Prometheus

Heralded by an amazing advertising campaign, featuring an impressive cast, and boasting an impeccable pedigree, “Prometheus” was a film burdened with expectations that few films face. Ridley Scott was returning to the “Alien” universe, and he had a full house of incredible actors and actresses going with him. The film’s astounding trailers were accompanied by a series of highly effective viral videos that whet our appetites for sci-fi awesomeness.

It’s perhaps unfair then, that I saddle it with the expectations I had going in. Those are mine.

And so I won’t.

I’ll say instead that “Prometheus” disappointed me not because I was let down in comparison to the thoughts I had going in, but because it is so tantalizingly close to greatness as the movie that it is. Maddeningly close.

This will be one of those reviews that read much, much harsher than my final grade, as I feel the need to hash out my disappointments far more than I feel the need to laud the film’s positive attributes.

Most films that come along to the Megaplex don’t have anywhere near as lofty an aim as “Prometheus” does. I appreciate that. It aims to be more. An exciting movie, a sci-fi movie, an intelligent thriller. This is a movie which aims for the stars, both in its plot, its themes, and its production values. But in elevating our expectations, it sets itself up for things it can’t quite achieve. I have to credit it for stretching for the top shelf, but I might not have noticed the step-ladder wobbling if it hadn’t tried to reach so high.

Visually, “Prometheus” is astonishing. Special effects and detailed sets blend seamlessly together as futuristic astronauts with advanced technology explore ancient ruins. Everything is top-notch. From the deck of the Prometheus, to the medical bay, from the spinning star charts to the howling sand storms, everything that is offered to the eye is simply remarkable. Scott is known for creating films that are extraordinary visually, and “Prometheus” may arguably be his best.  

It’s also a film that has a phenomenal high concept. The discovery of a cave painting keys scientists to a string of similarities in the artwork of ancient cultures. Though separated chronologically and geographically, each of these civilizations depicted a specific, far-flung astrological configuration in their artwork. Not visible to the naked eye, the solar system should have been undetectable by the technology of our ancestors. The only logical explanation is that we were in fact visited by ancient aliens in our distant past, and that these clues were left around the globe for us to discover when we had the technology to travel through space ourselves.

And now that we have, we set off. Seeking the answers in the stars… perhaps even the key to the origins of humanity.

That’s heavy-duty stuff, folks. Lofty. And “Prometheus” really wants to be a movie worthy of such ideals, but it missteps slightly here and there, just enough to prevent it from fully achieving its goals.

For the first thing, the scientists on this science vessel are some of the dumbest scientists that science fiction has ever given us. You don’t need &$%#ing Heisenberg to tell you that these experiments are uncertain. Take your helmet off in an alien atmosphere? Check. Swipe your finger in the strange organic goop? Check. Put your uncovered face right up to an object as your dissect it? Check. It’s as if the only protocol checklist this science team had was the “Stupid Movie Quasi-Scientist” checklist. Seriously, I’ve seen tighter protocols at my local Dunkin’ Donuts than on this multi-billion dollar space expedition.

Which would be fine, in most movies, but Prometheus wants to be more. And I wanted it to be more. In addition to the scientific shortcomings, there were some strange character decisions (from more than one prominent character)… unmotivated actions that aren’t fully explained, which I suspect only existed to lead to action sequences. As if they had the action sequence in mind first, and then reverse engineered the plot lead-in in order to get to it.

Which leads me to my final beef with the film, and that’s the fact that towards the end, it turns very action oriented. Which is understandable, a purely scientific drama would be bashed as boring by most film fans, and wind up finding a cult audience at best. And most of the action is very well done… there’s genuine tension involved and great special effects. But that blend, that balance, that mix between action and thought-provoking drama needs to be very finely tuned if you want to be the masterpiece that “Prometheus” could have been. To me, the action quotient was a little too high. Combined with the fact that some of “Prometheus” ‘ highly intelligent content came up a few IQ points short of genius, that action heavy mix contributed to the feeling of a movie that wasn’t quite as brilliant as it aimed to be.

I am going to pull the nose of the plane up before finishing this review however. “Prometheus” IS a stunning film visually, has some great action, and some lofty themes to offer. That’s a rare trifecta. It is easily, easily, easily worth your ticket price no matter whether you go primetime to IMAX 3D or a 2D early afternoon matinée. It’s highly entertaining, and those viewing it less critically will undoubtedly be pleased. I’d also like to leave open the possibility that now that I’m aware of what it is, I may rewatch it and grow more tolerant the issues I had initially.

