- Summary -
Director : Ridley Scott
Year Of Release : 2012
Principal Cast : Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris.
Approx Running Time : 124 Minutes
Synopsis: Two scientists traverse the reaches of space to uncover the long-hidden mystery of the origin of our species: and in doing so, place Earth in deadly peril.
What we think : After all the hype, after all the build-up, the end result is a resounding “meh”. Prometheus is little more than a director trying – and failing – to recapture the magic of a film he made three decades prior; I suspect this failure is due more to a confused and confusing script, a script which gives us characters we don’t care about and behavior we don’t understand. As an entry into the Alien universe, Ridley Scott has crafted a film devoid of any genuine thrills or awe, and as a film trying to explore the building blocks of humanity, it comes across as a join-the-dots construction of semi-formed ideas with a kindergarten-level idea of theology.
In space, no-one can hear you being an idiot.
I, like most folks, was eagerly anticipating Ridley Scott’s return to the universe he created in Alien, a universe continued successfully by James Cameron and David Fincher, among others. I bought into the game played by the promotional material, which advertised the film as a kind of hybrid sci-fi horror with an attempt at a deeper meaning. Initially, the foundation of this film was a dead-set prequel to Scott’s 1979 film, however soon into production it became clear that Scott wanted to go off in a slightly different direction while still inhabiting the same universe, and so Prometheus was born. As an audience, we had enough faith in Scott as a filmmaker that whatever he was going to attempt would be to the betterment of the Alien franchise, and for film in general – after all, Scott practically invented modern Science Fiction Films with Alien and Blade Runner, two iconic films which are held in high esteem to this day. Prometheus features a damn fine cast, a familiar world to inhabit, has very high production values, and a team of behind-the-camera artisans most film productions would kill for. Prometheus had everything going for it, including public goodwill for Scott to succeed in bringing scary back.
This review contains spoilers.
Why then, is Prometheus such a disappointment? The film left me not only asking what the point of it all was, but why they even bothered in the first place. The story is set many years prior to Alien, where two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Swedish actress and star of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) uncover strange symbols scattered around the Earth, which leads them to believe Earth has been visited by alien creatures – and they set out to find them. On board the interstellar exploration ship Prometheus, owned by the Weyland Corporation (as established by a holographic message from corporation founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) prior to landing on the distant moon, LV223), the crew of fellow scientists, explorers and technicians learn that they’re on a mission to locate signs of life on the barren planetoid, which they soon do in the form of a massive spheroid pyramid. Weyland executive Vickers (Charlize Theron), who has ulterior motives to Shaw and Holloway, instructs the exploratory team entering the pyramid that should they encounter any alien life form, they are not to approach, speak to, or in any way interact with it. The ships primary robotic form, David (Michael Fassbender) is also on a mission for an unseen party, and after discovering strange material inside the pyramids structure, he poisons one of the crew in order to fulfill some unknown order, setting in motion a chain of events that will put the Earth in very great danger.
The film seems to divide people into two distinct halves: the first half are the people who went to this expecting to see another Alien film and didn’t get it, and the other half are the folks who went in expecting a ripping sci-fi action flick, and didn’t get it. The key flaw, in my opinion, to Prometheus’s failure as a film is that Ridley played with peoples expectations without every figuring out what the end result was going to be. By pinching ideas from the Alien universe and not delivering an Alien film, Scott’s avoided repeating himself (even if this film does have parallels to imagery in his original Alien) and tried to shoehorn a different film into our preconceived ideas, a fact which is the crux of my argument. I remarked to one of my friends as we left the cinema that the film preyed upon our knowledge of the previous Alien films and used that to fill in a lot of the blanks, without ever generating its own tension or entertainment. The film relied on me to have the knowledge of Alien (and to some degree, Aliens) to get more out of it, because the philosophical and theological elements Scott tried to put into this film just don’t work within the context of the story. It was like two stories trying to inhabit the same film, and neither worked in harmony with the other. Heck, even the single, noticeable, tacit nod to James Cameron’s sequel is jarring, with a character at one point exclaiming “we are leeee-aving!” just like Corporal Hicks did.
