dir. Ridley Scott
Release Date: Jun 08, 12
Prometheus is a big-budget flop, and whether it’s called that will be determined in time by its monetary accomplishments. It could well be a colossal hit, discussed in hazy detail by spliff-toking college undergraduates until time immemorial. More deservedly, it will struggle to make back its clearly massive budget and teach 20th Century Fox a lesson about what happens when an extremely pretty, high-gloss movie desperately lacks the core content to justify its existence. If this is what Ridley Scott views as a canonical addition of value to the Alien series he created, then may he never get that supposed Blade Runner sequel/prequel off the ground. It will almost assuredly end up one of the great disappointments of its year, much like Prometheus will be for 2012.
But let me back up a moment. The film follows the crew of the deep-space ship Prometheus, headed to a far-off planet based on a series of recurring cave drawings all over the Earth, interpreted to be an invitation. Fueled by curiosity about the origins of humanity, an expedition is assembled to try and make contact with the so-called “engineers” of all life. At the film’s beginning, it is near the end of the year 2093, and the crew has been asleep in stasis for nearly two years. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, finely doing her best Sigourney Weaver) and her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) spearhead the journey at the behest of the Weyland Corporation, who have sent along company woman Ms. Vickers (Charlize Theron, icy as hell) and the ageless android David (Michael Fassbender) to assist in their research. Everybody has ulterior motives for coming along, from the pilot (Idris Elba) who wants to get everyone home safely to the roughnecks who just want to get paid. I won’t spend much more time telling you about these people, though, because Prometheus has little to no interest in any of them.
What it’s more concerned with is, in addition to the utter beauty of the film’s ethereal cinematography, a series of increasingly onerous treatises on the twin natures of atheism and faith, wrapped in several layers of “who are we?”-style navel gazing. There are a lot of intriguing cosmic questions raised by the film, chief among them the idea that maybe there are things meant to be left unknown in the world, and that the hunt for knowledge could lead to mankind’s undoing. It’s a very conservative view of space travel and other world, one which Scott doesn’t really flesh out, instead content to put on his latter-day version of the sci-fi horrorshow that made Alien an indisputable classic. The trouble there is that Prometheus doesn’t commit to any one concept with nearly enough conviction to sell any of the film’s many, many disparate moving parts. There’s horror (a scene involving a surgery machine is the film’s one genuinely great moment, if a bit derivative of past series installments), action, subplots galore and plenty of casual philosophy, but the film simply dabbles in all of the above to the point where when things inevitably go to hell around and aboard the ship, there’s little to no investment on the audience’s part on anything that’s happening.
Among the film’s more glaring flaws is its total mishandling of a stellar cast. Rapace is sweet and steely in equal doses, the perfect heroine for a Ridley Scott vehicle, and Fassbender in particular is memorable as David, who destroys the concept of the Uncanny Valley. He’s so forced in his humanity that when his traveling companions openly insult him, he can only respond with studied, cold kindnesses. Theron is given little to do but play the kind of ice queen role she could deliver in her sleep, Elba gets a series of one-liners and virtually everybody else is treated as cannon fodder, there just to continually ignore the many warnings of “Don’t touch that.” (That’s easily the best drinking game that could be played to the film.) Even when things start exploding and slimy tentacles appear in abundance, Prometheus feels less like a movie than a series of expansive video game cutscenes bereft of any kind of narrative context. People die in extravagant ways, but there’s no anchor to make any of it mean anything, odd given the film’s obsession with appearing as though it’s all about the Big Questions.
A lot of blame lies with the screenplay, the blame for which can be attributed to Jon Spahits (of last year’s The Darkest Hour) and Damon Lindelof, whose prior affiliation as one of the creative minds behind Lost has drawn many to compare Prometheus’ many unsolved riddles to that show’s Byzantine backstories. Where Lost at least committed to character over mythology near the end, though, Prometheus raises myriad questions that it has no particular interest in answering, wraps them in an aesthetically pleasing bow and leaves audiences to presumably marvel at how there’s clearly more going on than they could possibly understand. It’s a neat bit of sleight of hand that also insults its audience’s intelligence when one realizes that the whole thing is smoke and mirrors, from the opening prologue that holds little to no bearing on the rest of the film, to a climax that involves colossal destruction and one thoroughly half-assed reference to Alien without anything being resolved or even addressed. Prometheus has its touches that allow for a sequel, but one can only hope that this assumed franchise-starter reaches the same rapid, untimely end as nearly everybody in it.