Seven Problems with Prometheus

I’m a huge fan, so I’ve been waiting impatiently for Prometheus ever since I heard it was in the works. At last Ridley Scott, a guy who knows how to give us an original vision of the frightful future (Alien, Blade Runner, A Good Year), was going to sweep away the pretenders, the imitators, the arrivistes.

Didn’t happen.

Sorry, but Prometheus arrives on screens this week with a squishy and derivative thud.

I mean, I felt as though I were watching a mash-up of Alien and 2001. Yes there are stunning alien vistas and the requisite heavy-duty hardware of space travel and the predictably surly bunch of crew members and of course the alien, or at least a variation of same.

But so much has gone wrong here. In particular, seven things:

1.  First we’re told there are seventeen crew members, so we settle in to see them knocked off à la And Then There Were None. But it’s hard to care when only four or five of them have any real dialogue. The others are just faces that pop up every once in a while to make us wonder who they are.

2.  Then there’s the theme. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that it’s better suited to a Theology 101 essay.

3.  Then there’s our old friend the exposition mule. Why do our intrepid space-hoppers conclude that, because they find human DNA on a distant planet, it means that the creatures found there must be our creators? Where’s the logic in that? And later the ship’s captain explains who the aliens are and what they’re doing—based on what? Nothing, that’s what. Just the screenwriters’ need to inject information. The movie’s long on mood, thin on plot.

4.  I like all the actors. I just don’t think they’ve been given enough to do. And whose idea was it to give the excellent Idris Elba a southern drawl that makes him sound like the long lost cousin of Slim Pickens? Noomi Rapace, who was excellent in the original Girl movies (. . . with the Dragon Tattoo, . . . Who Played with Fire, . . . Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) plays frightened-woman-running, the role she played in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. She and Jennifer Lawrence are quickly earning the distinction for most-underutilized actor. It’s  a shame. If any actor has the intensity to be a match for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, it’s Rapace, but when all she’s given to do is run away, it’s hard to think of her as heroic. Michael Fassbender is excellent as the robot, a character more nuanced than the any of the others, but too similar (even in his fate) to the character played so well by Ian Holm in the original. Charlize Theron seems to be recycling leftover meanness from Snow White and the Huntsmen. Her performance is all in her menacing glare, which would be fine if she had more to do with driving the story, like the Paul Reiser character in Aliens.

5. The movie’s too long. As writer Wallace Stegner used to say about some stories in fiction workshops, “This story’s got a lonnnggg front porch!” Cutting fifteen or twenty minutes from the first half might have done wonders for the movie. The Sleeper dropped off in the first half, and I gazed on her with envy.

6.  The 3-D is pointless. One of the things—the only thing—that made Avatar interesting is Cameron’s ability to create the illusion of space, especially in the lab scenes. You feel as if you can step into the room and walk to the other end. In Prometheus the characters and objects seem to be layered on different spatial planes, but after your first moment of realization, you kind of take it for granted. Shouldn’t a movie based so heavily on spectacle provide us with, well, you know—spectacle? And has anyone else noticed that the layering of images in 3-D movies actually makes the individual objects and characters on each layer seem more two-dimensional? Yes there’s more depth to the overall image, but the object or character on an individual plane seems about as three-dimensional as a sheet of Mylar.

7.  The movie’s derivative. Everything you see in the movie was done—and done better—in Alien. We’ve been there, done that. Yes, Prometheus has more visual polish, but that isn’t enough to make a movie compelling. Character and story matter more than spectacle. Alien changed the starscape for science-fiction movies forever. Since then, every other moviemaker in the genre has been playing catch-up. And now, instead of breaking new ground, Sir Ridley seems to be playing catch-up with himself.

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Author: Brent Spencer

I'm a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction, and screenplays. My most recent book, a memoir, is Rattlesnake Daddy: A Son's Search for His Father. I live on an acreage in eastern Nebraska and teach creative writing at Creighton University. You can find out more about me and at http://brentspencerwriter.com. (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

10 thoughts on “Seven Problems with Prometheus”

  1. Charlize Theron’s performance was not all in her menacing glare; she did have purpose driving the story as a character adding conflict to everyone, even her father that she wanted to just accept death so she could lead the control of the company. Visually it was amazing and had the kind of sophisticated restraint that would make it just as enjoyable in black and white. The costumes paid tribute to very early science fiction. Take a look at the space suits from Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet and you will see. This film was great and even if you can’t remove the bone from your head that latches on to details like the (three miles of staggering distance and only 2 minutes of air) the film would be best enjoyed if you tried to ignore that bone in your head. Yes. I’m saying that you are a bone head. It’s a great movie.

    1. the movie sucked and you are mindless robot. There was so many questions raised and none of the answers given that its ridiculous. I guess your a fan of LOST. Well, we expected much more from Ridley

  2. Why would the star maps in the caves lead back to the weapons lab planet, instead of the planet of origin?

    1. It was a scientific facility that was also likely used to develop and create the stuff that, according to the story created the people.
      The planet could have been home to a religious sect that went around populating planets.

  3. I was very dissapointed, after the first disc wouldnt play and the second one had similar problems i was so hyped up..and i got what? A shadow of a film , I knew where they were going in the first few minuites , sorry to say it was boring beyond belief . This is a thin disguise at just making money off an old idea , nothing new was bought to us and we didnt go away thinking , or stunned with wonder at the CGI .
    It wasnt possible to identify with or care about any of the characters , in many ways it was well enough done but not slick like say an early Tarantino film . This film is like the sheep they use as terminal sires, it does stuff but its got no future…..actualy possibly not ….as terminal sire breeds improve thier progeny for meat use etc…this film hasnt improved anything…

  4. Why in the end of the film is an alien born from the engineer but in alien 1 there’s an engineer sat back in the driving seat of the ship that was heading to earth

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