Ridley Scott’s newest sci-fi opus Prometheus could be compared to an artist’s painting. The brush strokes and design feel immaculate, handled with care and love towards the themes being stated on the broad landscape. Unfortunately, those themes just ring completely and utterly hollow, making all the effort that the painting brings seem like complete waste of great potential. That’s this film in a nutshell, the visuals and sets looks really good, but the story, characters, and points that screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts are trying to make feel so muddled and mediocre that any grand ideas displayed on the screen simply feel lost in the shuffle.
The film wants to ask the big questions of “Where did we come from?” and “Who are our makers?” The answers come in the form of a space expedition by a space vessel named Prometheus, with archeologist and geologists traveling to a distant planet that may hold the secrets to our world’s evolution. But, much like everything in this film, the way these ideas are handled just don’t feel as important as they should be. It always feels like its put on the back burner, as the film is trying debate whether to bring some sort of smart science fiction film a la 2001: A Space Odyssey, while also being a gross-out science fiction thrill ride. This just brings about scenes that are cool on paper, but never feel like a cohesive whole for the film’s plot.
I’m simply baffled on how this story was handled, to be honest. Was there a lot on the cutting room floor? I don’t think it really matters, as the great characterization and story that Scott had brought to other sci-fi films like Blade Runner and Alien was just about non-existant. Was Scott just enjoying making a visual thrill ride, while not worrying about how the story would play out? I don’t even know, but it certainly seems that a director’s cut of this film won’t help matters much.
For one thing, there is no focal point of sympathy or engagement to these characters. They all feel like avatars, popping up every now and then to say “Hey, I’m so-and-so”, and they falls back in the shadows until they are needed for hacky exposition or fodder to be served up for some good old’ fashioned body horror. The only characters that come close to being more than one dimension is Naomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and Michael Fassbender’s David. But, the script certainly doesn’t do any great favors for them. Rapace’s Shaw only feels like a character becomes the film shoehorns a pretty ridiculous flashback to show her ideals, and nothing more. Michael Fassbender, on the other hand, does his damn hardest to make sure that David, the android aboard the Prometheus, works as a whole. For the most part, it does. He brings an engaging opening act to the film, as well as bringing some great ambiguity towards his central mission to the space expedition. Unfortunately, the film likes to throw unanswered questions towards David’s actions in some regards, regrettably harkening back to the completely muddled plot.
As for the rest of the cast, even gifted actors like Charlize Theron and Idris Elba can’t save their one-note characters. Logan Marshall Green is probably the worst contender for this film, saddled with a character of a love interest to Rapace’s Shaw that most viewers will have absolutely no sympathy towards what happens to him. It’s as if these great actors were signed up for the fact that maybe they would elevate their piss-poor characterization, but no dice.
But let’s get to the big discussion, the connection to the Alien franchise. There are certainly nods to that film’s universe that fans of the series will appreciate, but don’t go expecting a true prequel to Alien. Theirs is certainly a connection to the mysterious “Space Jockey” from the original Alien films, but it never really delves further than that. But, the fact that it’s only a quasi-prequel to Alien isn’t that case of why this film doesn’t work, it simply isn’t a good science fiction film. Nothing feels unique or fresh, and the film seems adept to pull out the “stupid character decision” or some gross-out moments that try to shock, but ultimately feel unnecessary and a bit overdone. It’s as if Lindelof and Spaihits were flipping through a handbook on “What Makes Sci-Fi Thrillers Work?” and thought certain sequences will keep the viewers invested in the proceedings. Oh, and don’t get me started on the plot twists in the final act. I thought the soundtrack, which sounded well but soon became unnecessary for when things start taking a dark turn , was going to throw in a “DA DA DA DUN!”
I don’t know how the rest of the summer season, or even the rest of the movie year will fare, but Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is probably the biggest disappointment of 2012 so far. It’s baffling, and a bit infuriating, that for all the potential that this film was able to have, Scott was fine with painting a world with beautiful strokes and designs, while allowing the screenwriters with the job of simply throwing paint at the walls.