Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Prometheus (Part 1)

"Remember how awesome Alien and Aliens were?  Let's try to recapture that magic with a prequel... that isn't really a prequel but maybe it is.  Hey, where are you going?"

The Aliens franchise has flourished for over three decades across all forms of media despite multiple attempts by Fox Studios to kill it dead with some of the worst movies ever made.  If Alien 3 was an assassination of the series, then Alien Resurrection was a gangland-style execution.

This is largely in part to how damn near perfect the first two movies were as their influence is up there with Star Wars in not just movie lore, but the sci-fi genre as a whole.  Seriously, can you imagine what "lone monster picking off people one by one" stories would be like without Alien? And if not for Aliens, we wouldn't have the term "space marine" and in turn almost no video games to play whatsoever. Although maybe that last one wouldn't be a bad thing, but still...

When Visionary Director Ridley Scott (TM) announced he was making a new movie in the franchise he helped create, the excitement level was through the roof. When it was rumoured to be a Prequel, the excitement level fell. But it's the man who made Blade Runner, he gets a free pass right? People remained cautiously optimistic, which is a dangerous feeling to have in today's Hollywood.  The movie ended up being a box office success, but to say it was one of the more polarizing movie in recent times is something one would call an UNDERSTATEMENT.  Why is this?  That's the intergalactic mystery I'm here to uncover today, so strap on your space suits... and then immediately talk them off because it's time for A Ghoul Versus Prometheus.

Our film opens with a lot of scenic landscape shots of a planet that maybe is Earth but we're never told. A large object is flying overhead, but we can only see its massive shadow being cast on the gorgeous scenery. The beauty is immediately brought to a screeching halt by the appearance of co-writer/producer Damon Lindelof's name appearing on the screen.  ...insert record scratch sound effect here.

Lindelof is most famous as being one of the main brains behind the TV show Lost, which if I go into any detail whatsoever with derail this review into oblivion. Let's just say his writing method is "let's create a very addicting premise that gets you hooked by asking tons of interesting questions and then answering, oh let's say about three of them". But I'm sure he learned his lesson from all the backlash against Lost, right? Surely he won't repeat the same mistakes with this movie!

We see the shadow is a gigantic alien spaceship flying away into space, which is being observed planet side by Dr. Manhattan's kid brother Dr. Brooklyn, who has thankfully discovered pants unlike his older sibling.  Standing by a waterfall, he takes a drink of CGI black liquid that makes him begin to literally fall apart, all the way down to the cellular level. His remains tumble into the water and his cells begin to create new life.

Jump ahead to Scotland 2089. We see a small expedition team exploring caves, among them are Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend Guy Too Bland For Me To Remember His Name. Shaw has found a cavern full of old cave paintings, one of which shows a man pointing to some objects in the sky that just happens to match others they've found across the world.  She muses "I think they want us to come and find them", because you'll soon earn learn she has an advanced doctorate in Jumping To Conclusions.

Four years later we cut to outer space and the Scientific Exploratory Vessel Prometheus, which boasts a crew of 17 that will likely all be dead an hour from now. Has a space exploration trip ever NOT produced a body count that'd make Jason Voorhees jealous?  David, the ship's android, is shown checking on the crew who are all in cryo sleep.  Using a "neuro-visor" helmet he is able to look inside Shaw's mind as we see a very strange looking perspective of her cryo sleep dream. It's a childhood memory of her talking to her father, who is played by Patrick Wilson, who warns her to stay the hell away from Dr. Brooklyn as his past career as Nite-Owl has given him insight into the Big Blue family.

We watch as David goes about other things on the ship, such as playing basketball, learning foreign languages, and watching the movie Lawrence Of Arabia. He is obviously a fan, as he goes as far to style his hair exactly like Lawrence's. This part immediately bugs me as I consider things like this cheating, where instead of taking the time to establish a person's characterization they can use his idolization of another fictional or historical character as a shortcut to skip out on all that.

This is lazy writing, pure and simple. You saw it ALL THE TIME in Lost to the point it was its own drinking game, they even took it a step further and had a lot of characters named after famous people and lo and behold, the characters mirrored each other.  Even if Lindelof hadn't written this movie, this one scene would already have put me in a grumpy mood.

