Sunday 10 June 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus (plus a recap of a few things Alien)

It's been 15 years since we've had an installment of the Alien series if you discount the Alien vs. Predator films. It's been 33 years since the monster of all monsters burst, yes literally "burst" onto the scene. Sitting at the helm of this latest cinematic opus is none other than Ridley Scott, the director of that first Alien film and the director of numerous high-profiled films such as Blade Runner, Black Rain, Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk Down, etc. Expectations have been running high and now that I've seen the movie in IMAX 3D no less, here is my take on Prometheus along with a recap of the Alien franchise.

I can echo what many other reviewers have already stated. Ridley Scott aims high and offers up a good film but falls short of giving us a great film. Receiving a very respectable rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, the number says it all. Prometheus is good. If you have any interest in Alien and the various sequels, you have to go see this film. However, there is a big difference between a respectable rating of 73% and an excellent rating of 80% or 90%.

The story of Prometheus is for all intents and purposes a prequel to the original 1979 film Alien. However, instead of being another science fiction horror film, it attempts to get profound by venturing into the philosophical arena of where we, the human race, came from and why. From day one, speculation has run rampant about who the "space jockey" was and now we have some background to this mysterious traveller.

I'm not going to issue any spoiler alerts as I won't go into all the details of the plot here. There are plenty of on-line resources (Wikipedia: Prometheus: Plot). The larger theme of the storyline involves "directed panspermia" (see references below), a concept which involves the deliberate transport of microorganisms to Earth in order to seed the planet with life. While such an idea is both far-fetched and intriguing, even a scientific luminary as Carl Sagan wrote about this as far back as 1966 (Amazon: Intelligent Life in the Universe). According to the storyline, the space jockey was a member of a race nicknamed the Engineers who created us, or at least left the DNA here on Earth necessary to create us. (Aside: If the creationists get upset at the teaching of evolution, they will have a conniption when it is suggested that the human race comes from extraterrestrials. Ha ha.)

While that idea unto itself is worthy of its own movie, the screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof have mixed this with our favourite monster who turns out to be some sort of biological weapon. We never find out why, but the crew of the Prometheus discover the Engineers are going back to Earth to unleash this biological weapon supposedly with the objective of wiping out the human race. Had the Engineers fallen out of love with their creation? Did the Engineers feel that we were out of control and had to be stopped before we started wreaking havoc on the rest of the solar system?

Upon reflection, the idea of the Alien being a biological weapon strikes me as being odd. Most apocalyptic scenarios have some sort of microorganism getting out in the open. Put it in the air, introduce it into the water supply and those little critters multiply like hot cakes and infect us all. The result is your standard zombie apocalypse. Using an alien as we have seen in the Alien franchise seems like quite an inefficient way of eradicating the human race. Yes it will work. Yes, for the purposes of a horror story it is a horrible way to die but efficient? If the Engineers are so far advanced they are running around the universe seeding planets to produce life, why can't they come up with a better biological weapon?

The Original Alien 1979
I have a very personal confession. Ever since I was a little boy, horror movies or maybe just suspense in general have always scared me. I mean like really scared me. I remember when I was 13 years old watching the 1963 TV series The Outer Limits, I actually ran out of the room then peeked around the corner at the television. My parents had to laugh and now I have think it was kind of amusing.

Flash forward to 1979 when the movie "Alien" came out. I was 27 years old. Halfway through the film, I asked why I was torturing myself. I was so scared, I wasn't actually enjoying things so I got up and walked out. A week later, I had a couple of drinks to steel myself then went back and sat through the entire movie. I think I managed to get through it by quietly saying to myself, "Okay, the monster is going to jump out... now! ... Okay, now!" All right, I'm an idiot. I'm totally ridiculous but for some reason horror is just not my cup of tea. You won't catch me watching any of the Saw films or Jason or Nightmare on Elm Street. Ugh. No fun at all. On more than one occasion I've made whoever was sitting beside me laugh as I would nearly jump through the roof when the monster did finally jump out.

