Horror In Our Time: Prometheus (2012)

The story of Prometheus is that of a being that came from the gods in order to give a gift to humanity. That gift was fire, with all of the metaphors and symbolism that have always been wrapped around the concept of fire to humanity. Needless to say, it wasn’t life; that was a different popular myth.

Ridley Scott’s latest film famously makes use of this myth to set up its status as a prequel to the Alien quadrilogy and to base its mythology upon. How well does it do with this?

Well, it begins with a common visual reference between civilizations thousands of years apart. Wait, I remember this plot point: all of the pyramid-building civilizations were united by the fact that they were visitation points of Yautja who impregnated human sacrifices with Xenomorphs! Actually, this is completely unrelated. Instead, each of these civilizations shows images of a giant man pointing to a constellation. If you’re supposing that this man is apparently a visitor from a species that took pity on these civilizations and gave them their amazing technology, you clearly have a better grasp of symbolism than the writers of this film.

No, these are the Engineers, apparently a species that genetically engineered humanity. Or something like that. Thankfully, we don’t get any concrete answers that are impossible to learn empirically, but we do find out that their DNA is a 100% genetic match to a human sample. If you’re trying to figure out what human sample matched up a paternity test with a white-skinned man that stands a head over Hagrid, it’s because you have more patience than I do. I realized this film was insulting me much earlier on, before the title sequence, when I was barraged with five minutes of β€œHey, this is 3-D! Aren’t you watching this in 3-D? Come on, look at this, it’s 3-D!”

That’s not to say it’s all bad. While the concepts of science, symbolism, and continuity were too much for the writers to grasp, they clearly took a note from the more popular films in the franchise when they set to work on the characters. Ignoring for the moment the fact that every Executive in Weyland (later Weyland-Yutani) Corp is evil, they always control an android and their founder is practically Emperor Palpatine without any attempt at a disguise, the dialogue is very… 80s. I don’t mean the whole neon, punk, mohawk Bebop and Rocksteady thing. I mean the way 1980s’ horror dialogue is so very… alive. It’s all very natural and you feel entertained just by the characters being themselves, before the horror interrupts them. This helps you form a bond with even characters whose actions are selfish and in many ways seems to be a lost art of character direction that you don’t see much any more. Lately it seems that characters are defined by which ones you hate less than the others or by which one is less bland; in the 80s, this wasn’t the case.

This is what the characters in Prometheus feel like: a return to the 1980s. With the singular exception of officers in Weyland Corp, characters are alive, with their own fears and their own motivations. You don’t see every detail, because they’re not all the focus and there are more people in the room than there were in Aliens, but you’re aware that it’s all there.

As for the world, when you get over the inherent condescension of a modern 3-D film, in an era where glasses aren’t needed for 3-D when the film makers put effort into it, it’s functional and pretty well made. The CGI is excellent, and the only effect that I would have done differently is one scene with unrealistically light gore, that I think was done more in maintaining the sterile feel of the original film than anything else.

Although H.R. Giger returned for the art design, I’ve got to say it doesn’t feel like him. Everything feels smoother, calmer, altogether less unsettling than what I’ve come to expect from Giger’s work. This rings true for the various aliens as well; it all feels simplified. I suppose there’s a logic in using that approach for a prequel, but when it comes to Sci-Fi, I think that time isn’t really proportionate enough to display great differences in design. To further demonstrate what I mean, these creatures were flying to Earth and back over thirty five thousand years ago. Somehow, the fifty-seven year gap between Alien and Aliens doesn’t seem so great, does it?

By the way, my reference to the Emperor earlier wasn’t an accidental thing. In watching this film, I took note of no less than six occurrences of details pulled straight from the Star Wars films. While half of these could be written off as unintentional or as common design elements, but two of the early plot points and even the design of the alien ship at the end screamed β€œStar Wars rip-off!” to me.

While the characters are likable and well written and the set and costume design excellent, the science, mythology and even the alien backgrounds don’t make the same kind of sense. The effect is similar to that of a comic book with excellently drawn foreground figures and backgrounds made of action lines and blurred colors. It doesn’t make the end product unwatchable, but it also prevents me from calling it a good film, either. With a little more respect for the audience and a closer look at the symbolism that made up so much of the point of this screenplay, this could have been one of the better films of the franchise, but as is, it hovers somewhere around the area of Alien: Resurrection and Alien versus Predator on the sliding scale of Alien to Alien 3.


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