Prometheus (2012)

More questions than answers

Right – the wait is over, and let it be first of all said that Ridley Scott‘s prequel/companion piece/whatever-the-hell-it-is to Alien (1979), Prometheus (2012), does have more than enough of the flair and invention that one might have expected from the director who first gave us the xenomorph to end all xenomorphs. However, there can be no doubt that the debate over this film will run and run – having only just left my own screening 30 minutes ago, I have to say that my thoughts run far more to missed opportunities than questions answered. Intrigued? Well, it’s only fair to say that you probably will be by the film as well, but I doubt that few, be they devoted Alien-hounds or merely the curious, will emerge jubilant.

I do not want to go into too much detail as to the story’s backdrop – in the first Alien film (apparently set very far in the future, but apparently only some 30 years after this prequel, so that would make it around 2124) interstellar miners working for the Weyland-Yutani ‘Company’ are forced to land on a planet only half-way back to Earth in response to an apparent distress signal (that’s later interpreted as a warning) – the crew encounter a huge derelict alien ship and pick up a most unwelcome stowaway. The rest, as they say, etc, etc, but we’re in the past now anyway in relation to that film, because a team of explorers, led by icy Weyland-Yutani exec Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and including scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan-Marshall Green), who believe they are en route to the discovery of the origins of mankind, and ever-so-friendly android David (Michael Fassbender), who’s just here to help, no really, are now heading back to the planet featured in Scott’s first film. You see Company founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) has left a hologram message for the brave explorers, claiming his own death, but indicating that they may be on the verge of discovering the answer to life, the universe and everything. Hmmm.

And the opening 30 minutes or so are riveting, it must be said – Scott and his screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindehof present us with a largely believable motley crew, and Fassbender’s performance as a replicant ranks as the finest of the previous franchise, and well as being the film’s best turn by quite some distance.

However, the problems begin with Scott choosing to largely distance his film from many of the big questions posed by Alien – true, the so-called Space Jockey alien’s role in proceedings is more than explained, but the ultimate would-be apocalyptic overtones are ultimately not credible, greatly reducing the scare factor, which I was expecting a great deal more of.

And the inconsistencies in technology between the two films is also an irritant, and I promise that I am not being a geek or a nerd here or someone who is going to pick up on *every* inconsistency (I will leave that to Colin πŸ˜‰ ) – but clearly, despite it being set decades before Alien, the tech on display in Prometheus is clearly light-years in advance of what we saw on the Nostromo way back in the day, which would appear to indicate that Scott felt he had to root his film in ‘modern’ futuristic for today’s audiences, when a far braver (and artistically more pleasing) step would have been to have gone fully retro.

Good stuff? Well, the set-pieces are ocassionally excellent, the Space Jockeys and other creatures when they appear are sufficiently impressive to distract from the fact that there ain’t a H.R. Giger alien to be seen (well, maybe not) and the ending manages to be spectacular, philosophically challenging, moving and disquieting. But, and it pains me to say it, there is no doubt in my mind that this could have been so much more. Scott has suggested that a sequel to his prequel may be on the cards and that, for me, would have to be his last chance to get it as right as I still believe a director of his talent is capable of doing.

124 mins.

16 thoughts on “Prometheus (2012)”

  1. Time to nerd-up and geek-out…

    The Space Jockey was not a big bald bloke running around in a rubber suit, it was a monstrous bio-mechanical appendage attached to and growing out of the very ship it was destined to pilot. Giger’s organic set design was not an Alien’s taste in feng shui, it implied that the entire ship was in some sense alive. That’s what made Alien so weird and scary; Kane, Dallas and Lambert were not wandering through the ship’s corridors, they were wandering through its lungs. And the cargo-hold was a vast chasm dwarfing Wembley Stadium many times in all directions, it wasn’t a little pantry full of cute ‘WMD’ vases. Oh, Ridley! You missed the vision and the scale of your own movie.

    But, but, but…despite the fact that Prometheus‘s plot isn’t much more than a incoherent rehash of AvP…there was just about enough visual panache to hide the fact that Scott can’t tell a story any more. So, one comes out in some ways elated and in other ways frustrated. It’s like a beautiful set of jigsaw pieces that don’t fit together. At the end of the day, Giger’s original designs were so compelling that I would be happy to spend two hours within anything resembling them, however muddled the story gets.

