Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

 Not That Bad: 



The Movie:

I love science fiction. Actually I love, specifically, the kind of science-fiction that Prometheus is working in. Something that’s borderline horror and full of tension and atmosphere and lots of dark shadows and people put up against impossible odds. I also love science fiction working with big ideas - even when the movie itself is small, sometimes big ideas transcend even that.  2009's Moon or 2015's Ex Machina are great examples of just that. Sometimes, a movie tries to do all that and more.

Prometheus was released in an era where science fiction movies are kind of, oh, what's the world I'm looking for... "eh." Some are great, certainly, usually the smaller movies don't expect like the two I just mentioned. But the days of epic space sci-fi with thought-provoking ideas has been dead for some time. Maybe the days of a Solaris or World on a Wire or even the original Alien are long gone because they've already done it all. Plus studios don't like to take risks and maybe 2010: The Year We Make Contact left a bad taste in their mouths. What's one like that since then? Contact from 1997 maybe? Interstellar isn't in that same vein, nor is Gravity. They aren't dealing with themes and ideas, they simply take place in outer space.


Sorry, getting distracted and I'm only a paragraph or two in on this thing. Prepare yourselves...

A lot was put on the shoulders of Prometheus back in 2012. It had already had some production issues early on, not to mention some rewrites, but when that first trailer came out it, hype began. Lots of hype. And if there's anything I've learned over the years is that what someone really likes or dislikes about a movie or game or TV Show has a lot to do with how much they know about it before going in. A high hype level often leads to disappointment. Few things are going to meet those expectations. A low level, where that's when you hear the words "hidden gem" or "criminally underrated" or something like that. It's subjective, as all critiques are even if they're just shallow and often throwaway phrases like that.

Thus, Prometheus, despite getting decent enough reviews at the time, quickly garnered a lot of hate online that pretty much negates any reviews that might have been supportive of it. Sometimes, word-of-mouth and general consensus of a populace overshadows that. It's the same reason why The King's Speech might win an Oscar over The Social Network - people still talk about The Social Network.

Point being, this is about Prometheus and whether or not it's actually a bad movie if we can cut through all that hyperbole. There’s been a ton, far more than I anticipated to be quite honest, written about the movie that really go at it. I mean...really go at it.  Some are broad and others pretty much stuck on minutia, both being reflective of how much people have come to not like the movie, but either way I was certainly not a loss for finding things to bring up. I'm only concerned about finding what appears to be the most common ones seeing as how there's so many. So, here are those, at least from what I can gather:


The Common Complaints:

What are the common things people bring up when they sit around and talk about the movie? From my experience, these are:

Name a Character

There’s your memorable stars that you might recall are in Prometheus and you might even remember their character names, but did you also know that there are other characters in this movie? In fact, we have a whole ship full of other characters yet for some reason it’s hard to recall them. In one scene it looked like at least a dozen are probably on there and I don't know a damn one of them. Why? Well they’re entirely expendable, that’s why, which is sad because Alien and Aliens also had expendable characters yet we remember them far far more. Vasquez? Hicks? Dallas? A bunch of familiar faces just popped into your head, didn't they?

Sure, Prometheus “technically” isn’t related to those Alien movies, it’s more a rebooted universe than anything, but it is the same type of structure and idea as those movies certainly so it’s natural to draw the line from one to the other in how they all work.

You don’t need to compare it to the other movies. You shouldn’t as a general rule of film criticism, really, but it’s not needed here even if you wanted to because, yes, these characters are forgettable and you have a damn hard time caring about any of them.

I don't need to bring up those movies to make a point on Prometheus because if I ask you to give me a name of three characters from Prometheus you probably have to check IMDB.


Ok we got Shaw and David, and...rooster beard guy. Lady person in the back. And I think that guy's name is Holloway and he's a dumbass. There's also Furiosa and Captain Elba not pictured. None of these people feel like a team or have any chemistry, though, and that comes down to acting.


It probably comes down to just not well-defined personalities and only a couple of decent actors to really present them, which is why this common complaint is pretty justified. It’s easy to say “well, the characters in Alien and Aliens don’t have a ton of depth either yet they’re memorable.” Yes, they are, and that’s because those characters were simply better written with better actors, and more character actors for that matter, portrayed them. They become memorable from their performance, not what was on paper.

