Review: Prometheus

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I’ll begin this review by stealing a line from my friend who saw the movie with me. She says, “By the year 2093, you’d think these characters would have seen enough sci-fi movies to know what would happen.” Prometheus, a big-ass sci-fi extravaganza by Ridley Scott, is visually stunning and frequently exciting, but the script is a collection of cliches and flat-out dumb behavior by characters who are supposedly brilliant. For example, if I were a biological expert, and I saw a snake-like creature that I’d never seen before emerge from a pool of oil, I wouldn’t talk baby-talk to it like it was a dachshund puppy.

The scenario borrows elements from the old Chariots of the Gods theory put forth (and debunked) years ago. Archaeologists and romantic partners Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, discover cave paintings in Scotland that repeat a theme from around the world: a configuration of heavenly bodies. They have a theory that a moon in that configuration may hold the origin of man.

A billionaire industrialist (Guy Pearce, under a ton of makeup) believes the theory to the tune of a trillion dollars, and commissions a two-year mission to this moon. He sends Rapace and Marshall-Green, along with corporate hatchet-woman Charlize Theron, looking as sleek and shiny as the Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood of a Rolls-Royce. She’s also about as warm. I imagine that, after this film and Snow White and the Huntsman, Hollywood executives, when needing an ice queen, will say, “Get me Charlize Theron!”

The crew also consists of other experts in geology (Sean Harris, looking like a refugee from a rave) and the dumb biologist (Rafe Sprall). There is also the typically cynical, world-weary pilot (Idris Elba). The first indication that this script was dumb was when the crew, who were is suspended animation for two years, are informed of the nature of their mission only after they are awakened. I don’t know about you, but before I commit two years (and presumably two more for the return trip) I would want to know all the details before I left.

The crew is rounded out by a robot, played unflappably by Michael Fassbender, who spends his two years shooting baskets while riding a bike and watching Lawrence of Arabia endlessly. Given that this film is connected to the Alien franchise, it should be no surprise that David (the robot’s name, certainly a wink in the direction of Stanley Kubrick) may have his own agenda.

Once on the moon in question, the crew explores a pyramid, and finds the remains of their presumed creators, who share identical DNA as humans. But they’re all dead, and holographic films suggest that they were fleeing from something. Maybe it’s the oily things in all those vases that surround a huge stone head, like something out of an Olmec temple.

From here the movie goes sour, turning into a typical “Don’t go in that room!” film, like a teenage-slasher movie. There’s also dumb moments like when Rapace reveals that she can’t get pregnant, which tells us that she will in fact become pregnant, but not necessarily with something human (the most thrilling scene in the film has her give herself a Cesarean). There are all sorts of lines that, as Harrison Ford said of George Lucas’ dialogue, may be written, but can’t easily be said, like “Son of a bitch,” “Jesus Christ!”, or my favorite, “What the hell is that?”

The film rests on a mystery that is not answered, left presumably for a sequel that I won’t be all that eager to see. The connection to Alien is there, if you wait for the credits, but the H.R. Giger design scheme ties it together visually. Scott, who can make a good movie when he has a good script (Alien and Thelma and Louise for example, but not Blade Runner or Gladiator), is at sea here, the story lumbering along without any particular purpose.

My grade for Prometheus is C+, with the plus for the visual effects and some exciting, white-knuckle sequences. I did not see the 3D version, as I am morally opposed to the process.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

17 responses »

  1. Sorry.
    My response to that is: Then you’ll likely have a cow, as film is expected to be done away with in the major markets of US, Japan, Canada and Europe by 2015.
    All of the word-of-mouth and reviews are kinda depressing. Kinda like that other thing Lindelof wrote, LOST.

  2. What? I’m not opposed to digital, if that’s what you’re talking about, just 3D. I find it hard to believe that all films will be in 3D by 2015. I think they’re already scaling them back, aren’t they?

  3. (mild potential spoiler warning)

    More or less agree with JS, the setup is highly promising but it really falls apart as the film progresses, especially in the final third.

    It clearly had great ambitiions so when it turns into a conventional fright/action pic of the sci-fi kind, it was highly disappointing.

    All this great setup, and when they do meet their ‘creator’, it turns into nothing more than pure violence? What a waste!

    The other weakness of the film was that I didn’t really care for any of the characters. Whatever the weaknesses of James Cameron, he has a great skill to make you care about the fate of the characters and that’s what helped make Aliens work so well. Here, I really didn’t care about anybody – Rapace tries hard, but she’s no Weaver.

    Most baffling character was Theron’s – tbh for a fair way into the film she’s so robotic in her personality that I thought she was an android (or secretly was) – there was no real payoff in her character and she seemed rather gratuitous in the whole scheme of things.

    Still, for all its weaknesses, I’d recommend seeing this; the superb visuals and style that Scott employs, and the clevely understated 3D, as well as the sense of fascination about where it was all heading. This is indeed a film you really need to go to the cinema to experience and for the first half, I was capitvated into it as I’ve rarely been for films I’ve seen at the cinema in recent years.

    Pity about the second half.

    Rating: B-

    btw, would scientists in the year 2089 still use conventional torches?

  4. I’m going with a C+ as well. The good – Fassbender, the visuals, the c-section, and the 3D – not gimmicky, it just served to add depth. The bad – virtually everything else. The biggest loser – logic. Lindeloff should be banned from writing, well – anything.

  5. Saw this today and thought that it was pretty pathetic on a script level. I’m really baffled by Ebert’s frankly Travers-esque rave, all the more because it presents all the movie’s weak points as strengths.

