09 June 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus. *SPOILER ALERT*

So, I saw Prometheus tonight. I know it's been out for a week or two in the rest of the world, but it just opened in North America, and it was one of the few movies that I wanted to see all summer, mostly because I've loved the whole Alien franchise since its inception. So, when I heard that Ridley Scott was building a prequel to his 1979 hit Alien, the movie that started it all, I was really quite excited.

Then I saw the movie.

Now, the movie itself wasn't bad. I mean, it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't spectacular either. It was basically a run-of-the-mill survival horror "haunted house" style movie that was shot beautifully, incredibly pretty, and one of the best applications of the 3D system I've seen since Avatar. It's obvious to me that the movie was filmed in steroscopic, rather than "3D'd" in post production like most films are these days.

The following plot summary is copied from Wikipedia. The original can be found here. The plot summary will be in italics, and my expansion and comments will be added in as we go.

A spacecraft arrives on Earth in the distant past. A humanoid alien drinks a dark liquid. Its body disintegrates and falls into a waterfall, seeding the planet with its DNA.

This scene is pretty straight forward. The movie doesn't give us any time referrence, but there's a giant saucer shaped ship lifting off the ground, and the alien, which looks distinctly humanesque, has with him this little vial of juice that starts dissolving his body when he drinks it. This is obviously a "Space Jockey" (referred to in the movie as an Engineer), and as he breaks down, he falls into the waterfall and disentigrates. The camera zooms in to show us new chains of DNA being formed from the shards of the alien's broken DNA. Fast foward to the future.

In 2089, archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway discover a star map among several unconnected ancient cultures. They interpret this as an invitation from humanity's forerunners, the "Engineers". Peter Weyland, the elderly founder of the Weyland Corporation, funds the creation of the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map to the distant moon LV-223. The ship's crew travels in stasis while the android David monitors their voyage. In 2093, the ship arrives, and its crew are informed of their mission to find the Engineers. Mission director Meredith Vickers orders them to avoid direct contact if the Engineers are found. The Prometheus lands near a structure and a team is sent to explore within.

My first issue with this is that Peter Weyland is declared the "aging founder" of Weyland Corp. Makes me wonder what happened to Charles Weyland from the AvP movie. I thought he was supposed to be the founder of Weyland Corporation, and that was back in 2004. So, right from the get-go, Prometheus breaks from established Alien canon. Anyway, the briefing the crew watches from Peter Weyland is recorded, and is said to have been recorded two years previous, and that Weyland was now dead. This mission is supposed to be his legacy, his way of contributing to the world in one last glorious way before his death, even though he wouldn't be around to see it.

Inside they find several stone cylinders, a monolithic statue of a humanoid head, and the decapitated corpse of a giant alien, thought to be one of the Engineers. They also take off their helmets as the air is breathable inside the structure, but this in turn alters the atmosphere inside and causes the cylinders to start leaking their contents. Other bodies are later found, and the species is presumed to be extinct. Shaw takes the head of the decapitated alien and David secretly takes a cylinder, while the remaining cylinders begin leaking dark liquid. A rapidly approaching storm forces the crew to return to Prometheus, leaving crew members Milburn and Fifield stranded in the structure.

Now, the thing I find most unbelievable about this part of the story is that a bunch of scientists, on a hostile world, in an alien structure, surrounded by the bodies of dead creatures, decide to take off their helmets and start touching stuff. Seems to me that either these are the stupidest smart people Weyland could find, or the writers didn't know how to trigger a crisis without stretching plausibility. And, of course, the two crewmen who get left behind (Fifeild, a geologist, and Milburn, a botanist) are so because they decide that now that they've taken off their helmets and touched everything, it was the perfect time to decide they weren't needed and wander off back to the ship. Somehow, on their way back, they get lost, which makes no sense, because Fifeild started the exploration by sending out a handfull of floating probes to map the structure, and he's the one with the map.

