Prometheus (2012)

(In theaters, June 2012) It’s almost too bad that I didn’t write this review right after stepping out of the movie theatre, because once you let its beautiful visuals fade away, Prometheus gets worse the longer you think about it.  Let’s get a few things out of the way: Yes, Prometheus is a Ridley Scott SF movie set in the universe of Scott’s 1979 Alien, but no, it’s not a coherent addition to the mythology: Thematically, the film is very different from the Alien series, but it’s really the muddled script that doesn’t really care about making all the parts fit together.  It’s still a monster movie in the most classical sense (explorer discover a terrible threat, almost everyone is killed, etc.) but as far as monster movie go, few have the amount of visual polish and technical expertise than Prometheus enjoys.  Visually, the film is stunning, with complex special effects well-used to create a state-of-the-art vision of the future on an alien planet.  You can revel in the ways the film has advanced far beyond the now-primitive effects in Alien, or reflect at how thirty years have changed our expectations of what the future will look like.  Scott is a gifted filmmaker, and Prometheus’ high notes come when he’s able to use all the tools at his disposal to explore fear, wonder or awe.  There is a terrific medical-intervention sequence at the three-quarter-mark that is as good as any of the thrills delivered by the Alien series, and a lesser director could have blown it by lack of expertise.  Scott’s moviemaking skill makes it easy to watch the film and let it wow you… unfortunately, the effect wears off as soon as you start asking questions.  In terms of SF ideas and concepts, there’s little in Prometheus that hasn’t been picked clean in written SF by the 1970s, and few writers have ever felt the need to revisit those issues in the same pretentious ham-fisted ways than Scott does here.  Basic fact-based objections to the panspermia theory are, in the movie, swept away with a simple declaration of faith, and it’s not the rumors about a more theologically-charged director’s cut of the film that will save Prometheus from charges of muddled thinking.  But never mind thematic issues when it’s the plotting nuts-and-bolts of the film that don’t make sense.  Characters are moved around like puppets, making the same dumb decisions as their counterparts in B-grade schlock monster-movies and dying in various ways that seem inconsistent with how smart they’re supposed to be.  All the good actors in the film (Michael Fassbender is particularly effective as the de-rigueur android) can’t compensate from an undercooked script that doesn’t seem to care that we’ve seen that monster-movie stuff play out dozens of time since 1979.  It makes for a curious viewing experience: Impeccably executed, but from a weak script that blends pseudo-profoundness with idiot plotting.  It’s still well worth a look for the visuals and the atmosphere, but even measured against its own intentions, Prometheus is ultimately a disappointing mess.

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