Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Death by a Thousand Nitpicks? Prometheus (2012) and the critical reception

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the ideas underlying Ridley Scott's Prometheus (2012).  Today, I want to survey briefly some of the arguments I've seen leveled against the film. Now, mind you, there are criticisms, obviously, to be made of the film.  This post is not designed to suggest that all criticism of the film is invalid or wrong, only that some of the intense, oft-repeated criticisms seem...overwrought, and suggest a refusal to meet the film half-way.

1. Scientific Inaccuracy.  I've read several complaints about the opening card (over a view of Prometheus in space) that establishes precisely the vessel's distance from Earth (and also the time it took to travel to this point in space).  In short, apparently Prometheus traveled really, really fast.  So is this an error in science?  Perhaps so.  But does it disqualify the movie from a position of quality, overall?  Well, let me just say this: "You've never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs."  Does that (cringe-worthy) and unscientific line make Star Wars (1977) a bad movie overall?  And let's not forget Star Trek: First Contact (1996) either, wherein the Enterprise travels from the Romulan neutral zone to Earth in time to join a battle with the Borg already in progress.  So this point about Prometheus actually reveals how critical standards aren't exactly being applied evenly in discussions of the film.

2.  The characters behave stupidly!  This is actually a multi-part complaint, and one I'm sensitive to on some fronts. But what I've read most frequently online is a variation of "what kind of dumb scientist is Holloway that he would remove his helmet in an alien temple?!"  Well, he's the kind of scientist who already confirmed that there is a breathable atmosphere inside the temple, and then explicitly re-confirmed it with the expedition's brilliant android, David.  It's not like he just gets to the surface of LV-223 and tears off his helmet during a silica storm.  Yes, Holloway's behavior is undeniably rash, and Shaw isn't exactly happy about it, either.  So, 1.) Holloway does make at least a cursory safety check before the rash move, and 2.) his rash move is duly noted by the other, irritated characters in the drama.  So what's the problem?  I'm old enough to remember the response to Space: 1999 (1975 - 1977) when some folks complained that the Alphans acted too much like scientists; too reserved, too careful, too deliberate.  Where was their sense of risk?  Their sense of humanity?  Where was the drama?!  Prometheus takes the opposite tact, perhaps, but that choice doesn't invalidate the film.  Scientists are human beings -- replete with foibles -- too.

A.) The two scientists who encounter the snake alien don't show enough fear while facing it.  Well, they look pretty terrified to me.  One way to interpret their panicky behavior is that they are attempting to quiet the beast -- in case it is afraid of them.  It's like being faced with a wild tiger in the jungle.  Do you scream at the top of your lungs and scare it?  Run away suddenly, basically daring it to strike?  Or do you address the threat...soothingly?  "It's okay, it's okay...shhhh, it's okay...relax...we're not going to hurt you."  No, not a perfect response by any means, but an understandable and absolutely human one.  And one that ends badly, of course.  Is it so hard to believe?

B.) Holloway doesn't tell anyone he's sick.  Again, this complaint is absolutely true.  But in terms of movie conventions, how many zombie or outbreak-style movies have we seen in which a character fails to reveal to others in a timely fashion that he or she has been bitten or contaminated?  There are a lot of movies that we now must rule out as "good" if this element is going to be a disqualifying factor for Prometheus.  The truth is -- again -- that Holloway acts like a flawed, imperfect human being; a scared human being.  He makes a very bad judgment call.  When he has time to reconsider that call, he sacrifices his life rather than hurt Shaw and the others.  No, he's not perfect up front, instantly, upon recognizing his plight.  How many of us would be perfect in identical circumstances?  


C.) Captain Janek (Idris Elba) must not care about his stranded crew because he goes off to have sex with Vickers (Charlize Theron) while the marooned men are in danger.  If we gaze at Janek, his character arc is essentially one in which he goes from being "just the captain" (and indeed, not caring), to laying down his life to save the entire human race.  He comes to understand, because of the events on LV-223 that he can no longer remain uninvolved, or on the side-lines.  All that century-old music he appreciates from Earth's past (his parental figure or most important influence, it seems...) will be lost to the ages if the Engineers have their way.  If Janek had remained at his post all through the night, this character arc would be sacrificed. And thus his final act would be less meaningful, and less surprising.  And besides, Janek doesn't see the team, necessarily as "his" crew.  He's just along for the ride...until something he cares about is threatened.  Again, this isn't Captain Kirk-styled heroics; this is a very real, unromantic human portrayal.  


