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Prometheus was a bit thin (movie review, contains spoilers)

Sunday, Jun 10th, 2012

The music was right. The CGI was right. The plot was okay, about as good as a mediocre episode of star trek (if there is such a thing), but okay. It’s hard to tell how good the acting was when you consider how bad of a script they had to work with. I think this scene from one of Ridley Scott’s earlier movies best represents my opinion of the movie as a whole.

downvoting ceaser gif. thumbs down roman jif. downvoting roman

Yeah, I’m a bit of a movie snob.

The opening scene hovers over a majestic, primordial earth full of lush green valleys and gigantic waterfalls. A crazy-buff alien guy performs some kind of self-sacrificing ritual. I thought that was just great. I had no idea what was going on, but I still thought it was a great sequence. Sure I had questions: who is this guy? is he human? how did he get so impossibly buff?  is this earth? the future? past? what is he drinking? why is he drinking it? what kind of aftershave does he use? But I was confident some of those questions would be addressed later in the movie. It all went downhill from there.

The emotional vibe took a complete 360. Suddenly we’re on a ship orbiting a strange planet and everyone is just so complacent and boring. The crew during the briefing scene are collectively scratching their heads and hemming and hawing about the mission, which is basically to discover the origin of the human race. I don’t think anyone cares except for the tried and cliche “anything for science” characters (Shaw and Holloway).

Compare that to the briefing scene with the marines in Aliens. That scene served a purpose: we get the idea that our cast is a bunch of gun-toting, cocky bastards. The only thing we learn about the characters from the briefing scene in Prometheus is that they don’t really give a shit, and that complacency carries into the rest of the movie. When they first fly into the alien planet and discover the alien structures, you’d expect someone to at least say something exclamatory after the discovery of other sentient life in the universe. Hardly a peep. It’s all routine. But when the characters don’t give a shit, the audience doesn’t give a shit either.

A few scenes later, we’re in a cave and the tattooed mohawk character, Fifield, is frantically yelling “let’s get out of here,” because the crew has just discovered the 2,000-year-old rotting carcass of an alien (and that’s not me exaggerating numbers, the carcass was literally 2,000 years old according to the main characters first-glance assessment). And there’s nothing wrong with yelling “let’s get out of here.” The phrase is practically a necessity in a Sci-Fi thriller. It just has to be built up to. There has to be enough emotional strain, horror and suspense before someone gets hysterical and starts screaming things like “let’s get out of here.” Finding an alien body that’s been dead for 2,000 years does not constitute enough emotional strain, horror and suspense. I wasn’t feeling it.

The tattooed mohawk guy is the perfect example of poor and inconsistent character development. When we first meet the tattooed mohawk guy, we are lead to believe he is some sort of badass (and I don’t want to stereotype people here, but the tattoos and mohawk did nothing to dispel that notion). Then, in the cave (which is actually a ship corridor), he practically pisses his pants and gets hysterical the moment something strange happens.

The male scientist, Holloway, tells Fifield to “keep it together,” but later Holloway loses it himself. Although he says the finding of the dead aliens is “the greatest discovery in the history of mankind,” he proceeds to lapse into an existential crisis, drinking and feeling sorry for himself, after one day of searching and not finding a live alien. One day. I spent more time searching for my lost sock. It sort of contradicted the establishment of his character as the level-headed scientist, out for the betterment of mankind, who would do “anything and all it takes.”

Charlize Theron played the token corporate tool, but produced hardly any real friction or conflict in the story, though she tried hard. She did light the diseased Holloway on fire with a flame thrower (good riddance) but that seemed like a major overreaction. I don’t think the audience bought it. She could just as easily have put him in a med pod outside the ship like the captain suggested. Or at least thought it over a bit. For God sakes, at least take a few minutes to assess the situation! But she had to light him up, right there, on the spot, no questions asked. I resolved to not feel outrage because of how obvious a solicit for emotion that scene was.

Paul Reiser, who played Burke in Aliens, was a much better token corporate tool in my opinion. His actions evoked hatred and disgust, and the snake oil salesman persona got a lot more under my skin than Theron’s female careerist act.

Ripley: He figured that he could get an alien back through quarantine, if one of us was… impregnated… whatever you call it, and then frozen for the trip home. Nobody would know about the embryos we were carrying… me and Newt..
Burke: This is so nuts. I mean, listen – listen to what you’re saying. It’s paranoid delusion. How – It’s really sad. It’s pathetic…

In that scene from Aliens, you can see the guilt manifesting on Burke’s reddening face. It was just perfect. Burke made me cringe.

“Meredith Vickers” only made me scoff. The character didn’t have any clear motivations except to survive. That’s the biggest thing really, she wasn’t after anything and therefore didn’t have any bearing on the plot. Shaw and Holloway were there for science, Weyland for meaning, Fifield for money, but it seemed like Theron’s charactor, Meredith Vickers, was just sort of along for the ride. She was only there to try to intimidate people and make excessive eye contact.

