Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott

Spoiler-free thoughts:

As someone who only watched the original Alien films for the first time earlier this year (yep, it’s true), I didn’t go into Prometheus with nearly so much investment or expectations as many of the other people clutter my twitter feed and Facebook wall. The day after the film was released, I was somewhat dismayed to see so many people poo-pooing the movie on twitter; despite a decent critical reception, fans seemed unimpressed by Ridley Scott’s return to Science Fiction and the Alien universe. Still, I went into the film last night without any exposure to trailers or any media (I didn’t even know Charlize Theron was in it!) and tried to throw preconceptions aside before I settled in my seat. Two hours later, I left the theatre feeling somewhat dirty, guilty for enjoying the film so much, despite its flaws, and wondering if I’d be shunned by the twitter-verse.

As an ensemble cast, I felt that the characters work (though they ain’t no Ripley and Newt), drawing obvious inspiration from the first two Alien films. It’s a shockingly beautiful film that deserves to be seen in theatres. All told, Prometheus is an enjoyable, gory, flawed film that crumbles under the weight of its predecessors (ascendents?) and utterly falls apart if you start to analyze the plot at anything higher than the book report of a fifth grader, but, if you cast that aside, there’s a lot to like. At least that’s what I choose to believe.

The fun begins after the jump. Watch for rambling, incoherent spoilers, or you shall be rolled over by a spaceship!

Prometheus, directed by Ridley ScottSo, up here in Canada, we have a saying about particularly pugilistic hockey matches. We’ll turn to our friend and say, “Jeez, I came to watch a fight and a hockey game broke out!” It’s a tongue-in-cheek way to make light of our silly sport. About 1/4 of the way through Prometheus, a thought crossed my mind. “Geez,” I thought. “I went to an Alien prequel and an Intelligent Design debate broke out!” It’s an obvious knee-jerk reaction, and roots for the debate are visible even in the first Alien film, and more-so in Aliens, but it was still enough to tear me out of the movie from time-to-time. Of course, Science Fiction and the concept of Intelligent Design would appear to go hand-in-hand, but the way Prometheus straddles the line between theological debate and horror/action hybrid was too wobbly to say with any confidence that Scott’s film was a success. We were created by aliens? Okay, fine. But the aliens were actually human? Uhh. And now they want to kill us because we killed Jesus who was an alien? Urrrr.
Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott
The only thing that shattered my suspension of belief more than the thinly-veiled (or, smash you over the head obvious) Intelligent Design ‘debate,’ was Guy Pearce playing a hundred year old dude. Like, why not get an actual hundred year old dude to play the character. Like Christopher Lee. He’s old and awesome. Or maybe a seventy year old dude. Or a sixty-five year old dude. Guy Pearce? Walking around all rickety-like? Really? I kept expecting him to miraculously cast off his cane and crutches, suddenly young thanks to that black goop in the vases, the true purpose of the space voyage revealed. Instead, he just looked sort of silly for the second-half of the movie and then died. Sigh.

The rest of the cast is good. It’s clear that the writers, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, were using both Alien and Aliens as a template for this script, assembling a mismatched cast of misfits and charmers together to protect each other and triumph over the aliens, the interplay between the diametrically opposed Millburn and Fifield is charming and well developed in a short period of time with a few shared moments. I cared about those two misfits, a classic geek/punk foil, more than almost everyone else in the film. They are just two simple dudes caught up in something that’s waaaay over their heads. Also topping the list is Captain Janek, played by the enviably awesome Idris Erba, who, despite being away from the action for most of the film, seems calm and capable, an anchor on a mission that goes awry from the moment his ship lands on LV-223.

Idris Elba in Prometheus

The film’s biggest flaw was the way in underdeveloped and ignored character motivations. We know that Shaw and Holloway were seeking after the potential of finding extra-terrestrials from the anthropological perspective of wanting to discover the secrets of humanity’s past and creation, but it’s also clear from their reactions to finding life on the alien planet, Shaw’s intense and reckless curiousity and Holloway’s recession into drinking, that their personal expectations and motivations were different on a root level. What they did each expect to find there? What did they each want to find there? The film barely explores that. Of everyone, it’s Fifield who has the clearest and best defined motivation: money.

“Geez,” I thought. “I went to an Alien prequel and an Intelligent Design debate broke out!”

