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6.14.2012

CTHULHU RISING

Prometheus
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Jon Spaiths and Damon Lindelof













The bone to pick with this one seems to be how much it has to do with the iconic franchise Ridley Scott midwifed with Dan O'Bannon and H.R.Giger, and whether it warrants the disappointment that comes from something as momentous as his belated return to science fiction being dedicated to merely reheating old glories best left alone, amidst rumors that shinier Joe Haldeman and Aldous Huxley adaptations curdle in his brimful development vat.

It's prudent to remember that the pedigree inflating expectations here, outside all that heightened enthusiasm from internet nerds,  rests entirely on two films, one of which, Blade Runner, was a tremendous flop first before it burst into flame, and the other, Alien, is a B movie,  more The Thing From Another World than Solyaris. What both films had was a distinct sensibility that could be boiled down to having an acute sense of its own incoherence and a willingness to give the chaos free rein if it would take the piece to other places. And Scott really was an imagist nonpareil. It wasn't so much story that interested him, rather the stuff that swirled around it, the tangential moods, the structural detail, the peripheral esoterica, the outlandish architecture, the industrial design. He also had,with these two films at least, a healthy disregard for the three-act structure. Cranks will dismiss these as plot holes and sketchy characterization and sloppy filmmaking, and they would have some point. Both films are arguably messy. But they were messy in the grandest of ways. And they were also wet and alive. Hollywood has since bent Ridley Scott to fit its conservative strictures and every single thing he's done after, give or take one or two, has been bland and safe and joyless.  The anticipation, then, is understandable. The anxiety moreso.

Prometheus, then. Remake? Reboot? Prequel? Sequel?  You know what? It's immaterial.  This is, in temperament and in thrust, Alien Remixed.  There is a corporation bankrolling a scientific expedition with a ragtag bunch of space travelers. There is a feisty Ripley surrogate in Noomi Rapace, who gets her own action sequence dressed in nothing but her undies. There is an Ash surrogate in Michael Fassbender's creepily sterile android, who gets his own decapitation sequence. There is an ornate and lived-in spaceship.  There is a chamber of cylindrical vessels with dire things inside them lined up in a familiar configuration. There are peculiar creatures with a slimy, biological fullness. There is some nail-biting tentacle (sort of) porn.  There are also the usual horror movie stupids. Not to mention characters that seem cut out of cardboard.  And some horribly intrusive music. But there is a quest at the heart of matters that's a little more esoteric than mining: a multi-trilionaire with ulterior motives humors a starry-eyed archaeologist who believes the origin of all human life can be found on a barren planet.  Secret histories, then, fountains of youth, faces of god. Its' frankly hokey theological superstructure rubs Erich Von Daniken up against the New Testament, and everything has to happen in the five days between Christmas and New Year, too, belaboring what doesn't necessarily need to be belabored. Big questions are asked and only the tiniest answers are given, if at all. But then again, this is the bait and switch of all belief systems. And the biggest question it poses, the one about whether we are all made of stars, isn't that big in any context and isn't something we'd really want answered literally, in a film, or in life.

Stephen King was the first to point out how Alien was really a Lovecraftian parable in disguise:  men coming to the gods and being eaten by them. Prometheus is like a sleeker, pulpier spec-up, At the Mountains of Madness, if you will, with Cthulhu thrown in to up the ante. And it really is more about the dissonance of faith,  how big they are and how small we are, how creation must eventually destroy creator or get destroyed themselves. Scott, his visual acumen restored at last and firing on all cylinders after decades in the mainstream trenches have homogenized it, devotes one visually staggering set piece after the other to the discrepancies of scale between colossal gods and puny humans, his breathtaking master shots optimizing the form Prometheus works best as: chaotic, oversized pulp.

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