Monday, June 25, 2012

#slam

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One of the fundamental rules of criticism is to review a work within the expectations and standards of its genre. I can’t do that with Prometheus, because it didn’t fit within a genre. And I don’t say that in a good way.

Some movies bust their genres. “Alien” busted out of the Space Opera genre by being a monster flick. “Outland” busted out of the Space Opera genre by being a Western set in space.

But what is Prometheus? It begins as one of those “Big Vision” movies, and I immediately thought of “2001” while watching its prologue scene. Then we find ourselves aboard an expedition travelling to another world in search of something-or-other, very much like 2001.

But no, as soon as the people get there they begin to behave like teen-agers in a monster movie. They argue and split up, as if adults selected to travel across space in a small ship are selected specifically for their inability to function as a team. Scientists take their helmets off because the air seems to have the right proportions of gasses without stopping to wonder if they could be killed by pathogens or viruses.

I’m ok with this kind of behaviour in a monster movie, that’s part of the genre's formula, people do stupid things and there are bad consequences. The point of the movie is to revel in the bad consequences, and you can’t have them if the characters behave like intelligent adults who have seen monster movies before.

But Prometheus isn’t a monster movie. There’s some blood and some gore and some people die pointlessly and others die heroically, but the movie tries to stay true to its big vision while acting like it's about monsters. Only without the monsters. Well, there are fine special effects and indeed there may or may not be a Creature From Outer Space in this movie. But I assure you, there is nothing that inspires the kind of dread that the movie Alien inspired.

In a big vision film, I want to care about the characters. Propping up an endless series of cardboard clichés only to knock them down requires making them stupid so that I can feel a little contempt for them. But how does it work to contrast “big vision” with contemptible characters?

In the end, I found that I had watched a big vision film diluted by its diversions into monsterdom. Or perhaps a monster film that was diluted by the hubris of trying to make us think Big Vision Thoughts. Either way, it didn’t work for me.


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