The fundamental flaw of the film is the script. It’s nonsensical and thwarted as a coherent narrative by unfinished subplots, awfully stupid characters and a sense of impending horror that never eventuates. Screenwriter Damon Lindelof, together with co-writer Jon Spaihts, have tried to take Ridley’s Alien world and take us back to “where it all began”, so to speak, with the introduction of the infamous “space jockeys” of the first movie – you know, that massive alien creature the crew of the Nostromo discover sitting in what looks like an uber-cannon. Scott implied that Prometheus would contain “strands of Alien DNA”, yet this film not only contains strands, it contains practically the whole box and dice from the original concept – and then works damn hard not to use it in a way that’s interesting. Sure, an archaeologist exploring her inner demons while battling nasty alien creatures sounds a lot like the last Indiana Jones film, but here, with Shaw as the central protagonist enduring more anguish than any human has a right to, Prometheus feels clunky. There’s an underlying subtext of faith, of belief in God, and Shaw is meant to portray an Everyman Believer of sorts, whose faith is tested by the events of the film. The story tries to say that the closer she gets to discovering “our maker”, the further from her belief she’s forced to turn. In this sense, Prometheus is ripe for some terrific narrative exploration, and yet the film only skirts the boundaries of these concepts. Shaw’s character is only paid lip-service to her links to her faith, a seemingly inadequate amount for a film filled with so many tremendous images.
Indeed, Prometheus is a visually sumptuous film. Ridley Scott’s dazzling eye for framing, composition, visual grandeur and lighting is in full force here. The visual effects, especially, are superbly integrated into the movie – they’re so realistic you truly do forget that what you’re watching is actually somebody’s keystrokes on a computer. George Lucas might learn a thing or too here. However – and here’s the kicker – the story never once supports the visuals. Ridley’s so focused on making this film as visual as he possibly could, that he forgets to make sure the story, the very concept of the film, supports this. And to make matters worse, Ridley’s inability to create any tension throughout a lot of the film is also glaringly evident. There’s about three moments of genuine tension, genuine scares in the entire thing, and for a film running some two hours, that’s a critical failure for the audience.
As for casting, the entire roster of genre characters is included – the strong willed corporation babe, Vickers, who thinks she’s got a grasp on what’s going on, but soon learns otherwise. There’s the sarcastic, wisecracking ships captain (Thor’s Idris Elba), and his crew of alternative ethnic types, as well as, of course, Noomi Rapace’s central heroine. Rapace has proven herself a more than competent actress, but she’s stuck in this film as a character so similar to Alien’s Ellen Ripley that it’s both awkward for the audience and retread-tired for the story. Rapace is forced to go through a wide range of emotions, emotions that never ring true because her character isn’t developed enough on screen to warrant our empathy. Shaw has little-to-no arc beyond what was written on the page, and Scott is either not willing to try, or unable to achieve, bringing her to life in any meaningful sense. Rapace is solid enough with her performance, but it woefully undermined by a wobbly set of character traits. Her on-screen partner, Holloway, is more than capably embodied by Logan Marshall-Green, although his character is about as obnoxiously stupid as you can get. One minute he’s a sweet-natured archaeologist traipsing about the alien planet with as much awe and bedazzlement as Shaw, and the next he’s a vodka swilling alcoholic bemoaning how life isn’t fair – and there’s no reason for it. Indeed, I was sitting in the cinema wondering if I’d had a micro-sleep and missed a key sequence where he turned from a reasonable sort of guy to a complete douche. Made no sense. Again, it’s not Marshall-Green’s fault for the performance, because he does a good job, but the script and Scott’s directions of it in terms of this pivotal character makes no sense whatsoever.
