‘Prometheus’ a deeply flawed visual spectacle

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Prometheus
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
USA, 2012

Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green are scientists who find a pictograph in the isle of Skye, Scotland; the same pictograph of giant men pointing up to the same constellation of stars as other ancient dead societies. Reading this to be an invitation to discover the origin of the species thanks to the financial support of the Weyland Corporation, they embark on a mission into deep space to investigate the LV-223 planetoid. Welcome to Prometheus.

Upon arrival, they find a super-structure ready to investigate and it’s there where everything goes wrong. Each film in the Alien franchise has the same dynamic, in that there is an alien species killing off the crew, one by one. As ever, each of these films is sufficiently different from one another for them not to become derivative and boring; Alien was a haunted house in space, Aliens was a militaristic action movie, Alien 3 was a prison escape movie, while Alien Resurrection was simply apalling. Prometheus, meanwhile, is straight sci-fi. This film was created to give an answer to the long considered question in sci-fi and horror circles, “who is the giant figure in Alien dubbed the ‘space jockey?’”

Sadly, Prometheus is a victim of hype. Everything Ridley Scott is renowned for as a great modern visual stylist is up to par here; nobody builds worlds like him. That which is out of his hands, namely the script, is a series of plot holes, oversights and questionably ostentatious dialogue.

Dan O’Bannon’s Alien script was about space truckers and they talked about the little things, things that normal people do, which helped to make it stand out as an enduring classic. Even without the burden of that comparison, any good film has believable dialogue in that characters talk about the real and immediate. It may be the mission of the Prometheus crew to find the origin of the species, but that doesn’t mean that everything that should come from the crew’s mouths is grand ideas about the origins of man and the feasibility of such an undertaking. It lacks grounding, and more importantly, it lacks any characterization, meaning that when the crew do inevitably get picked off, there’s no reason to care.

Likewise, there are many plot holes; the most glaring is the by-product of what kills one of the first victims. There are other problems in the script, some bigger than others, but to mention those would be drifting into spoiler territory. There are also a number of themes touched upon, such as parenthood, faith and what it means to be human, but none are followed up on. The biggest issue is the final act, which takes the thoughtful, if not entirely conceptually sound, sci-fi trappings and trades up for the blockbuster qualities that have cheapened the image of the genre. More so than that, scriptwriters Jon Spaihts & Damon Lindelof hastily try to get the series to a relatable point in the scheme of the Alien brand, which feels relentlessly contrived.

The hype may not be fulfilled, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t enjoyable qualities. As aforementioned, Ridley Scott, the visualist, is on fine form. His world building is sumptuously detailed and filthy in the bio-mechanical halls of the alien superstructure, contrasted with clean, beautiful lines on Prometheus itself. Dariusz Wolski’s photography is stunning; many moments of the film could be paused and enjoyed in isolation, the highest achievement bestowed on any director of photography. That same depth is present in the effects, with the beautiful graphics being used for the space travel and grim, dirty practical effects and puppetry used for the alien life. Visually, Prometheus is flawless.

The actors are also of high quality, even if most roles are disappointingly one-dimensional, including Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and the bizarrely cast Guy Pearce as an elderly man. The two standouts are predictably Michael Fassbender as David, the android, who is beautifully subdued in his delivery and physicality. He occupies the same pantheon as the greats that came before him in Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen. Noomi Rapace is also brilliant as the lead scientist, Elizabeth Shaw, with all the confidence and frailty that made Ripley such an important and iconic figure 30 years ago. Not to be too closely tied to what came before, she has a moment of nasty violence that will forever separate her from Sigourney Weaver’s breakout role; even seasoned horror fans will wince at that unforgettable scene.

Sadly, it’s impossible to be anything other than disappointed with Prometheus thanks to a script that is more often than not dull and concepts floating without order on the periphery. Still, as a visual spectacle in both the traditional sense and the genre sense, Prometheus may be wildly inconsistent, but there’s enough there to grasp.

