Though it’s been a few weeks since it came out, Prometheus is still weighing heavy on my mind. Like a double rainbow, I’m still asking the question, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?. And one thing that has caught my attention, from my appearance on the LAMBcast discussing the film, to the myriad of reviews I’ve read, was how vehement some of the hate was. I thought the movie was pretty great, so I was interested to engage in a dialogue with one who felt differently.
Lucky for me, Tom Clift is a major hater! So, in the interest of expanding my viewpoints, I shot him an e-mail, and what followed turned into a heated conversation as we each tried to prove the other wrong. I leave the decision of who won to you. Read on!
GUTIERREZ: So, we’ve both seen Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, the supposed prequel to Alien. And it seems we have pretty different opinions on them. Why don’t we start with your opinion on the film. Why didn’t you think it was all that?
CLIFT: I fully admit that part of my disappointment in the film comes from heightened expectations.The trailers were all excellent (if, as it turns out, riddled with spoilers), and the first two films in the Alien franchise are both amongst my favourite movies of all time.
GUTIERREZ: So you admit that some your disappointment stemmed from heightened expectations. Now, I’m with you on the trailers. They were amazing! But, were one of the people who went in expecting more of an ALIEN prequel? Did that factor in to your disappointment once you saw it was more of its own thing?
CLIFT: I’m not sure the extent to which I was expecting an ALIEN prequel, but I knew I didn’t want one. I’m again prequels in general, a) because you know where the story is going to end up, and b) because they take away the mystery of the initial film which made the series so enticing. I can’t be the only person who found the reveal as to where the xenomorph came from totally underwhelming, can I? So I think my expectations were more about seeing Ridley Scott return to science fiction. Personally I don’t think he’s made a great film in over a decade, but ALIEN and BLADERUNNER are both genre masterpieces.
GUTIERREZ: You weren’t the only one who was disappointed by the xenomorph. I’m interested to see where the franchise goes from here though, since that xenomorph looked very different than the ones we know. I didn’t necessarily want an Alien prequel, but I wasn’t going to say no to it, especially if it meant Ridley Scott would return to sci-fi. What else?
CLIFT: Well, beyond a fans disappointment, Prometheus has serious problems. With the exception of those played by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, the characters are all seriously underdeveloped and frequently idiotic, behaving in ways that the script requires them to without any regard of motivation of common sense.
GUTIERREZ: I will consent that many of the characters don’t do much to overcome their predisposed traits, but it was really only noticeable, for me anyway, in the two scientists, Fifeild and Millburn. Charlize Theron’s Vickers was the company drone we’ve seen in the franchise many times before, but she did very well with it, regardless. And I thought Idris Elba’s Captain Janek was very good as well. But, it didn’t really matter to me all that much because Rapace and Fassbender were the focus of the movie, and their characters are very well developed.
CLIFT: Those two scientists were pretty one dimensional, but what about the rest of the ship’s crew? We’re told very specifically that there are 17 people on board Prometheus, and I don’t think we even get names for more than about half of them. For instance, those two co-pilots? They had maybe ten lines between them throughout the whole film, so how can Scott expect us (spoiler alert) to be moved or inspired when they sacrifice themselves by crashing this ship? I can’t say I thought Vickers or Captain Janek were very well developed either (that “reveal” about Vicker’s parentage was cringe-worthy). But you’re right, both actors did as much as they good with limited material, and I thought their interactions were amongst the best parts of the film).
GUTIERREZ: You know, I was going to mention that. You’re right about the number of crew members. I think, apart from the main 4, we only learned the names of another 4. Maybe 6. Those pilots were the only ones I felt any sort of connection to. They weren’t there so that plot could manipulate them, and they didn’t have all that big of an impact, but their rapport made them feel more like real characters to me than the two scientists.
CLIFT: I guess it would have been hard to give all the crewmembers personalities, but then I think of Alien and Aliens, where even the minor characters were memorable.
GUTIERREZ: Yes with Alien, which I just re-watched, but then the crew there was tiny. It’s even better in the Director’s Cut. Not true with Aliens! The only crew members I got to know there, apart from Ripley, Hicks, and Burke, were the survivors of the initial attack. Like, there a crap ton of marines at the outset, but I didn’t feel a lot as they got slaughtered.
CLIFT: But at least the marines all had traits: they were marines! There was at least something you could say about the characters, even if you didn’t know their names. In PROMETHEUS, nada!
GUTIERREZ: Well, guess I need to watch Aliens again, cuz I don’t recall knowing anything about most of the marines other than the fact that they were marines. With that argument, you could very easily say that it was enough to know that the scientists on Prometheus were scientists.
CLIFT: Fair point, that was poorly phrased. I guess what I meant was that the marines were entertainingly one-dimensional, whereas the scientists were blandly one-dimensional.
GUTIERREZ: Fair enough. Anything else?
CLIFT: Well, I don’t feel that any of the themes the film purports to deal with are explored beyond a surface level, and the ambiguous nature of the engineer’s origins and behaviours comes across not as fascinating, but lazy on the half of the writers. I don’t object to leaving questions unanswered, but especially when their motivations play a big part in the climatic action sequences, it starts to become problematic. The action in general was another issue – while it was tense and often horrifying in the moment, most of them felt shoehorned in, and had little effect on the overall story.