D.) Shaw blows up an Engineer head, willy-nilly!  Early in the film, Shaw recovers an engineer head, sticks some electricity in the thing, and blows it up.  I've seen a lot of folks complain about her behavior in this scene.  But if you look more deeply at the symbolism of this sequence, it doesn't seem so baffling.  The Engineers are clearly afraid of their creation, the humans, and exhibit A might be this very moment.  A human shows up and in a fever to gain "the ultimate knowledge"  she destroys that which she seeks to understand.  Could be a metaphor for the whole movie, no?  In trying to comprehend God, do we destroy God?  In finding God, do we destroy faith?  Similarly, look at the decapitation symbolism, specifically.  A decapitation can mean a number of things, like for instance that your head and heart are not connected.  Some scholars also interpret decapitation imagery in dreams to mean that the dreamer's beliefs are under attack.  In a very real way, this reflects Shaw's situation (and her character is already connected explicitly to dream imagery in the text of the film...)  Her chosen belief is that the Engineers are God.  She finds out that they are not.  The severed head is both a literal and metaphorical reminder that her beliefs are wrong. The Engineers are clearly as mortal and vulnerable as humans.  Finally, this scene functions as an eerie mirror of a similar scene in Alien involving a decapitated Ash, and attempts to communicate with the damaged android.   In any case, engaging with the film's mode of communication makes this scene less irritating, and more provocative.

3.) Implausibility.  One of the complaints I have read frequently vis-a-vis Prometheus is that Shaw gets surgery and then "runs around" for the rest of the movie like nothing ever happened to her.  Well, not exactly.  She does fall unconscious for an interval, after all.  And it's not as though she isn't feeling intense pain, either.  A moment that I found even more effective than the brilliant surgery scene in generating a sense of unease involved Shaw sucking in her gut to zip up her tight space suit.  It's pretty clear from her expression that she's in agony.  And again, let's return to movie history and movie convention for a moment.  In Die Hard (1987), Bruce Willis walked barefoot across broken glass but was then strong enough to go mano-e-mano with Alexander Gudonov.  So again, if this is a disqualifying factor for Prometheus overall, let's disqualify Die Hard from greatness while we're at it, too.

4.) Sloppy writing.  I read a complaint online yesterday that the alien Engineers just "left" their bio weapons out in the middle of an open room, for any unlucky soul to find.  But didn't we explicitly see a hologram sequence in which the door to the weapon room was sealed tightly shut?  And it was such a heavy door, in fact, that it actually decapitated one of the Engineers when it closed.  David must unlock the door to gain access to that room.  It's not just wide open, as some critics have insisted.   

Secondly, what kind of scientists are these guys to go in and start touching stuff in the temple? Well, if memory serves, David is the one who first touches the black goop, on the premise that, as Weyland explicitly states, he's immortal.  It's true that the presence of a breathable atmosphere impacts the vases and causes the leakage there.  But could the astronauts have known this leakage would occur ahead of time?  Don't they evacuate as soon as they do recognize what has occurred?  And besides, what fun would the movie have been if the scientists went all the way to LV-223 and decided not to go inside the temple because they might interfere with something?    Let's not forget that no movie is perfect in constructing its narrative.  To create tension in the final act of Alien, remember, Ripley returned to the bridge of the Nostromo to rescue a cat.   That's as questionable an act as any of the aforementioned nitpicks in Prometheus.  But of course, going back for the cat doesn't disqualify Alien as a quality genre film, either.

Other questions also boast relatively straight-forward answers if you engage with Prometheus and meet it half-way.  Why doesn't the Engineer ship in the prologue look exactly like the one in the finale?  Well, why doesn't the Enterprise look like the Reliant?  Same makers, different design.  Why doesn't Vickers roll to the side instead of being crushed by the falling derelict?  She stumbles and falls at the last second, but when she turns back over, it's too late.  At least she didn't outrun a fire-ball, a common convention in such films. 

Again and again, many of the complaints lodged against Prometheus are of the nature I describe here: easily explainable if you are willing to engage even a little.  These nitpicks are ones that -- if equally applied to other films -- would absolutely preclude enjoyment and appreciation of Star Wars, Die Hard, and other classics.  In short, there are ample reasons to find fault with Prometheus.  But these reasons? 

So, we must ask ourselves, why is Prometheus the target of such egregious and easily answered nitpicking?   My suspicion is that many folks are discomforted by what the film implies about family, mortality, and religion, and thus latch onto nitpick quibbles to build a case that the Scott film is poorly presented.  Rather than dealing with what Prometheus is actually about, they nibble around the edges. Again, I'm not declaring that Prometheus is above serious criticism.  But does this level of nitpicking qualify as serious criticism?   In the history of cinema, this isn't the first time such a thing has happened, either.  On original release, Psycho, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Scott's own Blade Runner met with fiercely negative reviews too.  Time has revealed the error in those cases.  Will it do the same for Prometheus?  

40 comments:

  1. My usual response to comments like these: This is not a documentary. That said Point A is probably the biggest violation that nearly every character in the Alien franchise falls victim to. My number one rule for all Alien franchise movies is that if the being is completely foreign to you or if it is known to you but has been out of your sight for a period of time, SHOOT IT because it has an alien parasite inside! That goes for friends, lovers, androids, small children, cats, EVERYTHING! My educated two cents. ;-)

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    1. Terri,

      You're absolutely right. I think Point A is a function of the form. The aliens have to break loose...have to attack. There's no way to make a horror movie without this trope. I mean, look at the original Alien (1979). How smart of it was Kane to stick his face down into a pulsating egg? But he had to do it to get the plot line moving, you know?

