Anti-climatic. I guess after so many years since 1982, waiting for Ridley Scott to return to the sci-fi genre, his eventual return was hardly going to live up to expectations. Kind of like Lucas returning to Star Wars with The Phantom Menace, but, hell, lets not cause a panic- the WTF response to TPM is hardly warranted here. But after so many years of Scott saying that sci-fi movies are a dead genre and that he has simply been waiting for an interesting script… well, you have to wonder how many bad scripts he’s read to make the Prometheus one look good enough to warrant his return to sci-fi. Because, sadly, it’s the script that handicaps this movie, and that surprises me as Scott really tends to work on his scripts; this one feels like a second draft, not finely-tuned enough.
But that gives me cause for hope. Watching Prometheus I was reminded of my experience of watching Kingdom of Heaven at the cinema. It was a frustrating, by-the-numbers historical epic, with a lacking script, characters that didn’t seem to do much, a lack of involvement and empathy with the drama… and yet the Directors Cut version released on home video is a completely different beast, a truly great film and my third-favourite Scott movie. Vastly better than the one I saw at the cinema. I’m rather hoping that when Prometheus reaches our homes on DVD and Blu-ray this Autumn, it’s with a Directors Cut that fixes the problems I had watching the film at the cinema.
So anyway, the Prometheus I saw at the cinema. Where did it go wrong, and where did it go right?
Well, it felt rushed. Not dark enough. Didn’t really have much of a score. Few characters were utilised enough, it was just swamped with too many of them. Compare that with 1979’s Alien; Alien has a long, slow pace. It’s dark. It has a cold, haunting, wonderful score. It has just seven main characters and we know who they are, what they do, what they are thinking. I don’t know who half of them in Prometheus are, or what they do, what they are thinking. They are all very bland, and, for scientists, pretty stupid. Kane could be forgiven for peering into the alien egg, but these guys play with strange alien life-forms and seem bemused when the life-forms turn on them!
And there’s one of my biggest problems. Since when did alien life become so little a deal? These are supposedly scientists; an alien life form should be an awe-inspiring, momenteous thing for them. Not a “hey, look at this little critter!” moment. I presume that in this future world we have not once encountered an alien life-form or intelligence. That in over a hundred years of SETI and looking for life, we have found nothing, heard no signals, just silence. So you would think that on launching an expedition to a distant star system (‘where no man had gone before!’ and all that), and upon finding gigantic constructs on an alien world, and actual remains and artifacts, there would be some commentary on how momentous this all is, how important it is. Just one of the characters might have said, “whatever all this is, nothing will be the same again!” You know, these guys are destined for the history books, they should know that, feel it, comment on it. As it is, Prometheus doesn’t address it at all. Nobody takes a step onto the alien surface as if that itself was important, or looks up at the alien sky with its Sauturn-like planet hanging there and comments on it. They don’t even look up! They land, and without waiting for safety checks or anything they jump into their rovers and race across the road to the Alien structure as if its a Sunday afternoon stroll. Lazily written stuff.
And the space travel feels fairly humdrum; no doubt these humans are the furthest from Earth any hman has ever gone. May as well be a weekend trip to Jupiter the way these guys go on about it.
Infact, I would go so far as to say that Prometheus compares rather unfavourably with Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which is possibly my favourite sci-fi movie of the last ten years or more. I have returned to Sunshine several times and have found it a very rewarding film, with lovely homages to Alien, 2001 and others. Compared to Prometheus, the actors and characters they portray are quite superior in most respects. They seem fully-rounded, distinct, believeable. The portrayal as space as a cold and dangerous place, and the importance of the mission, is handled very well. It is beautifully shot, and often shots linger on faces, expressions, reactions, just long enough to express things the dialogue doesn’t. The music score is powerful. Compare all this to Prometheus, where we get to ‘know’ few of the characters, most are not fully-rounded, the pacing feels off, the script seems weak, the music score fairly anonymous.
This all makes it seem like I hated the film- not so, I quite enjoyed it, but even while watching it, it was frustrating me (much like, as I have said, Kingdom of Heaven some years before). The production design was good, the fx were good, and a minority of the cast (most notably Michael Fassbinder, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron) were excellent. I just have a nagging feeling I didn’t see a quite-finished movie. I’m sure there is a really good film in here.
And I haven’t even gotten to the elephant in the room- the Space Jockey. Anybody who has read my earlier post about Alien will know of my reservations concerning Prometheus‘ tackling of the Space Jockey and its mysteries. Well, I think my reservations were well-founded. Turns out that the Space Jockey was just a giant bald guy in a spacesuit. Thats just so wrong I just don’t know where to start. All that lovely Giger design, that strange, bizarre creature with its twisted bones and biomechanical form, and it turns out its a giant in a suit. The whole point of Alien was that everything was, well, so Alien, so inhuman, strange, terrifying. Well, thats all out the window. I’d have more time for it if it had revealed that these big bald guys aren’t the engineers at all, but are themselves just engineered foot-soldiers, servants of the engineers ‘Space Gods’ proper that are never revealed. As it is, the idea that its all just these bald guys flying around the galaxy creating life then going back and destroying it (like, er, whats the point of that?) I mean, come on.
Oh, and Prometheus isn’t scary at all. Not in the slightest. And I thought it was supposed to be?
Hmm, maybe I’m trying to like Prometheus because of my sense of, well, fan-based loyalty to Ridley. I have a thought though that maybe, like Lucas returning to Star Wars, Ridley returning to sci-fi wasn’t such a good thing afterall. Maybe its just not that good a movie.Well, I think I need to see it again. I need to see an extended, better, Directors cut for sure.