Dismantling ‘Prometheus’ (2012) Piece By Piece: Intro and Chapter 1 – The Everything

When ‘Prometheus’ was announced, I got excited. Not just because it was another sci-fi epic from Ridley Scott, not just because it was his return to the ‘Alien’ franchise, and not just because of the amazing cast that were involved.

No, I was excited because it promised to be different. From first glance, it looked like it could be the kind of meditative, thoughtful creation that I love. I was expecting tense action, a rich and philosophical plot, an exploration of a universe that I love, incredible special effects, and close-ups of Charlize Theron.

But as I left the cinema, I wasn’t intrigued. Neither was I entertained. I wasn’t even angry. I was disappointed.

I was disappointed not because I expected great things and the film failed to deliver. Not even because the film failed to deliver on the promises that had been made on its behalf. I was disappointed because I had gone into the cinema expecting a film, and was subjected to series of pictures, projected in sequence and in time with recorded voices and music.

If you haven’t seen the film, you may be wondering what’s going on here. Don’t worry, actually watching the film is unlikely to change anything in that regard.

One of the key elements of almost any creative work is the Story it tells, either implicitly or explicitly. You can look at Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ as an example. Regardless of the quality of its composition, the image itself implies a story, one that the audience crafts for itself using the limited information presented.

In ‘Alien’, the film that “started it all”, we get an explicit narrative – a straightforward tale of a woman struggling to survive a deadly predator as all the people around her are gradually slain. We aren’t left trying to figure it all out ourselves, and that’s fine – we are shown enough to reach the end of the movie satisfied with a story that runs from A to B to C.

But ‘Prometheus’ treads the fine line between implicit and explicit narrative, finding that little reservation of shit that runs between the two and riding it determinedly to a tragic, terrible end. It doesn’t leave enough blanks for its audience to fill in, but it possesses so many huge, gaping, cavernous, echoing holes in all of the important bits that it looks like a victim of “The Red Wedding.” Except that it didn’t have the good grace to die.

There’s a lot of debate over ‘Prometheus’ on the internet. Specifically, debate about whether ‘Prometheus’ really is just the dreck that it appears to be, or whether it’s full of hidden meaning and is actually deeply “philosophical”, which is wanker-speak for “pretentious”.

Ooh, David, what are you up to now, you naughty boy? Are you by any chance doing more random, sinister crap for no specific reason? Jolly good, keep it up.

To put this debate to rest, I’m going to dissect ‘Prometheus’ piece by piece. I’m going to look at every aspect related to the story – the characters, the setting, the events, and explore fully what their significance is and, specifically, the reason that none of them work.

What I don’t give a flying winged lesser-spotted shit about is anything that’s not in the movie. I loved the marketing material for ‘Prometheus’, but if it’s being released as a film, it needs to work as a film. If you have to start reading fake company websites and watching Youtube uploads to enjoy the damn movie, they ought to put that on the fucking poster. ‘Big Trouble In Little China’ didn’t have a fucking marketing campaign to explain the most salient plot points, yet it managed to make more sense than ‘Prometheus’ with a plot that requires its primary villain to serially rape green-eyed women in order to get his dick back.

This has been a long time coming for me. Let’s get stuck in.

Chapter 1 – The Entire Fucking Film

The first time I watched ‘Prometheus’, I adored it. For about an hour.

The first half of ‘Prometheus’ is a gloriously slow-paced tale of a team of varied characters exploring the relics of a forgotten alien race. From the enigmatic first scene, showing a mysterious figure planting genetic seeds on an uninhabited planet – which is both more and less gross than it sounds – to the sense of awe that is captured as the crew take their first steps into a derelict alien structure, this film was just as pondering and cerebral as I hoped it would be.

We watch David the Android get up to no good, try to guess what his motives are. We wonder what the purpose of the weird gooey substance is, how it might be related to the opening scene. We share in the crew’s attempts to unravel what happened to this ancient race, to make sense of what we’re seeing, to decipher the meaning of it all.

