Ridley Scott has returned to the Alien franchise after a long string of not so exciting projects. With Prometheus interviews and trailers there is the promise of a return to science fiction in the vein of Blade Runner and the original Alien.
But is Prometheus a return to form?
Following a group of “scientists” Prometheus is about a discovery ship of the same name. The ship travels to a far away planet system pointed out by various cultures. But what they find on the planet is not what they were expecting.
This review will be heavily biased and dissect Prometheus
from a science fiction standpoint. For a less enraged review
I recommend a previous one written by a friend of mine.
Science Fiction… that’s the thing with spaceships right?
When going into this review it is very important that there are two sorts of science fiction:
- Movies where the Sci-Fi setting is just a backdrop and the story doesn’t necessarily need to have the technological ideas behind it to work (Science Fantasy)
- Movies where the conflicts are caused by the technology or where technology is essential for character motivations (hard Science Fiction)
Avatar and Star Wars are movies that fall into the first category as they are fairy tales decorated with spaceships. Blade Runner and Alien fall into the latter. The first asking the fundamental question of the definition of life.
By having artificially created lifeforms asking the question why they are perceived as less valuable than human life the story reflects on the nature of life itself.
With Alien the idea is that we find some places that are completely unlike our own. Where different rules are working. And what we find there might not be what we want to find.
I might have made a mistake when I expected a movie like this when going into the cinema – but when Ridley Scott returns I believe one is apt to make a mistake like this.
Robots don’t go to heaven
After a few nice ideas at the beginning I started to have this nagging sensation. Something was not right. There were a lot of interesting Sci-Fi concepts being thrown into the story and some seeds for further philosophical discussions but the ideas never started to be explored.
Instead of delving into the questions it felt more like a person had watched influential Sci-Fi works and threw in a few things he picked up. When it is stated at the beginning that android David (Michael – great as usual – Fassbender) has no soul one could blame this sentence on a society that looks down to robots/artificial life. Yet except for some few flashes of interesting story-opportunities we pretty much are left with humans are believers and robots can’t understand humans.
The overly simplified spiritual story sticks out the most. Personally while I am not a spiritual person I have no gripes with stories dealing about why and how people believe – if it is done in an interesting way.
The beautiful thing about the great Sci-Fi stories is that there are no definitive answers. No matter how often it is discussed if a robot has a soul or not there is never a clear answer. The answer lies within the audience. What we get from a good Sci-Fi storiy are possible scenarios so we can further discuss those ideas.
But with Prometheus it is less like this and more like someone stating a possible concept. Then nothing happens with the concept. Then something asks the same question again near the end and that’s about it.
The incentive for discussion is not more than someone going to you “imagine you would meet your creator”. We never see the characters react or feel those ideas so there is precious little the author brings to the table except spelling out questions.
This is not an Alien prequel…
…except it is.
The Marketing of this movie was very cautious due to the fact that the initial idea was to do a prequel to one of the most influential science fiction movies of all times.
When Ridley Scott was attached to it the raging internet mob calmed down a bit until it was announced that this movie would not be Alien 0 but an “original” science fiction film that had “traces of alien DNA”.
Watching this movie makes it hard to judge it on its own merits and not as an Alien film because the movie clearly has a lot of traces of the original prequel in it. There are a few superficial ones to shout “look it is not quite a prequel” but they feel more like they were added later instead of being interwoven into the story. Particularly the planet the crew is landing has a different number assigned than the one in the original Alien. Yet the entire movie it feels as if we are already on LV-426 instead of LV-223. There are some twists in the screenplay to justify the deviation but when one thinks about those revelations they diminish/contradict the initial setup (when you watch the movie just pay attention to the function of the planet for the alien race).
If you have watched the television series Lost you might experience a sense of déjà vu. There are a lot of high concepts, a lot of characters speaking about interesting ideas, a lot of contradictions so obvious they (hopefully) must have been a deliberate decision by the author – and then there is no sense of those ideas actually being explored.
When the premiere ended (filled with people psyched for this movie) the awkward silence and one person attempting to clap followed by silence after the second clap spoke volumes about what just happened.
Similarly to Lost you are not quite sure if you have just watched the most infantile and cheap cop out – or if it is so ambitiously complex that you just don’t get it. And where Lost defenders used the phrase “it was all about the characters” one can only hope that Prometheus is not just about those characters and their idiotic decisions.
Spoiler wise you can’t really spoil this movie because anything can get interpreted a million ways. Writer Damon Lindelof is a master of throwing many things into the mix so that people trust him that he has had a plan when writing.
It goes as far as Space Jesus being a legitimate interpretation of the movie – which in itself is not a spoiler as it is not really in the movie. Or is it?
Much like Lost any interpretation first has to construct an entire mythology based on a few words spilled in the movie. The interpretations are very interesting but they are more credit to the fan who came up with it.
Could Prometheus be ambitious?
Maybe. You can interpret any movie and draw parallels to other important works of literature given enough time. The problem is that this movie has not really given me any motivation to do so. Even if Lindelof – unlike with Lost – wants to say something this time it doesn’t change the fact that I did not care for anything in this movie.
The characters are defined by their profession and horror stereotypes. The leading characters are plain, the new aliens are not interesting from a design or story standpoint. When the story converges into a climax that is uninspired and frankly a bit cop-out I no longer care if there might be a meaning behind it. A movie that just relies on vague symbolism and doesn’t offer a story that works for the characters is just something I don’t really care for.
Ambitious as 2001?
2001 gets referenced a lot when people talk about Prometheus maybe because the movie so desperately wants to be as grand and symbolic as Kubrick’s masterpiece. The difference for me here is one thing: when I watched 2001 I was hopelessly confused. I had no idea what had just happened but I was eager to understand. The movie left a feeling of a hidden structure – I’m struggling to describe it but I knew that there was a reason to all the actions happening in the movie.
Maybe it was because the characters acted naturally.
There was never a moment in 2001 when I was scratching my had at the sheer stupidity of a character.
Never a moment where I thought “they had to include it because that’s what those type of movies do”
Never a conflict resolved by an explanation suited for a six year old.
And probably because of the incredibly strange ending I just wanted to figure out what was going on.
With Prometheus instead of storytelling I saw fanservice
Instead of ambitious concepts I saw crontradictions
Instead of genuine conflicts I heard ideas stated but never explored
Well not every movie has to be 2001!!!
Expecting a second coming of 2001 is pretty futile and only deemed to fail. The question is if the movie works on itself. In 2009 I was not really happy with Avatar because the fascinating concepts of the universe weren’t really explored. The disappointment was less with the film than what I expected.
Eventually my therapist convinced me to let it go and accept Avatar as what it is. And it is scary when you watch Prometheus and you realize that Avatar was more Sci-Fi than this movie. While both movies are very light on the Sci-Fi James Cameron’s movie has a thought out logic – as can be read in Cameron’s original drafts. Even if it is not addressed the flying mountains on Pandora are flying for a reason within this universe.
With Prometheus the universe is windowdressing. Partially Avatar visuals, partially Alien imagery, mutant tentacle-rape… but we are never really sure what this universe is actually about. And while Avatar is Science Fantasy the story it presents makes sense for the characters – even if it is derivative it is better than nonsensical.
Ultimately Prometheus is a movie that could have been a lot but ends up being not that much.