I have been looking forward to Prometheus since the day I was born. Imbued with an innate knowledge of Ridley Scott’s seminal classic Alien, I burst forth violently from my mother’s womb and demanded Scott produce a prequel that explained what happened before the crew of the Nostromo touched down on LV-426. As lifelong fan of the franchise, I really wanted to like this movie. That is why it pains me that this long-awaited prequel will be the subject of the first negative review I write for Broadsheet360.
Prometheus is, in a word, sloppy. Sloppiness pervades the entire film, from its screenplay to its characters’ actions to its inconsistencies with the other films in the franchise. Here I can’t help but compare it to the first Alien film. The genius of Alien is that its monster, its “perfect organism,” only requires one host to wander into its vicinity to incite an outbreak. This elegant simplicity, itself a reflection of evolution and natural selection, was found everywhere in Dan O’Bannon’s script, which harbored few, if any, plot holes (other than the alien’s ability to grow from an infant to an adult without ingesting anything other than air).
Here, we have a script that’s so meandering and inelegant that it creates more questions than it answers—and not compelling questions that leave you with ideas and concepts to ponder, but bad questions that leave you wondering what the hell filmmakers were thinking. Whereas Alien played out like an expert game of chess, Prometheus is like a child flipping over the Monopoly board in frustration. I suppose that’s to be expected from screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaits, who delivered two of the biggest sci-fi duds of 2011, Cowboys vs. Aliens and The Darkest Hour (which I wrote about in the January issue). Anyway, if you expect this film to abut Alien the way last year’s Thing prequel abutted John Carpenter’s 1982 classic, drop that expectation now. The details given here just don’t match up, indicating either a crippling lack of attention to detail or that this simply isn’t the same planet from the first two Alien films, despite the story’s fundamental elements being identical (as unlikely as that is).
Prometheus tells the tale of archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who, in the year 2089, deduce through ancient cave-paintings on Earth that an alien race visited our planet thousands of years in the past. These Space Jockeys left a roadmap for mankind to find them once it achieved space travel. Drs. Shaw and Holloway convince wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland to finance a voyage to the Space Jockeys’ planet 35 light-years away. For reasons unknown, the benefactors of this trillion-dollar voyage are content to hire a bunch of people who have never met each other and would fail any test assessing teamwork or their ability to work with others. Upon landing on this planet, designated LV-223, the crew immediately encounters irrefutable evidence not only of intelligent alien life, but that this alien life was directly responsible for engineering life on Earth. Somehow, Dr. Holloway is disappointed with this discovery and gets drunk within hours of landing, despite being a brilliant archeologist who must have possessed inhuman patience to progress as far as he has in his field.
The sloppiness and impatience of the characters in this film disrupted my suspension of disbelief far more than chiseled humanoid aliens or tentacled rape-monsters ever could. The scientists on the trip exercise an extreme disregard for caution and archeological preservation. They rush right into a vacant alien temple, remove their helmets from their containment suits without regard for alien contagions and start manhandling everything, like someone deliberately trying to contaminate a crime scene. You'd think that with all the personal and financial investment in this trip, they'd take a few precautions so as to not soil the biggest discovery in the quest for mankind's origins ever. This reckless crew of space-faring archeologists predictably proceeds to get infected in myriad ways by various alien lifeforms that the Space Jockey race also engineered.
Larger philosophical questions are posed here that are not worth considering, mostly because the film only seems to pose them out of some perfunctory sense of obligation. While Prometheus’s opening scene answers the question of mankind’s origins without a thought, it then eludes the responsibility of having to deal with the motive for this origin for the rest of the film. Although I don’t think it’s necessary for a film to spell out the motives of its antagonists, I would appreciate if there were at least a consistent, underlying explanation for their actions. Such an explanation cannot be derived from the material we’re given here.
Michael Fassbender plays the ship’s obligatory allegiance-shifting android David, and although the script tosses him a few nonsensical turns, he handles it well. Noomi Rapace also makes for a compelling Dr. Shaw, who deftly handles the puzzling story beats the script requires of her. Idris Elba stands out as the ship’s pilot Janek, and steals the two scenes he’s given. Charlize Theron, however, delivers an embarrassingly campy performance as Meredith Vickers, the expedition’s captain. The film unnecessarily treats her as both a villain and a coward, a role she plays with all the ferocity and believability of daytime soap-opera starlet. For some reason, Guy Pearce is cast to play the 90-year-old Peter Weyland, who at no point in the script needs to be as young as Guy Pearce. Instead of simply casting an older actor, they slather Pearce in embarrassing makeup and make him look as campy and unbelievable as Army Hammer in J. Edgar. Like I said before—sloppy.
Like a beautiful-looking but poorly designed lab experiment, Prometheus makes a mockery of the sci-fi mythos that made the franchise interesting. This irks the scientist in me, which wants to see controlled experiments that isolate the variables in play in order to better understand the underlying xenobiology. What was once a simple process of infection now has at least ninety-two superfluous and contradictory steps. As a result, the Alien mythos has been rendered less compelling because of this film. One of the themes of Prometheus is mankind’s pursuit of its origins fomenting its destruction. Upon viewing this film, I can relate: I’ve been yearning for a prequel to Alien for years, and now that I have it, I wish it had never existed.