One of the most anticipated films of the entire year, Prometheus has promised to have some sort of connection to a world that director Ridley Scott presented over 30 years ago. With an impressive cast and an R-rating, hype has certainly pushed the movie far in terms of high-profile status. But, is the film as big a disappointment as hopes are held so high, or does it turn out to live up to the standards various fans have had since the project’s reveal?
Prometheus, at the very least, is something pretty to look at with interesting parallels to the original Alien that never quite live up to expectations. When you factor in a majority of characters that don’t really have any real depth, a script that becomes incredibly horrible on an obvious level by the end, and ultimately a finale that feels just a bit too open ended, you get what could have been the next sci-fi epic only to be a prequel that has more faults that it does successes.
Personally, I don’t hold Ridley Scott’s original sci-fi epic Alien to an incredibly high standard, though I am a decent fan of it. With talk going around the internet of being disappointed, I adjusted my expectations accordingly and suggest that you follow suit. What I got out of the deal was a sci-fi outing that feels entirely too long for the lack of real character it brings out. The deepest the film tends to go on a level of added themes and drama happens to be the question of belief in God, and the somehow mixed in “Is there any other life out there?” as well. In terms of the film itself, this theme really fails to adapt in terms of sinking into the characters and their psyche in a way that should affect them more than it ever does.
Upon thinking about the film as an audience, you start to really see the additional volumes the theme seems to speak, and you pick up on what Scott and writers Damon Lindelof & Jon Spaihts were actually trying to instill. One of the more popular theories happens to be the entire “Space Jesus” and self-sacrifice theme, which you can read more about in deep detail here. And while the theme works incredibly deep in that manner, the characters barely seem phased by it at all. While David and Elizabeth do share various lines of dialogue that certainly trace around the theme, the revelation that there is no God in a traditional sense barely affects any of the crew at all. This is a large life-altering epiphany that should have each character almost questioning their previous thoughts and experiences in their own terms, regardless if they were brought up on Atheism, Christianity, or even just living their existence without any pre-established belief system what so ever. The reveal that the crew encounters should be enough to think about what that means in terms of your own life, whether or not your existence truly has meant something, and basically to have your entire previous knowledge on the matter shattered on a single discovery. Instead, the only one this really seems to affect at all happens to be Elizabeth as she sheds tears upon their discovery with Charlie in their bedroom. While the rest seem to cope with it in their own ways as we see some of them thinking on their owns with comforts such as sex, booze, and playing an accordion, it barely scratches the surface as the story continues forward, almost feeling as if the characters shrug it off to face the other horrific events that eventually unfold within their presence.
This is where the characters feel incredibly one-dimensional. Had we explored any of these feelings at all, perhaps the characters may not come off as predictable in certain scenarios, and we would actually feel something as various ones fall after the other. It’s mentioned in the beginning of the film that aboard the Prometheus, there are a total of 17 crew members. Of those 17, there are nine that truly take focus as the prime characters of the film. Among those nine, there are really five that the film falls upon, and only two that truly feel developed to a great extent. Elizabeth and David are the two that you as an audience can connect with, even more so Elizabeth than David. While David is indeed a replicant (which should make Blade Runner fans quite pleased), and we get to better understand him throughout the film, it’s the fact that you can’t trust him due to various acts that he commits that truly distances yourself from ultimately connecting with the android. While Michael Fassbender’s performance is one to truly be amazed with, there are plenty of times (one in particular within the billiards room) where you question just what David’s primary agenda is. Its very much revealed in the third act, but there are still plenty of questions concerning David that surround him and aren’t fully explained. Then again, this is from one of the co-creators of LOST so we shouldn’t be surprised for a lack of answers.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, is a true main character all the way. We see at least 80% of the action through her eyes, and with her added belief in God taking her deeper within the overarching theme of the film, a great performance from Noomi Rapace at times, and even the ability to hold her own as a female protagonist, Elizabeth certainly is the star of the film. While various characters have their redeeming moments, and Shaw doesn’t truly show her greatness for at least half the film, it’s the transition from suspense sci-fi to true thriller that makes Rapace’s character stand out greatly. There are certainly plenty of moments in the final act where you can see a great resemblance to Ripley in Noomi’s character, especially as Shaw becomes pretty bloody and soldiers on. However, she doesn’t nearly meet the same fantastic heroine standards that the original film presented us with in Sigourney Weaver’s famous sci-fi role, but there are definitely some inklings within the final act.
While the theme may present itself better upon reflection, the fact that it is very much absent upon face value is easily one of the many flaws in the film’s writing. If there had to be one major problem with Prometheus, it’s easily the script. Scott does the best with what he has, and creates a beautiful visual representation to leave you quite impressed with the special effects and look of the film as a whole. Spaihts & Lindelof’s script, on the other hand, is both confusing and at times a mess. As mentioned before, I see the film very much split into two different sections: a suspense-filled first half followed by a thriller second half. For the suspense-filled part, Spaihts & Lindelof takes the script nice and slow, building up small story lines here and there while presenting us to plenty of characters that we know will either add to the body count, do something completely stupid, or will just be given a very menial task that describes the entire role (I’m looking at you, two guys who drove the ship). There are many questions posed throughout the suspenseful part, and that’s all it really feels like the first half does: introduces us to the characters, gives us plenty of questions to ask for the entire duration of the film, and watch the mysterious beginnings unfold.
