Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Prometheus Redux

...or flogging a dead horse.

(Warning - I assume people reading this have seen the film. Not massively spoiler-y, but I do talk about ideas in the film that wouldn't be familiar to a non-viewer)

It takes a lot to make me change my mind about something, especially a film. If my endless posts about 60s Hammer films are anything to go by, I am extremely forgiving but when I don't take to something, I really don't. If I have to watch Mulholland Drive again, there had better be a stone cold cash incentive.

Which brings me back to Prometheus. I've written a bit about Prometheus before, to highlight the use of 'good' and 'bad' ambiguity (quick recap for those who don't want to read that link, 'good' ambiguity is when something is left to your imagination, but doesn't detract from the overall plot or atmosphere and 'bad' ambiguity is when you rely on the audience to fill in plot holes with their own speculations).

The way I viewed Prometheus was that it could have, should have, but didn't quite. It was probably my biggest disappointment for 2012, although it was competing with The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and Pirates! so the bar was set pretty high. It was also compared frequently and favourably to Alien which is a terrible idea around me because it does set my expectations a bit higher than usual (understatement).

So now nearly a year on, I returned to it, having forgotten some of it, remembered other bits, with a vague sense of unease and a fresh pair of eyes at my side(1). And here's the twist. I liked it a lot more this time around. Now, if pushed, I would put it somewhere around the middle of the pack - beneath both Alien and Aliens, about on a level with Alien Resurrection, better than Alien 3 and a LOT better than AvP and AvP: Requiem.

So what changed my mind?

Basically, I approached Noomi Rapace's character in a completely different way. In my first viewing, she came across as almost the sympathetic protagonist. This is a mistake. She, along with Mr. Weyland, are zealots. Fools chasing a dream of religious enlightenment and immortality, respectively. The way the Engineer reacted annoyed me the first time. This time, however, he came across as a creature awakened by pests. His reaction is foreshadowed in an exchange earlier in the film with David the android:

Charlie Holloway: We made you cause we could.
David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?

For all of the metaphysical stuff thrown about in the film (one of Weyland's questions is about what happens when we die - a ludicrously optimistic question) we are eventually shown to be a science experiment - one that has either run its course, or has been deemed a failure. A bit of a blow to the ego, really, after centuries of theological and philosophical speculation.

Seen in this light, the Engineer at the beginning of the film suddenly becomes not a heroic figure, but rather a scientist sacrificing himself for an experiment. Ultimately this is a very nihilistic view of humanity. There is no God, no greater purpose. We exist because others could create us for the sake of creating us. They think they owe us nothing as their creations

I criticized the film for having ideas that go nowhere. On closer examination, they do, they go Nowhere. The result is rather Lovecraftian - we are at the mercy of forces that are utterly beyond our comprehension and technological reach. We are alone in an uncaring void. 

It is a strangely touching moment, then, when two minor characters vow to continue their bet on the Other Side before sacrificing themselves, the movie having spent the majority of its length viciously deconstructing that very idea.

Having said that though, some of the acting is still dodgy. There are still far too many characters, and the ending still makes no sense (let's go find the people who clearly want to kill us!) BUT I like it a lot more now than I did.

Mark this day for I am a stubborn bastard. (2)


(1) I didn't really go too much into David's character in this because Lilly has done a pretty good job of describing my impressions of him. One thing to add, however, is that he reminds me a hell of a lot of HAL 9000 (I'm afraid a can't do that, Dave), progressing through deception up to curiosity and murder. The difference is that David reaches the end of his emotional journey, whereas HAL gets unceremoniously unplugged.

(2) Alien is still better though...

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