Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Prometheus; it's time to go past, into the back.

This could all get fixed in due course. Ridley Scott is a devil for bringing out long and long awaited movies that don't really work as expected and then taking them back to the garage and giving them a few whacks with the lump hammer. He's done it with the good ones and done it with the bad ones; there are more versions of Blade Runner than cast members at this point, and at least three versions of Alien. That's the good ones; over on the debit side, the messy and confusing Kingdom of Heaven was retooled for video, and Robin Hood exists in three different versions, though it's hard to imagine any way in which making THAT longer could make it any better. So when I say I'm disappointed with Prometheus, I say it in the knowledge that conceivably Scott could do a factory recall and somehow make it NOT disappointing. But right now, it's hard to see where he'd start.

On the one hand, Prometheus is too long. I've long had a simple working definition of this; a film is too long when I think it's too long. If I've got time to come to this conclusion, there's a problem. I didn't think Heat was too long, because there was always something I wanted to see next. I thought The Unbearable Lightness of Being was too long at first, and then when it ended my outraged reaction was "Not now!". With Prometheus, I endured it till it was over and then said thank goodness and left the cinema. So, on the first hand, too long. On the second hand; not enough movie has been packed into that length. What we get is beautifully shot, but despite the use of perfectly good actors (Idris Elba, wasted again; Michael Fassbinder, rather too successfully impersonating a robot), not terribly interesting. When people get nobbled, we don't care, particularly, and although it's icky when it happens, it's not shocking, somehow. It's all rather flat.

Another interesting development is that we now know that the future has dark ages. The Prometheus is traveling through space long before the Nostromo, but has WAY better computers. Plainly at some later point, civilization collapsed, or Weyland Yutani used up the whole supply of some rare element in their cooler-than-cool displays and after that everyone had to make do with keyboards and DOS. I remember watching the original Alien and thinking the space ship and its computers looked amazing; and of course, the spaceship and computers in the new one have to look equally amazing for the new generation of movie goers…. And we wind up having to think of why technology seems to have slid backwards as the future goes forward. This problem has come up before with SF prequels, and it is one of the small but nagging reasons why we shouldn't let people DO SF prequels. Or anything else with prequel in it.

Anyhoo, Prometheus sets out to answer a whole series of questions about where the famous aliens came from, to much the same effect as all those times when we set out to find out where Santa Claus comes from. Origin stories are an absolute pox of the superhero/Marvel adaptation genre, and it turns out that they can be a pox on other things too. The original Alien just worked, full stop. Aliens didn't mess significantly with the formula, and worked. The next two movies messed with the formula and really didn't work. About the Aliens vs Predator notion, it's best to be silent.In short, the story's been told perfectly, and it's time to move on. Going back to the well has not been a good idea.

At times in the movie, the only fun to be had is watching them laboriously move all the pieces into place for the audience to go "Ah-ha, that's where that must have come from." Sadly, they were so determined that every plot beat in Prometheus would echo a plot beat in Alien that they wound up monkeying even that up. With great diligence, they carefully built up to the moment where we get to see where the Space Jockey in the first film gets into the chair in which he's found in Alien. Fine, if a little heavy handed. And then, purely so that they could echo Ripley's last fight in Alien, the goddam space jockey comes back to attack her, and gets ironically mangled by a proto-alien, thus ensuring that he WON'T be where he's been so carefully positioned. And you know what? I don't care whether that was Scott having a senior moment or executive interference; for the life of me I can't figure out how the hell that one's going to be fixed by any conceivable director's cut.

PS: I found this today (9 October), and it's well worth a look to cover all the things I decided I couldn't rag on in case miraculously this blog entry was read by somebody who hadn't seen the movie yet.

 PPS: I found this as an early Christmas present, and for the sake of two minutes out of your life, it's a wonderful encapsulation of just  some of the things which don't add up in the movie. Which is out now in DVD and Blu-Ray over packaged editions, and from the lack of general fanfare about new features, I've concluded that Ridley thinks it was just fine the way I didn't like it.

PPPS: This Basic Instructions cartoon contains the marvellous comment "It was the kind of disappointment which can only be appreciated on the big screen", which perfectly captures the way I felt about the movie, and indeed about a lot of other movies. 

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