Attention: Spoiler Alert!
PROMETHEUS, the prequel to the ALIEN films is now in theaters. Directed by Ridley Scott, who directed ALIEN, the first in the series, PROMETHEUS is one of two eagerly awaited science fiction movies of the the 2012 summer. The other movie is THE AVENGERS. Although there are other science fiction movies debuting this summer, PROMETHEUS and THE AVENGERS are the ones that fans have been waiting for. I saw THE AVENGERS and I didn’t care for it. What little I did like included performances by Robert Downey, Jr. and Mark Ruffalo. Because I wasn’t a fan of the comics and not familiar with the characters, I didn’t think it right to review it. On the other hand, I have seen every one of the ALIEN series and really liked the first two.
PROMETHEUS was a disappointment.
The opening is beautiful.
A bald, blue, giant man, stands on the edge of a precipice, and far below is a scary Niagra-like waterfall. He drinks from what looks like a coconut shell with little bean-like things in it. Not a good idea. He isn’t jolly and this isn’t a valley–ho, ho, ho. The blue skin starts mottling a nasty black spider pattern. He keels over and plunges into the water where we see images of organs and vessels pulsating. The images take us into his cells where we see his DNA breaking apart and blending, we assume with all that water.
Skip ahead with me to a new time and place,
where a pair of archeologists discover an ancient cave drawing of a giant being (with a bald head so start doing the math). It’s one of many drawings featuring giant men discovered in the artifacts of ancient cultures all over the world. Thousands of miles separate these drawings done by artists with no possible way to communicate. The discovery scene with the digging and brushing off the find, as well as the excitement of the scientist love-birds reminded me of the opening scene from JURASSIC PARK.
Now, we’re on a spaceship, off to an unknown galaxy.
The crew is in hyper-sleep, tended by an android played by Michael Fassbender, a good actor whom I find both creepy and sexy. The android reminded me of a baby-sitter where the kids are asleep and the absent grownups have a great sound system and supply of dvds. He walks around taking notes, peering into a female crew member’s dream (not nice) as he listens to music and watches old movies including LAWRENCE of ARABIA. His glowing yellow visor contrasts beautifully with the gleaming surface of the ship. Why did they put him in flipflops? That was odd. The beauty and serenity of this sequence reminded me of the opening of 2001, A SPACE ODYSSEY. The android’s name is David. Remind you of anything–like maybe HAL’s friend, “Dave”?
Next we have the briefing of the crew.
They all sit around, joking and drinking coffee while Charlize Theron (one of the best things in the movie and is she ever on a roll this year) gives a presentation that includes graphics showing the similarities of drawings and how they point to a different creation process in terms of how we got here . There’s also an explanation of the mission by a holographic message. It’s the powerful Weyland, the ninety-something owner of the company. Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in the worst old-age make-up I’ve seen since the last eighth grade production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Really guys? That totally took me out of the movie. There are a lot of seventy plus name actors who could have convincingly played twenty years older. Pearce is at the most fortyish. This was bad casting as well as bad make-up. The whole scene with the wise-cracking crew reminded me of the Marine grunts crew-briefing in ALIENS. Where’s Bill Paxton? They could have used him. The hip black captain (Idris Elba) tried, but just couldn’t supply enough of the required “cool” factor with so many science nerds making lame jokes.
So the mission is for us to find “where we humans came from.”
Darwin was a quack and the bald men planted us on earth. Those drawings were an invitation, weren’t they? The planet landing sequence was cool. We see these big domes. And . . . they’re hollow! One by one, like an Agatha Christie play, scientists start dying–with a little help from Android David, and the stowaway–you guessed it! Guy Pierce who happens to be Charlize’s father–a plot line thrown in like an extra onion to the stew. Didn’t help. When it comes to an invitation, BYOB takes on a whole new meaning and all the aliens, alienettes and mini-aliens slithering in that dome consider the spaceship a giant kegger. At the end of it we find out that the big blue bald guys were cooking up weapons of mass destruction at a safe distance from their world.
Yes, they were in our little corner of the universe and yes, they are our daddies.
However, they weren’t satisfied with how we turned out and were planning to come back to re-do us using some of their other little works of art–the ones with two sets of razor-teeth. Unfortunately for them, someone didn’t mind the stove and there was an accident. All the aliens died a long time ago. Or did they? David the Android manages to not only spike the drink of one of the scientists with alien juice, but also intends to harvest a little alien bun-in the oven, planted in the unfortunate scientist girlfriend. She outsmarts him and does her own c-section before the little nipper gets too frisky. Okay then, David’s last trick is to wheel his old boss out to see the one remaining bald alien who has been in some kind of super sleep for a zillion years. David figures out how to wake him up. Ah, good plan! Does the alien give away any trade secrets–say to eternal life? The old man eagerly awaits. The big blue guy grins, kills Weyland and rips David’s head off. David isn’t particularly upset.
By now, what’s left off the crew has figured out that they need to destroy the big alien ship.
It was on its way to earth and after the long layover, the remaining alien will be off to off us. With a heroic “it’s been a privilege captain” every one blows up. Everyone, that is except the bald alien, who is finally killed by the “little bun in the oven” that’s all grow’d up. David (in two pieces now) tells the remaining scientist he has figured out how to pilot one of the small remaining alien ships. Does she want him to take her home? Nooooo. Of course not. She wants an explanation, so off they go to find ET’s home. She explains that because she’s human, she needs to know. Really? Just call me Data.
WARNING: BIG SPOILER ALERT–GO NO FURTHER IF YOU PLAN TO READ THE PASSAGE.
