Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ Is Beautiful, Frustrating
By STEWART SMITH
"Prometheus" could have been a new classic.
Director Ridley Scott helped define the modern sci-fi genre in two very distinct ways back in the late '70s and early '80s with "Alien" and "Blade Runner," respectively. While "inconsistent" often feels like a generous way of describing the man's filmography at large, there's no denying his ability to craft believable worlds within his works.
Despite the Xenomorph creature being run into the ground thanks to some terrible films ("Alien Resurrection," the "Alien vs. Predator" flicks), there's still plenty of material to mine within the world he established in the first "Alien" film. Scott has been public in his displeasure that he was passed over for James Cameron in making "Aliens," so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for the man who showed us the interesting places cinematic sci-fi could go to expand on that very universe he helped create.
Now that Scott has finally made his film, part of me wishes he hadn't bothered.
"Prometheus" isn't a bad film. It is gorgeous to behold. You'll be hard-pressed to find another film this year that is so visually striking in its compositions. Scott has long been a master visualist, and this is further proof he's still a creative force to be reckoned with. His use of 3D is also among the best I've seen in a film and on the strength of the visuals alone it is worth going to see this on the largest screen possible.
If a film's success was only predicated on its visual prowess, "Prometheus" would be a triumph. Unfortunately, "Prometheus" exhibits problems that cannot be denied.
Set in 2093, archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover in the hills of Scotland what they believe to be a star map, an invitation from alien visitors to a faraway planet. Their latest discovery is nearly identical to ones found within multiple other cultures, separated by thousands of miles and as many years. Elizabeth describes it as "an invitation." To what? That's the central mystery.
Charlie and Elizabeth believe the beings to be humanity's forerunners, or "Engineers" as they call them, and hope that the expedition to planet LV-223 will allow them to quite literally meet their maker. Taking them (along with a motley crew of scientists and geologists) to the planet is the Prometheus, a trillion dollar ship funded by the now-deceased Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). The ship's crew is a motley collection of geologists, scientists and even an android, David (Michael Fassbender), whose presence on the mission shows that, while Weyland may be dead, he still has his own agenda to fulfill. (Weyland essentially considers David to be his son.) However, it isn't long into their expedition on LV-223 that the group realizes that the Engineers may not be as benevolent as they'd initially hoped.
Everything leading up to the team's exploration of the alien pyramid is interesting and engaging. It's once things really start getting heated and horrific that the script's holes become unavoidable. Characters do things that directly contradict their previously established motivations, other characters do things which seemingly serve little purpose.
There's a third act reveal that adds nothing and is dubiously motivated. Individual character motivations range from thin to non-existent, and in a film where the entire plot is predicated on the curiosity and drive of characters, it's frustrating to see them have only the slightest of dimensions given them. Topping it off is the fact that we learn next to nothing of who the Engineers are, why they created life on Earth (and possibly other planets), whey they decided doing so was a mistake, and why they picked such an inefficient means of trying to kill us.
Perhaps even more frustrating is the way scribes the film seems content to ask a bunch of lofty questions but never come close to ever answering them in a satisfying way. The possibility of life originating from the far reaches of the universe is not a new concept in the realm of sci-fi, but it's a fertile one, especially within this particular story. There's also the theme of faith versus science that is all-too-ripe within this particular story, but again, it mostly gets tossed to the wayside without any sort of meaningful discussion or dissection being brought up.
"Prometheus" is a film that has a lot on its mind. Its ideas are grand and the questions it asks are ones for the ages. So when it becomes apparent that Scott never actually intends to address these questions and themes in a meaningful, satisfying manner it mostly begs the question as to why you should really bother with the thing in the first place.
I will say that these are issues that really only took root once I began to dissect the film afterwards. If nothing else, Scott does the work that only a master can and strings you along in an engaging fashion, making these issues feel like lesser bumps in the moment as opposed to the massive holes they become later on.
What's curious to me, though, is how little these issues actually bother me. I recognize fully that they are the result of some very sloppy writing and a director's wholesale preoccupation with production design and visual bravado. And yet I still consider the film to be an entertaining and engaging experience despite these myriad problems. It's a testament to Scott's prowess as a filmmaker that this is possible at all, I suppose.
I maintain there's still a lot to enjoy from this, though. The aforementioned visuals, the practical sets in use (the entirety of the Prometheus and the alien pyramid was built from scratch, and the level of physical presence the ship maintains is crucial in helping to establish a wonderful sense of place) and particularly Fassbender's performance as David. Part of me actually wishes Scott had made David the sole character. The idea of an artificial being searching for the creator of his creators could have been fascinating, plus it'd mean we'd have gotten much more of Fassbender who is captivating on screen and wholly absorbed by the role.
"Prometheus" has a lot of undeniable problems. I can't really blame anyone for hating it (and a lot do, judging by the online reactions I've seen), but I still found it to be a worthwhile experience. It's just frustrating that what could (and perhaps should) have been a defining piece of genre filmmaking ends up being less than the sum of its parts.
Stewart Smith is the Entertainment Editor for the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
. Contact him at 903-596-6301 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org