NOTE: I honestly could not construct this review without putting in spoilers. If this is important to you, read at your own risk.
Besides slamming into logical roadblocks, I don’t quite understand why the internet hive mind is in a murderous rampage over this movie. Ridley Scott’s directing style was there, H.R. Giger’s grotesque and biomechanical art direction was present, the performances were pretty well done; frankly, I was happy enough for the final product. What really lacked, in my opinion, was the writing. According to IMDb, there were two writers: Jon Spaihts, who I’ve never even heard of because he hasn’t done anything, and Damon Lindelof who wrote Lost… and I think this explains a lot. I’m not going to go off about “franchise continuity” like most people have because Ridley stated during production that this is more of an “off shoot, spin off reboot” rather than a direct prequel of Alien. If you take the movie as that, then what contradicts continuity makes sense on its own. The lack of common sense and basic understanding of science, on the other hand, doesn’t.
My first eye roll occurred from the whole star map nonsense. To be honest, I don’t know anything about star maps or astronomy but I’m pretty positive a “star formation” that has been repeated by ancient unconnected cultures (1) means nothing because it’s just a meme (i.e. six pointed star, swastika), (2) how did they know it was “engineers” giving them clues to search for them, (3) that formation could look like any formation in the whole galaxy simply by shifting perspective on certain collections of stars, and (4) how did Weyland know that there were engineers of human life? He seemed one hundred percent sure that it was a calling and, after all, he is a businessman. A businessman isn’t going to invest in an endeavor unless he is confident of a profit, driven by superstition or not… and it was a superstition that he completely believed in because he made it clear that he did not know of, meet, or had any sort of contact with the engineers. Also, the star formation did not seem like it was some sort of Lovecraftian object that would drive its finders into obsession. Otherwise, the whole crew would have been enamored by it. This whole star stuff was a skyscraper built on straw. There was a big reason for going there but not enough of a foundation to get there. This is one of the first logical roadblocks where I sense the writer(s) asking “we know what we want and what to do but how do we get there?” They couldn’t have a reason for mining because that was the first Alien movie and the crew in Prometheus had to consist of scientists; otherwise, it would undermine the whole story [ba-dum-tish]. This logic roadblock was not entirely slammed into but the drivers weren’t left unscathed.
A huge roadblock, though more of a gaping pothole, was science. If I want to write a science-fiction film, I’m not going to ask the writer and creator of Lost to help. Yeah, he helped write the newer Star Trek movie. I thought it was pretty decent but at the same time, the movie’s plot/story was similar to many other plots/stories from the original episodes. At least there was some sort of guide… and the science is also way out there (which is a problem I’ve always had with Star Trek but that can be discussed another day). Prometheus and the Alien franchise is pretty near-future for science fiction. No phasers, no teleporters, no crazy worm hole/time travel stuff. The science has always been straight forward and believable in the Alien universe. My first question of the science in Prometheus is that even if this is a kinda-sorta prequel, why the hell is the biology of these damn creatures so complicated? Even in the original Alien movie, it was pretty simple and that simplicity helped in adding their creepy factor. From my understanding, the black goop, when ingested by a human male, would slowly kill him and mutate his sperm; that mutated sperm, when in contact with a human egg, would create a squid like creature that then would quickly evolve into a giant starfish; then, if able to, the giant starfish would act like a face hugger to impregnate (or re-impregnate) whatever it could find and kill it at the same time. And if it could find an engineer/space jockey, the now dead engineer/space jockey would then give birth to a Xenomorph. But if the black goop was ingested by a male engineer/space jockey, it just would kill him quickly and the body would then act as a building block for human life. But the goop was originally going to be used by the space jockeys/engineers to kill off the humans they created for no clear reason.
You need to know a decent amount of science to write science fiction. Even if you’ve seen just an episode of Lost, you know that show has confusing logic and it is clearly brought over here. The original creatures in Alien were not that complicated and their lifecycle was very insect like. It went Queen –> Egg –> Face Hugger –> A body to impregnate (human or not) –> Chest Burster –> then it would rapidly grow into a Xenomorph. The closest lifecycle to this, that I can think of, is a tapeworm’s. As I said, you need to have a basic knowledge of science to write science fiction. This creature, or these creatures, in Prometheus do not have any sort of lifecycle of anything that (I know of) exists. DNA cannot instantly adapt to whatever environment it is in, single celled or multi celled; sperm or giant starfish. But obviously anyone that thinks a woman can leap off an operating table and run away perfectly fine after having a c-section, while hopped up on pain killers, needs a reality check. It’s a pity too because that particular scene was great till its conclusion. It really had a shot at making a statement about the struggles of motherhood. In fact, this whole movie could have made a real statement about the struggles of motherhood, the same way Alien made a statement about the struggles of women in a male dominated society (amongst other things). There was a lot of places where a “struggles of motherhood” theme could have been planted; the engineer/space jockey using himself to give birth to the human race, Shaw being sterile but still giving birth to some nightmarish squid thing, Vickers clearly having the ability to give tough love to her crew. Instead, this movie decided to take the “let’s talk about faith” route. They ultimately needed a way to get to the story and had no way of getting there.