You look at the character synopsis for a Hicks and he just comes across as pointless. Yet Bill Paxton made him memorable. Same for a John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Paul Reiser or Lance Henriksen. These are actors that slide right into their respective roles whereas nobody in Prometheus feels all that well defined or even comfortable in theirs sans a Fassbender and Rapace. The best all around actor in Prometheus is Idris Elba and I barely recall his character’s purpose to the story or what happened to him…and I’ve watched the film two more times the past week in preparation for this.

Not only that, a lot of the characters are just flat-out unlikable from the get-go. It’d be great if there was a better crew dynamic, maybe play off of paranoia of each other in that "I don't know who to trust or what is real" way, but it doesn’t go anywhere. You actually want them to die because them dying is probably the most interesting thing they can do by that point.

If you can’t relate to the characters or really understand them, then you can’t get behind all the risks and conflicts that arise. Simple as that. Screenwriting 101 - something we'll be bringing up again soon. Yes, the character in Prometheus are god-awful and you wasted two hours with them.

The Scientists Took Their Helmets Off

This one is brought up a TON on various forums and in a lot of articles I read. These people are established as scientists and people who think logically, so taking off your helmet on an alien planet, even if there is a breathable atmosphere, is pretty illogical now isn’t it?

In other words, you sacrifice the character intelligence and logic simply to advance the plot. The thing is though…you don’t have to. All that weird alien stuff probably would have found its way into some human somewhere. Someone falls and their suit rips. Or some alien worm-thingy or blood stuff simply find some seam and crawl on in to do their thing.

Yet...go watch the movie again. Seriously, go watch it. Yes, they took off their helmets, but somehow, everyone seems to think that's how the aliens "get 'em." They don't. The alien worm-things actually attack the two guys that are wearing their helmets. In the movie, two "dudes" who we don't remember are left behind in the alien temple thing and come across the "alien worm-facehugger" stuff. They have their helmets on. In fact, they specifically state how, since they're going to be there for a while, it's best to put them on for safety. They just do some stupid shit after that.

Of course, helmets or not, a normal person would take a look at that thing, say "nope" and run away.


Nobody else is attacked by any alien worm things. One jumps out at Captain Idris Luther a little later when they find the bodies of the two dudes, but quickly scurries away and they all say "let's get the hell out of here these dudes are dead" which they do.

So no, this isn't a complaint I can honestly take seriously. It's a minor detail, likely done so we see the actor's faces if anything. It's dumb for scientists to do that, absolutely. But it's also such a small thing in hindsight that it's not that big of a deal. What is a bigger deal is the real "push the plot forward" element...and that is...

What the Hell is Up With David?

If there’s a lynchpin to the story of Prometheus, it is the character of David, played by Michael Fassbender. He pretty much runs the show along a lot of lines, and unfortunately those lines are blurred, criss-crossed and all over the damn map. David needed to be a clear, concise and straightforward character yet he is good, bad, invasive, logical, illogical…he is only there to set things in motion as a plot device with the only notion being "because my master said so." His end goals? His perspective? It makes no sense. We don’t understand his motivations at all because he’s only there for plot convenience, not as someone we’re meant to understand and after the fourth or fifth "just because" that David unleashes, the cracks become that much more clear - Prometheus really is shoddy storytelling.

Yet, dare I say it…David is the most interesting character in the movie because of his illogical views and completely screwed up intentions and motivations? I don’t like how he’s used, certainly, but let’s face it - a movie without him is far less interesting. It doesn’t excuse the poor explanations of who he is and why, though, but I’m fine not understanding David. It’s easy to write him off as a malfunctioning android being used by the bad guy and nothing more.

But, and this is a big "but," David's presence is more a reflection of a larger issue with Prometheus, and it comes down to this following common complaint...


The Weyland Sub Plot is Actually The Plot

When you think of Prometheus, you probably think "it's about this team that goes to this planet and discover the origin of human life on Earth only things go horribly wrong."

Except that's not the story. The story is actually this: "it's about this team that goes to this planet to discover the origin of human life on Earth but are being secretly manipulated by the guy that funded them, Weyland, who faked his death (for some reason) so that he can secretly stowaway on their ship until they get to the planet and he can find out the secret of living forever because he fears death."