GUTIERREZ: As to the themes, I do feel like the film bit off a tiny bit more than it could chew, but it still resonated with me. Whether or not the writers were lazy or anything, they still presented ideas that got me thinking, and led to some heated conversations post-viewing. I saw the movie twice, once with my dad, who saw it later with my mother, and then again with my brother. Both times, the car rides home/post-show dinner were dominated by debates on what was going on, what it all meant, and what the point of it all really was. Those post-show conversations are what made the movie a success in my eyes. Thoughts?
And yeah, some of the action did feel shoehorned, especially the scene where the infected Fifeild attacks the ship, which is the only scene that was flat out unnecessary for me. But, for the most part, I found it to be exciting, chilling, and right in line with what we’ve come to expect from Ridley Scott. How bout that surgery scene, eh?
CLIFT: The attack by Fifeild is one example, but I’d also include the storm sequence, and climax and yes, even the self-surgery scene. The first felt very much like an instance of the screenwriters realizing they gone half a movie with no action. The second, probably the one I hated most, felt like a cop-out on what themes the film had presented: we’re going on the quest to find the creator of life on planet earth, and when we find him he…beats us up? And then decides to destroy humanity…why, exactly? The surgery scene was tense and horrific to be sure, but it didn’t work for me because ultimately, it had no consequences. Her being impregnated had nothing to do with the story AT ALL. Plus the imagery of her stomach bulging with an alien creature was so blatant an homage to the original film that I found it distracting.
I’ll give you that the movie sparks plenty of interesting debate – any movie that doesn’t answer all its questions does. I admire Prometheus for being a blockbuster not primarily concerned with action (although perhaps if it had been, what action we got would have been better), but ultimately, I don’t think its ideas are all that interesting or ambitious. Alluding to religion, faith, the origins of life, etc, is a very different thing to actually exploring them. For that, I blame the writers.
GUTIERREZ: I forgot about the storm sequence (shows how important it really was), but I had no problem with the ending. The movie had already established that we had done something to piss them off, so it was ok with me that the engineer goes ape shit when we wake him up. And the surgery scene has a ton to do with the movie. Not only is it exciting, but it seems to me like that’s the peak of Shaw’s arc, where she goes from the naive, carefree scientist to a survivor. Excluding the fact the scene sees the birth of the first face hugger, it still had more going on. At least, I thought so.
CLIFT: That scene does mean something to her as a character, but it just felt so disconnected from the plot. Fassbot plans to put her into cryo for the journey back home, but then she escapes and gets the alien out and he’s just like “no biggie”.
GUTIERREZ: I don’t know. I don’t think Fassbot was ever all that serious about putting her into cryo. I think for the same reason he infected Charlie with the black goo, he just wanted to see what Shaw would do and how far she would go. It’s his robotic curiosity and his desire to further understand his makers that’s driving him there.
CLIFT: You’re quite possibly right about Fassbot’s motivation, but it’s still frustrating from an audience perspective: I spent the entire rest of the film thinking about how consequences-less and disconnected that sequence was…not to mention, Shaw is running around a few hours after major surgery? I don’t think so.
GUTIERREZ: I attribute her running around a few hours after surgery to crazy awesome future space drugs. That kind of stuff I just let slide. I mean, they can build a completely lifelike human replica that walks and talks, so the advent of some super fast acting healing agent doesn’t seem so far fetched.
CLIFT: Space drugs? I dunno man…it’s plausible, but I think at a certain point you’re making excuses for the film. Which is fine, if that allows you to enjoy the flick, but I don’t think there’s any actual evidence in the movie to support that claim.
GUTIERREZ:o you think that you would have responded better to the film if you hadn’t gone in with the knowledge that it was tied into Alien, and if the marketing hadn’t been so excellent, do you think you would have responded more favorably?
CLIFT: You may be right that some of the dissapointment from people is because of the Alien connection, but as you also said, there’d definitely still be criticism. Although frankly, anyone who was expecting great things just because it had to do with Alien was probably kidding themselves from the start…because if you count the AvP movies, only one third of that franchise is even good, let alone great.
GUTIERREZ: Ok, true, the ALIEN franchise is not the most consistent in existence, but I think that the franchise was returned to the hands of it’s creator had a lot to do with the hype. I still think if they hadn’t played up the fact that it was even connected to ALIEN at all, there wouldn’t be as much hate being thrown around.
Ok, let’s wrap this up. You have real problems with the film, but would you still recommend it? There have been lots of weak, and dare I say, bad movies that are definitely worth watching. What say you?
CLIFT: Do I recommend it? At this point, no. I contend that it is a legitimately poor film, and the only reason that it might be worth seeing is to talk about it, like we’ve been doing. But its been out a couple of weeks now, and I think it’s already pretty much left the popular consciousness. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s a movie we’ll be talking about in years to come.
GUTIERREZ: Well, I would recommend it, still. Yeah, there are problems, but, on a whole, I still think the movie succeeded. It certainly didn’t lack for entertainment, from my point of view. And I think this could be one we’ll be talking about in a few years. That it’s left the public consciousness for now is more a symptom of the summer movie season, rather than the fact that anyone’s forgotten about it. Final thoughts?
CLIFT: I think that about wraps it up. You’re right, there’s no way to tell the extent to which the film will enter the popular consciousness this soon after the release. Lets regroup in five years to argue some more!
GUTIERREZ: Sounds good!