Though entertaining, Prometheus was mostly filled with empty nutrients… notice that I did not say calories. If this movie did consist of empty calories, it would be non-stop action beginning to end. It would not even bother to question or make arguments. The film asks what it means to have faith and why… but these are the empty nutrients. The questions open up, loudly, but never close; not even with the faintest subtlety. The subject of faith and religion is too big of a subject to tackle in a two hour sci-fi/horror film, especially a question that does not really have an answer. I suppose religion/faith is a common topic for science-fiction (VALIS, Star Wars, Star Trek, re-imagined Battlestar Galactica). But for horror? I’m not sure. The only way it could ever end would be on an atheistic note. Previous sci-fi works that have covered religion always had a more agnostic vibe; examples being those listed in the parentheses above. The conclusions sci-fi and horror stories typically have contradict one another and Prometheus is a mix of these. As a genre film, it works and always has worked on numerous occasions (the other Alien movies, one of my favorite PC games System Shock, even Frankenstein has been considered a prototype of mixing these genres). This is another area where I feel the writer(s) hit a logic roadblock; this one was more behind the scenes. They picked up two ends but couldn’t get them to meet. I suppose one could argue that they tried and, yes, I do think at times it worked. It worked for the heroine Shaw and it worked okay for Weyland, despite it not blending very well with his archetype of a big corporate executive. Not saying it would be impossible it just wasn’t fleshed out because he only shows up in the beginning and the end. But even then, those were really the only spots where faith, on an agnostic tone, played a role and worked. It just cannot work in the horror genre. Frankly, you have a better chance of putting Bertrand Russell’s atheism into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Aldous Huxley’s spirituality in an Alien film. I don’t think the writer(s) gave the story and theme much thought. On the bright side, at least it wasn’t Lockout.
What would go great with this?
Chicken in peanut sauce Lean Cuisine. Make sure you microwave it about thirty to forty seconds under the recommended time. You’ll want delicious salmonella to truly feel the chaos the story brings to the table.
Vodka tonic with a dash of mysterious black goop.
Critic Value: 5/10…?
There’s just so much that could have been done here. This movie is proof that you can have good directing but a bad story. Ridley’s atmospheric tension building is there and it’s done well. The scene where David’s character is developing screams Ridley Scott. The references to Lawrence of Arabia and the parallels of an android’s life among humans are a perfect fit… but after that, where story is the main focus (the writer’s responsibility), it falls apart. I gave this a five and a question mark because the film as a whole had its chance for purpose, and it tried, and there were spots where it could have been implemented, but in the end it must have been overlooked
Quality Value: 9/10…?
A question mark is for the quality of the writing. You can hear the movie’s universe breathe with life: the sets, the characters, the costumes, the atmosphere and tension that’s built. That’s all Ridley and the quality he has always brought to his films. I may be a fanboy but you can’t deny that he did his job. The writer(s) didn’t. Prometheus is like looking at a beautiful glass statue filled with pigeon shit.
Love it or hate it, this movie is engaging. I liked it for what Ridley did/tried to do, I didn’t like it for what the writer(s) did.
If you were to ask me for my top three mangakas, Junji Ito would be on the list. Great art and crazy plots… but that’s where his problem lies: his work can not translate to film. It’s just too crazy. In a way, I’ve always thought of him as Japan’s Stephen King; well known and a lot of good horror stories. Similar to King, the good stuff usually only works in one medium. The reason for this is that Ito’s stories cover the most inane, insane, and near ineffable topics. When you try to make a synopsis for any manga of his, they sound like they’re for an Ed Wood movie. When you actually read it, it’s more like Terry Gilliam and H.P. Lovecraft just made a mind-bending J-horror baby. Junji Ito is able to make these seemingly dumb plots into the most nightmarish things. Personally, I think all of his mangas are near perfect. Uzumaki is a great example of this. Horrible movie, one of the greatest mangas ever written. Why? It’s about townsfolk going nuts over spirals and eventually turning into their obsession. Sounds stupid but I promise you will not sleep for a week when you read it. Gyo is the same way. Japan is taken over by walking fish. Dumb, right? You’ll probably be so disgusted by the end you’ll want to vomit. When I heard Gyo was being made into an OVA, I was skeptical but excited. Nothing from Ito has been adapted into an anime before but his works that have been adapted to film are crap. Uzumaki in particular. I can’t speak much for Tomie because I’ve only seen a little bit of the first film in the series and I was getting a b-movie vibe from it (though, I’ve heard mixed things about most Tomie adaptations). Thankfully, I can say Gyo doesn’t completely fall into the chain of bad Ito adaptations.
