"After all the strenuous philosophizing that came before, the ending’s floppy irresolution feels less like a sophisticated embrace of ambiguity than like a profound cosmic cop-out."
"But the virtuosity on display makes the weakness of the story -- the screenplay is by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof -- all the more frustrating. I'll avoid spoilers here, but 'Prometheus' kind of spoils itself with twists and reversals that pull the movie away from its lofty, mind-blowing potential. Geeks and dreamers will hold onto scraps of splendor and wish for more. There are no revelations, only what are called, in the cynical jargon of commercial storytelling, 'reveals,' bits of momentarily surprising information bereft of meaning or resonance. For example: A sequel is coming."
"Then there’s the fact that every nuance and hint and unanswered conundrum raised in the 'Alien' prehistory concocted by screenwriters Damon Lindelof (a co-creator of 'Lost') and Jon Spaihts will be endlessly debated and dissected by fans after they see the movie. ... And I shouldn’t spend too much time observing, for instance, that the whole thing seems to resolve into a cynical hodgepodge of bogus science and even more bogus theology, all of it crafted with an eye to fueling further sequels. ... OK! Clearly the only reasonable explanation of the mysterious pattern discovered by Shaw and Holloway is that giant geezers from space planted the seeds of humanity on Earth eons ago, and then came back bazillions of years later just to convince preliterate civilizations to leave behind invitations for us to come visit when we were all grown up. Then they left again, barely an eyelash ago in planetary time, maybe just to pick up some smokes or collect the many-tentacled kids from day care. Look, I realize that Lindelof and Spaihts got paid a lot of money to develop the 'mythology' of this universe, and they’re probably convinced they’ve gotten all its clues and feints and subterfuges worked out. But there’s about 17 kinds of nonsense just in the setup for 'Prometheus,' before we even get to the main action."
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Spaihts; Damon Lindelof
Prequel to Ripley: Noomi Rapace
Sequel to HAL: Michael Fassbender
Enjoys alcohol, archaeology, and mocking androids: Logan Marshall-Green
Sweet make-up bro: Guy Pearce
Remember when you were in Thor and had like...two facial expressions?: Idris Elba
HE LOVES ROCKS: Sean Harris
Lonely: Rafe Spall
Starting to become type-cast? or was she already type-cast?: Charlize Theron
What It's Good For:
-use of landscape
-Noomi and Fassbender
-referencing other movies
-SEEING IN 3D
-inspiring long diatribes about Damon Lindelof
-the payoff is more about setting up Alien than making this film interesting
-Guy Pearce's yeti face
-the decisions some characters make
Here's my thesis.
Damon Lindelof is EXCELLENT at creating mystery by presenting details that lead to questions, but he is AWFUL at resolving these questions.
How do I define "AWFUL at resolving these questions"? I mean that the hype Lindelof creates by way of mystery/question, the kind of thing that makes a viewer go "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON!? WHY IS THERE A POLAR BEAR ON AN ISLAND?!?!?!?!? MUST KEEP WATCHING!!", is never met with a resolution that viewers agree is satisfactory.
I'm not saying everyone always has to agree. Especially immediately. At first, people didn't agree Fight Club is amazing. Today, if you say "I think Fight Club is a bad movie," most people will think you're an idiot (if you say "I don't like Fight Club," that's a totally different statement since the second is your opinion toward the movie and the first an assessment of the movie).
If we can't agree on whether or not the conclusion of Lost was good or bad, or if Cowboys & Aliens is good or bad, or if Prometheus is great or not great, there's one thing we can probably agree on:
Neither Lost, Cowboys & Aliens, nor Prometheus are as good as people had hoped they would be.
And, yeah, I'll play my own Devil's Advocate: "a lot of movies and TV shows aren't as good as they could be. It's not like Damon is the only one who does this."
You're right, Me. I'm not saying "DAMON IS THE ONLY WRITER EVER WHO DOESN'T DELIVER THE GOODS." He's not even the only writer on these projects. On both movies and the TV show, Lindelof wrote with other people.
I'm making the point that: maybe Damon Lindelof is another writer who doesn't deliver the goods.
