Thinking about this film tears me apart. For each of its 120 minutes, Prometheus is fascinating with a palpable feeling of cinematic momentum, leading to where we all (kind of) know it’s going to go – connecting somehow to the revered and cherished-to-many Alien franchise. Prometheus fulfills these expectations. And yet the film is filled with glaring common sense deficiencies, shamefully inadequate characterizations and a narrative flow that was perhaps meant to be artful ambiguity but comes off as just plan chaotic and confusing.
Prometheus (2012) dir. Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce
By Alan Bacchus
In terms of theme, style and tone, there’s very little that connects the two films, which makes this picture even more interesting. While each of the Alien films was an action/suspense film to the core with smatterings of feminism and themes of corporate malfeasance, Alien was about that reptilian creature with two jaws stalking and killing human beings. Prometheus is a story about the search for one’s creator, the existential discovery and first connection to extraterrestrial life.
The concept, build-up and overall arc and payoff of this story are epic and cinematic. Never was I bored or not on the edge of my seat anticipating where the story will lead. Yet the details of the actions, motivations and relationships between the characters were surprisingly ill-conceived, sloppily-written and downright appalling. This oscillation between fascination and frustration is difficult to reconcile.
The metaphor of creationism to our own desires to search for our makers is front and centre. There’s little subtelty in linking theme and plot here, right down to the crucifix prominently worn by Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace), the film’s heroine, as well as the prominent artificial intelligence character played by Michael Fassbender.
The aliens are not what we expect, revealed in the opening as some kind of large humanoid introduced as our own creators on Earth, and who by the end of the film, for some unknown reason, want to destroy our planet. In 2039, after Shaw and her husband/’scientist’ Charlie Halloway (Marshall-Green) discover ancient cave paintings that could only have come from aliens in space, a team is sent away on a spaceship to find answers.
Cut to the Prometheus, the name of the ship, and its motley crew of Shaw, Holloway, lazy blue-collar pilots, cynical geologists only interested in ‘the money’ and the snarly company-woman, Meredith Vickers (Theron), whose company funded the trip. Once on the Earth-like planet they find an underground layer terraformed to house some kind of devious experiments. Experiments, I think, about the creation of life, but creationism gone wrong resulting in a whole bunch of monstrous creatures looking to kill and survive – one of whom might just be the Alien we all know and love.
I can usually forgive lazy science for the sake of entertainment, but the lapses in basic common sense in this picture are inexcusable – like why the multi-billionaire (or trillionaire) Peter Weyland (played inexplicably by a young Guy Pearce in old makeup) would hire such a disorganized, grumpy group of ragtag scientists. And why they would be kept in the dark about their mission until they are in space, years into their mission. The scientific methods employed by these so-called scientists are shockingly amateurish, certainly nothing resembling the professionalism of the characters in Alien, Aliens and the other entries in the series.
The sloppiness in the editing of the picture is even more troublesome. In the final hour, when the shit hits the fan, every character inexplicably seems to be on their own, unable to communicate with anyone else. In previous films Scott, Cameron and the other directors took care to explain the geography of their surroundings, but Scott’s pacing is so off, characters appear and disappear conveniently and without explanation. Also, large chunks of information seem to be missing.
In the end, after-theatre discussions are less about connecting the dots than trying to piece together a fractured, incomplete narrative, which feels more like a collection of scenes than a uniformly constructed story.