Adam Savage and Co. dissect Prometheus. Their verdict? At least it’s not a Katy Perry movie.☕
Tag Archives: Prometheus
Over at The Review Diary, Satish Naidu opens his critique of Prometheus with a discussion of its editing: specifically, the way that its shot lengths convey a feeling of impatience and aggression.
Here, it is blunt harsh cutting coupled with classical composition, reducing emotion to information, and destroying any hope for cosmic rumination. What the aesthetic rather inspires is the familiarity of the daily grind of life. As in, the industrial-reality/ structural-philosophy of everyday existence as against the mythology of our cosmic significance. [...] Consider the opening moments, which do not present a patient temporality of the earth ala 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the Darwinian nature, in all its forms, is primarily temporal over and above spatial, and where it waits with limitless patience. As opposed to Mr. Kubrick, whose composition is from the nature’s perspective, Mr. Scott aligns himself with the aggressive instincts of the human, both in their quest for knowledge and survival. He flies over mountains and valleys and rivers, and reaches just-in-time to bear witness to the point in our genesis where a humanoid drinks some black liquid from a vial and disintegrates and falls into river.
This is about the best articulation I’ve yet read of one of the little things that niggled at me during and after the film. I’ve only seen Prometheus once, and I will likely see it a few more times, but it would be very illuminating to compare the shot lengths and editing choices made by Scott in Prometheus against the decisions he made in Alien, and then to further contrast them with 2001. Jim Emerson did an excellent comparative post about these three films, in which he highlighted similarities in production design and composition, and what how those technical choices impact the thematic reception of the films. However, he does not really discuss shot length, which is a shame, given what he says about a single frame from Alien in a follow-up post:
This shot is a beautiful example of the antithesis to what I have labeled “one-thing-at-a-time filmmaking.” The basic composition (roughly symmetrical with an opening in the center) is repeated throughout the movie, as befits a movie about violation, penetration and passages of birth and death. It also gives your eye places to wander, details to soak in. It allows you room to breathe. Throughout, “Alien” gives you ample opportunity to look around and admire the industrial/organic design of the Nostromo, and it entices you to notice nooks and crannies where threats might be lurking.
My question is this: does Scott really give the viewer ample opportunity (in Alien) to look around and admire the design and contemplate the nooks and crannies where threats might be looking? My recollection is that he does, more often than not. But what about Prometheus? Are the shots lengths in that film a bit longer than those of the average summer blockbuster? Probably. But how much time are we actually given? Much of Prometheus felt rushed to me, which seemed at odds with the metaphysically contemplative ideas that were being bounced around. And the way Satish describes the impact makes a lot of sense to me. What is especially surprising is that, based on my potentially inaccurate impressions, the approach Scott takes to many of the scenes in Alien bespeaks more patience than the approach he takes to many of the scenes in Prometheus. The much more lean, nihilistic first film is accorded more awe in its technique than the more expansive, self-consciously spiritual latter film. I wonder if this is a deliberate choice, or if Scott’s impatience to unbind Prometheus after decades of development led him to cut faster and deeper than he should have. For a film about the human exploration of the most profound questions of existence, it seems that Scott doesn’t give his viewers very much time for that exploration.☕
My wife has a brilliant and, as far as I can tell, rather original theory about the mythos and backstory of Prometheus, which she has kindly posted on her blog. Lots of spoilers, obviously. Her theory doesn’t necessarily mitigate the many flaws in the execution of the film or the misbegotten convolutions of some character motivations (proto-facehugger fist-bump, anyone?), but it is the most coherent explanation of the clues that I’ve yet read. An example:
Just think about the uniforms the Engineers wear. They are wearing synthetic, not organic, body armor that looks strikingly like the Xenomorphs. Remember the medical room scene where they “trick the head into life,” the Scottish Doctor points out that the helmet isn’t an exoskeleton it is synthetic armor. At the end of the film when we finally see the Xenomorph alien we’ve been expecting to see for the last 2.5 hours it immediately struck me that the alien looked more like the Engineer’s synthetic body armor than the Engineer itself. A lot of people are probably citing this as some sort of logical narrative inconsistency. I think otherwise. After all, the Engineers have the figures in the vase room; they would know what it would look like when an Engineer got parasitized by a Xenomorph. I propose that they modeled their body armor, and probably gobs of other things, after the Xenomorph because they knew it was deadly and effective.
One thing I forgot to mention to my wife when I edited her first draft (sorry, Ellen! My bad!) is that her theory doesn’t touch on what happens to Holloway and Fifield after they’re exposed to the goo. An addendum might be that the Engineers were aware of the mutant zombie side-effect of direct exposure, and that’s why they kept the goo in such a controlled environment. The direct exposure (that is to say, ingestion) of the goo by the first Engineer we see suggests that they must have been aware of it, and that the ritual of drinking it — as opposed to falling face-fist into a puddle of the stuff after your colleague stupidly tries to fist-bump a hissing cousin of the thing from the Death Star’s trash compactor — evolved as a response. As Ellen argues, an awe connected with fear is not uncommon. The mutant Fifield is faster, stronger, and more unkillable than human Fifield, and even though he’s become a hideous monster, a death cult (which is essentially what the Engineers would be, in my wife’s view) might revere such a thing. The Engineer in the opening sequence might not even be attempting to “seed” another world at all: perhaps he’s ingesting the goo in an attempt to become that superhuman freak, or die trying. After all, we don’t see the DNA actually seed anything. All we see is its accelerated corruption and dissipation.
All of this is highly speculative, of course, but I suppose that’s half the fun of grappling with a film like Prometheus in the first place. I’m still on the fence about it myself, but I appreciate that it has spurred a lot of creative, constructive dialogue. Even if I ultimately judge the film to be a failure, I think it’s a successful, interesting failure. In the meantime, check out Ellen’s post, and continue the dialogue.☕