NOTE: I honestly could not construct this review without putting in spoilers. If this is important to you, read at your own risk.
Besides slamming into logical roadblocks, I don’t quite understand why the internet hive mind is in a murderous rampage over this movie. Ridley Scott’s directing style was there, H.R. Giger’s grotesque and biomechanical art direction was present, the performances were pretty well done; frankly, I was happy enough for the final product. What really lacked, in my opinion, was the writing. According to IMDb, there were two writers: Jon Spaihts, who I’ve never even heard of because he hasn’t done anything, and Damon Lindelof who wrote Lost… and I think this explains a lot. I’m not going to go off about “franchise continuity” like most people have because Ridley stated during production that this is more of an “off shoot, spin off reboot” rather than a direct prequel of Alien. If you take the movie as that, then what contradicts continuity makes sense on its own. The lack of common sense and basic understanding of science, on the other hand, doesn’t.
My first eye roll occurred from the whole star map nonsense. To be honest, I don’t know anything about star maps or astronomy but I’m pretty positive a “star formation” that has been repeated by ancient unconnected cultures (1) means nothing because it’s just a meme (i.e. six pointed star, swastika), (2) how did they know it was “engineers” giving them clues to search for them, (3) that formation could look like any formation in the whole galaxy simply by shifting perspective on certain collections of stars, and (4) how did Weyland know that there were engineers of human life? He seemed one hundred percent sure that it was a calling and, after all, he is a businessman. A businessman isn’t going to invest in an endeavor unless he is confident of a profit, driven by superstition or not… and it was a superstition that he completely believed in because he made it clear that he did not know of, meet, or had any sort of contact with the engineers. Also, the star formation did not seem like it was some sort of Lovecraftian object that would drive its finders into obsession. Otherwise, the whole crew would have been enamored by it. This whole star stuff was a skyscraper built on straw. There was a big reason for going there but not enough of a foundation to get there. This is one of the first logical roadblocks where I sense the writer(s) asking “we know what we want and what to do but how do we get there?” They couldn’t have a reason for mining because that was the first Alien movie and the crew in Prometheus had to consist of scientists; otherwise, it would undermine the whole story [ba-dum-tish]. This logic roadblock was not entirely slammed into but the drivers weren’t left unscathed.
A huge roadblock, though more of a gaping pothole, was science. If I want to write a science-fiction film, I’m not going to ask the writer and creator of Lost to help. Yeah, he helped write the newer Star Trek movie. I thought it was pretty decent but at the same time, the movie’s plot/story was similar to many other plots/stories from the original episodes. At least there was some sort of guide… and the science is also way out there (which is a problem I’ve always had with Star Trek but that can be discussed another day). Prometheus and the Alien franchise is pretty near-future for science fiction. No phasers, no teleporters, no crazy worm hole/time travel stuff. The science has always been straight forward and believable in the Alien universe. My first question of the science in Prometheus is that even if this is a kinda-sorta prequel, why the hell is the biology of these damn creatures so complicated? Even in the original Alien movie, it was pretty simple and that simplicity helped in adding their creepy factor. From my understanding, the black goop, when ingested by a human male, would slowly kill him and mutate his sperm; that mutated sperm, when in contact with a human egg, would create a squid like creature that then would quickly evolve into a giant starfish; then, if able to, the giant starfish would act like a face hugger to impregnate (or re-impregnate) whatever it could find and kill it at the same time. And if it could find an engineer/space jockey, the now dead engineer/space jockey would then give birth to a Xenomorph. But if the black goop was ingested by a male engineer/space jockey, it just would kill him quickly and the body would then act as a building block for human life. But the goop was originally going to be used by the space jockeys/engineers to kill off the humans they created for no clear reason.
