Tag Archives: “Aliens”

‘Alien’ meets ‘Tree of Life’ in Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’

Film review

Earthlings from the ship Prometheus visit the ship of humanoid aliens in Ridley Scott’s epic “Prometheus,” in which Scott unfortunately bit off far more than he actually could chew. 

Warning: Contains spoilers (if you really could call them that…).

I’m pretty sure that my companion and I weren’t supposed to laugh at the final visual of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” but we did, and that very apparently unintended laughter from the audience member, I think, underscores what’s wrong with the film.

Before I saw “Prometheus” yesterday — in 3-D at an IMAX, the biggest and loudest way to see it, at least here in Sacramento — I had read another reviewer compare “Prometheus” to Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” and while at that time I couldn’t see how that comparison could be apt, I see it now.

I wrote of “The Tree of Life” at the time of its release:

I get the impression with “The Tree of Life” that the 67-year-old Malick [he now is 68] had two films inside of him trying to claw their way out of his chest cavity like identical twin aliens a la “Alien,” but that he was concerned that if he didn’t put them into one film, he might not live long enough to get both films made, so he put both of the films into a blender.

Again, either of these two films probably would have been or at least could have been great, Malick’s ode to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001” (and to “Jurassic Park”) or Malick’s very personal (perhaps too personal) recap of his own childhood as an American baby boomer having grown up in Texas.

I also noted of “The Tree of Life” that “the story of the humans in ‘The Tree of Life’ probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

It’s kind of weird, in retrospect, that I mentioned “Alien” in my review of “The Tree of Life,” because now we have Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” which is like “‘Alien’ Meets ‘The Tree of Life,'” and the same criticism that I leveled of “The Tree of Life” is true of “Prometheus”: that “the story of the humans in [‘Prometheus’] probably would have made a much better stand-alone film, stripped of the ‘2001’-like surrealism of cosmic vomiting and universal diarrhea, in which creation often rather violently explodes all over the place.”

In the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” — and it’s a grand, origin-of-man opening scene that makes us think way too much of the grand, origin-of-man opening scenes of Kubrick’s “2001” and Malick’s “Tree of Life” – we have what appears to be literal cosmic vomiting, as a proto-human, humanoid alien apparently vomits his (its?) DNA onto planet Earth as its body disintegrates into a waterfall, further seeding planet Earth with its DNA, eventually leading to us human beings, which doesn’t make much more sense, scientifically, than the myth that Eve sprang fully formed from Adam’s rib. But if I understand “Prometheus” correctly (and can anyone?), Scott presents this as more or less scientifically plausible.

It’s fine to create your own cosmology, but your cosmology needs to make sense, needs to follow logic and reason, if you are presenting it as logical and reasonable. “Prometheus” is chock full of logical and chronological inconsistencies and contradictions. Were I to watch “Prometheus” on DVD and be able to stop and start it again, I probably could fill pages of notes of all of the shit that just doesn’t make sense.*

And that doesn’t make “Prometheus” deep and unfathomable. That makes “Prometheus” not very well planned out.

The acting in “Prometheus” is good, even though our heroine more or less is an Ellen Ripley reboot, and expect Ridley Scott and his army of technicians to sweep the Oscars with technical awards, and indeed “Prometheus'” ultra-special effects and BIGNESS do indeed draw you in, at least at times throughout the film’s two hours, and so as summer-movie entertainment, “Prometheus” more or less succeeds, but by trying to do way too much, and by not making much sense in the process, “Prometheus” lets you down.

The main problem with “Prometheus” indeed seems to be Ridley Scott’s outsized ego. “Prometheus” isn’t just the dude in Greek mythology who first brought the use of fire to mankind, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the name of the ship in Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film since 1982’s “Blade Runner,” and “Prometheus” isn’t just the humanoid alien at the beginning of Scott’s latest sci-fi film who apparently is the father (father/mother?) of all mankind on Earth, and “Prometheus” isn’t just the title of Ridley Scott’s latest film. “Prometheus” also very apparently is Ridley Scott — who wishes to remind you that he first brought the “Alien” franchise to mankind!

At age 74, perhaps Scott thought that “Prometheus” might be his last film, and so he had to make a splash. Ironically, it seems to me that had he tried to make much less of a big splash, “Prometheus” would have been a much better film, because it isn’t a big splash — it’s a big mess. A very pretty mess, but a mess nonetheless. With “Prometheus” Ridley Scott bit off way more than he could chew.

There are elements of “Prometheus” that I like. I like the proto-human, humanoid aliens, and I would have liked to have known an awful lot more about them, but I suppose that that would have been too much like “Star Trek” for Scott, and again, I have the feeling that we aren’t told more about these aliens not because Scott was trying to be coy (although I don’t rule out that he decided to save some details for sequels, of course), but because he actually never bothered to flesh out his cosmology for “Prometheus.”

