Critical Mass: ‘Prometheus’

By now, it’s clear that Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ is one of the most divisive films of the summer among both audiences and critics. The movie has already garnered a love-it-or-hate-it reputation. Is it a good movie? Luke says yes, Aaron says no. I guess it’s time for another installment of Critical Mass. [Warning: Spoilers lurk inside. This article is designed for those of you who have seen the movie.]

Aaron: Honestly, I just don’t know what you see in this movie. It’s a letdown from start to finish. I have quite a few gripes with the movie, but we’ll start with the subtext of faith versus religion. That’s a topic that writer Damon Lindelof tried to cover during the run of ‘Lost’, but he never really answered any of the deep, philosophical questions that were posed to the characters on the show. So, it’s no surprise that he makes absolutely no attempt to answer, or even confront, those same questions here. The questions are raised, but are easily pushed aside for the movie’s oh-so-scary third act which is ripped straight from generic horror-ville.

Noomi Rapace playing a scientist who wears a cross, which she constantly fiddles with, does not equal great subtext. It’s simply an overtly staged gimmick to introduce thoughts, questions and ideas that are easily forgotten as the movie goes along.

Luke: I don’t think that ‘Prometheus’ set out to be a “God vs. Science” movie at all. I see it as a character story. Understanding her religious background and her personal need to meet her maker is a driving force in the decisions that she makes. I never once got the impression that the movie was trying to prove or disprove one or the other.

Based on the advertising, I don’t think that anyone is going into ‘Prometheus’ with the intent of debating God vs. Science. They’re going in to see a prequel to ‘Alien’, which didn’t dabble in this content either. ‘Alien’ unfolded exactly like ‘Prometheus’. To put it in your own words, everything leads up to “the movie’s oh-so-scary third act …”

That’s what I came to see! If I want God vs. Science, I’ll watch ‘Contact’. But I came for a slow-building sci-fi horror movie – and that’s not only exactly what I got, but a much more visually stunning version of it.

I don’t understand what all of the bashing is about. For me, this is a “What the hell did you expect?” argument. The ‘Alien’ geeks need to calm down because (News Flash!) the ‘Alien’ franchise isn’t all that great. This isn’t the Holy Grail. These aren’t five-star movies. They’re geek lore – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Stop acting like they’re perfect because they’re not – and neither is ‘Prometheus’. But they’re damn fun films and that’s what I’m choosing to celebrate.

As for those who want scientifically sound films, get over it. Guess what, folks, this is science FICTION. If you want a true science fiction movie, stick to the dry boring stuff. If you want tension in your movie, you’d better believe that someone is going to touch the penis-looking Black Oil Monster. Why not have it be an A-hole character?

Aaron, what were you expecting when you went into ‘Prometheus’?

Aaron: Let’s get one thing straight. ‘Aliens’ is a damn near perfect sci-fi/action film in every sense. Truly, it’s a Holy Grail of sorts. (Just to back me up, it sports a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes). So, yes, ‘Aliens’ really is a five-star movie. With all the hype surrounding ‘Prometheus’, I expected something more like ‘Aliens’ and less like, oh, ‘Event Horizon‘.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but Scott and Lindelof did indeed set out to make a religion-versus-science movie, which Scott explains at length in this interview. The subtlety that Lindelof uses is as obvious as Jack versus Locke in ‘Lost’. At one point, Shaw is asked if she still has faith as she’s fiddling with her cross, and she says something like, “It’s even stronger now.” The whole movie is peppered with a pseudo attempt at a religion-versus-science plot, but then all of that is completely forgotten in the third act, so I can see why you may have forgotten about the questions raised in the first part of the film.

I felt like the movie started out great with Fassbender traveling around the spaceship finding ways to keep busy in deep space. That to me was the most interesting part of this movie. Once the people wake up, the movie goes downhill. The only other part I somewhat enjoyed was the self-Caesarian Shaw had to give herself. That part was tense. Everything else? I’ve seen it a million times over. I actually liked this plot outline better when it was called ‘Sunshine‘.

The other thing that the first two ‘Alien’ films have that this one doesn’t is real horror. Those movies are scary. This one is tame. Its effects are a hundred times better, and it looks pretty, but when it comes to suspense and terror, this movie has none (except the aforementioned alien abortion scene). I guess that’s what I expected – a terrifying horror sci-fi movie that was relatively smart. My mistake.

Luke: I like how sassy this conversation is getting! We’re never usually this argumentative, but I must say, it’s liberating!

