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Prometheus

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Fear is one of the greatest challenges that art faces; trying to communicate fear is a difficult task, and fear in and of itself can restrict and strangle an artist in such a way that their work comes out warped. One could cheerfully argue that Hollywood, with its urge to ensure that each and every movie it produces is a blockbuster, is plagued by fear. Fear is also hard to use in art; truly scary movies are rare, and the true spine-chillers are always memorable.

I bring this up because this is the main problem with the movie Prometheus. What starts out as a great film about the nature of man and gods is plagued by having to be part of a legacy of scary movies. By attempting to place itself in the Alien1 mythology, it also attempts to emulate parts of that franchise that fans will enjoy. I have no idea why, but I suspect it’s easier to make a movie if you can strongly link it to other successes.

Looks gorgeous, great acting, great idea. If only they had the guts to make it not part of a franchise and go with the promise it gives in the first minutes of the movie.

Sadly, this ruins the feature. It fails to use fear to entertain, and fear of being a failure means the production was attached to something it never needed to be part of. Which is a shame, as the first 40 minutes of Prometheus are near-perfect. Atmosphere is established early on, and a good, old-fashioned tale about mans place amongst the stars is begun2. The sets are gorgeous, the actors are superb, the characters, though plain, seem up to the task of carrying the story and the whole thing looks fantastic. Anyone who grew up with a H. R. Giger poster on their wall will find a lot to love here.

And then, for no good reason, it descends into gore-splatter, knee jerk horror. I am loathe to give out spoilers (so I won’t), but there is one scene which is so trope filled, so cliché ridden that I simply turned off, and it made me feel like I was watching two movies stitched together. I expect Ridley Scott to handle his characters much better than this, and though it’s not as bad as other scenes in the same franchise 3, it brings the movie to a nadir it never quite recovers from.

Throw in a truly dire, CGI heavy scene towards the end and we are left with no surprises and a broken promise. Prometheus should have brought fire to the fearful movie moguls of Hollywood, banishing concerns about clever movies. Instead, it fails, and becomes just another movie about monsters in space.


1: Various people, including the movies producers, have stated that it’s not a prequel to Alien, and they’re right; that would be Alien Versus Predator. The problem is that the movie is hampered by its ties to franchise.
2: One could talk a great deal of horse-hockey about wounds in the side of Promethean giants, the nature of god and all the rest of it. Indeed, this sort of deep examination of the movie is valid, and probably what the director wanted. It’s just that because the last half of the movie is so dire, I cease to care about the clever subtext – make the movie not a pile of pants first, then add in the things that will keep Film Studies teachers in a job for the next 20 years.
3: If you’ve seen Aliens Versus Predator: Requiem you know what I mean.

Categories: Movies, Rants, Reviews

Rose Tinted Sci-Fi

May 18, 2012 Leave a comment

So I was rewatching a chunk of Babylon 5 recently, and it struck me how dated the special effects now are; back in the day, Babylon 5 won awards for its starship battles. I shrugged and thought “Ah, but it’s been around since the mid-nineties, I shouldn’t be so harsh”. And then something else, perhaps a clumsy piece of dialogue or poorly realised plot point came up, and immediately, I began to raise the same excuse. It’s at this point, I realised that really old shows (such as, say, 1960’s Doctor Who) have become bullet-proof in the eyes of the fans.

The past, they say, is another country, and by extension, one that’s pretty hard to get to. Unless of course, you’re a geek. We obsessive types love our nostalgia, and the constant reliving of things we enjoyed in our childhoods is part of what it is to be a geek. So we give the old stuff a bit of a free pass.2

The Myrka. It looked rubbish back then. It looks rubbish now. Let’s not pretend it’s age that has made it rubbish, it’s a pantomime horse covered in gunge; it’s totally bobbins.

A show that gets to a level of popularity and notoriety, it becomes a ‘classic’1, and all the flaws that caused it problems when it was new now become funny little quirks of its age3. This is a problem, however. Because in forgiving the flaws, we take something away from the experience.

Take Blake’s 7, for example. Great show, ground breaking. Wonderful ideas, interesting acting, top stuff. Also a show I remember watching from when I was small, so watching it again is like giving sticky sweets to my inner child. However, the production quality dips as the show progresses. It’s a real shame, and you can chart the collapse of show against its mismanagement. Should I give it a free pass then, because it’s old? Or should I get angry because a great idea with an amazing cast got fumbled? By forgiving it for its flaws, I also run the risk of ignoring its depth. I may, for example, decide that an episode which only has two sets was done for budget reasons, rather than the creative challenge.

A good story can be told in any way it needs to. Quality is nice, a super huge budget is lovely, but without a solid story, it will fail. Is the Tom Baker story Ark in Space any less of a great tale about humanity and survival because the monsters are made out of bubble wrap? Does it’s pacing, which was designed for the audience of the time, make it less valid than it is today? Of course not. Let’s enjoy things for what they are and forget terms like nostalgia; good is good, regardless of age.


1: Classic has been long over used, of course,I blame Coca-Cola myself. It’s really just a way of saying ‘old, but don’t let that put you off’. However, because it has the word ‘class’ in it, we assume to also means high quality, as if everything made back in the day is somehow better than now. If that was true, I’d be writing this on my ‘Classic’ BBC Micro Model B computer, or perhaps a ZX81. I’m not, there’s a good reason for that.

2: Which also explains the obsession with time travel.

3: If you don’t get a following though, you’re screwed. Poor Andromeda. Forever judged as Hercules in space. It has a small following, but not enough to give it sort of passionate armour that comes with nostalgia.

Categories: Rants, TV