If we are being honest, Ridley Scott is not a director worthy of his reputation. His 1970s were certainly pretty sterling; he entered the world with a very good, if inessential, period-piece parable in the under-seen The Duellists, and then down-tuned sci-fi to elemental levels of fear with the masterful Alien, one of the greatest genre films ever made. Not wanting to be type-cast at the turn of the ’80s, he upped himself through transposing his native science fiction into another genre, not quite as openly horrific, but with no less to say about humanity’s fears: the noir. The resulting film, Blade Runner, is his masterpiece. The ensuing three decades and more have seen him shoot sloppily back and forth between chasing former glories unsuccessfully and entering the bold, exciting new territory of … stripping the cinematic magic whole cloth from the period piece and turning the genre into a drab excuse for materialist rationalism. Again. And again. And again.
Science fiction was in vogue in the late ’70s, largely due to the success of George Lucas’ Star Wars, which kick-started perhaps the greatest popular revolution in American film history and drove the medium to new commercial heights. Of course, it saw mixed results for the art-form: a rebirth of genre filmmaking married to the deadening and eventual end of the New Hollywood drama which had married classical themes to European New Wave modes of storytelling to brilliant effect and which, in fact, made American film interesting after a long drop-off in the ’60s. After Star Wars, many studios grew less interested in drama and shifted toward pop commercialism, aiming for big, big, and bigger at the expense of nuance.
In the midst of this transition, many filmmakers didn’t know what to do. Left with the choice of going “pop” or going further into independent art films, many succeeded at neither and floundered. However, one of the late-bloomers of the New Hollywood, someone who hailed from Britain unlike most of his brethren and who had given us one solid film in The Duellists, clearly saw the change coming and knew he had to adapt. He also knew, truly, that new genres didn’t necessarily mean fluffy ones. After all, Stanley Kubrick had given the film world one of its most esoteric, most haunted pieces of chilly intellectualism in the sci-fi genre, so why couldn’t others follow suit?
Watching Prometheus provokes more of a shrug than anything, but it’s not an entirely hopeless shrug. It misses the mark, but it’s reasonably entertaining in doing so, has at least one terrifying scene, and ponders big questions about the nature of the world and the relationship between science and religion. Thankfully, it doesn’t give easy answers either, but that comes off more as a result of not addressing the questions as much as it could have.
The narrative, as it is, plays kind-of like a remake of Ridley Scott’s first Alien film even though it insists on its prequel status. Essentially, a bunch of characters venturing to a far-off alien land meet the neighbors before everything goes awry. The film is, thankfully, sufficiently meaty and fleshy to earn its semi-horror stamp, but it’s more interested in pondering things like science vs. religion and man’s ego and “what is man?” and all those tried-and-true sci-fi ideas that, to be honest, used to be a whole lot more interesting before they were pummeled to death. A bigger problem, however, is that the film feels like a weird off-the-wall mixture of body-horror and kind-of incoherent, esoteric sci-fi musings about “the state of things”. I’m all for a game attempt at style-bending, but this one bounces from evisceration to idea to evisceration to idea and it’s awfully easy to walk away waving your hands up in confusion and never really being able to put them down. The film tries a lot and doesn’t succeed especially well at any one thing, but at least it is trying a lot in the first place. Continue reading