David soon gets an alert the Prometheus is nearing its destination, a planet identified as LV-223. Unless there's a reveal later on the planet is mislabeled and is really LV-426 (the planet from Alien and Aliens), I'm thinking the trailers tried to trick us about this taking place on the same world.  On his way to disengage the crew's sleep, David finds one is already awake. It's Charlize Theron, doing push ups in underwear she must have borrowed from Leeloo from the Fifth Element

Charlize is playing mission director Meredith Vickers and her gimmick is she's the Ice Queen Bitch character of the movie.  We get to meet the All Demographics Covered crew (White, Black, Asian, Nerd With Glasses... I think only thing missing is an Old Person and someone with an obvious disability) and their various quirks. We meet our Asshole character in the form of an angry tattooed guy who is a jerk to the Nerd With Glasses. Two of the crew have a conversation where they reveal they have no idea what the mission is about, which is odd to say the least. What kind of job posting on did they respond to? "Want to go on a deep space mission of an unknown purpose? No experience or discernible skills required!"

We learn the stupidest corporation in all of existence, Weyland, is behind this mission. Although to be fair it's just Weyland at this point and not Weyland-Yutani so maybe the Yutani half brought all the gross incompetence to the table. Although after the reveal we just had I kind of doubt it.  Old Man With A Cane (BOOM! Achievement Unlocked: All Demographics Nailed) Peter Wayland greets the crew via holographic recording. He says he will be dead by the time they see this as he recorded it a couple of years ago.

He reveals David is an android but despite this considers him the closest thing he'll ever have to a son. He goes on to say Shaw and her hipster boyfriend (who is wearing freaking sandals on the ship) convinced him they're close to finding something huge about the meaning of life and that basically puts them in charge, which makes Vickers look angry. Well, angrier since that seems to be the only emotion she can convey. Good money says she's an android like David, who oddly seems more human than her.

The Sandal Wearing Boyfriend uses a Rubik's Cube- what?  Seriously... a Rubik's Cube?  A hundred million dollar budget and that's the best they could come up with?!  Unless this is some kind of homemade device he made to show what a free thinking and clever individual he is, in which case he just made the top of my "I hope this guy bites it first" list.  Like the sandals weren't bad enough.

Sandals uses a Rubik's Cube to project holograms of their expeditions on Earth, revealing all share the same image of a men worshiping a giant who is pointing to the sky. They were somehow able to use these as coordinates to LV-223, as well as making the leap they'll lead to aliens called Engineers who created the human race. This scene to me screams Lindelof, as this was a staple of Lost: huge leaps in logic completely handwaved away and never explained in the slightest.

"I have this giant pendulum device that can tell us exactly where the hidden island is!"”
How does that work? Who built it? Why would-"
"Shut up."

I understand in genres like this laying out the details behind things would get very boring and take forever, but at least give us something! Unless there was some hyper-detailed information in the cave paintings they didn't show us, a picture of a guy pointing to five dots in the sky led to all this?  Why do they just assume the aliens created the human race instead of just visiting?  If they created us, wouldn't we look more like the cave paintings?  WOULDN'T WE BE BLUE?!

Asshole and Nerd are not impressed, by the way. They ask what proof she has, and Shaw tells then she has none but it's what she "chooses to believe". This echoes a comment her father made in her sleep dream when discussing different culture's beliefs on life and death. Shaw is a scientist, right? Like, they've said she is several times already. We can see she's wearing a giant cross around her neck, but even the most science-hating religious person would maybe have at least a couple bits of proof under her belt before undertaking a multi-year TRILLION DOLLAR space trip.

Shaw and Sandals meet with Vickers in her very impressive quarters, which are said to have their own separate life support system that can function independently from the ship. Shaw is fascinated by a machine called a Medpod, which she remarks is super rare and can do bypass surgery on its own. Random plot exposition is random, NONE of which I'm sure will come up at the end of the movie.

Vickers is (gasp!) a bitch to them and says they're basically working for her, not the other way around. She's not very nice, in case you haven't got the idea yet.  They orbit the planet, finding the atmosphere conditions not conducive to breathing without a suit. A scientist says a person wouldn't last two minutes without one. This is in no way more foreshadowing of events that will pop up towards our inevitable ticking clock climax, nope, none whatsoever.

They land near some straight line markings on the surface, which Sandals said wouldn't occur in nature. The team suits up, with Security Chief Jackson wanting them to go armed. Shaw says no to weapons because it's a scientific expedition and there's no way anything could ever go wrong on an alien world where they'd need to defend themselves. Jackson tells her good luck with that, and we finally have our first likeable character in the movie!

The team takes a multi-wheeled land cruiser and some futuristic ATVs up to a giant rocky dome structure, which the Asshole tells them is hollow thanks to some pretty cool mapping technology he has. Sandals finds there's an atmosphere inside and the air is breathable, so he makes the BRILLIANT decision to remove his helmet. EVERYONE says that is stupid... but then take their helmets off too.