There are two things that I need to congratulate this OVA on. The first is that the CGI reflects the drawn art style. One thing that drives me up the wall in animations, anime or otherwise, is when the CGI and drawn art clash. Blue Submarine No. 6 is a perfect example of what not to do. I’m not saying it’s a bad show and it’s a much older anime but I’m positive they could have done something to fix that. They could have made the textures of the models more simplistic; I’m sure they had that ability in the late nineties. While I’m still on the subject of Gyo‘s art, another thing I need to thank them on is that they didn’t go the moe route with the character designs. Here is where my nerd rant is going to activate: I am so sick of moe, especially when it comes to anime with ridiculous amounts of blood/gore/violence/etcetera. A more recent anime, Mirai Nikki, is a great example. I’ve seen up to the twelfth episode so far. I like the story, I like the direction it’s going, and I’m going to continue watching it, but the big eyes need to go. A story about a wide scale death match started by an outer god is no place for moe. I don’t care if it was originally aimed for shonen audiences. Keep it in the sugary stuff, not in guro. It’s negating the darker/twisted value it’s supposed to have. Thankfully Gyo tries its best at keeping the art true to Junji Ito’s near realistic style. This show’s art department deserves some applause.
Despite this being an OVA, I’m not exactly sure why Gyo runs at seventy minutes. I’m surprised that I ended up liking a few of the liberties this adaptation takes with the story. But still, it really needs more exposition; even for the audience that is familiar with the whos, whats, whens, whys and hows. This is particularly critical because the two main characters are only the same on the outside: Tadashi and Kaori. The only difference is that unlike the manga, Tadashi is practically non-existent and even though what he faces is important, it’s not really built up. The same goes for his mad scientist uncle. There’s no real build up that shows what is happening can drag people into a level of wacky insanity. Kaori, unlike Tadashi and his uncle, is fleshed out but completely different from the manga. Instead of being a prissy tsundere, she is instead more like Kirie from Uzumaki. Strong, lost, and trying her best to get through the chaos. Similar to the unbuilt Tadashi, the two girls that open up with Kaori seem to actually be a split up version of the manga’s Kaori. Insecure and an unlikable attitude. There are two reasons why I think they did this. The first was probably to make this seem more like a disaster flick rather than an outlandish horror cartoon, that way it could garner a wider audience. The second reason, and probably the primary one, was to get the story moving. I suppose this could have worked better with about ten more minutes of exposition. The split up manga Kaori characters, Erika and Aki, appear to have a well rounded conflict amongst themselves. It would have been nice to see more of a build up to their confrontation. This bit about Gyo needing more exposition brings me to my next complaint: pacing.
Pacing is an issue that also existed in the Uzumaki adaptation. The way Ito does his horror, he puts in small, little weird things in the beginning. As the story progresses, those little weird things get bigger and eventually grow to a globally destructive scale. I understand with film, you only have so much time to tell the story. I think this is another reason why it’s so hard to translate Ito into a medium other than graphic novels. It’s hard to slowly introduce the little parts that lead up to the final and ultimate horror. Pretty much within ten minutes of Gyo, Japan is already getting mauled by walking fish. In the manga, it happens around the middle of the first volume (maybe a little earlier, it’s been awhile since I’ve read it). If this OVA had ten more minutes, it might have been more accessible to those who have not read the original version.
What would go great with this ?
Salmon sushi rolled with avocado and green bell peppers.
Octopus flavored Ramune
Critic Value: 5/10
I have to give this OVA half credit. The manga kind of goes in with the dangers of war technology and how history can bite back. The adaptation treats Gyo more like a piece of pulp horror mixed with a disaster flick. Arguably, the original version could be considered the same as well
Quality Value: 8.5/10
The art tries its best at staying true to Ito’s style and the CGI doesn’t clash with what is drawn. This would have been a 9 but there are some scenes where characters look a little too disproportionate.
Entertainment 4/10 if you haven’t read it, 7/10 if you have.
You’ll probably be lost if you haven’t read the manga because the OVA barely bothers to explain what is happening and may even appear convoluted. If you’re a fan of Ito, you probably shouldn’t pass this up. I was surprised to see that the (truly) disgusting parts are still in tact. The ending isn’t the same though. To be honest, I found this version’s better and slightly reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead.