Because That’s What I Choose To Believe: Prometheus and a Call For Positivity

Published on June 14th, 2012 in: Critics/Criticism, Horror, Media, Movies, Over the Gadfly's Nest, Science Fiction, The Internets |

By Less Lee Moore

By now, you’ve probably heard about Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi epic, Prometheus, and possibly even seen it. Hopefully, you have not based your enjoyment of the film on what critics are saying. Although there are several who have embraced Prometheus, flaws and all (Roger Ebert, The Guardian, HuffPo, The New Yorker, Screen Rant, and David Chen from /Film), there seems to be an overwhelming majority who are trashing every aspect of the movie.

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I’ll be honest. I do feel sad for people who didn’t like Prometheus. This is because I have this idealistic desire that the things that make me happy will make other people happy, too. Not because I think my tastes are superior, but because I believe in the power of art to uplift us—yes, even art that is made manifest in a fairly terrifying, rather gory, and somewhat bleak quasi-horror science fiction film like Prometheus. (Keep those words in mind: SCIENCE FICTION.) If I didn’t want to share the happiness that movies, music, and other artistic pursuits bring to me, I wouldn’t have started this website.

While I’m being honest, I’ll admit that I also feel a bit of pity for the people who didn’t like Prometheus, especially those who went in expecting one thing and got something else. I’ve been through that before and been frustrated myself.

Perhaps most shamefully of all, I feel a more than a little angry when I read the overtly hateful, snarky, and dismissive comments from those who didn’t get Prometheus. Not because they aren’t smart people (although undoubtedly there are some not-smart people who hated it) but because they seem to want a movie to explain everything or at least make complete, unambiguous sense within the two hours they’re in the theater.

Some of these people don’t like to think in movies; they prefer somewhat mindless entertainment. Some of these people, however, do like movies that make them think, but maybe they weren’t expecting Prometheus to be as complex and confounding as say, Inception. That probably makes me sadder than the hate brigade.

I don’t expect everyone, much less my fellow movie critics and writers, to agree with me that Prometheus is an amazing and wonderful film. But I do expect some measure of civility (or at least logic) when they disagree. It is possible to dislike a movie without making fun of it. Though that can be cathartic, the descent into negativity I’ve noticed with Prometheus reviews is troubling, especially when it feels very much like some reviewers hated Prometheus before they even saw the movie. (This is a general trend in pop culture writing, particularly on the Internet, which I find disheartening.)

But here’s the thing: It’s easy to hate a movie outright and let a few flaws get in the way of the good parts. It’s harder to provide a thoughtful critique that calls out a movie’s flaws without calling people out individually and berating them, or placing all of the blame for the movie’s “failure” on one specific person. And still holding grudges over a television show that ended two years ago.

I’m not going to link to any of these reviews out of respect and a little bit of spite, I suppose. They’re easy enough to find for those who want to read them. You writers know who you are and I daresay, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Is Prometheus a perfect movie? No. Is any movie a perfect movie? Maybe a handful. But this isn’t actually about whether or not Prometheus is a perfect movie or even a good one, it’s about being a critic, not an executioner.

Bloody Disgusting’s June 1 review, a full week before Prometheus premiered in North America, was eerily (and depressingly) prescient:

It’s extremely high concept in a way that it will alienate half the audience, while the other half will snarkily approach it with the “I’ve already read about this” mindset. In short, I expect harsh criticism.

I also wholeheartedly agree with their accurate, yet non-confrontational chastising of those contributing to Prometheus‘s inevitable critical backlash:

Without giving anything away—which is extremely difficult—the ideas presented are quite anti-Hollywood. What I mean by this is that Hollywood (executives, filmmakers) likes stories to be told in formula and to be overbearingly clear. Prometheus is anti-Hollywood in the sense that Scott and co. tell the story the way they want to tell it without any care as to whether or not theater patrons will understand. It sticks firm and will gladly take criticism.

We are all constantly screaming for originality in film; that’s what was delivered.

The site has been amazing in its candid, yet balanced, coverage and analysis of Prometheus, including multiple reviews, discussions on The Art Of Prometheus book and viral campaign, and a link to an incredibly impressive and lengthy analysis of the symbolism and themes in the film from a LiveJournal user named cavalorn. (Please note all of these links include spoiler-heavy content.)

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You might feel like you shouldn’t have to read all of these auxiliary materials to love, appreciate, or even “get” Prometheus. And that’s fine, too, but to dismiss the film out of hand as brainless, confusing, or lacking in ideas is unfair. It cannot simultaneously be too complicated and dull. (I’d also like to mention that scientists aren’t infallible and that if they didn’t make “dumb” mistakes in movies, we’d have an awful lot of pitifully short movies around.)

There are plenty of people who saw Prometheus and thought about it and thought about it some more and looked up stuff on the Internet or in books and figured out things about it that perhaps weren’t clear during those two hours in the theater. Some of these people aren’t even movie critics (gasp!), but perhaps they should be.

2 Responses to “Because That’s What I Choose To Believe: Prometheus and a Call For Positivity”

  1. Paul:
    June 14th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    I think what is the dividing line here is a philosophical disagreement, and instead of addressing that, many folks are insistent on banging the drum of PLOT HOLES, or fixating on ridiculous, irrelevant things like how she knew about the machine etc etc. That kind of behaviour is expected, always unhelpful and self-betraying.