Read that again.

That, folks, is bullshit and why this complaint, while seemingly small, is actually so damn big and worthy of attention. From all the things I've seen written about the movie, a lot lead right back to this one in some form or another - this sub plot is treated as the main plot and the big thing we should care about.

There's a beauty to be found in a straightforward story. You can explore big ideas and themes without becoming over-encumbered with bullshit. Hell, Star Trek made its name on that very thing. So did The Twilight Zone. So did the original Alien. Prometheus wants to be clever, it knows it can't, so it throws in this Weyland thing for no good reason whatsoever other than to try and shoehorn in a "gotcha" moment because it has absolutely nothing else to work with. An idea given way too much attention with an actor that really wasn't needed to pull it off in the first place.

It shows a seemingly distrust in its own concept. That first logline up there? I want that movie. You might argue "well, they did that with Alien/Aliens and it would be just a retread" and you'd be right, but who cares? A ton of stories have been done and redone and re-imagined since the dawn of time. What I want, and what I think an audience wanted, was just a good sci-fi horror movie that looked good, had memorable characters and took on the "origin of species" notion to drive its plot.

Yes, an Alien origin story if you want to get right down to it. There are moments when it seems it's going to deliver that, I might even say up to half-way in the movie it was doing great, then shit just started to get weird, then the Weyland thing hit...and Prometheus began its decent into a bunch of writers (four total) trying to "Fix" it.

My Complaints:

It's one thing to just be snarky and hate on the movie, but let's dig a little deeper and take notice of some of the more egregious faults.


Lots of Ideas, Nothing Comes Together

Welcome to the world of screenwriting via Damon Lindelof. For four films in a row, the worst thing about those four films were their scripts. Those films were Cowboys and Aliens, Prometheus, Star Trek Into Darkness and World War Z all of which had his hand guiding them. If you want to jump a little further, you can throw Tommorowland in that mix because it also has the complaints all those movies, including Prometheus had: big ideas, good ideas, but not a good story.

And if you want we can talk about Lost, but then this will turn into a Lost blog and...let's just leave that be for now.

You might say "he wasn't the only writer on the thing" and you're right. He wasn't. That's the other problem as well because it seems like a script being drawn into far too many directions instead of one singular voice, but it also can't be a coincidence at this point can it? I like Lindelof. He seems like a pretty ok dude from what I've read and seen on interviews and whatnot. I love his enthusiasm for genre stuff and you know he's done some good stuff (let's face it, the ending of Lost might not be your thing but that show was a cultural event up to that point) along with the not-so-good stuff, but man...what happened on this one?

Point being: Prometheus has a bundle of ideas that were up for grabs and most of them pretty damn awesome. The problem came in stringing them together to tell a good story, which it doesn't because, as noted above, it's the Weyland show and everything else becomes secondary. As a result, we end up with a haphazard script that, while it has some qualities, relies on old tropes and cliches to deal with big ideas that never hit that emotional beat it strives for.

It's a bad script with some great ideas, but hold on because we're going to go even deeper like a third level dream in Inception...


Sub Plots Go Nowhere

This is kind of a catch-all because, really, there’s a lot that goes nowhere in Prometheus and offers no payoff of satisfactory end - all set up, no results. Charlize is Weyland’s daughter. David is "experimenting" to understand humans. The aliens wanted to destroy earth or at least humanity. Holloway's being a complete jerk for some reason as he and Shaw are in love but at odds with each other then the whole thing is dropped. Shaw, our supposed lead, becomes useless as a character when shit starts going down and never seems to have a clear arc. Captain Luther Elba is wanting sex because I guess that's his character arc. Then you have Weyland showing up and black ooze that does all sorts of magical things with Engineers and a pregnancy and a zombie guy and...

...boy there's a lot that goes on in this movie...


Huh? We're losing focus? Ok let's throw in a random monster because we gotta push this thing forward somehow.  We've already forgotten most of the sub-plots by this point so why not?


