Thursday, August 9, 2012

Prometheus: Big Ideas Made Dull

$130 million and all you can come up with is that we were created by muscular white dudes with waxed chests?

Let's keep this quick and painless and cut straight to the point: the $16 I spent to see Prometheus in 3D (and, sorry Andrew, I dragged you into a $16 expense along with me) was money almost totally wasted. Even the 3D, which could have made the movie at least a visual spectacle, sucked. The best 3D part of the film was the little ad with a dog fetching a ball to promote the 3D company that came before the movie started. After that - nothing.

To be charitable this felt like a three or four hour movie that was corseted into two hours and a bit (though, including the 20 minutes of advertisements trying to sell me every mobile product made by Samsung, the movie felt looong). But that's not my fault - that's the job of the director: to get a film that can be shot and make sense within the time slot of the theatre. Perhaps Ridley Scott had an eye towards the "director's cut" on an as-yet-to-be-released DVD.

Whatever the cause, the movie ended up being two hours of dragging incoherence. It takes us well into the second act to even know for certain who the protagonist is. There are so many actors that all of them feel truncated and flat, not helped by the fact that their lines are often painfully wooden and false. Charlize Theron seemed to have been given about three lines, which she dutifully repeated when ever she came onscreen. And when they weren't struggling through their lines, the actors were expected to change unexpectedly and without motivation from scene to scene. Dr. Charlie Holloway, who starts the film as a bit of a galomphing puppy, exuberant and enthusiastic about their discovery, is suddenly transformed into a sullen drinker, a bit mean-spirited towards David, the humanoid robot. Then he is back to being his puppy dog self again - and sober enough seduce his partner, Noomi Rapace, who plays Elizabeth Shaw.

And then there are the cheap thrills a la B-horror films. You know the ones where the character about to die goes down into the dark basement where there has just been the sounds of someone getting slaughtered? So, a biologist puts his hand literally in the mouth of an alien lifeform that is a cross between a king cobra, a lamprey eel and a penis. Such people, of course, deserve to die the horrible death that awaits them. I mean, not like "don't touch the mysterious, possibly deadly animal" isn't the first lesson they teach you in university biology. And how about when the giant alien croissant, I mean spaceship, is rolling across the ground towards you: run perpendicular to the damn thing, not in the same direction. It might make a better shot but we all know it's plain dumb. It's hard enough to believe that a spaceship would crash from the sky, land on its edge and then roll like a coin just fell out of God's pocket without adding in cartoonish behaviour. But hey, this is Ridley's movie and if he wants rolling spaceships, dammit, then he's gonna have them.

Speaking of "visual grandeur" - mentioned as a compelling element of the film in the Rotten Tomatoes summary of the reviews (it got 73%?!? One more reason to have no respect for reviewers)... It's time we stopped giving directors credit for "visual grandeur" when they have a $100 million plus budget. It's almost impossible to not have a striking visual backdrop. Half the games on my Xbox have "visual grandeur" of the same scope. Can we not stop being impressed by shiny things, even once they are absolutely everywhere?

OK, but what about the "big ideas" that everyone talks about. Ooh, but it's so deep. Uh, nope. This is the usual Batman phenomenon where the studio marketing department creates buzzwords to describe the movie, lazy journalists pick it up and spread it, and then the rest of us shmucks absorb it into our vocabulary and repeat it. "Batman is dark and brooding..." No, it isn't. It's a shlocky superhero movie about a rich guy who runs around in a rubber suit talking like a phone perv. He never hurts anyone who doesn't "deserve" it. He's charming, etc. The Watchman? Now that was dark, if flawed. They use their powers to hurt people, intentionally and unintentionally.

So, what are Prometheus' big ideas? "Why are we here?" Sure, that's a big question but don't look for any answers or even suggestions at answers. It's just a question, hanging in the air, like "hey, where can I buy a coffee around here?" You don't get to claim you're deep unless you try to answer the question, even if you fail. Say it with me: The. Emperor. Has. No. Clothes.

In the end I suppose it was a prescient question because it was precisely the one that Andrew and I asked as we sat in our seats watching $130 million worth of dull movie (and $32 of our hard-earned money) go up in flames. "Why are we here?" Indeed.
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