You need to know a decent amount of science to write science fiction. Even if you’ve seen just an episode of Lost, you know that show has confusing logic and it is clearly brought over here. The original creatures in Alien were not that complicated and their lifecycle was very insect like. It went Queen –> Egg –> Face Hugger –> A body to impregnate (human or not) –> Chest Burster –> then it would rapidly grow into a Xenomorph. The closest lifecycle to this, that I can think of, is a tapeworm’s. As I said, you need to have a basic knowledge of science to write science fiction. This creature, or these creatures, in Prometheus do not have any sort of lifecycle of anything that (I know of) exists. DNA cannot instantly adapt to whatever environment it is in, single celled or multi celled; sperm or giant starfish. But obviously anyone that thinks a woman can leap off an operating table and run away perfectly fine after having a c-section, while hopped up on pain killers, needs a reality check. It’s a pity too because that particular scene was great till its conclusion. It really had a shot at making a statement about the struggles of motherhood. In fact, this whole movie could have made a real statement about the struggles of motherhood, the same way Alien made a statement about the struggles of women in a male dominated society (amongst other things). There was a lot of places where a “struggles of motherhood” theme could have been planted; the engineer/space jockey using himself to give birth to the human race, Shaw being sterile but still giving birth to some nightmarish squid thing, Vickers clearly having the ability to give tough love to her crew. Instead, this movie decided to take the “let’s talk about faith” route. They ultimately needed a way to get to the story and had no way of getting there.
Though entertaining, Prometheus was mostly filled with empty nutrients… notice that I did not say calories. If this movie did consist of empty calories, it would be non-stop action beginning to end. It would not even bother to question or make arguments. The film asks what it means to have faith and why… but these are the empty nutrients. The questions open up, loudly, but never close; not even with the faintest subtlety. The subject of faith and religion is too big of a subject to tackle in a two hour sci-fi/horror film, especially a question that does not really have an answer. I suppose religion/faith is a common topic for science-fiction (VALIS, Star Wars, Star Trek, re-imagined Battlestar Galactica). But for horror? I’m not sure. The only way it could ever end would be on an atheistic note. Previous sci-fi works that have covered religion always had a more agnostic vibe; examples being those listed in the parentheses above. The conclusions sci-fi and horror stories typically have contradict one another and Prometheus is a mix of these. As a genre film, it works and always has worked on numerous occasions (the other Alien movies, one of my favorite PC games System Shock, even Frankenstein has been considered a prototype of mixing these genres). This is another area where I feel the writer(s) hit a logic roadblock; this one was more behind the scenes. They picked up two ends but couldn’t get them to meet. I suppose one could argue that they tried and, yes, I do think at times it worked. It worked for the heroine Shaw and it worked okay for Weyland, despite it not blending very well with his archetype of a big corporate executive. Not saying it would be impossible it just wasn’t fleshed out because he only shows up in the beginning and the end. But even then, those were really the only spots where faith, on an agnostic tone, played a role and worked. It just cannot work in the horror genre. Frankly, you have a better chance of putting Bertrand Russell’s atheism into the Texas Chainsaw Massacre than Aldous Huxley’s spirituality in an Alien film. I don’t think the writer(s) gave the story and theme much thought. On the bright side, at least it wasn’t Lockout.
What would go great with this?
Chicken in peanut sauce Lean Cuisine. Make sure you microwave it about thirty to forty seconds under the recommended time. You’ll want delicious salmonella to truly feel the chaos the story brings to the table.
Vodka tonic with a dash of mysterious black goop.
Critic Value: 5/10…?
There’s just so much that could have been done here. This movie is proof that you can have good directing but a bad story. Ridley’s atmospheric tension building is there and it’s done well. The scene where David’s character is developing screams Ridley Scott. The references to Lawrence of Arabia and the parallels of an android’s life among humans are a perfect fit… but after that, where story is the main focus (the writer’s responsibility), it falls apart. I gave this a five and a question mark because the film as a whole had its chance for purpose, and it tried, and there were spots where it could have been implemented, but in the end it must have been overlooked
Quality Value: 9/10…?
A question mark is for the quality of the writing. You can hear the movie’s universe breathe with life: the sets, the characters, the costumes, the atmosphere and tension that’s built. That’s all Ridley and the quality he has always brought to his films. I may be a fanboy but you can’t deny that he did his job. The writer(s) didn’t. Prometheus is like looking at a beautiful glass statue filled with pigeon shit.
Love it or hate it, this movie is engaging. I liked it for what Ridley did/tried to do, I didn’t like it for what the writer(s) did.