Digital Digressions: Prometheus

Nathan: So has it really been thirty years since Ridley Scott directed a sci-fi film?

Paul: It feels like a lot longer, if you ask me. I’m a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s science fiction films and Alienwas probably my first R-rated sci-fi film so the series has a huge nostalgia factor for me personally.

Nathan: Strangely, one of my first R-rated films was Predator, but that is a whole different conversation. Regardless, Scott is dabbling in the genre again with Prometheus and, while it has some problems which we’ll get into, I think it is pretty impressive overall. Visually exquisite, not without a hearty helping of large ideas and some pretty excellent performances here and there. Oh, and really petty, self-absorbed scientists that I found difficult to like, but again, more on that later.

Paul: Yeah let’s start off with the visuals maybe before we get too far. Obviously, H.R. Giger and the whole Ridley Scott “alien” look has been one of the most prominent in both the science fiction and even horror genres for awhile now. Personally, by the time Alien: Resurrection came out, I felt it was overdone mainly due to Korn frontman Jonathan Davis having a mic stand done in that style and it being the trend among artists at my school… but I digress. Prometheus had a very nice, clean style to it that I appreciate very much, especially in 3D.

Nathan: I’m still not sure whether the 3D actually enhanced the visuals or if it just didn’t get in the way. I’m planning to see it again this week so may see it in 2D just to compare and contrast. The giant tunnels and some of the holograms and such the crew uses for mapping the alien structure they encounter may have looked better due to the 3D but again, need to see it without in order to be sure. In either case, it didn’t detract in any significant way, and I’d say its worth the three extra dollars just because Scott considers it the correct way to see the film.

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Paul: I’m still of the strong opinion that the 3D accentuated the digital effects very nicely and made it that much more of an experience for me. I haven’t seen 3D I really cared about since Avatar (and we know how that went).

Nathan: I felt Hugo made good use of it too and, of course, the timeless classic Step Up 3D, but right, either way, very compelling film based on visuals alone. The one effect that stands out to me most is the holograms, both the snippet we see of Elizabeth Shaw’s dream and the records kept by the Engineers. But that is a bit inside baseball at this point, can we bounce back to the beginning of the whole thing? Namely, Scott maintaining this ISN’T an Alien film, but a stand-alone that takes place in the same universe. Does that describe the film you saw or do you feel without the background going in a lot of this film is meaningless?

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Paul: Well, what I really liked about this movie is that even though it obviously takes place in the Alien universe it doesn’t try to make any direct connections to the franchise whereas it very easily could’ve just rested on a decades worth of quality. I don’t feel this film is at all meaningless without the Alien background personally… it might even be better without any of that.

Nathan: I’m not sure I completely agree as a I felt the closing minutes of the film seemed to exist largely as a means of setting the stage for the Alien films (with one curious deviation that may be too specific for discussion here). But yes, I’d be curious how someone with no knowledge of the earlier films would perceive Prometheus.

Full transparency I guess, it has been about a week since we both saw the film so I’ve done some extra-curricular reading on the subject and have found some curious things that may warrant discussion. I guess most pertinent, apparently Ridley Scott has about thirty minutes of extra footage on-hand he intends to put into a Director’s Cut for home release (as he is prone to do, see Blade Runner and Kingdom of Heaven). Given the track record of those versions being vastly superior, I’m pretty excited about that prospect. While I liked the 2 hour 4 minute film I saw, I felt there were some odd character moments (largely between the human scientists) that may be smoothed out if given more time. But that version remains to be seen, so time will tell on that one.

Paul: I’m excited to hear that. While the pacing was decent, it still felt like there should have been some expansion on certain things; specifically the characters and their development since some of that stuff was just outright ridiculous how conclusions were drawn in their minds.

Nathan: I guess we can spoil some things, there is one incident in particular where Elizabeth Shaw and her scientist boyfriend Holloway are having a conversation about being on the forefront of the greatest discovery in the history of mankind, and Holloway is bummed out it isn’t even MORE extraordinary (namely, that the alien Engineers aren’t still alive…despite there being a gap of several millennia between our civilizations) and Shaw is sad she can’t have kids. Just seemed like trite and trivial human drama in light of the stupefyingly huge topics being discussed. For that and the insanely good performance by Michael Fassbender, I felt the synthetic character David was more empathetic and interesting.

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Paul: That is something I think they could maybe have flushed out a bit better with Shaw and Holloway as, even under those circumstances you described, the whole “I can’t have a baby” thing really came out of nowhere and had no effect on anything else in the rest of the film. The biggest issue I can say I have with Prometheus is simply that the writing for the humans (namely, the scientists) was just extraordinarily bad and I don’t know if that was meant to showcase how unprepared we are as a species for something like that or what but nothing felt genuine about most of the crew.

Nathan: Some of it was laughably bad, I think we both chuckled as soon as Shaw said that line. The two co-pilots too, they just felt like cardboard cut-outs, not real people, so when they made a heroic decision at the end of the film, it just fell flat. I think I’ll go ahead and blame Damon Lindelof for that, given some of my thoughts towards LOST. It wasn’t nearly enough to ruin the film, and there were still some decent character moments here and there from some of the humans (I liked Idris Elba as the captain), but that was perhaps the one piston that wasn’t firing properly throughout the film. But hey, the film has an android, an alien race that may have been responsible for our evolution and ties to an historic franchise, so it was kind of inevitable I’d forgive this film most of its missteps before I even saw it. I think I need to see it a second time just to have a firm sense of how I feel about it, the first viewing was just a primer.