Despite my earlier kind words about the ensemble cast, I think the film loses some emotional connection with the audience by spreading itself too thinly among the different characters. Holloway and Shaw aren’t the most original or compelling of characters, and certainly don’t have any of Ripley’s hard-nosed beauty, but their relationship, and the vast space between their philosophical ideologies, is interesting and at the core of the film’s themes of humanity and creation theory. Just watching their reaction to and treatment of David, a cyborg, is fascinating. But, instead, their relationship feels like it was given short shrift, robbing the film of emotional impact. David murders Holloway halfway through the film. If David were human, I’d say it was done in cold blood, but, he’s a robot and only acting on orders. The problem comes from the fact that Holloway, a character we’ve been attaching ourselves to since the second scene in the film, is killed for no discernable reason (an experiment by Weyland?) and there’s no consequence later in the film for the evil choices made by David and Weyland. They are ‘killed,’ yes, but not as a result of their evil behaviour, but rather just because of Weyland’s greed. There’s no reason to poison Holloway, and his death serves little purpose other than to shock the audience. Shaw never finds out about David’s deceit, and barely has time to grieve for her dead lover, which also robs an important character of a chance to grow beyond her original boundaries. Instead, she gives birth to his alien son a few hours after his death, and only 10 hours after getting pregnant. Man, just writing some of this stuff out makes me shake my head.

Prometheus, photograph by Scott Eaton

Prometheus, photograph by Scott Eaton

Oh, and then there’s that bit at the end when big, tall, horny, angry, blonde Charlize Theron gets run over by the big Alien spaceship, but, well… I’ll let the Penny Arcade guys handle that one.

I expect that a lot of these problems were created in post-production, as the realities of the film industry started to rear their head, tearing apart the original script and cobbling it back together into a Frankenstein version of Scott’s original vision. I mean, it’s not like the Alien franchise hasn’t seen that before. Or Scott’s other films, for that matter. Kingdom of Heaven, another of Scott’s films, received similar criticisms to Prometheus and was a mess in its theatrical form. The extended edition, released on DVD a handful of years later, is considered by many to be a exponentially superior film and one of Scott’s better films. If there any luck, we’ll eventually see a two-and-a-half hour director’s cut of this film that helps fill out Prometheus‘s holes and expand the film into a version closer to its intended state.

I’m being very facetious here, but, ultimately, I did enjoy the movie, more than most of the people in the geek circles I run in. It’s too bad the film spends so much of its time trying to be Alien and Aliens, relying on the theology to separate them, rather than mechanics or tight storytelling, instead of being its own creation, standing on its own merits like those two classic Ridley Scott films manage to do to this day. Exploring the viral/parasitic nature of the alien bio-weapons and the motives behind their self-destructive behaviour is genuinely interesting, but it seems like we’ll have to wait for a sequel (se/prequel? pre-sequel? presequel?) before we find even a hint of the answers that Shaw is looking for in the final moments of the film.

Unless, of course, Adam Whitehead’s speculation from our twitter conversation is correct:

Then, well, I don’t even know what to say…

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) June 14, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    I’ve heard the theory that Adam was mentioning in his tweet.

    As far as Pearce, I think that was so as to keep continuity with that “Ted talk” Pearce did as a viral video before the video. Guess they wanted to keep continuity of actors between them…

  • Paul Weimer (@princejvstin) June 14, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    You are right, too, Aidan about Kingdom of Heaven. The original cut is an awful movie, redeemed by the extended version.

  • ethelred June 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    The Ted presentation was a very cool viral promotion, but what I read was that there was originally a lot more planned for Pearce’s Weyland, hence casting him as a younger actor, and that a lot of that had to be cut for budgetary reasons. I don’t know if all of it was. I’d like to get some more scenes with his character in the extended edition.

    The film definitely had some flaws in its story and in some of the character motivations (I like to deride Shaw and Holloway by pointing out that they’re not scientists, they’re social scientists, specifically archaeologists). But what can I say? I still greatly enjoyed the movie. The technology and fururism depicted in its universe were kind of amazing (all the UI stuff especially), the movie was just strikingly beautiful all throughout, there were plenty of humorous character moments that harkened back to the marines in Aliens, and the movie was filled with a great sense of dread and creepy intensity in its most important suspense segments (most especially the caesarian, which was just a gripping scene). That’s more or less what I went into the movie wanting out of an Alien prequel, and I got it, so I’m happy.

    It won’t redefine science fiction cinema the way Alien did, but few films do. Very good film, and I’m incredibly glad Scott returned to scifi to make it.

  • Aidan Moher June 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    @ethelred — I had a feeling that that would be the case with Weyland. It was clear that Weyland was travelling to find the aliens, hoping that they could make him young again. A shame that that was neutered.