But I am an absolute nut about science fiction so I just had to go back to see the entire film. Yes, Alien is a horror film but it is also a science fiction film. And for anybody lining up to see this latest installment, remember that the budget of the very first film Alien was a mere, no a scant $11 million. Eleven million bucks? I recently saw The Avengers and Men in Black 3. Both films had budgets of $220 million. This film Prometheus clocks in with a budget of $125 million. Is bigger better? The very first Star Wars film released in 1977 also had a budget of just $11 million. That number is all the more stunning when you realise that any modern day blockbuster seems to require at least two hundred million dollars. Apparently those special effects aren't just special, they're expensive.

Something growing inside me? Eew!
When the original film came out, I, like a lot of people I'm sure, was quite horrified by the idea of something growing inside my body. However had I forgotten my childhood or the last trip to a tropical paradise? Did I hear anybody say pinworm? How about hookworm or tapeworm or even lice and ticks? Now you can say, "Eew!" because yes, folks, we can have critters living inside us or in our skin. Yes, there is a host of human parasites which can be in our bodies but when I say pinworm or tick I'm talking about something which you can see with the naked eye. Now that's big. Eew indeed.

However the idea presented in Alien, a critter gestating inside another living being, is not unknown to our world. Certain flies (see Wikipedia: Tachinidae) deposit their eggs inside a host. When the larvae hatch, they go to work eating the body of the host from the inside out. Eew? Imagine that being done to you. Ha ha. Now there's a horror story for you.

A Quick Refresher in Greek Mythology
In the briefest of explanations, Prometheus was the Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock where an eagle ate his liver every day; Prometheus being immortal had his liver grow back each night. He was eventually freed by Hercules.

As an FYI, it is worth the read to go through the Wikipedia article on Prometheus. I, for one, not only refreshed my memory but learned things I had not known.

What is the connection between this Titan and the film? Play with fire, get your fingers burned? I'll leave that one for you to figure out.

The Franchise
The original 1979 film was groundbreaking. It was definitely one of the all time great scare the bejesus out o' ya horror movies. The suspense was terrific but the idea of having something growing inside you certainly raised the level of shock up a notch or two. And of course, let's not forget H. R. Giger, the Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor who designed our favourite badass monster alien. I first saw Giger's work when he did the cover for the 1973 album Brain Salad Surgery by the progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

While the original film was good, the sequels have had their ups and downs. James Cameron's Aliens was excellent and it is not often that number two is good. (Although, Cameron's Terminator 2 was arguably better that his first Terminator.) From there, my impression was that the series lost its way. Were these projects green lighted out of an effort to cash in on the name? I'll make a short mention of the two Alien vs. Predator films which were obviously done to make a buck. They were panned by the critics but made substantial profits meaning the fans ate it up. As a FYI, the Wikipedia article quotes none other than James Cameron himself as saying he liked Alien Vs. Predator. Go figure.

The following is a recap of the series.

Alien (1979)
Budget: $11 million
Gross: $105 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%

Aliens (1986)
Budget: $18.5 million
Gross: $131 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Alien 3 (1992)
Budget: $50 million
Gross: $160 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%

Alien Resurrection (1997)
Budget: $70 million
Gross: $161 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%

AVP - Alien Vs. Predator (2004)
Budget: $60 million
Gross: $173 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (AVP 2) (2007)
Budget: $40 million
Gross: $129 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 12%

Prometheus (2012)
Budget: $125 million
Gross: n/a; June 8, 2012 release in North America
Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Final Word
This is a good film; not a great film but a good one. If you are a fan of the Alien franchise, nothing I or anybody can say will keep you away. If you have never seen any of these films, this will be a good standalone picture and it may very well whet your appetite for going back and seeing each and every "burst".

