I’ve never looked into the toilet after having diarrhea, but I think Ridley Scott has. Otherwise, I can’t explain how he made Prometheus. It’s been quite a while since a movie review has shown up on the site; honestly, I tried to remove my old curmudgeon mask, and stop ranting at film. But I recently found inspiration in the Alien franchise’s possibly maybe but really actually prequel wink wink sci-fi epic. And so, not unlike Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, I decided to suit up one more time and hit the streets. Except instead of saving Gotham I’m bashing a trashy movie.
The film begins with picturesque vistas of mist-covered mountains and melting glaciers. The planet seems to be a young Earth, or perhaps just a young other planet. A pale, muscular being drinks acid, and then tumbles down a waterfall as his body degrades, providing the base genetic material for what must be that world’s primordial soup. We know the being is alien to the planet because we see a flying saucer shoot back out into space. An orchestrated, inspirational soundtrack accompanies the scene, and makes us wonder if we signed up for sci-fi horror, or a scientology infomercial. Anyway, we just saw how life began. At least in this version, an obelisk didn’t teach monkeys how fight with bones.
That’s deep, bro
The next scene rockets forward in time to 2093, aboard the spaceship Prometheus, en route—oh wait, that’s what should have happened. Instead, we get a 5 minutes expository sequence of archaeologists finding cave paintings with star maps, which is completely unnecessary because they explain the cave paintings aboard the spaceship 10 minutes later. I guess we had to reach that two hour running time somehow. Back to Prometheus, en route to a far-away planet’s moon, the location of which was revealed in ancient cave paintings. The crew hopes to find alien life, and likely the origin of terrestrial life, as well. At first, the planet’s unbreathable atmosphere and uninviting environment seem to hint at a wasted trip. Soon, however, we discover gigantic domes and straight lines. We are told “God does not build in straight lines.”
The rest of the film takes place on the ship and inside the domes, as the crew members examine the alien constructions, and try to make sense of what the—Boo! Sci-fi horror! I have a myriad of questions about the film. First and foremost: if you invest one trillion future dollars in sending a spaceship to a faraway galaxy in search of alien life, why send the 17 dumbest f$$king people on the planet? The film does not answer that question; it only provides the dumbest f$$king people future humanity has to offer. Let me put this into perspective. When one of our heroes spots a giant d$$k snake swimming around a pool of alien liquid, he sticks his hand in its mouth. No wonder aliens in this franchise keep trying to kill us. Leading the charge of the light-minded brigade are doctors Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Trey from the OC). They are the archaeologists who found the cave paintings. Why the benefactors of the Weyland Corporation decided to send them to another planet is another big question. Why not take their starmap and send trained astronauts or something? Being an Earth archaeologist qualifies you for making first contact, I guess.
They are accompanied by 15 or so other bodies, 2 or 3 of which have any speaking lines at all in the film. One of them is Ms. Vickers (Charlize Theron), who is surprisingly not a Downton Abbey housemaid. She represents the interests of the Weyland Corporation, which are ever only vaguely defined, and then shattered by a terrible plot twist. Vickers serves no purpose in the film. If her character were removed from the plot, nothing would change appreciably. She is also probably the least intelligent of the group, and that’s saying a lot, trust me. Vickers is likely the easiest lay in cinema history, as Captain Janek (Idris Elba) can attest.
Of course, no Alien franchise film would be complete without a morally ambiguous android rounding out the crew. Michael Fassbender delivers as good a performance as one could expect for a poorly written character, the robot David. His delivery of a certain line concerning a certain abnormal fetus is priceless, and unfortunately the highlight of the film. There are two main issues with David. First, we’re going on 5 Alien movies now featuring the whole “can we trust or can’t we trust the android” subplot. We’re not really breaking any new thematic ground here. We get it; they don’t have feelings and can be mean. The other, larger issue, is that far from being amoral, David is just a douchebag, and for no reason. Well, I guess he was programmed to be a d$$k. Nothing he does seems driven by any kind of dry logic, but instead the need to proactively be an evil asshole. And to drive the plot forward, I guess. Then again, the story never goes anywhere but nowhere, so judging forward progress is difficult.