    To your other points, you basically nailed everything that made me enjoy the film despite its flaws. As ridiculous as I found some of it, I’ve been thinking of the film all day and already find myself wanting to see it again and watch the Alien films again.

  • ethelred June 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Here we go. From io9:

    ‘Writer Jon Spaihts says his drafts involved a meeting in Weyland’s office — which at various times was either on a space station, or actually on the surface of Mars, right in the middle of the terraforming project. “Terraforming was much more Mr. Weyland’s burning dream in my drafts,” says Spaihts.
    Oh, and as for why Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in old-man makeup, Spaihts says Damon Lindelof’s script showed the android David going inside Weyland’s dreams while he was in hypersleep — and in his dreams, Weyland is a young man, on a yacht surrounded by beautiful women. These dream conversations got cut, but Pearce’s casting was already locked in. Scott had originally wanted to cast Max von Sydow as Peter Weyland.’

    It’s too bad, because I totally would’ve gone in for a scene of Weyland playing chess with the Engineer.

  • Crazyuncleivan June 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    I imagine that the extended cut will be closer to 3 or 3.5 hours long. Given what Scott has produced in the past and how much extra is necessary to explain many of the things you pointed out I don’t expect the deleted scenes to be shorter than an hour in length. Now, if we could just hijack a movie theater to show it when it comes out, we’d be set, because as you said, this movie is too breathtaking not to see in theaters.

  • Rob June 15, 2012 at 11:54 am

    I’m also looking forward to the Director’s Cut of this, Ridley Scott is the king of those.

    I really liked Prometheus. Even with some stupid plot decisions, a bit of sloppy writing, Guy Pearce’s terrible makeup, and a mix of thin characters, I still loved watching it. A lot of people seem to be complaining about all the ambiguity, but I’m happy with that. It’s kept my friend’s and I talking about the film for days now, so that’s saying something I think.

  • Jeremy June 15, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    I went in as someone who’s never seen an Alien film before, and really enjoyed it. I stumbled across a blog post going into some of the less obvious points of the movie (at least to me), and that really enhanced my enjoyment of it.

    I watched the original Alien at my first opportunity, and was able to appreciate a lot of the throw-backs they did in Prometheus. I like that it’s not so much of a direct prequel as it is a starting point that forks off in two directions. Hopefully we get to see the second direction, with Shaw confronting the Engineers, in the not too distant future.

  • Sunny June 15, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Great review!

    I loved Prometheus, and while I do agree with some of the criticism that’s being thrown around online, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as some people claim. I haven’t written my own review yet, even though it’s been almost a week since I saw it, because I can’t stop thinking about it long enough to form coherent sentences.

    And it seems to me that, ultimately, that is what a great movie should really do – make people think. People are discussing the movie daily, both online and in person – not just about whether the writing was bad or or the dialogue was good, but also about the philosophical questions that the movie raises.

    During the movie itself I just about went nuts because of the way the characters didn’t follow logical scientific protocols, and the apparent lack of safety redundancies, and why didn’t anyone bother to ask the half naked woman why she was stumbling around covered in blood, but then I realized that maybe I was forgetting to figure in the point that humans do crazy things for no apparent reason, and that’s just what we do. I would NEVER take my helmet off in that circumstance, or randomly start pushing buttons without knowing what they do, but some people would. Stupidly at times. That’s human nature.

    But I think the best thing about the film is that people are talking about it, passionately. I desperately want to go see it again. And tonight I’m going to go home and watch “Alien” for the second time ever. People are getting involved, and passionate about the film, the fictional mythologies, mysteries, and timelines. To me this is much better than a movie that one walks out of the theater and immediately forgets. Even if the movie doesn’t answer every question it raises, or tie up everything in a neat package.

  • Aidan Moher June 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Well said, Sunny.

  • Redhead June 16, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    “. “I went to an Alien prequel and an Intelligent Design debate broke out!” It’s an obvious knee-jerk reaction,”

    I knew there was something about this movie (besides the clunky plotting) that rubbed me the wrong way. I’m also a little miffed that there’s a good chance the only way to see the “fixed” version will be to put out $30 or more for a directors cut DVD that simply won’t be the same unless watched on a projection screen with surround sound (which I don’t have). I was in a cranky mood when I wrote my review, and the more i think about this movie, the crankier I get.

  • Ripley Connor June 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I just wish Ridley actually talked to one of us aliens before making the film. At least we’re not the only villains. Humans can kill too! But it would be nice if we weren’t seen as the drooling evil monsters. I’m a normal teenager who happens to be part alien, part human and part terminator.

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