The scifi-horror movie Prometheus didn’t lack hype due to a very good trailer and the reunion of Ridley Scott with the Alien franchise he himself launched. What exactly the story would be was a source of much speculation. One early rumor had him rebooting the Alien-saga halfway by picking up where the second movie (James Cameron’s Aliens) left off, another had him making a prequel, explaining how the crashed spaceship that played a role in the first two movies ended up on the planet with the doomed colonists. As it happens, even after watching it, I still am not quite sure how exactly the movie ties in to the franchise. It’s indeed a prequel going by the year in which things happen and it does give some vague background on the species that crashed the spaceship, but for the rest, it’s speculation ahoy.
The condensed surface story, under which metaphors lurk: the ever-morally-ambiguous Weyland Corporation dispatches a team to investigate a faraway solar system which may give a clue on the origin of mankind. Two bright-eyed scientists whose discovery got the ball rolling, soon find out there is nefarious scheming going on and that on this mission scientific discovery is taking a back-seat or rather that it is clinging precariously to the back bumper. As one might suspect, soon everybody is in way over their heads and said heads start taking a fair amount of graphic abuse, thinning out the cast severely. In a way, the characters are asking for it as they seem to be averse to safety measures, taking off their helmets in an alien environment because it ‘seems’ safe (microbiologists will cringe), are not especially strict with quarantine and enjoy playfully teasing unknown local wildlife in a way that not surprisingly proves to be unwise. And there’s an android named David who delights in poking and prodding ancient devices without pondering the possible consequences even a little, or maybe he just doesn’t give a toss.
Prometheus starts off well and atmospheric, slowly building tension. It’s when things turns more action-packed later on that the story comes apart at the seams. I think there are two main problems. First off: the movie is bad at handling its characters. They often come across as empty vessels for the plot, behaving as they need to for the movie to end the way it does, rather than organically, taking into account logic and personality. Then again, a fair amount of the characters barely have a personality, some being so flat it’s surprising the actors manage to stay upright.
The relationships between characters are also a bit sketchy. For instance, at one point noble sacrifices are made based on sparse information given by someone whose trust didn’t seem earned. (Spoilers prevent me from being more clear.) The person filling in the ‘Ripley’ role here, can’t live up to that iconic status and I am not at all sure why Guy Pearce is in the movie in dodgy old-person make-up, when it seems they could have just cast someone actually old. I’m sure there must have been a reason. As it stands, Michael Fassbender steals the show as the creepy but fascinating David, with corporate, cold-hearted Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and charming captain Janek (Idris Elba, television’s Luther) coming in not too far behind.
The second problem is that the movie is clumsy at imparting information. Towards the end, the viewer is getting clued in about the explanation for what it going on by various characters blurting out bits of exposition. It’s not always clear how they came about their information, other than making intuitive leaps or maybe attending a not-pictured general meeting in which the crew pieced things together. However, when all is said and done, the reveal doesn’t reveal nearly enough, leaving you with a multitude of questions, about both details and the big picture. ‘But if… then how….? And why…?’ To be fair: this may have been the intent. There is enough Obvious Symbolism scattered throughout, mostly concerning Religion and Good and Evil, that it invites looking beyond the surface and speculating. The first scene of the movie doesn’t even make sense unless you go beyond what you’re being told directly. However, a more coherent and convincing surface, would have inspired more motivation to look beyond it.
Despite me being so down on Prometheus, I do recommend it, especially on a large screen in 3D. There are beautiful visuals, there is some impressive action and there are interesting concepts. Just be prepared for the storytelling to be a bit of a mess, nowhere near as simple and creepy as that of Alien and, for that matter, nowhere near as tight and streamlined as that of Aliens. It is frustrating because it feels like there is a better movie hiding inside of this one. I suspect a lot was left on the cutting room floor (speaking in ancient celluloid terms) and that at some point there may be a (much) longer version which fleshes out characters and explains apparent lapses in logic and story. But even then, there will remain some crucial moments that teeter on the edge of silliness, in particular a scene involving a nigh-magical Operate-Thyself machine, which seemingly is able to perform almost any emergency surgical procedure without having a doctor around. It is mentioned only a few were made (Why? It was too useful and life-saving?) and it is also mentioned that it is configured for a man even though the owner is Theron’s character, presumably a woman. Or is she? Oh, so many unanswered questions…
Ps: if you have seen the movie and want some answers look here. (Contains spoilers of course.)