Is 'Prometheus' A Massive Disappointment?

Dr Zaius

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#1


Saw this last night on Blu-ray. Count me in the group that loves Alien and thought this was a half-baked story that simply doesn't fare well when compared to the original.

Now by no means is Prometheus a terrible film, even with all its shortcomings. But Alien rightly occupies a hallowed place in sci-fi/horror, so the expectations for this film were very high.

Let's get this part out of the way up front: The movie's pacing and character development were very poor, which is surprising because that's generally one of Scott's strengths as a director. Over and over the characters made decisions that simply defied basic common sense. At times, their behavior was straight out of a teen slasher flick, while at other times they went into superhero overdrive. This is a movie that doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind what it wants to be.

One of the main problems with this film was that it took all the scary and mysterious elements of the original Alien and turned them into mundane backfiller. The bizarre alien creature, long petrified in some kind of mysterious technological chair is now revealed to be... not an alien creature at all, but our long lost uncle Bob in a spacesuit? Pure lame sauce. And the shadowy Mr. Weyland of Weyland-Yutani, after much build-up, turns out to be just a silly old man who's afraid of death and wants to live a little longer. Even more bizarre, this ancient man is played by a 45-year old actor with pounds of makeup for no apparent reason other than giving the special effects crew another opportunity to show off their skills.

Ridley Scott has tried to distance Prometheus from the original Alien and has stated it is not a prequel, but it's clear five minutes into the film that it is. And one of things that was great about the original was the excellent casting and how all the characters really looked and acted like real people. They were unshaven, bickered over pay, complained about bad food, were sometimes lazy or bitchy, and were generally quite convincing as ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Which went a long way toward creating a thematic atmosphere of suspension of disbelief. Even better, they were angry, excited, and afraid at the appropriate times--a tribute to the film's tight scripting.

Prometheus, on the other hand, exemplifies much of what's wrong with the direction of modern Hollywood filmmaking. First off, all the characters were unbelievably young and looked like models (Star Trek reboot here we come...). They didn't talk or act like normal people, their characters were generally shallow or one-dimensional, and thus the audience is unable relate to them in any significant way, and so there's no sense of shared experience. When these cardboard people eventually die, and die they do, you don't care about them because they're just props, easily cast away.

But perhaps the biggest failure of Prometheus is the muddled plot. I'll have to go back and watch it again, but I honestly got more than a little lost trying to piece together plot elements when it seemed like entire portions of the film were missing. It's not so much that there were tantalizing "mysteries" which left the viewer yearning to know more, that would have been welcome up to a point. It's that the movie did a very poor job at times in explaining what the hell was actually going on. Things just happened, and then more things happened, and then some other stuff happened. That's not good storytelling.

It's painfully obvious that Prometheus started out as an Alien prequel, but somewhere along the line Ridley Scott decided to change gears and go in a new direction. Sadly, instead of just making an entirely new movie which might have shared some similarities in background, Scott opted to keep key elements from Alien and radically morph them into something they were never intended to be.

In the final analysis, Prometheus is guilty of committing the greatest sin a prequel can be guilty of: It's a fairly forgettable movie that also manages to somehow diminish its predecessor. Ridley Scott deserves some credit for daring to dream big, but also some criticism for sullying the name of a sci-fi classic.
 

Dr Zaius

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#2
In the final analysis, Prometheus is guilty of committing the greatest sin a prequel can be guilty of: It's a fairly forgettable movie that also manages to somehow diminish its predecessor. Ridley Scott deserves some credit for daring to dream big, but also some criticism for sullying the name of a sci-fi classic.
Re-visiting this assessment four years later, perhaps I was a tad harsh in saying Prometheus is a forgettable movie. I don't think that's entirely true, as the film does dare to explore some interesting questions. There's the infamous surgery scene as well as a rather lovely Lovecraftian horror which briefly shows up to wreck havoc. Also, the newly-released 4K Blu-Ray version of the film looks and sounds glorious with today's more advanced big screen technology.

Ridley Scott deserves credit for being willing to take on such a challenge in an environment knee-deep in deplorable muck. However, the film's central failing is that it attempts to answer questions about the backstory of Alien which should have been left alone. And that, combined with the stupendously stupid actions of some of the "brilliant" scientists on the team, manages to diminish Alien.

To be clear, I'm not challenging the idea that Prometheus was a film that needed to be made. I'm simply saying that the way it was tied in to Alien -- in particular the egregious misappropriation of the Space Jockey -- was simply not thought out very well. Scott is right in arguing that there is lots of room for additional Alien-related films and content to be made. But it needs to be good! While the ideas in Prometheus are not bad, more care was needed with the way it was all put together, because in the end the story feels somewhat contrived and more than a bit rushed.

Since the time my review was written, numerous YouTube clips have surfaced of content which was excised from the theatrical release of Prometheus, and some of it is quite good. For instance, the speech by Peter Weyland which was intended to open the film would have added some important context to where the story was headed and why. In fact, this 'young' Peter Weyland is considerably more interesting than the withered husk who appears at the end. That whole sequence with the aged Weyland felt rather ham-handed, like Scott was working off two competing screenplays and not sure which direction he wanted to go with the film.

One wonders what else was cut out that should have been left in, while so many weak and unbelievable elements remained (Let's take off our helmets and test the air, shall we. And I think I'll pet this harmless alien snake...). In the end, I can't shake the feeling that Prometheus was a good movie that was partially ruined in the editing room. Perhaps Ridley Scott will eventually feel compelled to do an extended director's cut where some of these issues can be set right.

 
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