Prometheus astounds the senses while leaving the viewer wanting more, less, new.
Ridley Scott’s 2012 science fiction extravaganza Prometheus is that rare film that entertains even as it disappoints, forages ahead despite slamming into the mountain of expectation. It is both bold and visually imaginative, accomplished standalone adventure and solid fifth installment in the Alien franchise. The frustrating part is that it never fully breaks away from what we’ve already seen. It’s as though in the effort to start over, to ensure we’re following along, the story forgets how to be different. While most franchise films are adequate in setting up what will surely spawn a follow-up sequel to the prequel, the danger is ever-present in catering too much to fans while alienating first timers and the merely amused. It’s not for lack of brilliance in execution and scope that Ridley Scott’s 2012 space epic Prometheus suffers but from a sense of scattered indifference as though a film can rest on what’s come before almost entirely as long as it looks great, stuns the senses, rewards the viewer in lavish details. Scott seems most interested in questions unanswered as absolutes that can be proven, undermined or simple reflections of our endless hopes and dreams. These are heavy things that fuel films and stories, sometimes truthful and possible mixed in speculative fiction and imagination. But people seem drawn, uncertain because so much of what could have been, even should have been, is left to the viewer’s resolution and reward and ultimately we’re tasked with too much lifting to feel entirely rewarding.
Scott is perhaps most adept at the inherent sense of curious in space explorers, astronauts and corrupt minds pitted against the well intended in pursuits greater than themselves. His uncanny timing with the little things in characters has worked so well in previous films but stories about the universe of universes, portrayed convincingly enough by an ensemble cast of notable talents ends up here feeling like lost opportunities instead, heady philosophizing and poignant pontificating spared no expense, however excessive, unnecessary – primed for so very much more, seemingly OK with less. Gorged on budget, muddied by a decade of planning, doing, unplanning and undoing, Prometheus is commendable for its aesthetic acuity, and the acting, most evidently Fassbender’s android with a heart of soul, but plot lingers too long in empty space conundrums and sameness sucks the life from originality. Fans will take up defenses while least liked critics will ponder, why don’t we do less with more because more makes less so much more appealing when held right in front of your face – like writing a review of a film that’s been replaced over time by other films of lesser and sometimes greater success and failure that makes something you want to see.
I approached Prometheus well after the interplanetary space dust kicked up by lovers and haters had settled, mostly, tucked safely up with sharp opinions – an unabashed lover who just wanted more, less, difference. In my humble abode, Blu-ray rental and lowered expectations in tow, I sat, I watched and I enjoyed, mostly. I figured it was going to look great regardless of where it could go wrong, having heard some rumblings, and of course it did not fail to impress in that regard – elsewhere however, well, there are lots of problems. It’s not so surprising that a film positioned in such an expansive and well-loved universe would succumb to meandering too much, following what has already been done because to be honest, it’s safer, however lesser. But sameness seems the new newness in place of breaking expectations, however well intended, leaving us firmly in the middle of the road of OK. I suppose you could call it a struggle, trying to cater to fans and others equally, necessarily, but that’s no excuse or it shouldn’t be, no free pass in the heaven or hell of bio-mechanics absent audiences – even if it is, sadly for so many OK, thankfully (not) most. I am reminded of this era of reboots and revisitations, of the proliferation of grossly overstuffed and bloated productions producing visually stunning but often airy catastrophes that fall down all around the senses then fade quickly, almost immediately, replaced by more of the same and so few. So why aren’t more people hollering, fighting crowds gathering, pushing upward and outward to say hey, wait a minute, what about bigger and better without lackluster for the sake of humdrum thrills and call it satisfying? I suppose well enough is simply put, good enough for the many – making those of us writing about movies charged with the task of criticizing plenty. I suppose there is something to say for following popular opinion – just not here, not from me.
You have to want to like Prometheus to dislike it, otherwise you go in feeling OK about it or simply impressed, soon to be remiss. You might buy the film for a loved one or friend for holiday, perhaps even keep a copy at home for some future marathon of the five disc franchise, then forget about it for the vastly superior debut and sequel, never mind three – even four could be forgotten. The film will look great and play well enough at home, best on big screens and deft sound systems, the rumbles of space travel and screams you really do hear in space – at least in movies about them. The story is very much a patchwork of what came before and presumably what came before that and then right after, re-imagined and re-purposed to full effect. But the mission comes terribly close to familiar, easily over – at least we can go back to the beginning in order to go back to the beginning. As Prometheus arrives in exploration, the characters are introduced and plans set in motion, like Alien that came before in order to be set well after and once again the idea of deception and doubt fuels the story. We find another group of space men and women that begin to undermine relationships and dreams, turning employer and employee against one another as artificial life fights to be different and the same mixed in with other life forms, aliens, and monsters inside and out. It is indeed the cast that gives the characters their depth, complexities and favors – despite Charlize Theron who is just wrong, mostly, hardly right as a ship captain or villain. The setup is going to work or not, depending on your fan aptitudes, willing participant or resistance at all cost – the end is obvious and necessary and what can you say about franchise building that isn’t evident in everything being made today? That’s a tight rope walk destined for falling, weakened by all the other prequels these days – everything from Star Wars to James Bond, Batman to Spiderman. Personally I’ve had enough of all the heavy hammering of old bowls to be new again when what we’re really talking about is hedging bets, pillowing excuses to either cover up blunders or dismiss haters who just want their old memories back.
As much as been written about Prometheus as good, bad and just OK, right and wrong, there is just as much about the franchise as a whole, all the various machination and productions, designs and reactions. Generally it’s a mixed bag. One simply google any element to discover a wealth of facts and fictions, the very positive to the very, very disapproving. It’s challenging to arrive somewhere until you’ve invested your time, opened yourself to the material. The challenge in writing about a film like this is how much it demands a viewing in order to make sense, to work on some level or none. The film has sparked so many reactions it becomes a matter of forgetting everything you’ve heard or read before and prepare to come to your own conclusion. While I don’t wish to sound wishy-washy or stuck, steadfast in the mud of indifference, one truly should approach the story with wonderment and awe, come to their your own answers to what the universe means and what is our future of knowing. Is it everything to everyone, hardly, will it entertain even if only to take you away, however fleeting, to far away places with people you might know but probably don’t to explore and consider where we are in our own advanced revelations, knowing there’s something out there and charged with finding it or letting others show you theirs or just sticking to other distractions far away from deep thoughts and considerations – is there anything out there, somewhere, someone looking for us as much as we’re looking for them? Maybe films like Prometheus are better absent of such realities, left to sketchy thinking, make-believe entertaining.