Where Did Prometheus Go Wrong?
I should start with a disclaimer.
This article in no way reflects the thoughts of Movie Farm as a whole. I was initially asked by our editor and chief to write a piece comparing Prometheus to Alien yet, seeing as both movies, though set in the same universe, are totally different, it became clear that this wasn’t an option. I did, however, feel it prudent to detail the other side of the Prometheus argument as our review (found here) ultimately opts for a more favourable take than I.
I also wish to state that, for those that have yet to see Prometheus, you need to stop reading now. This article will go into detail about major plot points and character beats that are best left unknown to those wishing to go into the film cold. You have been warned…
The fascinating thing about the release of Prometheus is the level of debate it has caused. Whilst reviews have ultimately proved positive, those that dislike the film have been more than vocal about their issues. For the purposes of this article, I hope to detail my issues well enough and state flat out that those who like the film are not wrong. We just differ. Here’s my two cents.
There’s no denying that Prometheus is spectacular. I do not mean this as a way of describing the film as a whole but the scale and look of it should generally be viewed with awe. It is rare these days to find a film that is so unashamedly science fiction as the genre, as of late, has fitted into a certain niche that tends not to placate a mass blockbuster audience (the recent Star Trek reboot excluded). So here in Prometheus we do have interstellar travel, androids and plot threads that are as suitably epic as the film’s scope and it seems quite clear very early on that Ridley Scott’s trademark visual panache is firing on all cylinders. It also helps that the film boasts the best 3D seen since Avatar, though whether it was needed or benefits the experience is debatable.
This said, there are petty niggling issues that become apparent from the beginning. Forgive this writer his nitpicking but there are certain flaws that bugged the hell out of me on a pure filmic level, such as choppy editing and some dialogue that is really quite terrible. But, ultimately, to enjoy a film at all, one must learn to look over such contrivances and take in the piece as a whole. Even some of the best films ever made had some glaring flaws. Unfortunately, my problems with Prometheus stem much deeper than surface cracks.
The main issue, the fundamental backbone of my anger, is the sheer lack of any resonance and, most crucially, any explanation as to what everything is or means. Many have pointed the film’s faults squarely on the hands of writer Damon Lindelof, a man who is no stranger to fan-based anger on the basis of his involvement with Lost’s weak conclusion. Much like Lost, Prometheus is filled to the brim with great, interesting ideas that, taken individually, have the potential to create thought-provoking and riveting drama. Unfortunately, much like Lost, many of them are squandered before they are given time to mature, with 99% of the film’s questions left unexplained or abandoned altogether.
This gripe irritates in two ways: one – it feels as though the filmmakers had the concepts but not the answers as filming began and two – it relies heavily on the hope that audiences will want another movie. This in itself is a little offensive. Why leave much of the film unexplained when it is possible it will will bomb, thus negating the want for a sequel? It almost bullies the audience into demanding a sequel whilst at the same time delivering a film that is both frustrating and hollow to begin with.
Compare it to another film with interesting ideas that works: Inception. Whilst being different in many ways, Inception introduces a plethora of head-scratching and thought-provoking concepts that are unfamiliar in narrative terms yet are never-the-less intriguing. Crucially though, it spends its entire run-time bringing the audience up to speed in an adult and non-patronising way so that when its core ideas come to fruition, there’s a sense of accomplishment and appreciation at being lead through an unorthodox and compelling narrative.
Prometheus, on the other hand, does not do this. The initial intrigue is there in abundance: who are the engineers? Why did they create human life? Why did the leave evidence of their existence for us to find? What are the pyramids or their purpose? Why do they have a store of such dangerous and infectious material in said pyramids? Why do they seem hellbent of destroying earth? A tirade of questions that are deeply intriguing but, ultimately, only work if they are elaborated on. The only hint at an explanation comes from the criminally underused Idris Elba, where he details his assumption that the pyramids and their contents are part of a bio-weapons division for the engineers, held off planet to minimise contamination risks. Interesting but not concrete.
It also brings me to question many of the film’s key scenes. Why mention that Shaw cannot conceive in passing when it has never been mentioned as a major character beat before this point? I understand that it’s there to make her mutant conception more horrific but it’s inclusion at the last minute makes it feel somewhat redundant; the self induced c-section will still remain horrid with or without this additional information. What purpose does David have infecting Holloway with the virus stored in the pyramids when it results in his painful death by flame-thrower and is never spoken of again? Why does Weyland show up toward the end only to be swiftly murdered by the engineers, giving him no purpose other than to die? Why even bring up the fact that he’s Vicker’s father? Each of these plot points and character beats are brought up in passing, which not only dulls their impact but begs the question as to their inclusion in the first place. Shaw’s pregnancy despite being sterile, Weyland’s sudden appearance, the reveal of Vickers as his daughter – all of these could have been profound and shocking had they been given room to breathe or if they’d they been elaborated on in a way to give the appropriate resonance they require. Instead they face-plant spectacularly.
Like an upset parent chastising a child, to Prometheus I say this: I’m not angry, just disappointed. Amongst the mess and confusion is a potentially great film. Unfortunately it’s hidden behind a product that is so excited about the questions it’s raising it completely forgets that we require SOME payoff. I hate movies that lead you completely by the nose, like the standard of most blockbusters these days, however Prometheus is the opposite, playing its cards so close to its chest that when the credits roll you quickly realise you’ve spent two hours moving from Point A to Point A. Is it too much to ask for a small element of closure? The audience puts its trust in the filmmakers. To provide only a fraction of the movie’s promises almost feels like a massive ‘fuck you’, a seduction, if you will, without the anticipated outcome.
Am I interested in seeing a sequel? Yes I am but, unfortunately, it’s for all the wrong reasons. I await the inevitable director’s cut. A longer run-time improved Kingdom of Heaven greatly.
A man can dream.
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