Did you catch any movies this weekend? What did you think of Prometheus? If you haven’t seen the sci-fi flick, read on to see if it’s worth watching.
Disbelief. That’s the word I’ve been looking for all day. I simply cannot believe how disappointing “Prometheus” is.
It should have been awesome. Or at least watchable. Ridley Scott, the man who gave us “Alien” and “Blade Runner,” returns to the sci-fi genre with a prequel to “Alien.” Who doesn’t want to see that? You, that’s who. You do not want to see this movie. You think you do, because the previews are magical. But the previews are like George W. Bush and Colin Powell talking about weapons of mass destruction in 2002. They lied.
The film starts promisingly enough, with a beautiful series of establishing shots, followed by the appearance of a creature standing beside a waterfall. This creature bears a remarkable resemblance to a human being. He (clearly a “he” because of how ripped and breastless his torso is) opens a container and drinks a mysterious elixir, whereupon he disintegrates in agony and falls headlong into the river below, after which nothing remains of him but strands of DNA swirling downstream in the turbulent water. Okay, that’s interesting. What happens next? What happens next is an interminable sequence of exposition, with character after character explaining the premises of the story. Those premises are: an ancient cave painting is discovered on a Scottish isle, depicting an image that has been found across a variety of ancient civilizations. None of those civilizations had any contact with each other; therefore the appearance of the same image in each culture is a “coincidence” of cosmological proportions. Accordingly, the image is read as a map, an “invitation” by celestial beings, and so a space ship, the Prometheus, is sent to follow the map and uncover the secret behind the universal image that enthralled humanity’s ancestors.
It’s an ambitious story, but it never comes to life. Lengthy scenes of characters tentatively exploring dark and cavernous spaces fail to build tension. We have the idea that they are in an ominous environment, but their plight never actually feels ominous. The film’s chief failing is its inability to engage the audience on an emotional level. The characters simply aren’t well-defined enough for us to care about. Too often they seem merely to be going through the motions, wrapped in a fog of emotional sterility from which they never fully emerge. For a movie that focuses so intently on the nature and origin of humanity, “Prometheus” is shockingly remiss when it comes presenting us with convincing, flesh-and-blood human beings. Ironically, the most vivid and interesting character in the film is an android (brought to life, as it were, by Michael Fassbender’s creepily nuanced performance).
A further problem is that “Prometheus” can’t decide what type of film it wants to be. On one hand, in the tradition of such masterpieces as Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Tarkovsky’s “Solaris,” “Prometheus” aspires to be a subtly paced meditation on the deepest questions humans are capable of asking themselves. On the other hand, it wants to be a hair-raising horror movie. These twin ambitions constantly undermine each other, resulting in a work that fails to move us by failing to pick a direction and stick with it. The horror scenes are indeed horrifying, but they feel gratuitous because no genuine suspense leads up to them. It’s as if the movie pressurized its own boringness, only to erupt in periodic outbursts of alien-on-human atrocity that feel like outtakes from a different and quite possibly better film.
It also doesn’t help that the characters never have anything interesting to say to each other. The writing is bland and perfunctory, even downright embarrassing at times. At one point, we are told that the Prometheus expedition cost “a trillion dollars.” If there were a list of the “laziest moments in the history of screenwriting,” that little nugget would surely be near the top. “Hey, how much do you think a space mission to the moon of a distant planet would cost in 2093?” “Oh, I don’t know, a trillion dollars?” “Perfect. Let’s go with that.” It’s a fine example of just how frustrating “Prometheus” can be. A tremendous amount of care is given to certain aspects of the production (the visuals and set design, for instance), while little to no care is given to such things as writing and character development.
If you do decide to see “Prometheus,” be prepared for a lengthy period of recovery afterwards. The more I think about the movie, the more I feel like Kane from “Alien”: it’s as if “Prometheus” laid an egg of disappointment inside me, destined to explode from my chest in the form of a negative review.