Home Reviews We review Prometheus 3D – Visually striking and intriguing science fiction tale, marred by a hollow third act

We review Prometheus 3D – Visually striking and intriguing science fiction tale, marred by a hollow third act

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After months of teasers, features, images and trailers that seemed hell-bent on showing you every single frame of footage before you’d ever taken your first sticky-soled  step inside the cinema, it’s finally here: Prometheus – acclaimed director Ridley Scott’s return to Science-Fiction

Back in 1979, Scott had captured – and in some cases tortured – imaginations with his gothic space horror, Alien, and now, 33 years later, he would finally be returning to that universe with a tale that began as a prequel, but has since become its own entity. But is it the triumphant return of the King that we’ve all been clamouring and salivating for though?

Well, yes and no.

“Who or what created us?”, “Why are we here?” – These are the heady questions that have plagued mankind from the moment our heavy-browed ancestors first stopped eating ticks from each other’s scalps long enough to have a cognizant thought. Since then, many men and women have bowed the shelves of libraries the world over with musty tomes on the matter.

And now, continuing a tradition of science fiction story tellers that began when a 17-year old Mary Shelley first put quill to parchment back in 1818, Ridley Scott is going to have a crack at it. How fortuitous that the oft forgotten full title of Miss Shelley’s novel (the first true piece of science fiction) was Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus.

Scott’s fire-stealing tale sees two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) unearthing murals from various ancient Earth cultures somehow all depicting the same giant godlike beings who appear to have left some directions as to how to find them. How very Google Maps of them. Believing these beings – termed “Engineers” –  to be the creators of humanity, and with the opportunity to finally answer some of life’s greatest mysteries beckoning, the pair convince wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to help them mount an expedition to the planet matching the description, half a billion miles away. But what the crew of the exploratory vessel Prometheus find on the planet, may not be what they went looking for.

The film’s almost-Kubrickian first act is easily it’s strongest. Evoking snatches of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Scott gives us awe-inspiring vistas of terran and alien origin, with mysteries that appear epic in ramifications. And as we hit the second act, encountering the first faintly familiar elements that hint at just how this film fits into the larger Alien tapestry, it becomes startlingly clear that this is no longer just a self-contained battle against a hostile phallic-headed, multi-jawed, alien killer. No, this is the type of widescreen, big idea material that’s normally accompanied by a voice-over from Sir Richard Attenborough. Dariusz Wolski’s sweeping cinematography coupled with Marc Streitenfeld’s emotive score certainly help elevate that palpable sense of wonder and/or dread, as the expedition unearths more of the alien planet’s secrets.

It’s also here that we first meet easily the most significant performance of the film in the form of Michael Fassbender’s Lawrence of Arabia obsessed android, David. Fassbender’s portrayal is just the latest in a list as long as his… well, let’s just say a very long list indeed of powerfully nuanced performances for the actor. In this case, effortlessly flip flopping between tenderly concern and a frigid, robotic detachment that can’t be called anything else but creepy. David’s motivations and agenda remain an enigma for most of the film, and as such his actions provide a large portion of the dramatic tension early on.

Most of the rest of the cast are certainly no slouches either with the aforementioned Rapace, as well as Charlize Theron as the driven and severe Meredith Vickers, standing out from the crowd. But while both turn in strong performances, Theron has the advantage that her character will not face the inevitable wave of comparisons with Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley that Rapace’s Shaw will.

The comparison is a bit unfair though, as while both are tough women – I dare you not to grimace through Shaw’s impromptu “surgery” scene – Shaw is a totally different animal to Ripley. (Well besides for in the uncomfortably tiny underwear department, that is.) Ripley only fought for her survival, Shaw is also fighting for her belief in a higher power, or more specifically that that higher power actually has a plan. And Rapace certainly sells the role, being both vulnerable and hard as nails when required.

The film also boast a production design that is second to none, with amazingly detailed set creations and computer generated imagery bringing the 2092 high-tech ship and ancient alien barrows to life. This is accompanied by a costume design that can only be described as retro-futuristic, which while appearing fresh and modern also ties in nicely with the look of the old Alien films. I saw the film in the dreaded 3D, and while the added dimension brought absolutely nothing noteworthy to the table, it certainly was not offensive in any way, with everything appearing bright enough.

However – and you just knew this “however” was coming – if only as much attention was put into Damon Lindelof’ and Jon Spaihts’ script as was put into the design, there’d be at least one more red star to go with these words. Firstly, for a film filled with so many high-brow ideas, the characters sure do tend to do a lot of really dumb stuff. Just landed on the planet a few hours ago and haven’t really run any tests? Who cares, just take your helmet off and take a big ol’ lungful of that alien atmosphere! Encounter a strange alien species whose intentions are unknown? Just stick your hand in its mouth to see if it’s friendly! The bonehead list just carries on and on.