So, anyway, the other four or five people decide that they're gonna crack open this sealed room, with their helmets off and breathing on everything, and when they break the seal, the influx of atmosphere begins causing all the stuff inside to start breaking down. Murals on the walls start corroding, all these little bio-chem cylinders start leaking, and of course, the dead Engineer's decapitated head (which they date to being two thousand years old) starts melting. In a panic, Shaw vacuum seals the head for maximum freshness and tosses it in her bag. This is also when David, while everyone is freaking out about the head, stealthily tips a canister of meltygoo into his duffel. Then the captain back on the ship calls to tell them that a storm is racing in, and they have ten minutes to get back to the ship.

Now, I'm no meteorologist, and I'm definately not a xeno-meteorologist, but I'm pretty sure that storms don't just swarm up nearly instantly like that, and I'm pretty sure that a giant spaceship filled with sensors would be able to pick up the storm from a little further off than ten minutes. Anyway, so everyone but the two lost guys jump on their little dune buggies and race back to the ship. But, just as they're driving up the ramp, the bag with the Engineer's head pops out of Shaw's grasp and goes rolling off into the dust. In a panic, she jumps off the back of the buggy, runs into the swirling sandstorm, grabs the bag, and then the winds pick her up and blow her away. David, the android, has to tether himself to the ship and run out to rescue her. As a group, they all follow the tether back into the cargo bay and shut the door. This is when they realise that they're missing two people. Oh well.

In the ship, the Engineer's DNA is analyzed and found to match that of humans. Meanwhile, David investigates the cylinder and discovers the dark liquid. He intentionally infects Holloway with the substance. Later, Shaw and Holloway have sex. Inside the structure, Fifield and Milburn are attacked by snake-like creatures. These have come from some sort of worm in the ground that are transformed after exposure to the dark liquid. Milburn is killed, and corrosive fluid from one of the creatures melts Fifield's helmet, exposing him to the leaking dark liquid.

So, this part is fun. Shaw and Ford (the medic) decide to examine the dead Engineer head. Without masks, gloves or any kind of quarantine measures, they just pop open the helmet and start poking it. They actually stab it with an electrode and introduce current to the brain to "trick it into thinking it's still alive". Shaw never explains why she wants to do this, but the head reacts, starts twitching out, and then begins to bubble and melt. That's when they decide that they should probably be wearing masks, and they close a containment enclosure around the head just in time to contain the resulting explosion as the head splatters the walls of the box. Oh well, not all is lost. They take some of the mess, test it for DNA and find it to be a near perfect match to human DNA.

Now, I'm not a geneologist, but I'm pretty sure that DNA differs from person to person, so I was a little confused about how a sample from an alien who's been dead for two thousand years can match the sample from a modern human. I mean, I guess you could believe that the structure of DNA from human to human remains the same and that's what they were comparing, but since I don't know enough about the science, I can't be sure. But it sounds wrong to me, and this was one more instance when I had to suspend my disbelief. I mean, I accept evolution as the method by which life on Earth developed into the multitudes of species we have, and even on earth we have wildly differing DNA profiles between species. The premise of the movie is that the DNA of the Engineer race was used to seed all of Earth, so wouldn't it have similarities to all terrestrial DNA, not just human? And the fact that it's an identical, perfect match....

Back in the 'catacombs', where the tunnels are so twisty that even the guy with the map and the scanner probes can't find his way out, the two stranded scientists find themselves back in the sealed room with the leaking cylinders. Now, apparently, there are worms in the dirt on the floor of this room, and the fluid from the canisters has mutated them into giant snakelike creatures. Milburn, the botanist, decides that the best thing to do when encountering one of these creatures it to try to pet it. He gets close, its head opens up like a cobra hooding, and he reaches out to poke it. Now, I'm not a herpetologist, but I've seen Indiana Jones. Poking a creature who's trying to make itself look bigger is usually a bad idea, particularly if you don't know WHAT it is. But, I guess they don't have Crocadile Hunter reruns in the future and our friendly neighbourhood botanist pokes the snake. It bites his hand, wraps around his arm, constricts it until it snaps, and then uses the resulting hole caused by the burst bone to enter his suit, where it makes its way into his helmet and rams itself down his throat. Throughout this whole ordeal, the geologist, Fifield, panicks, trips, and lands face first in the fluid, which by this time has created little puddles and rivulets all over the room. The fuild melts his helmet, his face, and presumably his brain as well. Bye bye to two scientists who were little more than glorified Redshirts.

