FILM: Why Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” Isn’t the Sci-Fi Epic We Were Hoping For

Horror / Sci-Fi / June 8, 2012

On Tuesday a rare, once-in-a-lifetime event occurred: the transit of Venus moved across the face of the sun and was visible from Earth. Considered to be one of the “rarest of predictable celestial phenomena” (a phenomena that occurs in pairs; the last one occurring in 2004, and the next not scheduled until 2117), it was a greatly hyped and momentous occasion which was met with lots of squinting and a resounding “that’s it?”

Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” conjured a similar reaction for me.

Ok, that’s not completely fair.

At least Venus’ solar journey helped put to rest some questions about our solar system, whereas “Prometheus” merely proposes intriguing questions about our existence and extraterrestrial life, meanders around for them for two hours, and then fails to answer them.

Instead, it paves the way for an inevitable franchise which will attempt to squeeze more out of our collective wallets for at least two more films before rightly answering them.

“Prometheus” is a prequel of sorts to Scott’s sci-fi/horror 1979 masterpiece “Alien” (or as Scott has gone on record to say, it’s not a prequel, per se, but contains “strands of “Alien’s” DNA, so to speak”).

Like “Alien,” it finds a commercial spaceship of scientists and other crew members grounded on a strange planet — this time around it’s LV-223 instead of LV-426 (for “Alien” fanboys keeping score) — up against unknown, nasty forces, who have acid for blood.

The crew of the Prometheus space vessel are on an alien-hunting mission led by eager and wide-eyed scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green).

Funded by the mysterious Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the deceased multi-billionaire and CEO of the Weyland Corporation, the voyage comes four years after Shaw and Holloway uncover ancient, cryptic star maps scribbled in prehistoric caverns on Earth that seem to suggest that our existence is connected with that of an alien race.

As Prometheus reaches the orbit of LV-223, the crew awakes from a two-year stasis and are quickly debriefed about the exploratory nature of their mission by the hard-nosed corporate suit and mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron).

Leading the crew, which is rounded out by the ship’s captain, Janek (Idris Elba), David the android (Michael Fassbender), and few other forgettable (and thus, expendable) members, Shaw and Holloway venture towards a mysterious pyramid on the planet where they believe they’ll find answers.

Of course, things go less than spectacular when the crew finds fossilized corpses of giant, humanoid aliens (thought to be one of the Engineers who may or may not be responsible for the creation of humanity), who appear to have died trying to escape from something.

In a scene that mirrors a particularly iconic one in “Alien,” the crew unearths a secret chamber containing dozens of stone cylinders, oozing with a mysterious, organic liquid, which proves to be the source of the crew’s deadly pitfall.

There’s a great movie lurking somewhere in “Prometheus’s” DNA, and that’s what’s most frustrating about it.

The film borrows a lot more from its “Alien” predecessor than Scott claims,  particularly in its narrative pacing and structure, which feels closer to a prequel/remake in the same vane as Matthijs van Heikningen Jr.’s The Thing” premake (can we start calling them premakes? No? Ok, fine) than a standalone film.

Most, if not all, of the film’s faults can be ascribed to the uneven script courtesy of Jon Spaihts and “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof, which raises too many questions about our existence and these so-called alien “engineers.”  The film strains basic logic in order to conform to their own storytelling needs,  and as a result, forces a somewhat awkward obligation to make an “Alien” canonical connection with thick-as-mud philosophical questions about the nature of God, an afterlife, etc., etc.

But considering Lindelof’s repertoire for unanswered questions, I should have been prepared for such pitfalls. Yet the uneven, overstuffed, illogical nature of all these elements proved to be too much for “Prometheus” to juggle.

All is not lost, however, as Scott’s keen sense for grandiose spectacle and painterly style absolutely make the film a marvel to look at.

The sweeping other-worldly landscapes and set designs are magnificently shot (courtesy of cinematographer Darius Wolski), and combined with the ship’s futuristic holographic technology, the 3D works seamlessly to enhance the film’s stunning visuals.

Furthermore, the film’s special effects and classic H.R. Griger-inspired creature designs absolutely delivers in the film’s tantalizing and gross-out body horror elements, which I find is the absolute best thing going for it. For those expecting squirm-in-your-seat, gross-out body horror, the film mostly delivers, though it could have used a little more of it.

The stellar acting really holds the film together more than it should have. Idris Elba and Charlize Theron hold their own as the gruff, smooth-talking ship’s captain and the no-holds-barred, pragmatic mission leader, respectively.

Rapace’s performance as the strong-willed, but naive heroine showcases Scott’s knack for strong female leads, but maybe tries a little too hard to mirror the original alien ass-kicker, Sigourney Weaver.

But the film’s most intriguing – and most frustrating – character comes in Fassbender’s android character, David.

Something between “2001: A Space Odyssey’s” HAL 9000 and Haley Joel Osment’s Pinocchio-like robot of the same name from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” Fassbender is fantastic as his character struggles with attempting to understand and empathize with his human counterparts.

But his major failure is more the fault of Lindelof and Spaiht’s story, in which posits him with his own secret agenda that’s cryptically hinted at but never explained.  Unfortunately, this just adds to the mounting pile of unanswered questions plaguing the film and shamelessly sets up future sequels (especially in its grating final scene, which feels more like a lazily tacked on ‘P.S.’ for fanboys than anything else).

In a pivotal centerfold scene, David extracts some of the ominous dark organic matter, examines it closely on his fingertips and says “big things come from small beginnings.”

A fact that aptly describes Venus’ recent solar orbit, but in the case of “Prometheus,” it seems the inverse is true: Small things come from big beginnings.

Overall Grade: C+

Prometheus opens today in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.


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Matt Cohen
Matt Cohen
Matt is currently obsessed with Rap Snacks, post-hardcore, pizza parties, and Carl Sagan's Cosmos.




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FILM: Why Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" Isn't the Sci-Fi Epic We Were Hoping For