      I find it particularly silly to complain about this kind of thing because all genre movies -- to one extent or another -- rely on these fallacies to get us into the drama.

      Great comment!

      best,
      John

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  2. Ah, more Prometheus. Love it! Hmmm, I really am fascinated by the picture as it continues to absorb into the bloodstream.

    Great and hysterical comment by Terri by the way.

    1. Science - Really? I haven't been reading too much out there but that seems like an awfully well "nitpicky" crticism. Good grief.

    2. Helmet removal. Check on that. I'm fine with it. Never registered as an issue at all.

    2A. - Greeting the snake- Not the brightest move. Not the brightest moment. I did find it a bit odd given the two men were mostly afraif of their own shadows, but not enough to call attention to it.

    2B. - Holloway Sick. No problem at all with the logic here either. It worked fine.

    2C. - Janek. I would definitely drop everything for Vickers. Yes, RIGHT NOW. Perfectly fine with it. But I did find the quick decision to kill themselves a little odd.

    2D. Engineer Head - All good with this one and some nice added commentary as a supplemental to your Prometheus review.

    3. Implausability- As Cannon mentioned in his comments ,the sequence flet a little shoehorned in some fashion, but I still LOVE the sequence and her pained expression regarding the space suit is quite fitting. Whole film has implausible moments if you really think about it. Some things you need to accept a little.

    4. Sloppy writing - No. The Engineers are indeed running. That's way off. Furthermore, these people are explorers on an expedition and are inquisitive by nature.

    But again, MOST IMPORTANTLY, how could rushing off to have sex with Vickers, and he didn't even rush, be anything but smart logic.

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    1. Hi SFF:

      Great comment, my friend. And damned funny too.

      You know, the "greeting the snake" bit is really the most difficult of these to defend. Another dear friend of mine, Robert, also mentioned this one as a problem on Facebook. Perhaps it could have been shot in a different way to more adequately suggest the approach to the bugger as a last-ditch option. I don't know. It didn't get under my skin (yuk, yuk) like it did some.

      And you say what I was thinking, but didn't have the courage to post in my blog. Hmmm...going off to fuck Vickers or sitting on the control deck all night babysitting two scientist screw-ups?

      Hmmm...which would I choose, which would I choose...

      Excellent comment,
      John

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    2. Honestly, if Vickers was an android, as L13 has suggested, she might be the sexiest best since Sean Young.

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    3. SFF:

      Absolutely. Charlize Theron is a beautiful woman. Wow is she a beautiful woman. Not to mention a great actress. I thought she was great in the film, and walked that line of "is she or isn't she" just perfectly.

      Great comment!

      best,
      John

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    4. Boy, isn't she? She's strikingly beautiful and not just a pretty face and body as you note. She was great in the film. She was one of my three favorites without question.

      By the way, speaking of nitpicks... I wish the Prometheus had a few weapon cannons. I know. I know. Too predictable.

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    5. SFF:

      Charlize Theron was one of my favorites as well. Vickers was hard-core cold, and yet, in some way, also incredibly sympathetic. It's hard to pull off a balance like that.

      Given what she had to endure at film's end, I agree with you that Prometheus should have been armed.

      best,
      John

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    6. 'Given what she had to endure at film's end, I agree with you that Prometheus should have been armed.'

      Then Prometheus have been a warship, and as they weren't going to war or in Starfleet (this isn't Star Trek)there was no need for them. Also, if the Engineers had detected weapons on board their ship, they woulds have most likely been attacked by the surviving Engineer anyway.

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  3. Anonymous11:49 AM

    John, well done, very engaging analysis and brilliant title 'Death by a Thousand Nitpicks?'. As you mentioned, in the future, like BLADE RUNNER(1982) and ALIEN(1979), PROMETHEUS(2012) will be acclaimed not attacked.

    SGB

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    1. Thank you, SGB.

      I agree with you. Prometheus will be remembered within the context of Scott's impressive genre career, and also remembered as a great and challenging science fiction film. So many of this nitpicks will be forgotten once the context of original release passes by...

      Great comment!

      best,
      John

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    2. I'm with you both on this. PROMETHEUS, once all of the nitpicking is done and calmer heads arrive (naturally, there will be some who will never meet that threshold), will be acclaimed. Many just seem to want to show that they're implicitly smarter and know what works cinematically. Honestly, some of the smart-alecky criticisms out there wouldn't stand up to the exact same level of examination they're attempting to dish out.

      Great write-up, John. Keep 'em com in'! Thanks for this.

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    3. Hi Michael,

      You said exactly what I feel.

      First, that Prometheus will rise to a point of acclaim.

      And secondly that the people throwing out these ridiculous nitpicks are not about to apply them to the films they love.

      That's why I made mention of material in Star Wars, Die Hard and Alien, to name a few; to point out that Prometheus is being held to a standard that other much-appreciated films are not. Frankly, so many of these arguments are ridiculous...