Reviewers have been raving about Michael Fassbender’s performance as David, the android. I like Fassbender — he’s good in pretty much every role that he plays — but David is only a mish-mash of androids that we’ve seen before in the previous “Alien” movies and in many other sci-fi films. The protagonist juvenile android of Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” also is named David, whose “daddy” is the CEO of a corporation, just like “Prometheus'” David is the ’droid “son” of a CEO. (The symbolism, I suppose, is that sculptor Michelangelo created his own David. Deep!)

Yawn.

And the theme of the robot who knows that he doesn’t have a human soul has been visited many times before, not only in “A.I.” but with “Star Trek’s” Data, of course. (To “Prometheus'” credit, I suppose, the android David apparently does not, in Pinocchio-cum-Data style, long to be a real boy, as does “A.I.’s” android David. “Prometheus'” David seems to prefer his status as an android.)

But why do almost all of the androids in the “Alien” movies have to be decapitated or cut in two? As I watched the talking head of David in “Prometheus,” I really could think only of the android characters of Ash and Bishop in “Alien” and “Aliens,” respectively, who were decapitated and cut in two, respectively, but who kept talking. Why couldn’t Ridley Scott have kept David in one piece?

And why did Scott have David deliver lines that are so similar in their content and even in their cadence to the lines that HAL delivered in “2001,” such as something along the lines of: “I know that we have had our differences,  [insert hero or heroine’s name here], but I can assure you that I am fully functional now”?

David’s being the only one “awake” for more than two years while the human crew were in cryosleep as their ship traveled to its destination (the Earth-like moon of a planet far, far away) on a mission that most of the crew members were not briefed upon until after their arrival at their destination also makes David too much like HAL and “Prometheus” too much like “2001” (as well as their grand opening scenes that retell how humankind came into being).

And for fuck’s sake, I love Guy Pearce, but if you have a character who is supposed to be an old, old man, why not just have an old, old actor play that role? (AARP, are you listening?) It’s taboo these days to put makeup on a white person and have him or her play, say, an Asian or a black person, so why is it OK to just put makeup on a younger man to have him play a Yoda-old man? (Age progression is different. Pearce’s character, the CEO of “Weyland Corp.” and the “father” of android David, is ancient throughout the entire film.)

Many reviewers have noted that “Prometheus” appears to be Ridley Scott’s attempt to take back the franchise that his 1979 “Alien” started, and indeed, the final, very apparently unintentionally risible scene of “Prometheus” — in a which a proto-“Alien” alien bursts from the torso of one of the proto-human, humanoid aliens — seems to be Ridley Scott fairly screaming: “See? I gave birth to the alien!”

Admittedly, the “Alien” franchise went off the tracks with its third installment, but “Prometheus” hasn’t put it back on track.

Gee. Maybe James Cameron can rescue the “Alien” reboot…**

My grade: B-

*You are demanding at least one thing about “Prometheus” that doesn’t make sense, so fine: Why does the humanoid alien at the end of the film, who, we are told, has been in cryosleep for at least 2,000 years, decide, upon finally wakening, that he still must fulfill his destructive mission on Earth? How does he know that the mission is still a good idea? Is it not possible that things have changed in two millennia? And even with the humanoid aliens’ advanced technology, how was he (it?) kept alive in cryosleep for two millennia?

Here’s another logical problem: The automated surgery pod that operates on our heroine — if it was programmed for male patients only, as we are informed, how did it cut open and then close her uterus? (Was the alien being in her uterus? She was told that she was pregnant, so I assume so.)

Here’s another problem: How can you actually reanimate the head of a humanoid being that has been dead for centuries? (And isn’t it repetitive? Ash the android’s head was reanimated in “Alien,” for fuck’s sake. WTF is Scott’s obsession with reanimated heads?)

And yet another problem: If the humanoid aliens’ DNA were exactly like Earthlings’ DNA, then why are the humanoid aliens hairless, pale (translucent, really) and huge? If the DNA were an exact match, wouldn’t Earthlings be giants, too?

There are many more inconsistencies and contradictions, but those are good for starters.

**Lest you laugh, Wikipedia notes that “Prometheus”

…began development in the early 2000s as a fifth entry in the “Alien” franchise, with both [Ridley] Scott and director James Cameron developing ideas for a film that would serve as a prequel to Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror film “Alien.” By 2003, the project was sidelined by the development of “Alien vs. Predator,” and remained dormant until 2009 when Scott again showed interest.

I am not certain whether Scott and Cameron were working together or were working independently on an “Alien” prequel, but I rather would have had Cameron make the prequel than Scott…

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Jackson-endorsed ‘District 9’ watchable but often nonsensical and lacking detail

The alien's stalled mother ship in a scene from "District ...

This movie still released by Sony Pictures shows, left to right, ...

Reuters and Associated Press images

Arthropodic extraterrestrials’ ship is stalled above Johannesburg, South Africa, in stills from the Peter Jackson-endorsed “District 9,” which came in at No. 1 at the box office this weekend.

