The more I think about Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the less I like it. Sure, it’s one of the better looking movies I’ve seen in a long time, but that’s Scott’s hallmark. The production design is gorgeous, the special effects are top notch, and the cinematography is atmospheric and Gothic without being so dark and murky that you can’t make out what’s happening on screen. The sound design is also wonderful, and the 3D well done without being gimmicky.
But boy, are the characters and story dumb.
It’s not a total disaster, but it certainly is a missed opportunity and so much less than it could have been with a little extra effort. The Internet is aflame with ire directed toward Damon Lindelof, one of Lost‘s co-creators, who did a revision of the script based on Jon Spaihts’ original draft. They feel Lindelof brought the failure of the Lost finale straight to Prometheus.
But really, Ridley Scott is to blame. The story is apparently exactly what he wanted. As the director, he’s ultimately responsible for what’s on screen, and unfortunately, good looking movies with paper-thin characters and weak stories are the rule rather than the exception of his filmography.
Where to begin on what went wrong? (There are spoilers for the movie here, so if you haven’t seen go watch it and come back when you’re done. Yes, I think it’s worth seeing even if it is something of a mess.)
The movie opens with a series of gorgeous landscape shots that culminate with an alien Engineer–a kind of super-buff, hairless human giant–on a lifeless world, presumably in the distant past. It may be Earth, but it may not, and doesn’t really matter. The Engineer drinks a concoction that dissolves his body and dumps his DNA into the waters of this world, which one assumes is to show how life began on that planet.
So far so good. We then see the world of 2089 with a bunch of scientists wandering through caves on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, where they find an ancient painting of primitives worshiping a giant who is pointing at a specific set of stars in the sky.
Jump forward again a few years and we are on board the starship Prometheus, which is headed for the solar system shown on the primitive cave painting.
Everyone wakes from hypersleep, and this is where things start to get a little hinky. These people have no idea why they are on this ship! Hello!! Really? No one seems to know each other, and the few who get bits of dialog are complete assholes.
Okay, so that’s not the worst thing about the movie, but it is dumb. No one got a mission briefing before they set out? These people didn’t even meet each other before dropping into hypersleep? I mean, come on.
But the bigger problem is that, with the exception of David the android, none of the characters ever come to life, and all of them act like complete idiots.
We have a Mowhawked jerk (a geologist) and some other random guy totally freak out inside the alien pyramid when they come across the bodies of dead space jockies. They’re so freaked out that they leave right away to head back to the Prometheus. Dumb asses that they are, they get lost, even though they have GPS trackers build into their suits and a freaking holographic map back on the ship that the captain could have used to direct them to the way out, if only they’d bothered to ask.
So they get stuck inside the pyramid when this massive sandstorm arrives and have to spend the night there. The captain decides he’d rather bone Meredith Vickers than keep an eye on the guys in the pyramid. But hey, she’s played by Charlize Theron, so I sort of get that.
The two guys in the pyramid who were so freaked out by the dead bodies? Well, they find a live alien that looks like a kind of mutant king cobra without a face. It rises up out of this black goop and hisses at them.
What do they do? Run? Call for help?
Haha. No, that would make sense. The one guy thinks its beautiful, sticks his face up to it, and reaches out with his hand! Why are we not surprised when it tears through his suit and burrows into his mouth? The other guy gets burned by its acidic blood trying to cut it off (Oh, hey, a tie-in to Alien! The first of many, some of which sort of make sense, some of which don’t), and gets turned into some kind of super-mutant guy who kills a bunch of nameless and faceless people in spacesuits on the ramp to the ship. And then he dies. And no one cares.
Dumb, dumb, dumb. Oh, and these brilliant scientists all take off their helmets inside the pyramid because … well, because they’re dumb. You’d think they would have been given a crash course or two on alien planet safety, but apparently those budgetary dollars went for all the holograms on the ship (which, admittedly, were pretty cool).
So what is the pyramid they found? It’s actually a weapons of mass destruction factory where the weapons got away from the Engineers and wiped them out. This facility was so dangerous that they made it on a special desolate world to keep it nicely separated from their homeworld. How do we know this? Because the captain told us. How did he figure it out? Well … (Real answer: because the script required him to.)
David the android finds a star chart and realizes that the ship buried beneath the pyramid was destined for Earth before the weapons facility killed all of the Engineers. (The star map scene is my favorite of the movie. It’s gorgeous, with fabulous music, great visuals, and a perfect use of 3D.)
So these alien Engineers made us, got pissed off about something about 2,000 years ago (it’s never stated what that is, though Ridley Scott has hinted in interviews that Jesus was an Engineer and that the other Engineers got pissed when he was crucified. Ugh. What a horrid, horrid idea.), and decided to eradicate humankind.
There are some cool ideas in this movie. How David is nonchalant, even slightly cool, toward his own creators, which none of the other characters seem to notice. “Hey, you’re my creators, I’m not terribly fond or in awe of you, and you see me as a disposable tool, so why do you think your creators will view you any differently?” It’s an interesting concept, but nothing is done with it other than a throwaway line of dialog where the one jerk scientist says to David, “We made you because we could.”
I found it impossible to care about anyone in the movie. Even Elizabeth Shaw, who is ostensibly the main character in the movie, is flat and lifeless. She has Christian faith of some unnamed flavor, which apparently is in conflict with her science, but that’s never shown, addressed, or even discussed. It’s just dropped as a plot point because she carries around a cross, as if that in itself makes her a fleshed out character.
I’m usually a sucker when someone sacrifices himself for the good of others (the end of The Iron Giant wrecks me every time I see it), but the climactic sacrifice in Prometheus was a big, “Meh.” I simply didn’t care. It’s supposed to be significant, but it’s simply an empty gesture devoid of any emotional context.
I guess that’s my biggest beef with the movie. It looked pretty, but I didn’t care about anyone or anything happening in it. And that’s really a shame, and a waste.