Back to the science-religion thing, I have to admit that I find it funny to find you to citing an outside source (the Ridley Scott interview) when I remember you dismissing the need to mention outside sources in order to catch the drift of what a show/movie is trying to accomplish. (Specifically, I remember you saying this in a ‘Walking Dead’ recap post in response to someone quoting from ‘The Talking Dead’.)

Like I said, I never once felt that ‘Prometheus’ was trying to spark that debate. Whatever Scott says in interviews has nothing to do with the way I felt about it as I watched it.

My question is this: Why is nobody talking about the opening sequence? In all its beauty, people are missing something HUGE at hand. When I ask people how they took the opening scene, the majority response is: “That’s the creation of life on Earth.” However, I want you think back on what that “Engineer” is wearing. At first, he/she dons a white silk robe. After removing it, he/she reveals white ace-bandage-like underwear wrappings. Is it a coincidence that the crew of our ship wore those same wrappings and that Shaw wore an identical white robe? If you know Damon Lindelof, you know that he’s a master at hiding hints like this. (Being a fan, I actually enjoy the pay-off.)

Aaron: Those are two totally separate things. I was annoyed with ‘The Walking Dead’ because the creators were explaining away plot holes in an after-show. That’s completely different than talking about the theme of your movie in an interview. If Ridley started discussing why it’s silly of us to be annoyed at the inconsistencies in the film’s story, and started explaining away many of its gaping plot holes, then you’d have a case. In that interview, he’s simply talking about the themes of the movie, which is supposed to lean heavily on science-versus-religion.

I don’t think anybody is talking about the opening sequence, because it doesn’t make a lick of sense. And I think you’re REALLY reaching with your comparison of clothing worn by the muscle-bound alien and Shaw. You’re forgetting that Shaw and that alien are separated by millennia. To draw a conclusion based on what kind of undies they’re wearing is pretty silly. I mean, Lindelof was one of the brains behind the Hurley Bird in ‘Lost’. Did that go anywhere? Did it mean anything? Nope. There were a ton of things in ‘Lost’ that didn’t make sense because Lindelof introduced them and didn’t really have a way to explain them later on. Just what conclusion are you drawing from their coincidental choice in underwear and why is it so important?

Luke: I’m talking about the fun of it all. It’s like playing a huge game. I’d rather go along looking for clues and hints than have a major faith and science-driven debate. We’ve seen that a million times already. I’m in this for fun.

You reference the 100% Rotten Tomatoes score for ‘Aliens’. Why do think the sequel is rated higher than ‘Alien’? Because that goofball James Cameron decided to make it a whole lot of fun. (Don’t get me started on how it doesn’t deserve a 100% rating, because Bill Paxton’s character alone deserves to knock 20% off it. Game over!)

The brand of fun that Cameron implanted into the ‘Alien’-verse was nothing like what Scott did with the original – and the type of fun that Scott and Lindelof have infused into ‘Prometheus’ is completely different from anything we’ve seen in any of the four ‘Alien’ movies. ‘Prometheus’ blends Lindelof’s twisted and playful storytelling style with Scott’s brilliant filmmaking style. For me, it works. It’s works very well. I’m not ashamed to admit that I love it. Hell, I’m going back to see it in IMAX. But just as I know that all of the negative criticisms are never going to sway my opinion, I know that those who hate ‘Prometheus’ (and I know that there are plenty of folks out there who do) aren’t going to love it based on my opinion. You’re never going to experience it the way that I do, and I will never be frustrated with it the way you are.

Who would have thought that this would become one of the most controversial movies of the year?

Since you cited Rotten Tomatoes first, I want to point out that ‘Prometheus’ still carries a 74% rating there, which is more than healthy. Critically speaking, your opinion is in the minority. In fact, out of critics in our press screening, I believe that you’re the only one who strongly disliked it.

Aaron: To be fair, most of those guys in our group also really liked ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘. Anyway, honestly, I couldn’t care less about how the mythology of this movie relates to all the other ‘Alien’ films. I’m not that invested in the franchise (or really any movie franchise, for that matter) to get all worked up about the details of existing stories and whether they mesh. My complaint is that ‘Prometheus’ turns into a lame duck right after the characters get off the ship and start exploring. I worry for people not connected at all to the franchise who will most likely find this one to be confusing and pointless.

