It's way early in the PROMETHEUS discussion, but I'm pretty certain the majority of the praise/blame for the film's success/failure will be heaped upon screenwriter Damon Lindelof. And if you were an avid LOST viewer, it appears that the similarities between that show and what Lindelof has attempted here are unmistakable. Is this a good thing? The ever-perceptive Fatboy Roberts has some thoughts on the matter...
For those of you who were looking forward to PROMETHEUS, those of you who had already written off ALIEN3 & Alien: Resurrection, and let’s not even start in with the Alien vs. Predator movies; to those of you who were hoping Ridley Scott’s return to this universe, be it a Prequel/Sidequel, or whatever silly portmanteau is chosen to describe its place in the canon; for those of you hoping this would be the REAL ALIEN3, congratulations. You got it. This is the real ALIEN3.
Here’s the catch: It’s still basically just ALIEN3.
It’s taken almost 20 years, a resurrected Assembly Cut, and enough behind-the-scenes drama to fill a three hour documentary, for people to make peace with what ALIEN3 was, as opposed to what they wanted it to be. Will PROMETHEUS need as much time to settle into its own groove? That remains to be seen, of course, but what is obvious is that this movie will disappoint a lot of people, much like ALIEN3 did, just in completely different ways.
But first: Let’s talk a little bit about LOST.
This may not seem related in the slightest, but considering one of the names on the screenplay is Damon Lindelof’s, it’s completely relevant - most of the storytelling tendencies that appeared in LOST are completely intact in PROMETHEUS, for all the good and bad that entails.
LOST kept viewers coming back week after week for a few reasons. There was setting, of course; the strong character work, and the themes explored via that character work. But it was the questions that the story kept throwing off, like sparks from a roaring fire; the hints and feints at a deep, rich mythology somewhere underneath the surface of the island that fueled the audience’s passions. LOST was at its best, at its most addictive, when it was a puzzle box. Which is partially why so many people were disappointed as the show went on and the puzzle proved incomplete, pieces missing, grayish, wispy question marks littering the corners of the box like cobwebs of unsolved mystery.
If you’ve seen the succession of trailers for PROMETHEUS, you’ve had the entirety of the plot explained to you. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) is paying one trillion dollars for Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) to oversee an interstellar exploration on the Prometheus, captained by Captain Janek (Idris Elba), carrying lovebird scientists Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), Weyland’s android creation David (Michael Fassbender), and a crew of skeptical scientists, to a moon where Holloway and Shaw believe mankind’s creators reside. They arrive on LV-226, enter a pyramid, and meet their makers. It does not go well.
Ridley Scott has made a beautiful movie, its visuals immersive and expansive. Blade Runner was not well loved upon release, either (although I don’t think time and hindsight will be anywhere near as kind to PROMETHEUS as it was to that movie) but the art design, and the world-building on display kept that film alive long enough for its riches to be mined at a depth most didn’t think was there. Scott still has those skills, and even with the copious amounts of CG, the film has a heft and weight to it that most sci-fi spectacle does not. The world Ridley is putting on screen is a lot less scuffed up and muddy than his first trip into the black with some truckers in space, but it feels no less real and lived in.
Fassbender’s David is fucking great. There’s no other way to put it. The only other actor approaching his level is Charlize Theron, and when they share the screen, the film jolts to life in ways that not even its horror scenes (which are not as plentiful as one might think) can touch. In fact, for as great as they are together, their shine illuminates the inefficiency in PROMETHEUS’ storytelling.
For example: we’re dealing with themes of birth and death, of creation and destruction. A loose familial triumvirate of Weyland, David and Vickers is introduced, and pursuing those themes using those three would seem to me to yield much richer results; but those themes are instead explored via Rapace’s comparatively boring Shaw, whose faith is questioned in much more mundane ways, through a connection with her glib boyfriend Holloway, and her father (Patrick Wilson), who we only see once, in a remembered dream.
Another thing PROMETHEUS and ALIEN3 share? Both are choked with good actors essaying characters that are barely more than interchangeable fodder for monsters; the Prometheus crew’s personalities, and their sacrifices, are just as trite and hollow as the prisoners’ on Fury 161.
Are the questions this film raises bold enough, intriguing enough, to paper over its missed opportunities? Will you become so preoccupied by scratching at the new ideas Lindelof, co-writer Jon Spaihts, and Scott are introducing that you’re willing to not only forgive PROMETHEUS its missteps, you’ll go back for more?
The questions about ALIEN that PROMETHEUS aims to answer are answered. Mostly. (If you heard Newt in your head, congratulations.) In fact, they were answered in interviews with Ridley Scott throughout the ‘80s. You want to know what the Space Jockey is? You want to know about that ship he was flying? If you’ve done a modicum of research into the ALIEN films, you already know. After all these decades, the story he chose to tell is basically the first thing he thought of: The Space Jockey is a bomber pilot, and his ship is carrying bioweapons.
But there are new questions introduced, of course. How are we different from the Space Jockeys, if in fact, we are? Do they care about their creations? Do we care about our own creations? Should we? On a less philosophical note - how do we get from the monsters we see here, to the monsters that we see in ALIEN? We’ve been told for months that this film isn’t an ALIEN movie, but the DNA is evident if you pay attention. They weren’t lying about that. When Scott does ramp up into full-blown horror, the results are visceral and freshly disturbing, echoing ALIEN, but playing a game of gross-you-the-fuck-out in new, sick ways. The film constantly carries a low, humming dread underneath its visuals, and when those fevered blisters of nightmare imagery finally burst, they pack a punch.
LOST made you want to come back because the episode endings were often giant, baited hooks. You needed to know what came next, and that caused you to go back through the episode, combing it for details that might provide you a better understanding of what might unfold the following week.PROMETHEUS follows that formula perfectly, often maddeningly so. Characters behave erratically, for no evident reason. Events occur, and then escalate, because characters inexplicably refuse to share the important information they do have. Logic will just drop out, like sound on an old, static-filled recording, reappearing just in time to fuel an exposition dump, leading to an intriguing idea, which is then thrillingly exploded – and then abandoned, as Scott turns and moves towards another bright, shiny idea. Audiences are left to gather the shrapnel and try to make sense of the disconnected craters left behind.
The result is much like ALIEN3 - a collection of intriguing concepts, beautifully shot, loosely strung together, paying off intermittently in self-contained scenes that whisper a promise unfulfilled, left for a sequel that Scott/Spaihts/Lindelof apparently presume is a foregone conclusion. Lindelof’s said what he has planned is to PROMETHEUS as ALIENS was to ALIEN. They seem to believe they’ve scattered enough pretty breadcrumbs, enough tantalizing hints to questions it didn’t bother to answer over the course of its own two-hour runtime, that you’ll be willing to forgive and follow along to the next movie.
And if you’re the kind of person who likes poking at broken puzzles, maybe they’re right.