Promethean Chasms

*** Lots of spoilers, watch out. Last warning ***

Went to see Prometheus on Sunday at the UA on Shattuck in Berkeley. Chose to see it in 3D – we figured this film at least would be worth it, and it was – for visuals at least. 3D or not, it looked fantastic. I loved the shots of the ship contrasting against the planet – amazing sense of space and scale. Wonderful shot of space, with this tiny streak of light moving across it.

We came out of it disappointed, though.

Some thrown-out comments:

(Many of these have been discussed in other, more coherent reviews, such as this one, and this discussion of the whole Alien saga. This is my review. There are many like it, but this one is mine. (Wait a minute that was Kubrick wasn’t it? Blast.))

We understand that filmmaking and SFX have progressed since 1979, but if Prometheus is set before Alien, shouldn’t the technology be less flashy and slick? OK, this is a fancy Company vessel (with a comfy lifeboat for plot reasons), but it’s not a “ship of the line”. It’s a one-off exploratory ship, that cost a trillion to build – because it was a one-off? Cut back on the frills, perhaps. Less of the cathedral-sized rooms. OK, Nostromo is a mining vessel.

Actually, the lifeboat wasn’t for plot reasons, it was to support a single plot point. Boo.

What was the music doing? During bits that were supposed to be scary, there was this theme that sounded like it wanted to be uplifting.

Some reviews have said that wanted more “answers”. Early hype about an Alien prequel said that they may reveal how humans, the Space Jockeys/Engineers, and the xenomorphs are connected. To which I say, why do they need to be connected? Can’t they just all coexist in the infinite uncaring universe, and happen to bump into each other? I don’t like it when prequel-makers feel the need to explain every last frame of the original. (see also: the book Blade Runner 2, The Thing remake, Star Wars).

Why don’t the crew know what they’re doing? Why is Geologist (aka Ian Curtis from 24 Hour Party People) so antagonistic towards Biologist? They’re both scientists, they could at least talk about fossils. Forced characterisation. That Scottish lady was terrible, and she disappeared halfway through. I didn’t recognise half the crew.

I noticed the use of old Giger concept art for Alexandro Jodorowsky’s aborted movie of Dune in 1975. The Engineer Domes especially reminded me of Giger’s design for the Harkonnen stronghold. Many others noticed this too – check out this forum thread with lots of pictures.

You can build an interstellar spacecraft that looks like it’s very comfortable and spacious, you can build a conscious android, but you can’t provide other robots and probes. Even the new Bay Bridge span has remote maintenance drones, not to mention

The laser scanning probes were cool. My company uses that kind of thing already. Check out Leica’s range of scanners. They don’t fly, but give it a few years. Send the probes in first! Never mind Twatty Holloway wanting to open his presents.

Keep your helmet on, even if you think there’s air. You’re on an alien planet, in an artificial structure, with liquid dripping everywhere. Keep your helmet during further visits, when you know there is danger. Warn others to keep their helmets on after you know there’s danger.

If you are a powerful Company woman with a special lifeboat with a medical pod, make sure it’s configured to fix women, not just men. OK, it was for Guy Pearce, whose unconvincing prostheses needed touching up regularly.

If you’re the designer of medical pods, don’t deliberately design in the limitation that it can be configured to only fix one sex. Human males and females are exactly the same apart from couple of very small differences.

Why cast Guy Pearce and then cover him in bad “old man” makeup, if you’re never going to show him young? Or are we expected to watch every last bit of teaser trailer to get the most out of the movie itself? Or maybe there will be an extended made-up “Director’s Cut” with a young Guy Pearce, based on the myth that the director didn’t have total control over the movie in the first place.

We knew David was going to have an agenda, but it was revealed almost immediately, and he carried it out in plain sight. And yes, David liked Lawrence of Arabia, but how did it affect his behaviour? This was made a thing of in the previews, but I couldn’t see any objective evidence.

So Stills’ squeezebox got obliterated?

O'Bannon's octopus-like facehugger

The octopoid (quadropoid?) alien reminded me of the descriptions in some of the early treatments by Dan O’Bannon in 1978. They take an alien skull back to the ship then as well. Seems like they were making an effort to tie in with earlier work from Giger, O’Bannon and so on. Fan service?

(In that script I linked to above, the ship is called the “Snark” – nice reference. Also, the only survivor is a man (no heroic females), and the lifeboat looks a lot like the eponymous ship in Dark Star.

This was what got us confused the most – the aliens. Never mind the Engineers, who we never really knew were bad guys until they acted like it. No I’m talking about the bugs, worms, snakes and octopi. Which was which? Were they all the same? I’ve tried to lay out what we saw below. If you can tell me some links I’ve missed, please tell me.

Error generating Graphviz image:

Graphviz cannot generate graph
Command: /usr/bin/dot '-Kdot' '-Tpng' '-o/home/petty/www/www/wp-content/tfo-graphviz/123ee4b0a2c06430cc7088d9a4574fc4.png'
Error: : syntax error in line 5 near '-'

Original DOT:
    2 digraph
    3 Prometheus_Prologue {
    4 node [style="rounded,filled";shape=box;];
    5 "Engineer" -> "drinks stuff" -> "DNA breakdown" -> "DNA gets in the water";
    6 label="Prologue. Where was this? Engineer Homeworld? Earth? Scene of Movie?";
    7 }

Error generating Graphviz image:

Graphviz cannot generate graph
Command: /usr/bin/dot '-Kdot' '-Tpng' '-o/home/petty/www/www/wp-content/tfo-graphviz/6137a724ce6af0826aad09838bcf1cb6.png'
Error: : syntax error in line 6 near '-'

Original DOT:
    2 digraph
    3 Prometheus_Creatures {
    4 node [style="rounded,filled";shape=box;];
    6 "Nanos" -> "Nanos inside Canister" -> "Holloway" -> "Holloway Nearly Monster" -> "Holloway burns";
    7 "Nanos" -> "Nanos on wall" -> "Same as the others?";
    8 "Nanos" -> "Nanos on canister" -> "Nanos on Floor";
    9 "Holloway" -> "Shaw impregnated" -> "Baby Quadropus" -> "Big Quadropus" -> "Engineer impregnated" -> "Xenomorph precursor";
   10 "White Worm" -> "Biologist" -> "New White Worm?";
   11 "Nanos on Floor" -> "Geologist" -> "Geologist Monster" -> "Geologist Monster burns";
   12 "Segmented worms" -> "What?";
   14 label="Prometheus Creature(s) Lifecycle";
   15 labelfloat="true";
   17 }

(This graph was brought to you by GraphViz and the lovely TFO GraphViz plugin. It allows you to create charts in text like “A -> B”, which then shows up as a little digraph. Super nice.)

Overall, I’m glad I went to see it on the big screen, and in 3D. It gave me an excuse to watch Alien and Aliens again with my friends (we didn’t bother with 3 or 4). But it’s still a shame.

At least the new Total Recall is going to be AWESOME!