Charlize Theron, meanwhile, gets her hands dirty as this films’ Carter Burke (Remember him? The douche from Aliens who set the face-huggers on Ripley and Newt? In this film, that character’s now a smoking hot woman!) and she seems to be loving it. Theron chews through her scenes with icy stillness, a sense of arrogance emanating from her character that you just know will come back to bite her, big time. (Hint, it does! Yay!) Idris Elba, looking a lot more scruffy than he did in Thor, comes off a little like Robert Shaw in Jaws, all gnarly and salty, like some barnacled space-junkie who’s seen too many asteroids. As a character, he’s a bit of nothing, but Elba does well enough with the few funny moments Scott gives him – it’s like we’re expected to find him funny and cool and everything, but Scott does nothing to give us a reason to. Disappointing.
Michael Fassbender, playing the ships on-board robot, David, is easily the most potent character of the movie. He’s somewhat androgynous in nature; we are never quite sure if he’s a good guy or a bad guy, because he’s a passionless, emotionless robot. Scott dips his toe into the old chestnut of a robot in search of his feelings (several times, characters prod David with the knowledge that he’ll never be human and capable of real feelings, to which David usually responds with a weird little grimace) but it is an arc which is never resolved. Fassbender, who seems to be in every film ever made since 2010, rocks the socks off this character, though, even if he, too, is undone by a terribly disjointed script. Disappointing.
Easily the worst choice made by Ridley for this film was the decision to cast Guy Pearce as an elderly Peter Weyland. Pearce is as capable an actor as there ever was (seen his work in Memento, for example?) but exactly why they needed to cast a younger dude as a centenarian and plaster his face with a tonne of old-age makeup seems somewhat inelegant compared to the rest of the film. Why not just cast an older actor for the role? The problem with “old age” makeup is that it looks like makeup. You can’t hide the fact that it’s a young guy under all that prosthetic work, and if the chuckles the audience I saw this with is anything to go by, it’s definitely the moment at which you get the sense that Prometheus is going to slide downhill quite quickly. It’s not like there was a need to have Pearce in the film at all, since he never appears as a younger version of himself to counteract the requirement for the older variant, so again I ask: why not just cast an older dude in the part and save some money on make-up? Disappointing.
Another of the films major problems is that the characters – thanks to the script – behave in such stupid ways you can’t understand how they passed whatever test they needed to to make it onto this ship in the first place. The people in this film behave so irrationally at times you can just feel the script buckling under the weight of its own stupidity. Theron’s character, a hard-ass corporate type, flails about with no genuine parameters as to what she’s about, leaving us to wonder what her motivations are; when she does reveal her true motives, it’s too little, too late, and we just don’t care. Idris’ ships pilot is equally bad – he’s stuck in the cab of the Prometheus the entire time, and yet when the crap hits the fan, he’s more knowledgeable about what’s going on in the pyramid than the guys who’ve been out there? I don’t buy that for a moment. And finally, there’s a moment at the end, where Shaw and Vickers must try and outrun a crashing alien ship, that they not once stop and think that if they run sideways instead of straight ahead, the ship will bypass them and they’ll be safe? I know I heard a few murmurs to that effect in the audience as I watched. Even the dude sitting next to me muttered “for Gods sake, run sideways you idiot” or something to that effect. Even he’d lost patience. Another example of characters behaving stupidly: if you’re in a dark cavernous recess inside the dank, dusty pyramid, and a snake-like creature springs up looking for all the world like a damn cobra snake, you don’t – repeat, don’t – gaw and coo to it like a kitten. Chances are high that the thing’s not gonna be in a good mood (look at where you are, you idiot! Think an alien ship has kittens running about?) and, as it plays out, you discover that not only are these people imbeciles, but completely lacking in any normal sense of self-preservation whatsoever. And as a film-making technique, Scott proves he’s lost the touch to deliver a decent scare. Because these people are so silly, it ruins the tension of the scene. The entire audience is willing these people to turn and run, which they don’t, so you just sit back and hope the inevitable is at least gruesome enough to offset the idiocy you’re watching. Disappointing.