I can go on and on about the characters, or lack thereof. There’s a Scottish lady who’s entire role in the movie was to have a Scottish accent. That’s literally all she did in the movie: have an accent, and provide the novelty that comes from having a Scottish accent. There was an Asian guy too that stood on the bridge and looked out the window of the ship during a few scenes. All he did was be Asian, and literally nothing else… except for the scene in the end where, out of the blue, he sacrifices himself along with the captain to destroy the Engineer’s ship. I didn’t care that he scarified himself because I didn’t know anything about him, except that he was Asian. I felt nothing! It’s kind of like reading about someone who was killed on the news. The information means little to me because I didn’t know who the person was. Poor character development.

The only half-way decent character was the android, David. The robot had more personality than the humans. But David was basically a ripoff from the android in Aliens. I felt like I was having déjà vu when his head was torn off. The very same thing happened to the android character in Aliens. What is it with androids constantly losing their heads? *Slaps knee.*

Shaw was another character transplanted from aliens: the resourceful, enduring female protagonist that Sigourney Weaver captured so well. She teams up with the decapitated android just like Weaver did at the end of Aliens. Cool, I thought that was cute, but we’ve seen it before. And I think it was done better the first time around.

The movie did have some redeeming qualities. There was no eerie, claustrophobic atmosphere like in the Alien series, but the scenery was fab-tastic. The technology on the ship was mega cool. The plot moved at a steady pace and there’s at least enough gore and mangled flesh to thoroughly pique your interest. There’s an “oh shit” moment at the end, when we witness the first birth of the creature from Alien. Not a plot twist, but more of an “oh shit” moment, because we all saw it coming. But still, even though we saw it coming, it was cool to see it finally get here. I liked the connection with the Aliens plot.

But bottom line, all in all, Prometheus is worth a watch, but only to satisfy your curiosity. It’s not torture, but it’s not the best two hours and four minutes of my life, either. I give it a solid B minus. I think Ridley Scott outdid himself 30 years ago with the Alien series. Prometheus didn’t quite measure up.

9 Responses to “Prometheus was a bit thin (movie review, contains spoilers)”

  1. jon says:

    I think that fact you constantly compare Prometheus to alien/aliens is stupid. Ridly Scott said himself that this was a movie to be looked at on its own, while paralleling the other alien films. Obviously you would hate since you expect it to out do the original alien in some way instead of looking at it as a movie on its own. You basically want all the characters to be exact carbon copies. As for the characters actions in the film, well if your were on some other strange planet were no one has ever been before, wouldn’t you act a little, I dunno irrational? Also there not going answer all the questions raised in the film because there saving it for the sequel.

    • Chris says:

      You know, I posed that same question to myself: why am I comparing the two? I think it might have something to do with the fact that they were both directed by the same guy, and contained many of the same story elements (e.g. parasitic aliens, deep space, corporate interest). It is technically a prequel and precedes Alien in the timeline. But no, I’m not saying that the characters should be exact carbon copies. I will say that they quite literally and undeniably parallel each other (echoing your point that Ridley said the movie is a parallel).

      Hey, if I wanted to, I could have compared the characters in Prometheus to those in Finding Nemo, but I chose Aliens because of the strong similarities and parallels that exist. It’s simply a convenient point of reference. There is no denying that Shaw is reminiscent of Weaver and Vickers of Burke, and Fifield of Bill Paxton’s character, Pvt. Hudson. Paxton, by the way, was fucking fantastic at being the hysteric and pissing his own pants in Aliens. Fifield? Not so much, though Ridley Scott said he was designed to be “someone who can sense when things are up,” I think that was very poorly executed.

      I have nothing against character stereotypes. With 2 hours and 4 minutes of run time, it is impossible to capture all of the complex emotions and subtle nuances that make a human human. Movies give us stereotypes so we at least have caricatures of the sort of people we encounter in real life. Caricatures because it would be foolish and naive to capture a real live human doing real live human things on the screen. It’s exactly why your life would utterly suck as a movie. Because no one wants to watch you drive to work, read a book, go to the bathroom and do the laundry, even though those mundane things contribute largely to what you are, as a human being. But movies, for very practical reasons, cut out all the mundane bullshit and give us extreme exaggerations of what people are, while the rest, including nuance of character, is implied. It is those extreme exaggerations or caricatures which I felt were poorly designed in Prometheus. They didn’t have substance and they didn’t have consistency.

      Your point that ‘people can act irrational on alien planets’ has everything to do with the importance of character establishment and stereotypes. You can’t have character establishment and stereotypes if everyone in the story is excused to act irrational because ‘that’s what you would do on an alien planet’. Irrationality contradicts consistency of character and stereotyping, unless of course the stereotype is that of an irrational character. But even a character stereotyped as being the ‘irrational type’ has consistency: the consistency of always being inconsistent.

