It’s been a while since Ridley Scott’s made a film I really admire (Hannibal?), and even longer since he’s made one I really love (Alien/Blade Runner/Legend). But the man’s got talent and I hoped his returning to LV-233 would bring it out.
His first mistake was not returning to LV-233.
Actually, Prometheus makes several mistakes. For one thing, it overvalues allusions to other artworks. Noomi Rapace’s emergency C-section, arguably the best scene in the film, isn’t successful because it obliquely references virgin births, or the lancing of Christ’s side, or Prometheus’s having been condemned to having his liver eternally eaten out by an eagle. It’s great because it’s tense and well acted and disgusting as fuck.
But in too many other scenes, Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof forgo similar pleasures in favor of vague allusions to Greek and Christian myths (what we might call “The Phantom Menace Fallacy”). Then they tread even more water referencing other Alien films: David shoots hoops like Ripley; Elizabeth Shaw looks like Ripley; David ultimately looks a lot like Bishop. This at best cute, at worst distracting and pretentious. (Is Prometheus the equal of the Bible?) They also significantly increase the film’s sense of authorial intrusion.
Which is constant. The dialogue, for instance, is almost entirely one-note, smacking over and over again of Spaihts and Lindelof shoveling plot points / exposition at the audience. Consider this gem of a scene:
The pacing there strikes me as much faster than in the actual movie, so this clip is probably abridged. But that doesn’t make the dialogue any less poorly heavy-handed:
Holloway: Please tell me you can read that.
Shaw: What are you doing, David?
David: I’m attempting to open the door.
Shaw: Wait. We don’t know what’s on the other side.
David: Remarkably human.
David: Beautiful painting.
Shaw: It’s a mural.
Shaw: Stop, stop—don’t touch it.
Shaw: Please don’t touch anything.
Shaw: Oh no. The murals are changing. I think we’ve affected the atmosphere in the room. Charlie! David! We must leave now!
Prometheus reminded me of Inception or a Grant Morrison comic in that the characters mostly stood around, explicitly stating everything the writers wanted the audience to know. And I don’t have a problem with movies or comics doing that to some extent but when it becomes all they do, it’s lazy and boring.
A lot of this dialogue also never matters. “The murals are changing”? The movie opened with Shaw discovering cave paintings and exposing them to air which couldn’t have been good, right? Yet she didn’t act concerned about their inevitable destruction.
Ridley Scott, admittedly, brings some flair to the film. But the fancy set designs can’t disguise the fact that, at heart, this is a bigger-budget version of television:
Worf: There are no reports of any damage to the Enterprise.
Data: Captain, the target was not the ship. The weapon was designed to drain the shields.
Worf: Confirmed. Shield effectiveness has been reduced twelve percent.
Wesley: Captain, the Borg ship is closing.
Worf: They’re firing again. […] Shields have been reduced forty-one percent. Another hit and we will be defenseless.
Riker: Arm the photon torpedoes.
Picard: Fire the photons.
Worf: The Borg ship was not damaged.
…which is already usually just an illustrated radio play. Prometheus is a movie as drained of artistry as the Enterprise‘s shields.
Finally, I’ve seen many making hay over Prometheus‘s plot holes and failure to “line up” with Alien. The funniest hay’s come from Red Letter Media’s Mike Stoklasa and Jay Bauman:
God bless them for their irreverence. Because the discrepancies and plot holes don’t matter. They’re the result of laziness and/or Scott &co. fucking with the audience. Watching Prometheus ten more times won’t answer any questions.
It’s sad. When Scott made Alien, he made a solid sci-fi/horror movie that surprised audiences with its poetry. And its stillness and mysteriousness and persistent creepiness remain beautiful and engaging 33 years later. (Christ’s lifetime—a clue??)
Now, though, he’s rebooting a franchise. Prometheus, much like an ancient cave painting, is an invitation—to filmgoing audiences everywhere, to speculate about what will happen in the inevitable sequels! (And to purchase advance tickets now.)
May it, too, dissolve.
2. FEATURE FRIDAY
For the past few months I’ve been running a little series, “Feature Friday,” over at Big Other. I find some feature film I like that’s up at YouTube, link to it, and say a few words of introduction. Think of it as a low-rent version of Chris Higgs’s Netflix instant post. Installments so far—all of which I’d call better/more interesting than Prometheus—include:
- Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)
- A New Leaf (1971)
- Little Murders (1971)
- The Devils (1971)
- Sleuth (1972)
- The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
- Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)
- The Keep (1983)
- Lifeforce (1985)
- Swans: A Long Slow Screw (1986)
- Withnail & I (1986)
- Anima Mundi (1992)
- The Baby of Mâcon (1993)
- Wittgenstein (1993)
- Mostly Martha (2001)
- The Room (2003)
- Syndromes and a Century (2006)
+Plus tomorrow’s movie, whatever it is, oh what could it be? … Enjoy!
Update 22 June 12: If you want to go down the Promethean rabbit hole, here’s one point of entry.