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Ten Word or Less Review: In space, we all watch you fail.

Who created life on Earth?  What was the creator’s purpose?  Was the intent benevolent or hostile?  Is our creator through with us?  Is God really a porcelain skinned, white guy in a big, weird space suit?  These are all the questions Ridley Scott’s ambitious science fiction epic Prometheus  has on it’s mind.  Sadly, the sounds of crickets chirping are about all you get for an answer.  Except that last one.  Poorly executed on the page and ultimately devoid of any sense of closure or point, Prometheus is yet another example in the growing list of old directors returning to the stories which established their greatness but in the end only demonstrate diminished results for the audience.

Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are a couple of scientist with a wild theory.  The two posit that life on Earth may have been created by a superior race of alien visitors whom they dub The Engineers.  All over the Earth in unrelated civilizations they’ve discovered the same image, a tall being pointing to a certain layout of stars.  They see it as a map humans are meant to follow into the heavens.  We follow the two on their most recent discovery of this image in the hills of Scotland and then we are promptly thrown forward 4 years onto the starship of the title.  Shaw and Holloway are leading an expedition to a planet they believe is inhabited by our creators.  They seek the why’s and how’s of human creation but of course what they find when they arrive slaps them squarely in the face.  They find the corpses of their mysterious Engineers and an ominous black liquid which does all kinds of weird, unpleasant things to those who come into contact with it.  And before you can say a word much of the character IQ’s start dropping and subsequently start dying.  When one particular moron treats the appearance of a weird looking, snake sized worm creature which appears as if it’s a lost puppy, we begin to accept that things aren’t going to break our way.

Ridley Scott’s much touted return tho the Alien universe he kicked off 30+ years ago lands with a complete and resounding thud.  Several critics have attempted to stave off disappoint with Prometheus by firmly announcing that the film is not really similar to Alien and that one shouldn’t watch it expecting as much.  Fine.  But what is it then?  Prometheus, for all it’s supposed ambition, isn’t much more than an incoherent and shaggy science fiction horror story.  We’re given a crew of 17 cast members, most of whom serve little purpose than to be dispatched as the movie chugs along.  Noomi Rapace’s (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) Shaw is our lead but she’s no Ripley.  She’s not even a second cousin twice removed.  Rapace’s character is more a failure of writing than performance.  Shaw is a wide eyed optimist who is defined by mentioning faith from time to time but little else.  This is the kind of film which portends to talk about faith because a character hangs onto a cross.  Her cohort Holloway is even less defined.  He is supposed to be a central character to the whole piece but if he were ejected from the story in its entirety he wouldn’t be missed.  It’s an amazing example of poor storytelling when halfway through the movie these two are shown to be lovers, but until that point gave zero indication that they were such.  Charlize Theron plays a cynical corporate overseer who feels the expedition is a waste of effort and resource.  Her character should have trusted her gut and stayed home.  The only cast member who really gets to shine is Michael Fassbender.  His android David draws his behavioral ticks from watching Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia.  But as fun as it is to watch Fassbender enliven the proceedings, the screenplay applys no logic to his character.  He keeps doing nefarious things which lack purpose or motive.  The screenplay simply has him there to cause trouble for others.  And the screenplay is where most of Prometheus’s  issues slowly gestate and gradually burst forth from within.

Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts are the credited writers and so much of what’s wrong with this feature feels as if it should be placed at their feet.  Maybe the circumstances conspired against them.  While not regarded as a troubled production Prometheus is known to be a movie which went through several major overhauls before going in front of cameras.  Once intended as an epic, two-movie Alien prequel with no ifs ands or buts about that fact, what finally makes it to the screen feels cobbled together and poorly thought out.  Those grand and reaching questions the characters so achingly want answers to are giving little more than cynical, uninspired half answers, if any answer at all.  Lindelof may deserve a lot of the drubbing on this point.  He was a prominent creative force on Lost and in some unfortunate ways he’s brought that show’s storytelling tendencies with him.  Lost could throw out question after question, week after week, diligently being coy and aloof about answers because there was always next week.  That same storytelling attitude seeps into Prometheus in the most unsatisfying of ways.  It doesn’t feel like a complete or fleshed out story which can exist on its own.  It leaves tons of baggage on the table as well as many, many things which need an explanation but don’t get one.  To go into specifics would require a lot of spoiler discussion which I won’t get into.  But when it’s done the whole movie winds up feeling like an unfinished setup for another movie we may never get, or in this instance even want.

Of course the name in lights with this entire spectacle is Ridley Scott.  It was such a rush to hear that the elderly master craftsman would eagerly return to the science fiction game after an absence of 30 years from the genre.  But while it holds true that Scott can’t make an ugly movie, this film is never less than gorgeous, it’s still resoundingly clear that he can lead a senseless one to the screen without a lot of fuss.  Prometheus is chock full of grand, immaculate imagery and some occasionally well constructed tension but it’s as if Scott is blind to the fact that the movie he’s shooting is completely devoid of any satisfying story element.  He keeps pushing things ahead as one half-formed part of the narrative after another falls apart on the floor.  By movie’s end Prometheus has become so garbled, nonsensical and stupid one is astonished at how completely it has failed.  No movie can end with a giant tentacle monster consuming a ticked off, porcelain skinned, alien being and ask for respect in the morning.  Scott does not get this fact.

If there were some chance Prometheus could go forward into another movie some of this wreckage might be salvageable and sorted out, but I can’t see a vast enough audience really caring.  With barely a notable character to hang onto, not enough focused story, and a overwhelming feeling that you’ve been duped in the end, Prometheus will most likely wind up as an ambitious science fiction almost ran, doomed to be unfinished because the people in charge we’re too worried about what was coming later and not invested enough in what was happening now.


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