Tag: prometheus

Movie Review: Prometheus

I liked the first two Alien movies, and would happily watch either one again given the chance. I’m also a fan of Ridley Scott’s work in general, especially his Director’s Cuts. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron are some of my favorite actors working today. And science fiction is pet genre of mine, especially when it takes itself seriously and doesn’t go straight for space opera or overdoes the camp of the pulp sci-fi of yesteryear.

So why is my heart not jumping bloodily out of my chest with enthusiasm for Prometheus?

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The year is 2094. The Weyland Corporation has sponsored a pair of dedicated archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, to follow the evidence they’ve found that mankind was visited by alien beings in our ancient past. The starship Prometheus was built to find these aliens and discover what, if any, connection they have to our origins. Following star maps extrapolated from cave paintings, Prometheus sets down on an inhospitable moon and almost immediately finds evidence of the archaeologists’s fabled “Engineers”. They also find something that threatens all life as we know it, to say nothing of the crew of the ship.

Prometheus begins by introducing us to some very interesting themes, especially for a science fiction film involving starships and extra-terrestrials. The ‘chariot of the gods’ concept is becoming well-tread ground, from the Stargate series to recent things like Thor and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Rather than just focusing on the aliens themselves, Prometheus sets its sights on the questions inherent with such visitations. Why did they visit us? What role did they play in our development? If they had a hand in creating us, why did they do so? From my standpoint, the focus of the narrative could have been maintained on these questions rather than pushing towards familiar Alien territory.

Fassbender in Prometheus

Despite the breathtaking visuals, haunting score, and fantastic use of 3D (even in home theater settings), Prometheus suffers first and foremost from an identity crisis. It simply can’t decide what it wants to be. A serious sci-fi film asking questions about faith, creationism, and the origins of life would be fascinating, the Alien franchise is desperate for a high-quality entry to redeem its dalliances with those wacky Predators, and Ridley Scott wouldn’t mind starting a new film series. Prometheus tries to do all of these things, admirably so, but fails in hitting the mark with any of them. The questions it wants to ask fall by the wayside when body horrors begin cropping up, the answers we do get tend to beget more questions, and characters, for the most part, behave more for the sake of advancing the plot than they do from their own motivations and personalities.

Consider David. Michael Fassbender is giving probably the strongest performance of the ensemble here, carefully channeling David Bowie into a soft-spoken android obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia. He doesn’t seem to be interested in being more human, regarding those around him with a detached curiosity rather than any longing, and it soon becomes apparent the Prometheus is something of a personal laboratory for him. However, his motives for his experimentation are tenuous at best, his methods make little logical sense, and what reasoning we do get seems to come in the form of throw-away lines and vague conversations on the relationship between creator and created. It’s cool that he has his own agenda, and he pulls of being a creepy facsimile of human life very well, but he, like much of Prometheus, is simply poorly explained.

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The biggest saving grace of the film is probably Elizabeth Shaw. Noomi Rapace is not just doing a send-up of Ripley. She’s also playing one of the few characters who acts in a consistent nature, uses their head on more than one occasion, and has an interesting arc complete with tangible loss, crises of faith, and a staggering amount of determination and survival instinct. It’s very difficult not to care about her after everything we see her going through, and like us, she’s still looking for the answers to her, and our, questions.

While Prometheus suffers from some pretty major problems, it’s still the best thing to happen to the series Ridley Scott started back in 1979 since Aliens. Scott does great work behind the camera and in terms of production, the actors I mentioned are all great, and the presentation is great, at times downright stunning. The problems with the plot and character motivations can’t be overlooked, though, so while it’s hard to classify it as a strictly bad movie, it’s also difficult to give an unqualified recommendation. Being a fan of this director, these actors, and this concept and its execution, I’d probably watch it again, as the parts I enjoyed outweighed those that left me perplexed or frustrated. Just be forewarned: I don’t think Prometheus is for everybody.