Prometheus asks some cool questions and gets some nifty ideas along the way to play around with, yet it doesn’t really go anywhere with them and it becomes lost trying to layer sub plot after sub plot, character after character, onto each other. I love ambiguity, I'm fine with not answering every single detail, but after a while you can only go so far with this much stuff going on. As established, there's not a straightforward story happening here, it's just a series of scenes and lot of ideas happening that you expect will result in a big revelation but it never really comes.

It's like you're traveling across the country and you're stopping every few miles, taking in sights, picking up some hitchhikers, writing down cool ideas to blog about later...then you get to your destination and have this shoebox full of shit and no idea what to make of it.

And to this, I say what Prometheus lacks is streamlining. Had it attempted to just tell a straightforward story, I'd argue that those big ideas and even a handful of those subplots would find some sort of reconciliation. The character arcs might even become clear enough if that gets there, especially for Charlize Theron and Captain Elba's characters that we barely know, but really it gives a bunch of questions and ideas centered on something that happens and that probably needs a resolution but it can't ever wrangle them in.

I know all that is speculative, but it all seems so obvious. Hindsight may be 20/20, I'm sure they had all these cool stories to be told and sub plots to dive into, but if you have that set, you know you have a lot of stuff to handle, wouldn't maybe not having as much stuff to handle and just focus on some storytelling and atmosphere rather than try to one-up yourself be a better approach? 

Now that we've established the notion of lots of ideas not coming together and all those sub plots that are constantly thrown at us, and it's easy just to say "it's a bad script," what really made it a bad script is...

Lots of Telling, Little Showing

Back to Screenwriting 101 - a common phrase for a screenwriter is "show, don't tell." In other words, keep your story moving and going forward with activeness - make things feel relevant by not stopping and spouting exposition for the sake of spouting exposition. Get the audience involved. Get their attention. Make it all seem relevant and important not through telling us it's relevant and important but giving us reasons to care about it being relevant and important. Give us action. Give us characters who act. Give us emotion. Get us involved. Stop halting it all and explaining everything and do something.

Prometheus starts that well enough but soon unwinds into a series of scenes that are just telling us what's going on rather than making sure we care what's going on. All those ideas? All those sub-plots? They're put aside because suddenly Prometheus feels it needs to explain everything because, most likely, the writers wrote themselves into a corner and had to dig their way out in the only way they can think of.

What's so weird is that despite all that telling, the movie still doesn't offer a whole lot of answers. It just tells us character motivations and their place and what they want and explaining what happened, but it doesn't really tell us "why" we should really care about any of it because, if you recall, we can barely remember any names of a character and thus don't really give a shit.

Speaking of explaining stuff, one more thing about the script and this one is a doozy...


We Already Know the Answer

The point of our crew of supposed-scientists to go on their mission is to find what is assumed the origin of the human species. They find some drawings that all seem similar and through a process that isn't entirely clear conclude these ancient drawings are pointing to a specific planet far away. It's a big deal for them because they didn't see the opening of the movie.

We know the answer to this question in the opening scene of the film: an albino alien bodybuilder came to earth, died and put his DNA into the waters of the planet and implies that he, or it (it doesn't really discuss gender now that I think about it, that might have been interesting) is the "spark" that created human beings.

The scientists do not see this nor get this information. They are still in the dark in something we already know the answer to. Well, we know the main answer to, at least. Keep in mind we still don’t know about the planet and ship they have there or who the aliens were, but we know that’s what happened and we know that they will discover that. So when we know what they are going to end up finding, or a big portion of it at least, then a lot of that mystery is lost.

Think about it: Alien was built upon mystery then discovery. It just kept bringing things up, then answering them. Bringing them up, then answering them. Then things go really wrong as the mystery takes a turn and it’s a horror-show after that. It doesn't "explain" it all, it just gives us mystery then reveals like a good tense thriller should. Aliens is the same way. It asks “What happened on this planet? Where are all the people?” We can assume, it being a sequel, what’s going on, but then it saves its best reveal at the end as it answers the big question that even the previous movie didn’t answer “Who is laying the eggs?” 

Prometheus isn't content on just revealing stuff and answering stuff, it has to explain it all.  It has to explain it because those big answers are kind of stuff we're already aware of and it has to make up for that.

