Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Prometheus

Prometheus (2012)

Following an "invitation" left on Earth thousands of years ago, a team of scientists backed by an aging businessman travel to another star system to meet the aliens who created man, only to find much more than they'd bargained for.

I hate being disappointed by a film.  I love seeing a film that I thought would be good and was, I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing a film I knew would be bad and was, and I delight in seeing a film I thought would be bad and wasn't.  What I dislike is watching a film that I thought would be good and it proves to be like a beautiful sandwich where the meat turns out to be tough and dry.

So it is with director Ridley Scott's big-budget return to science fiction/horror, Prometheus.  I was really looking forward to this one.  I loved Alien and Blade Runner and from the advertising campaign it looked like this was Scott going back to his roots.  The poster was intriguing, the trailer was genuinely harrowing and the David 8 viral advert was brilliant.

Let's start with the positive.  This is a beautiful film that makes Avatar look like the 3D animation feature that it really was.  Scott has a tremendous visual imagination and he knows how to get his ideas up on the screen.    He also knows how to get the best out of his editor and cinematographer.  Prometheus is a joy to look at, the action sequences are clear and well choreographed, the framing is spot on and the editing leaves the audience with a crisp story that cranks along at just the right speed.  I must also say the costume and set design that echoes Alien without seeming like a pastiche.  It all works.

Then there is the cast.  With the exception of Logan Marshall-Green and Guy Pearce, who are woefully miscast as a driven scientist and insane, aged tycoon respectively, the actors do a remarkable job.  Micheal Fassbender as David gives a performance that deserves a Best Actor Oscar (The early scenes of David alone on the spaceship are beautiful and compelling) and Noomi Rapace as the visionary archaeologist steps into the obligatory Action Girl role nicely.  Unfortunately, their roles are so badly written that they don't give justice to their performances.

 It's a shame that the end product is a dry turkey sandwich.  The whole premise behind the film is ill conceived and goes downhill from there.  Scott wanted to deal with big issues: Where did we come from?  Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  What is our relationship with our creator?   That's all very deep, but when man's creator turns out to be giant teddy bear aliens, all that goes out the airlock and we're left with much more prosaic questions, like how to get the squid monster out of the girl's belly.  At least Kubrick had the sense to make his aliens suitably mysterious and omnipotent.  Worse, the scriptwriters, who include one of the idiots behind Lost, fall into Lost's conundrum fallback and refuse to provide any answers to any questions large or small.

Sorry, but, like Lost, that's a cheat.  If you're going to raise questions about the meaning of life, then either provide an answer and take your lumps or have something interesting to say.  Don't just tease the audience as a prelude to taking the money and running.  That's not writing, that's a con game.  A con game built on cod theology at that.  If you hated Lost, you'll loathe this film.  If you liked Alien, you'll wonder what on Earth allowed this lot near the concept.

The writing is also lazy.  I could never figure out how Ridley Scott doing a space adventure could cause Guillermo del Toro to announce that he was abandoning his production of At the Mountains of Madness.  Having seen Prometheus, I now know why.  This film is Mountains in space.  It's the same story with the same beats and even the same outcome right down to the shoggoths.  However, what Lovecraft had to say about the origins of life on Earth, man's place in the universe and the beings who allegedly created us was a worm that worked overtime on the imagination and made you sleep with the lights on.  Prometheus invokes a powerful "so what?" reaction and makes you wish that Doctor Who (preferably Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker) would show up in the Tardis to get the story back on track.

The script doesn't even hold together.  It's riddled with basic mistakes such as characters not even showing basic curiosity, doing things for no reason other than it's in the script, and leaps of logic that would put the old Batman television series to shame.  How, for example, does a pictograph showing a man pointing at a constellation justify the conclusion that man was created by space aliens?  "Because that's what I choose to believe" doesn't cut it on any level of reasoning.

And this isn't an isolated example.  It's the standard operating mode of the writers.

Then there's the characters.  Scott's truck drivers in space idea was brilliant–in 1979.  It really set up the story to have a ship full of people who had no training for such a job investigating an alien spaceship.  It explained their vulnerability and heightened our sense of their peril.  It doesn't work in 2012.  These are supposed to be a ship of trained professionals who are going on a well-financed mission where they have a fairly good idea of what they'll be up against.  Instead, we get a load of emotional retards who yell and moan and complain in that infuriating naturalistic acting style that is as far from natural as it's possible to get.  The idea is old and it's played out.  Can't we, for a change, go back to the approach in The Thing From Another World or 1970's BBC sci fi and have grown ups who know what they're doing coming up against the menace?  How much more refreshing if the archaeologist, the corporate ice woman and the ship's captain had propelled the story with the dynamic of three competent, head-strong individuals who each want to approach the problem their own way and refuse to yield to the other two. That is a film I'd see.  I don't want to see a two neurotic women with daddy issues and a detached captain who doesn't care until the script tells him to care.

And don't get me started on Scott's recycling of the same old "procreation is horrible" idea that should have died with Freud.

This is a film where people do things that make no sense, like killing time having sex while shipmates are trapped in an alien temple being eaten by horrors or showing no curiosity when someone stumbles into a room half naked, covered in blood with a huge, freshly-stapled surgical wound in her abdomen.  Wouldn't this rate at least a "What the heck happened to you?"  And when your robot starts punching alien buttons that no one knows the purpose of, you might want to ask him in no uncertain terms what the **** he's doing instead of shrugging your shoulders in a naturalistic fashion.

It's a pity that the old studio system is dead.  I'd have loved to be able to look forward to the day when Scott's beautiful images could be pilfered by a better film as stock footage, but that spaceship has sailed.


  1. A review which pretty much sums up my feelings about 'Prometheus.' :-(

    I posted on Ephermal Isle about hearing a comment, "It's the Mountians of Madness in space!" But I hadn't heard the Guillermo del Toro rumour. -sigh-

  2. PS David, in the review you mentioned hoping that the Doctor would show up and sort things out, well the main character is called Elizabeth Shaw . . .