But for now, I’m fixated on the fact that this movie was soooo close. Greatness was in its grasp.

Perhaps “Tantalus” was a more appropriate title.

A-

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83 thoughts on “Prometheus

  1. Well said, Fogs. I just saw this last night and I have similar thoughts overall. I loved the visuals, the concept, the cast, etc, but it never quite reached the levels of greatness that I felt it could have. Still really enjoyed the movie though.

  2. You’re nitpicking pretty badly with the scientist thing man. Yes, they’re scientists, but remember that they are also human and that they are participating the the human races greatest discovery. Their emotional side and their natural curiosity is going to take over.

    • I dint think I’m nitpicking at all. The movie wants to elevate itself and be a great movie… it should get the little details right. Especially the little character details.

      I’m ok with the occasional emotional decision, a little irrationality, what have you. But these guys came across as bone headed at times. LOL

  3. I can live with the A-. I totally enjoyed it myself and tried to not get bogged down by expectations (a mistake I made with Alien 3 back in the day) but yeah, the idiot who decided to try and puppy talk an alien tentacle was just awful and belonged in a lower caliber film. I know people had to start dying at some point but the idiots who kicked off the carnage didn’t seem to belong in a Scott film.

    • Those guys… the fact that the hyper intelligent David was willing to trace his finger through the dripping slime… the laboratory experiment where they’re like, “Let’s run some juice through this severed head!” before they do anything else to it… the fact that Brain Surgeon #1 removes his helmet on an alien planet as the rest of the crew hollers at him not to, but then they all quickly follow…

      Seriously. The level of “Science” in this movie seriously bothered me buddy. The phrase goes, “It’s not rocket science”, but here, its not even paper airplane science. LOL

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  5. I saw this movie last night in 3D with several friends. While I can agree that it was visually impressive, beyond that I can only offer kudos that the 3D was not overwhelming (in a good way) and did not give me a headache. Oh, and they managed to preserve the black guy for most of the movie, though he did still die with his hands up. WTF, Hollywood?

    I like intelligent thrillers. This was not intelligent, and not as thrilling or intelligent as ‘Alien’.
    I like non-disgusting thrillers. Say, ‘Se7en’. This was not that thrilling.
    I like action pics. ‘Aliens’? Nope.
    I like lofty ideas. Maybe I’ll re-watch ‘Donnie Darko’ or ‘Inception’ or ‘Moon’.
    I love sci-fi. Okay, check. But the science part was more ‘Battlefield Earth’ than ‘Battlestar Galactica’.

    This was one of the worst movies of the year. This movie tried to be ’2001′ and ended up as ‘Star Wars: Episode 1′. By the end of the movie, the entire theater was openly laughing at the characters and wispy threads of plot development. I hope this doesn’t become Charlize Theron’s ‘Showgirls’.

    The staples were hilarious. Possibly my favorite single moment.

    • I dont know that I could give this worst movie of the year… there’s no way. I will say that this is an incredibly divisive flick. I dont know if I’ve reviewed a movie yet that’s drawn such polar opinions about it. There are people hating on it, and people raving about it.

      I had some major issues with the characters and their motivations/choices but the high calibre visuals and the action sequences plus Fassbender’s character elevate this to a pretty good movie to me.

      Not that it wasnt disappointing to me, Ernest, it was…

      But its not laughable like “Showgirls”, cmon now!

      LOL @ Se7en being a non-disgusting thrillers, btw. I know a lot of people who would or did find that movie pretty gross! :D It’s a great movie, but there’s some repulsive stuff in there!

  6. Only the fine direction of Scott and the fantastic cast/performances save the Prometheus from crashing and burning on lift off. When I looked up the script writer it all became clear to me what the issue was with this film. O you worked on Lost and Cowboys and Aliens …. sigh

    I especially enjoyed your line about Dunkin Donuts, FYI they don’t have those in Southern California so you may want to prepare yourself prior to Comicon.

    • “O you worked on Lost and Cowboys and Aliens …. sigh”

      Dont forget Lost! One of the most disappointing endings of all time!

      And I know all about Comic-Con and Starbucks. *sigh* You know? Sometimes you just gotta make due as best you can.

