So, anyways, Prometheus review...
*WARNING, SPOILERS HEREIN*
In the early years of his career as a film director, Ridley Scott gave us two science fiction classics that would have thunderous effects on the genre in its cinematic form from then on. It's 2012, extactly thirty years since his last dive into this genre with Blade Runner, returning to the world that is greatly responsible for having placed him at such a prominent position in the industry and the popular conciousness, the Alien franchise. With a heavy, symbolically charged title and a stunning marketing campaign promising a journey that would turn mankind's history upside down and reveal its reason of existence, a new sort of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Prometheus was bound to be grand, ambitious, great, surprising, and eventful, the must-see film of the summer. However, as Noomi Rapace's character warned us in the trailer, "we were so wrong".
The story, quite simply, is the following: the film opens with a sequence where a humanoid creature, later named by the scientists as the "Engineers", drinks a strange fluid which causes him to spontaneously combust and its cells to mutate into new lifeforms, which presumably later evolve into at the very least human beings, at most every living being on Earth. We flash forward to 2089, with a group of archeologists in a cave, discovering a series of ancient runes depicting a cosmic map, and the location of those the scientists believe to be mankind's creators. We flash forward again to 2093, where we see the spaceship Prometheus (with a crew of seventeen on a journey which has already taken two years) arriving at a planet's moon called LV-223 in hopes to prove the existence of the Engineers and to be able to come in contact with them. As they enter the atmosphere and cross a mountain that would allegedly make Mt. Everest look like a hillock beside it (a reference to an aforementioned text) and beyond it their first evidence of intelligent life on this new planet (as mentioned by Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green, "God does not build in straight lines", yet another reference to Lovecraft's text). They land, they get off the ship, they enter the complex (likely derived from Giger's "Egg Silo"), and they find a place where only death resides and awaits.
I have already read a few reviews and spoken with a few people about it, and almost everywhere I look, the consensus seems about the same. Most of the criticisms I read seem to be split up between two issues. Firstly, there's the matter that the film finds itself incessantly emulating and referring to its predecessors. Yes, the film is a prequel and it's largely based upon trying to reveal the origins of the spaceship and the "Space Jockey" seen in the first film, and being part of a franchise certain elements will have to exist in this as they do in other films of its franchise, but the film seems constantly determined t copy and refer back to key scenes and aspect of its predecessors that have no actual need to be repeated or referred to here, either with the alien pregnancy referring openly to the chestburster scene, or the characer of David and his fate relating to Ash, or (especially) the extraordinarily dumb and unnecessary Xenomorph cameo at the very end. The film seems to spend a lot of time trying to revive old classic scenes and elements and never delivering new interesting ideas of its own.
Then, there's everything related to the screenplay, be it the plot holes, the inconsistencies in already flat characters, their absurd behaviour, and the clunky, terribly expositional dialogue, the fact that it leaves more questions than answers, or else. Regarding the questions made by the film, I like the fact that, in terms of its themes, the film makes big questions about the nature of life, the meaning of existence, the desire to escape death, the meaning of being alive and possessing a soul or consciousness, and the reason behind the creation of life and, more to the point, the human impulse to search for a means to do so; I also like the fact that it never tries to answer them, and rather chooses to live the spectator wondering upon those matters instead. However, these are all questions raised verbally, and therein lies the problem: there is very little the film offers regarding its subjects, and rather than trying to give something to the viewer with which to approach these questions, the film seems content in uttering the questions and then pretending that's about as much as it needs to attain a certain depth or to get a philosophical discussion on the way. Worse than this is that, after the film has ended, the question in most viewers' minds has nothing to do with the themes, and everything to do with the narrative, which brings us to the rest of the problems in the screenplay. In my group we were seven people who watched the film, and the discussions that followed had everything to do with explaining the plot to one another, and we discussed it for literally over an hour. This is a film that narratively is all over the place, where character disappear and reappear and monsters crawl all over and everywhere for no reason that makes any sense whatsoever. How can the man responsible of mapping the Egg Silo, who's also in constant communication with the ship and leaves well before the rest of the crew is done with their work, get lost within the Egg Silo? Why does he freak out with the image of a 2000-year-old corpse and then tries to interact with a living phallic alien snake? Why does Weyland pretend to be dead, to what purpose are him and Vickers made kin? Why does everyone act as if a half-naked woman covered in blood with her abdomen sliced open and stapled shut comes barging through the door acting like a Doomsday prophet, who should have also been placed in quarantine, is perfectly normal? And what on Earth is going on with that black goo, how does it work? Supposedly in the first sequence we see it destabilizing DNA then reorganizing it, yet some disintegrate, others turn into strange zombie-like creatures with inhuman strength, if you're impregnated by an infected character you spawn a facehugger, who then can spawn Xenomorphs if they impregnate another being, and, also, if it does not come in contact with any living being, it start mutating into phallic snakes of some sort... I'm sorry, what?
