Movie Review: Prometheus- An Impressivley Visual Prequel to the Alien Franchise That is Void of Philosophical Coherence and Rising Tension

It’s not the most eloquent way of putting it, but there was a mantra in a Frank Zappa song, “Cosmik Debris,” where an educated man tells a snake oil salesmen, “Look here brother, who you jivin’ with that Cosmic Debris?” This should be the most appropriate response towards the vague dizziness and the disguised conceptual simplicity that is filled throughout Ridley Scott’s supposed prequel of sorts to the Alien franchise, now known to us as Prometheus. Don’t let the tossing around of pseudo-intellectualism involving ideas such as the meaning of life, the role of god, and ponderings on how we got here fool you, because these are the tactics equivalent of a man trying to squeeze a dollar out of a dimes worth of an education. Prometheus is a film bloated with high concept questions and starving for legitimate answers, or a film that has a high calorie intake but zero vitamins. There will be immediate defenders for Ridley Scott based on a nostalgia for high concept science-fiction that he used to be able to deliver, but this latest piece of intellectual drivel, written by “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof and Darkest Hour writer Jon Spaihts, only has redeeming qualities in its aesthetics and not in its profoundness. There is an uncompromising display of visual effects in Prometheus that are so engaging that it does a relatively good job at distracting you from the immensely shallow philosophical presuppositions. What we have in Prometheus is an observable and common modern dichotomy, with on one end there is visual and character entertainment but on the other is a completely unfulfilling experience for the mind and soul. Ridley Scott enticed his audiences with questions as to the purpose and chronological importance relating to the expedition inside his latest science-fiction thriller, but the only lingering realization that you will carry with you outside of the theater is that there were no answers to the plethora of new questions not worth pondering. While the initial experience of Prometheus is entertaining, the inevitable answer relating to whether or not they should have actually done this movie is a resounding no.

One of the more intriguing aspects to the original Alien was not necessarily having an understanding of where these creatures originated because the fear of the unknown really gets under the skin, and in the case of the Alien franchise that is meant literally. So the whole idea of trying to explain an origin of something that is best ignored on the conceptual levels of creation and purpose isn’t necessarily an appealing idea. This exact attitude is actually quite obvious in the creators of Prometheus because you can see in the writing and the lack of answers given that they wanted to remain equally mysterious. However, the essential difference is that Alien didn’t bother to ask the question because when you kick into survival mode there is no need to ask the question, which is an attitude most of us who have experienced duress or attack know fairly well. There were already developed intuitions as to the origins and mythology concerning the Alien franchise, but now we have a film that sets its origins in stone and that is not necessarily a good thing. Prometheus as a prequel wouldn’t be so damaging if it were actually coherent and posited real answers to our conceived curiosities, which is what an origin tale is supposed to do. Instead we’re given a film that lacks the lingering impact that the original had on us, both in concept and entertainment, as we’re given an unending Richard Dawkin’s approach on the origin of life that is both laughable and lacks vigor. It should be noted that even though a film doesn’t provide answers to large questions doesn’t mean it isn’t intellectually curious, but what becomes increasingly obvious throughout the film is that these writers have very little worth saying on those conceptual questions. It isn’t necessarily the writer’s fault because it is a truly daunting task to please fans curiosities while at the same time not revealing too much in order to remain vaguely intriguing. While there are no deep qualities to admire in Prometheus, the experience itself, especially surrounding the characters and the action, is partially entertaining though not necessarily all that thrilling.

The experience you have with Prometheus is a completely different when compared to its inspirational predecessor, Alien. Both have a sort of science-fiction atmosphere to their visual environments, yet in Alien the world we are introduced isn’t an inviting one that is dark and futuristically cold. Perhaps it’s the incredibly clear and picturesque quality of the digital cinematography in Prometheus by the hands of Dariusz Wolski (Dark City, Pirates of the Caribbean) that makes this science-fiction world seem too clear to be threatening. In Alien, once the crew has been exposed to the threat, the rest of the film is a nail biter of increasing tension, but in Prometheus there are only two really intense sequences that are still more spectacle than they are unnerving. So now the supposed prequel to the Alien franchise can’t even be described as a science-fiction thriller let alone a high concept science-fiction film. What it actually ends up being is a typical Hollywood action blockbuster trying to disguise itself as thriller by bombarding you with pseudo-intellectualism and carbon copied thriller scenarios. But where there is action it is done rather well, visually speaking. We should be thankful that Prometheus features many excellent actors portraying characters that are fleshed out in a graceful and purposeful way, most likely all thanks to Lindelof’s ability to create dynamic personalities. The always memorable Sean Harris (Harry Brown, “The Borgias”), the underappreciated Idris Elba (“Luther,” “The Wire”), and the unrecognizable Guy Pearce all bring compelling performances that give the side characters some vitality that is lacking in most films. On the main stage we have the up and coming Noomi Rapace who brings a contradicting strong-willed vulnerability that rivals her heroine predecessor Sigourney Weaver, both in captivating fear and in moral struggle. But the real stand out performance comes from the always riveting Michael Fassbender who eats up the scenery in villainous mathematical coldness that definitely gives the original android Ian Holm a run for his money. If it weren’t for this talented cast the film would have been a philosophical mess only complimented by impressive visuals. Instead we have an impressively visual philosophical mess that has plenty of dynamic personalities to get us through the trenches of intellectual shallowness.

So what are we ultimately left with as the ending credits role in Prometheus? The experience itself is an enjoyable display of characters with vigor and a digitally created environment that has plenty to offer your senses, either in action or the CGI art form. But ultimately these are distractions from the core flaw in Prometheus, which is a film void in compelling concept and narrative as it tries to tackle high-concept ideas that it clearly has no business even contemplating.  It’s been over 30 years since Ridley Scott has helmed a science-fiction film, a genre it seemed he had mastered, and it seems the evidence suggests that he simply doesn’t have what it takes to reinstall life into this unique genre. His career hasn’t necessarily been one without flaws, and Prometheus will have a comfortable place alongside the likes of Robin Hood and Body of Lies as we go along in cinematic history. Compared to years past Prometheus is definitely a step up in terms of Hollywood blockbusters, but as a continuation or initial beginning of a cinematic mythology that was always unique it simply lacks the digestible philosophical brevity that is needed for science-fiction films. Sure, compare the film to the Alien vs. Predator series and Prometheus looks like a titan of intellectual mastery, but that is just a trick from snake oil salesmen in the movie business disguising the ability to ask the question as intellectual maturity. Feel free to claim you were entertained by the lackluster thrills, but avoid the claim that you were philosophically invigorated.

Grade: C+

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