  7. Saw this one yesterday. Great flick. Lots of action but your comments on the scientists are right on the money. Must of gotten their degrees at Greendale community college. But if you esclude the dumb ass scientists, this was a very good film. Your grade of A- was a little high I think. More on the line of B or B+ but not to far off. So far this is the second best film of the summer, Avengers being the best of course. Before I saw the file, I thought to myself that this flick reminds me a lot of two past movies, Space Odyssey and Alliens. Now I know why. Don’t want to go into it to much incase it spoils it for some reader. But nice review in this one.

    • LOL! The science team being led by Dean Pelton! That would be hysterical. It would fit right in!

      [Dean Pelton] These helmets dont go with these suits at ALL! I’m taking mine OFF! [/Dean Pelton] :D

      Avengers crushed this movie, no doubt about it. Definitely.

      I think there were some issues beyond the Scientists, but there was still a lot about the movie to like and to recommend.

      Thanks for the props man!

  8. Everything about Prometheus‘ problems comes back to the script. All of it. And that’s not to blame Lindelof and Spaights for everything here; Scott did, in fact, have primary authorship here in the sense that he had the script put in front of him four times and yet the most idiotic, non-gelling moments of the film were kept intact. I don’t understand some of the Lost-level “gotcha” twisting that goes on here; it’s valueless and doesn’t serve the story in any productive way. (There’s a certain third act character reveal that I’m thinking of specifically here.)

    That said, I think the terrible scripting just underscores what a great director Scott is. The holes don’t feel like holes while you’re watching it; it’s an experience, and it mostly works well taken at face value. That’s good filmmaking. Of course, great filmmaking holds up during and after the experience of watching, so I can’t call Prometheus great, which is a shame. But for all of the stupidity in its structure and bones, it’s got some great ideas in it and it’s really well-acted. Plus: looks amazing.

    I like how much creation echoes throughout the whole film. There’s the obvious starting point of the Engineers and why they created humanity, and Shaw’s and Holloway’s bid to get answers from them, but then there’s David. (Spoilery. Beware.) I actually think David could have been the key to getting the big answers without actually having to have the Engineers provide them, because he represents two very big reasons as to why people create. For Weyland, David is the son he never had, but I rather think he means “the child I wish I’d had” since Vickers is clearly a disappointment to him; David, then, represents legacy, because children are inherently part of the human legacy. At the same time, he also represents function, because he has specific purposes aboard the ship and on the mission. Why do we create? Legacy and function.

    The reason that doesn’t totally mesh is because (still spoilery) Weyland is treated like a script convention who pops up in the end when needed instead of serving as a character throughout. Cut down on the red shirts and forget about him feigning death and I think he serves as a vital part of the film’s thematics. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens, and I think the “creation” theme suffers for it, though it’s still cogent. Just not as well realized as it could have been.

    • “Everything about Prometheus‘ problems comes back to the script.”

      Agreed.

      “The holes don’t feel like holes while you’re watching it; it’s an experience, and it mostly works well taken at face value.”

      Here though, I would definitely put the emphasis on the “Mostly” LOL

      It does look amazing. It does have some great ideas. It IS well acted. Very well acted. But then there are all these frustrating, seemingly easy to spot issues that just equate to the move stumbling over its feet. I had to dock it.

      I think there’s more than just the “creation theme” that suffers (although that does, for sure). I think that basic motivations fall apart at the wrong places and that’s going to undermine the watching experience no matter whether youre trying to contemplate themes or just shut off the brain and watch a flick.

  9. Prometheus is a movie that rewards, long after the credits have rolled, the net is afire with discussion as to the “meaning”.. I doubt Transformers or any other multiplex fodder did that eh? so on this fact alone it’s worthy of some credit….

    The opening scene of the cloaked man, disrobing, performing some kind of religious rite sets the tone, Prometheus is awash with religious subtext, so, what was he doing? was he sacrificing himself to seed a planet, to seed earth?
    We jump to Shaw discovering the engineers body near the door, dated at 2000 years old! co-incidence? what happened 2000 years ago, give or take the odd FTL round trip to zeta-2-reticuli? and could it have anything to do with the engineers wanting to wipe us out?
    let me hazard a guess, Jesus was an engineers creation, placed on earth to begin the elevation to enlightenment, their gift to us, and how did we repay them? we killed Jesus, tortured him….. left him out on display as a warning to others… etc.. so, no doubt enraged by our response to their gift, they set about rebooting Earth with a bioweapon that would wipe out humanity, but something went wrong, an engineer must have visited earth around this time and maybe brought back something that infected the Engineers, there is a theory that the black-bio-ooze reacts to the mental and psychological state of whatever it comes into contact with, giving them what they most want? hence the different reactions to every individual human from Prometheus, Fifefield turns into a murderous superstrong zombie, Hollaway inpregnates Shaw and creates life in her barren womb etc…
    If we jump back to the scene in the engineers ship, where the last engineer is woken, by the very creatures he was about to destroy, I can fully understand his reaction, in addition, maybe if it is humanity that somehow caused the outbreak that killed the rest of his crew by unleashing some proto alien, he would also want them dead ASAP? just theories…… ! but prometheus has got me thinking!!!