    Seriously nothing in this movie makes a damn bit of sense. For example, do any of the filmmakers know what DNA is? Do they have any idea how scientists work, especially when confronted with possible contaminants? Why would a biologist run away, frightened by the first sign of (dead) alien life, only to treat a (living) strange life form like a puppy later in the movie? Why did they cast Guy Pearce as an old guy, only to create the worst makeup job in the history of Hollywood, instead of just casting an actual old guy? And what was the old guy doing there anyway? Lawrence of Arabia … what? Why make the religious faith of Noomi Rapace’s character an issue when it’s clearly not really an issue? Has anyone other than small children ever found “That’s what I choose to believe” to be a persuasive argument instead of an admission of ignorance? And just WTF were the engineers doing anyway? If any movie ever really needed a Monologuing Killer scene, this was it. But no.

    What a big bucket of stupid.

  6. I wondered about Guy Pearce also, but you may remember that Filmman (or was it James?) posted an early trailer here that showed Pearce, as a younger man, speaking to an audience about something. It must have been a scene that was cut. And why was he there? He said so–he wanted to meet the creatures who made mankind so they could tell him how to avoid death. It’s stupid, but it is mentioned in the script.

  7. And why was he there? He said so–he wanted to meet the creatures who made mankind so they could tell him how to avoid death. It’s stupid, but it is mentioned in the script.

    Well, yes, I know it was mentioned in the script, but I was asking on more of a structural level. They could have cut him out of the story altogether and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. There’s no effort made to make him a compelling figure, his motivations made little sense, and he didn’t really interact with the other cast members in a meaningful way. So why bother?

  8. Why did they cast Guy Pearce as an old guy, only to create the worst makeup job in the history of Hollywood

    What I’ve noticed in sci-fi is that old age makeup tends to be overdone; I’ve tended to notice in the various incarnations of Star Trek for example that anyone in old-age makeup really draws attention to itself. Maybe it’s because it’s assumed that these people are living to 125 or so (and that was probably the case with Pearce’s character), but it does seem a sci-fi thing.

    Well, yes, I know it was mentioned in the script, but I was asking on more of a structural level. They could have cut him out of the story altogether and it wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. There’s no effort made to make him a compelling figure, his motivations made little sense, and he didn’t really interact with the other cast members in a meaningful way. So why bother?

    Fully agree with this – his late reappearance should’ve been a memorable moment but had very little impact and then was used so half-heartedly it was just all a waste of time.

  9. I saw a tweet last night that said “Prometheus is the first movie in a long time where the fans were harder on the movie than the critics.”
    I wonder if bad word of mouth made Madagascar win the weekend. After reading the review and Juan’s excoriation of Lindelof (and really, after the Lost finale, who *didn’t* see this coming with anything he would write?) I really am in no rush to see this.
    The fact that I’ve read in more than one place that a character treats an alien life form like a puppy…ugh. Please let the Dark Knight be as good as it looks…please.

  10. I actually liked the movie, despite the occasional mind-blowing stupidity. It’s a big, big missed opportunity in terms of exploring the concepts Scott and his writers laid out (and as a prequel to Alien): but taken as a standard big-budget sci-fi blockbuster, it’s decent.

    The look of the film, particularly the effects and use of 3-D, are among the best I’ve seen. The planet felt like an actual physical place, not a cartoon ala Avatar’s Pandora or the various worlds in the Star Wars prequels. That Scott accomplished this on a budget of 125M is pretty impressive.

    People are being ridiculously hard on the thing, but I guess it’s unavoidable given the pedigree.

  11. The planet felt like an actual physical place, not a cartoon ala Avatar’s Pandora or the various worlds in the Star Wars prequels. That Scott accomplished this on a budget of 125M is pretty impressive.

    I don’t really agree with this either. Some dirt and rocks, big deal. The only part of the world that we even see is the short strip of dirt between the ship and the cave entrance and some mountains in the background.

    Cameron’s Pandora was so much more advanced, because it had to be, since his characters actually interacted with it. It was more than a glorified backdrop.

  12. I really am in no rush to see this.

    I’m kind of disappointed to see you say this, Filmman. I was interested to see what you would think of it, and it’s one of the rare movies that almost all of us have seen.

  13. Cameron’s Pandora was so much more advanced, because it had to be, since his characters actually interacted with it. It was more than a glorified backdrop.

    Sure, but at no time did I feel like it was a real environment. It felt like an animated environment with celebrity-voiced animated characters.

    We certainly don’t spend much time running around LV-whatever in Prometheus, but what we do see is as close to photo-realistic I’ve seen. With the budget and limitless creative freedom Cameron enjoys, I can only imagine what Scott and his team could accomplish visually.

  14. BTW, I’d rate Prometheus a B+ on first viewing and a B on second. I’ve only seen it in IMAX 3-D, which was stunning (and I strongly dislike 3-D).

  15. Sure, but at no time did I feel like it was a real environment. It felt like an animated environment with celebrity-voiced animated characters.

    We certainly don’t spend much time running around LV-whatever in Prometheus, but what we do see is as close to photo-realistic I’ve seen.

    But again, I think it’s important to remember that we’re talking about a glorified backdrop. Photorealism – or at least the illusion of photorealism – is much easier when you’re only dealing with backgrounds. It’s when you have to actually interact with the CGI work that things get trickier. This has been true at least as far back as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, where the art direction was wonderful but whenever the characters moved it looked goofy.

    But even still … it’s dirt and rocks.

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