All of this would be great if any of it led anywhere. But it doesn’t. We are presented with so much random crap from every angle and the only reason any of it is in any way entertaining is because it leaves you wondering what it all means. But once you get to the end of the film, and realise that none of it means anything, on subsequent viewing the first half of the film becomes just as inane as the second.

A visual metaphor for the relationship between ‘Prometheus’ and its audience.

And the second half is where everything really falls apart for me. As our explorers find the body of the first extraterrestrial that humanity has ever encountered, a storm approaches over the horizon, forcing them to retreat to the safety of the eponymous vessel. On first glance, this might seem like a tired and unoriginal plot device, but on second glance you realise that it’s also boring, pointless and silly.

The storm arrives, forces the explorers to leave the site early, and then is gone by morning. What was the significance of them being forced to leave early? FUCKED IF I KNOW, that’s what. The storm gets several minutes of screen time, a huge chunk of the special effects budget, and ultimately offers nothing beyond eye-rolling cliche.

From this point on, ‘Prometheus’ is doomed, and I’m not even referring to the fucking ship. Every scene after the arrival of the storm is nonsensical, and the plot itself effectively grinds to a halt.

Crew members act stupidly, get turned into monsters, attack the rest of the crew and get killed off, all without consequence or explanation. Our leading lady gives cesarean birth to a writhing mass of tentacles, for it to be completely ignored by the rest of the crew and ultimately serve as a cheap death for a mute antagonist in the penultimate scene.

The sequences and events to which we bear witness barely follow on from one another. It’s as though “causality” is a dirty word, a forbidden concept, like some kind of Orwellian thought crime or those daydreams I have about your mother.

This image could easily double as a graph showing the spectrum of character motivations, going from “Stupid” on the left to “Completely Random” on the right.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are components of this film that are masterfully executed. The visuals are generally stunning, the sets and costumes are all perfect, the sound and the music and the lighting all work just fine – this is not a work lacking in technical expertise. None of the acting is jarring or particularly unbelievable, or at least not enough to stand out.

Even the directing is on-point; each scene, examined in isolation, is constructed and executed perfectly well. Everyone says their lines in the right order and at the right time, the cameras are all in-focus and pointing the right direction, and I don’t think I noticed ANY booms or set lights or stage markings or Damon Lindelof’s personal stashes of methamphetamine.

Please note that for legal reasons I am not stating or implying that Damon Lindelof uses methamphetamine recreationally whilst writing, I am simply pointing out that I didn’t see any stashes of methamphetamine that belonged to him at any point during my viewings of ‘Prometheus’.

But the core of it all is rotten. It is a festering stool wrapped in pretense, packaged competently enough to entertain, just as long as you suppress the impulse to remove the packaging and take a closer look at what it contains.

Ultimately, I just can’t identify the story of ‘Prometheus’. It can’t be a character piece, because our characters act so fucking randomly that they may as well be shit- and blood-filled ping pong balls stuck in a tumble drier. And it’s not about the events of the mission itself, because the collection of scenes on offer match both of the definitions of “Brownian Motion” – random, sporadic impulses and rapid gastric evacuation.

The themes involved are abstracted to the point of disconnection. The ancient Greek tale of Prometheus is the story of a powerful being sharing stolen technology with mortal humans, leading to his unending punishment by the Gods. The closest I can get to that is that ‘Prometheus’ is the story of a powerful director stealing two hours of everybody’s life to ceaselessly punish his mortal audience.

So, on a general, broad level, ‘Prometheus’ fails to be a compelling piece of narrative, but I’m not satisfied to leave it there. No, there are so many specific, critical failings that I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Next up, a look at the characters, starting with King of the Shitheads, Charlie Holloway.

The lights are on, but nobody gives a shit.

You can find Chapter 2 of this review, a look at Charlie Holloway, here.

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