      I've waited and wished for a film as provocative as Prometheus. I've cried out for films with subtext and symbols and philosophy. Now, seeing this reaction to a high-minded science fiction film, I see why few films choose that route.

      People are crying about dumb details and missing all the great philosophical material.

      Great comment!

      best,
      John

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    4. 'Calmer heads?' I wish-the people making these criticisms are the same indie-loving/foreign film enjoying/Sundance Film Festival snobs who think that sci-fi has nothing to offer of any substance. I think that it's the mundane films that these people give five stars to that are the ones of no substance, and are just the same kitchen-sink flicks that everybody has seen a billion times at the movies and on TV.

      As soon as I can afford it, I'll be going to see Prometheus on a big screen (IMAX or otherwise) with a diet soda in one hand and a bag of flavored popcorn in the other-I've probably got to hurry, though. Thanks for the review, and the confirmation that it is a great film.

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    5. Hi Lionel,

      That sounds like a plan, my friend. I wish I were going with you. I'm dying to get out and see Prometheus again, but I'll likely have to wait for Blu-Ray or DVD.

      best,
      John

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  4. Now that I think more about, I have to have a go at 3) Implausability. It is standard action hero fare for men to have fights that last 15, 20 minutes and in which they are beaten with fists, bats, chairs, wrenches, etc, but it is expected that they jump up and disarm bombs, race cars, or jump out of planes. The reality is that they would have about six reconstructive surgeries and a year in physical therapy.

    Methinks the nitpickers just don't like the film. If so, just say that and move on, nitpickers. Personally, I liked it as a stand-alone science fiction film, but as an Alien franchise film, it does nothing for me. I see no point to making it. Which I can say about a few others in the franchise. ;-) So I say that and move on.

    But they really should have just shot the alien snake thingy.

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    1. Hi Terri,

      Thank you for having a go at #3. And you make you case very clearly. This kind of scene -- which nitpickers find so objectionable with a woman in Prometheus -- is featured routinely with men in action films. You also make another astute observation: "the nitpickers just don't like the film." They should just say so, as you note, and move on, rather than making mountains out of molehills.

      But those poor scientists couldn't shoot the snaky thing: no weapons! D'oh!

      Great comment,
      John

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    2. D'oh! You're right! No weapons was in the foreshadowing scene. ;-)

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    3. Hi Terri.

      Yeah, no guns. Still, you think they could have battered the snake with a backpack, or with a helmet, since we know the air was breathable. They could have gone on the offensive, just not with guns...

      I've heard some folks complain that they should have had guns. I think this comes from this being the "first" Alien movie chronologically, but the fifth one the audience has experienced!

      best,

      John

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  5. Moncynnes2:02 PM

    In response to point# 2-B: Holloway has studied these things all his life, staked his professional reputation on an outlandish theory, and come across billions of miles. After all that, you don't let yourself get sidelined because of a case of the sniffles.

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    1. Moncynnes,

      Excellent point.

      In short, Holloway had to have the self-awareness -- at his moment of greatest triumph -- to see where, exactly, his new sickness would take him.

      And of course, that would be impossible for any of us.

      Once he begins to undergo the change, and realizes what's happening to him, Holloway makes a better call.

      Really, I don't get why this is such a point of contention for the nitpickers.

      Excellent observation!

      best,
      John

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  6. Let's have a go at this.

    1.) Eh. I mean... really. Eh. It's not even a major point of plot how far they went or how long it took. This is quibbling to quibble.

    2.) You're spot on. The helmet thing was rash - but it's not like he just said 'Ooooooooo' and popped off his helmet to gnosh on a candy bar. Holloway did probably just about as much checking as his kid-in-the-candy-store moment could stand.

    2a.) I don't have a problem here. Whether scared or not, people sometimes do stupid things. Sometimes, the stupid things that people do will get them killed. QED. That said - I'm not sure what proper response -would- be to something like that when you're not armed. There's always trying to walk away slowly, but we've already established that these two chaps could get lost in a wet paper bag. I'm not thinking it would have ended up that much better.

    2b.) -I- don't tell anyone I'm sick, most of the time. I pop my Dayquil and get to work. I actually related to that. Bad call? Absolutely in this case. Very bad all. Of course, we might also chalk up 'being an insulting ass to the android with the poisonous bio-goo in a glass' in that column too. But again - net difference of zero, there, I'm thinking.

    2c.) This has been said adequately already, I think. Choice between staring at monitor and fretting - or letting the pleasures of the flesh tell the fretting brain to just shut the fuck up for a while. Hmmmmmmmm........ I'm not -that- into being panicked...

    2d.) Willy nilly?.. Maybe we watched a different scene, but I was taking from it that they noticed an adverse effect and were trying to back it down - but as they were dealing with an unknown biology, had zero luck, and so chucked the thing into the bin, metaphorically speaking, before it got all over everyone. How was that not the -smart- thing to do?