Prometheus doesn't pace itself that smartly either and isn’t nearly as clever in its reveals and "big moments" think they are. There really are no reveals, other than some throwaway Weyland plot that pales in comparison to the bigger picture of which we already know the answer to. Every time it asks in the movie “Why did you go here, do this, trick us, want to destroy Earth" it's all treated as background dressing because the movie thinks it still has a big twist up its sleeve yet it doesn't.

It just has Weyland as that big twist out of necessity rather than an organic form of the story, which ends up totally underwhelming. No Weyland twist is going to live up them searching for answers on the alien planet, the Engineers or the source of human life that we yearn to hear more about. It certainly isn't going to live up to what the opening of the movie promised the story was going to be about. We just get half-answers, and the big one we kind of already know right from the get-go making the entire end game already known and the journey to get there isn't interesting enough to make up for that. more thing after all that...


What’s the point of this movie?

I know, big question, right? Why not just ask why the sky is blue or Shia LaBeof a total douchebag? Lots of possibilities but there's really a simple truth to it all (they simply are). Let me ask this: what did we get from this movie-going experience? It’s science fiction, did we learn anything about the human condition? Did we relate to these characters? Did we feel the tension and risk of these people, whom we care very little about, dying or becoming stranded on this planet? Did we care about them discovering the origins of the species (keep in mind, we as an audience know this in the opening of the movie). Did we wait with bated breath as Weyland appears and spouts off about living forever - this character we've literally only seen two minutes of in the entire movie up to that point?

You go into a movie and want to take something away from it. Even a braindead action movie is something you can leave the theater and say “boy that was entertaining and fun.” Prometheus doesn’t have that. That’s probably because it lacks a clear vision in its script - yes we're back to that. It wants to do a lot of things, but it doesn’t do one thing particularly well. It’s just a lot of ideas. Alien was a horror movie. That’s its vision. Aliens was action, that was it. Prometheus…well it seems it wants to be some sort of space adventure focused on discovery, but then it wants to be a horror movie, then it wants to be action-driven…it just can’t settle down and run with one singular concept.

So what do we think when we leave the theater on a film that isn't sure what it wants to be? Any movie without a clear vision and voice, with a cluster-f of a script on top of that, is going to have you thinking the same thing: “it was a waste of time.” If you leave taking nothing, having no feeling or reaction one way or the other, or not having an understanding with what you just saw, then yeah…it’s a waste of time.


The Awesome Stuff

It's not all bad, you's some things that people should consider or even re-consider.

It's Damn Pretty

I love the visual aesthetic of Prometheus. It oozes atmosphere like black blood-goo stuff on a planet that you ingested because some android figured "lets hurry this up" means "let's kill someone." The art design in particular I love, there's echoes of H.R. Giger's work, certainly, but I also love the space suits and the ship and the computers and the holograms and the tools they use.

All is directed by Ridley Scott and shot by Dariusz Wolski who made even the worst Pirates of the Caribbean movies watchable just by being gorgeous though he's best known to me as the person who lit and shot Dark City, one of the best science fiction and fantasy movies ever made and a lot of it thanks to its look and "feel." Prometheus is full of mood and has a distinct style that is consistent throughout, not to mention able to light what is really a dark movie and make it look so damn appealing.


Prometheus certainly has a texture. It has a "feel."  It looks great. From its art design to how the interior of that weird alien structure is lit and how it feels, well, alien in a way, gives the movie a great identity. From a design standpoint as well as behind-the-camera work and approach, I love the look of this movie. This comes with the territory of most of Scott's films, and those that he's worked with Wolski on included, so it looking great really doesn't come across as a surprise really.

Fassbender and Rapace are Fantastic

It's bittersweet to say it, but Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace give their all in this. I totally buy Fassbender as an android, from his introduction scene establishing his childlike curiosity to his conflict of logic to his loyalty to his maker. While he is often mishandled as a character for plot's sake, David gives us a personality and uniqueness that's far more memorable than just about anyone else here.

Noomi Rapace is the "just about" qualifier to that previous sentence. What's disappointing is that her character becomes useless to the story by the third act, just becoming more a passive observer more than anything. We get a sense she'll become this amazing heroine, and she kind of does at times, but she also seems to be forgotten because there's a million other crazy things happening.

