Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Theatre Experience, Prometheus Review

Yesterday afternoon, ChinaCat Sunflower and I visited our local movie theatre to catch a showing of Prometheus (written by Jon Spaihts/Damen Lindelof, directed by Ridley Scott). Although I am a dedicated film lover, actually going to the theatre is a rare experience for me. It takes a special reason, like my girl's recommendation or a film that is truly meant to be seen on a huge screen, for me to want to endure the theatre experience. Even when I do go, I prefer to miss the crowds and see an afternoon showing. Beyond the ridiculous prices and the gamble of the type of audience I'll be stuck with, I find the entire experience quite strange, as far as social activities are concerned.

Everyone likes to go the theatres with a friend or two, and it's even generally frowned upon to be that weirdo enjoying a movie alone. But once you get inside and the lights dim, it's against theatre etiquette to speak to one another during the movie. So we go the movies with a friend, only to sit beside them quietly, staring at a big screen. Of course, there's the pleasure of having a shared experience to discuss once the movie's over, but it's tough to find a social activity that has harsher etiquette than the movie theatre. No speaking, no phones, no eating loudly, no commenting at the screen, and you better not laugh or scream any louder than the people around you. For a supposedly fun experience, the rules are pretty strict. Not to say that I like to text, or have a conversation, or munch my popcorn like a pig during a movie, it's just interesting to see what happens when we're left to govern ourselves. Sometimes it works, and sometimes the wrong audience can completely ruin a good movie.

The art form of film is also a tricky concept, from a social point of view. In other functions which require an audience, such as a concert or live performance, there is the chance of being involved with the art that you're witnessing. At a concert, there's dancing, singing along, shouting to your favourite performers. At a play, there isn't a screen separating you from the performers, they are right there, living and breathing and capable of surprise or error at any moment. At a comedy show, there's the chance of being called upon by the comedian. Or, if you want to be that guy, you can heckle in order to gain a reaction. And the list goes on.

However, unlike the dynamic kinds of performances I've listed, a movie is finished as soon as the film is made and shipped out to the theatres. Nothing about a film can change during the showing, it's a static art form that exists only as it is, without the chance of audience participation or interaction. So we're all sitting in a dark room, silently, watching a huge screen with these performances, sounds, and images that are going to be the exact same no matter where or when you see it. In some ways, this makes the medium of film comforting and reliable, easy to discuss and study because it's the same every time. In other ways, film is void of the excitement that a live show can provide, because other than being the obnoxious movie-goer who breaks the theatre etiquette, there's no real chance to participate in the art.

Since this is a review for Prometheus, it's probably about time to discuss the film itself. I'll begin by stating that Science Fiction, more specifically Sci-Fi Horror, doesn't rank very high in my genre of choice. I understand the value of the genre and the imagination it takes to do it well, but it takes a pretty special sci-fi movie to impress me. Coming from the perspective of a writer, the first thing I study in a film is the story and script. Secondly, I'm always intrigued by how an actor takes on a character and make him or her come to life. Thirdly, I'm a lover of expert cinematography and a talented director. I'm not arguing that sci-fi films don't include these aspects, but I often find that they focus more on the gimmick than the execution. There are always exceptions, and Prometheus is one of them.

This film was offered in both 2D and 3D, and we opted for the former. My feelings about 3D is a topic for another day, but I will briefly tell you why I am against the format. I appreciate the effect that 3D can have on action movies and children's films, but as a lover of story and acting, I find that 3D destroys any chance of subtlety and doesn't allow the film-maker and performers to shine while practicing their craft. 3D is simply a novelty and doesn't add any real value to the storytelling process of film. And it makes my eyes itch. So we chose to see Prometheus in 2D, where I could enjoy the pacing and execution of the film without the images flying in my face.

Although the voices of the internet seem to be hating on Prometheus, I found a lot to like about this film. The outstanding cast is likely what helped me enjoy this more than the average sci-fi feature. With talented and experienced dramatic actors such as Guy Pearce, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, and Noomi Rapace headlining the film, I knew that if even if the rest of the movie was a failure, the performances would be worth watching. These powerhouse actors helped elevate the quality of the film much more than a cast of unknown B actors would have. A special shout-out to Idris Elba (Luther, The Office, The Wire), who is always lovable even though he hardly plays likeable characters.

Other positive points include the masterfully choreographed action sequences, the characterization of even the bit-part characters, and the incredibly believeable special effects. In a film like this, if the computer graphics are corny and obvious, it can ruin the entire experience. In Prometheus, the effects were seamless, obviously worked on by masters of the craft. Also, this film stood out for me because it wasn't all about the gruesome alien kills (though there were some great ones), but it asked real questions about religion, morality, existence, and the meaning of life. And while some critics of the film were upset that not all the questions raised were answered, I'd argue that it's not the job of a sci-fi movie to fill in all the blanks, but to simply get us thinking and discussing.

At the heart of the film, Prometheus explores the dangers of mankind being too curious. This is a subject that I've been fascinated with for quite some time. The further we go out into space, the deeper we go into the ocean, the more it seems like we're asking for trouble. It's just human nature to want to dig further, build higher, reach deeper, discover more.  I'm not speaking out against exploration, because that would be ridiculous, I only ask that we as a species be wary about the consequences of answering every single question we have. Curiosity can be healthy, but it can also kill you, sometimes by climbing down your throat and exploding out of your body.

I'll conclude by telling you who I think this movie is for: Appreciaters of masterful acting, directing, and special effects. Fans of gory kill scenes. People who can understand the right for a movie to leave some questions unanswered without crying 'plot hole'. Fans of not only sci-fi, but intelligent sci-fi. And of course, Thinkers. Prometheus isn't a perfect film, but it is a nice way to spend an afternoon with a cute girl in an empty theatre. All I ask is that you don't be turned off by the label 'sci-fi horror', because this film is much more about humanity than it is about aliens.

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