One sentence synopsis: A group of scientists explore an alien world in search of the originators of human life.
Things Havoc liked: Ridley Scott is one of the most visually skilled directors in Hollywood, comparable perhaps only to James Cameron in terms of the sheer breadth of vision that he can put onto the screen. From Blade Runner to Gladiator to Kingdom of Heaven to the original Alien, Scott has sometimes put together a mess, but always a stunning mess, reflecting a grand scope and vision. It therefore should come as no surprise that, whatever else it is, Prometheus is a gorgeous film. It's not that the view we see is particularly new (the alien planet looks rather similar to the Eastern Sierras), but the manner in which it and the spaceships that come to visit is portrayed is almost perfect. No vibrating camera, no obvious trailer shot, the entire movie is filmed with a classic, steady hand, giving us ample time to drink in the richness of the world. I wouldn't call it Avatar, but all that separates it from such company is the lushness of its setting. If Scott wants to show us a more barren planet, one can't hold it against him.
Michael Fassbender, whom I had never heard of prior to last year's amazing X-men First Class (a description he bears the bulk of the responsibility for), plays David, an android aboard the exploratory vessel Prometheus, who clearly seems to be one of those "Mark 1" models that Bishop commented so dismissively on in Aliens. Consciously done up to resemble Peter O'Toole's take as Lawrence of Arabia (the comparison is made explicitly in the film), Fassbender is just slightly twisted, enough to make him legitimately interesting, and much of the film is spent simply chronicling the actions he chooses to take regarding the mission, the crew, and everything else going on. With his quirky, off-putting, brittle smile, Fassbender gives the best performance in the film, with the possible exception of Idris Elba (of Thor and the Wire), whose turn as Janek, Captain of the Prometheus provides perhaps the only sane, reasonable, and non-evil character of the entire film. Idris Elba is a pimp (I mean this in the most flattering way possible), and while he is given very little to do (more on this later), he makes quite a lot out of it, becoming one of the most memorable things in the film.
Things Havoc disliked: ... which makes it all the more unfortunate that the film itself is such a piece of crap.
I was ready to be disappointed by this film, on the strength of several reviews I (unwisely) read or watched prior to seeing it. But I confess that I was not prepared for just how stupid this movie is, or more specifically how stupid the characters who inhabit it are. Front and center among the stupid people are "Doctors" Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, played respectively by Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green (whom I mistook for Tom Hardy until I sat down to write this). Though theoretically a pair of highly-respected archaeologists, the two of them come across as exactly the type of annoying, oblivious, self-destructive protagonists that bad horror films are full of and that the original Alien pointedly lacked. Confronted with an alien spacecraft of dazzling antiquity on a planet with an atmosphere that is poisonous, Holloway not only removes his own helmet for no better reason than "I want to", but insists that all of his companions remove all of theirs, a policy they follow even after several members of the team have died from infectious diseases! Shaw meanwhile is supposedly a scientist, but claims to skeptics of her alien-architect theory that while she has no proof, she "chooses to believe" that she is right. I don't ask much from movie scientists, but I'd appreciate it if they were at least passingly familiar with what science is and is not.
But worse than the stupidity of the characters is the simple shallowness of them. Charlize Theron plays a character with so little to do that I could not, after the film, describe in any terms whatsoever her role either aboard the ship or in the movie. She seems to exist solely to provide an excuse for the existence of a prop. Guy Pearce, wearing some of the most absurd old-person makeup I've ever seen, pops in and out of the film dispensing exposition, a role that could comfortably have gone to any actor in existence above the age of 70 without the distraction. The other eleven (yes eleven) characters are given so little time that their purpose in the film is clear. They are here to die, and perhaps to make ironic comments shortly before doing so.
I know this is (at least in part) a horror film, as Alien was, and that since I'm not a horror film aficionado, I am probably the wrong person to make this next objection, but there are sequences in this film that are just gratuitous. One scene in particular that I don't even know how to describe (it involves a surgical machine) was so awful to watch that one of my viewing companions was nearly physically sick, and even I had to simply turn away at one point. I know there is a subset of fans who will read this and applaud, but this is not some schlock gore-fest or Saw knockoff, this is an Alien film directed by Ridley Scott, which had, up until that point, maintained a reasonably restrained (if creepy) vibe. To escalate suddenly into something this vile (said companion described it as "rape-horror", and I agree), is a thunderous clash of tone. None of this is made any better by the sheer clumsiness of the plotting around it. Why, may I ask, is a robotic surgical bed in the private quarters of a woman calibrated only to work on men? The answer, of course, is so that we can show a yet-more gruesome scene to the audience.
But all this I might have forgiven if the movie had had anything at all to say. The question of whether or not Prometheus is actually a prequel to Alien or merely a film in the same universe is apparently a highly complicated one, but either way, this film was anticipated so highly precisely because it was supposed to add a new chapter to the Alien mythos, a series that, while it has had its share of awful films, continues thirty years later to impress with its breadth of vision through two amazing films. But while I never expected Prometheus to provide all the answers, it literally provides nothing, serving as an extended introduction to the "real" movie that will theoretically follow it. I don't mind a bit of sequel-baiting, but there is a difference between leaving some things unanswered and wasting my fucking time. Not a single question, be it the motives of the main characters or the purposes of the progenitors, not one issue that either Alien or this movie raised is even slightly addressed, all questions being deferred in a clumsy ending voiceover that amounts to nothing more than "our princess is in another castle". It's a slap in the face to the audience who paid money to be told a story, not shown an extended advertisement for another movie which they will be expected to pay for as well.
Final thoughts: I've said so much, and could say so much more about Prometheus, from the overall aesthetic (Geiger's designs were always phallic, but this is getting ridiculous) to the appalling continuity errors between this film and Alien (I know it was a while ago guys, but you'd think you might, I dunno, re-watch it at least once?), but none of those things sadden me as much as the sheer poverty of imagination inherent within this film. A movie endowed with sensational cinematography, a rich and storied series, and the services of many (in fact, too many) great actors to portray it all, should at the least have produced something that failed big. Instead, what we have here is a movie that seems hellbent on being as non-audacious as a film with these conceits and story concepts can possibly be.
I've seen far worse films in my time doing this little review series. But I've never seen a movie with so much wasted potential as this one.
Final Score: 3.5/10