That’s where the thriller brings the film home to a crash landing. Once the first major death of the film comes about,Prometheus feels a lot more enjoyable due to a more rapid pace, but with plenty of laughable moments that just reveal how stupid the script can be. At one point, the final act seems to kick off with answers that are just pulled out of the crew’s ass. The Captain suddenly is aware of what the Engineers were planning, Elizabeth discovers who’s orders David was working under, and the audience is just expected to roll along with some of the nonsensical punches. Seriously, the Captain coming to his conclusion in the third act is perhaps the most ridiculous thing the film has to offer. By luck, it turns out to be true as David tells of the Engineer’s mission near the end, but at its best David could have been working under Janek’s same assumption.
The finale also brings about perhaps the silliest death of them all because apparently the character doesn’t know how to run anywhere else but in a straight line. And Lindelof has the nerve to barely tie anything into a neat little bow. The biggest happening in the final five to ten minutes now poses a very easy question: “What next?” Where does the story of these characters go from here? While a narration easily seems to point that question in the right direction, there are so many open questions left that the film feels open-ended completely, and like it’s nothing more than a set up for a sequel. While the final scene certainly gives what some fans may have wanted to see on a grander scale, it’s only perhaps 30 seconds of what many were expecting from “an Alien prequel”.
Another big problem must be the old man make-up that Guy Pearce is entombed within. For five hours of prosthetics, Pearce’s make-up is absolutely horrible and gains as much ugly aggravation as digital de-aging. The entire time Pearce is on screen, he has very little facial expressions during his acting, if any. It’s just an eye sore to watch, and completely takes you out of the film as it’s very clear that Pearce is not a character, but rather an actor. His face rarely moves in the prosthetics, and it would have just simply been easier to cast an elder actor in the role rather than Pearce. We could have seen Pearce in flashbacks of some sorts, such as the viral video that popped up earlier this year, but instead we’re subjected to a decaying old man that looks more fake skin than character.
But what did I truly like about Prometheus? While I have shared my frustrations with the film, I didn’t think it was entirely terrible. While you do very much tend to compare Shaw to Ripley, that’s only really because the character of Ripley is one of the great protagonists of film history given the legacies that Alien and Aliens have. In modern cinema, it’s rare to see a female protagonist as most movies revolve around a male, and honestly it’s always refreshing to see a strong female on screen. While 2012 looks to drastically change that with The Hunger Games, Brave, and even The Dark Knight Rises,Prometheus does have a female protagonist that I wish had come off a little stronger. Out of everyone on the crew, Shaw certainly has tough moments, and perhaps the scene within the emergency procedure capsule is one of the most cringe-worthy moments I’ve seen in some time. Shaw can certainly hold her own as the film goes on, which is better than the side of her character we see in the first half. While the first half establishes her scientific drive, and her belief system in contrast to Charlie, she seems ultimately incredibly naive and she truly doesn’t emerge as her own individual once Vickers unleashes that flamethrower.
Also said before, Ridley Scott’s on-screen direction is a great piece of the film as well. While the film is something pretty to look at, beauty only gets you so far. The special effects are spot on and you can’t help but wonder if this was Ridley’s true vision for his original sci-fi films of decades ago that were certainly restricted by technological limitations. With 3D, computer effects, and more now becoming much more advanced, nothing quite stands out as CGI, and there’s a great use of it in almost every scene. Furthermore, one of the most irritating aspects of 3D happens to be when you see the 2D print, and you can obviously point certainly shots out that were specially designed for 3D, making you feel almost excluded. I was stuck with the 2D version of the film, and Scott does not have any of these scenes for a single moment. It seems like the 3D is a technique used to simply enhance the film, and that’s certainly a move I wish Hollywood would adapt 3D as: an enhancement, not just to increase the ticket price for special effects that look incredibly sub-par.
One thing I also praise the film for is easily giving me some of the biggest chills in some time. The entire procedure scene will easily go down as one of my favorite scenes of the entire year just for not only how realistic it is and looks but for being one true moment in the film that feels as momentous as the entire movie should have. While the less-believable moments include an alien venturing into multiple people’s mouths, seeing an ancient face hugger still remains another highlight amidst the script that has plenty of problems.
Thankfully, the film keeps you amused and entertained thanks to the questions you’re consistently asking. But, once those questions aren’t answered, what can you take away from the film? That seems to be the main problem. The theme certainly should spark up some after-theater conversation that many will dissect in the weeks and months to come, but it doesn’t perfectly present itself during the run of the feature itself. The film certainly has its moments in terms of action and suspense, and adding that with Ridley Scott’s visual representation and factoring out disappointing expectations you get at least a film that is good-enough. Certain performances are the greatest ones to watch, especially from Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, and certain scenes will leave you impressed with a memorable imprint. But at its core, Prometheus suffers from very bad writing. We really don’t get an ending, just an expectation that it bleeds into a sequel like the horror films of years ago. Then again, Prometheus isn’t a horror film. It’s a suspense thriller that has some gruesome moments, but all with a great deal of predictability. You never connect with the entire crew aboard the titular spaceship, and that leaves you simply shrugging off some deaths. Once the final act starts to easily pick up the pace, the writing doesn’t get better but it’s certainly more fun as the shit hits the fan. It’s far from the sci-fi epic that everyone was hoping for, but I can honestly say that while I didn’t think Prometheus was great, I liked it on a very minimal level.
3 out of 5