I love a good science fiction movie, especially one with political overtones, and since according to Yahoo!’s roundup, the film critics gave “District 9” an average grade of “A-“ — and since “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson gave “District 9” his stamp of approval (he is one of the film’s producers, and the ads for “District 9” tell us this) — I dragged the boyfriend to it yesterday.

I give it a “B.”

“District 9” has some interesting concepts, such as the apparent parallels between the “prawns” (the crustacean-like extraterrestrials put in a concentration camp called District 9 in South Africa after they found themselves stranded on Earth) and the Palestinians in occupied Palestine, and private military corporation “MNU” (“Multi-National United”) and private military corporation Blackwater, but “District 9” has too many elements that just don’t make sense for me to be able to give it anything higher than a “B.”

Where to begin?

There is the mysterious black liquid extract — we’re never told what it consists of — made in an ET’s shack like an impoverished, desperate person might make methamphetamine in his shack, and this mysterious black liquid, which took the ET two decades to make, not only powers the stranded ETs’ ship, which still hovers (somehow — that’s not explained either) over Johannesburg, but also somehow slowly turns the human protagonist into one of the ETs after he accidentally splashes himself with it. (The mysterious black liquid probably is a great stain remover, too…)

Then there is the alternating view of the ETs’ capabilities. At first they’re portrayed as rather savage and stupid, caring only about feasting upon livestock carcasses (especially the heads, for some reason) and canned cat food (yes, canned cat food), and then at least one of them, the protagonist ET, is portrayed as having quite sophisticated technological ability, far surpassing that of humans.

The human protagonist is portrayed as being about as sympathetic to the ETs as any of his human counterparts are ever going to be — he doesn’t like it when the ETs are exterminated wantonly by MNU’s hair-triggered, testosterone-overdosed mercenaries — yet in one scene he demonstrates that he has no problems with the destruction of the ETs’ young, noting that when set aflame, the ET-ling pods make an interesting popping sound. (Apparently the ETs are to get human approval before reproducing, and these young thus were “illegal.”)

If District 9 is a closed-off area meant to contain the ETs, then why do the ETs have such frequent, such apparently casual contact with the South African gang members?

Speaking of which, how, exactly, do humans and the ETs have sexual relations? (Apparently female human prostitutes cater to the male ETs, and the protagonist human apparently is accused of having had sex with a female ET.)

What exactly were the medical experiments that MNU was conducting on the hapless ETs?

Was the protagonist ET especially intelligent for his kind? Was he a special kind of his kind? Were the other ETs like worker bees, not meant to be very intelligent?

While I love to empathize with an extraterrestrial, especially a benign one persecuted by ignorant humans, would a crustaceous extraterrestrial really regard its offspring the way that a human male would regard his son? Would the crusty ET’s offspring really be kind of like a little boy? And wouldn’t such an ET have many offspring, and not just one? And where was the mommy ET?

“District 9” is watchable enough, but I’m the kind of person who needs a movie to make sense.

I’m sure that it’s not easy to create such an alternate reality as director and screenwriter Neill Blomkamp did in “District 9” — there are so many angles that you have to look from in such creation, and so many details that you have to create in order to satisfy those angles — and I don’t have to have every little thing explained to me, but what is (more or less…) explained to me at least should have its own internal logic.

When it doesn’t, that interferes with my ability to enjoy the film, and that’s why I can give “District 9” only a “B.” It’s a good-enough idea, but its execution is lacking. Attention to its own internal logic seems to have been sacrificed for special effects, such as the climactic battle scene of the protagonist human in the automated body armor that is too reminiscent of what we’ve already seen in “Iron Man” and even in “Aliens” (ditto for the fried alien eggs; we saw those in “Aliens,” also).

My grade: B

P.S. I’m not familiar with South Africa’s history, but film critic Roger Ebert explains in his review of “District 9”:

The film’s South African setting brings up inescapable parallels with its now-defunct apartheid system of racial segregation. Many of them are obvious, such as the action to move a race out of the city and to a remote location. Others will be more pointed in South Africa. The title “District 9” evokes Cape Town’s historic District 6, where Cape Coloureds (as they were called then) owned homes and businesses for many years before being bulldozed out and relocated.

The hero’s name, van der Merwe, is not only a common name for Afrikaners, the white South Africans of Dutch descent, but also the name of the protagonist of van der Merwe jokes, of which the point is that the hero is stupid. Nor would it escape a South African ear that the alien language incorporates clicking sounds, just as Bantu, the language of a large group of African apartheid targets.

Being unfamiliar with South Africa, the parallels between the real South Africa and the South Africa portrayed in “District 9” were quite escapable to me… I still see a parallel between the “prawns” and the Palestinians, however, and with the plight of the Palestinians being portrayed in the media to this day, it seems to me that I’m probably not alone.

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