    3.) Action star comments above apply - but honestly, this was a point I rather applauded on my viewing. Through the rest of the moving, she's wincing, stumbling over things, out of breath, and obviously in some serious pain despite the copious anesthetics. She's running around like nothing ever happened? I'm thinking the reviewer may not be as well aquainted with pain as some others perhaps. I dunno.

    4.) You nailed it. Locked door. Locked door so firmly that we lost an Engineer doing it. How is this a problem? There's things that happen in a movie that aren't going to always mesh. Personally, being an animal guy, I was all freaked out about where Jones was in Alien, and was relieved that Ripley didn't just say 'you know what, fuck that kitty, I'm outta here.' The Vickers thing wit the rolling soon-to-be derelict? I'll admit I did roll my eyes a -bit- at that. Granted, that thing's a large amount of surface area, but a lateral motion would have been the better odds to play here. Maybe she didn't watch a lot of football as a child. Chalk it up to 'scared people sometimes do stupid things' above' and let it go.

    In the end - some folks just don't like genre pieces - particularly ones that dare to ask them to think and think hard. I've known more than a few like that, that dismiss anything that doesn't land in their realm of the 'real'. But hey, it's all right. I think time will settle on the positive side for this one. It's just that good.

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    1. Hi woodchuckgod,

      I completely agree with all your points there, and see things in very much the same fashion. I just don't really see why these are the points that seem to get under people's skin about Prometheus.

      I appreciate how you viewed number 3 (regarding Shaw's pain) as a strength of the film. It's obvious she can barely go on, but is forcing herself to continue. It's not as though she's Wonder Woman, and I can't really see where people are getting that perception from. I liked this aspect of the film: it never forgets she's in agony.

      Also, the formulation you use throughout the comment -- "scared people sometimes do stupid things" -- is perfect. I mean, that's not an outrageous or reaching explanation for any of the behavior that some nitpickers seem to have such problems with. I don't want to blame Star Trek here, because I'm a Trekkie, but I half-wonder if all these years of watching "evolved" humans on dangerous space missions has made fanboys forget how non-romanticized, contemporary man would act in the same situation.

      Finally, I just want to say, I'm a cat person myself. If I knew my wife or son were safe and out of danger, I'd go back to save my cats too. I totally get why Ripley did it. But it's the kind of thing - had it happened in Prometheus - that would have apparently been a HUGE bone of contention with these quibbling nitpickers.

      Great commentary!


      best,
      John

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    2. Thanks!

      And as an aside on the Jones issue - Probably my happiest early moment in Aliens was when Ripley looks at the cat and says, "And you, you little shithead.. you're staying here." I had been very pleased to see Jones again - and was delighted he wasn't going to get dragged into harm's way out of abject sentimentality or the desire for a living teddy bear. Kudos, Ripley. Kudos.

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  7. Hi,

    I had a comment, but apparently it got lost. I have a problem with:

    1. the opening scene
    2. the snake scene
    3. the "we don't need guns" scene
    4. the Vickers leaves her lifeboat scene. why?
    5. the man vs. engineer scene
    6. the entire ideea of engineers. they seed only one planet? why? then a bunch of them die on some rock in space and that's it?
    7. the said rock is supposed to support life, but then it does not. how?
    8. since when do a couple of contractors get to be in charge of anything?
    9. the let's smack into the alien ship scene.
    10. the helmet off scene. that was stupid. If i were Vickers I would have sent him packing immediately .

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    1. Hi Jay-Jay,

      I'm glad you wrote back, and I'm sorry that you had a problem posting, too. I'm glad you tried again, because I always enjoy reading your commentary.

      Well, you've provided a list of problems with the movie that I do understand, even if I don't agree with all the points. The "approach the snake" scene (which I just made sound filthy, dirty, perverted...) is the one that seems to draw the most ire.

      So far as the Engineers go (#6), we don't know that the Engineers only seeded one world. That's just an assumption at this point. I assume we'll get more info on that if the story continues.

      #10. Just curious: Why does it bother you that Holloway removes his helmet after finding an atmosphere and then re-confirming an atmosphere (with David)? Why isn't that enough of a safety check for you? Especially since Shaw's unhappy reaction is already included in the scene? What seems unrealistic or wrong about this to you?

      3. The "we don't need guns" scene doesn't bother me, either. I mean, it is a scientific mission. Even Sybok didn't bring phasers to meet God in Star Trek V. :). You don't go to meet the almighty packing heat, do you?

      8. I agree with you that the idea of a couple of contractors in charge is a bad idea, but I think it purposefully reflects a trend of outsourcing everything, and then using that decision to shirk responsibility. "I didn't do it! I "delegated" authority to those two knuckleheads!" Unfortunately, I fear this is ALL TOO realistic...

      Interesting comment, Jay-Jay. Again, sorry you had to write it twice. My apologies.

      best wishes,

      John

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  8. 3. "You don't go to meet the almighty packing heat, do you?"
    well, I would... :)

    10. Because it immediately felt like a cliche. We've seen it a thousand times before: the reckless idiot who is about to die. Nothing new there. Nothing but lazy writing.

