Despite Its Flaws, Prometheus is Entertaining
By Kristin Battestella
“I feel like there’s a chest burster inside me.”
That’s what I said in the ER this past July when they asked me to answer their polite 1 to 10 point-at-the-smiley-frown pain scale. I didn’t know what was causing the increasingly horrible and unbearable pain beneath my right ribs. I could barely move, breath, or speak. I flailed my arms in pain and accidentally hit the nurse when she tried inserting my IV. Of course, this reminded me of one early hospital scene in Aliens, and later, after I clawed my husband’s hand and drew his blood, I said, “I guess this is what I get for going to see Prometheus!”
Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Greene) petition the Weyland Company to support their archaeological discovery: ancient civilizations each repeated the same astronomical pictograph and alien “Engineers.” Shaw sees the pattern as an invitation to the stars and the origins of humanity, and the state of the art Prometheus disembarks to the distant LV-223. Only the android David (Michael Fassbender) is awake for the journey while the rest of the crew- including the doctors, Captain Janek (Idris Elba), and Company representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) remain in hyper sleep. Once they reach the moon, the human crew rises to search an ancient monument full of dead Engineer bodies, mysterious urns, and surprising familiar iconography. As storms fronts approach on the surface and the crew separates, one by one their fates and faiths are tested, for these Engineers and their perilous DNA projects aren’t as dormant as they seem….
Plotting A Prequel Conundrum
Whew! It turns out it was just my gall bladder going, but director Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction with this pseudo Alien prequel was certainly on my mind most of the summer. I’d been waiting over a year for the release – even remaining spoiler free into its approach – and obviously, it’s still on my mind now thru our annual Fasstivus viewings and Vassbender Valentines. The possibility of Alien’s back-story feels like its been in my subconscious for decades. I used to drive my father batty with speculation about how the crash on LV-426 happened, to where – or whom – that homing beacon was transmitting, and how the evil android Ash and the then unnamed but obviously money loving and corrupt Company were involved. Yes, most of these questions from Alien are not answered in Prometheus and that is this film’s blessing and curse. Some may rightfully dismiss Prometheus simply because it answers nothing beyond itself. After all, what’s the point if technically nothing gets us any closer to Alien’s mysteries? The connections and feelings are there, but it seems like Prometheus’ key elements are being spread out for its inevitable sequel or a completely new trilogy. It becomes both rushed in its foreboding yet too disjointed as the plots diverge and reveal. This almost feels like Alien 3, strangely, where one film had to suffice both its brooding horror and action SF predecessors. The internal pace is fine to start, with good cringe inducing moments and a horror styled pattern of storms and entrapped personnel. Though the deleted scenes were apparently cut for length and action pace, it feels as if Prometheus should have continued in this speculative science fiction or horror vein, with complete character intelligence and a scary food for thought.
There is room to speculate on the alien dangers and high concept religion and faith debates. However, writer Damon Lindelof (Lost) also left serious plot holes, unexplained developments, and changed script scenarios in rewriting newcomer John Spaihts’ original treatment. Nothing short of having all the action taking place on LV-426 as originally envisioned would have appeased die-hard fans. Whether Prometheus was going to be a direct sequel or not, whatever storyline you finally intended to go with – all those decisions should have been settled upon rather than be left hanging in the film. Frankly, nothing – no creature connections, planetary aspirations, or character motivations – should have been held back in the hopes for a sequel. In the theater, I was screaming to myself that this film better dang be successful enough to earn a sequel, otherwise, this will really not just disappoint, but anger the audience. If you open Pandora’s Box, do so all the way. Innumerable plot holes and character head scratchers and inconsistencies linger in Prometheus. Some of that is answered in the viral and behind the scenes material, but you can’t hinge the full vision of your film on the extras or sequels. Not only are the big spiritual topics not as deep as could be, but the intentional ambiguity is far too on the nose. I thought I was alone in wishing for more from Lindelof’s weak touch, but Prometheus takes the easy way out by dropping its high concepts for a typical big action ending. The first half of the film is brimming with foreboding and body horrors just like Alien, but unexplained secrets become plot contrivances and what should be hidden personal or family connections are too obvious. Perhaps a truly sophisticated slow science fiction morality tale can’t achieve success today, but it feels like Lindelof didn’t even give Prometheus a chance to try. In the behind the scenes materials, he admits he found Alien boring, and no studio today will accept boring! If one can let go of Alien and accept that Prometheus is not a direct prequel and will not answer your long held questions, then it can be enjoyed thanks to great sets, thoughts, and performances. Can a hardcore SF viewer accept the plot holes and screenplay mistakes? We don’t really have much of a choice until the supposedly in the works follow up is on the big screen.