So here he is getting all kinds of money and participating in these big projects--Cowboys had a budget of $160 million, Prom is around $130 million, and the upcoming Star Trek sequel is probably about $150 million--and I'm not sure he should be.
I don't think he can finish. If he were a pitcher, he wouldn't be a closer. And if he were a starting pitcher, he's one who hasn't, thus far in his career, thrown a complete game.
It's great for a movie or TV show to generate questions. This is what we call "the hook". Something happens and it makes us think "what's going on?" It's in order to generate this hook that many movies begin in media res ("in the middle of things"). Like Limitless, or Fight Club. But also like Casino Royale starting with the brief scene of Bond killing a MI6 traitor. Or Fast Five starting with the breaking of Vin Diesel out of the police van.
Actually, I'm of the mindset that it's impossible to not start in media res. But, generally speaking, it's when you start with a high-point of action. So someone is holding a gun in someone's mouth, or someone is standing on a skyscraper's ledge preparing to jump, or someone kills someone, or there's a car chase, or we're in the middle of a wedding, or a joust, or an interview, or with Trinity being chased by Agent Smith. I guess not in media res would be...starting with a low-point of action (even though no matter where you start you're starting in the middle of something, I think), like...someone sleeping, or the sun rising, or a kid waking up and eating breakfast, or someone explaining the jobs their parents have.
Lost starts with a guy jolting awake from a plane crash. Cowboys & Aliens starts with a guy jolting awake from some event. And Prometheus begins with a jolting disintegration. In each instance, we're immediately asking questions that go beyond the basic "who is this?" and "where are we?". In Lost we're asking what caused the plane crash, are there survivors, how many survivors are there, where is this island? In C&A we're asking how did he get injured, what is the weird thing on his wrist? In Prometheus we're asking what is this thing, is it a person, what is the black liquid, is it a he, why is he drinking the black liquid, what is the black liquid doing, where is that spaceship from, what just happened?
Questions not only in film but in TV, in literature, in any narrative, are the driving force behind a plot. With the most forceful question usually being "What's going to happen next?!?!"
Law & Order is the longest running crime-drama in TV history. 20 years. And it's formula was simple: create questions, start answering questions. By the end of almost every show, we have answers to every relevant question.
By the end of every movie, TV series, or book, we can answer the question "what happened?".
But we can't always answer "why did that happen?".
Now. I think "what happens" is way more important than "why". Say we have two movies. And both end with a kiss. Why do the characters kiss? Because they love each other. In the first film, we have DiCaprio and Julia Roberts kissing. In the second film, we have George Clooney and Brad Pitt kissing. Why both couples are kissing is the same. But there'd be way more buzz about Clooney and Pitt kissing. It's common, in film, for a guy and a girl to kiss. It's still uncommon for guys to kiss guys, or girls to kiss girls. It's especially uncommon for Clooney to kiss a man, or for Pitt to kiss a man. They have never kissed each other in a movie. And they're two of the biggest movie stars in existence. Which means What is happening is rare.
Furthering this notion.
What is happening? A girl is trying to kill another girl.
It's pretty difficult to "differentiate" revenge. It's a word that describes an emotion. You can change why someone is seeking revenge, but that doesn't change the fact why this girl is trying to kill another girl is revenge. Which means you differentiate WHY with WHAT. And part of WHAT is WHERE and HOW.
This is why we see escalation within a genre. The horror genre is a perfect example. In Halloween, Michael Myers killed people with a big knife. This sets a bar. If you're going to have a character murder people with a big knife, you better do it better or do it differently or you didn't hurdle the bar (and in an Olympic hurdling event that's considered a fault; you can't win a medal if you don't even jump over the bar). So in Friday the 13th, which came out 2 years after Halloween, there is another killer whose preferred weapon is a knife, except this time the killer is not a big scary dude but a mother driven to murder by her enormous grief. Then, two years after that, we get A Nightmare on Elm Street where the killer doesn't just use a knife, he has knives for fingers! TOUCHE!
Alien jumped the bar for horror movies by making the killer a terrifying alien and setting the movie in space. Did we have to know why the alien existed? Not so much. Why?
That brings us to "three degrees of 'questions' in narrative".
1. Questions that are answered.
2. Questions that aren't explicitly answered but there's enough information to figure out an answer or at least an hypothesis.
