Wednesday, August 01, 2012

How the Gods Kill

One of the best things about Alien (1979, Ridley Scott) is how it went against the common wisdom of classical Hollywood filmmaking that always thought it best to not show the monster. In Alien, a classic horror model, a monster hunts a small group of people and picks them off one at a time; the ending is one of the modern prototypes that define the final girl subgenre of horror. But the audience is eventually confronted with what lurks in the dark. The H.R. Giger creature designs still stand as the most memorable of all movie aliens next to the Star Wars franchise's more family friendly characters and E.T.

To crib a style from some of Godard's critical language, we don't remember why the space truckers are on a mission; we don't remember who sent them; and we don't care what Ripley actually accomplishes other than saving her own life.

But, we remember the alien baby popping out of someone's stomach and the other one that looks like a crustacean and sucks face; we remember the wet, slick, reptile-headed monster with the mouth that comes out of a mouth; we remember the android bleeding milk as he dies; we remember that Ripley was the last one alive on the ship and in her bra and panties, she saves Jones.

Finally, Alien's also such a strong space horror because its own cache lies in its mystique. They show just enough of the monsters to let us stare in wonder, and they don't talk about any higher purpose for being there. They merely act as a Hawksian team and devise a way to survive.

On the other hand, Prometheus (2012, Scott) was made by Ridley Scott at 73 as opposed to 41. I'm ageist, okay? I don't think most directors have the same vitality or edge that they did in their youth or even middle aged periods. I'm thinking mostly of Americans who made their mark in the 80s: Brian DePalma, John Carpenter, Walter Hill, Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, and Jim Jarmusch, for example.

So I'm not necessarily comparing Alien to Prometheus. Prometheus does however remind me of the Star Wars prequel trilogy and moreover, Micheal Bay's Platinum Dunes production practice of rebooting the first installment of 80s horror franchises with a sort of pilot that surveys all of the most memorable kills and motifs from the entire run of its predecessor.

And there is often a sense of most of Blade Runner finding its way into Prometheus--evident in the premise of the movie. The driving force is that Weyland wants to meet his maker. And on the note of themes, I was a little disappointed in the recurrent dialogue about believing "because I choose to believe," which just feels really Matrixy. The opening images of spacious green vistas also recall how Ridley Scott inserted outtakes of the opening helicopter shots from The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick) into the ending of Blade Runner. And the romantic scene in Shaw's bedroom where she spends the night with Holloway is reminiscent of similar scenes between Deckard and Rachael, mostly due to the design of her flat and the white balanced spot light outside that pierces into their solitude like Big Brother or something.

Fifield's line: "I'm not 'ere to be your friend, I'm 'ere to make money" reassured me though. Awesome. It's like Ridley Scott is letting me know this is tongue in cheek and he's in command. He's not here to draw us into a yarn, he's here to blow us the fuck away. And I suppose that matter of taste will likely be what divides the Prometheus audience.

Cutting edge special effects and post visuals shot on a Red look as good as I've scene, and the ships, gizmos like Fifiedld's pups, and spacescapes lay the foundation. Some pseudo-supernatural mythological origin of the species type exposition and mock historical evidence that's supposed to be the Lascaux cave paintings fill out the setup.

The Giger look is cast over this thing far and wide; and the dark, sensual, shiny, black, biomechanical, occultish, alien world and the Engineers are prominently featured at their spookiest. The space suits with the bubble glass helmets are something I seek out in sci fi, and they look cool here. The elements build as one and Scott even appears to have restrained his coverage.

But Prometheus's genre is blockbuster effects exploitation thriller.

To start with the sex, Charlize Theron as Vickers enters in a wide shot from slightly overhead as she does pushups, drenched in her own sweat (this guy made G.I. Jane, remember?), wearing the standard 2093 underwear that consists of an Ace bandage bikini (tubetops for the standard female issued sets). (There's even a hard cut from this scene to the floor of an examination room that Shaw is vomiting on, really emphasizing the image system of wet substances.) Pretty much anytime Theron's onscreen she's outfitted in some tight eye-cocaine infused bit of spacewear that clings to her body like the way the aliens cling to their hosts. Am I stupid for thinking Vickers is human? I do.

And the third act really takes us into the wham-o. It starts with what is definitely the strongest setpiece: Shaw's automatic operation machine C-section to destroy the alien spawn inside her womb. Shaw is of course wearing one of the sports bandage bikinis, soaked in her own obligatory sweat, and claustrophobically confined into the cramped chamber, which is glass so we can see into, as she moans while getting blood-spattered, with the camera even having the audacity to view her from a setup that looks in between her legs while all this proceeds.

Then there's the violence. The third act is again where the wham-o is most evident. While the first act is exposition and the second is composed primarily of space spelunking, the silica storm must be tied as the other strongest setpiece. I had not seen anything like this in the space sci fi stuff I've watched, and it was impressive to be caught up in. The snake-like alien that kills Millburn is something of a midpoint, and marks the beginning of the gore effects we'd all come for. And while Shaw's trying to do something about her demon seed, the zombified Fifield show up to the ship's entrance just to keep things thrilling. When Vickers torches Holloway I knew I was sure that Ridley Scott had pulled this off. Scott's returning to the world where he created a legendary space ballad to follow it up with a space opera.

To close with another ageist statement: I have a hunch that most of the people who really hate Prometheus will be around 18-25, but older fans, already familiar with the franchise, will appreciate it.


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