Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus: "Lost" in Space

There are also more echoes of Indiana Jones 4 than I'd like.
First, a few disclaimers: My familiarity with the Alien universe extends to one viewing of Aliens (which I loved), and my feelings about the Ridley Scott universe are fair to middling at best. So I didn't share the anticipatory fervor of most of my fellow geeks about Prometheus. And I also must admit that any fervor I was able to work up just out of peer pressure was a bit quashed by the news that Damon Lindelof was one of the screenwriters. My relationship with Lost can best be likened to Tina Turner's relationship with Ike. I kept believing it would be as good as it was at the beginning, and kept getting rather violently disappointed.

Having said that, Prometheus seems to combine both the best and worst of shows like Lost. First: the worst. The theology is ill-defined, the mythology is muddy and scattershot (don't expect a big payoff from the title, for example), the philosophizing is eye-rollingly overblown, the daddy issues are rampant, and the conclusion is, to me, deeply unsatisfying and surprisingly glib for a film that takes itself so seriously. But.

But, Prometheus, as did Lost during its finer moments, reminds us that the best science-fiction is intimately concerned with what it means to be human, and the ambition with which the film tackles that question is fairly breathtaking, both visually and textually. Though (again like Lost) the iconography of gender and race is disappointingly naturalizing and dyadic in the film, it does dare to ask some pretty serious questions about the ontological anxieties that surround any serious engagement with otherness. The fear that our bodies are not as safe from, or as separate from, that which terrifies and revolts us as we assume is nicely explored here. And by "nicely," I mean "disgustingly." Everything in this film, including the landscape, is pervasively and uncannily alive and embodied. The scene that is sure to become iconic--let me just say self-surgery with a tool that looks like the claw machine from Wal-Mart--is a distillation of this trope.

I haven't said much about the plot because I'm spoiler-phobic and I assume everyone who is interested in seeing this movie knows pretty much the basics (exploratory scientific vessel goes into deep space to "find answers"). Charlize Theron turns in her second tour de force performance of the summer as an ice queen with a killer (pun intended) survival instinct. I think what could make Prometheus special and worth watching for those not obsessed with the Alien franchise is Michael Fassbender's character--a robot named David. Usually I find robots boring unless they're numbered and hiding amongst us, but this iteration has some promise. David models himself on Lawrence of Arabia, which would be interesting enough considering the erotics of assimilation that guided T.E. Lawrence's interactions with Arabian desert tribes, but more crucially, he borrows the identity of Peter O'Toole's performance of Lawrence. What that has to say about how selfhood intersects with performativity and pop culture is pretty promising and clever, especially considering the way Prometheus is almost unavoidably going to be read through Alien.

All in all, I was at times impressed, at other times annoyed, but never bored. And I would love to talk this over with someone more familiar with the Aliens than I, particularly because I didn't see any intimations of Ripley in any of the women, which was the one thing I was looking for.

1 comment:

  1. Fassbender was incredible and I loved the choice of Lawrence of Arabia as his obsession. I had the same so-so feelings about it but overall I enjoyed it.