Try as I might, there’s nothing creatively I can find as a positive in this film. Wait….. about the only genuinely cool thing to come out of Prometheus is Mark Streitenfeld’s evocative, Silvestri-like score, a score so potent it nearly makes up for the disinterest in the rest of the film. Nearly. Kudos too to DOP Dariusz Wolski, and the magnificent job he did in making this movie look so awesome. Seeing the cavernous interior of the Alien ship once more and the exact nature of what I can do lit up like a firework party, as well as the barren landscape of LV223 and the interior of the Prometheus (which, in a cool tip of the hat to Alien, looks a lot like a forerunner to the Nostromo) is just a joy. Of note – the space jockey characters are actually pretty cool creations, even if they’re never explained or adequately built up as a villainous type – which they are, no doubt – although having said that, there’s a pretty ferocious moment in the final frames of the film in which Shaw and one of the “engineers” (yes, that’s what Shaw and Co call these uber-humans) go toe-to-toe, before the ultimate Alien fanatic will whoop in delight at the progenitor version of a face-hugger arriving to…well, save the day. The final reel of the film is Ridley at his awe-inspiring best, with explosions, action and effects all coming into a triplicate union that actually does amaze – but by then you’re already out of the film and half-way home in your head. It’s too little too late, and that’s a shame. Had the first two thirds of the film been as gripping as the admittedly cool final battle/chase/explosions were, then this film would have been awesome. It’s a film filled with eye candy.
It’s just such as shame the eye candy isn’t matched by any inclusion of brain-candy, because had it been so, Prometheus might have been a top class film. It’s the kind of film you just wish with all your heart lived up to the dazzling visuals, but the scripting and the lack of coherent direction ensure it’s never going to accomplish whatever it was the production team hoped to accomplish. I’ve said a number of times now that I was disappointed with the film, and all I can do is reiterate that once more – Prometheus is a disappointment of a film, a film so diminished in coherence and logic, so lacking in a single, genuine character arc that’s not a bunch of screaming, that to call it anything but what it is is to do it a disservice, and to do you, gentle reader, a disservice also. Had this film been a stand-alone, non-Alien kinda movie, perhaps it would have allowed Ridley to keep himself in check and actually work harder to generate characters we care about. Had this film been a pure Alien film – and I think it should have been so – there’s no doubt the faux-faith rubbish they served up as “character development” would have been cast aside in favor of a lot more scares, a lot more action, and a lot more terror.
Yeah. I was disappointed.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of folks with opinions on Prometheus… and here they are:
Dan the Man felt it was worthwhile: “The problem with this flick isn’t really Scott’s fault, it’s more of the story itself. The core of this story is basically Alien done all over again.”
Dan over at Top 10 Films felt it was underwhelming: “Perhaps Scott’s ego has prevailed. In pursuit of his very own creation he has sidestepped too far, making a film he wanted to see, not the one we wished for.”
Also over at Top 10 Films, Chris Wharfe had this to say: “All through the first 90 minutes, I could only help but feel a terrible sense of dread that the film’s conclusion could not possibly live up to or deliver on the grand themes laid out by its first two acts. And indeed, the third act pretty much leaves things back at square one, with very few answers.”
Tom Clift once more delivers a succinct appraisal of a film: “Prometheus, an indirect prequel to Alien written by Jon Spaihts and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, is a visually majestic and intellectually weighty piece that eschews action in spite of its blockbuster budget, and instead sets its sights on potentially fascinating ideas about faith, science and the origins of humanity. But let me emphasise the word “potentially” because Prometheus, despite its commendable ambition, is a bitter disappointment, failing to live up to its own lofty aspirations or the legacy of the masterpiece it precedes.”
Bryce rips into the film over on Movie Smackdown: “But these characters… OMFG. Anyone who would spend a trillion dollars on a hot-shot spacecraft like Prometheus and send it out on the most important mission ever conceived with a crew of morons like this one, well, it just boggles the mind. People in this film simply do not behave rationally — not toward each other, not toward the mission, not at all.”
Jessica over at The Velvet Cafe had moderate expectations: “What [we] got was a very good science fiction movie, it was hardly something you easily would label “masterpiece” or “groundbreaking”.”
Sam at Duke & The Movies ripped into it: “Prometheus is a rapturing sensation of aesthetics and camerawork, a towering achievement in visual splendor, and most of all a colossal waste of film.”