Well, well, Michael Fassbender does it again! Perhaps his ambiguous android David wasn’t meant to steal the show, but his artificial intrigue and robot speculations are the best part of Prometheus. Though his questionable actions initially support the faith versus science explorations and romance between Shaw and Holloway, David’s seamless orchestration of the crew and events around him subtly exceeds his programming. Fassbender’s (X-Men: First Class, Shame) uniquely devoid wizard behind the curtain pushes and pulls in true Vader fashion, and this malevolent Data is almost like a synthetic child on the verge of sociopathy. David is hyperactive, told not to go somewhere or touch anything, but he continually disobeys any instruction – maybe it’s for his own purpose, maybe not. He’s androgynous and prepubescent, almost not physically developed or impotent and thus uses his superior intellect and the low opinions of others to gain control. Despite his not having emotions, Shaw becomes the twisted object of David’s affection, and he scientifically violates her in a slick and premeditated plot. It’s not desire as we would think, but rather experimental curiosity. It’s third party rape because he can, and thus in David’s mind, he should. Thanks to Fassbender’s well-played deceptions here and in Prometheus’ viral campaign, there are times where the viewer might swear David damn well does have emotions, and this Pandora of possibilities is a tad frightening. An android who wants to be like Lawrence of Arabia? There are no Laws of Robotics here, and it’s creepy to see David’s graduation from playing with alien bugs to using human fodder go unchecked – particularly when it is such a cold and logical step to him. Without internal censors to curb David’s motivations and ambitions, his last shall be first realization that people are inferior is allowed to run amok and create Prometheus’ finest moments.
Naturally then, when Holloway belittles David, it is not only his own undoing, but it sets all of Prometheus’ events in motion. Rather than being the hero, Logan Marshall Green’s (Dark Blue) scientist comes off as big jerk thanks to script and character issues. He drinks because he is unhappy that he has discovered the existence of human progenitors on another planet. Huh? This writing faux pas ironically works in Fassbender’s favor. One might actually be sympathetic to David instead thanks to the way he is insulted or dismissed. The android is kind to Shaw, but her trust is betrayed and it makes for some fine work by Rapace. Noomi (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is up to snuff as our Ripley successor, oh yes. Though younger than her co-stars, she may seem a bit too mature against Logan Marshall Green or too upscale European for American audiences. However, this edge is perfect for the deep, heavy, and spiritual Shaw. These beliefs drive her pursuit of science, but they should conflict – and her newfound alien discoveries spearhead Shaw’s reexamination of herself. It all seems kind of lofty or too high brow, but Rapace keeps Shaw likeable and believably kick ass. Yes, there are convoluted script moments and unrealistic post-injury scenes that do take the audience away from the character. She can run around alien planets and climb all over the place after that?! The lack of believability in the plot also takes a bit away from the awesomeness of her alien encounter, but no faults come from Rapace, and I look forward to more of her.
I do, however, wish more religious connections were made out right between this trio. After all, we have a worshiped alien being birthed by a woman named Elizabeth after an impregnation orchestrated by a surrogate father. In keeping with the ABC android names of the previous films in the franchise, we have a D for David. But why the name David instead of any other D name? Was there meant to be some sort of Root of Jesse lineage and messianic message? It is Christmas aboard the ship after all, and the Shaw praying scene in the trailer was cut from the final film. One of the new creatures in Prometheus is also called a “deacon.” What exactly is all this religious iconography supposed to mean? Humanity is seeking out their alien creators and thus outgrowing their divine masters, and in some ways, David is doing the same thing to his human inventors. This ideological succession, oedipal shadings, and patricide hopes are touched upon in the script and chewed on nicely by the players when its given to them. The triumvirate keeps the entertainment and intelligence afloat for the audience, but unfortunately, the shaky foundations in the writing don’t answer these lofty questions. Had the cast been given complete character motivations and plot aspirations, nothing could have stopped Prometheus.
Poorly Handled Ensemble
Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster) is ice queen good fun as Prometheus’ resident secret wielding company representative, but there could have been a lot more to her character than what we receive. If you think about Vickers’ background and motivation too much, too many nonsensical red herrings emerge. Her big secret is quite obvious, but whether she is a human or robot isn’t hardly addressed, nor is her alternating bitchy, sympathy, intelligence and stupidity. As with David, serious Scott fans could have had their hearts set a flutter by Vickers and possible Blade Runner connections. Unfortunately, as is, the character ends up meh despite Theron’s best attempts to counter the iffy scripting. Likewise, it is always a delight to see Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) and that therein is another big hole in what could have been Prometheus glory. I’m going to be nice and say the aging make up isn’t that bad – we just know it is Guy Pearce and would rather see him be the power hungry and creator- complexed young Weyland as seen in the Ted Talks viral video. Why couldn’t he have a pre-mission briefing instead of that weird hologram recording? That right there would have gone a long way in explaining all the characters and their reasons for signing on to such a space flight! The waste of creative character developments and potential is actually almost as in your face as Weyland’s actual not so surprise twist!
