Review: PROMETHEUS

Prometheus arrived in theaters riding a wave of fanboy hype not seen since…well, since The Avengers 6 weeks ago. Regardless, it was a big deal! The primary reason for all the buzz (and the chief marketing angle employed by Fox) was that it marked Ridley Scott‘s grand return to the sci-fi genre. Of course, Scott first came to prominence in Hollywood via his early sci-fi entries Alien and Blade Runner, two movies that are almost unanimously considered classics. This is funny to me, because I actually find both of those films to be overrated. Blasphemy! I know! File a lawsuit in the Court of Cinema Opinion. Would you prefer dishonesty? Granted, I’ve only seen Blade Runner once, and it was at least 8 years ago, probably 10. I’m smarter and wiser now, maybe after another viewing I’ll ‘get it’. (By the way, at this point, which version of Blade Runner do you even watch? Aren’t there like 5 different cuts of it?) However, I’ve seen Alien more than once, and rewatched it just last fall. And though I like it, I don’t think it’s great by any stretch. I don’t find it scary, I don’t care much for the characters, and I don’t find the sci-fi that provocative. Again, sue me. Perhaps if I’d first seen it as a kid. Who knows? I understand how new and cool it was in 1979, but it just doesn’t work for me now. In general, I’m lukewarm on the Alien franchise, and to me James Cameron‘s Aliens is by far the best in the series. In fact, it’s the only Alien movie I’d say I LOVE.

When Prometheus was untitled and announced as a potential Alien prequel, sequel or spinoff, I was blah on the idea. I don’t like when a filmmaker of Scott’s status “returns to the well”, so to speak, decades later in their careers. I loved the “Ridley Scott doing a new sci-fi movie” idea, but I thought “Ridley Scott doing another Alien movie” was a complete waste of his time, energy and talents. The guy is in his early 70’s. We’ve only got so many new Ridley Scott movies left. Why does one of them have to be something he already did 30 years ago? That was my thinking a couple years ago. As the project developed further, Scott made it clear Prometheus would not be a direct Alien prequel and that it would stand on its own, and that at least alleviated some of my concerns.

Excitement amongst fanboys only increased when it was announced Damon Lindelof would be one of the screenwriters. Lindelof’s name alone doesn’t elicit any excitement for me on its own, primarily because I haven’t seen a minute of Lost. I have no idea what his style is, although now I’m learning that unnecessarily ambiguous endings might be one of his trademarks. In fact, as I look at his writing credits, my only exposure to his writing is last year’s Cowboys & Aliens, of which he is one of six credited writers. Needless to say, whatever strengths that film had, its script was not among them. Either way, with that many writers, it’d be impossible to tell who the hell wrote what.

“Wow! These glasses completely obscure the plot holes!”

As the project came together, I liked the casting (even though we had no idea who the characters were), I liked the set photos, and the trailers and other marketing were all superb, so my mindset slowly went from disinterest to genuine excitement over the course of a year or so. On my unpublished Most Anticipated Films of 2012 list, Prometheus was #7. I was ready to love or hate this movie, but either way I was excited to see it.

As the early reviews came online, the consensus developed that the movie looked incredible, but that it fell short of delivering on its big ideas and featured some fairly gaping plot holes. In short, this is pretty much exactly what I think of it as well. I really did enjoy the film, and I admire its ambition, but I can’t ignore the many plot holes and logic issues that constantly present themselves (the majority of them in the third act).

Some spoilers ahead, and if you haven’t seen the movie and want to know NOTHING going into it, do not read ahead, but definitely come back after you’ve seen it.

WHAT I LIKED

The entire look of the film. This movie is a marvel to look at, and worth the price of admission in and of itself. This is Ridley Scott’s first collaboration with genius cinematographer Dariusz Wolski (Crimson Tide, Dark City, all 4 Pirates of the Caribbean movies), and the results are breathtaking. During that opening sequence over the title cards, I felt like I was watching an IMAX National Geographic documentary. Those locations (in Iceland) are otherworldly gorgeous. The visuals throughout the film are amazing. Among big budget epic spectacles this year, I suspect only Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, Skyfall, and Lincoln might match it. They shot the movie on RED Digital Cinema cameras (which have caught my eye because of David Fincher‘s last few movies, all “shot on Red” as they like to advertise), and the more I see of their technology, the more I’m convinced digital is on the brink of matching film in image quality. In this instance, Scott and his team used the RED Epic system with its ridonculous 5K resolution.

