Published on June 2nd, 2012 | by Matthew Gammond8
A film suffering at the hands of its own grandeur is nothing new; it happens at least once a year and it plagues studios and movie-goers alike. I’m sure you will agree both with that and the fact that hype is the most destructive force in the entertainment industry – we sit and we read into every little detail that creeps out about a videogame, television show or, in this case, a film. Our excitement levels build to ridiculous heights and, crucially, so do our expectations.
Now, ask yourself this; how many times have you been disappointed by something that you’ve been waiting a long time for? If it’s a high number then I feel your pain, it happens more often than anybody would like to admit and can so often sully the reputation of a franchise, director and even actors to some extent.
Of course, we could blame ourselves for thinking so highly of something before we’ve even witnessed it but that’s another matter altogether. The point I’m trying to make is that Prometheus – the latest Ridley Scott blockbuster – falls into such a category of films.
Billed as “the most anticipated film of the year”, Prometheus had a lot going for it; a star-studded cast watched over by a legendary director with the backing of one of the biggest studios in the business – this was sure to be one of the best, if not the best, blockbuster of the summer. At least that’s what the hype led us to believe…
Ridley Scott needs no introduction; this is the man who wrote the book on how to create sci-fi worlds that do well to both terrify and amaze – think Alien and Blade Runner and you’re just about there. It is the former, however, that holds the most important cards here with Prometheus firmly being set in the same universe as the acclaimed 1979 movie.
In short, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) uncover a star map present in the remains of several different civilisations which had no contact with eachother. This ‘map’, or “invitation” as Shaw puts it, is enough proof for a large corporation (that any Alien fan would be familiar with) to fund a $1trillion expedition to visit the star system that the ‘map’ alludes to.
The purpose of this voyage is to uncover what Shaw and Holloway believe to be the creators of humans – or “engineers” – and to answer some of the deepest and most important questions about humanity; who are we? Why are we here? Who made us? Predictably, the trip goes horrifically wrong when the intentions of these ‘engineers’ becomes apparant and all hell breaks loose.
Far from the most original plot in the world you’ll agree, but it does at least give us a chance to shed some light on a new and interesting mythology. And that, perhaps, is one of the most intriguing things about Prometheus; this idea of alien creators is nothing new but very rarely does a film come along that explores such a premise.
Cue a rag-tag crew of seventeen aboard the Prometheus, most of whom are in possession of a special skill to aid with the investigation of this alien world. There’s botanists, geologists, security guards; most of which play a minor to non-existent role which is one of the film’s major crimes. Whereas Scott managed to make us feel like the crew of the Nostromo in Alien were a family, here there is nothing of the sort with each of the team going about their own business and, with a few exceptions, sharing virtually no contact with one another.
The background characters are pushed further into the corners to make room for the stars to play centre stage. The ice-cool Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the hilariously rough Captain Janek (Idris Elba) provide the two poles of the character styles with one being a vicious corporate snob, the other being a salty and heroic pilot that provides the only flashes of humour.
But the key role of the film has to go to David (Michael Fassbender) who is the ship’s synthetic. By far the film’s strongest point, his inherently charming nature is matched only by his penetrating eeriness and the viewer is forced to question his allegiance and motives throughout the entire film. He is delightfully creepy and adds an interesting dynamic to an otherwise straightforward plot.
Of course, the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast who seem to be around to fill up the body count and when the deaths do begin to happen you just don’t care about any of them. With Alien, each death felt like a serious loss to the ‘family’ aboard the ship and increased the team’s sense of desperation. Here, I found myself having zero attachment to almost everyone and the numerous cheap deaths had me tutting with disappointment. It was if they occurred to increase the on-screen action and not further the plot in any way which is a terribly lazy way of culling characters.
The only time I felt any kind of comradery was when Captain Janek and his two flight assistants, Ravel (Benedict Wong) and Chance (Emun Elliot), were together. The latter two rarely get any screen time, nor is their dialogue abundant but the three-man team does at least provide some humour and emotion towards the end of the film, and I found myself preferring this small cluster over any of the other people in the movie.
Prometheus distances itself even more from the Alien style by choosing to include numerous shots of the vast and beautiful landscape of the alien world rather than solely confining us to narrow corridors. Along with Fassbender’s performance, these stunning open vistas are the highlights of the film. Swooping pan shots allow us to see the glorious geography in all its unrivalled grandeur and some of the larger set pieces that take place outside of the ship are just unbelievable.
It’s a shame then that such a world doesn’t play host to a fulfilling plot, with the team’s quest for God going relatively unrewarded. Yes, there are aliens in this film and the gore fans amongst you will get your fill of tentacle-icious action. But the more important subtext, this journey for answers, is never resolved and it left me cold and wanting more by the time the credits rolled.
Prometheus does well to mimic an exam paper; it’s very keen on asking questions, but very reluctant to relinquish the answers. And by that logic, the film is actually pointless; it’s nothing more than a shell in which to house glorious CGI and some solid performances.
If you go into this film expecting the scares of Alien or the action of Aliens then you’ll be sorely disappointed. It manages to land somewhere in the middle; a mess that doesn’t know what it wants to be. Its primary function was for us to question our heritage but it never quenches our thirst for this knowledge.
In a way, the film is a metaphor for itself; it promised so much and delivered so little. Ridley Scott has made far better films in his time and Prometheus tries to be something that it never could be without being a four hour long movie.
If you’re a CGI junkie or a fan of alien action then you will probably like this film but anyone who craves a solid narrative resolution will feel as though they have been cheated out of their price of admission.
Summary: Prometheus is a disappointment, there is nothing more obvious than that. At times you will be gasping at the beauty of the amazing alien planet and the brilliant CGI, but for the most part you'll be scratching your head with frustration. It's a film that thinks too much of itself and too little of its audience - the ideas are there but the intelligence behind them is never revealed, leaving the viewer asking plenty of questions that inevitably go unanswered.