'Prometheus' offers good-looking disappointment

June 11, 2012 

Director Ridley Scott presented himself a pretty ludicrous challenge with Prometheus.

The movie is a semi-prequel to Scott's classic Alien, which came out in 1979. Do you know how long ago that was? I wasn't even born then. Jimmy Carter was President, and he rode to the White House every morning on the back of a dodo. Except it wasn't called the White House, because white hadn't been invented yet. Students: this is a true story you should reference on your history exams.

-- Local show times, theaters, trailer.

The only similar situation I can think of to this (Prometheus, not the dodo-riding) is the Star Wars prequels, and by rule of law I can't say any more about those lest I be flung into the Pit of Cartoonish Characters, where I'll be slowly digested over the course of a 1,000 years. The joke would be on them -- I'd probably die after 300! -- but then I would have way too much Animal Hoarders to catch up on. I'm just going to leave it alone. Anyway, that's where the similarities end. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, someone might actually want to watch Prometheus again.

In 2089, archaeologists Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green make the latest in a string of shocking discoveries: ancient cave paintings that imply humanity was created by an alien species Rapace calls the Engineers. And a map for where to find them.

Soon, the Weyland Corporation launches a mission to find out whether humanity's makers are still there. On arrival, Rapace finds evidence of the Engineers. They're all dead -- but the thing that killed them isn't.

OK, so Prometheus is better than Phantom Menace. What a high bar to clear! It's also better than an animal shelter's garbage and every known form of plague. That still hasn't addressed whether it's any good.

The answer is yes and no. Well, that's my answer, anyway. I assume other people have different ones. Worse ones. Anyway, in Prometheus' favor: it looks gorgeous. I feel like I say this about every other movie that comes out these days, but I'll stop saying it when it stops impressing me. The landscapes of Prometheus feel otherworldly. Even the few set on Earth. In fact, watching it was like watching an episode of Planet Earth, except instead of cute little penguins there are slimy space monsters.

Also, the beginning of this movie is just grand. It's weird and spooky and well-edited, rapidly sketching out the gist of what's happening before launching the crew into space, where fastidious android Michael Fassbender oversees the two-year journey while passing the time with hilariously eccentric behavior.

Then Prometheus becomes another entry in the genre of "ensemble crew gets brutalized one by one by hideous ETs who bear an awful resemblance to human genitals."

Which is all well and good. I like watching people get slaughtered by space-hoohas as much as I like coffee, which is to say I start each and every morning with it. But Prometheus doesn't bring anything new to the table. The characters are two-dimensional, if that. There's some interesting thematic material involving the relationship between creator and created, but writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof don't ever pull it together. Shocking, considering they were also involved in the writing of The Darkest Hour and Lost, respectively.

Scott's too good for it to devolve into an out-and-out failure. Even as the characters become too stupid to live and the plot cannibalizes Alien and its imitators, Prometheus remains well-paced and visually stunning. I left the theater feeling pretty good about it.

But then I thought about it. And I felt less good. Because lots of Prometheus makes no sense. Part of that is intentional, which I like, but a lot of it isn't, which I don't. Then again, maybe the characters are foolish because this is an alternate universe where everything is foolish. Prometheus has the look and feel of a great movie, but for a movie that looks so stunning, it sure doesn't hold up to close scrutiny.

Grade: B-

* Contact Ed Robertson at edwrobertson@gmail.com. His fiction is available on Kindle, Nook, and through Smashwords.

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