When in Rome I guess. I'm sure an alien world has air and bacteria identical to ours so no way anyone could get sick or die.  Sandals says the Engineers must have been terraforming which is why the air is safe to breathe, but that's just speculation on his part. HG Wells, whom I'm convinced was a time traveler for realsies, wrote a little book called War of the Worlds way back in freaking 1898 that featured aliens not being able to safely breathe air from another world because their bodies wouldn't be able to handle the foreign bacteria. In 1898. An era where mankind's medical knowledge was basically "OUCH! Them knives is pointy!" There is absolutely no excuse for a lapse in logic this glaring, especially from a "scientist".

David finds an electronic panel hidden in the rock, pressing buttons at seemingly random which causes a hologram show of very familiar mask wearing giants (if you've seen Alien) running through the tunnels. They run into a room where one tries to close a door and ends up getting decapitated by it. Our team of super intelligent "scientists" follow the path the holograms took, finding the door with the headless body of the alien still in front of it.

There is an alien language written on the door, David attempting to read it. It's at this point Asshole chickens out since he's "only" a geologist and has no interest in giant dead alien bodies. Nerd agrees and leaves with him. This is something I probably would have put in that ad: "Must be curious about aliens or else you'll just be wasting our time and money.".

Shaw uses a carbon reader to determine the alien's been dead for around 2,000 years while David is able to somehow decrypt the language and open the door. Inside is the head of the alien and a GIANT statue of a head resembling Dr. Brooklyn. Hmm, a giant statue that is never explained and has no point to the story... am I watching Prometheus or Lost? It's getting confusing at this point.

A quick shot shows us worms are crawling in the dirt, which everyone somehow misses with all their fancy technology. There's a giant mural painted above the statue, which I'm pretty sure is some of H.R. Giger's unused concept art for Aliens. This is a bit off, you'd think the art style would resemble the cave paintings on Earth since those were an "invitation" from the Engineers. Unless the Engineers instructed the humans to paint them, but then why would they do that?

The room is also revealed to be full of metal vases. Shaw, in her only actual bit of scientific knowledge displayed in the movie so far, tells everyone not to touch anything. Sandals finds another piece of Giger concept art, this one looking very much like an Alien Queen. David observes that one of the vases has started to seep black liquid, the same Dr. Brooklyn drank at the beginning of the film. Shaw notices the mural overhead has begun to transform, chalking it up to them changing the atmosphere of the room. She begins to panic, calling for everyone to leave. They take the alien's head and get on their way.

Meanwhile the ship has detected a huge storm front on the way, telling the team to hurry. David secretly takes one of the vases with him as they depart. The storm comes in with a vengeance, also revealing another giant statue head carved in a valley near the dome. This one looks VERY similar to the alien hybrid from Alien Resurrection, because we all wanted to be reminded that movie existed.

In the hustle to get back to the Prometheus, the alien head is dropped. Shaw goes back to get it and is swept away by the storm, getting slammed HARD into the side of ship. Like "my spine should be shattered" hard, but dramatic tension and lead character status turns on her God Mode. Sandals goes to rescue her but gets stuck as well, David having to save both of them. Whoo, that was a pointless scene.

Ship Captain Janek asks where Asshole and Nerd are at, and its revealed they're still in the dome as they got lost trying to head back to the ship. Wait, WHAT? It was clearly established the ship was monitoring the team the entire team, as a crew member implored Sandals not to be a complete dumbass and remove his helmet. So what, the second Asshole and Nerd ran away the ship said "screw that!" and quit tracking them?

Second, Asshole was mapping the entire dome with advanced devices that track the entire place, and HE'S the one who got lost? Oh, I bet he probably just got turned around. They're stuck there until morning because that's when the storm ends apparently. Sure is nice of this alien planet to conform to our meteorological technology.

Shaw and the scientists examine their alien artifact, discovering it's actually a helmet with a Dr. Brooklyn-looking head underneath. A scientist named Ford uses the power of SCIENCE! to somehow make the head come back to life, but its skin starts rupturing like Dr. Brooklyn's did and it explodes violently.

We see David talking to a mysterious person in a cryo chamber via his neuro helmet, calling the person "sir". Why, whoever could that be? Vickers is waiting for David outside his quarters, asking what "he" said. David refuses to answer so she gets rough with him, forcing him to say it was "try harder". Oh, so David was talking to the director of the movie!

David opens the vase and finds strange looking crystals with more of the black liquid inside, while elsewhere Shaw and Ford examine the alien's DNA. They find the Engineer's DNA to be an identical match for human DNA, which, um, doesn't quite make sense. Humans aren't blue skinned giants so our DNA would be a tad different, something any scientist should know.  David talks to Sandals, who has been drinking and is getting increasingly resentful over the lack of living Engineers to talk to. He doesn't give a damn about all the other amazing alien stuff they found or the fact they've only explored literally one little sliver of an entire planet and that the Engineers could be elsewhere besides the dome. It seems he expected to immediately find the aliens who'd tell him everything on the mission's first excursion.

