I’ve long been fond of the Alien franchise. I’ve never been big on the sequels past Aliens, but both Alien and Aliens were formative film experiences of my childhood. I first fell in love with the haunted house story of Alien when I was around 10, and soon saw the very different war film of Aliens as soon as it hit cable after its release in 1986. I engaged with both immediately, probably because Sigourney Weaver reminded me of my mom. (They looked quite a bit alike.) I also liked the tension and biology-gone-wrong aspects of both films.
Thanks to a slew of lackluster (yet sometimes interesting) follow-ups to these two classic sci-fi films, I’ve been cautious about being hopeful about Prometheus. Yes, it marks the return of director Ridley Scott to the Alien universe, but let’s be honest: his films aren’t consistently good. They’re always visually gorgeous, but the scripts seem to be a crap shoot.
What of the highly anticipated Prometheus, then? Well…
Prometheus is a fascinating failure. I’m kind of in love with it, just because it fails in such interesting ways. They should show this thing in film schools. This film could be picked at until the end of time, and you could still find things to discuss. I’m not saying it’s a bad film. At the core, it’s a smart movie with truly amazing production value. Yet the final product misses the mark. Prometheus is a piece of filet mignon, prepared by a master chef, that somehow got served with a topping of Pla-Doh.
In this sense, Prometheus reminds me a lot of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.
From here, I’ll break into separate topics. I assure you, I’ll keep this as general and spoiler-free as possible.
Things I Didn’t Mind
Continuity: A lot of noise has been made about Prometheus’ relationship to the Alien universe. I honestly didn’t care if Prometheus was a direct Alien prequel or not. (It’s set in the same universe, it shares elements with the other films, and it happens before Alien. That’s all I’ll say.) I don’t really care whether or not it matches with the future timelines set in past films. Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon and the team of Alien built this sandbox in the first place. As long as the movie worked on its own merits, I didn’t really care.
Unanswered Questions: I’ve heard some talk online about people being bothered by the film’s lack of answers. Perhaps I was too distracted by other flaws, but I wasn’t bothered by this. I felt that the film was setting up questions that didn’t need to be answered immediately, that would perhaps be addressed in future movies or not at all. I’m fine with the mystery of it.
Things I Liked
The Bechdel Test: It passes! As is fitting in a franchise of films that is famous for including one of the greatest female action characters of all time, Prometheus has several female characters, and two of them converse at least once about something other than a man. The lead character is a woman and a scientist (Noomi Rapace) and the commander of the mission is also a woman (Charlize Theron).
Production Design: Holy cats, this film is gorgeous. It is worth seeing in a theater for the depth of the production design alone. The visuals are worth the admission. Bonus: while I have not seen the film in 3D (yet), it was actually filmed in the 3D format (translation: not a conversion). I hear the 3D print is quite well done.
Visual Effects: From what I’ve read and seen, it seems that as many visual effects as possible were done practically, not digitally. That detail and gravitas comes across nicely on the big screen.
Fassbender: Michael Fassbender is strikingly good in his role. It’s a lovely, nuanced performance.
The Premise: I won’t say anything about what it is, but the core idea of the film, and the questions it raises, is an interesting one. It’s the sort of premise that makes me wish Tarkovsky were still alive, so that he could have tackled this instead of Ridley Scott.
Biohorror: While a lot of the shock moments in the film fall flat (we’ll get to that in a moment), there are a couple of scenes that seemed to work almost in spite of themselves.
Things I Didn’t Like
The Pacing: I’ve always felt that Ridley Scott was at his best when he lets a film develop at a slow burn. Alien definitely did that. Unfortunately, he seems to want to emulate Cameron’s Aliens pacing, upon a script that originates with some Very Huge Questions of the Universe. Prometheus is a film that would be greatly enhanced if it just took its damn time. The wonder and atmosphere need time to accumulate, before action or horror can be heaped on top of it. The best moments of the film are very early on, when the audience is just allowed to wait.
Characters: Oh dear. What a mess. There is an effort to make these characters more than one-dimensional, but they don’t feel anything like real human beings. It almost feels like character traits were mixed up in a box and handed out at random to the actors, who try valiantly to do something with this script.
Scientists Don’t Act Like That: This is the thing that absolutely killed my fun. A number of the characters are scientists, and I suspect that the screenwriters wouldn’t know a scientist if it bit them on the ass. These scientists all act like they’ve never heard of the scientific method before. This point is a hard one to discuss without bringing up specifics, so I’ll make up an example. If a mycologist finds a single specimen of what he/she suspects is a new species of mushroom, would he/she a) study it carefully from a distance, and make all possible observations before getting data from invasive measures, b) scream and run away, or c) eat it to find out what it does? If you answered anything aside from a), Prometheus would probably not bother you.
And that, my friends, is what I have to say about Prometheus.
OK… trying not to spoil… I felt it was an amazingly deep movie, with lots of classical and religious allusions. I thought it started amazingly early with the name of the ship, “Prometheus” The whole death and rebirth, sacrifice, judgement, and the selflessness-selfishness dichotomy was thought provoking and is still in my head.
Oh, I agree the script contains many great concepts and aims for the moon in terms of meaning. There’s great stuff in there. It’s sad that all that good stuff is buried under a heap of genuinely dumb character development.