I saw Prometheus and intended to write about it in June. A few days after, the critical commentary had swelled to such a saturated state that I didn’t feel much compelled to weigh-in. Now that the dust has somewhat settled, I remain intrigued by how it inspired such impassioned feedback on both positive and negative reactions. Marking the return of Ridley Scott to science fiction, Prometheus was pitched as a prequel to Scott’s own Alien, despite its scarce resemblance to the 1979 classic. Prometheus can more fittingly be described as the cultivation of a century’s worth of science fiction—from Clarke to Asimov. It asks big questions about the humankind’s place in the universe and what it means to create life. All these questions are wrapped within a simpler sci-fi/horror story about a team of scientists travelling to another planet to learn of their origins. Of course, the naïve and pointedly stupid characters quickly learn that they are not welcome and the requisite chaos ensues.
The mix of heady material and B-movie conventions is a novel idea (and not necessarily ill-fitted, as proven by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and David Cronenberg), but in the case of Prometheus it yields unsatisfying results. Detractors are quick to blame writer Damon Lindelof, whose screenplay introduces so many characters and subplots to what is really a rather direct story. In addition to the general glut, the script establishes several notions and potential directions without sufficiently committing to any of them. Then you have Ridley Scott, who seems to think he is making a companion to 2001: A Space Odyssey and never realizes that the beauty of Alien is the simplicity. The early scenes invoke the quiet wonder of Alien while introducing HAL-9000-like robot played by Michael Fassbender that proves much more interesting than any of its human counterparts. Compelling as some of these early scenes may be, Scott strains to recapture a sense of visual grammar that he channeled effectively at one time in his career to which he is now only attuned via nostalgia. Once the wheels start coming off the story, Scott’s command is revealed to be equally shaky.
Compounding the disappointment is that fact that many individual scenes might hold up in a better movie. Amid the ornate overtones, Prometheus is awash with well-crafted shots and interesting ideas. But none of them go anywhere. Scott and Lindelof are perfectly content to suggest a deeper mythology without telling a competent story or offering a rounded thematic concept. They believe that substance is the search for substance. They want you to think that their portentous allusions are pieces of a more intricate puzzle. And if you don’t like it, then you are failing to grasp the bigger picture. In other words, they expect the movie to take effect based on what it doesn’t do. (Ridley Scott, 2012) **