Scott’s original Alien relied on lighting and tension to create the horror atmosphere; this time around he employs special effects and explosions to “scare” the audience. Glimpses of the eponymous monster were rare in the original, and kept the audience in fear because we never really knew what we were dealing with, even from just a visual standpoint. Prometheus provides no gray area. We are served with a well-lit, perfectly comprehensible menagerie of giant humanoids, penis snakes, octopus babies, bigger octopi, proto-xenomorphs, dna worms…the list goes on, and sounds like something out of a hentai porn. Additionally, the crew members of the Nostromo were not complete idiots. They were capable, and still dying, which made the whole situation much more oppressive. The Prometheus crew, in contrast, sort of asks for all the shit flung at them. There is gore and gross stuff, but really, how are we not supposed to laugh at someone poking a d$$k snake in the head? Come on.
That’s a bad idea
It’s strange; for a film that prides itself on mystery and implications, Prometheus is surprisingly straightforward. I’m a big fan of the whole “aliens are incomprehensible to humans” sub genre of sci-fi. I loved Richard Russo’s Ship of Fools. Lem’s Solaris, and J.P Lowrie’s Dancing with Eternity also deal with the dynamic ably. Not to mention the original Alien, made by the same exact guy! Instead, Prometheus awkwardly jacks off the theme, and then halts right before climax by casually proffering a “theory” about the meaning of it all, which actually comes off more as exactly what is going on. Don’t get me wrong; the idea of human explorers stumbling upon an alien mad scientist’s lab sounds great. I’d watch that movie. Unfortunately, Prometheus blows the execution. I’m not going to spoil the plot twist, but it’s one of those revelations that renders everything you’ve seen to that point moot. I’m not a fan of those. The film is also jam-packed with misleading allusions to the myth of Prometheus, which unfortunately is in no way analogous to anything that happens in the movie. I guess Scott figured if he mentioned themes and shit, people would just assume they were there. It’s possible everything becomes clearer in sequels, but in that case we’d need to watch even more of this… Oh, the alien spaceship looks like a Ouroboros ring. You tell me.
Ridley Scott seems to have lost the knack he once had for complex, engaging cinematography and scene composition. For an early example, check this out. In contrast, Prometheus’ scenes all seem fairly 2-dimensional. Ironic, since I saw it in 3-D. There is depth, but it is literal and provided by plastic glasses, not by the layers present in the shot. The acting is tepid on the most part. Noomi Rapace was decent, but given that her directions were “OK, now jump into the big tube and abort your octopus baby,” well, I don’t know what an actor is supposed to do with that. But let’s shift to the inevitable comparison to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Ripley was a strong woman, who was able to actively defeat the alien that had beaten/eaten the rest of the crew, including the robots and the males. In Aliens, she powered up even more into a super saiyan mama bear and fought an Alien queen hand to mechanical-crane-robot hand. Dr. Shaw’s greatest achievement is realizing that when an obelisk is falling on you lengthwise, you should roll to the side, and not run straight forward. Trust me, not everyone on the ship is as well-versed in plane geometry. All she does is survive despite her bad decisions. So yes, Roger Ebert was dead wrong when he wrote that Shaw “continues here the tradition of awesome feminine strength begun bySigourney Weaver in Alien.” Ebert lauds Shaw for how she resolves a “showdown with a waning oxygen supply.” You know how she deals with it? She walks 10 feet to a spaceship, where she takes her suit off. He was also wrong when he gave the film a perfect 4/4 stars. This is my uneducated opinion, of course.
Honestly, the first 30-40 minutes aren’t bad. Prometheus starts out promisingly, but fizzles out into a confused mess of lazy gore and absent plot. Skip it. Unless you want to laugh, of course.