Ridley Scott... Science Fiction... Midnight screening... what could possibly go wrong?
3D. It's shit. I hate it. For all of the gimmicky wonder it brings it just fails in all kinds of subtle ways.
3D is like the Nu-Metal of the movie magic making process.
It's been done before, albeit in a more primitive fashion. It's not about art but about gimmickry and is far too focused on transient spectacle and selling units. It takes the sharp edges away from an otherwise exhilirating medium and it makes a difficult to perceive mess of complex arrangements. Hopefully it will die horribly and let us all get back to business as usual.
Like John Carter a couple of months ago TV has been littered with trailers in 2D during which a number of scenes look eye shatteringly gorgeous. The shot of a starship descending through clouds looked like a Chris Foss painting come alive. Shots of the interior of a mysterious temple/crypt were lush with fine detail. An action scene felt kinetic and exciting. In the cinema the starship scene looks dull, divested of all colour vibrancy by the 3D glasses. The temple/crypt lacks fine resoution. The action is difficult to follow and hard on the eyes thanks to the 3D image becoming a stuttering morass when the camera pans quickly. It's just tragic. It also makes me wonder whether cinemas are actually equipped to display the RealD process correctly and we are being ripped off in grand fashion, or whether my eyes are simply freakishly unable to deal with the process. In short I will be seeing it again, but in 2D, and I fully expect to be blown away by the visuals because Prometheus is a spectacular movie.
3D gripes aside I can honestly say that Prometheus is the science fiction movie I have been waiting for for a long time. The connection with Scott's original and seminal Alien is undeniable and reinforced on a number of occasions early in the piece, from snatches of Jerry Goldsmiths original signature score to commonality of design touches in the technology on display. The way in which Scott establishes a core thematic familiarity between the low-fi industrial world of the Nostromo and the ultra high-tech trillionaire's starship Prometheus paves the way for what is to come. The design sensibilities suffuse the film with a mythic scope that resonated with me on a deeply emotional level. It is a thing of utter beauty. Despite their lack of direct involvement with the making of this movie both Ron Cobb and H.R. Giger are the spiritual core of almost everything on screen for the full two hour running time. That's not to say that the production designers on Prometheus simply reproduced the work of those two great visualists but they took their work on Alien as a core aesthetic upon which to build a fresh perspective on that universe, and they did a beautiful job.
Similarly the story itself builds upon what has gone before by infusing Shusett and O'Bannon's blue-collar corporate future with new themes. Equal parts von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods, Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and Alien combine to create true conceptual science fiction. When fused with the staggering visuals what gone possibly go wrong?
Not necessarily in terms of ratcheting up tension or excitement because the film flows and progresses well as a thriller, but in terms of character. At least two crucial plot points hinge upon the behaviour of key characters and on first viewing these behaviours seemed almost crow-barred in to serve the overall flow from A to B to C. Moments of self-sacrifice for example only tend to work onscreen if there is sufficient emotional investment from, and/or obvious character-driven logic imparted to, the audience. I felt that both were conspiculously lacking and those key points, along with some tremendously fake-looking old person prosthetics, threatened to take me out of the moment. Of course it is perfectly possible on the character progression points that I was so agog at the spectacle that I missed finer nuances of characterisation. Only a second viewing will answer that for me. Ridley Scott also has a habit of releasing extended versions on DVD so perhaps additional character moments will flesh out the plot and make certain decisions and events make a little bit more sense.
My expectations for Prometheus were probably unreasonably high and although I am certainly not disappointed I don't feel as shatteringly affected as I hoped to be. Despite this Promethues is still, hands down, the best Science Fiction film in years, probably since Blade Runner. Sure, there have been great sci-fi films but Prometheus is Science Fiction of the highest order. Better still it takes the mythology of the original Alien film and expands it enormously, more so in fact that all of the official sequels and risible cross-over abortions managed to do combined.
And now we hear that Scott is to revisit Blade Runner. I hate to wish my life away for the sake of movies but holy shit, I can't wait to see it.
2nd Viewing Update: NOW IN 2D!!!
Having seen Prometheus again (in glorious 2D) I can confirm that that lack of emotional impact the first time around led me to view the film the second time in a slightly different manner, and this time I was armed with an extra nugget of knowledge. On first viewing I blamed my inability to absorb key plot points (hence the pacing of the film and the behaviour of the characters feeling 'off') on my lack of perception in the face of visual splendour. Had I known in advance that scriptwriter Damien Lindelof was one of the writers of Lost I would have adjusted my expectations accordingly. This time I did and the result is one of bewilderment. Visually Prometheus tells an epic story. Dialogue and script-wise it teases greatness but generally fails to deliver, not because it is too oblique or insufficiently opaque, but because it is utterly shallow and liable to crumble under any scrutiny.
Nevertheless I still think it is a great, but critically flawed, piece of work. I had held high hopes for an extended version for home video release but to be honest there is very little point if the glaring flaws are not resulting from a studio-imposed reduced running time, but essentially down to an extremely brittle script. The main questions in my mind are no longer related to film content, but to why Ridley Scott, a meticulous film-maker obsessed with detail, would fuck the dog so grandly in one key area?
Of course an answer does occur to me fairly quickly.
On paper the idea of a big budget, Scott helmed return to the Alien universe is tantalising and full of possibilities. Unfortunately the commercial demands on such an outing will always compromise any result, either in the form of a substantially reduced budget, a more family friendly rating or in the form of massively reduced expectations on the IQ levels of the target audience. In the case of Prometheus I suspect it was the latter. I dearly wish Dan O'Bannon were still around to pass judgement on what is effectively an alternate take on his and Ron Shusett's original Alien script, Star Beast. In fact in may be that the death of Dan O'Bannon is the one of the key reasons for all of the above because surely he would have been Scott's first port of call when the train started rolling.
We now live in an age when 2001: A Space Odyssey or the original Planet of the Apes could never get made.
Under modern studio conditions is Prometheus as good as it could ever have hoped to be?
No, I don't believe that. There must be popular film-makers and writers around who could have accomplished the task of making the Prometheus script not only conceptually sound but able to 'pop' with audiences.
Despite all of this I still have high hopes for any Ridley Scott venture back into Blade Runner territory. Initial reports suggest that original screenwriter Hampton Fancher is already working on a draft screenplay so there may be some promise of greatness... again.