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Review: Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012)

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Premise: A prequel to the 1979 film Alien. A research vessel travels to a distant planet in pursuit of the origins of life.

What Works: As a piece of cinema, Prometheus is very accomplished and its technical filmmaking credits are first rate. Director Ridley Scott is renowned for his ability to construct environments as seen in films like Blade Runner, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Legend, and that reputation is upheld here. Prometheus is a beautiful looking film with landscapes rendered and photographed with Scott’s typical attention to detail. The design of the film balances well between practical elements and computer generated imagery and that gives this film some of the grit and reality that made the original Alien so effective. The other notable feature of Ridley Scott’s work is the cerebral quality of his films and Prometheus possesses this as well. The first half is very good, attempting to reinsert the science into science fiction after so many films and television programs in the genre have used technology and hard science as little more than set dressing. The premise of the script applies some interesting ideas and overall the film is a thoughtful piece of work which makes Prometheus a refreshing counterpoint to the brain dead filmmaking of Transformers and its followers.

What Doesn’t: Prometheus goes awry about halfway through. There is a difference between invoking suspension of disbelief and sloppy storytelling and unfortunately the screenwriters of Prometheus are guilty of the latter. A number of plot points and set pieces simply do not make sense and characters behave inconsistently and without any motivation. The story feels incomplete, as though the first and second halves were written independently and then mashed together. The first half introduces or hints at character arcs, personal agendas, and other subplots that are entirely abandoned by the second half of the film. Prometheus also suffers as a prequel. The purpose of prequels is to change or enhance the viewer’s understanding of the original text. Whatever their faults, the Star Wars prequels did manage to change the way viewers understand the character of Darth Vader and The Godfather Part II deepened the meaning of the original film. Prometheus makes an ambitious attempt to redefine the creatures of the Alien series and connect that explanation with broader issues like matters of faith, the ethics of scientific inquiry, and even the meaning of life. The filmmakers fall short and in the end Prometheus is little more than an addendum to the original Alien. By comparison, the Alien sequels, even the lesser entries, did much more to advance the themes and ideas of the original film. Lastly, Prometheus also falls short as a piece of entertainment. The Alien films were always genre pictures and for the most part they effectively mixed science fiction, horror, and action, fulfilling the qualities of each genre and delivering films that were as intellectually interesting as they were entertaining. Prometheus is nowhere near as satisfying. It is not a very thrilling action film, nor is it a very scary horror film. Although this is a technically accomplished picture, viewers might be surprised to find more satisfaction in the trashy thrills of Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem than in the high-minded pretension of Prometheus.

Bottom Line: Prometheus reaches for the complexity and gravity of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film falls well short of that and is much more a mash up of Alien and Star Trek V. It is not a bad movie but it is an underwhelming one.

Episode: #392 (June 17, 2012)