Friday, June 21, 2013


Most of my movie consumption comes months and years after the title's release.  But I am planning to see WORLD WAR Z in the next few days, and since there's no drumming up allies in my household, I'm going to this battle alone.  Which is one spectacular reason that I see few movies in the theater.  Nobody wants to join me.  My innate cheapness and freeing up suitable blocks of time are other fine excuses.  But now why Z?  Because the family that won't be going to the film saw the trailer a few months, and my daughter, age 11, put on a big-eyed face, saying, "I don't know whether to be amazed or appalled."

I expect both responses from myself.  But this post isn't about Z.

Tonight, after managing several smaller bites, I finished eating PROMETHEUS.  On my Nook HD+.  Only a year after it was released.  I went in expecting science written by liberal arts majors--you know, numbers that have no reality, except that they really sound big, and that stubborn inability to learn the subtle differences between stars and galaxies.  But I was wrong, I realized.  Apparently the liberal arts can be too clinical for the best minds.  Freed of the onerous duties of plot and character, cause and effect, a truly talented screenwriter can jettison many disciplines, and discipline itself, and most every urge to entertain, it seems.

So much money.  A real spaceship could be launched for the budget blazing across the screen.  And such a very clean starship too.  

But of course, a real starship would be a star or galaxy more interesting.

I could grouse about vague plot devices, including a sickly old man surviving cold storage, all in some grand mission fueled by visually uninteresting cave paintings.  (I've seen films about better paintings from real French caves, including some miraculous horses that have been running in the darkness for 40,000 years.)  And because studios and film are deeply self-referential, they have to let other movies intrude.  The parallels with 2001 are many and badly rendered.  And why bring in several lines from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA?  Does the anemic native dialogue need to get mocked by something smart and lasting?

The acting?  Nice.  Fine.  I don't have problems with anyone but the old guy.  A trillion dollars to spend, and they insisted on burying him inside putty, which has never, ever made anyone look old.  Hire an old guy, sure.  But I figured he was going to be made young again...and apparently he was, in an earlier, discarded draft.

I'm going to focus on one piece of PROMETHEUS that made me squirm:  There are two robots.  David is the mechanical, less obvious robot.  And then there's Meredith, who has blood inside her.  I think.  But she is so much like a robot that the captain, Janek, asks if that's what she is.  And to prove she isn't, she has some off-screen sex with him.  (Popular culture likes its robots cold and nonsexual--too elements that could be programmed out of them by any IT guy.)  Anyway, it's reveal late that the old guy is her father, and we always knew that the old man was David's builder, and this is one of those common traits of bad/lazy writing.  The big "reveals" come too late, and they are used in place of drama.  Real drama could have flourished in the borders of one cranky, wealthy family.  But just when clan is defined, there's nothing left in the budget or timetable but some obligatory alien-going-berserk nonsense.

Forty years from now, a talented robot/author/light-dancer will acquire the rights to PROMETHEUS and start over.

Start with Janek.  My advice?  If you can get the rights to Idris Elba's face and voice, do that.  He's a great presence.  Then begin the story with that captain and some plucky crew--robots and cyborgs mostly.

In forty years, robots and cyborgs will be in charge of us all, and they'll be the paying audience too.

Really, even if they never prove to be imaginative creations, they'll at least be really good at dropping in deft, self-referential tidbits.