From the very genesis of Ridley Scott’s most recent super-project, Prometheus, one thing was certain: this film felt “big”. Whether you were lobbying for the production scale, the hype surrounding the film in the months leading up to its release, the film’s relationship to the ‘Alien’ franchise, or even Ridley Scott’s two most recent films (Body of Lies – 54% on Rotten Tomatoes, Robin Hood – 52%), you had a strong case for any of these being most important aspect of the film’s long-term potential success or failure. When you factor in the release of at least three 2-4 minute videos that were meant to be viewed prior to seeing the film, it would have been easy enough to walk into the theater having predetermined what the taste left in your mouth would be as you walked out.
In a way, my preordained approval of the film helped save me questioning whether or not I actually enjoyed it. I walked out of it enjoying everything about the film that I knew I would enjoy from seeing the trailer. I knew the landscapes would be spectacular. I knew I would love the homage to ‘Alien’. Still, I had hoped I would leave the theater with more than that. It was like going to see your favorite comedian performing live, then getting there, and hearing him tell all the jokes the exact same way they were on the HBO special. You find yourself clapping after jokes in appreciation for how funny they were when you originally heard them, but very rarely do they produce genuine laughter.
The idea that a movie would be so deep and complex that the viewing experiences would be enhanced by watching somewhere in the ballpark of 6-10 minutes of footage that would never be in the film, prior to actually purchasing a ticket, was intriguing to me. I found myself more intrigued when I actually watched the informative short of the conception of the android David and then, also, the speech by Peter Weyland that was just cerebral enough to make you think this was more than a sci-fi movie.
And that is why I was slightly disappointed. To be fair, I really enjoyed Prometheus. From start to finish I was (more or less) on the edge of my seat. The film does a really great job at keeping the audience excited, tense, and ultimately interested in what is going on. At the same time though, there were so many areas where I was left wanting.
My biggest criticism of the film is its blatant, and almost offensive, lack of any build up. With the exception of perhaps two scenes, one of which is in the trailer and one of which features David exploring the foreign sub-structures on a rogue expedition, Scott doesn’t fully allow scenes to develop. If you were to compare that to the way he intricately allowed scenes (and even individual shots) from the original ‘Alien’ to take form, it would be like comparing a symphony to a rap album. That sentiment goes double for characters.
With the exception of Michael Fassbender’s David, no other character gets enough meaningful screen time to fully develop. I almost felt bad for how emotionally unattached I was to the characters as things started to go awry. As the film unfolds, the true criminality of the lack of development becomes apparent, and the audience can do nothing but sit there silently as they are robbed of what should have been far more intense and impactful scenes. It is easy to understand what emotions we are supposed to have towards the characters, but the fact that you never develop the relationships with those on screen is rather difficult to ignore.
Ultimately, the film proposes questions that it is either incapable, or unwilling, to answer. I don’t mind a film that asks me to interpret certain elements by reading between the lines, but there is certainly a limit to that sentiment. It seemed as though Prometheus was asking the viewer to read between the lines without ever providing the proper context to answer a number of the questions the film itself asks. It almost feels unfair. By the end of the film it was hard to tell whether Scott’s film was over-ambitious, or just noticeably shallow. For a film that has so many “big” elements, I think the biggest element of all ended up being what it was so obviously leaving off the table.