The movie was shot for 3D, which is the main reason this is one of 3 or 4 movies this year I’m willing to pay the extra couple bucks for to wear the goofy glasses (although I saw the movie at 11am, so even with the 3D surcharge I only paid $7.50, probably half what most of you are paying in the bigger markets). It’s probably the best live-action 3D I’ve seen since Avatar. The 3D is fantastic, though not used as prominently as I thought it would be. Obviously it’s there during the visual effects sequences, but I took the 3D glasses off several times during dialogue scenes and noticed no difference on the screen. This is how good 3D is done, folks; a perfect example of what 3D can be when in the hands of a master filmmaker. I can wholeheartedly recommend that your first viewing of Prometheus should be in 3D. It’s Ridley Scott’s first attempt at 3D (and he says he loved it, god help us), and if I’m not mistaken it’s also the first movie he’s shot digitally.

Some of the individual shots in Prometheus are among the best visuals Ridley Scott has ever created. And that’s saying a lot.

THIS looked incredible in 3D.

Hand-in-hand with the cinematography is the A+ production design. I absolutely loved the design of the Prometheus interior. Those sets must have been a blast to work on. I won’t be the first to make this comparison, but it felt very much like a more modern version of Stanley Kubrick‘s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, although not nearly as white. This is particularly evident in the early scenes of the film, where Michael Fassbender is quietly wandering the ship by himself.

Of course, part of the look of this film is the near constant use of CGI, whether it be huge space or planetary vistas, set extensions, cool computer interfaces, creature effects or weather enhancements. Every bit of CG in this film is top-notch. It’s probably the best effects work done in any of Ridley Scott’s films, maybe with the exception of Gladiator. Most of the effects were handled by MPC (Moving Picture Company, based in London) and WETA Digital in New Zealand. Of course the big stuff looked great, from the surface environment of the LV-223 moon where the action takes place, or the awesomely gross alien creatures we come across later in the film. For me though it’s the little pieces of technology onboard Prometheus that are the coolest to look at, especially those little orbs that fly through the tunnels, mapping everything by scanning the walls with their red laser lights, and then the big digital map on the Prometheus bridge where all of that scanning comes to life real-time on a 3D display. I eat that shit up. I know people moving holographic 3D images around in with their hands is getting a little cliché (from its original use in Minority Report to the Iron Man movies, and most recently in TV shows like Terra Nova and again on the big screen in The Avengers), but it still tickles the geek in me.

What I’m trying to tell you is that even if you find the story ridiculous, or you’re annoyed by the myriad plot holes in the story, there can be no doubting that you get your money’s worth just in the visual and audio experience. It’s just a shame the screenplay isn’t as vivid as Ridley Scott’s imagination.

-I thought Marc Streitenfeld‘s score (with additional cues by Harry Gregson-Williams) was suitably otherworldly and eerie, also evoking a very appropriate Kubrick-ian tone, notably for the scenes in the interior of Prometheus.

Here’s “Life” from the score, which plays over the opening credits:

-Michael Fassbender as the android, David. This is literally the only character in the movie I consistently liked or found at all interesting. As always, Fassbender is superb, and he deserves Best Supporting Actor consideration for his work here. There are serious questions to be answered with regards to the motivations of some of David’s actions as the film progresses, but watching his reactions to the alien surroundings is much more interesting than anything the human characters have to offer. I think a spinoff prequel movie about the David character would be a worthwhile pursuit.

