Last night I decided to re-watch Prometheus. I enjoy having a decent movie in the background while doing something once in a while. Prometheus is a great background movie because the movie is good and there’s some great scenes that I enjoy watching. So how does it stack up versus my initial few times watching?
I know a lot of friends and people have criticized the movie for one reason or another. For the most part, I found it to be one of the better movies made in general just because it was extremely thought provoking for me. So with a fresh viewing, I began seeing certain weaknesses pop up that I might’ve ignored previously in favor of the lofty goals Ridley Scott attempted to aim at in this movie.
The two biggest flaws in the movie by far are the really mishmash plot and terrible characters. The main plot has become severely cliche in the Alien series where ignorant people stumble upon an unknown creature that the big bad corporation wants to exploit for a greedy reason. In the end, these movies often boil down to a combination disaster/survivor movie where only one or two people end up making it through. Prometheus here felt like a partial rehash in the main plot structure with callbacks to Alien as a possible fan service for nostalgia. Yet there’s stuff in there that just didn’t make sense nor really had any reason to be there.
Even before that, I suppose the largest problem beyond the cliche plot and structure is the arbitrary way the characters and incidents fumble over each other in leading to the next catastrophe. A simple example is Vickers leading Janek away into her quarters just as Fifield and Millburn return to the ampule room. With no one being able to guide both guys, they’re sitting ducks for the hammerpede assault. More importantly, why the hell did they wander all the way back to the ampule room when they initially were incredibly frightened of the body next to the door in the first place?
Of course, because both guys were killed/transmogrified by the hammerpede and ampule black goo substance, it causes another expedition which later has Charlie get flamed by Vickers. Later on Elizabeth Shaw describes the planet as a death trap (more or less), but in all honesty the planet had very little to do with the misfortunes of the crew. Everything was caused as a result of sheer stupidity.
And I suppose this is where the movie becomes supremely frustrating. As I mentioned earlier, the other main weakness is the characters. Practically, everyone is an idiot, despite the expedition being a scientific one. Ironically, the one person exhibiting any semblance of sanity is Vickers, a corporate officer. She’s cautious and wants to get off the planet before the shit really starts hitting the fan.
On the other hand, it’s Elizabeth Shaw, the one professing the lack of need for precaution, who endangers everyone through some blind ambition. The worst of the lot is Charlie Holloway, who is just the prototypical alpha-male with more guts than any sense at all. When he gets fried by Vickers, I practically let off a huge cheer because he’s almost equally at blame for endangering everyone.
The sad thing at the end of the movie is that Elizabeth Shaw survives. How and why does this even occur? What’s type of message is this movie attempting to send if there’s a semi-Darwinian theme going? Pretty much social Darwinism is tossed out the window for blind faith, just as Millburn points out during the mission debriefing. Rather than the truly intelligent people surviving (i.e. Vickers), we get this nut Elizabeth Shaw, who more or less is a self-centered, selfish bitch.
On top of these flaws, there’s just so many questionable motives with the characters. The part where David essentially poisons Charlie is really mysterious. Since the next movie Ridley Scott will produce essentially will have Elizabeth Shaw in a flashback role and make David into one of the central characters, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever gain any insight as to why David pushed Charlie into getting him to drink the dark goo.
You can say that David probably has no motives because he’s an android. But this isn’t Blade Runner where the central theme is about cyborg consciousness. It’s a subtheme or subplot at best but there’s too much going on where an act like this gets glossed over. He could just be programmed to use whatever discoveries the expedition makes against the people to see what scientific outcome will occur. Yet this just goes back to the staleness of the plot for the Alien series where robot bad, corporation greedy, etc.
The rest of the crew’s motivation for doing anything is skeptical at best. Take for instance when Janek decides to suicide the Prometheus with Chance and Ravel going down with the captain. Why the hell did these guys not even try to use an escape pod and not have the ship autopilot itself into the derelict alien ship? Again, it’s the over reliance of the stale Alien plot where only one can survive. But why?
Part of the inherent flaw in this movie is that there’s just too many people to account for in the cast, which forces the plot into doing clumsy things for arbitrary reasons. So the formula is to figure out all the permutations in taking each of them out. But that seems pretty inefficient in terms of story telling, especially when you make characters cardboard cut outs. Why even bother having people at all if it’s just taking up valuable screen time? Why have all these extras as fodder for Fifield? Why have Ford if she just gets knocked back by the engineer?
The thing is that the story immediately falls apart once the expedition encounter the headless body of the engineer. Everything goes immediately downhill and races towards the finish in a very haphazard manner (kinda like Vickers not rolling away from the derelict craft crashing upon her). Although the high level ideas in the movie are extremely intriguing, the coupling of the story to a typical Hollywood disaster plot turn this movie into a travesty rather than a classic that Ridley Scott attempted to aim for.
The plot did not have to rely on unexpected horror, fan service callbacks to Alien and typical disaster movie setup to make a higher grade. The basic ideas were very intelligent and it feels that the film makers lacked the confidence in the audience to be able to process the themes, returning to the boring formula that made the original two movies massive successes. It’s a real shame that the movie tried to create artificial conflict by human screwups rather than delving into the deeper themes that Ridley Scott wanted to focus on.
With the new Alien movie being filmed right now, I’m hoping that Ridley Scott re-examines what he did with Prometheus in terms of the mistakes that happened. I think he was onto something grand in attempting to tackle fundamental questions about the universe through the elements from the Alien universe. So far the new Alien movie is described as pure horror which means that most likely we’ll just get more fan servicing and callbacks to the original Alien series along with familiar devices, rather than plowing a new path with the bolder ideas from Prometheus. To say the least, I’m very skeptical right now of this new movie. I don’t need a rehashed version of Alien but I do want to see things resolved without the same stupid formulas in place.