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Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus': The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 11, 2012 at 10:00AM

Well, "Prometheus" is in theaters. And if nothing else, it's been causing more furious debate -- in multiplex lobbies, in bars, online -- than most movies in recent memory. And The Playlist head office has been a warzone, with some loving the film, some loathing it, and some (like our review) falling somewhere in the middle. Name-calling and threats of physical violence have ensued.
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The Ugly

Rafe Spall, Prometheus
1. The characters are all idiots
Reasonable, right-minded people go to museums and slowly walk through each room, reading the plaques on the wall, observing paintings, examining every detail. Casual laymen, we’re talking here. So it stands to reason that scientists on a new planet should have this curiosity amped to eleven, right? If that’s so, how come all of the scientists in "Prometheus” walk around like children at a Chuck E. Cheese’s? Let’s grab this, let’s squeeze that, oooh, what does that do? It’s hard to not watch “Prometheus” and spend 60 percent of the film’s runtime thinking, “Please put your helmet and/or mask back on.” As Charlize Theron’s Vickers explains, this is a trillion dollar expedition, so maybe a little caution should be considered. A biologist reaching out to a new lifeform is one thing, but a biologist who's already run like a coward away from the possibility of alien life, reaching out to pet a cock monster with sharp fucking teeth deserves to die gruesomely. And there's so much more beyond that. How does the geologist, the guy whose job it is to make the fucking cave map, get so badly lost? Why do they go back to the scariest room in the building to sleep out the night? Why does a conscientious captain like Idris Elba decide to go for a roll in the hay with ice queen Meredith Vickers after seeing a lifeform pop up in his maps? In fact, why doesn't he try and talk Fifield and Millburn out of the cave, given he's looking at a giant map? (And yeah, we're aware of the storm, but he could have helped earlier. Also, that storm is such a terrible deus ex machina of a plot contrivance.) Why does Shaw react to her boyfriend's death and having a squid cut out of her by putting a suit back on and going back into the cave of death? It's behavior dictated entirely by what the writers need to move the plot forward rather than anything else, and it made us want to rip up the seats at the filmmakers' sheer contempt for the audience.

2. Too much given away in marketing material
As strong as the marketing was, we started to suspect near the end that we'd basically already seen everything that the film had to offer. And indeed, we had: virtually everything from the Engineers to the deaths of several characters was featured in ads and trailers by the end. Particularly annoying was the extent to which the final takedown of the Engineer's craft by the Prometheus was so prevalent in the advertising (right down to featuring on an international poster for the film), presumably because it was the biggest effects things-go-boom money shot they had. It's of course possible to avoid trailers and TV spots (less so in our line of work), but still, placing that scene so front-and-center again drains the film of any suspense whatsoever. In an age when "The Avengers" and "The Hunger Games" become monster hits despite keeping much of their third acts under wraps, it's hard not to feel a little dissatisfied when you can recreate most of the movie by reconstructing it from trailer footage.

Noomi Rapace, Behind The Scenes, Prometheus
3. The instantaneous transition of Rapace's character to a blubbering wreck when children are mentioned
For all the provocative progressiveness of that abortion scene, and for Scott's long-noted love of strong female characters, the maternal aspect of Elizabeth Shaw's character still strikes a sour note. She's a brilliant scientist, resourceful and ass-kicking under pressure, and seems to be in a true relationship of equals with Charlie Holloway. She even has an open-minded but firm religious streak that seemingly can't be shaken even by the revelation that we're created from alien lifeforms (Or can it? One brief scene aside, we don't really get her reaction to the whole God-is-dead-and/or-wants-to-kill-us-all thing). But one mention of children, or the lack of them, and she's reduced to a whimpering mess of tears. We get that the film is trying to talk about progeny and the birth/life cycle and all that, but it's possible that an independent woman like Shaw had maybe just made the decision not to have kids, right? If you're going to weaken your character into a caricature of women-are-there-to-have-children, at least get some drama out of it: you could have had a beat where Shaw finally gets what she's always wanted, and is then forced to abort it. But like everything else in the film, it's underdeveloped and rushed, the character simply carried along by the plot to the next set piece.

4. It's pretty much all set-up for the sequel
One of the major plagues of the blockbuster tentpole these days is the desire to spend much of your film setting up further entries to come ("Iron Man 2" and "John Carter" being particularly egregious examples of late). Scott and co. have been clear that they're planning for at least one more installment, but we dearly wish that the set-up wasn't quite so cynical. Much of the pre-release hype revolved around the idea that the film was going to answer big questions: Where do we come from? Why we were created? But the film scarcely answers the how, and barely brushes on the why, preferring instead to hold real explanations -- for who the Engineers are, why they created us, and why they seemingly wanted to destroy us, for a future installment where Shaw and David's head journey to their homeworld. We're not against leaving some doors as yet unexplored, but what you learn in "Prometheus" is fairly minimal (maybe it would help if the characters actually reacted to their discoveries by being anything other than blase about them), and it's hard not to feel that the filmmakers have pulled a bait-and-switch. And that's even ignoring the dreadful bait-and-switch coda with the baby alien, which played to audible groans at our screening.

Ridley Scott, Prometheus
5. Ridley Scott made "Alien," but has he actually seen it?
There's a school of thought that says that, as "Prometheus" is being described as an entirely separate entity to "Alien," that a comparison between the two is unfair, and that the new film should be judged on its own back. There's also a much larger school of thought, of which we're proudly a part, that suggests that "Alien" is a much, much better fucking movie than "Prometheus." Scott's trying to have his cake and eat it too, playing down any parallels between his 1979 sophomore feature, and yet borrowing its structure and littering its spin-off with references to the original, not least that final coda. He was a hungry, lean young(ish) director when he made "Alien," and the film was a tight, focused, terrifying and pure experience set around a rich world. Here, Scott's trying to cram dozens of ideas into one film, many of which would be better suited to his "Blade Runner" sequel, and where "Alien" was like a shark, this is closer to the octopus-like monster that Shaw's spawn grows into -- messy, formless, limbs waving around in all directions. Perhaps Scott would have been well-served to rewatch his original before he started on this one? 

6. "Prometheus" Has Its Own Midichlorians
Despite the fact that Damon Lindelof says prequels are generally pretty dull because they simply tell the details to events we essentially already know (and he's dead right), going as far as to take some knocks on George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels, "Prometheus" has its own type of mystery-ruining Midichlorians -- the microbal stuff that explains the Force in the 'SW' series and for many, totally destroyed the mysticism that surrounded the Jedis "religion," i.e., it's all a bunch of bacteria and not that special. While not the exact same thing, "Prometheus" does take away a lot of the mystery in "Alien" as well and shows the direct lineage to the alien birth. Alien goop is put into Charlie's drink by the android David, he becomes infected, he has sex with the supposedly barren Elizabeth Shaw and their collective DNA mixed with this goop becomes a proto-alien baby. That proto-alien baby grows up (super fast) ingorges itself into one of the Engineers and voila, all those various DNAs mixed together equals the xenomorphs we love and adore. Sure, there's still lots of questions left unanswered, but to say "Prometheus" isn't really a direct prequel is kinda bogus (and yes, the events of both films take place on different planets, but c'mon, the outcome is the same -- Aliens fucked up the Engineers and now you know how they were born).

-- Oliver Lyttelton, Jessica Kiang, RP, Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Simon Dang

This article is related to: Prometheus, Ridley Scott, Noomi Rapace, Damon Lindelof, Jon Spaihts, Michael Fassbender, Sean Harris, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Rafe Spall, Guy Pearce, Patrick Wilson, Logan Marshall-Green, Features


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