PROMETHEUS – 5th June 2012.
Ridley Scott’s much anticipated return to the sci fi genre is finally here and is likely (along with a certain not so friendly neighbourhood bat) to prop up the summer box office. I must say however, that Prometheus is not a popcorn flick, it strives for the lofty heights of such sci fi fare as ‘2001: A Space Odessy’ but sadly it barely gets off the ground.
Prometheus concerns a group of explorers who lead a expedition to find the origins of man. Two members of the expedition had recently unearthed clues relating to a distant cluster of planets in the furthest reaches of space and the crew set off to meet their maker(s). The plotting is therefore very lose and the narrative scope massive. Ridley Scott as per usual fills the visual landscape with a tapestry of treats, feeding even the loneliest deserted landscapes with hidden mystery and encroaching dread. Its the films anima that struggles to surface, what is Scott’s true intention? What is the whole point? The ship Prometheus isn’t a prominent enough character for the film to be a chart of its lonely journey, so we are left with the shreds of emotion and hammy dialogue to which to pick any cinematic merit. I cant help but reference Roger Ebert and hark back to his sentiments regarding Scott’s excellent ‘Blade Runner’ in which he said “It looks fabulous, it uses special effects to create a new world of its own, but it is thin in its human story.” Here we have the same problem, we have a very human-centric story but we get stiff and synthetic characters to feel it out. Unlike Alien or its sequel, Prometheus suffers from a humourless and flat crew, their looks are stern and the dialogue is cloaked but there is never any real pay off.
The writing is spotty and suffers from a hotch potch of ideas, it feels like a world was synthesised around a central idea and the script was always going to be secondary. The movie feels like one big theological Trojan horse but in eventuality its a cracked empty shell. Don’t get me wrong, i was excited by the prospect of someone tackling the eternal question but to see it displayed so lazily is heartbreaking. Certain characters seem to be motivated by a historic sense of Hollywood logic, bad people do bad things for no apparent reason and (apparently) good scientists seem intent on forgoing actual science and reporting to satisfy their own illogical need for answers. There are more than a few trophy moments too, including a pointless ‘love making scene’ (which then leads to the films most insane sequence) and a heroic suicide which is completely out of the blue in terms of story and character. The film also follows a way too familiar pattern, it feels like you could almost run the movie adjacent to Alien and it would follow almost to the second its emotional beats. Sombre openings give way to discovery, discovery turns out to be very negative and things get very heavy very quickly. As a by-product of the writing, there are problems too with the acting, here we have a who’s who of British (almost) talent and they sadly exist solely to toe the line. Idris Elba for example, does what he can with the role of ‘Janek, The Captain’ although his poor southern American accent is distracting and his character lacks meat and drive. He says meaningless things and acts exactly like every other captain on every sci fi ship we have ever seen since ‘Star Wars’.
Its not all bad, the creature design (as to be expected) is absolutely breathtaking for the most part, particularly the ‘human aliens’ which are stunning with all their Greek mythological referencing. Its a shame then, that these creatures aren’t given more time or weight, they seem powerful but rarely display it until the films hurried and confusing ending. The action set pieces are all vaguely familiar but none the less enjoyable although the 3D adds nothing and if anything, is ultimately a distraction. The final set piece involving the alien ship is memorable and genuinely exciting but nothing i haven’t seen a thousand times before in a film with half the budget and media hype. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender are good as the two main driving forces of the piece but eventually they suffer from an odd unlikeability. They are too defined by their mission and the movie and not as fully fleshed out characters outright. I felt that the movie would be an exercise in psychosis much like the enjoyable ‘Moon’ or dare i say it the now cult classic ‘Event Horizon’ but the film is more about the beautiful aesthetics and a strange new world. Its funny then to watch Scott make his own version of James Camerons’s disastrous ‘Avatar’ where his ego and supposed eye take precedent over any meaningful story. Note also in this respect, the vague socio-political mumblings under the films decorative canvas which is never fully realised and thus completely wasted. I refuse to offer too much comment on the Xenomorph sequence, i would like to pretend it didn’t happen. It was stupid, needless and ill conceived.
Finally, Prometheus’s main problem is its confused subject matter, here we have a film that can never answer its own question. Therefore, no cinematic satisfaction was ever going to be gleamed from the films finale. Its a movie that seems to triumph the very human need to know how or why we came to be. It seems to suggest that we may never know and it may cost our lives to find out but we must try, which is ultimately unsatisfying and frustrating.
Within this vast framework Scott could have still delivered a solid piece of cinema instead of falling blankly between two very disparate stools. Prometheus is never solidly an actionere nor is it clever enough to be ‘A Space Odessy’ or the like, it simply just exists, much like life on our planet, i guess.