Alex: How did we all get it in our heads that Prometheus would be Ridley Scott’s “return” to some sort of artiste-ism? I think there’s been the sense around Prometheus that it would exhibit Ridley in his slower, more thoughtful Alien and Blade Runner mode. (Do we mistake the slowness of those movies for artfulness?) Prometheus doesn’t even mark his return to competence.
But it’s not all his fault. I think Ridley is only ever as good as his script, and Prometheus is such a shoddily constructed sequence of events — I can’t bring myself to call it a “story” — and its characters are so preposterously dumb, that the only way a director could make it work would be to treat it like the B-grade schlock fest that it really is. But irony and camp are not in Ridley’s DNA. If he’s the more ambitious and gifted of the Scott brothers, he’s also, as a result, the more pretentious, and Prometheus is deadly serious. Painfully portentous and convinced of its own importance.
The only joke in the whole movie — the only one that registers, anyway — is that David, the android played by Michael Fassbender, has modeled his speech on that of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. We even see him dying and combing his hair to match Peter’s golden wave. This is part of what makes David the most endearing character: he’s a non-human who wants to be liked by humans. Fassbender is brilliant in how he shows us David calculating ways to put the humans at ease, really figuring out how to talk to them. Of course, he’s also plotting to destroy them. Uh…I think. Is that what he’s doing? I was never clear on his agenda. For that matter, I was never clear on most of the characters’ agendas. For the amount of time they spend explaining to each other what they’re trying to achieve, it’s remarkably unclear just what it is they’re all trying to achieve.
Prometheus is a prologue to Alien. It’s the story of what happened to the wrecked ship where Ripley, et al., discover all those eggs. But the movie it should be compared to isn’t Scott’s first installment of the franchise, but rather James Cameron’s second. (Aliens is the best of the series and also, in my ’umble opinion, the best movie Cameron’s ever made.) That movie is so much better at introducing us to a ship-ful of characters. All of them, from the grunts to the scientists to the android to the corporate boob, are delineated; their objectives are clear; their secrets are dangerous. In Prometheus we have a whole bunch of people who sit around resenting each other, and nobody tells anybody else what they’re up to, and the token Asian guy is a numbers nerd, and the Irish guy is loud and dumb, and both of the main women are characterized by their daddy issues, and the only black person on the ship (Idris Elba) is blunt-spoken and sexually predatory. And of course he’s successful in his seduction of Charlize Theron, who plays the steely (and apparently powerless) boss of this whole crew — although it’s worth mentioning we don’t actually see that sex scene, while we do see the sex scene between the two white people who get it on.
Aliens is science fiction in the H.G. Wells mode; it somehow persuades you that all of this could happen. It trades in plausible impossibles. Prometheus is pompous pornography by comparison. It’s just a terrible fucking movie. It’s regressive and sadistic and it insults the intelligence and depresses the soul. It doesn’t have a hint of the subversiveness of a lot of the franchise reboots we’ve seen in recent years (Casino Royale, the Batman movies). I mean, really, it just sucks.
Aaron: I wish I could say something else, but really you totally nailed it, Alex. This is a total failure of a movie. It’s confusing and boring and sad in its desperate efforts to make silk out of sows’ ears. There’s really nothing good about it. I guess I’d agree that Fassbender is the best thing in the film, though the character is so recycled and boring (a cyborg who is so human-like that we get confused about what sort of being he is) that it’s hard to celebrate… and, of course, considering how bad all other parts of the movie are, it’s a really low bar.
I will say that I happen to think Ridley has made exactly two good movies (yes, Alien and Blade Runner), though I don’t think they’re as great as you think. I think the best thing between the two of them is his production design in BR and how it inspired the look of the next 30 years of sci-fi movies (though I give a lot of credit also to Philip K Dick). (I happen to think brother Tony Scott is an underrated director and think Top Gun, Crimson Tide and, yes, even Days of Thunder a.ka. Rednecks’ Top Gun, are entertaining and competent action movies. Generally I think Ridley is way overrated for his generally average work and I have to laugh at friends who are surprised that Prometheus is not a brilliant movie. (Did they not see Gladiator or Kingdom of Heaven?)
I also want to point out that this movie seems like it’s trying to be a launching device for Swedish actress Noomi Repace, Lisbeth Salander from the Swedish “Millenium Trilogy” (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) movies. Well, I would call this a “failure to launch.” I think she’s totally boring and has absolutely no ability to hold interest or make boys get boners. There’s an elaborate sequence involving her in a white bikini that is so unerotic, I could have been watching an industrial video about the postal service. Whatever the opposite of a star is is what she is.
The film feels like it was trying to be all things to all people, rather than doing what the original (three) films did well, which is giving an interesting examination of human existence and the limits of human control. This movie has an overwrought and dull love story and a bizarre question about God and evolution, which really have nothing to do with anything important in the story.
Co-writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (that dude who created Lost) seem only to move the story through ridiculously clumsy devices. You’re right, Alex, it’s never clear what David’s movies are, but it also doesn’t really matter because I’m not sure if that really what the movie is about. It could have been interesting to show an evolution or continuum where you have aliens on one extreme end, humans in the middle and then cyborgs at the extreme other end… but what we get is just a bunch of drippy turds on a ship that don’t really interrelate or connect to one another.
One last thing is that it’s funny you mention the Idris Elba/Charlize off-screen sex scene. I actually didn’t know they actually did it – just that she invited him over to her room to do it. It was all so PG and safe that I’m not even sure it was ever consummated. What’s worse than a bad movie? A movie that’s so worried about being offensive that it pulls all its punches and ends up saying and doing nothing.
Alex: They way you can tell Idris and Charlize fucked is because after that “Come to my room in ten minutes” bit, the next time we see her, her hair is actually un-cinched for the first time in the whole movie. (It isn’t long before it gets cinched back up again.) Was Charlize sexy in this movie? Didn’t that gray suit totally eliminate any, like, shape of her body? Why did she have to look like Liv Ullman in Persona? Or is this what straight sci-fi boys find hot?
Aaron: Yeah – that makes sense. What a weird decency-code-like way of framing a sex scene. It’s 1950 all over again! Yes – Charlize was totally spayed in this film. I don’t know. I don’t totally get her sex appeal in general. She’s blond and skinny. Big whoop. I thought it was weird that she was playing so tight it seemed like she might have been a cyborg too… but she wasn’t… or did I miss that too?