But when the film’s final 20 minutes roll around though, you’ll probably have forgotten all about these lapses of sanity and intelligence, as you’ll be too busy balling your fists and gnashing your teeth at the screen in frustration. While some reviews have called Prometheus “overly ambitious”, I disagree. Because you see, that would imply that the film tried to deliver on it’s lofty earlier promises but fell short of the mark. Prometheus doesn’t even try. It simply says, “You know all those profound, thought provoking questions we asked earlier? Well, we have this cool big budget action sequence to get to, so let’s just shelve them all until the next time. At least, we think there’s a next time. Either way, we ain’t telling you squat now.”

Yep, Ridley Scott has pulled the old “set up the sequel” trick on us. And it’s handled in such a clumsy and hamfisted way, that instead of leaving me intrigued to see more, it just left me feeling short-changed and pissed off.

In a film as highly anticipated as this one (I don’t think I’ve written more about any other title this year), where so much is done right, it’s very sad and disappointing to see one brainfart of a scripting decision ruin all its efforts, dragging it down from the great film it could have been to just the okay-ish film that it is now.

Last Updated: April 27, 2017

20 Comments

  1. Gavin Mannion

    June 6, 2012 at 09:46

    That’s so disappointing 🙁

    Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      June 8, 2012 at 09:53

      Okay I watched this last night and I pretty much entirely agree with what Kervyn said.

      Though I would have given it 3.5 or even 4 stars as I really enjoyed it and the performance of Fassbender was incredible.

      The ending was not awesome though

      Reply

      • Kervyn Cloete

        June 8, 2012 at 10:15

        Initially, I thought I may have been too harsh with the 3 stars, but I’ve been thinking about the movie a lot since then, and I now stand by my rating even more. 
        With the exception of Vickers and David, the characters are all actually extremely shallow, and Vickers also appears to be the only one that actually says and does things that make sense from a real world perspective.The film’s narrative structure is also an almost beat by beat copy of Alien, just not as good. 

        Reply

        • T-wholf

          June 24, 2012 at 23:16

          I disagree with your rating and your views…. loved the movie…  alot of unanswered questions but im hoping thats for a reason to be known once a sequel comes out…..the whole point of the voyage is to answer questions… however this just leads to more questions.. I personally dont believe movies should be so straight forward and basic… anyway for me at least 4/5

          Reply

  2. Theunis Jansen Van Rensburg

    June 6, 2012 at 09:50

    I’ll wait until I see it to pass judgement. I don’t want to believe Ridley would cock this one up, so I’ll wait until I get my bum on a cinema seat. Hopefully I disagree with you. 😀

    Reply

  3. Kervyn Cloete

    June 6, 2012 at 10:00

    And before people start jumping on the Crucify Damon Lindelof Bandwagon for once again not delivering answers after the whole Lost finale fiasco, wait a few more hours. I have something on that that’s very enlightening.

    Reply

    • James Francis

      June 6, 2012 at 10:19

      I never left that bandwagon. And I don’t want answers. I want to know how they managed to fuck the ending up completely. It doesn’t even fit in with the rest of the show.

      Personally I suspect they outsourced season 6’s writing to India or something.

      Reply

  4. James Francis

    June 6, 2012 at 10:22

    Well, you gave John Carter 4 stars. I recently watched that and I would be generous to give it more than 2. Is there a chance that your view on Prometheus is skewed because you really wanted it to be good after the assault of trailers and screens?

    Just commenting – I did not read your review. I refuse to know anything about this movie until I watch it. That’s right – haven’t seen a single trailer.

    Reply

    • Kervyn Cloete

      June 6, 2012 at 10:31

      Nah, John Carter was a love it or hate it film. I, with about 50% of the people that saw it, fell in the former category. 

      This is different. They are outright making really stupid scripting decisions. Knowing how you feel about Lost, you’re probably going to like this even less than I did.

      And for the record, I only saw the first teaser and trailer, so I never had all the stuff spoiled for me.

      Reply

      • James Francis

        June 6, 2012 at 12:15

        Sorry, can’t agree. John Carter’s script was a mess. It has more acts than a soap opera and the most memorable thing about the main character was his beard. 