Paul: I didn’t really think about it too much at first, but after seeing it and thinking a bit about the name, I really enjoy the different ideas the title Prometheus can give you about certain things going on in the movie. I mean, most people from school will remember the story of Prometheus; the God who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity to help them prosper. Taking that into context, it says so much about certain elements of the story. First (the most obvious one since they refer to it in the movie) is the ship is called the Prometheus as a certain ego-trip Weyland had about defying the Gods and rising to their level.

Nathan: Brief aside on that, I’d recommend seeing the fake TED talk they did for Peter Weyland, gives you a better sense of the importance of that connection. I read an article that also really elaborated on the points of comparison between this film and the story of the titan Prometheus, which really cast a different light on a lot of small moments throughout the film. Will definitely impact my second screening.

Paul: Well, I mean the second interpretation I got was that strange substance that could create life was like the Mount Olympus fire that the Engineers (Prometheus in this case) tampered with when it wasn’t in their means to. I’d like to hear some of the things you read though and elaborate on those theories.

Nathan: Part of it was that very idea, that the life-creating substance was like fire in that it could be used for good or evil and how it is utilized is largely dependent on the maturity of the species using it. The Engineers understood that sacrifice was integral to creating life, hence why the one in the opening minutes of the film dies in order to create the building blocks of life on our (or another, it isn’t clear) planet. They don’t believe humanity has gotten to the point where they understand that death is a natural (and sometimes beautiful) part of the order of things, and Weyland is the personification of that stubborness. He is neither old nor young, he is a freakish abomination that refuses to die, and that he is the first human the Engineer sees upon being reawakened, his mistrust of humans is validated and he resumes his two thousand year old mission of trying to wipe us out so they can try again. That is the tip of the iceberg, the article also went into what may have scared the Engineers two thousand years ago (in a nutshell, the death of Space Jesus) and…yeah, its awesome. Really enhanced my thoughts on the whole film. Thanks to whomever you were, reddit poster, I think you’re really onto something.

Paul: Interesting thoughts and it would explain a lot more why Weyland was the way he was if he was essentially written to be the personification of all the insecurities we have as a species. I mean, we could spend all day talking about deeper contexts but I think we both know what’s more important than that… crazy space abortion machines.

Nathan: Well, multi-purpose self-surgery machine, but yeah, that scene was amazing. As I was seeing it, I felt like it was a conscious means of topping the chest-burster scene from Alien and I must tip my hat to Scott, you may well have pulled it off. Sure it shall be talked about years from now as a noteworthy horror sequence. Just…gross stuff, but perfectly put together.

Paul: …and what has to be one of Shaw’s better moments in the movie in general. Speaking of which, what was one or two of your favorite parts of this movie?

Nathan: Hmmm, just off the top of my head, the opening sequence we talked about, where the Engineer sacrifices himself for some unknown reason. Just weird, mysterious and large-scale sci-fi ideas on the screen. Love seeing that kind of stuff. A smaller scale moment that also stands out, is David taking care of the ship while everyone is in cryo-sleep. Him watching Shaw’s dreams especially, just an odd thing for a synthetic to do that hints at some higher intelligence or personality developing, perhaps. I just love pondering the existence of sentient AIs, and that whole section of the film gave me a bunch to mull over. Why did he watch Lawrence of Arabia? Why that quote? Was he programmed to like it or did he just gravitate towards it for his own reasons? In the TED talk Weyland quotes Lawrence as well, so maybe it is artificial? Lastly, it reminded me of the first half hour of Wall-E, but with Michael Fassbender. So high-fives all around, that`s awesome. How about yourself, what moments still linger in your mind now that it has had some time to digest?

Paul: The whole part where David is walking around alone on the ship gave me some crazy 2001: A Space Odyssey vibe that I was digging a lot. I guess in a way Lawrence of Arabia makes sense due to the historical importance of T.E. Lawrence and Weyland, having an obvious romanticized ideal of what our race can achieve, probably revered it in an egotistical way.

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Personally, I was going to say the opening scene too but just for a little variety my favorite aspect of the film in general is it still follows the tried and true formula of not showing the “monster” until the very end, making the moment the Engineer wakes up a pretty amazing one as opposed to if we just saw them hanging out the whole time. As for any specific scenes that stick in my mind I would easily have to say, as lame as it sounds, the minute they start landing on the planet and notice the alien structures. There is something about that scene that got my imagination going hardcore and got me all excited to see what they discovered, which is a pretty big task for a piece of fiction. As for something smaller, Fassbender-in-a-bag (patent pending) was great.

Nathan: They should make a sequel based on those lines. Anyway, I think there is more to say about the film but I think I need time to see it again, and perhaps see that upcoming Director’s Cut (really hope that is true and not just a rumor), so maybe we’ll do a follow-up when it is released on Blu-Ray. In the meantime though, I recommend seeing it on a big screen. Yeah, the narrative is a bit bumpy here and there but it looks awesome, there aren’t a lot of films out there that ask big questions like this and Fassbender is fantastic (oh, and Elba the Theron aren’t bad either). Oh, I guess don’t expect James Cameron’s Aliens, this film is nothing like that. Apparently some people hoped it would be a bit more action-packed or something.

Paul: That’s a ridiculous expectation, in my opinion. Either way, we’re in agreement on being able to recommend it. If you go see it, leave the crucifix at home.