    Thanks for taking the time to argue with me,

    Best,
    J.J.

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    1. Hi Jay-Jay,

      My pleasure. But we're just having a little fun and debating, not arguing. And I appreciate reading alternate viewpoints, and understanding why people may not like Prometheus.

      So thanks for standing up and making your case. I can't disagree entirely that weapons may have been warranted. One security guy with a firearm would have likely made a big difference. I guess where we part on that one is just that I don't see this as a quibble that disqualifies the movie from being great.

      best,
      John

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  9. Anonymous4:13 PM

    "10. Because it immediately felt like a cliche. We've seen it a thousand times before: the reckless idiot who is about to die. Nothing new there. Nothing but lazy writing."

    I find this interesting because it was not breathing in the chamber's oxygen that killed Holloway. His 'recklessness' is not what attributed to his demise - the air was, in fact, breathable. His demise was orchestrated by a curious android with a differing agenda.

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    1. Anonymous,

      That's a very good point. Holloway's rash action did not cause his death, at least not directly. I don't get this one, because -- while rash -- Holloway at least double checked that the air was breathable. And the other characters chided him. I don't see how this point takes away from the movie's quality.

      Best,
      John

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  10. Anonymous12:12 PM

    Some strong defenses of some dubious bits of business, John. My two-cents:

    1.Holloway and the helmet:Frankly, breathable air is only one area of concern. There is also the danger of contamination. Not only could Holloway potentially get infected with some alien disease (two schools of thought on alien diseases: they are either so alien that we would be totally immune to them, or they are so alien that they would simply overwhelm our immune systems.Either way, I wouldn't be eager to be the guy who finds out), he might also infect any alien lifeforms that they encounter.

    2. Lovey-Dovey with the snake alien: This scene has annoyed every person that I have discussed the film with. Two crucial differences between this scene and the one with Kane in ALIEN: (1)Kane was established as a reckless, feels no sense of fear or caution kind of guy. The biologist in PROMETHEUS, in contrast, is established as being scared out of his wits. (2) Kane was wearing his helmet. Hence, he had a greater sense of physical protection from danger.

    3. Shaw's surgery:Prepare for rant:Perhaps the biggest bit of idiocy involves what happens after Shaw undergoes her impromptu surgery. Nobody either goes looking for her or attempts to ask her what happened.The two people that she assaulted apparently do nothing. Shaw never mentions to anyone that there is an alien organism (apparently dead, but who knows) in the super-expensive medical pod.David, who knows that she had something inside her, never bothers to find out what happened.While we're on it, does Vickers (Theron's uber sexy, uber controlled executive)strike anyone as the type who would not keep her quarters locked (her quarters being where the pod is stored)?

    Syon

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    1. Syon,

      Thank you for writing! I want to say I appreciate your viewpoint, but I don't necessarily agree with your criticisms.

      The helmet removal issue is the tough one for me to cope with, I must confess. In Star Trek, for instance, no one ever bothers to put on a helmet when visiting an alien derelict or planet. There's no fear of contamination at all in that universe. I just saw this again on SGU ("The Greater Good") last night too.

      An accepted convention of science fiction films and television is that if there's a breathable atmosphere, the helmet comes off. It has happened so many times in the genre -- too many times to count -- so I can't see why Prometheus is being singled out for all this scorn on the topic. Again, a lot of programs and movies should be disqualified from a point of quality if this moment is a disqualifier for Prometheus.

      2. Lovey-dovey with the snake is the hardest point to defend, as I readily concede. And I agree with you that people have a tough time with it in general.

      But on the othe rhand you just acknowledged it was okay for Kane to do something stupid (stick his face in an opening egg...) because he was established as reckless. Well, Prometheus establishes these two characters with the snake as not particularly bright (they got lost in the temple). They do something not particularly bright, and get lovey dovey with the snake. If character information is exculpatory for Kane, it's exculpatory for these guys in Prometheus.

      And most importantly, the two men ARE -- again like Kane -- BOTH wearing helmets when they approach the snake. Photos will confirm this. Just google image the term "Prometheus, snake in mouth" and you'll see that their helmets are absolutely on. So they have equal physical protection from the "monster" that Kane has. So let's knock Alien off the list of quality sci-fi movies, because characters do dumb things there too.

      3. At this point, David is operating by orders from Dad and I suppose Weyland could care less about Shaw or what's happening to her. He wants to be taken to the Engineer while he has a precious few moments of life left, and that's where David's duty/programming rests. Everything else is secondary to Weyland's continued survival.

      Would Vickers keep her quarters locked? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Again, I feel like this one could go either way. I see your point, but I don't necessarily think it's absolute.

      Thanks for stopping by to share your opinion. I really appreciated reading your thoughts on this issue.

      best,
      John

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  11. Anonymous1:04 PM

    The helmet scene does not bother me so much as I believe that it served it's place in the film to show that the Engineers were advanced enough to create a breathable atmosphere within the cave. I think it also served the purpose of showcasing Holloway's 'leap-without-looking' mentality. While it is true that contamination and contracting an unknown contagion is a grave possibility - this did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the film.

