It’s been over a week since I experienced Prometheus. I was there on opening day, first showing, with 3D IMAX glasses in hand, ready to be treated to the triumphant return of Ridley Scott to Sci-Fi (after a 30 year hiatus from the genre). No, my expectations were not wildly out of check. That description is what the excellently created trailer had been selling to all of us for months now.
I went, I viewed, then I mulled it over for more hours and days then I’d like to admit. I poured over reviews and analysis comparing Prometheus to everything from 2001 (good) to The Phantom Menace (bad). That’s a pretty wide range of quality of films. The funny thing is that I can understand the reasons for comparisons to both of those films.
I’ve wanted to write this article many different times, but I’ve found that difficult because it is such a frustrating film. In fact, I’ve written this very article in my head at least five different ways. What I’ve decided to finally write (which you are now obviously reading) is a hybrid review/opinion which tries to reconcile the reasons Prometheus has turned out to be such a polarizing film. (Note: The longer you read this, the more I delve into spoilers. There’s a warning when it becomes no hold barred.)
What works in Prometheus?
Without a doubt, Ridley Scott has proven once again that he is a master of visual storytelling. Prometheus is one of the best looking and most environmentally saturated films I’ve seen in a very long time. From the interior of the ship Prometheus itself, to the large and vast caverns, every environment drips with awe. In many ways, Prometheus is probably the best advertisement for 3-D cinema that I’ve ever seen. Once my eyes adjusted to the glasses, I pretty much forgot that I was watching a 3-D movie (in my opinion that is a good thing.) At the same time, I was continually wowed with the visual splendor that continues non-stop throughout the film. (Side Note: I will only view a film in 3D if it was created/shot in 3D. Conversions are terrible and I avoid them like the plague.)
Overall, the cast was terrific with two stand out players. I found Michael Fassbender to be quite fascinating and the most compelling character, which is quite the feat considering his character is an android devoid of feelings. Noomi Rapace also gave a brave performance with a script that called for some really grueling and what had to have been truly frightening sequences to film. The most notable occurring on an operating table. (If you see the film you’ll have no doubt understanding what scene I’m referring too.)
The production quality was phenomenal. I could not decipher where the real (practical) ended and the CG (digital) took over. The score and sound design were top shelf; both enhance the film exactly as they should. Overall it’s a very high quality production, in which everyone involved in the creation of should be very proud.
What doesn’t work?
This is where my own opinion gets divergent.
On one hand I want to say Prometheus is a surprisingly deep film that asks a lot of questions concerning the meaning of life and isn’t afraid to not answer those questions but rather to leave it up for the viewer to decide. That’s a pretty ambitious and noble quest for a big budget, summer tent pole film, that is loosely based on a pre-exisitng horror/sci-fi franchise.
On the other hand I want to say Prometheus is one of the most ponderous, pretentious and incoherent big budget films I’ve ever seen.
I really want to believe that Prometheus is more of the first film that I described. Unfortunately, I think it really falls between the two and at times leans heavy on the second description. Once it is over, Prometheus leaves the viewer with many unanswered questions, which has created a large and very vocal group of detractors on the inter-webs.
Just to go on record about my opinion of “thinking” films or “open ended” conclusions, I for one am okay with not being spoon-fed a films intent or agenda and in general I don’t have problems with open endings. What I do have issues with are contrived characters and plot devices that continually dumb down a film that is attempting to be clever and then that same film taunts me by claiming “I’m too smart for you” the moment I try to make any sense of it all. As a paying movie-goer, that’s just insulting. Still, I’d be willing to forgive Prometheus of all of it’s pretentious plot issues had it not severely suffered from what I’ve decided are it’s two major flaws.
Spolier Warning. Major plot developments discussed from here on!
#1 Major Flaw: Too many similarities to Alien. If Prometheus was really not meant to be a prequel to the Alien franchise, then why does it have so many similarities from first Alien film? The two films share the same solar system, the same corporation, the same alien species: Space Jockeys (in Prometheus they’re called engineers) and their crescent shaped ships. There are similarities to the egg room from Aliens and the black goo canister room in Prometheus. There are designs that feature xenomorph and face hugger (creatures from Alien) carvings on the walls in Prometheus. Both feature an android as a main character, whom has ambiguous ulterior motives and dies in a very similar fashion.
Prometheus even follows a similar outline to Alien: a group of people aboard a space ship explore the unknown on an alien planet, they discover dead Space Jockey(s), killer alien(s) abound, lots of bad things happen, the whole crew dies, and a single female heroine survives, flying into space. So it’s not a sequel then? Riigghhht! It’s practically a glossier, much less scarier remake. The overt Alien connection does Prometheus a major disservice because as a viewer, it’s difficult to watch the film without trying to formulate how it “fits” within the Alien canon. All of the similarities just create a lot of unnecessary confusion.
#2 Major Flaw: Smart people doing stupid things. Many of these characters are suppose to be scientists, biologists and others whom appear to be at the top of their given field, otherwise why would they be on such an important mission? Given that fact the majority of them have Dr. as part of their surname, well, you wouldn’t know it by their idiotic actions.
Some of those actions, many of which are major points that advance the story, include:
• Removing your helmet/breathing apprataus after only being on an alien planet for about 5 minutes.
• Realizing that your infected with something alienish, not telling anyone, then having sex with your girlfriend.
• Getting lost in a structure where you’re the guy in charge of the cool levitating gizmo robotic mapping devices.
• Leaving the bridge of your ship completely unmonitored while two of your crew are stuck inside an obviously hostile unknown alien environment, then turning off the monitor (their only lifeline to help) when you leave to go play slap-and-tickle with the hot shipmate. Then, when said members are discovered dead, nobody checks the recorded video system to find out what happened?
• Opening the bay door for a crew member whose gone missing and shows up doing the broke back crab crawl with a totally melted off helmet shield in an environment where no human could breathe. The same member then wipes out half the crew and nobody really seems to care or even comment about it.
• Discovering an obviously not friendly, alien, snake like creature then trying to coax it come to you like it’s a warm and fuzzy bunny.
• Almost being killed by being impregnated with a rapidly growing alien life form and not telling anyone, then going on a science field trip with the people (who just engineered your pregnancy then tried to stash you along with your unborn alien baby inside a cryo-sleep chamber) only minutes after it was violently removed from your body.
• The inability to run at an angle!
There are many more stupid actions by smart people that occur in the film but I’ll stop here because I eventually would like to finish this article. Due to their vast stupidity as a whole, it’s very difficult to relate to the characters and consequently the audience fails to connect to them. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen top writers interviewed about their craft and they all preach: “Relatable characters are the key to storytelling!” Had any of Prometheus’characters acted like they were on a very important mission to another fricking planet, and portrayed any sense of realism to they way they should have been trained and consequently conducted themselves (during such an important mission) the ambiguity left by the quasi-existential plot would been much easier to swallow.
The Bottom Line
In the end, Prometheus is only meagerly satisfying by offering up a mix of great visuals, high quality production values (including the best 3D ever), as well as a lot of smart people doing stupid things and enough unanswered plot lines/mysteries to fill a completely new season of LOST. At times Prometheus is awe inspiring, however its many flaws left me feeling empty wishing it was so much more and that Stephen Moffat had been brought on to write a truly soul searching script.
Seriously, run at an angle for crying out loud!