It’s funny how our expectations going into a film shape our perceptions of it while we’re watching it and, ultimately, our final opinions about it after we’ve seen it. Case in point : yesterday on this very blog I was talking about Snow White And The Huntsman, a movie I frankly expected nothing from, and about how, even though it delivered nothing but a substance-free series of pretty pretty pictures to look at, I wasn’t too pissed off about spending my hard-earned money to see because I wasn’t even sure it would deliver that much (or that little). Today, on the other hand, I’m going to be discussing a flick that I flat-out expected to suck, and that pretty much delivered on those expectations — yet left me feeling pretty well ripped off even though it, too was gorgeous to look at and even though, again, I figured it would be at least as bad as it was, if not worse.
I’m talking, of course, about Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s completely unnecessary Alien prequel. The reasons I went into this with essentially no optimism whatsoever are numerous — Scott hasn’t made a good film since Blade Runner, the script was co-authored by some guy named Jon Spaihts and one of the chief culprits behind the unwatchable, thoroughly confused mess that was TV’s Lost, Damen Lindelof (who’s apparently irked huge segments of the online film geek community with a recent series of over-the-top-in-the-self-serving-department comments), and frankly because any film that set out to “explain” and “demystify” the H.R. Giger-designed evil aliens form the original film series sounded like something with the power to not only be completely pointless (some power), but to actively detract from the impact the first film had by filling in a bunch of blanks that are best left — well, blank.
Of course, there were reasons for optimism, as well — a first-rate cast, sure-fire scrumptious CGI effects, and a promised “return to the Alien series’ roots” after some rather unfortunate side-steps and detours all sounded pretty cool, but I still went into this one prepared for the worst.
I didn’t get that. Instead I got a confused, cliched, every-bit-as-unnecessary-as-I’d-expected mess of a film that, in its defense, at least really does look amazing. Which was enough for me to give Snow White And The Huntsman a pass, admittedly — but hyprocrite that I am I just can’t be as forgiving when it comes to Prometheus. Why not? Because at the end of the day I don’t really give a shit either way about the Snow White legend, but I do care about the Alien franchise. A lot. Scott’s first film rates right up there with John Carpenter’s The Thing on my list of all-time great sci-fi horrors, and I even enjoyed most of the various sequels to one degree or another. So it’s fair to say that, even though I didn’t figure it would be, I still wanted this flick to be good.
So where to begin with the reasons why it wasn’t? Well, how about we start with that stellar cast I mentioned a minute ago. It’s completely wasted. Apart from the film’s “Ripley-lite” protagonist, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, who turns in a heck of a good performance), none of the characters are developed at all. the very talented Idris Elba is stuck in a one-dimensional role as the titular ship’s captain and can’t even seem to decide what accent he should settle on when he’s speaking. Charlize Theron plays an ice princess — again. Michael Fassbender, at the top of pretty much every current Hollywood “hot” list, turns in a dry, uninvolved turn as the ship’s android that won’t be causing Ian Holm to lose any sleep (although, in Fassbender’s defense, the fact that Spaihts and Lindelof reveal that he’s robotic from the outset doesn’t help matters any). Guy Pearce, as old man Weyland, the expedition’s financier, might as well be replaced with a computer-generated stand-in. There’s even a completely pointless two-second cameo from Patrick Wilson inserted for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom. So much talent with oh so little to actually, you know, do.
Then there’s the script. Dear God, what a disaster. Shoehorning a bunch of unnecessary Chariots Of The Gods-style crap into the Alien “mythos” is about the worst direction these truly Lost writers could have chosen to go. Instead of illuminating anything (not , again, that much “illumination” was really needed — the original story stood on its own just fine), it just muddies the waters. There’s some laughably atrocious dialogue that wouldn’t sound out of place in an Ed Wood film (like when the ship’s geologist, in the midst of a massive freak-out, declares ” I like rocks, right? I really like rocks!”). And the main thrust of the action is essentially a direct carbon copy of the “story arc” from the first film (you know, for instance, who the only survivor is going to be from the outset). It’s like Spaihts and Lindelof can’t decide between trying to do something completely out of left field (albeit thoroughly confusing) or just settling on the same old blueprint so in the end, they go for both — and end up doing each competing narrative impulse a massive disservice.
I keep coming back to the amazing visual prowess Scott’s CGI gurus display here consistently from start to finish, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning one more time just to balance the scales here a bit, but what’s that old saying about lipstick on a pig? Prometheus cakes on the makeup, but underneath, its true face is still that of the victim of a particularly nasty car wreck. And like an accident victim, it’s so disfigured and tragic that you’re almost tempted to feel sorry for it — until you learn that said victim was driving drunk at 150 mph and the person in the other car (I guess that would be the audience in this case — bear with me as I stretch this metaphor way beyond the breaking point) didn’t make it out alive.
It takes an almost Herculean effort to not be as bad as I was fearing Prometheus would be yet still somehow leave me feeling even more cheated and let down than I would have felt had it actually been even worse (if that makes any sense at all) —yet that’s exactly what Scott, Spaihts, and Lindelof have managed to do here. File that under “go figure” and then, to return the already-worn-out accident metaphor, move along, folks — nothing to see here.