A great movie is built from a great story. Add great acting, visuals, special effects as needed, and good cinematography and editing and you’ve got a blockbuster. But skip the story, or skimp on the story or character development and you’ve got something that’s pretty, but ultimately not compelling.
And oh, how it pains me to say that the great Sir Ridley Scott could have done better with the sweeping sci-fi epic ‘Prometheus’, but that’s the sad truth, fellow fans. For a director who brought us the truly epic films ‘Alien’, ‘Blade Runner’, and ‘Gladiator’, among many others, it was a real drag to realize half-way through this film that visuals and effects had trumped story and that, while Prometheus is unquestionably visually stunning and astonishing, it just doesn’t really make a lot of sense.
The story itself is a clear nod to the original film ‘Alien’, within which world it takes place, albeit earlier in human history than the Nostromo expedition from the original film. Indeed, both have a crew of a dozen or more rough and tumble crew members, a few lead scientists, and a protagonist who is actually an android and — in homage to the delightfully malevolent HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” — might just be an antagonist after all. Who can tell?
The lead scientists on this intergalactic mission to try and learn where humans came from (hinted at in a confusing opening sequence that looked more like something out of the bizarre ‘Tree of Life’ or a National Geographic special) are Shaw (a terrific Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), along with android David (superbly played by Michael Fassbender), detached corporation overseer Vickers (Charlize Theron), and ship’s captain Janek (Idris Elba). There are other characters, but many of them seem to be the same ‘red shirts’ that characterize all sci-fi horror films: alien fodder.
The film is set about 50 years in the future and starts to get truly interesting when we meet David, who is studying ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and trying to emulate T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) from the film. He’s an android, but he’s bored. As they reach their destination, he’s tasked with waking up the various crew members from their deep stasis sleep. That sequence, and the tour of the ship we get prior, are amazing. Indeed, the first hour of the film had me riveted, sure that this was the next great epic sci-fi that we’d still be studying ten years from now.
Then as the story unfolded and the aliens appeared in all their slithery glory, things started to break down and it became increasingly difficult to understand why different members of the crew were behaving as they were. A great example: Fifield (Sean Harris) starts out as a rough, tattooed Irish thug of a crewmember, but ends up, well, you’ll see. It’s bizarre. Did no-one check for continuity in the characters? It’s the same with David, who seems to have an entirely different mission than everyone else. Shades of HAL, but without any clear explanation of why, even as the film wraps up with a scene that might be a panacea for the fans, but really shouldn’t have been in the final edit.
I was expecting the world of ‘Prometheus’. The cast, the crew, the director, the universe within which the story unfolds, it all could have been so, so amazing. Instead, it’s a film that’s gorgeous on screen, truly epic, with splendid performances and a story that just falls apart.
Go see it on the big screen. Then come back here to ScienceFiction.com and let us know what you thought of the story and the reasons behind why different characters behave as they do throughout the film.