As disappointing as that is, Rapace is totally game here. The movie still asks a lot of her physically and she has to run a gauntlet of emotions that she totally nails. Hell, I might just say that its the story that can't keep up with her which is why it just decides to drop her completely.

A great performance wasted. I want her as this character in a "redo" of this movie somehow.


Squid Baby

The one scene that has anyone who watches it left pretty breathless is the Cesarian surgery that Rapace's Shaw is forced to do on herself. It's intense. It's gross. It's uncomfortable. It's well shot and full of suspense because it's hard to know by that point if any of these people will survive (and that is to the film's credit, to be honest). It's really the type of thing that Prometheus needed more of. It seems to just walk the edge of being that type of movie but never really goes there, not like an Alien or Aliens did with their approach to body-horror.

It's the best scene in the entire movie, yet it's also a scene that comes and goes and we don't get the full sense of its importance whether it be directly in relation to the narrative or thematically as a maternal element. She's told a thing is in her, she struggles to get it out, then it's over. The meaning of it, the lead up to it and certainly the events that happen after are back in the same old mold of the rest of the film: kind of lifeless and dull. Rapace herself is great, but there seems to be little discussion of it or it even being a major plot event. For a scene that's the best in the movie, the fact it holds nothing over the rest of plot makes it feel completely wasted. Still, it's a brilliant scene.


That Old Logline Way Up Above Is At Least Still There...Somewhere

That line "it's about this team that goes to this planet and discover the origin of human life on Earth only things go horribly wrong." Prometheus still has that, it just loses it for other stuff. I have to give the movie credit to at least show the ambition to tackle that and make a "big" sci-fi movie along the way with really big ideas. It's not the first movie to do that, obviously, but it's a good framing device to set these people out on this mission and a big idea to captivate the audience.

Yes, it totally drops the ball, but like I said it's still there and it's at least kind of awesome when it works.In an era where everything is about fighting robots or something, to go head-on into a movie with that idea is something I give it props for, then again Mission to Mars also tackled that and it also ended up a pretty bad movie so...


So…Is It Really That Bad?

I took my sweet time with Prometheus. I saw it in the theaters opening weekend, about a year later when it came out on Blu-Ray (yes, I did buy it in case you wondering) and twice again this past couple of weeks. I won’t lie, I do kinda like Prometheus and it has almost entirely to do with its atmosphere - that sense of desperation and isolation something I’m a complete fan of and Prometheus captures it beautifully. It's why I love the original Alien or John Carpenter's The Thing.

Yet, calling it a good film isn’t something I can say honestly or with a straight face. It has some great things - atmosphere and tension mainly - but it also has some big ideas that amount to absolutely nothing. It’s a movie that wants to bring up those big ideas and can’t see them through. If there’s one difference between this and the first two Alien movies (again, the only two that matter) it’s that its ambitious enough to ask big questions wheras those two films were content just being a space horror movie and a space action movie.


If you just say in general what happens in the movie and show a few shots, it seems like it would be kind of awesome, no? No.

And that’s why those movies are better. They were content on doing one thing and doing it damn well. Prometheus can never settle on doing one thing. I like it when it does some things, but utterly loathe it and roll my eyes when it tries to do some other things. When it’s trying to be a horror movie, it kinda works. When it tries to be some sort of philosophical/thought-provoking piece of science fiction, it absolutely doesn’t. When it tries to be some movie about a conspiracy with plot twists and a convenient plot-making android, it falls completely on its face.

It comes down to the script entirely. As someone once said, a great script can carry a bad director, but a good director can't carry a bad script. We have the latter here because the mess of a script that I tirelessly brought up here, and could easily go into more on, is what makes Prometheus that bad.

I think I convinced myself that Prometheus was a good film. I probably got sucked into its visual beauty, great art design and strong atmosphere. Now, years later, I’ve seen it a few more times and while I still love those things, the plot has never really come together into something that I can say I enjoyed or was intrigued by. I can’t really sit here and say “see it for the atmosphere” because that’s not what this movie should be about. That shouldn’t even be it’s main point. It should be a really good, if not great, sci-fi film or just a good horror flick and it isn’t because it doesn't know what it really wants to do or be. It seems to want to be everything and that's why it ends up not achieving anything.

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