What kind of scientist was he again? Oh right, we're never told. Maybe in the future schools cut all their funding for science classes DRASTICALLY, which would explain why everyone is savagely stupid in this movie. Anyway, David gives him a drink with some of the black liquid inside to hopefully put Sandals out of our misery. Sandals toasts "here's mud in your eye", while David toasts to "good health".  This oughta be good...

Back in the dome Asshole and Nerd find a huge pile of dead aliens, Nerd remarking one of them looks like it exploded from the inside. This is why I hate prequels, all these "wink wink nudge nudge" bits. Janek calls them, saying there's a reading of a lifeform not far from them. This naturally freaks them out but then the reading stops and the lifeform vanishes, leading him to smirkingly conclude it must have been a glitch. Wow, the crew just does NOT care about these two do they? I mean, I don't either but Weyland did invest an awful lot of money in these guys... that should count for something.

Shaw and Sandals discuss the DNA matching ours. Sandals starts off being a superjerk by telling Shaw she should get rid of her cross since the aliens made us and not God.  Beliefs are just so easily dismissed, aren't they?  I think I flagged the wrong character as the Asshole.  The payoff of his rant is we learn Shaw is barren and can't have children. I suppose this is supposed to be her character development that she's looking for the history of life since she can't have her own, but really it opens the door for a lot of hamfisted religious interpretation I'm sure we haven't seen the last of. Just... just like Lost.  Very badly handled religious beliefs, strange foreign environment with bizarre hazards, barren women, statues, crazy technological handwaves, I wonder how much of this is leftover plots from that show.

But of course Shaw instantly forgives him and has sex with Asshole 2.0, which parallels Janek and Vickers having sex in Janek's cabin. I don't know why they're bothering to focus on Vickers at all, but at least it leads to a funny part where Janek asks her if she's a robot. I love when characters say what we're all thinking. Sorry Jackson, you've been replaced as my new favourite character.

Asshole 1.0 and Nerd are now in the vase room, I guess having overcome their fear of going in it earlier. Everyone in this movie is getting dumber by the SECOND. There is now a lot black liquid in it because it's coming out of all the vases, not just the one David saw. We also get a scene that furthers my growing "science doesn't actually exist in the future" theory as Asshole 1.0 is smoking weed inside of his suit, converting the respirator into a giant walking hookah. I really hope he dies painfully.

A tentacle creature which I assume is one of the worms we saw earlier mutated by the black oil- but wait, no. The black liquid kills you if you ingest it doesn't it? Or is that just Engineers? Or did the worms ingest the liquid, break down to their cellular level, and evolve to the tentacle creature in like a couple hours? Does that mean Asshole 2.0 is going to explode or mutate?  Where was I? Oh yeah, a tentacle creature rises out of the liquid. Nerd, who just called out Asshole 1.0 for being an embarrassment to scientists everywhere, starts PLAYING WITH IT. He's acting like a little kid playing with a cute puppy, despite the fact the creature is obviously very hostile to him. Have you ever seen the movie Master of Disguise? Of course you haven't, no one has. There's a scene in it where Dana Carvey is bafflingly playing with a cobra and this scene is SO MUCH like it.

Naturally, things go very wrong and Tentacley wraps tight around Nerd's arm. I'm guessing Nerd is going to die very soon so I'm not going to bother changing his name to Supreme Dumbass. Tentacley snaps Nerd's arm, Asshole 1.0 finally doing something and cutting the creature off. Tentacley's highly acidic blood sprays everywhere, melting through Asshole 1.0's helmet and burning his face off. He completes his 3 Stooges buffoonery by falling face first into the black liquid. Tentacley instantly regenerates and enters Nerd's suit, going down his throat and apparently killing him. Brutal scene totally ruined by how completely and utterly stupid these dumbasses were.

The next morning, a sickly looking Asshole 2.0 looks in the mirror and sees a strange silver worm in his eye briefly. Guess David should have toasted "here's an alien hellspawn in your eye!". He doesn't tell anyone about this however, they never do in these kind of movies.  The crew goes to find the idiots in the dome, as the storm has now ceased. David sneaks off with the excuse of "fixing a probe" and finds a door that leads him to a room with TONS of vases stacked inside, as well as statues of the aliens.

Shaw notices how sick Asshole 2.0 has become, as he is now stumbling around. The team finds Nerd's dead body, Tentacley flying out of his mouth and slithering away for a nice little jump scare. Asshole 2.0 is getting sicker by the second and Shaw says they need to leave now to get him attention, which is about the only role she's played so far. "Alright everyone, time to go!" I think she missed out on her true calling as a bouncer.

Click here for Part 2!