3. Questions we can't answer nor form a hypothesis about due to lack of information or conflicting information.
Scott's own Blade Runner brings up a bunch of questions (who are the Replicants, what are they doing) as it progresses, and answers most of the questions as we progress (These 4, they want more time to live because they have a limited life cycle). But also questions that aren't explicitly answered but we have enough information to make hypotheses that make sense. Like: how does J.F. Sebastian have toys that walk around and say hello? The answer isn't explicit. But, we can say "It's the future, there are flying cars and androids, I guess the technology for talking humanoid toys also exists." If Blade Runner took place in Rome in 126 B.C., and there were toys that could walk around and say hello, and this wasn't a time travel movie, or a satire, I'd be in total disbelief. I couldn't accept any answer.
In Inception, we don't know if the top falls or not. It's a second degree question because we can search the film and formulate ideas. "It is a dream because of..." or "It isn't a dream because of...". I addressed a second degree question in the inquiry about The Ides of March. Why did one guy shoot the other guy in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? There's information explaining that as well.
What is more important than Why because a viewer, in a movie, is seeing. What you're seeing makes you ask Why. If you don't care about what you're seeing, if it's not interesting to you, you won't ask Why.
This is why "mindless entertainment" works. The What is way more important than Why. Sometimes you don't need to know Why. TV Shows like Hoarders. We don't need to know why these people hoard, just that they DO. We're interested in seeing what they're hoarding, and the visual imagery of the hoarding. Could you imagine if each episode spent 15 minutes showing a professor who explained why hoarders hoard? And it was basically the same information each time? This why becomes boring. Compare it to the visuals of the hoarding, and the why loses out.
I believe every story should answer its questions. Maybe not always explicitly, but every detail is at least somehow justifiable. 2001: A Space Odyssey offers nearly zero explicit "whys". We're left to sort through the collected images and make sense of what happened. And plausible answers present themselves. There are enough clues we can begin to make sense of what we watched.
They key thing about 2001, one of the most mysterious movies of all time, is that it underplays the mystery that drives the plot forward. The plot itself does not focus on "what the hell is that stone slab?" We see the apes are curious about it, but they can't ask "what the hell is this?" because they don't have anything resembling spoken language. We only see their curiosity for a few seconds. In the next section, discussion by the Important People about the monolith is brief. In the HAL section, there is no black monolith. In the final section, we see another monolith orbiting a planet, then the monolith at the foot of Bowman's bed, but Bowman is in no condition to ask any questions. In a 140/160 minute movie, we spend something like 95% of the time wondering what the monolith is. BUT CHARACTERS IN THE MOVIE SPEND LESS THAN .01% DISCUSSING WHAT THE THING IS. Which means the emphasis of the film is on What's happening and not Why.
The danger with Lindelof is that he pushes ALL THE FOCUS on the Why, on the Mystery.
Have you watched Lost? The characters aren't just focused on what is happening (surviving on the Island) and what they want to happen (leaving the Island), they are constantly asking why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why.
And in Cowboys & Aliens the main character is suffering from amnesia and has an alien device on his wrist. So the main character, while being concerned with what's happening in the present, is also concerned with whys, is beset by flashbacks, is as equally interested in the Mystery of his past.
And Prometheus has a bunch of characters asking why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why. And we're going why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why. They all want to know what happened in the past.
When creating hype from mystery, you're then putting pressure on the Reveal. It's like in Signs when the aliens are hidden for most of the movie. WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE? When I finally saw, I...was let down. That was it? What the aliens were didn't seem impressive enough to hide. Why hide them at all? To build tension? Okay, fine. But then why show them?
In Lost, the first four seasons focused on creating Mystery via exciting Whats (polar bear on island, shady organization in ruins, hatches, monster, others, super powered others, whispering, a galleon). But as the Whats built up, the characters became more concerned with Whys. "Why are we here?" "Why do I have to press this button?" "Why did that guy have super strength?" "Why does my son have telekinetic powers?" "Why is there a smoke monster?" The HOW we mentioned earlier as part of WHAT becomes part of WHY when asked by the characters who are reflecting as opposed to preparing. "What is that smoke monster?" "How did we get here?"
