Ben’s Prometheus Verdict
So you probably have taken a quick look at Rob’s five-star Prometheus review - or perhaps delved into the wonderful fantasy that Ridley Scott is back on his very, very best form by blindly ignoring the less-than-sublime reviews – but I would like to put forward the argument that Prometheus is a massively flawed film.
No doubt that recent years has seen a lack of truly scary horror films (the Underworld and Resident Evil series, Woman in Black, the endless list of handheld-camera possession movies in the vein of Paranormal Activity) and the same could be said about Sci-Fi (Lockout, Men in Black 3, John Carter) and that the most successful of both have been franchises or remakes (Star Trek, Star Wars 3D etc). So while there have been the exceptions for both (Cabin in the Woods and Chronicle respectively to name but two) it is a relatively one-sided argument to say that both genres have been left sorely lacking.
The arguable godfather of directors, who first truly combined the two into a truly terrific film, can only be Ridley Scott. While Gladiator, Blade Runner and American Gangster have filled out his broad résumé, Alien was the movie that put him on the map. The magnificent slow buildup and the long, tense relief had never been seen to that extent, let alone on the surface of a distant planet. The film excelled in two brushstrokes of a master artist, the first being the stressful way that the horror was built up, keeping the audience teetering on the edge without revealing the terror until the final part of the story; the second was the artfully simple story: a ship investigates an SOS signal from a distant planet and the inhabitants wreak devastating chaos on the crew.
For the purposes of this article I won’t be comparing Prometheus to arguably the best film in the Alien franchise, the James Cameron-directed Aliens, purely because I feel it right to let Scott take the stands and not have to let him defend himself against what he would probably see as Jim’s self-masturbatory semen stains on his glorious original masterpiece, because he is old and miserable and British, and Cameron is rich and American and that’s what their relationship probably is, I guess.
So what exactly is my issue with Prometheus? Well, the things that don’t work are only visible when you can see those that are, so that’s a good start. Visually it’s a truly stunning movie. The beautiful universe inhabited by Scott’s creations feels truly massive and epic, amazingly making us feel the scale of all things, and how impossibly irrelevant and tiny we truly are. The film’s 3D is also excellent, with real depth created by the opening sweeping landscape shots, and all the Minority Report-esque technology look fantastic when viewed through those annoying sunglasses. And, like Robert didn’t neglect for a single sentence, Michael Fassbender is simply magnificent.
But gorgeous visuals, good 3D and capable actors doth not a film maketh. There are a whole host of characters – all played by excellent actors – and all are horrifically underwritten bar just two, and one is David the Android (Fassbender). The other, Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace (of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is in supposed anguish for much of the film but has to act through some truly average writing that doesn’t at any stage really convey the real terror that she must be feeling. And there’s one moment - if you want to go in completely spoiler-free, skip to the next paragraph now – a supremely fast recovery from a caesarian that you can’t help is a blindingly unbelievable plot device and ends up making you think, “Yeah but… she couldn’t possibly be able to do that right now.”
Elsewhere, there are plenty of other faces lacking suitably scientific brains. Charlize Theron’s bosswoman is a pushover of an antagonist and Marshall-Green’s Charlie Holloway (Shaw’s love interest) is like a pissed-off teenager; one second he’s giddy as a crackhead and the next he’s sulking like a toddler. And then there’s fodder Fifield (Sean Harris) who, if he was in a Star Trek movie, would be wearing the symbolic red shirt that simply states ‘I’m here to be killed’. He is armed with such lines as “I’m here for the money” and “I love rocks, not dead bodies”, and that’s his character. He might as well get a tattoo that states ‘I won’t last till halfway through the film’ but it would be totally unnecessary because you can guess that yourself before he even opens his mouth.
A lack of a really devilish bad guy (or gal), or even a single other three-dimensional character? Seems like it could be saved by a really good Alien, right? Well, no. The scientists on board titular ship Prometheus are after the creator of life on earth, and because of the complications that arise from this it’s pretty difficult to find the Engineers (as they’re called) particularly bad. It’s not until the final quarter of the film that they’re even mildly violent, falling prey to another intergalactic creature that is pretty hard to understand where it came from, what it is or why it’s even an integral part of the scientists’ research. So instead of one poorly conceived villain, there’s three – and that’s not even spoiling any surprises nearer the end.
Mild spoilers be ahead so beware – but they are mild, so who cares, right?
And the end? Well, it’s been splitting audiences, to say the least. The only part of the film that directly ties into the incredible Alien universe is a nice wink to the audience, but it feels forced and rushed, as though the studio told Scott at gunpoint that he had to put the film much further on the path to the beginning of the franchise that he began back in 1979. But back then there was a handful of straightforward but ragged characters and a single, inspired female lead in Sigourney Weaver, being pitched against a terrifying, evil creature that haunted the nightmares of audiences the world over. Sure the world is a very different one since ’79, but has the formula changed? Scott seems to think it has, and as a result has pulled punches and overcomplicated what could – and, in Scott’s hands, should – have been something really riveting.
Instead, there’s no one good to root for, and there’s no one really bad to root them against. A superficial collection of packaged villains and bland, dull protagonists pull down an artful, shocking horror into a B-movie without the heartbeat that made Alien so special.