    • I definitely will credit Prometheus for being thought provoking. Absolutely. It’s a GREAT high concept. Some very mind blowing ideas presented, absolutely.

      I think though that a lot of the speculation you (and others, of course) are doing may be a sign of weakness in the movie… It CAN be fun to play guessing games, but some of these things amount to plot holes!

      So if they created life and then let it develop, they had to have at least come back to leave the star maps around.

      Why didnt they kill us then?

      So if they’ve been back since the star maps – or could monitor us somehow – why wait until we’ve master space flight ourselves and could possibly be a threat? What is it that caused them to want to destroy us? Things like Jesus being one of them are a stretch to me, and I’m not buying it (I think Ive heard that being kicked around elsewhere too).

      I thought it was more likely that we misunderstood the cannisters. Are they deadly? Yes. But they’re also super fertilizer. Perhaps due to the deadly nature of it, this planet was their warehouse of space seed for their entire global operations…

      But then why would that ONE engineer who wakes up be so violent? He’s like a &#^$ing Frankenstein, you know?

      I dont know… I was left with SPECIFIC questions, which isnt good. Being left with GRAND questions, is of course, but I think Prometheus leaves you with both…

  10. Finally saw this today and for the life of me, I was not expecting a sequel/prequel to “Aliens”. Was I misinformed ,misled or both. Can’t say this left much for my imagination to conjure when they jumped right in with the flesh eating aliens! It was not poorly made, quite the contrary, it was hauntingly beautiful. But I want far less monster mash and much more Sci-Fi suspense! To those people looking to input secret meaning from all this I say forget it. First you need to understand the plot basics before you hit the subtext, and the plot basics are quite cloudy to say the least. Why was the human alien(no,aliens plural) on earth? Who knows, we’re not given enough plot time to figure it out. The star maps they left weren’t to “home”, they were to a military base filled with weapons of mass destruction! Maybe the maps were a warning, maybe the human alien was a rebel trying to save earth? Who knows. But I wish the story was more about that then monster feeding frenzy!

      • Incredible! They should show this with the movie! Did you just find this? Everyone who commented oughta see it. I’m with you, I really wanted more from Prometheus. Scott gave up trying to answer everyones’ questions and just went with the monster brawl!

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  12. OK, finally saw this tonight. I agree, this is a flawed masterpiece, although the Bad Science stuff didn’t bother me nearly as much as some other stuff.

    My main nitpick is the scene with Captain Janek and Shaw in her cabin after her self-Caeserian. He waltzes in and informs her that the site is not the Engineer’s home planet, but a military instillation/weapons facility. Where did he come up with that? It was like a linking scene got edited out for some reason. There were a couple of bits like that, and that’s what bothered me with the script; not so much when people acted stupid, but when they made connections that come out of nowhere and were always right.

    What I did like was Michael Fassbender’s David. A fascinating character, he comes across as a very intelligent child. I didn’t have a problem with him taking risks, because that’s what children do. Not to mention that tied nicely with Bishop telling Ripley in Aliens about how the older model synthdroids were “unstable”.

    Anyway, wife and I have spent the past two hours after final credits rolled talking about the movie, which means it’s asking good questions and it’s fun to speculate. I like this in a movie. I’d give the movie a B+ myself, and I hope they get a shot at a sequel.

    • David was great, there’s no doubt. And the Bishop line (which I hadnt recalled when watching Promtheus, but have heard since) does give a lot of leeway to the character.

      There were definitely a lot of dots that either didnt connect in Prometheus, or connected way to easily. You’re right, its a sign that the script was weak. I’m still really bugged by a lot of it. There have been a lot of interesting discussions though, so thats a good thing, for sure.

      I wouldn’t quibble with the B+, we’re not far apart. :D And yeah, I’d definitely see a sequel, too. I think it’ll make enough to earn one. It’s close already, I think.

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