mission is a secret, chain of command collapses among crewmembers, reckless disregard of safety endangers everyone.
I said that this movie does not include the creatures we've seen before. I imagine that Scott felt that, after SIX movies, those creepy crawlies have no scares left in them.
The irony is that this movie's creatures are even more grotesque than the genus we're used to. The scares come from the unknown "how will this organism manifest itself"? They're not as viscerally unique, but the phallic and vaginal imagery is... "obscene" is the best word I can think for it. If you don't mind squirming in your seat, you can survive this movie, but the images won't leave you for days.
It's this blend of big thinking and obscene violations of the human body which set the tone off-kilter. The scientists that lead this mission are not metaphorically seeking the origins of man: they're literally seeking the origins of man, and they speak openly and repeatedly about it. This philosophical examination is powerful and works very well, but the cuts between these deep thoughts, and scenes of heads exploding, crewmembers getting violated by tentacles, and liberal application of flame throwers is a little jarring. ~~Landmark Embassy Cinema Waltham, with Emily
The cast is uniformly terrific, including Charlize Theron and Idris Elba.

2016 Notes: Rewatching the movie this summer, I noticed the parallels with the movie 2001? At the beginning of the of the movie they find cave paintings on Earth which are a direct signal that aliens visited Earth millennia ago and these messages are a clue for a future civilization. This is just like the monolith on the moon in the movie 2001: a marker left behind in a place where only an advanced civilization could discover it. Also, the main musical theme is really evocative and I love it. Composer's name is Marc Streitenfeld!


BONA FIDES: What kind of fanatic am I? I have been a fan of Alien since the first time it scared me. I was too young (seven) to see it in the theater in 1979, and we didn't have cable growing up, so I probably first saw Alien in the mid-1980s, after everyone got VCRs. I saw Aliens in the theater in 1986: one of the rare sequels that is as good (if very different) from the original. The awesomeness of these two movies combined cemented that pesky xenomorph in my cultural imagination. When I was a clerk at a laser videodisc store in 1994-95, I bought both Alien and Aliens box sets - Alien was the theatrical cut with tons of extras, and Aliens included the extended edition with lots of extras. I have also seen Alien3 and Alien Resurrection in the theater. In 2003, I saw Scott's slightly extended Alien director's cut in the theater as well. A few years ago I finally sold my laser disc player and repurchased both Alien and Aliens on DVD.
Stub Hubby Reviews Ridley Scott