      I’m not saying that the very human characteristic of irrationally can’t be portrayed on the screen. It can be if it falls in line with the motif. Pandorum, for example, was about that exact thing: people acting irrational when exposed to strange environment and circumstance. The entire theme and climax of Pandorum hinged on that central motif. Pandorum is a disease that makes humans extremely irrational after being frozen up in deep space for long periods of time. That’s why it was perfectly okay with me when Dennis Quaid went ape shit and killed everyone, because that was a turn in plot consistent with the overarching theme of the entire movie. But human irrationality is not a theme in Prometheus and it is certainly not an excuse for inconsistent characters.

      • jon says:

        I suppose some of the points you raised there are valid, but to me if any movie causes to think and talk, as much as this one did, than by today’s terrible movie standards, its a good decent movie, instead of the brain-dead transformers movie Michael bay fly’s out of his ass every year.

        • Chris says:

          I agree. It was an excellent movie by Michael Bay standards, but borderline crap by Ridley Scott standards.

          Though, it’s not entirely logical to predict how good a movie is going to be by the director. After all, there are so many other people involved in making a movie: writers, actors, producers, camera specialists, sound engineers, computer engineers, makeup and prop artists, etc. It’s not just the director that makes a movie, it’s an entire community of people. Sure, the director’s job is to bring everything into unity but there’s no overlooking the fact that it’s a collaborative effort. It’s not like writing a book where there is just one guy, the author.

          I sincerely doubt that the team of people that put together aliens bears any resemblance to the team that put together Aliens, 30 years ago, even though both titles had the name “Ridley Scott” on it… so it’s no surprise to me, really, that it didn’t turn out as good.

  2. NomanTripps says:

    I completely disagree with your review, the movie was great. There were loads of cool themes and subplots throughout which really made you think. Like the whole destruction/creation abdomen ripping thing and how prometheus related to the Engineers.
    Also liked all the religous allegory thrown around. I agree with the whole ‘space jesus’ interpretation found here:

    I think some of review is just plain wrong like when you say that ” the carcass was literally 2,000 years old according to the main characters first-glance assessment”:
    She used a piece of technology i think she called a ‘Carbon Probe’ to asses the carcasses age. It probably used carbon dating to determine the age of the body which is exactly whats used by forensic investigators and archealogists in our modern times to determine the age of something deceased. So no she didn’t just eyeball it!

    As far as the characters go you complain that everyone’s too one demensional but then you hate on Holloway for getting his drink on because that’s not very scientific of him.

    And yes not all the questions raised in the movie went unanswered. It’s pretty clear that the guy in the first scene got the evolutionary ball rolling for life on earth by drinking that stuff and then falling into the waterfall . The explanation is there it’s just not explicitly stated which is probably better.

    • Chris says:

      I did read the livejournal and while I think the guy had some valid points, I also think he stretched things a bit too far like a rambling 7th grade English teacher going on about the Marxist subtext in Catcher in the Rye.

      There is always a temptation to see symbolism in everything. And it’s alright with me if you want to deliver all those grand concepts and underlying themes, connecting Jesus to space aliens and the origin of life, etc, etc, but please, at least nail down the basics before you do so: characters, plot, dialogue. Because if you don’t have those, you don’t have a story.

      Space aliens and Jesus would have been perfectly permissible in a Monty Python, but only because the dissonance could serve as a deliberate device for humor. Throwing Jesus into Prometheus… a sci-fi thriller with aliens? That might result in something humorous too, but I doubt that would be the intended effect.

      • NomanTripps says:

        i don’t get it are you saying the movie isn’t that symbolic or that there shouldn’t even be symbolism because the characters and story can’t support it?

        As far as dissonance goes, the average person in the audience probably didn’t recognize the symbols and allegory. So i doubt it created the Monty Python type dissonance you mention.

        • Chris says:

          I was referring that comment Riddley Scott made about the possibility of having the Jesus scene.

 We had heard it was scripted that the Engineers were targeting our planet for destruction because we had crucified one of their representatives, and that Jesus Christ might have been an alien. Was that ever considered?

          Ridley Scott: We definitely did, and then we thought it was a little too on the nose. But if you look at it as an “our children are misbehaving down there” scenario, there are moments where it looks like we’ve gone out of control, running around with armor and skirts, which of course would be the Roman Empire. And they were given a long run. A thousand years before their disintegration actually started to happen. And you can say, “Let’s send down one more of our emissaries to see if he can stop it.” Guess what? They crucified him.

          You told me on skype that you thought the Jesus scene was a great idea and should have been included. I’m saying Ridley Scott made the right decision not to include it.

  3. jose says:

    Don´t know what is happening with supposed blockbuster movies. Another piece of shit but better than dark Knight Rises.

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