Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, a sort-of prequel to Alien, is beautiful, haunting, with stunning visuals, gorgeous long shots, an inspiring score, occasionally brilliant exposition and a handful of excellent performances.
But that is all.
Do not confuse beautiful for important. Do not confuse cliches for realism. And, for the love of Zod, do not confuse unanswered questions for depth or profundity.
Get the picture?
Prometheus is not a horror film, unlike its predecessors in the same universe. It aims for something grander and nobler, an ersatz discussion of the origins of humanity and breadth of our true legacy. But what it actually offers are shallow characterizations, actions without reason, and essentially an expensive set-up for an inevitable sequel. This review says it best:
Everything in this movie is a big mystery, except it’s not the fun kind of mystery you like to solve, it’s the shitty kind where your girlfriend stops talking to you and she says “nothing” when you you ask her what’s wrong.
The film is about the exploratory vessel Prometheus, which is sent across the galaxy to follow a “map” found carved on various ancient caves on Earth. The unexplored and simplistic assumption is that the expedition will find mankind’s progenitors. Two wide-eyed archaeologists lead the expedition, which predictably stumbles upon an earlier incarnation of the bioweapon installation that birthed the franchise’s famed “xenomorphs”.
For me, it all started to go wrong with the now expected scenes of space travellers waking from their long cryogenic sleeps. Once again, we have the first cliche of several members of the expedition having bad attitudes and in it “just for a paycheque.” Because when you are mounting a trillion dollar mission across light years, in which the lives of everyone involved hinge on the professionalism of the crew, you’re sure to hire basic working stiffs just looking for a job. I felt that nudge of impending disappointment again when, upon landing on an alien planet, the idiot archaeologists decide to hop out right away and start exploring, rather than waiting until the next sunrise, which is what any reasonable person would do.
Yes, I know this is just a movie and I need to suspend my disbelief. But, you know what? The inevitable chaos that comes later would be much more impactive if preceded by believable, rational procedure. Seeing rational professionals stressed to the breaking point is far more compelling viewing than watching overexcited amateurs make consistently irrational decisions with billion dollar toys.
Prometheus is constructed from character cliches. The “scientists” (and I use that word grudgingly, given that these characters represent my profession) are naive and overeager. The captain is a rough-edged tough guy who smokes on a spaceship. There are the obligatory smart-asses who are preternaturally and aggressively cowardly, so you know they are targeted for an early and violent death. There’s the creepy, old trillionaire who, of course, has a secret selfish agenda. And there’s Charlize Theron, who plays and unnecessarily unpleasant corporate type with no redeeming qualities and seemingly no purpose in the film, except to look good and act bitchy.
It is easy to mistake the glitz, quiet and beauty of this film for something more important. Do not be misled. There is nothing going on here. I hear that 30 minutes of the original cut were removed due to interference by the studio, and maybe that explains the inconsistency and illogic of some of the storytelling. But since we don’t get to see those 30 minutes, they can’t be used as an excuse. The movie, with all its (ultimately uninteresting) questions going unanswered, seems to be made with an arrogant assumption that we’ll all go see the inevitable sequel to find out what the frakk was going on.
But I should have known. Prometheus is written by Damon Lindelof, who is best known for writing Lost. So clearly he excels in dressing up banality as a profundity, and in teasing plot developments that will never bear narrative fruit. It’s easy to create mystery. It’s difficult to resolve mysteries with satisfactory and meaningful conclusions. Lindelof doesn’t seem able to do the latter.
There is so much in this film that makes me want to tear my hair out. For example, two of our cowardly monster-bait characters are trapped and running from random noises. Suddenly, they develop the irrational courage to treat a scary looking tentacle creature like a puppy… with predictable results. Then there’s the captain, a secondary character about whom we know nothing, who miraculously has figured out everything about the planet and its aliens, even though he hasn’t been outside yet. And why did Scott cast the handsome young Guy Pearce as an old man who’s close to death? His make-up was not the least bit believable.
Off the top of my head, I can think of at least six other examples of this film’s idiocy. I am in disbelief that a director the calibre of Ridley Scott allowed such lazy storytelling elements to infest his product.
I will say this, though: I can watch Michael Fassbender play a robot for hours without losing interest. For me, he saves the movie. But I’m still waiting for the shit storm of protest over the film’s premise that the creators of humanity were giant bald white men.
[And if you’ve already seen the movie, check this out. And you may enjoy this excellent, spoiler-rich review from an archaeologist.]
Update: io9.com has a thread on the “worst fictional scientists”. Unsurprisingly, the idiots on Prometheus topped the list, with vengeance:
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