I have written many times in recent years about how big titles get announced by the gaming industry, of the ensuing hype up that leads up to launch day and then the subsequent disappointment on purchase. It is a malady that has afflicted the movie industry for decades and has become increasingly more common in the last decade. Hype has a curious link with reputation. There are a handful of directors in contemporary Hollywood who when they add their name to a production, people take notice. Ridley Scott is one of these. His body of work pretty much guarantees he can make whatever he wants, be it a commercial undertaking or a ludicrous vanity project. However, the downside to being a film maker of this stature is that you are not so easily exposed to proper scrutiny by your peers. No one stops you from making a mistake because you are supposed to know what you are doing. They let you do what you want. Which is bad.
So, am I saying that Prometheus is a mistake per se? No. However, I am saying that mistakes have been made with regard to narrative and the plot direction of the movie. Scott himself has been open about how during the initial pre-production he and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof wished to take the story off on a tangent, rather than make a specific prequel to Alien. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing to do as long as it is done robustly and intelligently. Prometheus is very much a film of two halves as it strives to embrace a weighty theme, namely the origins of life on earth. It sets the scene for a philosophical and theological exploration of the subject in the first act. However, it fails to sustain this momentum and in the second hour lapses into a far less ambitious, somewhat formulaic, creature feature. The narrative become confused, vague and is eventually sidelined.
There is still much to commend in Prometheus. There are good performances from the cast, despite the fact that they are not given half as much to go on as they should have. Michael Fassbender's portrayal of the Android David is outstanding and is by far the best character in the movie. The production design is handsome and Scott has not in any way lost his visual flair. There are some quite clever parallels to his original movie and he re-imagines certain iconic scenes in an inventive fashion, rather than becoming self plagiarising. There are also some solid action sequences and a liberal dose of gore. One scene involving a quasi-caesarian is not for the squeamish. Yet despite positive aspects one is left feeling that Prometheus is not as good as a film as it could be.
What is on offer is adequate and entertaining but no more than that. Although it is unreasonable to expect this movie to be equal of the 1979 original, it is not unreasonable to expect better material from Ridley Scott. Prometheus should have had a weightier story and stuck to either to its philosophical theme or remained a pure horror in space. As it is it fails to tread the path between the two. Since the release of the film on home media, the deleted scenes available on DVD and Blu-ray clearly show where the problem lies. Too much expositionary material was cut from the film. The producers wanted an action driven movie. They got one but sadly at the expense of narrative and character development. If all the deleted material was re-instated back in to Prometheus it would be a far more thoughtful, coherent movie. Sadly, Scott has now stated that the theatrical cut of the film is his definitive edition.
On a final note, Prometheus suffers from a common problem found in contemporary fill making; that of an excessively loud soundtrack. Dialogue is difficult to hear one moment and the score and ambient sound effects are deafening the next. I had to watch the film with subtitles enabled to fully pick up on all the nuances of the dialogue. This issue contributed to making a frustrating movie, somewhat more annoying. However, if you are simply looking for a high budget, science fiction thriller, then Prometheus, despite its flaws, may well satisfy. Those who are more invested in the Alien franchise may not be so forgiving and best prepare themselves for disappointment. Because Prometheus feels like a failed opportunity, it beggars the question, do we really need any further movies in this series? If they cannot offer anything new that takes the overall concept forward, perhaps the answer is no?