The last two seasons of Lost tried to create plausible explanations for the all the crazy Whys from the first four seasons. This is why this is like this. This is why this happened. This is why he was here then. etc. etc. etc.
In other words, Lost's climax was the answer to Why, to the Mystery.
And I think it's really hard for the Explicit Answers to Mysteries to be as good as the Mystery. And I think when you try to explain Mystery, especially the elaborate as fuck Mystery that drives Lost, the danger is the What of the Answers isn't as interesting as the Why of the Mystery. And this is especially damaging when the climax of a plot IS THE WHY. Because the climax, the thing the entire movie builds to, is lackluster when compared to the rest of the movie. This could have a thematic purpose, which is why we have the anti-climax; but anti-climaxes can be unintentional as well.
Was the reality that the Island Monster was a Smoke Monster as cool as the first season when the Island Monster could have been a dinosaur or anything? When we found out it was a Smoke Monster was the history of the Smoke Monster cooler than the Mystery of there simply being a Smoke Monster? Why not start with the birth of the Smoke Monster and move forward? Is the source of Daniel Craig's amnesia in Cowboys & Aliens that exciting it had to be withheld this entire time? Is the Space Jockey's answer to Guy Pearce's and Noomi Rapace's questions everything we hoped it would be?
I think Law & Order lasted so long because WHAT was happening was more exciting than WHY. As the viewer, the question of "why did the murderer murder this person" wasn't nearly as interesting as trying to figure out who the murderer was. When we found out who the murderer was, we're not asking "why are they in that courtroom" the tension is whether or not the person will be found guilty or innocent and if found guilty, what the punishment will be.
I think Damon Lindelof is iffy as a writer because I see a trend where he front-loads narratives with Mysterious Whats that generate gripping Whys, but instead of continuing to escalate the Whats and generating tension from What Is Going On, the major tension continues to be the Mystery, so instead of having a Climactic What we have a Climactic Here's Why that cannot live up to the Hype.
Does that make sense? I'm saying Daniel Craig's amnesia and how he got the wrist-gun could have been/should have been the opening scenes of C&A. I'm saying Lost started with a bang and ended with a whimper because what was going on in the Present was way more exciting than what was going on in the Past, yet it spent the final two seasons emphasizing the Past. And I'm saying Prometheus is strong because of What Ridley Scott is showing us, but crippled by Why he's showing it to us.
I think Lindelof escalates to Answer Why instead of escalating to a What, and this is opposite of what a writer should do because What is inherently more interesting than Why since Whats generate Whys. Fight Club doesn't climax with the reveal Jack was an insomniac/unhappy because he had no purpose in life other than being a consumer. It builds to the destruction of buildings and credit records, and to two people holding hands. Another Earth doesn't climax with the viewer finding out Rhoda was the one driving the car that killed John's family, it builds to us watching Rhoda tell John she's the one who was driving the car that killed John's family (and John's not so happy reaction). A Knight's Tale doesn't build to us finding out Sir Ulrich Von Lichtenstein was a fake-knight, a peasant named William. OH WHOA. It builds to William becoming an actual knight. That's the payoff.
What's the payoff of Prometheus's plot? Someone? Anyone? It's the birth of the first Alien/Xenomorph. Which makes the entire movie one long Answer to the Mystery of How Aliens Came to Exist. Which means Prometheus is almost nothing more than an introduction to Alien.
I'm finally going to make my final point now. The questions Why and How refer to the past. Why is this happening? How did this happen? What and How refer to the present. What is happening? How is it happening? Which means that what I'm really talking about this entire time is Past vs. Present. I believe all stories should escalate. That doesn't mean THE ACTION HAS TO BECOME MORE AND MORE INTENSE. It just means What is Happening should become more and more interesting, until you finally reach THE MOST INTERESTING EVENT, then you wrap things up. If we compare the Alien in Prometheus to the Alien in Alien which is more interesting? I think we can all agree the Alien in Alien since it does stuff and the Alien in Prometheus is simply born and roars. If the plot of Prometheus simply BUILDS TO Alien, if everything in it is a less-evolved form of the future picture, why is it necessary? The more interesting story has already been told.
