Ah, Prometheus. The Alien prequel that isn’t… or is it? For months and months and months we were teased with concepts and images, with the director (Ridley Scott) and his screenwriters dropping tantalizing hints of Prometheus‘ connection to the Alien series without coming out and saying, without equivocation, that this was in fact a prequel.
Well, it took me a couple of weeks to catch up with it, but that’s the way it always goes with me. I have watched it, considered it and picked it apart with my wife and while there’s a lot I can’t discuss with you here for spoiler reasons, I can say this: Prometheus is a prequel to Alien and the films that follow. It’s just not a very good one.
You needn’t look very far online to find a raging torrent of argument concerning Prometheus. The film has more detractors than adherents, but it’s the division between the two camps that’s most interesting. Everybody saw the same movie, but they can’t agree as to its quality at all.
Oh, sure, there’s something to be said by everyone about the visuals of the film. They are spectacular, but I would expect nothing less of both Ridley Scott and the reported $130 million budget the film had. Whatever else can be said about Scott as a director, it can’t be denied that he makes feasts for the eyes. Even Alien, which was essentially about truckers in space, had a rich texture to it and don’t even get me started about Blade Runner, which remains my favorite film of all time. Get beyond the look of Prometheus, though, and all consensus fails.
I’m not going to condemn Prometheus as a bad film. It’s not a bad film. However it is not a good film. It starts promisingly enough with a crackerjack premise and some nicely constrained set-up, but it starts to unravel almost immediately thereafter, becoming more and more muddled as the running time goes on. By the end of it the audience is left wondering exactly what the point was, especially when the ending promises a sequel that will apparently tell the story Prometheus was supposed to tell. Given the bait-and-switch of this film, I would not trust Ridley Scott and his screenwriters as far as I could throw $100+ million in cash.
Reviewing this is something of a trial because, as I mentioned, it’s way too easy to slip into spoiler mode. The things that will engage you the most are the things that essentially require intense discussion, whether because they don’t make any apparent sense — and sometimes even discussion won’t help in that department, sadly — or because they represent attempts by the filmmakers to approach ideas at an angle rather than head on. In fact, pretty much all of Prometheus is done in a deliberately abstruse style. The template for this is established from the opening moments of the film, in which beautiful nature photography done in Iceland segues into a makeup/effects sequence that receives no set-up and is followed by no explanation. And this happens over and over (and over) again through the whole two hours-plus of the picture: questions and no answers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that a movie has to spoon-feed me information and plot points in order to be good. I’m perfectly willing to work for my entertainment. Witness Blade Runner. Even in its most disappointing form — the theatrical cut, for those keeping track of these things at home — there are clues to a major revelation about the character of Deckard, but the film never comes right out and says what it means. I would even argue that the subsequent cuts of the movie, which became more and more explicit concerning this particular revelation, are somewhat inferior to that original version. It’s okay to be able to take things two ways, or three ways or however many ways as there are people to theorize about them. Prometheus tries to open its narrative up the same way, but unlike in Blade Runner there appears to be no objective truth underlying the story, a definitive explanation of what’s going on and why. Without that grounding the movie is just spinning out plot threads in every direction, expecting you as an audience member to pick up the storytelling slack.
From what I understand, most of this problem can be traced back to Prometheus‘ co-screenwriter, Damon Lindelof. Lindelof was the co-creator of the smash hit television series, Lost, and contributed heavily to the ongoing story of that show. I have not seen Lost, but I am told that Prometheus resembles the program quite closely. Comment after viewer comment has observed that Lost delivered plenty of narrative promises, but followed through on very little, as if the mere act of asking questions was enough to carry a story forward. This is indeed the major flaw of Prometheus and ultimately what cripples it as a piece of entertainment.
It’s really a pity that Prometheus is so weak on story because there’s a lot of good stuff here. The direction, as I mentioned before, is top-notch and ranks in the upper tier of Ridley Scott’s film work. Given a hefty budget and a team of skilled CGI artists, Scott was able to put exactly on the screen what he wanted there, regardless of its scale. This is all to the positive. And the ropey storytelling is likewise given a boost by the almost uniformly excellent acting by the primary cast. Much has been said about Michael Fassbender’s performance as David, Prometheus‘ resident “artificial person,” and it is very good. I would also single out Charlize Theron as the apparently imperturbable corporate representative aboard the eponymous ship, Prometheus. Theron’s part is underwritten, but she acts the hell out of it, with one scene between her and Fassbender that’s particularly intense, though brief. One wishes they’d been given a script worthy of their abilities.
I saw Prometheus in the theater, but I can’t in good conscience recommend that you do the same. There’s nothing about the production that really needs the big-screen treatment, let alone the 3D projection that’s on offer. You will probably get a perfectly fine viewing experience at home on your HDTV.