Movie Review: Prometheus
Prometheus was a master class in confusion before it even began filming. Director Ridley Scott announced he was returning to the franchise that made him famous and then back peddled on the significance of Prometheus to the Alien legacy. Was Prometheus a prequel? A sequel? An unrelated film set in the Alien universe? There was so much confusion and willful obfuscation of just how Prometheus fit within the greater Alien canon that it’s almost appropriate that the film itself has these same sort of questions. Prometheus as an idea is just as horribly confused as Prometheus the film. It’s a movie constantly at odds with itself. At once a hugely inventive, beautiful, thoughtful film and also a silly, confusing mish-mash of genres and ideas.
Prometheus trades in big ideas. Scientists in the year 2089 unearth ancient cave paintings which they believe will lead them to the home planet of the “Engineers,” alien beings believed to have seeded the Earth with life. So the scientists get the Weyland Corporation to front the cash (and the ship, the titular Prometheus) for this journey. When Prometheus lands on LV-223 they find a mysterious storehouse of Engineer design as well as Engineer bodies. As they begin looking into this facility things begin to go decidedly wrong. Android problems, issues with native lifeforms, and Weyland Corporation interference all begin to take their toll on the Prometheus crew.
And for all the high-falutin’ metaphors about meeting our maker or surpassing our parents that Prometheus purports to be about, it just left me feeling…flat. Partially scripted by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, Prometheus makes some of the cardinal errors that that series made. It builds question after question, mystery after mystery, and has almost no pay off. Answers aren’t always necessary, but if a film spends almost ninety minutes asking questions then it had better have some compelling characters if it doesn’t intend to answer any of them.
Prometheus is filled top to bottom with dumbasses, who continually find new ways to do stupid things seemingly to only move the plot along. For instance: early in the film, a geologist uses some nifty future-tech to map a ruin. This man makes a point of stating how he doesn’t know anything about aliens, but rocks? Man, he’s a rock expert. This character leaves to return to Prometheus but gets lost. The geologist gets lost. THE GUY WITH THE MAPPING ROBOTS! And even though Prometheus’s captain (Idris Elba, proving once again that he’s the most bad ass actor who cannot say no to any casting call) has a fancy holographic map of the ruins and can see this guy on the map no one knows he’s lost until it’s too late.
Characters either have little or no motivation, desire, or fears, and if they do have an actual character moment it’s delivered through silly monologues or through someone else viewing a dream of theirs while they are cryogenically sleeping. This isn’t like Alien, where each of the crew seemed like real people. These are characters who are little more than meat bags to be killed off in weird ways.
And to make matters worse, the film never really knows what it wants to be. High adventure in space? Weird body horror movie? Zombie film? Alien horror? Straight sci-fi? Drama? All of these genres crop up in Prometheus in one form or another. The movie is schizophrenic.
Thankfully, the film looks incredible. The design aesthetic of Alien remains mostly intact, supplemented by today’s advanced CGI and set design. Though it doesn’t quite mesh with Alien and Aliens future full of CRT monitors, it looks brilliant, wrightly lit ship sequences, excellent CGI, and impressive outdoor shots that show sweeping vistas both alien and Earthly. Prometheus doesn’t disappoint in beauty at least. The only blemish on the film’s design is the terrible makeup effects used on Guy Pearce. Pearce plays Peter Weyland, the deceased CEO of the Weyland Corporation. Weyland is a very old man, and Pearce plays Weyland through horrible looking age makeup. It makes no sense as to why Pearce was chosen to play this part under prostetics when Scott could have… oh, I dunno… hired an older actor to convincingly play the aged Weyland.
In the end, Prometheus is hampered by the silly and convoluted premise and dreadful script. It leaves too many questions unanswered just for the hell of it. Unanswered questions are fine, but Damon Lindelof has made a career from pretending to be deep by purposefully not answering pertinent questions in his scripts. At first it seems mysterious and interesting, but the more he does it the easier it is to see that it’s his only real trick. Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe is hamstringed by Lindelof’s silly writing techniques, which hurt a film that could have otherwise been something really special.