NOTE: Pop Culture Boner has a new home and a new podcast. You can listen here, if that’s your jam.
Having emerged recently from the mountain of uni work I was drowning under, I am now free as a bird. I had two thoughts immediately: ‘I must see Prometheus‘ and ‘I must update my blog.’ Having gotten the former out of the way, I thought it was about time to do the latter. So, in the interests of killing two birds with one stone, this blog is about Prometheus (shocking, right?) If you haven’t seen it yet and you don’t want stuff spoiled for you then you should go out, watch it, come back and tell me all of your thoughts on it. Ok? Ok.
Needless to say, I was ludicrously excited about Prometheus. The cast lineup is great (Noomi Rapace/ Michael Fassbender/Charlize Theron – joy!), it’s part of one of my favourite franchises ever (excluding the later films obviously, because let’s be honest: nobody likes Alien v. Predator – that shit is beyond stupid), I love me a good origin story and it’s directed by Ridley Scott. Even when the trailer looked kind of meh, I wasn’t put out, such was my faith that this would be great.
With so much build up and so much excitement, perhaps I was always bound to be disappointed; but I don’t think I was expecting to be disappointed this badly. So stupendous and all-consuming is my disappointment that I have had to compile a (very short) list of things that I actually liked about the film, just so that I can remember that they exist.
- Visually, it’s stunning. We’re talking like, jaw-dropping. I saw it in 3D (to appease my mother who is definitely on that band-wagon) and the first five minutes gave me goose bumps it was that damned gorgeous. So. Much. Texture. As you’d expect from a grandiose sci-fi epic, the technology looks very swish and the alien landscapes suitably terrifying. One particular stand-out scene has Michael Fassbender standing in the centre of the universe. In short, it’s beautiful and (almost) worth watching for that fact alone.
- The cast is pretty great. Michael Fassbender as David the possibly evil, definitely creepy robot is a high point. Idris Elba (or as my mother kept calling him, “Stringer from The Wire”) was endearing and kind of wonderful as Janek, captain of the ship ‘Prometheus’. Charlize Theron plays a formidable ice queen (those supermodel looks will do that). Noomi Rapace is like the Energiser Bunny throughout the whole film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone get kicked, punched and generally walloped so many times and yet continuously get back up.
- The C-section scene is the best bit of the whole film. Normally, I wouldn’t talk about specific scenes when I’m writing about reasons why a movie is good or bad, but there were so few things that were good about this film and this scene is so utterly perfect that I can’t not mention it. It’s tense. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time waiting for something to go wrong and everyone to die. Some serious suspension of disbelief considering that we’re talking about the main character performing major surgery on herself.
That’s it. That’s my list of things that were good about Prometheus. From the whole 124 minutes, that’s all I could take away from it.
Now, onto my bitching. Where to begin? So many of the problems with Prometheus stem from the fact that it feels a bit half-baked. The script, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, feels more like a first draft than something that was ready to be the 2012’s huge summer blockbuster. As with Alien, or any sci-fi horror crossover really, there’s a set of doomed stock characters. You’ve got the loveable wise-cracking captain, the hard-as-nails financial backing, the vaguely evil robot and the odd-couple-tough-guy-vs.-geek duo just to name a few. There’s nothing wrong with pre-established characters behaving in obvious ways. When you’ve got a cast that’s inevitably going to be picked off by some unseen alien threat, it’s probably easier if save all the real character traits for the people we’re supposed to remember while inducing generic feelings in your audience by killing off the loveable comedic relief first. Unfortunately, Prometheus couldn’t even seem to get that right. The set-ups we get from the introductory dialogue are never really followed through with, and for a specialist mission, there are way too many expendable characters whose deaths are never really explained.
