By: John Clarkson
Spoiler alert: do not read unless you’ve seen the movie or do not care!
I’ve seen ‘Prometheus’ twice.
The first time was at Sunway Pyramid in IMAX 3D. The second time was in 2D at Pavilion. It is a movie that requires a second viewing in order to understand the complexities of the plot. It is also clear that ‘Promethus’ is a movie that demands a sequel. There simply isn’t enough time to answer all of the questions that are raised in the course of its 124 minute running time.
Or, the filmmakers have left things intentionally ambiguous in order to force a sequel. I think this is likely, and it is one of the main criticisms many people are leveling: the movie fails to satisfy as a stand-alone narrative. That is where this movie fails, a shortcoming that falls squarely on the screenwriters. But more on that later.
‘Prometheus’ is a slick piece of filmmaking. Ridley Scott has always had an eye for detail; He strikes me as a meticulous director, whether it comes to the cinematography, the set design, or the performances of his talent. The execution of his movies always feels technically precise.This thoroughness is one of the reasons why Ridley Scott’s sci-fi movies hang together so well.
For an audience to get caught up in a movie, they have to think that what they are viewing is real; The sensual (as in, the senses) experience should reflect the story accurately.
In sci-fi this is even more important. Sci-fi movies generally take us to places or times that are wholly constructed out of the imagination. For the audience to relate to and believe the story, it becomes paramount that the movie world feel as realistic as possible (or consistent within itself, but that is for another post). ‘Blade Runner’ accomplishes this realism through a claustrophobic mish-mash of light, movement and grime, and incredibly detailed sets fusing the familiar with the evolved-familiar. ‘Alien’ does this through creating a clean, highly functional and logical space (the Nostromo) and contrasting it with the dark organics of the alien ship. Again, all incredibly detailed.
If you couple that attention to detail with straight-forward and subtle cinematography, then the picture on the screen is easier to digest and to take at face value; as a reality. ‘Prometheus’ does this extremely well.
Where ‘Prometheus’ falters, and falters badly, is with the script. I’m going to go out on a limb and use some strong words; The script is a mess, on more than a few levels.
To highlight five key points of contention:
The script introduces, and the story hinges upon, a few questions that the script doesn’t answer. What are the Engineers? Why are they returning to destroy life on Earth? Why create the star maps in the first place? There are many others. Some of these are intentionally left open to drive tension, some are left open to drive a sequel, and some are the product of lazy/immature screenwriting. This is why the movie begins to unravel in the past hour. It heaps more questions on instead of resolving them, resulting in a bewildering and unsatisfying climax.
The characters in Prometheus have the mental maturity of five-year olds. Motivations, reactions, actions are all flat, and in many cases go contrary to how real people in these situations would be acting. Prometheus’s action depends on the characters doing irrational things. The geologist and biologist getting lost and then bunking down in the most creepy room in the installation? Scientists ignoring any sort of quarantine protocol (or any protocol it seems?) Dr. Shaw playing doped and then beating two members of the crew? (Why not reason with them? The only person she has problems with is David.) None of that is satisfying; the audience knows something is phony. The manner in which ‘Prometheus’ drives action is 180 degrees from the pedigree of the first ‘Alien’ in which O’Bannon created a streamlined and efficient script where the action/reaction of characters always felt genuine.
The situations in ‘Prometheus’ feel forced. Weyland wanting immortality? Dr. Shaw’s father dying of Ebola? Dr. Shaw not able to have a baby? Meredith Vicker’s hate for her father? Her inability to realize that you can’t outrun a giant wheel when you stay right in front of it? Everyone in this movie comes pre-packaged with pathos and stupidity. As if the construct of landing on a new planet and discovering life wasn’t drama enough, the screenwriters chose to overload the plot with situations out of poorly-realized fan-fiction.
Inefficient screenwriting. There are several scenes in here that aren’t necessary: they are redundant or add nothing new to our understanding of the plot. The second scene, the excavation site on the Isle of Skye, is one of these. We already know that the Engineers are space people. We saw the UFO. We saw the big waxy white guy dissolve. And in a couple of scenes later, the Holloway and Shaw walk us through the same space maps. A strong case could be made that the opening prologue scene is unnecessary: it kills some of the mystery, and it gives the audience knowledge that the characters will later discover on their own (or wildly assume). I’ll admit, it is an arresting image and sequence, but it is self-serving and damages the overall flow and arc of the story.
This is a subset of number 1, but it is important enough to stand alone. There is no closure to the story. The questions the movie poses to the audience are not answered by the final scene. This not-so-subtle ploy to create a market for a sequel is heavy-handed and, over-reaching. A movie should stand alone as a close ended narrative. It would seem that Damon Lindelof’s writing crutch is to create plot lines he never intends to close. Given his history with ‘Lost’ and now ‘Prometheus’, I would say it is. This is a lazy way to create tension within a story, and to string an audience along. There is small wonder that people are walking out of ‘Prometheus’ with the same sense of “the hell just happened?” as they did when ‘Lost’ ended.
Ridley Scott is already talking about a sequel, as well as planning to release 20-30 minutes of extra footage on the ‘Prometheus’ blu-ray. ‘Prometheus’ has only been out for a week. I assume the motives are less than pure; Give audiences a movie with an open ending and little closure, and then immediately start advertising that the answers are coming.
But that it will cost yah.
Is it possible that ‘Prometheus’ is a 124 minute teaser trailer for ‘Prometheus’ the Blu-ray and ‘Prometheus 2: Paradise’?
As things are currently unfolding, I would reluctantly say yes to both.
One final note.
The 3D adds little to the movie. It is most effective in adding a sense of scale to the ship. Otherwise, the 3D is not a must-have. Seeing the movie on an IMAX screen was very impressive: the design and cinematography deserve the extra clarity.
For more on Ridley Scott, click here.
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