Serious Prometheus is Serious

So, I saw Prometheus last weekend, and amidst the mini-dramas of that weekend, and assorted things happening this week, have been stewing on it and what I thought about it. In the meantime, I’ve been reading assorted other opinions, which seem divided between two camps: either whoa hoa, that is one metric buttload of What-Is-This-I-Don’t-Even or oh hai guize this movie was deeeeeep. Sadly, I’ve come to agree more with the former than the latter, which is not what I went into the theater expecting or hoping to do.

As far as action and spectacle are concerned, it was entertaining enough. It checked off most of the Alien prequel plot points in satisfying ways (save for one glaring bit, the name of the planet itself). And Michael Fassbender’s David seemed to be living in another, much more fascinating movie. But… but…

There are enough bits in the story that either contradict one another or just float off on their own that it made me wonder whether the script supervisor did any actual supervising. There’s the geologist who makes a very heated point about getting the hell away from the scary dead giant things, but then is seen loitering about later doing scientific things as if nothing had happened. There’s the escape-and-self-surgery scene involving Noomi Rapace’s character, very thrillingly told, save that it’s like a set piece that affects very little of what happens afterward, except at the very end. Basically, things that the characters do and say for no other reason than the movie needs them to do and say these things to get on to the next plot point, regardless of whether they seem even remotely plausible or in-character.

So, okay, not great, but hardly worse than a lot of movies out there, right? Well, yeah. But then you get to the deep philosophical stuff. Or, should I type, the Deep Philosophical Stuff… because that’s what the makers seem to think they have on their hands, and take every opportunity of making sure we in the audience know it. Big Questions on the origins of life, the meaning of existence, the quest for truth, and all that, all delivered with ham-fisted obviousness and larded with juicy, juicy smug. (Yeah, yeah, like I’m the one to criticize that…)

I could forgive even that, though, if they didn’t also sidestep or postpone having to come up with answers. This is basically a movie that desperately wants to score points for invoking big debates on science vs. religion, fate vs. destiny, etc., without actually having the debates, nevermind choosing sides. Without that, all the Deep Posing that goes on in the movie never stops feeling like Posing.

Say what you want about the Alien vs. Predator movies… at least they were dumb action movies that knew they were just dumb action movies and never pretended to be anything else. I knew going into those to set the bar low, and could enjoy them for what they were. With Prometheus, I expected more, and was rewarded with a dumb action movie that thinks it’s smart and knows it’s Important. If it backed up that attitude with substance to match, or at least a story structure that didn’t make me want to slap it, I’m sure I could have like it a lot more.

But, like I said, the action bits and the overall spectacle were good. And Michael Fassbender is really good. I can’t say I wasn’t entertained, even while I was being vexed. I watched a matinee, so I didn’t feel too ripped off. But… but… (le sigh).


Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light. His blog originates here.

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