About thirty years we have waited for Ridley Scott to return to the realm of science fiction. He left us with Alien and Blade Runner to watch over and over, while he went out into the wide world to make every kind of movie conceivable but science fiction. At the same time the world of Alien started to grow as well. James Cameron returned to LV-426 to kick some Alien butt, David Fincher took Ellen Ripley to a hostile prison planet and Jean-Pierre Jeunet managed to clone Ripley and make her some sort of alien-human hybrid. While all of them are fine examples of science fiction film-making, the nagging feeling of wanting to see what more Alien from Scott would look like kept coming back. With Prometheus we get that… and so much more.
Prometheus opens with breathtaking aerial photography that ultimately focuses on a lone figure at the top of a waterfall. He is decided not human with his alabaster skin, but there is a semblance there. He drinks some mysterious black goo and starts to disintegrate. He falls into the water and his DNA seems to rearrange itself into something that could be our DNA. Then the movie proper starts. The audience is dumbfounded by this opening, because this is not what we have been looking forward to for thirty years. We anticipated spaceships, aliens, planets and God knows what else goes into the making of an Alien movie. We know we are in for a ride we have not seen before.
On to a more recognizable time. Archaeology team Elizabeth and Charlie, also husband and wife, have been finding clues that point to life on some other planet far, far away. They manage to get Peter Weyland, of Weyland-Yutani fame, to finance a mission to that far away place where they hope to find some sort of intelligent life and maybe even answers about the origin of life on Earth. On board the Prometheus we find a rag-tag crew of scientists and personnel who agreed to come on this journey, but what they find on LV-223 is far more scary that what they expected to find. They find some sort of complex where the Engineers, as they call them, have been preparing the annihilation of the human race.
To say that Prometheus is generous with clues about what precisely is happening here would be a gross overstatement. Scott is by no means interested in telling us what’s behind his creation. He has left an enormous amount of symbolism peppered throughout the movie to keep you busy. I am not going to divulge all of it here (as if I would know it all), because that would take me an exorbitant amount of words. I leave that to people who actually know what they are talking about. What I will say is that Prometheus is endlessly interesting. It has been nearly a week since I saw it and my head is still making sense of it. I am planning on seeing it again very soon just to take all the details in. The problem with Prometheus is not that it isn’t thought through, that it is, it is just that it is not so well written.
The script for Prometheus comes from Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts. Well, not really. It was Jon Spaihts who delivered a draft and Lindelof (undoubtedly together with Scott) went through it to rewrite it. Lindelof is famous for his work on Lost, one of the most enigmatic and divisive television shows ever. Prometheus feels a lot like Lost. There is a lot Lindelof and Scott want to talk about, but it never gets resolved in a satisfying manner. A lot of the story just doesn’t make any sense. Once again, I am not going to expand on that here, the guys over at Red Letter Media did this for all us writers. Watch this after you see the movie, though. There are just too many things in Prometheus that leave the viewer hanging or even worse scratching their heads in disbelief.
Ridley Scott never said he was making a straight-up prequel for Alien and the fact that it does look like that hurts the movie maybe even more than the script that seems to be written by a first year film school student. What we were all expecting was an awesome prequel to what transpired in Alien. While this is true, to a certain extent, Scott is also trying desperately not to make this a straight up prequel. The anticipation is hurting the viewing experience for those who were looking forward to some alien action. Instead we get a story that is rife with questions about the eternal struggle between religion and science. Elizabeth and Charlie most obviously represent this struggle. He is a scientist who believes in Darwin’s theories, she wears a cross around her neck and is more open-minded towards the religious implications of their findings. The fact that she is ultimately the one who gets to carry the fruit of the “immaculate conception” only strengthens this symbolism. Again, the problem isn’t with this way of storytelling, it’s with the way we get there. How did David know Charlie and Elizabeth would consummate their love at exactly that moment? What’s the motivation behind everything that is done? Too many questions.
At least there is a lot to look at in Prometheus. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous. From the breathtaking vistas on the planet to the innards of the alien spacecraft, everything looks so perfectly styled it almost hurts. Scott has taken a lot of care to make his movie be his most beautiful one to date. Whether this is done to cover up the sloppy mistakes in the other departments will always be a question, but it sure feels like it. In the end the sheer amount of stunning visuals can not keep the discerning viewer from poking through all the plotholes. The same counts for the fine acting by all cast members. Noomi Rapace carries the movie like a worthy replacement for Sigourney Weaver. Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender play very convincing androids. Idris Elba is funny as the bohemian captain of the Prometheus. It is the scientists that I have a problem with. They are just too stupid to be real scientists. I understand that they are all hired hands who knew nothing about their mission when they left, but fleeing at the sight of the first sign of trouble is a very weak way of portraying them. This hurts the movie tremendously.
Watching Prometheus reminds me of watching Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven for the first time. That movie felt unhinged and aimless on that first viewing, but when the Director’s Cut was released all the little pieces seemed to fall into place. Scott is notorious when it comes to going back to his movies and tinkering with them. This is of course not a problem, but he has become known for this and that is dangerous. It makes going to the theater to watch a Ridley Scott movie feel like a fool’s errand. Why would we go to see his movies in the theater when his real vision will be available on blu-ray in a few months. Prometheus feels like an incomplete movie and Scott has already confessed this. He has divulged that there will be an extra twenty minutes of footage on the blu-ray for us to look at. An expected move, but what I don’t understand is that he keeps telling himself that Prometheus was recently released exactly the way he wanted it to be released. If that is so, he has become a bad director and that makes me very sad.