June 13, 2012

Prometheus is terrible. Here's why.

More than a few people warned me that Prometheus would be mediocre.

What I didn't realize was that "mediocre" was putting it lightly; Prometheus is easily one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time. And keep in mind that I just saw Battleship.

The interesting thing is, my expectations had already been lowered. I wasn't a huge fan of the Alien franchise in the first place, but all the Internet's kvetching and the massively deflated hype had me thinking that, if what I saw was just OK, I'd be happy.

But it was bad. Worse than bad; an unmitigated disaster.

I don't care how good a movie looks (and to its minimal credit, Prometheus looks pretty good); if it can't hold a simple plot together, if it can't define and maintain characters and their motivations, I've got no use for it.

This is where Prometheus falls apart, at this most basic of levels. I don't understand how Ridley Scott and company could've read the script, which cannot manage the simple task of moving from A to B to C properly, and see any sort of a functional movie. Let alone one that comes with a $200-million investment.

And it's not like Prometheus is anything close to art, where meaningful visuals and symbolism and subtext prop up a story that might be meandering or even irrelevant. It's just a series of cheap summer thrills that masquerade as something deep.

It purports to be about how humans were created, how we would interact with the "gods" who made us, and what we'd do if the gods weren't gods after all. This is addressed, but casually at best. It's mostly a backdrop for space adventure, window dressing for a movie about aliens and albino giants and black goo.

One of the things that made Alien so great is that its characters expertly serviced the plot. You didn't need to know much about Tom Skerritt except that he was the captain; Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto were just maintenance men. The premise was "regular folk on ship try not to be killed by scary alien," and much of the fear stems from your lack of knowledge. What is this alien? How did this all happen? You're dropped into a confusing, terrifying situation and expected to take it all in as best you can.

But Prometheus can't maintain that kind of focus. The plot holes are glaring, and the few vague attempts to build up characters fall flat. For some reason, Idris Elba's captain has a squeezebox that was owned by Stephen Stills. Charlize Theron, with her needlessly sinister glare and woefully unexplained desires, is the laziest kind of "villain." The ship's crew members are nothing but blank slates...until they all decide to gleeful embark on a sure-thing suicide mission.

There's a scientist who, despite an epic discovery that will probably change the course of mankind forever, decides to drink himself into sorrowful oblivion. There's the trillionaire who, with no warning, stows away on the ship to pursue a desire for eternal life that's never even hinted at beforehand. There's a scene early in the movie where Elba's same captain character (who ends up being relatively friendly) laughs with his crew as two scientists stumble around in the dark, probably about to die -- and then suddenly appears concerned the next day when they've lost communication with the duo.

It's telling that Michael Fassbender's no-emotions android is the most fleshed-out character in the whole movie; that may be because Fassbender can convey more with a simple look or gesture than most actors could do with a lengthy, epic speech. He's the glue that holds it all together; he's the reason Prometheus is even somewhat acceptable. Maybe another group of unbelievably talented performers -- think Daniel Day-Lewis and Tilda Swinton -- could offer up enough subtle substance to make such a fragmented story worthwhile, but this muddled mess was probably beyond help by the time shooting began.

The more I think about Prometheus (or read wonderfully skewering pieces like this), the more I hate it. Even Inception, a movie I previously ranted about, was able to hold together an all-over-the-place plot and offer up a bit of genuine insight. Christopher Nolan's script comes equipped with legitimate opinions on the line between dreams and reality; I have no real idea what Scott thinks about creation and the gods. I just know he can make a pretty movie, one with a big pile of stinking garbage at its core.

If you come across anyone who claims to have enjoyed Prometheus, ask them to explain what happens outloud. Inquire as to why certain characters acted the way they did. Have them put a few minutes of thought into the twists and turns of the story, which is something that the film's creators seem to have ignored, and then find out if they still feel the same way.

Film criticism is very subjective, but bad will always be bad. Poorly constructed, poorly executed, poorly planned-out; these are flaws that no movie should be able to overcome. And Prometheus is no exception.


Don't Get Lazy said...

I definitely won't pretend this script was anything near acceptable, but there are motifs and symbolism throughout the story. I only know about these from this article, which your brother sent me. I agree with everything else you said, but reading this gave me a little more insight. Plus I grew up loving Alien and Aliens, so I was a little predisposed towards hopefulness. But anyway:


Steve Cimino said...

I'm sure there were some real great motifs. There was also serious talk of including Space Jesus. I rest my case.

Colin Steele said...

If you have to read an extremely lengthy article to understand what a movie is about, the movie didn't do a good job explaining what it's about. Throwing a bunch of motifs and symbolism into a movie does not automatically make it make sense.*

*This statement does not apply to movies that seem vague or confusing but are in fact artfully crafted to make the viewer think. For example, lots of people didn't understand Mulholland Drive until they read Roger Ebert's magnum opus interpretation, but nobody would argue that Mulholland Drive isn't a well-put-together movie. All the parts are there; it's just up to the viewer to put them together. All the parts are not even close to there in Prometheus.

Steve Cimino said...

For the most part, I agree with Colin. I will say that Prometheus obviously has a good deal of thought and some interesting ideas behind it, but the way it was put together and presented to audiences is pretty awful. Gonna have to blame the director for that.