Noomi Rapace and the automated surgery machine. I won’t spoil this one, but if you’ve seen the movie you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is a brilliantly executed scene in every imaginable way. Some of the things that happen before and after this sequence don’t make much sense, but that couple minutes in and of itself is just about flawless.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

The script. The script fails Ridley Scott’s visuals. It fails the many talented actors in the film. Most importantly though, it fails to give the audience any satisfying resolution. Most of the following points detail why the script is such a mess…

The human characters. These are the some of the dumbest scientists I’ve ever seen on film, and the idea that THIS is the group that makes first contact with an alien race is kinda embarrassing. The dumbest of the bunch had to be the biologist (played by Rafe Spall), who, when confronted with an alien body that’s shown to have been dead for thousands of years, wants nothing more than to run away back to the ship like a pussy. Nice scientific curiosity, bro. However, later in the film, when said biologist is confronted with a very living, very dangerous looking alien snake/slug/penis with a toothy vagina for a face, he tries to touch it and play with it like it’s his pet chihuahua. This was so stupid I wanted to throw something at the screen. The writers (and the director) need to understand when things are this stupid and f’ing fix or remove them. Does it look cool when the biologist gets killed? Sure, but if that was the only motivation to having him act like a moron, then it wasn’t worth it. Coming up with cool deaths is fine and all, but those things have to be earned within the context of the story. Sacrificing any logic in the character and killing the guy because you need a gross alien kill is lame.

There is no evidence anywhere in this film that these people actually have any scientific expertise. Instead, they’re almost entirely reliant upon their technology, and nearly all the decisions they have to make themselves are the wrong ones. Again, as a writer, you have to understand that this kind of horror movie stupidity is bound to make the audience dislike your characters. That’s not a good thing. I thought Noomi Rapace gave a terrific performance, but her character was constantly annoying the piss out of me. If this is the best humanity has to offer 70 years from now, why not just send a group of David-like androids instead? Seriously.

There was no clear command structure on the ship or during the ground mission. The group is told that Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green‘s scientists are in charge, but the rest of the crew continues to question them at every turn and do their own thing anyway. Sometimes Charlize Theron (looking pretty, but playing an entirely pointless character) wants to be in charge. Other times, Idris Elba‘s ship captain wants to make the decisions. But nobody really listens to anybody else consistently. Annoying. For whatever reason, I kept thinking about Star Trek: The Next Generation, and that in comparison to a disciplined Starfleet crew, this Prometheus group was the worst away team ever assembled.

Part of the reason so many people are confused by the film is that we really aren’t given reasons to understand the motivations of most of these characters. You can leave some plot points ambiguous, but character motivations? As often as possible, those need to be fairly clear for audiences to understand what the F is going on. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.

-I’m not gonna get into too many nitpicks (I’ll link you below to several places where you can find all that stuff), because frankly I don’t care enough. However, upon reflection, I’m still dumbfounded by the ending of the movie. So Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) goes through this horrific surgical procedure on her stomach. How then, is she able to sprint around, make athletic jumps (in full space gear), and evade crashing spaceships immediately after having a c-section? Wouldn’t she be a little woozy after all the painkillers she kept injecting herself with? Why is she then so gung-ho about chasing the Engineers back to their homeworld IMMEDIATELY after everything that’s just happened? She doesn’t take a break, it’s let’s take this other ship right now and go after them! There didn’t appear to be any medical help available on the alien ship, and David’s severed head isn’t gonna be able to help her much. Who’s gonna take those staples out of her tummy? It doesn’t matter how important the quest for knowledge is, most motherfuckers would want a goddamn vacation after all this shit. I’d have taken that alien ship straight back to Earth like a conquering hero.

“Why are these scientists so…FUCKING…STUPID!?!?”

I don’t know, brotha. I don’t know.

-Why did they need to use Guy Pearce in old makeup when we never see regular Guy Pearce as he is now? Were there Normal Guy Pearce scenes that were cut? Did they want to spend more money and time on lengthy makeup sessions? Does Ridley Scott hate old actors? This baffles me. Yes, I know they used Pearce in the fake TED talk as part of their viral marketing, but that doesn’t mean you have to use him again with all that makeup in the actual movie.

The black goo angle. As far as MacGuffins go, I’m not quite sure I can rank this up there with The One Ring, The Crystal Skull The Ark, and Rosebud. This…I mean…WHY? So the black goo is some form of genetic material (or biological weapon, or whatever) that turns whatever it touches (people, maggots, roided-up albino Engineer aliens) into disgusting, violent creatures, each one more grotesque than the last as it evolves. Huh? THIS is what they were gonna use to wipe out humans on Earth? You’re telling me that in 2083, we don’t have weapons advanced enough to deal with…gross alien creatures? What were they gonna do…dump the black goo over large cities like those planes that dump water on forest fires? Gimme a break.