Robert Simpson

12 Comments
  1. […] I can’t think of any other movie review that is better written than the Prometheus script. […]

  2. Erwin says

    sigh

    here’s an intelligent review that uses ARGUMENTS for it’s opinion and the fanboy trolls come marching in with nothing more than variatons on the word ‘masterpiece’ and a fair bit of the strawman fallacy (*)

    (*) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

  3. Craig says

    A Deeply flawed review. Sounds like you have an agenda to me. A lot of your points are way off which leads me to thinking that you never wanted to like this movie. If you review films you should watch them with an open mind not a bitter one.

  4. Bill Mesce says

    It’s probably not even valid for me to chime in here having not seen the film, but Scott has long been knocked for being stronger on visuals than storytelling; it’s something one sees even in some of his stronger films, a certain dramatic anemia, sometimes — and only sometimes — compensated for by a visual poetry.

  5. Simpson says

    Sorry guys. You don’t seem to get it. Prometheus is far from 1 dimmensional. Alien is a great film. But only history has rewritten it into a masterpiece. The characters are really basic. Stop and think about it. Can you tell them apart to any degree. Nothing wrong with this for the film that it is. But Prometheus does go a lot further. I kind of agree… Yes a masterpiece

  6. The Movie Waffler says

    Yes David Alien is 2 dimensional, the way movies should be, not like this which manages to be both one dimensional and three dimensional.

  7. Rob Simpson says

    Sorry to disagree, but it couldn’t be further from a masterpiece. The script is an absolute mess, conceptually and on the basic premise that ideas are picked up and dropped all over the place. Its also impossible to ignore the films relationship to Alien given the nature of the films antagonist, and the nature of the third act.

    Still, there was plenty there that I enjoyed and enough to recommend a watch. It was only in hindsight that all those issues popped up.

  8. Carter says

    What do you mean Josh. You make loads of comparisons to Alien in your review. Yep I think you were expecting something else (a certain creature). Shame you can’t see beyond it. I loved Prometheus. Original & intelligent.

    1. Josh Slater-Williams says

      The comparisons I make to ‘Alien’ are primarily to do with the film trying to hit similar story beats to the 1979 one and keep up a similar kind of atmosphere, which I felt it proved considerably lacking in doing. I was at no point wanting the titular Alien to appear; my reaction is mostly to do with ‘Prometheus’, as a singular work, being extremely flat on atmospheric, stylistic and narrative levels. In the moments where I do, in a non-spoiler fashion, discuss direct links to ‘Alien’, it is because certain elements in the actually fairly explicit ties to the other films feel at odds with thematic or filmmaking elements that were so good in the series.

      I feel it is quite unfair – and I have seen this online a fair bit in the last few days – for people to dismiss the views of people who didn’t like ‘Prometheus’ on the grounds that they wanted it to tie into ‘Alien’ more; making blunt assumptions about why people may have wanted to see this film. I wasn’t hoping see an ‘Alien’ prequel, I just wanted to see a good return to sci-fi/horror from Ridley Scott, regardless of any relation to ‘Alien’, and what I got was, to me, a very middling effort in almost every respect.

  9. Paul says

    Sorry Josh I agree with Paul. I think it’s a work of genius. To a degree I wish it had no relation to Alien. At least everyone wouldn’t have preconceived ideas. It’s not flawed at all. A near perfect film.

  10. Josh Slater-Williams says

    It’s an unsatisfying and surprisingly flat work in its own right, regardless of its relation to Scott’s other films or the established ‘Alien’ fictional universe.
    http://reeltimepodcast.org/2012/06/02/review-prometheus-ridley-scott-2012/

  11. David says

    Sorry but I think you really missed too many points. Agreed the film is visually flawless. But there is more going on than you mention. I think the real problem is that everyone is expecting Alien. But if you look at Alien it’s very 2 dimensional with B-movie characters. Prometheus has far more developed ideas. A shame you missed out because you were looking for the wrong things. Prometheus delivered a far more intelligent story. A masterpiece.

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