Facehugger-mugger

Today was a pretty regular Sunday. I woke up, did the crossword puzzle, watched some more Would I Lie to You?, and went to the local Home Depot to get a new propane tank. I had to clean off an old empty one, which had been sitting alongside the garage for the better part of a year, which upset to no end the worms and crawly things that had made a home for themselves in the dirt that had caked to the underside of the empty tank.

Speaking of worms and crawly things — which might be a spoiler, although I think a relatively small one — I also saw Prometheus today. And while I hate saying this about a movie that looks this good, that has so many genuinely good moments and touches, and that offers some potentially interesting questions…but I was really quite disappointed in it overall. My thoughts are largely the same as MaryAnn Johanson, who writes:

It had me at hello, Prometheus did, and for a fair while, and I’m still in awe of it visually, for moments like this one: Scott draws out the sequence in which the ship Prometheus approaches the planet it has been aiming at in a way that’s like cinematic lovemaking, one that lets our eyes and our minds luxuriate in the notion that this is a whole ’nother planet, the ship deorbiting unhurriedly from the huge emptiness of black space into a brand new sky and descending into a new world that is so totally amazing in and of itself, just by its sheer existence and the fact that we’re there, that it barely matters what else might be found there.

And then Prometheus lost me quickly after that, and never won me back again. Even if we had no thought that this might be connected to Alien, it ends up feeling like an Alien retread, as if it feels it must hit the same general notes…

I’ll leave out what those notes are, since that’s venturing much more deeply into spoiler territory. But do understand this: if you go in expecting an Alien prequel, you are going to be disappointed, and yet the film is so very much an Alien prequel, in spirit if not deed, that it almost can’t help but disappoint. The DNA of Ridley Scott’s earlier film (and a fair bit of James Cameron’s follow-up) is all over every frame of this new movie. Some of it just feels reminiscent of Alien, but a whole lot of the movie feels like Scott actively stealing from his younger self, and to considerably lesser effect. If I had somehow wandered into the theater, knowing nothing about the production, or about how the story for Prometheus had developed — if I hadn’t even known that Ridley Scott was directing — my one thought, at the end of the movie, would have been: “Wow, what a gorgeous but empty rip-off of Alien.”

Oh, it’s also kind of disgusting and shockingly violent in places. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — quite the opposite if done well — and heaven knows I managed to find some redeeming value even in The Human Centipede of all things. But there was a stretch of Prometheus that felt like Solaris directed by early David Cronenberg, and I’m not sure it was used to much better effect than making the audience squirm.

All that said, the movie does look incredible, and I think it had me completely, the same way it had Johanson, until at least halfway through. A lot of the actors are underused, but they’re quite good in their limited scenes, particularly Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron. (I’m not really sold on Noomi Rapace, though, to be honest.) It’s the fact that there is so much, at least initially, to recommend Prometheus that ultimately makes it so disappointing.

Right before the movie, as part of my weekly free-writing group — the same friends I saw the movie with — I wrote this:

Jack isn’t dead, not exactly, but he might as well be for all the good he’s done us lately. He just sits in the corner of the room, almost never says anything, just stares off into space. I swear sometimes it’s like you can see right through him, like he’s just floating there, half-invisible, or like we’re all the way invisible to him. Tara says we shouldn’t blame him — Jack’s been through a lot lately, more than any of the rest of us — but Tara’s been saying a lot ever since the accident, won’t shut up really, and it’s all too tempting just to tune her out most of the time. Kendall just grumbles a lot, says something about there being no honor among thieves, which I guess is his way of suggesting we should maybe leave Jack behind — every man for himself, or something like that. But I think each of us remember what happened too well to do anything like that. We’re too scared to split up, even if that’s what we would have done if the accident had never happened, and even if deep down we’re just as equally scared of each other. We don’t owe each other anything. But we were all there when those control room doors slammed shut, and the lights went out, and we heard that thing that called itself the Master of Puppets snake its voice into our heads and tell us that we had been chosen to serve it or face death.

Maybe that’s Jack’s problem: maybe he couldn’t decide, and he stared too deep into death before staggering back.

Tara says we shouldn’t have come here, and yeah, sure, but what good is that kind of hindsight going to do us now? When the lights first shot back on, she was convinced it was a joke, some bad-taste prank Kendall or I had decided to play on her. Like it hadn’t been Tara who suggested we break into the old abandoned missile silo in the first place. Like it hadn’t been Tara who’d showed up at Kendall’s dorm complete with maps of the area she’d swiped from her Air Force commander father. Like it hadn’t been Tara who insisted we all get high before hiking out. It’s all well and good to regret all of that now, but regret isn’t going to get us out of the bargain we all struck just to stay alive.

Because, sure, it’s tempting to think it’s some kind of prank, or the drugs, or some kind of shared delusion. I get that, believe me, I do.

But nobody who actually heard that evil son of a bitch talk to them would ever imagine it was anything except powerful and dangerous and infinite.

I’m not really satisfied with all of it. Elements like the “Master of Puppets” and abandoned missile silo are owed to the writing prompts, and I’d probably excise them completely or rework them considerably in any rewrite. But there’s something here, in my head if not on the page, that I think I’d like to revisit.

The same way I’ll probably revisit Prometheus when it comes out on DVD. I think a director and/or screenwriter commentary could be really quite interesting in this case.

Song of the day

“I Want You to Want Me” by Cheap Trick