So, back on the ship, while Shaw and Ford are playing with the head, the android, David, decides to use some of the fluid from his secret bio-chem cylinder to infect Holloway, Shaw's lover. Holloway gets randy, goes to see his lady-love, and they enjoy some friendly affectionate time. This is when Shaw reveals that she's sterile, which makes no sense at the time, but the fact needs establishing for further plot developments. Afterwards, Holloway goes to a mirror, and sees a tiny worm crawling out of his eyeball, and he freaks out. Before he can really react, though, the captain calls again and says that the storm has passed and that they could go back outside.

The crew returns to the structure and finds Milburn's corpse. David discovers a room containing an Engineer in stasis and a star map highlighting Earth. Holloway's infection rapidly ravages his body, and he is rushed back to Prometheus. Vickers refuses to let him aboard, and immolates him at his own request. While David attends to her, a medical scan reveals that Shaw, despite being sterile, is pregnant with an alien offspring. Escaping crew who intend to put her into cryogenic stasis, Shaw uses an automated surgery table to cut it from her abdomen. Weyland is found to have been in stasis aboard Prometheus, and he explains to Shaw that he intends to ask the Engineers to prevent his death from old age.

This is where a lot of the story loses itself. So, the crew return to find Milburn's dead body, but there's no sign of Fifield, and while they're freaking out about what could have killed him, David wanders off to find another sealed room. He breaks in, cuts his video feed to the ship, and starts touching stuff, triggering a sort of....log of what last happened in the command room. He discovers that, for whatever reason, the Engineers had decided to eliminate all life on Earth, the life they had kickstarted, and recolonise the planet for themselves. But the bioweapon they planned to use was released on their ship by accident, and that's why they were now all dead. All accept one, whom David finds in stasis, alive and healthy. With this information, he decides to return to the crew and finds them over Milburns death and now all panicking over Holloway's advancing infection.

Holloway is all discoloured, his skin greying and melting in patches, much like the Engineer at the beginning of the movie was, and in a state of slow distintegration. The crew decide to take him back to the ship for treatment, but Vickers, the mission commander, recognises the threat and refuses to allow him on board. Understanding that he's dying anyway, Holloway asks that Vickers set him on fire with a flamethrower, much to the dismay of Shaw. Then they all reboard the ship to consider their next move.

Now, since Holloway was obviously infected, David decides to examine Shaw, presuming that she had had intimate contact with him after being infected. A medical scan reveals that she's not only pregnant, but three month's pregnant, an apparent impossibility because Shaw was sterile. Realising that the gestating embryo was most likely some kind of mutated hybrid that was rapidly maturing, David decides that Shaw needs to be put into statis, so that the embryo can be harvested back on Earth. Shaw disagrees, and flees. She makes her way to an automated surgery table, programs it to cut her open, and extracts the gestating embryo.

Now, I'm not an obstetrician, but I'm pretty sure that a caesarean section surgery incision is about four centimetres long, and generally done just above the pudendal cleft. Whether horizontal or vertical, it's a fairly small incision, and it is generally done far below the navel. However, the automated surgery bay in which Shaw is manually C-Sectioning herself cuts a wide, 20 centimetre gash from hip to hip across her navel. Now, I dunno if this was done so the actress could still be wearing her underwear and avoid LOLFANSERVICE, or whether the writers honestly didn't think the audience would either notice or care, but I've seen enough combat movies to understand that a wide abdominal gash like that is usually fatal.

Anyway, so the robotic surgery bay cuts her open, fishes around in her innards for a while, and pulls out an octopus looking thing about the size of a basketball. It has four tentacles and a bulbous head, much like an octopus does. Oh, and complete with an umbilical cord, that Shaw simply reaches into her gaping wound to grasp and yank out. Again, I'm not an obstetrician, but I'm pretty sure that kind of trauma can cause all sorts of uteral problems. So, the robot surgery bay sews her wound shut, tosses in a few heavy duty staples for good measure, and kicks her out of the bed. During this whole episode, the 'embryo' is thrashing around in the mechanical forceps, so Shaw closes the conatinment capsule on the bed, and orders a "decontamination purge". The capsule fills with hissing gas, and the embryo stops thrashing.