        Reply

        • Kervyn Cloete

          June 6, 2012 at 12:57

          Look, putting JC aside for a minute here, Prometheus is not a case of a film not meeting with my preconceived notions about it. I’ve seen reviews where they rip into the movie, simply because for the most part it’s a straight-up science fiction film instead of the taut, suspenseful horror that Alien was. 
          That didn’t happen with me. I wasn’t disappointed because I went into the cinema with the expectation of seeing Alien 1.5 or even Alien 0.5, I just wanted a good story. And for about 90 mins, barring some moments of retardation, I kinda got that. And then it all completely falls apart in a spectacular mess, all due to conscious decisions on behalf of the filmmakers to withhold plot elements.

          Reply

          • James Francis

            June 6, 2012 at 16:08

            Seems all the critics are also divided. This comment scares me the most:

            “Prometheus” is to “Alien” what “2010” was to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” It’s the difference between a masterpiece and a merely watchable revision of that masterpiece. 

            I watched 2010 again the other day. It remains quite awful.

            O well, guess I’ll wait for the DVD on this one too… 

          • Kervyn Cloete

            June 6, 2012 at 16:57

            That’s actually a very good comparison. While I cannot fault Prometheus’ technical achievements, it is essentially a rehash of Alien wrapped up in bigger themes that it chooses to discard right when it’s time to truly examine them.

  5. Geoff Stokker

    June 6, 2012 at 11:06

    Let’s be honest here though.  Damon Lindelof is the same guy who gave us Lost which asked a hell of a lot of questions and answered none.  It’s in his genes to not answer any questions.

    Reply

  6. Wtf101

    June 10, 2012 at 19:30

    Boo!  Hiss!  Did you and I see the same Prometheus?  Don’t think so mate! 

    Ha ha!  I saw this today.  Did you not overthink this movie a bit?  I loved it beginning to end.  And I thought it was a worthy addition to the Alien mythos..  Better than Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection in my very not so humble opinion

    Reply

    • Justin Hess

      June 12, 2012 at 18:20

      I didn’t over think it. I tried to under think it actually. I kept my thoughts at the cortical theta level, which is more commonly found in resting infants.

      Still didn’t help. Just me perhaps

      Reply

  7. Pavarni Naidoo

    June 15, 2012 at 16:06

    My review was far harsher. Won tickets to the preview and wished I had just stayed home. Thing about alien was that it was Dan O’ Bannon’s baby, and it was a hardcore geek’s fight with the studio to keep it “pure sf space horror” in a time of magical thinking star wars hype. The making of Alien is a must watch. The “difficult” conceptual work which makes Alien a classic was done by O’Bannon and partners; all Scott did was direct it and stay true to the vision of the creator. And let’s face it, Bilbo as Ash will remain the most sinister android in the franchise. I dunno, I guess I have more respect for the whedon/jeunet debacle now. 
    I did have misgivings when I heard that some Lost numbnut (=fantasy NOT SF!) was involved (I rambled about idiotic cognitive dissonance somewhere) but yikes, the script was as bad as the alien abortion. I abhor weak writing; I don’t really care how pretty your movie is if your script was written by Raimi-like zombies with short attention spans and the narrative and exposition skills of a used teabag. My pet hate are stuppid writers who create even stupider scientists. No, a real biologist would not pet the cute snakey thing. The awesome tatooed geologist would have been totally into the first rock he stumbled over. NO, that is not what DNA sequencing looks like now or in the future, ifingerprints are passe if USB sequencers are already ion production. sigh. Not looking forward to the destruction of Dick’s Bladerunner. Last worthy SF horror was Pandorum. And hey, still we watched Event Horizon the next day, it’s still a frikkin’ SF gem compared to the under-researched Prometheus. I agree, my biggest gripe is that it could have been so much more if a proper SF/good writer got hold of it (cue Gaiman, Mieville, dude who wrote/made MOON) also , maybe Fincher/De Torro as director. The cast can stay.

    Reply

    • Justin Hess

      June 15, 2012 at 16:51

      Agreed. The one thing I enjoy about Alien to this day (along with everything else) is the quiet logic of it. Not necessarily with regards to the Alien itself (acid for blood? You crazzzzzzy) but the way the crew approached things once they realized the situation they were in.

      Brett’s death as the classic “sneaking into a dark a dark space where you’re obviously going to be killed” is excusable as at that stage, they thought they were still dealing with a small rat sized creature.

      Nothing in Alien feels contrived or like forced plotting. It moves with a kind of sense and logic that’s rare for the horror genre. 

      The characters feel like people and they don’t do stupid, implausible, annoying shit. 

      That kind of logic, which worked so well in Alien, was what was so lacking in Prometheus

      Reply

  8. yeaitsjohnny

    September 13, 2013 at 12:56

    Its a prequel it covers the basics.. If you’re not into aliens/preds you won’t understand the depth this movies goes into. You really need to look into planet X and the origin of the “engineers” (blue giants; creator).

    Reply

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