Monday, January 14, 2013


After the first preview for Prometheus came out, I got very excited. The original Alien film is a true classic, and I'm a huge fan of Aliens – although I always like to point out that they're effectively two different genres of film and shouldn't be compared against each other. Sure, the sequels weren't that great – I ignore the Alien vs Predator films entirely; I saw the second of the two1 and hated it – but I wasn't so put off by them that I wouldn't be prepared to revisit the universe if someone came up with a good story.

And the story for Prometheus looked good – very good. Set before Alien2, it was about humans discovering and travelling to a planet via directions from cave-paintings, seemingly implying that aliens had visited the planet in the distant past. On this planet they would discover alien life and – since it's a sci-fi/action film – have some sort of disagreement with it.

Having Ridley Scott, who wrote and directed the original, behind this seemed at the time to be a good sign – though he has been responsible for some shockers over the past few years, including the execrable Kingdom of Heaven and the only tolerable re-imagining of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe. That said, American Gangster was a pretty good film, so it's not as if he'd lost his touch completely.

There was also an impressive cast to consider: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba; that's some serious talent.

Which leaves us with the question: why, exactly, did it suck so much?

1I can only remember that I went with other people who wanted to see it. There's no way I'd have gone otherwise.
2Though, for some strange reason, they weren't calling it a prequel; rather, it was referred to as another story in the same universe.

Beware: spoilers

Basically, it's the fault of the writers, who appear to have set out to use some of the worst story tropes available to drive the plot forward – the most prominent being having the characters make a succession of mindbogglingly stupid decisions; the sort of thing more common in American horror films aimed at teenagers more interested in each other than what's on the screen3. There are literally so many that it's impractical to list them all here – and it'd annoy me so much to think about them again that I'd probably end up chucking my laptop at the wall.

If that wasn't enough, there were more strange, unnecessary and jarring plot developments that just made no sense – though, that may be more about editing; sometimes things like that are lost because of scenes that are cut from the final version. Some – like the sudden decision of two characters with no seeming chemistry or history to have sex only because it meant there'd be no-one on the communicator at a key moment, which in and of itself is a colossally stupid thing to have happened under any circumstances – were abysmal, like they hadn't tried at all. Really, if they had to have that situation arise, there are any number of ways they could have done it.

The number of times I found myself shaking my head and asking “What the fuck?” was far more than is reasonable for a two-hour-long film. Heck, for a ten-hour-long film.

Too many thin, two-dimensional characters don't help either. This is a shame because, as noted earlier, some of the people they'd cast were doing the best they could; a bit like Ewan McGregor in the Star Wars prequels. Michael Fassbender in particular is excellent as the cyborg.

Oh, and aging makeup – memo to film-makers: THIS NEVER WORKS, EVER. Apart from anything else, I actually thought it was Michael Fassbender playing Weyland (which would have actually made sense in a way) rather than Guy Pearce; that aside, it was in no way convincing as a 103-year-old man. The episodes of Merlin where he plays Emrys (old Merlin, apparently) are more realistic, and that's an English tv series. Seriously, just cast two actors who look a bit alike; it's much more believable4.

Despite the failures of the narrative, visually, it's amazing. Some of the best effects I've seen in a film – and I'm not alone; it's been nominated for an Oscar for visual effects. And this, in a way, makes it all that much more disappointing; that what had the potential to be a truly amazing film turned out to be a very average one.

Ridley Scott really pulled a George Lucas on this one. It was set up with a sequel in mind; I'll be reading more than a few reviews before I bother to watch it.

3The best example that I know of – because I tend to avoid them – is Jeepers Creepers. I yelled at the screen a lot during that film.
4Well, mostly. I struggled with it in The Debt, where Marton Csokas and Sam Worthington played younger versions of Tom Wilkinson and CiarĂ¡n Hinds respectively.

Further reading (er, viewing)

I was pointed towards a good (and funny) YouTube video that highlights a lot of the problems:

And then there's this one, which is quite long and attempts to explain some of the more egregious problems, with (in my opinion) mixed success:


  1. As someone said; when the most interesting character in a movie is an android, you know you're in trouble.

  2. I really enjoyed Prometheus, though that came through ignoring the plot, characters, and cheesy dialogue. Take those away and it's a beautiful sci-fi movie with very interesting exploration of themes about meaning and what it means to be human. The bad points weren't enough of a detraction from the good things the movie did, at least for me. :)

  3. It was the utter stupidity of certain actions by allegedly very intelligent people that really annoyed me. Who takes their helmet off in an alien environment before very rigorous sampling for bio hazards or starts exploring with fading light, landing before an orbital survey. Argh the basic errors are just overwhelming.