arachnekallisti: (Bernard Black)
[personal profile] arachnekallisti
Prometheus is very nearly good. I found it both incredibly compelling and incredibly frustrating. I'm feeling fannish as all hell about it, but mainly about the potential it had rather than the actuality. It does look amazing though.

In short, if you like cracky dark sci-fi involving extraordinarily pretty people being extraordinarily crap in the face of alien threats, this'll keep you going nicely until the next series of Torchwood.

The plot of Prometheus actually reminded me more than anything of the Magrathea segments in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy: we have a mission to a dead planet that may be the home of an incredibly advanced species, which turns out to be one rich guy's dubiously-rational vanity project. We have a chance to ask the creators of humanity deep questions about Life, the Universe and Everything, and we get answers that are unhelpful, incomprehensible and generally disappointing. Then said creators turn out to be not all that benevolent and in fact surprisingly homicidal.

We also have a deeply put-upon robot.

Let me get one thing straight: I actually really liked that we never find out exactly what the Engineers' agenda is, how their technology works, or what the hell they were doing. Letting them be genuinely, incomprehensibly alien was a stylish and audacious move, and actually rather philosophically clever. They open up some really interesting ideas about whether knowing your origins really tells you anything useful about what you should be doing now. The Engineers really are an Existentialist's conception of God, "an incomprehensible answer to a question we can't get rid of" (to quote Thomas Nagel).

You could think of the film as being an argument between Shaw, who is all about the Kierkegaard-style leap of faith, and David, who appears to be a more Sartrean kind of existentialist. David is the one who raises the possibility earlier on that any answers obtained from the Engineers might be profoundly unsatisfying, and seems to be quietly longing for the chance for an authentic existence after Weyland is dead (and in fact proceeds to be much nicer to Shaw once he gets it). You could even argue that spiking Holloway's drink with the black goo could be thought of as an acte gratuit (an affirmation of the Existentialist's own existence and agency, or a moment of bloody-minded capriciousness, depending on your philosophical stance).

Philosophy aside, there was also some quality body-horror; this film could only have targeted my personal squicks better if Shaw had performed the alien squid abortion* on herself whilst buried alive in a box of fish. I will say that her ability to run around and leap epically over chasms with all her abdominal muscles held together with staples boggled my mind slightly, but what the hell. 

Having said all this, I still have great big reservations about Prometheus. Mainly that being the thing that made me walk out of the cinema with a palm-shaped bruise on my forehead; the whole bloody crew. Who could not find their collective arses with both hands and little bleepy 3-D mapping balls.

We have the team of scientists who all take their helmets off as soon as it turns out there's enough oxygen, because nobody in 2093 can remember the ending of The War of the Worlds. We have the geologist with the aforementioned bleepy 3-D mapping gizmos (we know he's a geologist because he feels the need to tell us "I FUCKIN' LOVE ROCKS!") who gets lost in the caves. We have the biologist who freaks out at the sight of a dead alien but then tries to make friends with a hissing, hostile, dangerous-looking alien snake thingy (which manages to look both phallic and yonic at the same time, nice job creature designers). We have the archaeologists who prance all over an alien dig site breathing on it and then act all surprised when the ancient murals start discolouring, one of whom then proceeds to go back to the ship and mope once it turns out he's actually having to investigate dead people and he can't just talk to them. We have the captain who wanders off for a quick shag leaving the bridge unattended whilst two members of the team are stranded in alien ruins. We have the medical scientist type who starts dissecting an alien head with living cells still on it right in the open medlab without even one of those little paper mask jobs. And then we have the mission leader who gets flattened under the giant bio-mechanical space croissant because she cannot grasp the concept of running sideways.

Considering the general sterling level of competence on display here, I find it rather plausible that (as [ profile] ignisophis suggested) the entire ending of the film could be down to David accidentally telling the Last Engineer that his hovercraft was full of mortally insulting eels.

To be honest, this is not entirely the crew's fault. We also need to consider the project management genius back at Weyland Industries who decided that it'd be a brilliant idea not to introduce any of the crew members to each other until they're already in deep space orbiting the planet in question, thus neatly bypassing all that tedious team-building bit. Not to mention the HR staff who recruited Team Arse-Elbow Differentiation in the first place. [ profile] prochytes has a theory about this - the scientists Weyland got were the ones that the rest of their faculty were most willing to see gone for several years, since trying to send them to a continuous series of conferences (the way academia usually handles this) does get quite expensive. Which would explain rather a lot. And this is not even touching the logistics department who decided that shelling out an extra five grand for the unisex software update on the medical pod was an unjustifiable additional expense (unless that was Weyland's impressively petty attempt to stop his daughter touching his stuff).

All of which makes Prometheus look rather like a fable about the tragic consequences of stealing fire from the Gods and then sticking it up your nose. Or possibly a transcript of a RPG session with the player group from hell and a GM who wants to rush through the role-playing and character development bits and get onto the cool set-pieces on the pretty maps. Honestly, my Deathwatch group show more common sense and less blind faith, and they're playing Space Marines.

I am quite happy with aliens acting in weird and incomprehensible ways. I only start bridling when the humans are just as WTF-inducing. Which is a pity, because then I was spending too much time giggling hysterically to appreciate the actually good bits.

I will probably watch the hell out of the sequel if there is one, though. Because how can the cracky space adventures of Our Heroine with a creepy biomechanical spaceship and a stalkerishly obsessed robot head not be brilliant? Especially once she picks up the hot undead assassin.

*Alien Squid Abortion is the name of my Throbbing Gristle tribute band.

Anyway, linkage:
1. The superb Cleolinda does Prometheus in 15 Minutes. And owes me a new keyboard.
2. An actual archaeologist weighs in with their opinions of Team Arse-Elbow Differentiation. The comments thread also contains some insight as to the kind of corporate project management nightmare that might actually produce the clusterfail in question.
3. Natalie Nourigat produced some rather splendidly snarky fan comics.
4. There is a Prometheus kink meme! Which also takes prompts for all the Alien films, and has already produced some rather nice Ripley/Vasquez UST.
5. Also, Prometheus fic at AO3. Most of which is about David. To my complete surprise.

Date: 2012-06-17 02:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
a stalkerishly obsessed robot head

Which reminds me, there's another parallel we forgot - 790 (, the stalkerishly obsessed robot head from Lexx ;)

Date: 2012-06-18 05:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes - I would have to say that I endorse all that. I particularly like your analysis of the existential argument that is sort of going on. I was a little reminded of Warren Ellis's various riffs on the idea of moving beyond one's God-like creator, whether the "Outer Dark" storyline in The Authority or The Uncreated from Excalibur. The latter may be found here; it strikes me, looking again at the story there, that Noomi Rapace would, visually at least, make a rather good Shadowcat.

By the way, David's line, "Big things have small beginnings", comes, as I suspected, from Lawrence of Arabia.

Edited Date: 2012-06-18 05:06 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-06-22 12:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Interestingly, both sides of said sort of existential argument end up confronting the limits of their position - Shaw has to face the realisation that she's taken a leap of faith off a cliff onto a spike, and David falls foul of somebody else's acte gratuit. They'd make a very interesting double-act in a hypothetical sequel...

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