Despite recently being the subject of a fairly invasive surgical procedure, Shaw throws on a bathrobe and goes for a jog around the ship. She stumbles into a room where David and two medtechs are assisting an elderly Peter Weyland from his stasis tube. Apparenlty, the old guy has been with the ship the whole time. Not dead, just sleeping, waiting for confirmation that there's still an Engineer alive and available to for conversation. So now we discover Weyland's true motives. He's afraid to die, and so, funded this whole expedition to find the 'creators of life on Earth' and beg them to save his life. Yay. Here's the prequisite "Corporations are Evil" motive for which the Alien franchise is known.

A mutated Fifield comes back to life and attacks the hangar bay and kills several crew members before being killed himself. Janek theorizes that the structure was part of an Engineer military base that lost control of a biological weapon, the dark liquid. Weyland and a team return to the structure and awaken the Engineer, who is discovered to be the pilot of an Engineer spaceship. David speaks to the Engineer, who responds by decapitating him and killing Weyland and others.

So, with Weyland up and about, and Shaw apparently miraculously recovered, the remaining crewmen decide to go back to the structure and talk to ol' Jockey McSleepy-pants. As they lower the egress ramp, they find the contorted body of Fifield, who suddenly starts jumping around like a spider, bursting out of his spacesuit like something from Resident Evil, and smacking crewmen around. Gunfire erupts, flamethrowers go off, and after four people get torn to shreds, Fifield-zombie-mutant gets burned to ash and finally stops murdering people. It was by this time that I was feeling a little bored with the whole thing. The movie had devolved from being an epic prequel story that would answer all the questions that Alien fans have had since 1979 into a run of the mill slasher monster flick. But, hey, I held out hope. They still had a living breathing Space Jockey to encounter, and thus, the possibility that those questions would be answered was still in existence.

So, Weyland, David, Ford and Shaw all go to the Engineer stasis room and pop the hatch on the pod. The Engineer wakes up, looks around, and all the humans start babbling at him. Shaw starts demanding why they decided to exterminate their planet after having seeded it so many eons earlier, and Weyland starts demanded to be saved from old age. David, however, is the only one who can actually speak to the Engineer in his own language, and so he says something, presumably translating for Weyland. We weren't given a translation, but whatever it was, the Engineer understood it, took offence, and reacts by ripping David in half. Then he grabs Weyland and smashes him into the floor, before pouncing on Ford and turning her into paste too. Shaw flees and the Engineer does not pursue. However, he decides that, hey, since he's awake, he might as well complete the mission that they all started out to do, and activates the computer systems in the statis room. This is when we discover that the room isn't actually a room, it's the bridge of a buried spaceship that had been docked in an underground hanger. The Engineer activates the cockpit, revealing the iconic chair-with-a-telescope that we all know from the movie Alien. He sits down, and a helmet and spacesuit fold around him, sealing him in the chair.

Shaw escapes the Engineer spaceship as the pilot reactivates the vessel and prepares the launch cycle. The still-active David reveals that the pilot intends to complete the previous mission and release the dark liquid on Earth. Shaw desperately convinces Janek to stop the Engineer ship before it can succeed. He crashes Prometheus into it while Vickers ejects from the ship along with a lifeboat. The Prometheus is destroyed and the disabled Engineer ship crashes onto the planet, killing Vickers. Shaw goes to Vickers' lifeboat to replenish her oxygen supply, but while retrieving supplies, she finds that the creature she removed from her body is still trapped in the surgery bay and has grown to tremendous size. David warns Shaw by radio that the Engineer Pilot has survived the crash just moments before he breaks in and attacks her; she opens the surgical bay door and the creature attacks the Engineer Pilot, allowing her to escape. After a struggle, the creature thrusts a tentacle down the Engineer's throat, subduing it. Shaw recovers David's remains, and with his knowledge of Engineer navigation systems, she commandeers another Engineer ship from an adjacent pyramid to travel to the Engineers' homeworld in an attempt to understand why they created humanity and later attempted to destroy it; she transmits a final message to Earth warning them to avoid LV-233 at all costs.