Shifting Tone

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

I was bantering with some friends recently about True Blood, and how this season feels different from the previous one. There is a lot more emphasis on vampire political and para-military shenanigans, and less on messy or convoluted love triangles. It’s a shift in tone that, personally, I am 100% behind, and it makes me invested in seeing what happens week to week. It has me thinking about tonal shifts in storytelling in general, when it works, and when it doesn’t. If you plan on writing more than one thing in your lifetime, you may see tones shifting in your own work, by accident or by design.

Movie sequels can see major tonal shifts. Alien was a spookhouse horror in space, while Aliens was action-packed suspense. The shift in tone works, though, because elements remained consistent and the storytelling was solid. You have a strong female protagonist, icky xenomorphs, shifty androids, and corporate douchebaggery. I hear Prometheus contains all of those elements1 but keeping some names the same between tales does not guarantee a solid shift in tone.

Consider The Matrix. It began as a very solid near-future tale of mystery and self-discovery, but the sequels suffer from their shift in tone. Instead of focusing on the characters and meaningful expansions on the world they inhabit, the second and third films let the bulk of their time become dominated by action sequences and terrible philosophy. Whenever they shift between those two elements, there’s an almost audible clunk, like a transmission that’s about to fall out of the bottom of your car. It’s damn close to painful, and it’s evidence of tonal shifts being handled badly.

Good stories aren’t just one thing all the time the entire way through. Your characters should experience a mix of emotions, bringing the audience along for the ride, and that means the tone of the story is going to change from time to time. While they might not always see it coming, the shifts should feel natural, and flow with the story and the unfolding personalities of the characters. Good examples of characters who experience these shifts well include Harry Dresden and Coburn the vampire.

You do have to be careful, though, as jarring shifts can stop your story dead. It can be very hard to balance comedy with tragedy, and messing it up is a death sentence. You can’t have Oskar Schindler suddenly break into a rendition of ‘Singing in the Rain’ in the middle of trying to rescue Jews from concentration camps. If your story’s been consistently light-hearted, interrupting a slapstick routine with the news someone has inoperable colon cancer will go over about as well as a lead balloon. While these things can work, they’re very easy to mishandle and I would advise extreme caution. Your audience is paying for the ride they’re taking with you; if they’ve felt you’ve driven them off the road into a ditch filled with brambles, they’ll be sure to let you know it.

What are some of your favorite, or least favorite, shifts in tone?


1 I still haven’t seen Prometheus yet. I may just have to suck it up and go alone to see it.

Hyped Up or Hyped Out?

Fassbender in Prometheus

Another featurette from Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi thriller Prometheus is available for viewing. As excited as I am for the film, and in light of my peculiar adoration of Michael Fassbender, the temptation is to jump all over it and begin salivating. However, I think I’ve reached the saturation point of hype. If I watch any more promotional material, my enthusiasm may begin to diminish. I am, in a sense, hyped out.

A friend of mine is in a similar situation with The Avengers. I offered to link him the latest clip of a conversation between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov, but he politely declined. There’s simply so much hype out there that maintaining a heightened level of enthusiasm gets exhausting after a while. I’m sure the film will be fun, but it’s entirely possible that there’s too much hype getting built up around it.

As positive as “the buzz” may be for these films, there’s that little part of me that warns me about something being over-hyped. More than once, especially in films and video games, a hot new title has been hyped all over the place only to ultimately disappoint its would-be fans once released. Only the most ignorant and wide-eyed optimists can ignore such cautionary tales and believe that whatever it is that’s being hyped will be 110% awesome.

Then again, despite not watching further promotional material, these films are still being discussed. So perhaps the hype has done its job already? It’s difficult to say. There may not, in fact, be such a thing as too much hype. I’m not certain. I’m not in marketing. I always feel a bit odd shilling things I do, but I guess I need to get over that if I intend on selling my writing.

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