    With regards to Shaw's self-surgery, I feel like events were unfolding rather rapidly at this point in the film. I didn't feel like there needed to be a scene where she explained to the crew what transpired in the medical pod as it would have been redundant to me as a viewer (I've already seen what has occurred - I do not need a rehash of events). I deduced that some crew members were privy to Shaw's removal of the alien spawn, as David made the quick comment, "I didn't think you had it in you." While there is double meaning in this statement, David is saying to Shaw that he didn't think she had the nerve to remove the wiggler on her own - he is aware of what has happened. David is also aware as to what the alien looks like as he had seen it an image of it on the scan he preformed on Shaw. If David is aware, I think it is safe to assume that Weyland is also aware. At this point in the film, people do not care about the status of the squid baby as they are preparing to meet with their creator; a living, breathing engineer.

    Kay

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    1. Kay,

      Thank you for pointing out a facet of the film I hadn't mentioned: atmosphere as showcase of Engineer intelligence, and also as connection to our brand of life form: they breathe air. Yes, it works in regards to furthering these points.

      I also feel that Syon is not out on a limb worrying about contamination, only that most sci-fi movies don't get judged so harshly for not considering that point.

      I agree as well that the follow-up to Shaw's self-surgery is enough to know that David is aware, but that it isn't a point of grave at concern for him at this juncture, given that they are about to meet the Engineer. Priorities, right?

      Thanks for adding your own viewpoint, and for making good sense regarding some of these aspects of the film.

      best,
      John

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  12. Anonymous1:31 PM

    Alien snake:Arrgh, I forgot that he had his helmet on!Mea culpa maxima....Well, I still stick by the notion that Kane's actions were more defensible from a character standpoint than what we saw in PROMETHEUS. If Scott had depicted the biologist as being a Kane (or , for that matter, Holloway) type character, I could have bought it. I just can't buy a man who was frightened out of his wits a few moments ago doing what he does in the film.

    David's lack of response to Shaw's return: Point taken. David's lack of follow-up can be rationalized, but there are still the two technicians that Shaw assaulted. I just feel that this is an issue that could have been dealt with better. Heck, 30 seconds of dialogue would have been enough.

    Helmet removal: Yeah, this is a genre convention (like no one being able to recognize Bruce Wayne as Batman, or Taylor not being able to figure out that he must be on Earth when he encounters apes that speak English), one that we have accepted in countless episodes of STAR TREK, etc. The difference here, though, is that we are in the body-horror ALIEN universe. Somehow, I find this kind of thing harder to accept in a film universe where biological infestation is the sine qua non.

    Syon

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    1. Hi Syon,

      You wrote: "The difference here, though, is that we are in the body-horror ALIEN universe. Somehow, I find this kind of thing harder to accept in a film universe where biological infestation is the sine qua non."

      You know, I do find that point rather convincing, I must say.

      At the very least, it's worth having the debate about. My response however, is that the helmet removal moment comes from characters -- if we get into their head space -- who don't know that they are in the Alien universe, where such rules apply.

      They are the "first," so-to-speak, to inhabit this universe, chronologically-speaking so how can we rightfully expect them to act according to information they don't have?

      Remember, our response ("For christsake don't take off your helmet!!!") comes from having watched four previous Alien films; information that Holloway is not privy to.

      So I do strongly take your point that the Alien universe isn't Star Trek (or SGU, for that matter). But these guys don't know what they are walking into, and we can't expect them to prepare for something they are ignorant about. That's why I don't see the moment as inconsistent or weak in terms of characterization.

      The lovey-dovey with the snake is still the hardest point to defend, in my opinion, so I can't blame you for sticking to your guns with the argument that it plays poorly.

      The bottom line on this one, I think -- and our point of agreement -- is that it could have been shot, performed and imagined better, so that we aren't debating it like this.

      It may be a legitimate weak moment, but again, I don't weigh it that strongly against what I consider a powerful, staggeringly beautiful movie, if that makes sense.

      So our difference on that snake point may simply be how we choose to weigh it in terms of the whole.

      I'm enjoying our back and forth (with input from Kay as well).

