Entertaining Phillips: Prometheus (2012), the rebuttal review

July 1, 2012 § 5 Comments

Stand Back: Film Scholars at Work.

Today’s guest post comes from Rob Phillips, adding to the P-surnames. Mr. Philips is an educator by trade and film scholar by Master’s degree and former class mates w/ Peery)

I wanted to post a positive review since Mr. Platt, myself, and most others I know panned the film. Without further ado:

Ok, I finally got around to watching “Prometheus” today, read (Peery’s) review, and we had very different film experiences.   (Peery) had major problems with the structure of the narrative. Me, not so much. Scott knows the rules of storytelling, so I will make the case that he is aiming at something else entirely because he knows most in the audience would look up the backstory before the film or on their phones waiting for the curtain. He takes the air out of the narrative and suspense, not because he doesn’t know better.

This is a film in the hands of a director that is an expert at shaping an audience’s emotional experience. For this reason, I will argue the film’s aim is much larger in that Scott may be thumbing his nose at being pigeonholed by fan/audience expectations and has bigger ideological fish to fry. Only time will tell if this should’ve been a fall rather than a summer release.   Like “District 9,” this iteration of the series lights out for territories, as Huck did at the end Twain’s novel. She doesn’t want to go back, but rather “forward,” guided by some idealistic or Platonic notion about truth.

This film, like a lot of sci-fi stuff these days, strikes me as social/political allegory. Corporate, consevative, and typical pragmatic ideology crashes and burns or is thoroughly squashed (Theron and her stab at her Lear-like father). The ideology of hope, idealism, and faith in mankind prevails when they hurl a trillion-dollar spacecraft at an alien ship. The betting crewmembers and the “I-just-drive-the-ship” Captain sacrafice themselves for the betterment of humanity and become emblematic in so doing. From each according to his ability? The film strikes me as making a profoundly Marxist commenatary (dare I say in the form of a thinly-veiled “morality” play) that drives a stake in the heart of the “ethics” of greed and corporate ideology governed by said ethos.

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§ 5 Responses to Entertaining Phillips: Prometheus (2012), the rebuttal review

  • Joshua Peery says:

    I think you can make solid cases for these arguments and I argee. However, that’s part of what I didn’t like about the film.

    I agree Scott is out to thumb his nose at anyone and everyone. I’ve been of the opinion and presented evidence at conference to support my theory that he bends history (“Gladiator,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Robin Hood”) and, in this case, the established Alien IP to make his points/metaphors.

    The first piece of evidence I would present is the 2008 “director’s cut” of “Alien.” In this version of the film Scott messes with James Cameron’s “Aliens” narrative (and in a key way) by reintroducing the previously cut scenes of the alien cocooning of Dallas and the other crew members.

    I have to wonder if it was done out of ego or sour grapes. The scene adds nothing to the film, yet damages “Aliens.” “Aliens” has long been considered by the Sci-Fi community to be on par with, or superceding “Alien,” and I have to wonder if this miffs Scott.

    Secondly, Scott is quoted as stating that “Prometheus” was not an “Alien” film. Then why use any of the previous characters, IP, and creatures? To me it felt like he was marking “his” territory.

    Specifically the death, root and branch, of the Weyland family, entertaining/twisted “sibling” rivalery between David and Vickers aside, messes with the other films that take place in the later chronology of the IP.

    So I think you are right, Scott is out to make his own film with the subtexts you outlined. I just take issue with how he sacrificed other’s work on the IP (film, graphic novels, video games, etc.) to do it. I think he could have made a Sci-Fi film doing all the thing he wanted, set it in another IP, and have been more successful.

    • Rob Phillips says:

      I was unaware of auteur backstory and ego wrangling. I knew you would enlarge my understanding of the film, Josh.

  • Wes Platt says:

    I’m not sure I agree that Scott is an expert at guiding the audience’s emotional experience – unless it was his intent to guide people like me on a rollercoaster of “wow, that’s cool” to “wait, what” to “oh, hey, yeowch, that’s cool” to “wait, WTF was all that about?”

    If that was his intent: Mission accomplished.

    I give you credit for trying to find a sociopolitical allegory to explain away what amounts to a potentially contempt-driven disregard for audience expectations and, as Josh noted, jealousy or disdain for other iterations of the Alien franchise.

    But even sociopolitical allegory (see Lord of the Rings), like all good speculative fiction, should make sense within the parameters of its fiction. I felt that Prometheus failed on that count.

    • Rob Phillips says:

      The film certainly fails in comparison to the previous films and their objectives, but the film has a fairly clear trajectory and objectives. I would further argue that it fails only if you hold it up to the narrative expectations of the previous films.

      It shows us all we need to know about who, within the fictional world, our genetic ancestors happen to be, and the dramatic irony begins. We share this secret knowledge with soulless David, the ironic moral, ethical center of film, and

      • Rob Phillips says:

        Oops … David takes the viewer with him as we watch the folly of the crew members projecting their expectations on a world, on “gods,” Titans perhaps, that couldn’t care less about the existential motivations that led the crew to fling themselves across the universe. So the film becomes more about our need to have control. To colonize instead of being colonized. This notion is amplified by the allusions to Gepetto and Lawrence of Arabia, which comment on the the search for paternity and soul coupled with the motif of destructive, colonizing hegemonies thrusting their ideologies on the colonized. I write this not to dispute your righteous distaste for a film that did not meet your expectations, but to offer further explanation for an alternate way of thinking about the film’s objectives, given how drastically it deviates from the objectives of the earlier films.

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