The problem is that buried beneath all the hype, beautiful cinematography and the big names involved is a very superficial story that lacks substance or any characterization. Somewhere, I heard that there were 17 members of the crew on board the ship in the film. You could tell me that there were 9 or 12 or 25 – it doesn’t matter because none of them have any sort of story worth telling. None of the characters resonated with me. They’re cardboard cut-outs of the lamest variety. I liked Fassbender as David, but his motives for infecting Shaw’s partner were murky at best. Why did he do it? To what purpose? What did he think would happen? Did he want to breed aliens? If so, why? Idris Elba’s character was the worst of the bunch. Here’s a great actor who gets relegated to a terrible Southern accent, and his best scene comes when he’s talking about why he’s putting up his Christmas tree. Later on, this captain who’s supposed to be protecting his men runs off to get laid at a crucial moment. (But it was Charlize Theron, so I’m tempted to give him a pass here). Only at the end does he put on his Hero Hat, but he’s too late. That “Let’s save the world!” ending was just too silly for words, even if it made for some neato CG.

To be clear, I didn’t outright “hate” the movie. I gave it 2.5 out of 4 stars in the newspaper I review for, but I couldn’t bring myself to give it 3 out of 5 online at The Reel Place. So that’s where it sits in my mind – a somewhat below-average movie that I never plan to watch again.

Yes, we know that you’ve probably reached your ‘Prometheus’ saturation point by now, but we’d like to know which of us you agree with. Luke says that ‘Prometheus’ is an amazing sci-fi adventure, whereas Aaron thought it was bland, and basically amounted to little more than a really, really pretty CG-polished turd. Please let us know in the poll below.

Do You Agree with Aaron or Luke?

View Results

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  1. Shayne Blakeley

    If possible, I would vote for both. For the most part, the legion of complaints about this movie are entirely accurate, that said it’s also a hell of a lot of fun, and after a sequel or two could become something truly special.

    p.s. Um yeah, both Alien and Aliens are pretty much perfect.

  2. JM

    The opening of ‘Prometheus’ means that thousands of planets have been seeded with life, with a technology beyond human understanding.

    The universe could be filled with millions of black oil monsters.

    I wonder if they’re all connected by a sort of hive mind.

  3. I really enjoyed the movie but it definitely had a lot of plot holes but it moved so quickly I just forgot about them by the next scene. And who knows, maybe some of the plot holes might be plugged up with the supposed 30 minute longer directors cut.

    Ridley Scott really needs to re-learn how to make a movie that makes sense in its theatrical form.

  4. Garry Swanson

    I think it’s refreshing to have a summer film that gets people actually talking about it. It means in my mind that its more effective than, say, a movie about super heroes where it’s nothing but explosions, a green guy smashing things, and the female super hero having her ass as her super power.

  5. Shayne Blakeley

    Holy shit, long post.

    I would have added this as a reply to my post about re-watching Alien in the earlier Prometheus thread, but this is less cluttered so far. So, re-watched Aliens tonight, and goddamnit, it’s so fucking awesome. I consider both Alien and Aliens to be 5 star, pretty much perfect movies (I only say pretty much because I don’t want to have to defend calling them perfect) Alien is the gold standard for sci-fi/horror while Aliens is the gold standard for sci-fi/action (side note: James Cameron should develop other peoples sci-fi sequels exclusively from now on rather than devoting his life to Avatar) Anyway, I love the shit out of this movie. The two films are mostly equal in my opinion except for one key factor, FUN. I can watch Aliens over and over and drunker and drunker, and it’s always just fucking awesome. So getting to where that is relevant to Prometheus… Again, like with Alien, this refresher course does not help my opinion of it. Both of these movies are so well done that it hurts my enjoyment of Prometheus (and I was one of the defenders.) Granted, the franchise itself was not untarnished before this, not by a long shot, but the promise of Scott returning to it (could just as well been Cameron in my opinion) set expectations astronomically high, and we all hoped for something on par with these first two efforts. BUT! Jesus Christ, talk about high hopes. There’s no way this movie could have pleased, no chance in Hell. The fact it apparently pleased more than it offended, and simultaneously sparked this much controversy is more than it could have ever hoped for. My opinion has been skewed by these discussions, arguments with my fiance, and more importantly, re-watching these movies. Prometheus tried to do everything (horror, action, comedy, nostalgia, and every weird alien hybrid they could think of) and forgot to slow the fuck down. It went with the plot structure of Alien, pretty much exactly, but threw in every twist we’ve ever seen in an Alien film and then some, leaving no time to give a shit about the characters, and also making their actions seem stupid as shit. The difference is, their actions aren’t any stupider than the actions of the characters in Alien/Aliens, those characters simply had more time to make them believable. In Prometheus, they threw so much at you, and attempted to hit on so many points, that the characters couldn’t respond in the same way or the movie would be 12 hours long.