      All my best,
      John

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  13. Anonymous10:16 AM

    I believe that Ridley Scott may have had as a model for the space mission in Prometheus the narratives of expeditions made by earlier explorers such as those of journeys to the North pole or to unexplored oceans and countries. These tales are full of incidents of people acting irrationally, even scientists and experienced travellers. In a book titled Deep Survival, the author tells many stories of persons that freak out in dangerous situations and do things they would normally not do, leading to disaster. Compared to this there are others, like young children that sometimes make the right decisions and are able to survive. That's the first point in support of the behavior of the characters in the film.
    The second point is that this is a civilian expedition, not a military one and there is no clear authority or chain of command other than Vickers who seems to be generally ignored by all. Everyone pretty much acts independently. If it was military as in Aliens, perhaps there would be more discipline but even then there is a lot of freeking out by the Colonial Marines and interference by the Corporation which leads me to another point which is Scott's intention of showing how the motivation of Weyland and his corporation is what continuously leads to chaos. The corporate machine and selfish greed of Weyland drives the experimentation of David, places people in untenable situations and seeks to control what cannot be controlled without disastarous results. Finally, the nitpickers are simply not the sort of persons, and I am not belittling anyone, that are interested in looking at broader themes posed by the images and narrative, or interpreting symbols or comparing recurrent themes across the Alien platform. They are more satisfied probing the geeky details than in exploring the human condition. I think it makes a difference if you have studied film as you have which gives you a sense of how the added dimension of moving images must work with symbols because to communicate purely through dialogue would mean giving up what is missing in a book - that film is primarily a visual medium.

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  14. We see exactly eye to eye on the themes and topics seen on Prometheus, and the reasons why the grand majority choose to find "bad things" in it. They just can't take the truth about what Prometheus is really about.

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  15. odival11:09 PM

    I'll try to be as clear as I can, given that english is not my first language.
    So, while I do agree that this movie doesn't deserve so much bashing there's 2 points that I just can't, in good conscious, ignore under the "it happens a lot in other movies you like and you never complained before" argument that seems to pervade most of what you wrote (specially in the comments section). Yes, its the helmet and the snake bits, again.
    a) The helmet: Sure, it happens in most sci-fi movies and shows, and no one complained about it. But it's one thing to see it happenning on Star Trek (with its magical quasi-omnipotent technology and - let's face it - that corny 60's mood) or the Stargate franchise. It just fits in with the rest of it, and to be fair it's easier to forgive these shows (or movies) when the alien planet looks a lot like the countryside of Canada or Texas.
    The same can't be said about a Ridley Scott movie, where you expect that sort of Alien's gritty realism (enviroment wise), his legendary skill on creating a imersive world for the viewer. You can't pretend that the Alien universe doesn't have that 2001: A Space Odissey's perch for realism (and it was no accident that James Cameron's Aliens even share the same feeling in it's soundtrack, to the point of almost been a rip-off). That been said its only fair that lots of people were displeased with such a display of recklessness from Holloway.
    Sure, maybe Scott is just making a point (about the terraforming skills of the Space Jockers, or the characters personality), sure these people have no idea they're in the Alien universe but they're scientists. And realising that breathble air is only one of several factors you should have in mind before taking one's helmet off is no rocket science, it's freaking common sense in a universe that looks a lot like ours (and Alien's world is one such universe). Holloway should've accounted for the risk of biological contamination, no matter how much reckless he is and how much more effort it takes a writer to show his mentality in more subtle ways.
    Kane was just a [space] trucker/redneck, doesn't make for a fair comparison for me.
    b) The snake: I'll try to be brief. When you go to such lengths as to make a scientst taking off his helmet in a alien cave just to make a point about his character, it should come as no surprise that a biologist would treat a (clearly pissed) alien snake like you would a puppy. Seriously. That was just plain stupid. Sure, running away screaming would've be equally stupid but who, confronted with, say, a tiger, would walk slowly towards it, saying things like "omigod you so beautyfull! Come to papa! I'm a biologist so I must love all animals, even freaking aliens vermin-snake-demon thingy - except humanoids corpses!". You wouldn't. No one would, especially two panicked lost scientists.

    Sure, much like you those sequences didn't ruined the movie for me (the tiresome faith x science theme and some very confusing points over how the Alien came to be, did a better job at it) but are hard to swallow when we're dealing with a director such as Ridley Scott. Then again, he actually wanted to insert a Jesus-Space Jocker subplot in the movie...

    Anyway, I actually came to say you made a great work on that The Thing (2011) review!

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  16. Saturnine Chaim2:43 PM

    Loved your review. It's a rare treat to discover this sort of imaginative, in-depth investigation of a movie that has burrowed deep into my mind (like a parasite created to eradicate humanity?).

    I have a lot of thoughts about the movie which maybe I'll post later (particularly if you are still taking the time to engage comments). For now I just want to point out something usually overlooked.

    In the scene where Fifield and glasses guy pet the snake, they were HIGH. The scene opens with them joking around – a clear change of tone from their previous dread and anxiety. Glasses dude asks Fifield if she's puffing tobacco, to which Fifield sacrastically replies, "yeah – tobacco!" and sucks on the straw inside his helmet, producing a bubbling sound which recalls smoking through a bong or pipe with a water reservoir. In this scene, the movie takes a long step into the haunted house genre, where teenagers either have sex or do drugs and through these vices make themselves vulnerable to the lurking threats all around them.

    I thought it was pretty obvious and clearly-presented that they were high. Is that enough reason to not be afraid of an alien snake when you're alone in a horrible dark temple full of huge corpses? What kind of high were they? Was it marijuana as we know it or some kind of future bud? Regardless, the drugs introduce a fudge factor that allows for a good dose of silliness.

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