  2. Mate, I wish I had written what you just have, and you don’t hear me saying that very often. πŸ˜‰ Spot on, and not in the least bit nerdy or geeky – I too was obviously not happy with Scott’s seeming decision to ‘feng shui’ everything and I feel, as you obviously do, that he has decided to distance himself as far as possible from the wonderfully creepy bio-mechanoid sense of ‘other’ that his first film generated. But, as you also say, ‘oh, well’ – it is *not* appalling, but could have been *so* much more.

  3. The universe having conspired to prevent me seeing Prometheus until yesterday, I have had to spend a goodly while avoiding reviews and spoilers – and it’s lucky I did. As a side note, it was as funny as I imagined watching The Divine P cover her face in terror and jump out of her skin. Mind you, she thinks Pirates of the Caribbean is scary. Which actually made it funnier.

    I digress, and I am here to largely disagree. Quelle surprise.

    James: Your review is well done (that English degree is really paying off now :-)) but to me reads like a kid who was told he was getting a bike for his birthday and who ended up with a packet of sweets. To extend the analogy to the point of breaking, bikes and sweets are both great – it’s about the management of expectation.

    Did I know beyond doubt that the thing would be left wide open for a sequel or three? Of course. Ultimately, it wasn’t disappointing – and neither was the film as a whole, if you weren’t expecting Scott to spoon-feed the answers to you. If you look at Scott’s briefing notes, it’s a stand-alone story “set in the same universe” as Alien but is meant to be, and succeeds as being, a texture or companion piece, rather than a direct prequel. Too many people (IMHO) imagined their bag of sweets to be a bike and were disappointed when they opened their gift.

    I thought it had a wonderful feel to it and the soundtrack and audio SFX were perfectly matched to the mood. To say that the tech is far advanced from that of, say, the Nostromo is moot. People don’t bitch about it when you look at the original Star Trek and either DS9 or Abrams’ versons.

    I’m sticking to my guns here and saying it was very enjoyable (I think we all agree anyway) but that by not over-thinking it, it’s probably that much more so. The disappointing moments for me were Rapace’s accent (although she must have worked like a dog to get it so right so quickly, so not really a criticism) and the fact that Charlize Theron insisted on remaining fully clothed throughout. I might write a strongly worded letter to Scott about this last point).

    Chris: Prometheus‘s plot isn’t much more than a incoherent rehash of AvP – don’t sugar it, pal – come right out and speak your mind. πŸ™‚

    I will admit that it’s a familiar scenario but that’s why most people love stock sci-fi (which is what this is). The ‘incoherent’ part I am inclined to agree with – although my biggest beef is that they found the colony pretty much first go on a planet the size of Jupiter. Hmmm. Everything else is, from what I can see, being picked apart by basement dwellers who have nothing better to do than argue the minutae of films online (and yes, I didn’t miss the irony).

    I think that if you want to write it off in the end, wait until the sequel(s) have finshed telling the story. For me, as a stand-alone piece of sci-fi, it works well. Despite the pseudo-intellectual title, it’s a piece of entertaining cinema and not, thank God, Nietzsche.

  4. Col, thanks for your trenchant, intelligent comment. Don’t get me wrong; I, for one, am actually very happy that you seemed to enjoy Prometheus, and it is obviously not my place to say that you were ‘wrong’ for doing so.

    However, concerning the ‘bike/bag of sweets’ anology, I hope you will allow me to say that, as far as Alien (and, similarly, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), which was also ‘prequeled’ just last year) is concerned, given that this was one of the films (if not *the* film) that encouraged me to take the direction I have in life (ie, among other things, sitting here writing a comment on a film-review website, and a damn fine one at that ;-), which is half mine), I feel that I have every right to have approached Prometheus with the child-like expectations you describe, and to have come away with more doubts than delight.

    But I am glad to have the opportunity to go into a little more detail – as far as scares, or even potential scares, were concerned, the film only started to come alive for me when it became apparent just how impassive (or evil?) the ‘Space Jockey’ race obviously was, at least as far as was exemplified by its sole survivor. Up to that point, while (as I hope I intimated in my review) there was a great deal of invention and flair on display, I feel that Scott had trouble in deciding exactly what genre he wanted his film to represent. True, Alien can be defined as the classic sci-fi/horror crossover, but it did not worry about muddying the waters with notions of God/Engineers, which I thought were superfluous.