There is no doubt that Alien as a series will live on. The idea is a good one; the idea is a good horror story and whether our favourite monster stands alone or squares off against a Predator, I'm sure the public will be slapping down their money for the next installment of this extraterrestrial badass. Yes, the expansion of the history of the Engineers lends a little weight to the story but at the end of day, we all come for that heart-stopping moment when the bogeyman jumps from behind the curtain or, in this case, bursts from some poor soul's chest.

I discovered two short clips not in the film. (see below at end) These independent clips are additional material to the movie and will, no doubt, end up on the DVD. Quite interesting and I'm sure more will show up as time goes on.

Rotten Tomatoes: Prometheus: 73%
Ridley Scott's ambitious quasi-prequel to Alien may not answer all of its big questions, but it's redeemed by its haunting visual grandeur and compelling performances -- particularly Michael Fassbender as a fastidious android.

Wikipedia: Prometheus (film)
Prometheus is a 2012 science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. The film stars Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green and Charlize Theron. Set in the late 21st century, the story centers on the crew of the spaceship Prometheus as they follow a star map discovered among the remnants of several ancient Earth civilizations. Led to a distant world and an advanced civilization, the crew seeks the origins of humanity, but instead discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human race.

fan site: Prometheus
Prometheus movie news, information and community

fan site: Project Prometheus

Wikipedia: Panspermia
Panspermia (Greek:allseed) is the hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by meteoroids, asteroids and planetoids.

Wikipedia: Directed panspermia
Directed panspermia concerns the deliberate transport of microorganisms in space. Directed panspermia may have been sent to Earth to start life here, or may be sent from Earth to seed new solar systems with life.

Wikipedia: Alien (franchise)
The Alien film series is a science fiction horror film franchise, focusing on Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) and her battle with an extraterrestrial lifeform, commonly referred to as "the Alien". Produced by 20th Century Fox, the series started with the 1979 film Alien, which led to three movie sequels, as well as numerous books, comics and video game spinoffs.

Related to the franchise are the "Alien vs. Predator" films (Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem), based on the related franchise which combines the Aliens with the Predators from the Predator film series.

Rotten Tomatoes: Alien (1979): 96%
A modern classic, Alien blends science fiction, horror and bleak poetry into a seamless whole.

Wikipedia: Alien (film)
Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. Dan O'Bannon wrote the screenplay from a story by him and Ronald Shusett, drawing influence from previous works of science fiction and horror. The film was produced through Brandywine Productions and distributed by 20th Century Fox, with producers David Giler and Walter Hill making significant revisions and additions to the script. The titular Alien and its accompanying elements were designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, while concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss designed the human aspects of the film.

Rotten Tomatoes: Aliens (1986): 100%
While Alien was a marvel of slow-building, atmospheric tension, Aliens packs a much more visceral punch, and features a typically strong performance from Sigourney Weaver.

Wikipedia: Aliens (film)
Aliens is a 1986 science fiction action film directed by James Cameron and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton.
Screenplay by James Cameron
Story by James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill

Rotten Tomatoes: Alien 3 (1992): 40%
No consensus yet.

Wikipedia: Alien 3
Alien 3 (styled as Alien³) is a 1992 science fiction horror film, the third installment in the Alien franchise, and the debut of director David Fincher. It is a sequel to James Cameron's Aliens.
Alien 3 had a difficult production, with various screenwriters and directors getting involved in the project, and shooting even started without a finished script. The film was the big-budget debut of a young David Fincher, who was brought into the project very late in its development, after a proposed version written by Vincent Ward at the helm fell through. Fincher had little time to prepare, and the experience of making the film proved agonizing for him, as he had to endure incessant creative interference from the studio and had to shoot the film without having a definite script. The added weight was also to create a film worthy of the work of the two revered directors that had gone before him, James Cameron and Ridley Scott. Upon completion, the studio dismantled and reworked it without Fincher's consent, including releasing a teaser trailer that suggested the film would take place on Earth.

The film was released to mixed reviews. While not very successful at the United States box office, it earned over $100 million outside of North America.