The main problem with failing to correctly align your stock characters is ruined motivation. Take for example, your goofball odd-couple – Fifield and Millburn. You have a punk rock geologist with facial tattoos and a bespectacled biology nerd – doomed from the start, they’re obviously going to be the first to go. The question then becomes, “how?” Our first introduction to Fifield is a grunted “fuck off” directed at Millburn. It’s perhaps surprising then on their expedition to the alien cave, the two have mysteriously formed some sort of bond and upon finding the giant alien corpse (which the biologist takes no interest in) they decide to flee together. They get lost…which would be fine, except that the geologist is MAPPING THE CAVE USING HIS MAPPING DEVICES and the crew left on the good ship Prometheus ARE TRACKING THEIR EVERY MOVEMENT. Their death comes swiftly when they have to spend the night in the cave (by this point, alarm bells should be going off and a big neon sign that says “PLOT DEVICE” should be flashing). Anywho, what’s important is not that they die, but the fact that I didn’t care. I love the comic relief odd couple. I am always the first to bemoan the fact that the smartass doesn’t make it to the end (mainly because I feel like if I was ever in a horror movie I would be the smartass and therefore be doomed). But Fifield and Millburn’s characters are all wrong – they had no motivation for bonding over anything or forming any sort of relationship, so their united fear and eventual death doesn’t really mean anything because even as stock characters, they’re wrong.
Having said that, none of the relationships in this film are particularly well written and a lot of them seem kind of superfluous. Elizabeth Shaw’s relationship with her husband Charlie is never fully explained. Charlie is sweet and obnoxious by turns, but not in a way that feels deliberate – just that the writers couldn’t really decide what his purpose was. Either way, he’s cannon fodder and you’re just left kind of wondering what the point was. Don’t even get me started on the way that David, the evil (maybe?) robot operates, because my god…I just don’t even know where to begin.
On top of that, even some major plot points aren’t followed through with. Now, before you jump all over me with the “but duuude, it’s supposed to prompt the big questions dude…like… the meaning of life and shit…” (read that in your best ‘I’ve-been-smoking-weed-for-the-last-three-days-by-the-way-have-I-talked-to-you-about-my-favorite-conspiracy-theories-lately’ voice) I don’t mean the big-picture shit. I mean basic, cohesive narrative writing. As I mentioned earlier, one of the best scenes in the entire film is Shaw’s C-section. I mean, the woman stabs herself in the leg with morphine and then cuts an alien foetus out of herself – it’s beyond epic. Unfortunately, the follow through is really, REALLY bad. After stapling (yes, actually) her stomach back together, she proceeds to just stagger around the ship in her underwear, bleeding everywhere like it’s not a big deal….AND NOBODY SAYS ANYTHING. She’s running through a giant space ship with a whole bunch of crew, and no one stops and says “Hey! Did you by any chance just slice a potentially threatening alien life-form out of your own stomach? Is that why the operating room is covered in blood? Oh ok, cool…well maybe we should at least go check that the earth-destroying new life-form that you sliced out of your gut is dead? Because if it isn’t, boy, will we look silly…” No one does that. And again, there’s that pesky alarm/neon sign combo shouting “PLOT DEVICE” in your ear. That’s just one example, but basically what I’m saying is that when you start leaving plot holes that big in a movie with that is supposed to have some ‘high concept, meaning of life’ shit going on, then people are going to call you out on it. Well… I’m going to call you out on it anyway. Cos it just ends up making us all look bad.
Now, I realise that according to Ridley Scott, Prometheus is supposed to “share strands of Alien’s DNA, so to speak” without actually being directly connected, but sadly, it all just feels kinda half-arsed. Alien was brilliant because beyond just being a slasher fic in space, there were some really good things happening thematically. It was tense, there was a female hero who just really kicked butt all over the place (Sigourny Weaver, run away with me) and it was just so well done. Prometheus tried to move beyond those slasher-movie stomping grounds into the high-minded life, the universe and everything, and failed miserably. All in all, I was disappointed. If you’ve read this and you haven’t seen it, you should probably go watch it just so you know what I’m talking about, because the good bits are very good. It’s just that they’re kind of few and far between.