    P.s. Josh, was the color a problem for you? You have a bit of a reputation in hating teal, and while re-watching these two movies I did take note of that. The design of Alien is perfect because the creature itself matches the surroundings, and I was talking that up to my fiance, but then watching Aliens I noticed the teal & orangeness of it and couldn’t help but think that that might have influenced your opinion of Prometheus somewhat.

      • Shayne Blakeley

        I enjoyed the movie, that hasn’t changed, but when compared to those two, the outrage it’s caused some others becomes more understandable. As for The Hobbit, I don’t see how it could possibly not be measured against LOTR.

        • Barsoom Bob

          Shayne, in all fairness, Ridley always said it was going to be a story about origins and his preoccupation with what exactly the space jockey was. Not to get a certain party all riled up again because he demystified the space jockey, but he always said that he was investigating that and it would have some Alien DNA in it, which in retrospect is pretty funny. But the people who went into the theater expecting to see an alien horror movie kind of brought on their own disappointment.

          Here is a new facet of this that hasn’t really been discusssed, why was the cargo of the ship in the original Alien the eggs, which lead directly to the ultimate killing machine and in this movie the cargo that is supposedly going back to wipe out Earth the mutating goo ?

          Since you just watched the two movies recently, do you think that there was a queen presnt on LV426 all the time and laid those eggs in the ship ? Or is there some explaination for the Queen in Aliens and how it got there ? Just curious if you have any thoughts ?

          • Shayne Blakeley

            This movie doesn’t end where Alien starts off, it’s a different planet entirely. The sequel/sequels will likely tie the two together. Having re-watched Alien, it seems likely that the xenomorph we see at the end of Prometheus is a queen (based on the design of it’s head.) We’ve seen that the xenomorphs existed in some capacity already because of the mural, and each of the weird critters throughout the movie resemble the facehuggers. My take on that is that maybe the xenomorphs were at this point a mutation from the ooze, but the one that gestated in Shaw and the engineer became a Queen, and now will be able to reproduce on her own. So it’s likely that in a sequel we’ll see the space jockey transporting the eggs either to weaponize them or to try to dispose of them, leading up to the beginning of Alien.

    • That’s not true at all. The poll in our previous post also came out in favor of the movie. I have no problem with people disagreeing with me or any of our staff. We encourage healthy debate, so long as the discussion stays on topic about the movie, and doesn’t degenerate into personal insults and name-calling. I do not censor anyone’s opinions. The only comments I have ever moderated (and very rarely at that) are those that violate our rules about personal attacks.

      We are all passionate about movies. That’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with a disagreement of opinion or a little arguing so long as everybody behaves themselves. Saying, “You’re totally wrong about this!” is perfectly fine. Calling someone “a completely biased piece of fucking shit” and telling him to “go fuck yourself with a rusty steel dagger” (actual comments I had to remove) are not OK.

      This is Aaron and Luke’s post. I will try to stay out of it and reserve my discussion of the movie to my own previous post. But I will keep an eye on it, and comments like those examples I cited will have to be removed. This honestly should be common sense that I shouldn’t have to explain.

  6. I must admit, I’m kind of a fence sitter on this… On the one hand I gave it a 7.5 out of 10 in my own review, but I must admit, the vast majority of that is because on a first watch, it is a fun visual feast. Unfortunately I can’t argue with most of the critics of the movie because they’re pretty much correct. The good stuff made it enjoyable at the cinema, but I doubt I’ll ever buy the film to watch again (though it’s possible purely for the extras, because the production would be more fascinating than the film)

    The science vs religion aspect, I actually enjoy in most movies, but here it was clearly a main theme that wasn’t even vaguely thought out or researched. It was thrown in here by a writer who obviously has no knowledge of EITHER side of the arguments.

    And don’t get me started on the characters and their motivations… It was worse than an Asylum movie for jumping around without reason or logic. It really was that bad. It wasn’t that we’re missing the deep and meaningful parts, it’s that a far as I can tell, these characters and plot were clumsily manipulated devices so that Ridley could film the visual scenes that got him enthusiastic. He somehow completely forgot that you need characters to care about (who also make sense) along with situations that build up (and make sense!!!!).