    But I think the real problem is a combination of the high concept stuff and a love of mystery in of itself. There is a through-line from Lost to this, which I love, because I loved that show. And much of that show’s criticism was of the same breed, and was generally folks who were actually missing a whole lot that was going on and writing it off as “NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS HAPPEN BEFORE AND LATER” and all that terrible guff. It was driven though by the disturbing thought that some people just dig mystery that doesn’t have an answer to it, that can be made up on the fly, that does not have to be used sparingly or surrounded by realistic, sober progression of plot and character development. There is behaviour here that may seem odd – provoking the snake from a biologist – but there was in Alien, a lot of it! Folks are unable to look at Alien now in the same way because they’ve been watching it for 30 years, but there are so many parts in that movie when they act in ways that are not rational.

    And I think it has far more purpose here, than it does in Alien, because it feeds back into the central themes of the movie. The arrogance of humanity, the assumption that they had everything worked out, that they were going to get their desires and answers fulfilled by the universe because it is what they deserved. They go from being scared to being entranced by the beauty and wonder of what the universe is throwing up, and they get killed for it! It’s the whole movie in one little scene. It isn’t just a case of horror humour – though it is that! – and works for me. There are flaws in the movie but they are not to do with the grander picture of what it is trying to accomplish. Some of the dialogue is clunky, but some of it is graceful and has a beautiful flow to it. That’s most science fiction. Again: see Alien! “Ash is a goddamn robot!” may seeeeem like it’s a classic line now, but it is B-Movie through and through.

    The Lost stuff though is what is driving this weird, aggressive arse, and more than a bit of entitled folks getting their inheritance taken away from them. I deserved something that I thought was going to happen! Look, generalizing about folks problems with the movie is problematic, naturally, sometimes folks just don’t get on with this or that, and getting into motivations is a sticky business. But why are so many relishing in trashing the movie and trashing the people who like it? That is easy to see. Some folks were upset that it was in the end a very uplifting, positive movie – the closing speech is just perfect, and yes very Gene Roddenberry – but I loved it. I loved how the motivations of the engineers, of David were disguised while the humans were open and obvious. Because while they were abusing David and robbing him of any desires, wants, and possibilities of emotions or anything, they were actually doing the same of their creators! What arrogance! They KNEW that whatever their creators did, it was to do with how special humanity was. Never did they consider that perhaps, they had other things on their mind.

    To say that folks are making theories to make sense of it, is just to misunderstand a considerable part of science fiction’s history, and the pull of the mystery. Folks who need to make sense of what was happening in say, 2001, or Lost Highway, are already so far off the point that they are never going to get it. This isn’t quite as abstract and surreal as the above, obviously, but what it leaves alone is intentional and has a reason apart from not wanting to write a script that is totally consistent and clear. Twould be the same as pointing out how The Shining did not make sense. “They forgot to put the doorknobs in the right place!” “Don’t rationalize with me!” as old Ridley said. As both a horror and science fiction, it comes from a tradition of engaging the audience and leaving them with enough space to work through the themes and bothers that arise from the film. I have yet to read a critique which was not presumptuous – of course we don’t like these aspects of the genre, they are soooo of this genre we don’t respect – or obsessively focused on tiny parts that they think are “so stupid!” to a savage degree.

    I was listening to some folks behind me last night who were very angry that it didn’t explain how the ship got there, and were confused as to what exactly the Alien was at the end of the movie, so there *is* that not inconsiderable section of hardcore Alien “franchise” fans too that are actually pretty old, can probably speak OK and are voicing their displeasure at this being a prequel but not a prequel that gives them what they wanted – which is probably more to do with Aliens than the original, anyways. Not that there’s anything wrong with that and so on, but it is actually quite a different movie to Alien, and I can see how you might be disappointed with it on that level. Part of it is also that people like whining about their childhoods and how creative people have robbed them of them, and how they don’t have the right! And all that piddling, infant shit that people should be screened for before birth so we can put them on their own little nasty island.

    Another thing to remember, this is hopefully just another science fiction movie in a new lot Ridley Scott is going to do, so the artificial pressure on this one as being HIS RETURN will be completely removed if he produces any more.

  2. Popshifter:
    June 14th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary!

    I think you’re spot on about the arrogance factor. It does make people do stupid things because they feel like they are smarter and more qualified to do said stupid things. I mean, didn’t anyone see SPLICE? Haha! Not that it’s in the same league as PROMETHEUS, but storywise, it has a lot of similarities. And someone, somewhere, possibly on Roger Ebert’s blog, mentioned FRANKENSTEIN, and how the novel’s original full title is “a modern Prometheus.” How FRANKENSTEIN hasn’t been discussed more in the PROMETHEUS discussions I’ve read is kind of perplexing to me.

    Another thing I mentioned in a comment on the article linking to FilmJunk’s podcast on the movie, is the whole idea of “blaming” anyone for a movie, album, TV show, etc. Okay, you don’t like it, you mention specific things. But film is a collaborative effort. Just because you know the name of screenwriter, editor, actor, producer, director, etc. does NOT mean you should call them out for their “failure” to make the movie work for you. I find this bizarre and distasteful and presumptuous.


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