Suspension of Disbelief: Prometheus
This blog post is a review of the new Ridley Scott film, Prometheus. Well, actually, it isn’t so much a blog post as a public service announcement. Do not see this movie. Despite a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 74 percent, this movie is a festering turd. I know it’s poor review-writing to be so blunt in the lede, but you deserve to know the truth. I’m not even worried about giving the entire plot away because there is just no way you should see this movie. Ever.
Genre: Sci-fi, Action
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Idris Elba
Rating: Negative Five out of Five Aliens (That’s right. NEGATIVE.)
I’m not a huge fan of the Alien franchise. Not because I don’t like it, but because I’ve had little exposure to it. I have, however seen Alien, which was also directed by Ridley Scott. Alien is amazing. It’s everything a sci-fi horror film should be. It’s claustrophobic. It’s suspenseful. There was enough plot development to make the viewer care whether the crew of the Nostromo lives or dies.
Prometheus is a stand alone prequel to Alien. Since I liked Alien so much I was very excited about Prometheus. I shouldn’t have been.
Look, I didn’t go to this movie for lots of character development. I didn’t expect some grand statement on the meaning of life. Which is good, because I got neither. All I wanted was tense experience intermingled with spurts of epic sci-fi action. I didn’t think that was too much to ask.
But it was. It was evidently too much to ask to have an original plot or for the story to explain…anything. Anything at all.
The movie starts out well. We see a humanoid drink goo and disintegrate, which destroys his DNA in the process. Then we see the DNA reform and cells start growing. Cut to 35,000 years later in the year 2089 when a couple of archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover the last in a series of ancient drawings of humans worshiping a particular constellation of stars. OK. So far so good.
Cut again to 2093 on board the Prometheus. We see David, an android, basically taking care of business on the ship while all the humans are in stasis. David watches movies, dyes his hair (?), studies languages, etc. during the two year journey from Earth to the particular planet indicated in the ancient drawings. The ship arrives at its destination. The crew wakes up and Shaw and Holloway explain what the heck everyone is doing there.
Then it gets bad.
The archeologists explain that, hey, this particular combination of dots appears throughout the millenia is “an invitation” to find the aliens. The aliens, by the way, that Shaw fervently believes created humans. Why does she think this? Oh, she just does.
I get that this is a sci-fi movie, and a bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary to enjoy the film. It’s not that the archeologists have this belief that bugs me. It’s the utter lack of setup. Oh, you just found a bunch of dots in the same formation? Nothing else? IT MUST BE AN INVITATION TO FIND THEM. I mean, really. Throw us a bone. Give me some cryptic scrolls or recently translated ancient document. Anything! But Prometheus doesn’t do any of that.
The movie doesn’t even make an effort to make the science sound right. An archeologist does DNA analysis. The biologist unironically uses the term “Darwinism” and runs away after finding a dead alien body on the planet. (Really. Why would you travel millions of miles to study a potential life form, then run away when you find one?) Both Shaw and Holloway make it clear that they just “choose to believe” their thesis, that aliens seeded Earth with humans. It’s maddening.
Furthermore, the entire plot is incredibly contrived. Every last bit. For example, as Shaw is explaining to Holloway that that the alien DNA they extracted while on the planet was an exact match to humans (whut?), the conversation devolved into weep-fest about how Shaw supposedly can’t have children. Where the eff did that come from? The audience gets no sense of this issue in their relationship until this point. It comes completely out of nowhere.
Anyhoo, this emotional outburst leads to a good old fashioned love scene, which is fine. Too bad Holloway was previously infected with some black ooze (evidently a weapon of some kind.) So of course this roll in the hay ended in a pregnancy! Why not? But not just any pregnancy. AN ALIEN PREGNANCY!
Shaw naturally wants to terminate that pregnancy, but she is forced to use a sweet state-of-the-art automated surgery table to remove the being.
I have a huge problem with how this is portrayed on screen. There are people I like and respect who disagree with me about this, but allow me to explain. You see, Shaw really wants this thing out of her. She screams it over and over. But when she tells the machine what kind of procedure she wants, she says she wants a c-section. No, she doesn’t want a c-section. She wants an abortion. She doesn’t want to keep this alien spawn to raise and care for. She wants it out of her and dead. She wants an abortion.
But whether she called it an abortion or a c-section doesn’t actually matter because, guess what! The automated surgery machine is calibrated only for men. So, if the movie was consistent, the machine shouldn’t be able to perform either. Luckily for Shaw, she did manage to make the machine cut that squid-like sucker out of her abdomen.
Again, I’m not upset that the movie includes this in the plot. The plot is just so contrived and unnatural that it loses all emotional weight. I laughed the during the entire c-section/abortion scene. (Sorry, everyone sitting around me.) It was absurd.
Don’t even get me started on how female characters were treated. Holloway and Shaw were referred to as “the scientist and his girlfriend,” even though Shaw was clearly taking the lead in this expedition. Mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) has serious daddy issues and no personality. To be fair, the only character the film even attempted to fully develop is Shaw, which no doubt contributed to lack of depth in the movie as a whole.
I could go on, and on, and on about all the little moments that left me cold and uninspired. The exploding head. The weird snake things that randomly dispatch with part of the expedition team. The temporary resurrection of a scientist that is burned to death. There isn’t time to go over it all in detail here. But Prometheus committed two of the cardinal sins of movies:
1. It was boring.
Nothing in this film inspired any kind of angst, any kind of stress in me. It failed to make me care if any of the characters lived or died. Scratch that. It made me hope for the death of every single character. Long, painful deaths. Every plot twist was telegraphed from a million miles away. The dialogue was corny. Like SyFy Channel original movie corny. No one said anything clever. Everyone fit their own very one-dimensional stereotypes.
2. It failed to even try to answer its own big questions.
I like sci-fi for it’s ability to pose big philosophical questions and attempt to answer them. I thought this film would address questions like: What is the responsibility that comes with creating life? What does it mean to be alive? David the android (Michael Fassbender) provided a perfect vehicle to explore these questions. In fact, he was the only character I sympathized with in the entire movie. But the film fails to address these questions in any real way. It’s like the writers thought that maybe we wouldn’t notice how superficial the movie is if they just pay lip service to sci-fi’s grand history of social commentary.
I haven’t seen a film I hated this much in a long time. I felt like Ridley Scott had ripped $15 from my hands and slapped me in the face with it. I nearly crept into The Avengers after the two-hour snore-fest just to cleanse my palate. The only reason you should see this movie is if you’re planning to give it the MST3K treatment. It had such potential. The ending was left open for a sequel, but if it’s as poorly written as the current film it will be a movie I skip.
Featured image credit: YouTube