    Secondly, and this ties in to my point about the ‘tech on display, Alien had a wonderfully grimy, bleak sense of the technology advancing but humanity being pretty much unchanged, with the Nostromo‘s crew of bitching, whining, interstellar ‘truckers’ speaking dialogue that was similarly far more credible, it being mumbly, ocassionally incoherent, ie the way that real people actually speak. I am sorry, but I believe that Prometheus, even though it is set some 30 years before the events of Scott’s original film, has substitued surface sheen to ‘please’ modern audiences, particularly with the technology, and I for one was not pleased. Therefore, I would politely dispute your assertion that this point is ‘moot’.

    In addition, and I normally enjoy Guy Pearce’s performances very much as you know, I felt that he was nothing more than an irritant in this, and a none-too-convincingly aged one, at that – the viral promo in which he featured was *far* better.

    A sequel? Bring it on but, as I say, if Scott does not wrap it up with his next film, I will be tuning out. Your ball, sir. πŸ˜‰

  5. Oh, by all means approach a film with child-like expectation – I positively encourage that. You appear to be, however, still labouring under the misapprehension that this is some sort of prequel (you use the phrase “also prequeled”), and this is setting you up for disappointment. It’s been made clear by Scott that this is a texture piece in a larger space landscape, and that it has similarities to the Alien universe and that it isn’t meant to be explaining anything in particular.

    In this context, the makers/engineers were far from superfluous as they provided the thrust of the narrative for the entire piece. Right from act one they were up to no good and the story went on from there.

    I will concede that I thought the Nostromo was ‘better’, in that I imagined it will be what space travel becomes – like a merchant navy in space, complete with dingy quarters, mixed languages and pay-day whoring at the local spaceport. This, Scott accomplished with some aplomb. But, you send the merchant navy out in the crappy ships and you perhaps reserve the better-equipped craft for the scientists? Well, that’s what I’d do. It’s inconsistent from a time-line point of view, yes – but I think that, again, you are perhaps expecting too much from something that isn’t a prequel.

    Guy Pearce was disappointing – as you said, his piece in the teaser was fantastic, and I was hoping for a slimier, nastier version of Carter Burke (Aliens (1986)). In fact, I myself drew a comparison there and was disappointed. Funny how that goes, eh?

  6. Col, you are right of course – Scott did say all that you have repeated, which means, I suppose, that my real problem with Prometheus is that it isn’t a prequel, I really, really wanted it to be, and it’s not fair. πŸ˜‰ A very adult argument, I think – I’ll write Scott a letter, get it off my chest.

    As I have already said, I will be giving the film another view soon and, with my expectations now accordingly adjusted thanks to your excellent points, there is a very good chance I will enjoy it much more. Fair enough? πŸ™‚

  7. I have to say that I did not actually realise that this was in any way supposed to be a ‘prequel’ (even though Colin probably did tell me!) but I knew nothing about it beforehand and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I only realised that it might have something to do with Alien when we were discussing it afterwards, but for me it was a great sci-fi movie on it’s own merit – maybe because I had no expectations whatsoever? (I do agree though that, although Guy Pearce’s performance was fine, his make-up was unconvincing.)

  8. Dear P,

    A very warm welcome to Picturenose, and thank you for your comment! πŸ™‚

    As with Colin, I am very glad that you did enjoy the film, and it’s interesting that you had no previous knowledge of its possible connections with Alien. This indicates you obviously appreciated it on its own terms, and your judgement was not clouded (as I now concede that mine was) with whether or not it was a prequel, and thus whether it lived up to my appreciation of the original Alien or not. Oh well, you live and learn – I hope to hear lots more from you on Picturenose soon. πŸ™‚

  9. Hi Colin/James/DP,

    I think you’re being too kind on Prometheus. With all due respect, it’s a movie populated by underwritten fools. Take the biologist who runs off back to the ship with the archeologist. OK, so he’s drawn as a coward. But later, he thinks nothing of trying to cuddle the hissing alien cobra as if it’s a cute little space kitten. Eh?! It’s not just stupid, it’s inconsistent.

