Someone I used to know went crackers on his twitter account stating his dissatisfaction with Prometheus. I deemed his assumptions as rather pretentious. He brought up incomparable (emphasizing both definitions of the word) science fiction films like Moon and Pi.
Odd, suddenly I’m hungry.
From my perspective, he had escalated Prometheus to an unachievable echelon, that all films have to emulate The Fountain or Children of Men in their intellectual density. Both Moon and Pi are examples of films made by soon-to-be-established directors that gained prominence on the grounds of masterful independent works, Nolan’s Memento being another example. This renders some of the enthusiasm these films attracted as being unfortunately disingenuous. I can admit, braced for the imminent reprisal, that I didn’t much care for Pi. I loved Moon, but I did so before it became popular to do so. Likewise, I still praise films like Monsters, Primer, and Man From Earth, three works still not getting the level of attention they deserve. I say this because it appears unpopular amongst my elitist associates to claim that I loved Prometheus, like I lost my science fiction appreciation membership. I had done likewise to people praising any of the Transformers sequels, but I still believe I stood on solid ground for those. With Prometheus, people had compared it often to Alien, and why not? It had Alien elements to it, not just limited to the visuals. But if so, then critics shouldn’t have expected much of a story at all. Alien was pitched and sold as a haunted house in space. Crew finds alien. Alien kills crew. Survivor kills alien. The end. It was just brilliantly will made. Anything beyond should be considered a bonus. And Prometheus is also brilliantly well made, with sharp visuals and effective 3D, so what were people expecting?
Punch Drunk Alien?
Eternal Sunshine of the Space Jockey?
Initial negative reviews have criticized the story as having narrative threads unresolved and plot holes unexplained. Initially, I felt it may have such defects, but as time passed, and after a second viewing, I was able to appreciate the film more, and answers suddenly began appearing. Simultaneously, I found an increasing number of Prometheus defenders (including Harry Knowles from AICN) daring critics to find an actual plot hole. Some films operate in the real world, even ones with extraordinary premises, so they can be called out when something nonsensical happens (like characters crossing the border between Jordan and Egypt in the second Transformers film, ignoring the presence of Israel between those two countries). However, science fiction films, especially those set on other worlds or in different times, can fall back on unspoken assumptions to explain questions people ask. Like trying to find technical flaws in the Voight Kampff test in Blade Runner. You don’t know how it’s doing what it’s doing, so you can’t claim it can’t work.
(Yes, there’s that one technical flaw in Prometheus that the atmosphere of the planet as described is NOT actually lethal, and there’s Vickers’ line about them being a half-billion miles from Earth, even though that only puts you at about Jupiter, but those are fairly minor issues.)
Prometheus is by no means perfect, suffering from certain glitches that have plagued the entire Alien series, of which Prometheus is not officially part of. In fact the biggest issue is that despite assurances from the filmmakers, critics still insist in comparing it to Alien. Even I did so initially, but as I separated the two films, my appreciation for Prometheus grew. You can’t approach Prometheus as a horror film like Alien or a sci-fi action film like Aliens. It’s an entirely new idea, presenting concepts it doesn’t fully explain, but is it obligated to? I think on certain points, it does but not in others. To pursue these issues, I would need to throw the rest of this article under a fairly severe SPOILER WARNING. However, I’ll end this specific thread by saying that Prometheus is an entertaining film with astounding visuals and a digital presentation absolutely begging to be experienced on a “proper” big screen. I stress “proper”, like an UltraAVX, IMAX, or otherwise newer theater.
Looking at only the film’s structure, I have a problem with the crew capacity of the title spacecraft in Prometheus. Alien had seven characters, allowing you to know each by name. Cameron’s marine contingent involved fourteen people with most dying before the second act even got going. Fincher’s underappreciated attempt stumbled by foolishly offering twenty characters which were all British and all bald. Finally Jeunet’s mangling of Whedon’s flawed script replicated Aliens’ formula by introducing a ship with dozens of characters, then killing all but a few off when the action got going. The Prometheus is crewed by a robust seventeen, but there’s never a point where this number is quickly whittled down, allowing us to follow the key characters. Several nameless roles continue to populate the background, remaining up and mobile as target practice until the story deems their death important to indicate the level of threat to characters we actually care about. The captain’s two co-pilots share one plot between them and only one member of the security team actually gets a name.
But beyond this, Prometheus is practically immaculate, forcing people to search the film for the answers they may require, an odd quality absent in modern films that treat its audience with birth forceps. I just recently watched Men in Black III and was disappointed in an early scene when one character mentions a certain important date in history, only to have the light bulb come on near the end when the plot deemed it appropriate, a date obvious to anyone with a diploma who wasn’t rushed through high school because they could throw a football more than 40 yards. Before anyone brings up that one recent example of big budget intelligent storytelling, Inception, let me remind you that Inception is actually plagued by massive plot holes, inconsistencies which increase in number the more you analyze it. In comparison, Prometheus has more depth than the Cayman Trough. Consider the facts that the story is set a few days before Christmas and the Engineer base was operational until two thousand years ago, and suddenly these additional layers start to become transparent.
A single panning shot of a mural appears to promote the benefits of self-sacrifice as a means to encourage new life while another flaunts a very familiar creature that would seem to function as a harbinger of death. If so, would the canisters pivotal to the story be the means of our destruction or simply a means of our evolution. This would then properly equate the creature from Alien as the weapon employed when an experiment fails…assuming said creature has any place in this setting. One could also assume that the Alien has no place in Prometheus’s mythology, and the canisters actually replace them. We’re left to speculate why the Engineers did what they did, but since the character’s in the story couldn’t find the answers, why are we deserved any? It wasn’t like they knew but didn’t share. The main character’s obsession led to her screaming to an Engineer in the film’s climactic act, “What did we do wrong? Why do you hate us!?” It never speaks.
One blogger had theorized that it was our crucifixion of Jesus Christ that was the deciding factor, but knowing Ridley Scott’s opinion on religion, I wonder if it was Christ’s deification and implantation into a subjugating religious conviction that started it? Like the films my elitist associates have praised, Prometheus forces you to find the answers yourself, and there may not be a singular correct answer.
But wait, all of that would imply that Prometheus does has the intellectual depth of films like The Fountain, Primer, or Pi? If so, then why do so many people dislike it? There could be several reasons. For one, most of the people paying money for a ticket to Prometheus have probably never seen those other films and wouldn’t enjoy them if watched. Secondly, most of these lesser known science fictions films have to be propped up by their fans, thus the definition of a cult film. A successful film, especially a big budget successful film, doesn’t have that requirement from its fans, thus becoming a Goliath rather than a David, and nobody wants Goliath to win. Personally, I believe the biggest issue is that Prometheus balances a fine edge between art and commercialism, and an audience large enough to warrant a successful film may not appreciate these more subtle concepts, confused at plot points not dispensed like Pez—candy-like and delivered via a hollow plastic head. This may unfortunately spell the end of intelligence big budget science fiction films. Executives can point at critics of Prometheus and claim them as proof—that the masses wouldn’t accept a thoughtful introspective cinematic experience. It was a good idea, but back to making Transformers 4. Someone may take umbrage with me implying that people who love science fiction films better get behind Prometheus, because if it fails, we may never see its like again. Even those who hate it should admit that it’s far more intelligent than other like-budgeted films, and if Prometheus stumps the majority, they won’t try to push our buttons again. I’m not imposing that type of pressure, but I worry that may be the case.
Finally, I must appreciate the fairness of the violence in Prometheus in regards to gender. If we’re going to have a gruesome cesarean performed on camera, two men are going to get molested by tentacles.