I admit it; I had high hopes for this flick. Tell me this doesn’t sound promising–“Ridley Scott explores the backstory of the Alien mythos, with a massive budget and big name acting talent to flesh out the sure-fire chills and thrills.” On paper, that would seem to suggest something really amazing.
Yeah, not quite.
The basic plot is not without merit. Scientists find a map to a planet where the creators of humanity, called Engineers, are thought to live. Even though this is basically the storyline for every single episode of “Ancient Aliens”, we’ll let Ridley Scott off the hook for not keeping up with History Channel’s re-commitment to super-realistic not completely bat-shit insane programming.
So naturally, the Weyland Corporation sends a group of unstable weirdos, emotional basketcases and a deliberately mysterious android to run a gazillion dollar mission to determine the origins of human life on Earth. Sure. That’s how NASA does their job, right?
Then they get to the planet and of course all hell breaks loose, mostly because the people running the operation are about 50 IQ points dumber than their job titles would suggest. Everyone in the crew is supposed to be an expert in their field. Meanwhile, they constantly do stupid shit that gets them killed, mutated or impregnated with a freaky squid baby.
To be fair, the visuals of Prometheus are stunning. The viewer is immersed in an environment that looks otherworldly in the best sense of the word. Ridley Scott is an expert at making places like Iceland and Jordan’s Wadi Rum look distinctly unTerra-like.
The problem is that the movie insists on being more than a silent montage of mind-blowing landscapes. The best science fiction raises questions about the nature of the human condition. Prometheus constantly raises interesting questions, builds them up and then…lets them float off into the ether.
A piece of speculative fiction also needs a level of consistency in order for the audience to remain interested. What does the black liquid–the stuff that seems like it’s central to the movie–do exactly? It melts an Engineer’s body, mutates space worms, zombiefies humans and sorta kinda in a roundabout way gets a woman pregnant with a proto-facehugger…maybe. If the audience can’t make heads or tails out of the rules and logic of the film, it doesn’t matter how meaningful the movie’s questions are.
Beyond that, there are meta-issues with the film. Prometheus was hyped as a sorta-prequel to 1979’s Alien. One of the big questions ‘Promo’ was supposed to answer–and like everything else in the flick it only hints at it–is the origin of the Aliens. But is this a story that really calls out to be told?
Let’s look back at Alien for a second. At it’s heart, that film has been famously characterized as a haunted house movie in space. Sure, there were some questions left unanswered. Yes, there was some sexualized body-horror elements thrown into the mix. Yet, Alien is still basically about a living killing machine tearing through a bunch of scared weak humans. In fact, all four “Alien” movies more or less tell the same tale: People versus an intensely scary space monster.
Now compare Alien to movies that came out in roughly the same era, the Star Wars trilogy. Alien was a fairly simple story that knew what it was supposed to do and delivered the goods in spades. Like Alien, the older Star Wars trilogy was an easy to understand tale done in a rousing energetic fashion.
So how did George Lucas build on the success of his first three Star Wars movies? He focused on Darth Vader, the principle bad guy of his original trilogy, and took him from being just a bad-ass villain with a complicated past and made him into the prophesied Intergalactic Jesus of the Star Wars universe. With the new SW prequels, George Lucas tried to weave themes of political upheaval, the death of democracy and the temptations of evil into the larger story of Darth Vader’s rise and fall into the dark side. The simple yet effective storytelling of the first movies was discarded in the new prequels in an attempt to create an epic motion picture with deep messages.
I’d argue that with Prometheus, Ridley Scott has made the same mistake George Lucas made with his Star Wars prequels. Regardless of his possible reasons, Scott didn’t want to make another straightforward horror movie like Alien. For all it’s gore and scary visuals, Prometheus really wants to be a philosophical meditation on the mankind’s place in the universe. However, humanity’s creation story seems like an awkward fit for the Alien and it’s related mythos.
Is Prometheus worth watching? Of course. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission. But does the film succeed by the standards it sets for itself? Not quite. Instead of being a true science fiction masterpiece, Prometheus is a decent movie with deep flaws.
MORE: Greg over at The Mind Is An Unexplored Country has a few choice words for Prometheus.
Seriously, I believe the People In Charge Of The Oscars should create a new category: Most Justifiably Ridiculed Mocked and Parodied Motion Picture. Just for this pile of cinema crud.
Oooof. There’s more there, so read the rest.
Also, he found the Honest Trailer for the Prometheus. Funny, but definitely full of spoilers and most assuredly Not Safe For Work.