Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Snippets from around the web: Prometheus

Before this blog was created, I frequently used internet discussion forums as pulpits from which to belabor my observations on films.  These would usually be a more in-depth treatment of certain aspects as part of an argument, dialogue or detailed discussion.  What follows are my thoughts on Prometheus, re-assembled from various forum posts around the web. Keep in mind that these are simple cut/paste jobs, and have not received much by way of editing for grammar.  

Also, there may be spoilers ahead. 

On the back-story vs. what we saw in the theater:  

"Prometheus has a great story...someone really should make a movie about it.

I'm not talking about a formulaic approach to writing, I'm talking about being able to tell a story in general. Yes, it's fun to pick apart Prometheus by adding our own "what if's" and "I woulda's" and "the director says's"...my point is that there is little on screen to justify any of it. The merit, for me, in a piece like Prometheus must be demonstrated by what it conveys in the theater, not the enrichment we exercise in terms of adding content from outside media, relying on cast and writer/director interviews, etc. just to decipher main plot points and ideas central to its function. An artist doesn't present a painting and then say, "See, this is a nice painting, but what really makes it cool is if you imagine it being a better painting than it is, and imagine a bunch of really interesting bits I didn't paint happening in areas outside the canvas. What I painted was a bunch of random, scary, violent bits happening to people we don't care about...but it's really about religion, the quest for knowledge and the birth of humanity. It's just that all the smart things happen off-canvas. Smart people will imagine really smart things on the blank wall next to the painting, see?"

Prometheus has some great imagery. A few of the actors conveyed emotion very well. It just has very, very little in terms of story to offer, and even less character development. Unless you write a story for it yourself, or let that story be told to you in an interview or by someone with similar taste in guesswork to your own, you're relying on gossamer-thin elements on screen to create some sort of grand scheme to explain it all."

A more generalized review, but continuing the themes above:  

"I think Prometheus presented some pretty compelling imagery and acting performances, and perhaps the background to the story is insanely rich and complex...but what they put on the screen in terms of story is seriously lacking. Honestly, any movie where you have to rely on interviews with the director to fill in the plot holes, background, symbolism and character motivations isn't doing it right. Prometheus hinted at a grand and epic scope, but delivered a claustrophobic and cut-off viewpoint that left the machinations of the antagonists incomprehensible, and the motivations of the protagonists indecipherable.

[Spoilers]"Well, it's sin-goo, see, and it mimics your demeanor, becoming an abhorrent biological weapon of destruction in the presence of the evil of mankind by subordinating both the fearful imagery of his dark, twisted soul and his genetic pro-creative processes, as revenge for the crucifixion of Jesus, who is obviously an alien emissary of the engineers, they being a representation of man's proto-self and having been imbibed with the power of divinity via science! I mean, black slime equals sin equals jesus equals aborted squid-monster, it's all very one-two-three, very connect-the-dots. Here, read Neitsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, then watch these interviews, oh, and familiarize yourself with the New Testament. It's sooooo obvious now, isn't it? The engineer tears the android's head off and kills everyone in the room because the android is a mis-representation of the selfless model of perfection man was meant to achieve, begotten of man's greed and there as an errand-boy for an unenlightened glutton who wants more life, like Roy from Blade Runner. A two-year-old could figure this shit out!"

So, yeah, I didn't find it the be-all-end-all statement I'd hoped for. I do believe the background to the story, as pieced together by various interviews, reference to written work, and seat-of-the-pants conjecture on my part could be something special....it just didn't manifest in the movie itself...and these (let's call them "douche bags" because it's entertaining) people that read all those interviews with writers and directors, and peruse all the blogs written about the theory behind the movie, then come out swinging with quips like "I can't believe you didn't get the obvious metaphors here," and "the symbolism is self-evident" and all that can just suck it: There's little in the movie itself to justify these connections to a larger back-story, or creative links to religion and philosophy...in other words, the movie itself is what I prefer to critique, not the more far-reaching thoughts of the writers that, while they may be compelling, just didn't make it into the film. 

Here's a hard example of what I'm talking about: When the party is exploring the engineers' hangout, one of them makes the observation that the facility is 2000 years old. Now, according to interviews with the writers, this is a reference to the time of Jesus, and that the supposed straw that broke the camel's back and made the engineers build a weapons facility with the intent of destroying humanity was the crucifixion of Jesus, he being an emissary of the engineers meant to show us how to right the course as a species. Sorry, but while that may be a great plot point, simply having "2000 years ago" appear once in the dialogue isn't enough for any audience member besides Jeff Goldblum to draw that conclusion. The antagonists in this film have complex motivations, but every opportunity to bring these to light, or give the audience even a cursory outline of their motivations, is wasted. 

One might be asking, "With the the decision having been made by the engineers to wipe humanity out, what obligation do the antagonists have to reveal their purpose to the crew, and what opportunities do they have to do so?" Well, to that I say the obligation is that of the writers, and the android himself seems a character designed with exactly that in mind....he deciphers their language, and much of their intent, early on. He could serve as the perfect translating mechanism between the mind of the author and the audience. But at the one opportunity for dialogue between the two species, the engineer is written to immediately tear his head off. At other opportunities for the android to expose the machinations of the engineers, such as when he enters and manipulates their computers for information, he stays quiet. So, there are these perfect opportunities to let the audience in on some of your plot, but they're wasted... 

Here's a thought: Wouldn't this have made a better tv show? Imagine if, instead of two-hours or so of exposition, you had tens of hours to flesh out the plot and provide hints and detail...I think this was written by someone in a tv-centric hand, having bitten off too much background and plot to portray well in the running time allotted, and leaving way too much expose in the dark recesses off-camera. I get the sense this is an epic story that was only given an episode's worth of storytelling."

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