    I’ve noticed that a lot of the defenders try to imply that the critics problems with the film are because it wasn’t a direct prequel to alien and/or wasn’t blatant horror movie and/or dealt with deeper themes rather than being a rollercoaster, etc. etc…

    Personally, I had no problem with the overall themes. I thought they were handled without thought or much originality, but they’re all interesting themes. I enjoyed that it was investigating the spacejockey species rather than the alien. I enjoyed that it left the ‘creature’ itself pretty much out of it till a hint of how it could have come about at the end.

    The problems with this movie all begin and end with the terrible, awful shambles of characterisation, plot coherency and story logic. Plain and simple. Even the weakest story elements could have been somewhat saved if there was even a smattering of logic or consistency in the writing of the characters and how the plot progressed.

  7. John

    If I could vote for both i would. I def did not hate it as much as Aaron but I did enjoy it a lot. Maybe not as much as Luke. But its easier to enjoy this film than to critically pick it apart and call it essentially Battlefield Earth 2 🙂

  8. Gotta go with Luke on this one, just had a blast with it and I LOVE walking away from movies like this asking questions, I LOVED Lost from beginning to end, its one of the few shows on TV that I made sure to watch either when it was on TV or right after it was done recording, that show asked all kinds of questions that left me wanting answers. Sure I never got them directly, but thats the fun of it for me.

    Take the theatrical cut of Donnie Darko, my friends and I had a whole night discussion for hours about that movie after we watched it, a lot philosophy, science and other thing were brought up in that movie with some really great questions and hints about stuff that werent truly answered, it was left that way on purpose IMO. Prometheus is the same way, I’m still having discussions about this movie with friends, throwing around theories, talking about scenes and hints and what they could mean and that is what will keep bringing me back to watch the movie again and again, it stays fresh for much longer than a film that throws the makers answers at you directly.

    This is probably my top movie of the year so far and I didnt think anything could beat the Avengers but I havent had this much discussion and fun with a flick since watching Donnie Darko all that time ago 🙂

  9. lordbowler

    I’m totally with Aaron on this…

    The opening was cool, but I didn’t see any connection back to other than that’s how life began on our planet.

    First, let me say what I expected:

    I expected somewhat of a rehash of Alien which I got in the first half of the movie. I’m happy with that.

    As the movie played out and the “Engineers” were “all” dead (until the reveal), I started looking for the “Aliens”. I expected to see that the “Engineers” in their Hubris were destroyed by the very thing they created.

    Then, after the reveal of the “last survivor”, I extrapolated that maybe he was heading to Earth to serve us as a warning to “Us” to not follow their example by destroying ourselves in the same manor. Nuclear War/Bio-Weapons/Global Warming/Your-End-of-World-Theory-Here.

    But, we got the finale. The no-name guys we never met died. We never find out why David infected Holloway, nor how he planned to watch the results of his experiment. Unless, David knew Holloway was going to impregnate Shaw.

    Idris Elba completely let down his charges (the scientists) and the sacrificed himself and his remaining crew. And, how is that the Geologists got lost when they had a map of the cave? They left first, but ended up back at the room without passing the others leaving?

    Too many plot-holes, waste of even cut-out characters, which were used with perfection in Aliens (Hudson, Vasquez, Gorman, Apone, etc.) which is why Aliens gets 100% in my book!

    “Game Over, MAN!”

  10. Pedram

    I agree that there were things that didn’t make sense, and that many of the crew acted like idiots, but it was still a great movie that I enjoyed (I was willing to look past the dumb parts). It has its flaws for sure (when a big ship is about to crush you and you could avoid it by just turning and running sideways, why would you continue straight?). And sure there were some unanswered questions about the overall story, but there is room in future instalments to answer some of those, and I presume the movie was not aiming to spoon feed everything.

    One theory I heard about why David purposefully infected that guy was to see what would happen. The pregnancy was just an unexpected bonus, but it explains why David didn’t want it aborted. He wanted to see just where the experiment would go, and actually it reminds me of the android in the first movie, who basically saw the crew as expendable and while not necessarily wanting to kill them, saw them as guinea pigs and tools for him to use.

  11. Jon D

    I didn’t hate the movie but I was definitely underwhelmed. It was visually impressive but very disjointed, and it felt like there was a LOT of material missing. The fact that the rumored directors cut is 30 minutes longer seems to prove this out. Will it improve this movie? Who knows but it might go a long way towards making it more coherent and filling in some of the more irritating plot holes.