PROMETHEUS: Big Things Have Vacant Beginnings [PLUS YOUR REACTION]

It’s a bit of a stretch, asking anyone to come out of Prometheus this weekend without an overwhelming sensation of feeling hollow.  It’s a rather empty, desolate film in all the ways that matter:  setting, visuals, character – even plot.  There just isn’t a lot there.

Compounding the problem is that the marketing machine behind the film has inadvertently already given you 90% of it.  Walking out of the theatre tonight or tomorrow will feel like you’ve just seen an extended trailer, albeit a two hour one.

Prometheus is about the search for mankind’s progenitors.  The ship that carries our characters (and I use the term loosely) to the alien planet that the film takes place on is named for the Greek titan that made man from clay, and gave them the fire that kickstarted their civilization.

It’s an extremely loaded word today, in storytelling terms.  It implies a genesis, a beginning, an origin, and most certainly, something otherworldly.  The film does indeed hand you all of these things (although it feels very paint by numbers) especially if you choose to recognize the film as a true, chronological prequel to the Alien franchise.  Prometheus does indeed take place in that universe, but as director Ridley Scott promised, does not find itself tied to the Alien films in a fundamental way where story or character are concerned.

A film review is committing a grievous sin as far as I’m concerned if it spells out first act details for a potential viewer, nevermind those reviews that take it even further than that.  Prometheus, being the hollow tunnel of beats that it is, means I’d be doing you an even worse disservice, since there’s so little to spoil.

Prometheus, as a friend of mine eloquently put it, is lacking characters.  It truly, absolutely, lacks any character of meaning and resonance.  Each and every one, save one special case, has a textbook motivation, and an extremely abbreviated (and sometimes totally-absent) development arc, and but a few lines all film long to support it.

Horrific and life-altering things happen to some of these characters, but there’s no onscreen fallout, reaction or catharsis for any of them.  The third act rush to the film’s conclusion is unmissable, and regrettable.  It all happens too quickly, and you’ll realize that the back half of the film suddenly becomes an excuse for nifty (and not particularly memorable) set pieces, instead of story or character, or even setting the tone of pure horror as Alien once did so masterfully.

Prometheus isn’t rife with plot holes; it just asks a lot of boring questions and doesn’t offer answers to most of them.  You’ll chat with your friends afterward trying to make sense of the various elements in the film, and you’ll all quickly realize that a number of answers to each question might be plausible given the open-ended nature of the sci-fi logic at work here.  But then you’ll also realize that the answers just don’t matter.

There are so many under-developed character motivations and historical events in this film that various combinations of answers and solutions might be right, and it’s impossible to ascribe a firm logic to any of it.  It feels like being given a Sudoku puzzle grid to fill in without any numbers in place at all to begin with.  The whole exercise suddenly feels meaningless and hollow.

For some viewers, there might be something strangely refreshing about the open-ended nature of the history we’re given; that a number of solutions and interpretations to what you watch in Prometheus might explain what you see.  The film’s a window into the horror that besieges the ship’s crew when they land on the planet, and it asks you to fill in all of the subtext.  It’s actually kind of democratic.  Anyone can take it any way they want it.

This is especially true with regards to Fassbender’s character, David.  You’ll struggle at the end of this to ascribe motivation to some of his actions.  David might strike you, as he struck me, as an authorial presence inside the film, placed there solely to fuck shit up and give the audience something interesting to look at and think about amid the vast stretches of this film that are otherwise frustratingly empty and just plain boring.  And thank goodness for him; he lights the screen up in almost every scene he’s in.

The real kick in the nuts with Prometheus is that a viewer won’t even get an appreciable level of action or horror out of this film to compensate for the vacant storytelling.  There just isn’t enough.  You’ll wait for a truly catastrophic and tense series of events to propel the film, and when it finally happens, it’s short-lived and lacking gravity or fuel, practically asthmatic in how abbreviated it all is.

Enough bitching.

Prometheus is a nice visual treat, most of the time.  The sets, effects and CG are robust and solid, and sometimes bear a retro signature that might get people a little nostalgic for 70’s and 80’s sci-fi.  Creature design is somehow iconic and boring at the same time.

The soundtrack often mismatches what’s happening on screen, which is a little bizarre for something of this scale and scope.  The main theme, which sounds nice, reasserts itself in strange places throughout the film, but it’s passable.

Having been filmed in 3D, Prometheus isn’t annoying to watch with the glasses on, which is an accolade as far as 3D goes.  It’s easy to tell that it hasn’t been post-converted, and the 3D works, but as usual, isn’t necessary in the slightest.

It’s tough to recommend anyone see this film.  It’s the farthest thing from ‘un-missable’ out there.  Watch all the trailers, and read a quick synopsis on Wikipedia, and you may actually walk away with exactly the same impression as everyone seeing this in theatres this weekend.

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