My pal Scott at Front Room Cinema gave us this appraisal: “Unfortunately though there are many problems to also discuss. Firstly although Scott stressed this is not an ALIEN prequel if you look at the story it is simply ALIEN redone. Crew awakes at a far distant planet, discovers an unknown race that awakes and proceeds to wreak havoc on them. Familiar huh?”
Claire at Cinematic Delights enjoyed it: “…coming at Prometheus from a somewhat novice approach may have enhanced my viewing. I wasn’t expecting certain things to happen and, rightly or wrongly, was able to appreciate it as a standalone film.”
Lesya at Eternity Of Dream had fun with it: “However, the best in Prometheus is the state it put me in, when I was leaving the theater. I was speechless. I couldn’t organize my thoughts. I definitely was under impression. So many questions arise in this thought-provoking motion picture, and even though not suspenseful, this bizarre atmosphere effect didn’t leave me for a while.”
Chief booze hound of the Bar None, Al K Hall, felt let down a little: “Truly wondrous. After half a movie of this, just when you think you can relax and enjoy the show, the film turns to shit without warning. There are so many “WTF?” moments that you’ll wonder where you’ve been transported and what happened to the movie you were just watching.” Nice work, Al!
Aiden at Cut The Crap had this to say: “It’s a story and a film that probably would have benefited from being a stand-alone effort rather than operating in the shadow of greatness, which is probably why they weren’t making a big deal out of the Alien connection in the first place. But with the connection having been made and the plotline following so closely, it’s hard not to draw comparisons and wonder where things got so muddled.”
Guest reviewer Phil Thompson over at Flixchatter enjoyed it: “If you’re like me, you’ll have at least one or two very large questions after the movie ends, and if you go online to get some answers, you’ll find all sorts of them. And you may be surprised to find that the movie may have been hinting at far bigger things than you may have first thought.”
The dudes across at 3 Guys 1 Movie had this to say: “Someone needed to read this script and just let them know it was stupid. I don’t know if no one wanted to question what Lindelof was doing but someone should have. You get the impression that he thinks he is a lot more clever than he actually is.”
Nostra at My Film Views had this to say: “So is Prometheus another sci fi classic? I don’t think it is. The plot could have been a bit tighter and when the end credits roll some questions are left unanswered. I am looking forward to the sequel to get the answers though. The world created looks stunning and the characters are very interesting.”
Colin at Nevermind Pop Film enjoyed it: “Prometheus doesn’t just lend itself to fans of science fiction, but the film’s effectiveness in creating dread is enough for most fans of the horror genre to head to theatres as well.”
Max at Impassioned Cinema felt it was flawed but watchable: “Prometheus had the unfortunate task of living up to the Alien franchise legacy. Ridley Scott has only ever directed two Science-Fiction movies, Alien and Blade Runner. That’s some incredibly stiff competition to match.”
Chris at Writer By Night delivers a missive to those who found problems with the film: “So I went to see it the weekend it opened, like most other people. And rather surprisingly I quite enjoyed it. Not my favourite film of the year (that would be Avengers, obviously) and probably not a masterpiece but I was never bored, I liked the ideas and I left the cinema thinking about life and the universe and other suitably big questions. Even the 3D didn’t bother me. You can’t ask for anything more than that really.”
Finally, we have a spoiler intensive, yet enormously amusing take on the film over at Digital Digging: “Archaeologist Noomi Rapace is excavating a crevice in a cave with a paintbrush. Shining a small torch into the crevice, she smiles, and tells her assistant to shout to Dr. Holloway, who is excavating a fair distance away down the hill. You can tell he’s an archaeologist, as opposed to another kind of doctor, because he is sieving soil. When his name is called, he instantly throws the sieve to the ground, and pounds up the hill to the cave. Because, as we all know, archaeology can be extraordinarily hard to catch.”
Have you seen Prometheus? Did you like it, or hate it? We want you to share your opinion with us! Leave your rant about it down in the comments section below!!