Although the supporting cast is most definitely talented enough, they aren’t given much to do beyond making mistakes or being barely there. Idris Elba (Luther) certainly has the presence to be the rogue captain of this wonderful ensemble, but his heroics and humor are so broadly written all over the board in crayon that we can’t fully care about Janek despite Elba’s charisma. He’s devil may care but spiritually sensitive and cares about his crew and ultimately, humanity. However, Janek doesn’t give two shits about crewmen in jeopardy and doesn’t bother to ask what the mission entails. This isn’t multi-dimensional character development; it’s more like the captain is just a script placeholder to use whenever something is needed. It’s a sacrilegious waste of Elba, and Rafe Spall (Anonymous), Sean Harris (Outlaw), and Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones, Red Road – Did no one in this production see Red Road?!) become plot points for alien high jinks instead of being truly developed characters.
Similarly, we never really get to meet the potentially charming Emun Elliott (Black Death) and Benedict Wong (Dirty Pretty Things), and there are even more unnamed disappearing and reappearing soldiers aboard the titular vessel. If we’re not going to spend some time with these crewmembers in order to know their fears or faults intimately in a slow build of apprehension and peril, how can the viewer appreciate them? Deleted scenes and alternate takes improve the troop slightly, but the audience never gets the feeling this crew is in it together, as in Alien or Aliens. Sure, we need a conspirator or two, but these folks are so divided, it seems like they each had different versions of the script from which to work. If you’re not fans of the players, it is tempting to fast forward thru their stupidity and squandered opportunities. As Prometheus is, this talent becomes padding for the body count in the final act.
Positive Bells and Whistles
Fortunately, whatever you may think of Prometheus, it looks damn great, simply smashing. Instead of a dark and congested submarine – perhaps expected by our recent trends toward brooding, bleak, apocalyptic futures – the palette here is bright SF, with sweet looking, large-scale special effects and an imaginative ship design. It all looks sweeping, epic, and state of the art but somehow still natural and practical – a realistic progression and scientific advancement on our current technologies. There are some Alien allusions in the designs as well, and Prometheus does meld soundly as the mechanical precursor but 21st century offshoot to the franchise. Fortunately, the action scenes aren’t brimmed with unnecessary cool gadgetry for the sake of instant technological flash. The detailed and well-thought production here will outlast the in the moment product placements so often found in today’s films – remember all that MSN crap in The Island? Prometheus is not ‘sponsored by Sony’ in your face, and unlike the eighties 3D hurrah, there are no ridiculous foreground objects and actions thrusting at the screen desperation. I dislike 3D and chose not to see Prometheus as such, however, you can still tell which swooping CGI effects shots are meant to be in the multidimensional glory. Thankfully, the exceptional Icelandic waterfalls and galactic scenery aren’t overruled or at worst ruined by the 3D as so many films are.
Ironically, while writing this review, I received the Prometheus 4 Disc Collector’s Edition as a gift from my husband. Of course, I’m not as interested in the 3D blu-ray disc as I am all the other critical bells, whistles, and special features. I haven’t even gotten thru all the exhaustive behind the scenes interviews, production galleries, screen tests, commentaries, and more. Like the immensely detailed Prometheus: The Art of the Film companion book, alternate concepts, deleted scenes, storyboard ideas that didn’t make it into the film, and even those screen tests and viral videos all help to piece together a lot of the head scratching and character flaws in Prometheus. The aforementioned video and several other blu ray and DVD editions are now available of course, each with varying degrees of special features. However, I thought it might still be amusing to share some of the quick notes from my original Prometheus Monday afternoon summer theater experience, for these trailer observations seem particularly prophetic now: “Frankenweenie looks dumb. Savages is too Oliver Stone generic, The Watch the usual comedy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks too action badass can’t see the forest for the CGI, and Rock of Ages has great music but what a crappy ass cast! I would see none in the theater and would not be surprised if some or all do poorly.” Hehe.
There is most certainly an audience for Prometheus, and viewers should see it at least twice for complete entertainment value – even more for finite assessment. Love it or hate it, general science fiction fans looking for a return to mature, sophisticated tales can find something here, and Alien fans tired of the Predator crossovers should definitely have a look. Granted, the separation from total Alien connections and the “is it or isn’t it” on the nose marketing approach was a deception to audiences expecting complete franchise resolutions. That audience burn alone is enough to not see Prometheus. Again, those expectations both helped put people in the seats to pad Prometheus’ box office and hurt its reputation by disappointing longtime fans. Because of these botched Alien connections and the fly by night scripting, a necessary sequel is indeed forthcoming, although I wish the powers that be hadn’t mashed up Prometheus in anticipation of a follow up film or two and box office splendor. Behind the scenes flaws and Alien relations aside, Prometheus is nonetheless entertaining for fans of the cast and science fiction lovers.