Prometheus – A Disappointment

So with moderately high expectations I went to go see the movie Prometheus.  I’ve been  a long time fan of the Aliens series (the first two movies), and have even read some of the novels.  The artwork behind it by H.R. Giger is absolutely fascinating in a very dark, primal way.  Ridley Scott tends to make good movies, and made the first Alien, so who better than to make the prequel to the seminal masterpiece of the series?

An office mate told me up front that it wasn’t really an Alien tie-in–that you didn’t see the Alien parallels until the end of the movie.  So, I went in with that expectation and found the complete opposite.  There are Alien tie-ins almost from the beginning, even down to the construction and feel of the ship.  I wondered to myself, how could anyone not see this as part of the Alien saga?  And that is why the movie fails.

Promethus is a movie of almosts.  It almost delivers.  It almost excites.  The character motives almost makes sense.  The conflict between discovering human origins, skepticism, and faith almost moves beyond a few pithy clichés of dialogue.

Each scene is well done (to be fair, some scenes are downright breathtaking), and the sets are incredible.  The acting is good, dialogue is decent, and the premise intrigues.  With all that going for it, what went wrong?  If each piece of the movie is well done, then it’s the assembly that leaves something of an antisynergistic taste in my mouth.

There is a sequence of scenes that reminds me of Ridley Scott’s other movie that felt a bit like a patchwork project: “Kingdom of Heaven”.  In “Prometheus”, the android does this weird thing:  he smuggles some highly infective mutagenic DNA onto the ship and purposely spikes one of the crew’s drinks with it.  He seems to know what he is doing, and is not surprised by the outcome.  The crew member eventually, predictably, gets sick, seems to die, and then comes back as a zombie mutant thingamajig that doesn’t feel quite at home in the Aliens saga.  Why?  Then, the android, upon learning that the woman is carrying an alien life-form in her womb, tries to prevent her from aborting it.  Why?

By themselves, you almost let the scenes go by and just accept what’s happening.  After all, there’s plenty of premise in the Alien series of androids and corporate toadies wanting to smuggle back alien lifeforms for bioweapons research, at the expense of the safety and lives of the crew.

But that’s not where this goes.  You figure the old mastermind behind the expedition is still alive, even though he told the crew he’s “dead by now” in his briefing video.  And amazing! He’s in stasis on the ship in cryo sleep!  They don’t wake him up earlier because he only “has a few days of life left”–ok, got it.  His time is precious.  But why lie to the crew and say he’s dead?

Then… his motive (and he is the creator of the android; there’s nothing in the movie to make you believe the android might be working cross-purposed with him):  he wants to ask humanity’s creators to cure whatever condition he has so he can live longer.  I presume he refers to simple old age, and wants to live forever.

Ok, great.  But then my mind went back to the earlier scenes where the andoid wanted to sacrifice the lives of the crew to weapons-grade biotech DNA…. for what?  Certainly not to make the old dude live longer.  The old dude was here to talk to one of the creators–which they found one ready to be woken up–not their weapons.  So it seems those plot twists were just unbelievable excuses to have some “kewl, awesome alien stuff” scenes.

However, this brings me back to Kingdom of Heaven, another movie where characters did some odd things.  The princess for example… why did she turn against the lead hero?  Was is something as petty as being a scorned woman, as the theatrical release would weakly have you believe?  No indeed… the extended director’s cut reveals that she has a son with leprosy (over an hour of footage had been cut throughout the movie), and she distances herself from the hero when her son’s life is threatened.  Must more believable than “scorned woman syndrome.”   So the point is that I hope to see an extended director’s cut of Prometheus that will essentially be a different, better movie than the hack that came to the theater.

But that’s not the biggest disappointment.  I was still willing to chalk it up to a fun, entertaining movie, but in the last ten minutes it ruined itself with the failed expectation of a crescendo that would tie into Alien.  Coming into the movie, we didn’t know how it would tie in.  It could have been loosely tied, and that would have been fine.  But the final scene run-up, with the pilot in the craft and the gradual hint that we might be seeing the origin of the Alien species as we know it, promised me that we would end this movie with the death of the pilot in the chair, waiting to be discovered later by the Nostromo in “Alien”.

But no.  The pilot didn’t die in the chair, nor with his mask on.  The alien at the end was not the Alien from the series.   It was obviously loosely inspired from it, but it deviated from H.R. Giger’s design for the worse.  Someone tried to improve upon the monter and instead something utterly stupid and underwhelming vomited forth from the cutting room floor.

So why?  Why build up with the promise of a clean tie in only to snatch it away from us?  Better to have kept it loose all along and eschewed the set symmetry between the movies if this was not indeed the space jockey the Nostromo finds.

This fail is so close to awesome that it hurts.

~Kyle