Alright, so let’s track the progression of the black goo back on the alien moon. At first, it turns worms/maggots into facehugger prequels that eat people from the inside out, then it turns humans into Peter Sarsgaard‘s Hector Hammond from Green Lantern, and finally, once the giant face-hugging squid (which apparently multiplied in size by a factor of 30 about an hour after being pulled from Noomi Rapace’s tummy) eats one of the Engineers, THAT pairing becomes the first incarnation of the classic Alien xenomorph? DA FUQ?! I’m sorry, but that makes no fucking sense!

I could waste my time breaking down all the other logic nitpicks, but Red Letter Media has asked all the right questions in video form in a matter of 4 minutes. See how many of these questions you can answer:

Screenwriter/executive producer Damon Lindelof seems to be catching 100% of the blame for the script’s faults from fanboy sites across the internet. Do these idiots forget there were two writers on this movie? Why does John Spaihts get none of the blame in most of these reviews/critiques? Is it because it’s simply cooler and easier to point the finger at a recognizable, already controversial name? I have neither the time nor the energy to look at every single fanboy rant about this movie, but of the half dozen or so I have read, NONE of them even mention Spaihts when they complain about the script. That’s ludicrous. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to also question the guy who co-wrote The Darkest Hour, which is an alien invasion movie where the aliens disguise themselves as streams of light and disintegrate people? Lindelof is the one with the crazy ideas? A little balance is all I’m asking for in this blame game, friends.

I’m glad this movie is making people have interesting discussions. Only a few movies every year (and rarely an expensive summer blockbuster) force critics and moviegoers to have these kinds of in-depth debates. I like that, but in the end, if there aren’t good answers to any of the questions being asked, aren’t we wasting our time talking about it? Someone tried to start a Prometheus discussion with me at work the other day, and I just shrugged and said, “I don’t know, man.” I lacked the will to even try and give him some answers. Given some of the absurdities we witness in this movie, I’m not sure even the filmmakers know which way is which and where each tunnel exits. It’s pretty simple if you ask me – if you’re gonna make a mainstream entertainment that’s meant for audiences to discuss and think about, the things people are meant to be discussing ought to make sense.

Prometheus is one of those polarizing movies that inspire some truly hilarious negative reviews, from people who are either angry or just enjoying mocking the film. I will point you to one of each that I enjoyed; Walter Chaw‘s over at Film Freak Central, and Adam Quigley‘s at /Film. If you dislike this film with a passion and can’t find the words to describe why, I’m pretty sure they’ve got you covered.

There are also several “All Your Prometheus Questions Answered” posts out there. Of course, none of them can fill all the plot holes, because some of them can’t be filled or won’t be because the filmmakers are saving the answers for a potential sequel. Whatever. Anyway, io9‘s All Your Lingering Prometheus Questions, Answered! is an easy read worth checking out. Over at Hifix, Drew McWeeney ponders many of the frustrating points of contention at length. Even Roger Ebert dedicated a post to discussing the film’s divinity and meaning of life implications. For my money, the writers didn’t make the story interesting enough in the first place for me to even care what many of the “answers” are. I think about it for about 30 seconds and develop a migraine. But if you want to spend 14 hours reading conversations about this shit, that’s available to you. It’s the internet. There may be some holes filled with the 30 minutes of deleted scenes Ridley Scott claims will be on the home video release.

In the end, like I said, Prometheus was worth the price of admission for the craftsmanship alone, even in 3D. I’m glad Fox had the balls to release it with an R rating, and I’m very happy the film is doing well at the box office. Everyone was celebrating Ridley Scott’s grand return to sci-fi, but going forward the project I’m most interested in will be his long-awaited first attempt at a western, which he says is close to becoming a reality.

To recap…

The good:

-The A+ visuals and craftsmanship

-Excellent 3D, probably the best live-action 3D since Avatar

-Michael Fassbender’s performance

The bad:

-The 358 plot holes

-The only interesting humanoid character is the automaton

-Big ideas, zero payoff

Rated R – 124 minutes

IMDb rating – 7/10

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