Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus: Yikes!

by Salman Hameed

I had such high hopes for Prometheus. Ridley Scott's first foray into science fiction since Blade Runner. However, this turned out to be a beautiful but disappointing film. I will be posting my full review and a discussion with Kevin Anderson in the next couple of days (for reviews of other films, visit our Film Autopsy page). In the mean time, here are couple of quick comments: The opening sequence is absolutely phenomenal. I would love to see a reasonable screenplay out of the opening set-up. However, the movie here goes into the terrain of ancient astronauts - kind of the ones popularized by Erich von Daniken in Chariots of the Gods? in the late 60s. I have no problem with using this as a premise as long as the movie is good (Heck - I thoroughly enjoyed Knowing: See earlier post - Science and Religion in Knowing). The problem is that the subsequent movie contains characters (mostly scientists) that are just simply dumb. No seriously. These are some of the dumbest scientists I have seen in a movie in a long time. For example, a geologist in the film complains that the protagonist is only interested in biology and that he cannot find anything of interest there. What?? He is on an unexplored moon of a planet. Everything- and I mean everything should be of mind-blowing interest to a geologist there! This is a perfect example of writers not knowing - even remotely - how scientists think and drives them to ask questions.

As if this wasn't enough, the movie is also sloppy in terms of whatever science it presents. For example, the distance of this alien planet is given in scientific notations in 10^14 kilometers, and it turns out to be roughly 35 light years. However, the spacecraft, launched in 2091 and gets to the planet in 2093. First of all - okay so humans found a way to travel faster than the speed of light in the next 70 years (we haven't even been back to the Moon since 1972!). At least mention it in the film that they are traveling faster than the speed of light - so we know that they know that this 2 year journey is a bit unusual. But - to top it all off, the character of Charlize Theron claims that they are half a billion miles from Earth. Neil deGrasse Tyson has already jumped on this. Yes, half a billion miles seems like a lot - except for in space. This should place them just beyond Jupiter (and would work for 2001 - A Space Odyssey :)). But the planet is actually 6 trillion miles away!! This is just sloppy writing.

All of this would also be forgiven if the story was good. Unfortunately, the story is equally lame. It pretends that it is tackling large issues (where did we come from?), but in reality, this is a very expensive rehashing of earlier Ridley Scott films (you know which films I'm talking about). Plus, it also turns into an ad for Christianity - not in any theological sense, but more in the Hollywood cliche sense (for another example, see the awful movie "Signs").

All that said, there are two positive things in the film. First, it is beautifully shot and the 3D is experience is comfortably immersive. As a I mentioned before, the opening sequence is as best as it can get - and some of the technology scenes are also fantastic. Second, Michael Fassbender is awesome as David - the robot. In particular, his imitation of Peter O'Toole from Lawrence of Arabia is charming and enjoyable. It would have been great if the movie focused on him and not on those dumb scientists.

As Avatar showed couple of years ago, money and technology is not sufficient for making a good film. You need a good story. Prometheus will be considered another forgettable expensive film. But if you need a good science fiction fix, check out Moon starring Sam Rockwell. It was made for only $5 million, and yet is far superior in story than both Avatar and Prometheus. See earlier post Alone on the Dark Side of the Moon and Questions about Humanity in "Moon"


Shahid Saeed said...

On a less serious movie analysis note, see Colbert on Neil deGrasse Tyson's Prometheus critique http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/415110/june-11-2012/neil-degrasse-tyson-on--prometheus--gaffe

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your review! At least we still have The Amazing Spiderman and The Dark Knight Rises to look forward to next month.

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks Shahid.

Not too excited about The Amazing SPiderman, but of course, I'm looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises. Two other sci-fi films to look for this year: "Upside Down" (w/ Kirsten Dunst), and "Gravity" (w/ George Clooney).