If the Past is more interesting than the Present, we should focus on the past--see Amadeus. But if the Present is more interesting than the Past, we should focus on the Present: see almost any movie that moves linearly in its plot. The Godfather focuses entirely on the Present, and Part II continues in the Present but provides some simple flashbacks because the rise of Vito contrasts so sharply with the unraveling of Michael, thus augmenting the Present rather than Overshadowing it.
Does it make sense to make the Present exciting by Hyping Up the Past, only to reveal a Past that isn't more interesting than the Present? SEE THE STAR WARS PREQUELS FOR HOW THIS TRICK DOESN'T WORK. Or watch anything Damon Lindelof has had a hand in writing.
Did I Like It:
Despite Lindelof's best effort, yes. And that's because of Scott's visuals. What's happening and How it's happening are interesting to look at. Which is why I think Prometheus is worth seeing, especially in 3D.
But the plot of the film doesn't do anything for me. Say the Alien franchise didn't exist. And you started with this. You'd be like...okay, that's pretty interesting. THEN YOU SAW ALIEN. It wouldn't be any comparison.
So. I'm hoping Prometheus gets a sequel (and a new writer) and takes the non-Alien parts of the plot to their proper heights.
Oh, and I always harp about how long shots are the best shots. I think this movie proves it. Look how effective close-ups are when they're interspersed with scopes that lend such scope. We when get all intimate with Noomi in the surgery unit, that's what a close-up is for. If the entire movie had been close-ups, that scene wouldn't have had the same visual immediacy, because it would have looked like every other scene.
I thought every scene with David was awesome. Except for the pregnancy scene. That made no sense to me. Why's he want her pregnant? And why's he so adamant about taking her to Earth? This is my major problem with the script. It almost seems like David is in cahoots with the Space Jockey people. Like he's assisting in their plan to take the black gunk to Earth. I guess after seeing the "video" he saw of the preparations to launch to Earth, he may have understood and decided he wanted to follow along? Or maybe he thought of it as he had impregnated her? But why not just let her carry to term on the ship? Why put her back in cryo? And why then did he not care after she had removed it? I get that he's a robot. But he cared enough to try to get her back to Earth, and he obviously has more emotions than the other characters think he has, so...if he had felt so strongly about taking her back to Earth...why not react when she was no longer pregnant? Is this something we're going to find out in a sequel? It doesn't make any sense to me. And I don't like it.
The Space Jockey's reaction to the people asking him questions was hilarious to me.
I get to that the build-up to the Space Jockey not answering any questions and trying to destroy Earth is cool, thematically, because we don't have answers to these questions. This anti-climax mimics real life in a way. But I think the path to this point could have been done way better.
The 3D was incredible. Hopefully people stop doing converted 3D and just shoot in 3D.
I really wanted to love this movie. I was disappointed though. And it's not like Tree of Life where I was initially disappointed and then understood more and more and got more and more excited. I'm just...thoroughly lukewarm on this plot as a whole. Though I do love some parts of this movie.
Oh. The one thing that really bugs me is why didn't either Noomi or Charlize run horizontally when the giant ship was falling from the sky. The width was obviously way less than the length. And yet both kept running along the length. I don't get it. Okay, they're panicked...but that seems all the more reason to run off to the side where the thing isn't. They're both smart women.
And Theron's delivery of the line "Father" may have been one of the stupidest things I've heard all year.
I liked how Logan was the smiling douche-y dude. You almost like, but there's just something...so self-interested about him...
Idris Elba is the man.
My friend made a good point that the sound in the trailer isn't in the movie and it's a shame, because the sound in the trailer is so fucking cool. OwwwOWWWWWWW OwwwwOOWWWWW OwwwOWWWW
% Character / % Actor's Personality
-Movie where a Past event is withheld until the climax and it annoys me: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
-Movie where a Past event is withheld until the climax and it was mean: Atonement
-Movie that makes a big deal out of a withheld event: Reign Over Me
-Movies that don't provide much Why/Past: No Country for Old Men; Top Gun; The Color of Money
-Movies that fuck with Past and Present: The Tree of Life; Last Year at Marienbad; Vanilla Sky
-Movies that just escalate and escalate: Synecdoche, New York; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; The Crow; The Avengers
-Ridley Scott movie I could watch over and over again: Blade Runner