Okay you’ve been warned about THE PASSAGE. So trudge along with me.
The Passage is a novel written by Justin Cronin, a professor of English at Rice University. It was published by Random House in 2010. Before I began to read The Passage, I read the back page of acknowledgements where the list contained many famous names like Ridley Scott, higher ups at Random House, Creative Artists Agency, Orion, Ballatine–you get the picture–this guy knows people. A look at his bio gives a hint as to why. He’s written some award winning material and earned an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop –a great place to network I’m sure. Plus, Justin Cronin is cute. All of those Rice girls I think, would agree.
I don’t recommend The Passage. Here’s an overview of the book and as I read the last page, my reasons for wanting to throw it against a wall:
The book is 766 pages long. The first 208 pages are really, really good–almost brilliant. The story begins with a five year-old girl (Amy), the child of a friendless single mother who abandons her at a convent. There’s a nun named Lacey, who is a survivor of civil war in Sierra Leone. Hoping to care for Amy and keep her at the convent, Lacey tells little white lies.
Then, the narrative jumps to first person in emails where we learn about research going on in the Amazon jungle. They’ve found a batman statue down there. I don’t mean the super hero–this thing sports fangs and attitude. The US military is involved and in a horror novel, that’s never good. The scientists aim to conquer death (one named Lear is grieving the death of his wife). Several scientists are killed and eaten by vampire bats; we’re left wondering what the scientists found before they became bat food.
We skip to a secret research facility. The military is busy with Lear’s help, experimenting on a dozen condemned murderers. This segment, with its seeping creeping dreams, experienced by the sex-offender personnel, as they record vitals and clean up the guano of the new “bat men,” who hang upside down in their cells, rivals the vampire dreams of Salem’s Lot. It’s very scary.
Two FBI agents recruit the death row inmates and this is where Cronin’s skill really shines. We meet Carter, a bewildered little man who is on death row for accidentally killing his benefactress, a housewife who rescued him from under a bridge and gave him work, a home and dignity. Carter, a gentle soul, accepts his fate. Wolfgast, one of the FBI men, grieves the death of his infant daughter. Wolfgast reluctantly recruits Carter, recognizing that the man is not a killer. Carter’s journey to the research facility is Cronin at his best; we see Carter’s enjoyment–amazed at the America that his poverty and friendlessness denied him.
Then, Lear wants to test the serum on a child. Wolfgast and Doyle, his partner, are sent out to find one who won’t be missed. Back to Amy. Lacey takes Amy to the zoo. Amy makes the TV news when all the animals freak out and try to follow her. To Lacey, Amy explains cryptically” “They know what I am.” Okay, except that this whole segment is never explained to the reader and it happens way before any of the events that might have led to Amy’s weird behavior. You assume that it, along with Lacey’s prescience will be given an explanation. Not.
Wolgast tries to rescue Amy but is stopped by trigger-happy government guy Richards, a character who is the poster child for overkill–he kills all the nuns for pete’s sake. The writing has been so good so far that you forgive the cartoon excess. The best two hundred pages ends with Wolfgast rescuing Amy after she’s been given a giant dose of refined bat juice. The convict batmen get free and kill everyone. Somehow, Lacey tracks them down (she wasn’t home when Richards killed the other nuns) and we leave her as she distracts the batmen (later called virals) so that Amy and Wolfgast can get away. The last page of these 208 ends with Amy being alone with no one to protect her.
The rest of the book–all 548 pages begins almost one hundred years after the virals have pretty much killed the world. It centers on the “Colony” a small group of survivors located in California. Exposition is in the form of a document presented at a “World Conference” in “1015 av.” Okay, so we know that there’s a world and conferences and that mankind as a global civilization ultimately survives. Now back to the document–a first person account written by a woman who was the oldest person at the “Colony’. Her name was Ida. Think The Stand’s “Mother Abigail.” Ida makes awful tea and blurts out remarks like she knows what’s going to happen. She doesn’t. The Colony survives by vigilance and keeping the lights on at night to keep out the virals and protect the “Littles” (as in Lord of the Flies “little-uns”) who stay segregated in a schoolhouse. Unfortunately, the batteries are dying and so in desperation, the “Watchers” turn on the forbidden radio, hoping to signal for help. It comes in the form of a teenage girl–Amy who, after a hundred years has managed to hit puberty. She can’t talk.
I could name some of the zillion characters who continue the story, which jumps from one character to the other in a third person narrative. Not one pops out. Cronin doesn’t give enough weight to any of them to make us care. I kept waiting for the writing to get better–to get anywhere near the caliber of the first section. There’s a series of forays, attacks, discoveries and we finally learn that all forty something million virals are telepathically connected to one or the other of the original twelve convicts–like giant bee colonies and each convict is a queen bat-bee. If you can kill one of the original, then those connected will remember who they are and will hang around until the sun comes up until they burn and then fly to that great hive in the sky. Right. This all happens at the very end and what really frosts my shorts is that Cronin leaves us hanging. He doesn’t tell us how or when the world is saved. In fact, the last “document” presented at the “World Conference” reveals the assumed death of one of the major characters. We don’t know for sure because Cronin has a habit of killing someone off at the end of a segment then beginning the next segment by informing us that they were rescued by some fluke. This is lazy writing. Cronin knows better and we the readers deserve better. The ending was very frustrating and I felt had.
Unless you want to be really really annoyed, I don’t recommend The Passage.
Congratulations on your success Mr. Cronin. Next time give us a story with a beginning, a middle and an end.