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.