Movie Review: Prometheus

Prometheus is a beautiful movie. It abounds with monsters and miracles. It is gorgeous and grotesque in ways that I have never seen before. Every aspect of the production design is artful, and the acting is (for the most part) quite good. But the story is a frustrating mess, albeit a mess that still has me pondering two days later.
Prometheus brings to mind another tangled alien tale in which an opaque plot gets smothered in sentient black goo: The X-Files. I keep thinking of Mulder’s I WANT TO BELIEVE poster. Because I want to believe that this movie will make sense if I look long and hard.

I loved and hated this film. Make no mistake, it’s totally worth the price of admission in 3D just for the visuals. And forget that it’s supposed to be an Alien prequel; that’s almost an afterthought in both design and plot. Think of it more like the coolest Lovecraftian sci-fi you’ve ever seen. But if you want this film to be even cooler, here’s a suggestion: wear an iPod to the theater and watch it while listening to Tool. Any Tool album will make this film more awesome, but I recommend Lateralus. All of those lyrics about DNA spirals will fit nicely. Trust me, the sound of heavy metal guitar meltdowns and Maynard’s tortured vocals would be much more satisfying than trying to puzzle out the inscrutable motives of androids and ancient aliens.

I want to believe that there are mysteries here that I could crack with repeat viewing, but the story just wasn’t coherent enough to give me that confidence.

Spoilers ahead (if it’s possible to spoil the inscrutable).

Michael Fassbender is awesome as the enigmatic David, but his motives are as murky as those of the alien Engineers. Is David the android–the prime actor and catalyst in this story–trying to save Earth by killing the crew? Or is he experimenting recklessly on behalf of his creator who seeks a kind of Philosopher’s Stone? Or is his programming simply breaking down and making him more human, more jealous and psychotic like HAL in 2001, to whom Fassbender pays tribute in vocal style? I dunno. And if I don’t have a sense of what’s driving him, I lose my connection to the whole story. There might be hints, but do I really need to go watch Lawrence of Arabia and then come back before I can grok this?

Serves me right. One of the things that made me get myself to a theater was the fact that Damon Lindelof was involved in the writing. And I have a similar love/hate relationship with Lost. In fact, for years I’ve wanted to see the scripts for Lost released in book form so I can see exactly which details the writers thought were important, because I also want to believe that that story could make sense someday. Naive? Yeah, probably.

Watching Prometheus, I could imagine Ridley Scott saying, “This script has problems, it doesn’t make sense. There’s two ways we could go: fix it, OR, how about this? We get that guy from Lost in here to turn it into a total clusterfuck?”

The motives of the aliens in creating the human race, deciding to destroy the human race, and then deciding not to destroy the human race, are all unknown. The motives of David the android in trying to destroy or save us are also unknown. And yet the film flirts with religious and teleological themes in a sloppy effort to suggest deep possibilities. Well, it seems to me that religions and myths and story telling itself have their roots in a human need to make sense of the universe. So if you want to tell me a story, I expect you to have not ONLY ineffable, unanswered questions laid out like bait to lure me on to further prequel sequels, but also some logic, and some answers. Because at a certain point, saying that a story doesn’t need to provide ultimate answers because neither does life, is a cop out that doesn’t distract from plot holes you could fly a space ship through.

Mind you, this rant is coming from a guy who likes it when film aspires to the complexity and ambiguity of literature. I can dig that just because a military-minded ship’s captain says that the canisters of black goo are bio-weapons, doesn’t mean that they are. Maybe the intention of the Engineers is to stimulate the next phase of human evolution on Earth and cause us to fulfill our 100% DNA match with them to the point that we also become albino giants with chiseled abs, thus curing our child obesity epidemic. I do try to keep an open mind.

But if you want me to trust your storytelling and go along with alien ancestors who don’t make sense and a robot who doesn’t make sense, you at least have to give me human characters I can relate to and believe in. Throw me a bone here. If your characters are a team of scientists, please make them smart. Because this feels like a smart film. So don’t give me scientists who feel like a pack of horny expendable teenagers in a Friday the 13th knockoff, getting drunk and having ill-advised sex at the first sign of trouble before making a string of bad decisions just so the horror can escalate. I am quite sure that horror can escalate even when smart people do their best to make good decisions.

I love and hate this movie. See it, see it in 3D, but bring your own Tool. And if you still find yourself wanting for your fix of awesome sci-fi horror, but with a story that makes sense, then I suspect that you would get a more satisfying experience this summer from reading The Void by Brett J. Talley.

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