I have to say right away that I have a particular reluctance to criticize films due to plot-holes, as many of these often are revealed when discussing the film to greater depth or upon repeated viewings of said film, but often many occur without you noticing because you are immersed in the film and in the story; The Dark Knight, for me, is a clear example of this, of a film filled with logical gaps which nevertheless never had me questioning what I was seeing at the time of viewing. However, with Prometheus I was constantly taken aback by the inconsistencies, I felt the film was really making the story and characters and rules up as it went. Despite knowing it was a Alien prequel, I kept asking myself why we had the need of seeing six different species of aliens which seemed to come and go with no reason and for no reason beyond picking out members of the crew. The aforementioned Xenomorph cameo is one particularly absurd moment: it can't leave the planet, what does it have to do with anything?
And, again, all this comes to a very important matter which the film, for me, utterly failed at: immersion. This is particularly a shame because the spends a lot of time and effort creating a world which looks wonderful and is filled with images and a history that could inspire dread and an overwhelming need to find out what is going on, but because it is constantly throwing stuff in for no good reason which inevitably muddles up a story which should not be too complicated to tell in the first place, whatever exists of interest in the world is ultimately diluted and, well, lost.
But the matter of immersion brings me to another point, which has to do with horror and tension, and how they are handled in this film particularly. In forcing a number of beasties and action-packed encounters into the film, everything becomes far too clear, obvious, exposed. In many ways it strikes me that what the means Lovecraft used in At the Mountains of Madness to deliberately decrease horror and dread, Scott tried to employ to create tension. By this I mean, in Lovecraft, the matters that are truly abominable and unholy are those which remain hidden or ambiguous, the piping sounds of the wind, the truths hidden beneath the irregularity of the mountains, the ever-changing appearance of the Shoggoths, Danfortht's horrible vision. The Old Ones, on the other hand, begin as horrible, enigmatic figures, but as they are worked more deeply upon, and given a history, a voice, and quite simply greater detail, they are in fact deliberately humanized. Scott, on the other hand, gives us more and more details and shows us everything up straight, seeing to create the horror through those means, through the graphic depiciton of Fifield and Millburn's fate, their later re-apparition, the constant detail given to the effects of the parasite, the crudeness of the creatures as they're shown onscreen, even the later holograms of Keith Emerson noodling at the keyboards as he makes galaxies appear and David dance among them, or the awakening of the Engineer and his sudden HULK SMASH reaction, all which also allows Scott to wallow in some crazy, amusing set-pieces as well, but here lies the film's biggest problem: in the end, he manages to create the occasional tension, but it is a tension driven entirely by the protagonists' survival. In turn, the other, far more important thread, which Scott also aimed at creating, is irrevocably severed: the tension driven by existential discovery and the threat of the unknown.
It's all made for the worse when one realizes that, to some extent, all the spectacle of the second half does is to dilute and evade the questions raised by the film, it chooses to divert the audience through the many encounters and conflicts with the alien beings instead. In a way, the greatest diappointment about this film is not that it doesn't make much sense, or that it often crosses the line into self-parody; it's that ultimately, for all its spoken intentions and overblown artistic aspirations, it offers very little insight and a very small experience in return.