    And how come the archeologist responsible for mapping the ‘pyramid’ gets lost in it? It’s because this is a movie in which character is driven by the requirements of the plot rather than the reverse, and that’s fine in a Roger Corman rip off, or in Friday the 13th, but IMHO not in the much-anticipated multi-million dollar space epic by Sir Ridley Scott. The trouble is that it diffuses tension, because as our biologist pets the space snake we’re too busy thinking “as if anyone would do that!” to be overwhelmed by the drama.

    It’s also fine to leave questions unanswered in a movie, but there are good questions to leave unanswered and bad ones. I can wait to find out why the engineers are so peeved at us (despite identical DNA, humans have hair?), whatever, it’s a mystery I can live with until the sequel. On the other hand, there’s something very fruity going on between Vickers and David, which seemed to be integral to this movie but was left dangling. What’s David’s agenda? Why does Vickers seem jealous of him? These were the interesting character details that could have propelled some plot, but instead the idiots take over and start pressing buttons and opening doors that they obviously shouldn’t. Doh!

    Nevertheless, with Scott and his screenwriters fumbling around with z-movie idioms, the cinematographers and set designers saw the chance to steal the show. And boy did they. They churned out more visual splendour than any movie deserves, however well directed. So, as I argued before, it’s a movie that overcomes its flaws (and then some) just with the breathtaking vision of the art-department. πŸ™‚

  10. Dear Chris,

    Help, help, I don’t know what to think for myself! πŸ˜‰ Seriously, I don’t think that I have been too kind, ie see my original review, but I would say that Colin, yourself and P have provided very convincing arguments on both sides of the coin. No, I am not just being deliberately diplomatic here but, as I also say in my review, I was convinced that this was going to be a debate that raged, and this excellent discussion is already proving me right. Let’s see what Colin has to say in response to your argument, then I will respond further, ‘K? πŸ™‚

  11. ‘Help, help, I don’t know what to think for myself!’

    Ha, ha! Nothing new there! πŸ˜‰

    ‘Seriously, I don’t think that I have been too kind…’

    No, you weren’t. I agree with Colin that it was movie for which I had to ‘manage my expectations’, as he put it so eloquently. It was never going to live up to the hype. And I agree with Colin and DP that it was a very entertaining movie that has come in for some very sniffy reviews. I mean I did love it, but I loved it despite the script being a mess (IMHO).

    Fair enough?

    πŸ™‚

  12. ‘They churned out more visual splendour than any movie deserves’ – amen, brother Chris. Visually appealing hardly covers it. I might also draw everyone’s attention to the jaw-dropping audio FX, the clarity and power of which made this a definite ‘must see at the cinema’ film.

    True, there were some ‘huh?’ moments, although biologists are frankly a set of nutters, so I could imagine he’d have found the species fascinating. That said, I find the concept of electricity fascinating, but not enough to lick a live rail. Altering DNA will change traits, but 99.9% of humans share exactly same DNA helix, despite being hairy, tall or even white, black or brown. If a person can share the exact same DNA as everyone else, despite person A and person B being entirely different colours, I think a small matter of whether one needs to buy a Braun for Christmas is slightly irrelevant. I guess we could do this all day, so to cut it short, I agree that there were one or two plot holes.

    The question of David, though, is entirely different. Vickers was obviously mad at him because he had the ear of her father. For whatever reason (power, most likely), she needs to be sure the old man pops his clogs and if he finds the fountain of youth, she’ll never get her day in the sun.

    Additionally, David was fulfilling the role of every replicant in an Aliens-style franchise. He was good guy/bad guy/good guy etc. etc. His remit was clearly to preserve the life form at all costs (although I can’t think why) and it appears that despite being unable to feel or express emotion, had a shred or two of humanity about him. I feel that if one knew the reputation of replicants’ unreliability from other Alien-universe films, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. Otherwise, I can see how it’d be confusing. That said, TDP appeared unperturbed by it all.

    Finally, I read the phrase “Prometheus sequel hinted at” a lot in the movie press. Is that like the Cro-Magnon hinting at affection by battering the lady with a club? I can’t think of a film more set up for a sequel. Except, perhaps, for The Italian Job (1969). πŸ™‚

  13. I figured because an exact figure would have been a little too on-the-nose? Apparently there was some actual Jesus stuff they cut out for that reason.

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