By Jason A. Hill
Prometheus, USA, 2012
Directed by Ridley Scott
Much has been said about Ridley Scott’s career of late. Even though he’s given us such great additions to the Sci Fi lexicon as Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), much remains to be concluded concerning his legacy or if he can return to his former glory. Unfortunately, Prometheus does not help the conversation in his favor. Prometheus is visually stunning and the FX are what you would expect from a big-budget film, it’s ambitious and epic within its context, performances by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are memorable, but the film slowly falls apart in its far-reaching themes and illogical plot.
Although it has a favorable composite score on RottenTomatoes.com, most of even the positive reviews give guarded praise on the film. I won’t be that coy. I love Scott as a director and his craft is at its peak in Prometheus, but the story is a convoluted mess of questions regarding everything asked in just about every popular Sci Fi story ever told, from the existence of god in the presence of aliens, to the responsibility to and abuse of technology, to the probability of artificial life.
The problems began in development when Scott decided that he would not pursue a direct preceding story to the original Alien. According to Scott, though the film shares “strands of Alien‘s DNA, so to speak”, and takes place in the same universe, Prometheus explores its own mythology and ideas.
What’s left is a lot of confusion. I’ve already read many reviews taking Prometheus to still be a direct prequel and my first question is why? Why is the lack of clarity between stories (Alien and Prometheus) more appealing to Scott? But that’s just the beginning. Even as Prometheus attempts to “explore its own mythology” it fails to form a coherent story by itself.
First let’s start with the scientific inconsistencies. This may be nerd nitpicking but lets face it, films like these are for the nerds and people who love Sci Fi, so nitpicking comes with the territory.
DNA: Why does matching DNA automatically mean the “engineers” created us? In the beginning of the film an “engineer” is left on what is assumed to be prehistoric Earth. After he consumes the “black goo,” he then disintegrates and later reforms into a new DNA, which I assumed to be human. Was this the beginning of all life? What about the millions of other species of life with different DNA on the planet? Where did it all come from?
Microbiology: Despite DNA being a central part of the story, this part of the science is all but completely ignored, as the science team pays very little attention to this aspect of their mission. For example, once the landing team enters the alien dome for the first time they use scanners to detect the presence of oxygen and breathable air. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) then makes a pretty bold assumption that breathable air means he can take his helmet off. Even if the air is breathable, what about foreign contaminants, aggressive microorganisms, or radiation? I realize that they are using advanced technology to scan the environment, but you’d think that scientists would be a little more, well, scientific.
Why didn’t Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) study a sample of the “black goo” from the exploded head of the “engineer?” You’d think she would notice it while sampling the DNA. Whatever the “black goo” is, it’s obviously a less microscopic substance to notice.
Geology: How does Fifield (Sean Harris), a geologist and mapmaker, get lost on his way back to the ship, despite being in constant contact with the ship? He can’t even tell if the dome is naturally made or not (which it obviously isn’t). His character is totally useless save for asking the question, “message from whom?” His demise as the possessed space-worm-infected-zombie cheapened the whole film for me.
I love Sci Fi films because I like to be taken away from the humdrum of my daily life and shown an alternate world far more exciting than my own. I also want to be introduced to science and technology that makes possible things that are impossible today. When science and story combine, and are done well, they offer me great satisfaction. When the science in a film is as challenged as it is in Prometheus, it’s hard for me to suspend disbelief and buy into the story at all.
As far as the plot, it seems to spend more time trying to be unpredictable than to just lay out a narrative. David (Michael Fassbender), Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) all have hidden agendas, but only Weyland’s is truly revealed: he want’s more life, f**ker!
The themes covered in the film are too broad: life and death, god and creation, technology and artificial life – all popular themes in Sci Fi, but fitting them into one story requires more care than what’s offered in Prometheus. And whether it’s a prequel to Alien or not, haven’t we seen all this before? A shady corporation with questionable motives and even more questionable ethics sends a team of scientists (and a questionable android) to explore alien life and, more importantly, exploit alien technology. The team realizes that something is awry as they are all systematically killed, leaving a sole survivor who knows or sets out to discover the truth.
I feel that Scott wanted to offer a new idea into Sci Fi storytelling, and I wish that he had – I’m more than ready for something new – but what’s left in Prometheus is nothing new, and little more than a regurgitation of the original Alien itself.
What somewhat saves Prometheus is Rapace and Fassbender, who give convincing performances as the central characters. Rapace’s character is passionate and painfully changes as she gives up her creators to find a deeper meaning of her faith. Fassbender is quickly becoming a top actor in his craft and as David, an android searching for its own meaning as he assists to help the humans discover their own, he ends up showing a great deal more emotional depth as an android than most of the other characters. Idris Elba gives a respectable performance as Janek, the ship’s captain, but there are also some bad performances, like Logan Marshall-Green as the “X-Games scientist” Charlie, who shows a disdain toward David but never lets us know why. Worse than Charlie is the robotic Charlize Theron as Vickers, who attempts to de-ice her character during the mission but comes off as a pretend hard-ass who has no real power on the ship other than being Weyland’s daughter (her worst performance since Reindeer Games). It could be that Marshall-Green and Theron were only doing their best with such poorly written material, but they still come off as supremely unconvincing and were probably miscast. Millburn (Rafe Spall) and Fifield are a kind of Laurel and Hardy team that act more like expendable crew members. Again, have your scientists act a little more scientific.
The story itself is, at best, broken, and at worst, an excuse to watch half-naked women covered in blood and things that explode, inside people and in space. Believe it or not, I have nothing against these types of movies; I just got the impression that Prometheus was going to be much more than that. If you take away the epilogues and Shaw’s own narration at the end, I would have no idea what’s going on in this film. It becomes a story reduced to being told by epilogues and exposition.
Jason A. Hill is the Founder, Owner of Movies I Didn’t Get.com. He is a film critic and writer of articles and film reviews covering a variety of genres and film news that have been syndicated to many sites in the film blogosphere. He specializes in independent film in the US and Asia.
For more information please contact Jason at JasonAHill@MoviesIDidn’tGet.com.