Oh, fuck you, Ridley Scott. I see what you’re up to. Two can play your little game.
Prometheus is a great piece of sci-fi, and it’s ending especially will have fans of the original Alien leaping out of their seat to Dimmeys, fistful of cash in hand and defiled underpants in the other. It tackles really heavy stuff; existentialist questions, God versus science, the origin of life, and all the while distils the formula with the same heavily disconcerting sexual imagery that has pervaded the series since its inception, if you’ll pardon the awkward pun.
It’s built for nerds from the ground up – cool and graphically sexy enough to keep Johnny Average Punter hooked, but also seemingly deliberately vague enough to get all that Blood-Type Nutella nerd blood worked up into a frenzied froth, arguing over the who and the where and the why in the hell. There’ll be a sequel, to be sure.
It’s entertaining, has really great special effects, and above-average characterisation for a thriller of its type. On the other hand, while I hate the classic reviewer cliché of ‘raises more questions than it answers,’ that is really the best I can do here to sum up the main problems of the film without completely fingering the plot for those who haven’t seen it.
It’s probably the best mistake a writer-director can make, really. It’s the biggest snag of the film, but I’m not allowed to talk about it. Fuck you, Ridley Scott.
Cinematically, it’s an entirely recommendable film. Everything that I can write about it that isn’t a Pandora’s Box of plot spoilers is perfectly fine and appreciable. The drawbacks of the movie are the sorts of things that can’t readily be outlined without some sort of example to give – for instance, there’s a certain ‘twist’ about two-thirds of the way through that would have been fascinating if it didn’t concern a character we’d only heard from once before in the entire movie, and even then they managed to give the game away. So the characters go ooh and ahh and the audience heaves a collective ‘meh, saw it coming.’
The problem is this: there’s no point in a big revelation if it only happens to the characters. That’s simply not good enough; it needs to happen to us too, otherwise who cares? It’s not like we’ve grown attached to the characters over the length of many years’ worth of episodes and plotlines; we only have two hours to get to know the protagonist, and that puts a very definite cap on the amount of empathy we can spare. The rest of the emotion needs to be supplied to us, not just by us.
Continuing the theme, the main character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, is consistently meh-ish. Ripley of the Alien series proper has always been portrayed as a strong woman who don’t need no man, but unfortunately all Dr. Shaw really ever amounts to (a shade ironically, given the imagery of the franchise) is basically a pussy. Perhaps it’s because so many terrible things happen to her during the course of the film that she turns completely inward, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for shortcomings in the script. The other characters are just fine – the ensemble is basically the same as in every pseudo-horror film – the sassy black dude, the asshole, the token Asian, etc etc. Idris Elba does a great job of his relatively minor role as the ship’s captain; the most important thing I took from this is that, as an actor, he’s capable of playing more than one character – Stringer Bell the captain ain’t. Charlize Theron is sadly crap, yet Michael Fassbender is frankly brilliant as the morose android David, and in fact winds up being probably the best character in the whole movie.
The first half of the film is great. Good setup, good characters, great visual design. Something more subtle that will probably fly over the heads of many viewers is the stylistic restriction on the colour palette – the world of Prometheus is black and grey, and the little hints of green and blue work really well visually. The opening panoramas of the alien planet are just like a David Attenborough doco. Hollywood still doesn’t quite know how to get old-people makeup to look right – Guy Pearce’ wrinkly maquillage looks, quite frankly, just as alien as any of the series’ famous monsters. The rest of the characters are well-cast, not just in terms of acting ability but visually – the tattooed and mohawked Sean Harris stands out as Fifield, as do the hoodies and jumpers apparently in intergalactic fashion in the year 2089. It’s the type of film that, upon catching a roommate playing it on his laptop, you could happily stand and watch for a minute or two, oblivious to the plot. It’s all very pretty, but flawed where it matters most, not unlike Avatar, or Russel Brand, according to rumour (zing!).
I wrote above that Prometheus tackles big issues. I was wrong: it doesn’t actually address them, it never reaches any sort of conclusions regarding them, it just kind of… brings them up. In the introduction to the film, we see a young Dr. Shaw ask her father about what happens after death. She wears a cross around her neck for much of the film, and the ideas of belief and faith get tossed around like a baby in a windsock (???), but none of these themes are ever properly explored. It feels like Scott realised just how much death was going on in the movie, and so chucked a couple of lines about God into the script to try and wring an Oscar or two out of the dark. It’s not going to happen: give us some credit, we need more than wordplay on “going to meet your maker.” The only truly interesting avenue is the identity crisis of the android David: he frequently makes reference to life and death, and his nature as an emotionless robot really nails a sense of there being something deeply wrong with the universe of the film, and humanity in general. It’s riveting stuff.
Prometheus is classic Sci-Fi, in the same vein as the original Alien. It mixes genuinely unsettling elements of horror with ingenious visual design and generally interesting characters. It feels a little impotent in the deep-and-meaningful department, and honestly I would have relished even five or so minutes given solely to a little bit of proper closure on the Ridley Scott’s Meaning of Life front, but given the experience of watching the film itself is just so damned enjoyable, it certainly ensures another Ridley hit. I give it 3 ½ Screaming Vaginas out of 5, and my personal recommendation, especially to all of the Alien fanboys.
The Quibble – Mr. Scott drops a lil’ bit of Chopin’s 15th Prelude in the movie’s introduction, as well as the credits. You might know it from the classic Halo 3 ‘believe’ ad spot. I ask this: why’d he only include the happy-sounding first two minutes, when the tone of the piece so famously turns sinister halfway through? Now there’s an Oscar-winning metaphor for you.
- Prometheus Review (skoce.wordpress.com)
- In Space, No One Can Hear You Get An Abortion: A Review of ‘Prometheus’ (thesuperficial.com)
- Pondering Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (lockergnome.com)
- PROMETHEUS Blu-ray Details Revealed; 15 Minutes of Deleted or Alternate Scenes Plus So Much More (collider.com)
- Top Movie Prometheus (2012) Download Free,watch Online (rafequl.typepad.com)
- 5 Simple Changes That Would Make ‘Prometheus’ Better (For Fans Of ‘Alien’) (screenrant.com)
- Prometheus (2012) Movie Review (hark.com)
- Movie Review: Prometheus  (twscritic.com)
- Prometheus Review (brettsiegelblog.wordpress.com)
- Interview: Ridley Scott On ‘Prometheus’ (screenrant.com)