Rotten Tomatoes: Alien Resurrection (1997): 55%
No consensus yet.

Wikipedia: Alien Resurrection
Alien Resurrection is a science fiction film released in 1997 by 20th Century Fox and the fourth installment in the Alien franchise.

Rotten Tomatoes: AVP - Alien Vs. Predator (2004): 22%
Gore without scares and cardboard cut-out characters make this clash of the monsters a dull sit.

Wikipedia: Alien vs. Predator (film)
Alien vs. Predator (also known as AVP) is a 2004 science fiction film directed by Paul W. S. Anderson for 20th Century Fox and starring Sanaa Lathan and Lance Henriksen. The film adapts the Alien vs. Predator crossover imprint bringing together the eponymous creatures of the Alien and Predator series, a concept which originated in a 1989 comic book. Anderson, Dan O'Bannon, and Ronald Shusett wrote the story, and Anderson and Shane Salerno adapted the story into a screenplay.

Rotten Tomatoes: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (AVP 2) (2007): 12%
The increased gore and violence over the first Alien vs. Predator can't excuse Requiem's disorientating editing, excessively murky lighting, and lack of new ideas.

Wikipedia: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (also known as AVP:R) is a 2007 American science fiction film directed by the Brothers Strause (Colin and Greg) and written by Shane Salerno. A sequel to 2004's Alien vs. Predator, it continues the film crossover of the Alien and Predator media franchises.

Introducing David 8 -- Project Prometheus
Discover, explore and build better worlds with the new David 8 - brought to you by Weyland Industries and powered by Verizon FiOS.

Prometheus - Peter Weyland TED 2023
[An interesting clip not from the movie; a speech by Peter Weyland at TED 2023.]

T.E. Lawrence, eponymously of Arabia, but very much an Englishman, favored pinching a burning match between his fingers to put it out. When asked by his colleague, William Potter, to reveal his trick -- how is it he so effectively extinguished the flame without hurting himself whatsoever -- Lawrence just smiled and said, "The trick, Potter, is not minding it hurts."

The fire that danced at the end of that match was a gift from the Titan, Prometheus, a gift that he stole from the gods. When Prometheus was caught and brought to justice for his theft, the gods, well, you might say they overreacted a little. The poor man was tied to a rock as an eagle ripped through his belly and ate his liver over and over, day after day, ad infinitum. All because he gave us fire, our first true piece of technology: Fire.

100,000 BC: Stone tools.

4,000 BC: The wheel.

9th century AD: Gunpowder. Bit of a game-changer, that one.

19th century: Eureka! The light bulb!!

20th century: The automobile, television, nuclear weapons, space craft, Internet.

21st century: Biotech, nanotech, fusion and fission and M-theory -- and that was just the first decade.

We are now three months into the year of our Lord, 2023. At this moment in our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals who, in just a few short years, will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: We are the gods now.

For those of you who know me, you will be aware by now that my ambition is unlimited. You know that I will settle for nothing short of greatness, or I will die trying.

For those of you who do not yet know me, allow me to introduce myself: My name is Peter Weyland. And if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to change the world.

Uploaded on Oct 18, 2010 by z3n0mal4
YouTube: ALIEN® OST - 1979 Original Main Theme
The musical score for Alien was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, conducted by Lionel Newman, and performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Ridley Scott had originally wanted the film to be scored by Isao Tomita, but 20th Century Fox wanted a more familiar composer and Goldsmith was recommended by then-President of Fox Alan Ladd, Jr.


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1 comment:

A Political Junkie said...

I laughed out loud when I read your comments about watching the first Alien movie in 1979. I was 23 and went with a buddy of mine. We were both so petrified by the plot that we left the theatre about an hour in. It's reassuring to know that we weren't the only ones!

Actually, I've never seen the entire movie all the way through but, in light of Prometheus, I started watching it this morning and am just heading to the "big screen" to see the rest.

Thanks for the memory!