Day 139: Prometheus

"There is nothing in the desert. And no man needs nothing."

I think it fitting that I chose a quote from Prometheus that was actually lifted from another film. Prometheus, as a film, didn't need to add in the specter of another film hovering above it. Positioning itself as a prequel to Alien built that in to the experience to begin with, however, the filmmakers (and I say that because I don't know if it was a script choice or a director choice) decided to give one of the characters an obsession with Lawrence of Arabia. Thankfully they picked the best actor in the film (Michael Fassbender) to give that obsession to, but any time you take one of the greatest films ever made, insert it in to your own film, and reference it more than once, you're only serving to remind your audience of all the better things they could be doing with their time.

And thus is the paradox that is Ridley Scott's Prometheus. What begins as an ambitious science fiction film that sets out to tackle weighty issues like the origin of human life and religious belief systems, turns into a base, sophomoric attempt at being a (thoroughly unpleasing) crowd-pleaser. For its first 45 minutes (excluding a thoroughly ridiculous prologue), the film is actually surprisingly good, and I was having a hard time understanding where the film's detractors were coming from.

The film chronicles an expedition to the vast reaches of the solar system, funded by an enigmatic & wealthy benefactor named Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce), aboard the eponymous vessel. The ragtag group of people aboard include the captain (the always great Idris Elba), the woman running the operation (Charlize Theron, never blander) and the two archaeologists (Noomi Rapace & some guy that looks like a low-rent Tom Hardy) whose discoveries on earth have led Weyland to believe that the answers to the origin of life on Earth reside on the moon of a distant planet. Also aboard are a bunch of other utterly forgettable supporting players and an android named David (Fassbender) who has spent the two year voyage of the ship watching the dreams of the other passengers in between language lessons & viewings Lawrence of Arabia.

Anyone who's seen at least one science fiction film knows that there's more awaiting this crew than meets the eye when they arrive. What makes the film so utterly stupid is the fact that the characters will, in time, receive the answer to virtually every question that they have. Pins are set up just to be knocked down & it diminishes the whole point of bringing up such heavy issues. Why does there have to be an answer to everything? Do you care where the Alien in Alien came from? You'll get your answer here. Did you absolutely have to know what the space jockey in Alien was? Watch Prometheus for a truly stupid answer. It doesn't matter where everything comes from, but it's funny that the entire theme of Prometheus is people seeking answers to unanswerable questions. It's like they're letting you know what you're in for right there in the god damned log line.

No one's motivations make any sense. A single word is spoken, unnecessarily, by Charlize Theron's character, almost as a reason to help you understand why this wholly unlikable person is the way she is. I'm really not sure I understand why the two guys left in the cave would so eagerly approach a phallic alien life form when they've avoided every imaginable danger up until that point. I also don't understand the filmmakers motivations, like why they were so slavishly faithful to the costume and set designs from the original Alien. Has everyone just plain run out of ideas, or do you not trust your audience enough that you have to spell absolutely everything out for them?

Apart from Elba & Fassbender, the performances are nothing to write home about. There was nothing distinguishable about any of them. I think there were just too many people. The original Alien worked because the cast was so streamlined and everyone had their distinct character traits. Here, everyone wants to be shrouded in mystery and cast in shades of grey that they all wind up fading into the background due to their insistence on being meaningful and three-dimensional.

I genuinely miss the days when a director could surprise you. There was a time when a guy like Ridley Scott could come seemingly out of nowhere with a genuinely entertaining film like Gladiator and remind you why he was an elite director in the first place. Now we're reduced to waiting for the other shoe to drop halfway through even the most promising of efforts by directors that lost their mojo long ago.

There might have been a good film in here somewhere, but like the Star Wars prequels before this, the filmmakers became obsessed with turning virtually every little unexplained nuance of the original into some deep, meaningful entity with a backstory. I think Hollywood views moviegoers as people who are no longer willing to expect the unexpected, and with every new film that comes along, the need to classify it as a total success or a total failure has only bred that contempt studios have for us peons even further.

Unless you're a die-hard fan of Alien and need to know where everything came from, avoid Prometheus at all costs. It may only end up tarnishing your memories of an otherwise great film. As a matter of fact, I'm going to cleanse my palate with a viewing of Alien right now.

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