So, wincing occasionally and grabbing her belly to show that she's still feeling the effects of her major surgery, Shaw begins to climb and run and jump and dodge her way out of the structure and the spaceship like a spider monkey, leaping across chasms as the ground breaks away beneath her and climbing up slippery rock ledges. She finally gets free just in time to see the Engineer ship, the iconic horseshoe ship from both the Alien and Aliens movies, lift off from the underground hanger and pull away into space. Janek, Promethues' captain, realises that the ship cannot be allowed to get away, and so he tells Vickers, the mission commander, to get into the lifeboat and get away. As soon as she ejects, Janek flies Prometheus into the Engineer ship, cause both ships to crash back to the planet's surface. The lifeboat, however, doesn't get far, and ends up crashing as well.

Now realising that she's out on a barren rock with limited oxygen and no more Prometheus to fly her home, Shaw runs to the downed lifeboat, thinking to use it to escape. Inside, she replenishes her suit's oxygen, and walks past the medical bay with the automated surgery table that she used to cut out her mutantbabything. She notices through the window that the casing on the containment pod is shattered, and realising that the creature must be free inside the medbay, decides to flee the lifeboat.

BUT SHE CAN'T, because suddenly, the Engineer who was piloting the ship that they just crashed, survived and is coming to look for her. She flees, finds herself trapped by the door to the medbay, and, in order to save herself from the Engineer's rage, releases the mutantembryo from the bay. It leaps out of the medbay and tackles the Engineer, all tentacles and rage, and in the confusion, Shaw flees the lifeboat. The embryo overpowers the Engineer, and rams a tentacle down his throat, wrapping itself around him like a parady of a proto-facehugger.

This is when David convinces Shaw that they should just hijack one of the Engineer's other ships that they have hangered under the ground there and flee. So Shaw runs off, collects David, and decides to take one of the ships back to the Engineer home planet.

Now, it was right up until this point that I was still hoping the movie would pay off, that it would still somehow tie Prometheus into Alien. And then....

In the lifeboat, an alien creature with jet-black skin and an elongated skull bursts out of the dying Engineer's chest and flexes a set of binary jaws. The End.


I mean, they had everything set up nearly perfectly to tie into Alien.

Horseshoe ship? Check.
Impregnated Space Jockey? Check.

All they needed to do was take the Impregnated Space Jockey, wake him up, walk his ass over to the ship, fly it off again, and then have the Alien burst from his chest while he was sitting in the cockpit-telescope, have the ship crash on LV-426, and the Alien molt into a queen and start laying all the eggs needed for the Nostromo crew to find. I mean, was that too much to ask for?

This movie has so many things wrong with it that you have to really stretch your suspension of disbelief and lower your expectations if you're gonna get anything out of it. I mean, it basically says that Shaw's protofacehugger embryobaby is the progenitor of the Xenomorph species.

But, it doesn't answer any of the questions that we've had since we first saw the derelict ship in Alien. In fact, it raised quite a few more, and contradicts quite a bit of established canon. Maybe I don't know it all, but to my understanding, The Engineers/Space Jockies/Progeniters created both Humans and Predators. We know from the Alien vs Predator franchise that the Predators had been hunting the Aliens as prized prey more than six thousand years earlier, so if the protofacehugger was supposed to be the first of the Xenomorphs, it's about six thousand years too late.

So, I dunno, maybe my assumption that this movie would show us where the ship from Alien came from, where the eggs came from, and how the Xenomorphs actually started, is where I went wrong. The movie is pretty, it's one of the most beautifully shot movies I've seen in a long time. It has great set peices, beautiful costumes, and realistic 3D that won't make you carsick.

But the story....really falls flat. If you're in the mood for a popcorn flick, this is good, but if you're looking for a movie that ties in well with the Alien mythology...you'll be disappointed. As a friend of mine said: Ridley Scott is a great storyteller, but he cut his teeth on an audience who wasn't as well versed in science as the average moviegoer is today, and the radical leaps in logic that the story makes in order to stitch everything together is a blatant assault on the intellect of the people who're watching it. For more than half the movie I found myself asking with incredulity whether we were seriously supposed to believe what they were saying, or if the movie was making fun of us.

This is AngryDuck!, nerdraging about Prometheus.

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