‘Prometheus:’ five years later, still shitty

Images courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Prometheus is probably the most famously bad movie in recent memory.

Well, no, there are a lot of people who would pretty condescendingly disagree with that. Maybe it’s the most often defended bad movie in recent memory?

The worst good movie in recent memory. Yeah, that’ll do. Prometheus is by far the worst good movie of the past several years.

On the eve of the film’s followup, it’s time to break down some of the arguments in its favor and why they don’t hold up to scrutiny.

It’s filled with religious references

Yeah, so’s your racist uncle.

This is Prometheus’ most consistent defense, because it really is a very smart movie.

The smartest bad movie of the past few years, that’s good.

The film is an exploration of ancient astronauts theory, the theory that the miracles described in various world religions can be explained by aliens visiting and helping to shape ancient cultures, brought into the mainstream by Erich von Däniken’s 1968 novel, Chariots of the Gods. It’s a theory that mostly gets laughed at, but can’t really be proven or disproven any more than the religious myths themselves.

The film casts the mysterious engineers as humanity’s creators, and in one draft even made explicit that Jesus of Nazareth was one of them. Director Ridley Scott, whose interest in the ancient astronaut theory drove the film, thought that was too on-the-nose, but the mingling of Christian and alien imagery saturates the film, from the engineer’s sacrifice so that Earth might flourish in the opening scene, to the shrine-like image of a xenomorph with its arms splayed as if on the cross, to the serpents that guard the alien ship’s forbidden knowledge to the consumption of alien blood being a key step forward.

Additionally, the planetoid’s designation, LV-223, is commonly taken as a reference to Leviticus 22:3, which reads-

Say unto them, Whosoever he be of all your seed among your generations, that goeth unto the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow unto the Lord, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from my presence: I am the Lord.

The “Prometheus'” unclean crew going unto the holy things, seeking dangerous knowledge of their origins and being slaughtered for it — the only survivor is devout Christian Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) — is the main body of the film.

The film also, obviously, follows in the path of the titular Greek titan Prometheus, who stole fire from Mount Olympus and gave to man, our first technology. For this, he was bound to the side of the mountain and forced to endure his liver being ripped out every day. This is graphically recreated in Shaw’s own trial, when she has a foreign body removed from her abdomen in by far the film’s most effective scene.

This kind of thoughtfulness is Prometheus’ inarguable merit, it just doesn’t make it fun to watch.

The most thoughtful bad movie of the past several years? No, stick with the other one.

The characters aren’t stupid, their actions are explained in the extended cut

This is where things start to fall apart.

One of the most common complaints levied against Prometheus is how numbingly stupid some of its characters are. This complaint normally centers around ship biologist Millburn (Rafe Spall), one of the first crew to be killed when he discovers a snake-like alien, which in-cannon is the first ever encounter between a human and a multi-cellular extra-terrestrial life form, and immediately pokes it in the face-

There actually is a lot of backstory to this scene explaining Millburn’s casualness with the alien. The script developed a short bromance between he and the other victim, ship geologist Fifield (Sean Harris), whom Millburn was trying to impress with his devil-may-care attitude. Also, in another cut scene, Millburn and Fifield had already encountered another much friendlier life form, supposedly a version of this snake that hadn’t been exposed to the engineer’s mutating blood, bolstering Millburn’s confidence when dealing with this much more dangerous creature.

This fills in a lot of the blanks of this scene — and the more you look into it, the more blanks get filled by deleted content. But it doesn’t make Millburn look like any less of an idiot to the average viewer, and begs the question of why the film was cut to make him look like such a tool. This is a consistent problem across Prometheus, with almost every character getting helpful background that wasn’t shown in the final film.

Guy Pearce was supposed to appear as a younger man

One of these cut background scenes had Guy Pearce’s Peter Weyland appearing as a younger man, someone who Guy Pearce actually has business playing, in a scene that lays the film’s thematic groundwork much better than anything in the final cut (skip to 5:40 in the clip)-

There was also going to be a scene of David (Michael Fassbender) looking in on Weyland while he was dreaming and seeing that he still thinks of himself as a younger man.

The much older Max von Sydow was lined up to play the character before these scenes were conceived, but Scott liked the idea and got Pearce to do it, then cut every scene that he brought in Pearce specifically to do.

Obviously, none of this addresses the unholy flubbing of his old man makeup-

This is really the heart of all Prometheus’ problems — its best and often its most important scenes are scattered around the cutting room floor. Supposedly this is because Scott was more concerned with making a movie that flowed properly, but he ended up making one with no flow at all. This is best illustrated in two climactic scenes — which I can’t find clips for — one in which Weyland confronts an engineer, and another in which the same engineer hunts down Shaw. In both scenes, the tension is relieved immediately — the engineer kills Weyland without uttering a word, and Shaw gets out of his chokehold after just a few moments. There’s an entire conversation cut from the first scene and an entire game of cat and mouse cut from the second, all for the apparent sake of saving time, but that isn’t time you want to save. A movie, particularly a thriller, should spend as much time at the height of tension as possible — the audience should be on the edge of its seat wondering what’s going to happen. Structurally, this is where the excitement is. Cutting straight from conflict to resolution makes for a boring movie.

This is film 101 stuff, all of which is obviously applicable to the original Alien, still the gold standard for thrillers-

There is no silver bullet theory, no way of understanding Prometheus that makes it good. It’s very fascinating, but — it’s the most fascinating bad movie in the past several years. That’s it, that’s the one.

It’s the most fascinating bad movie in the past several years, but mechanically, it’s nothing more than a long series of extremely poor writing and editing decisions.

But what about Michael Fassbender?

I, too, need a consistent Fassbender fix, but there are much better sources. Like this clip from Steve Jobs-

Or this clip from Steve Jobs-

Or this clip from Steve Jobs-

As a matter of fact, he’ll be in Alien: Covenant, which is supposedly not a shitty movie. Then again, so was Prometheus.

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One Response to ‘Prometheus:’ five years later, still shitty

  1. Pingback: ‘Alien: Covenant’ is everything wrong with filmmaking in 2017 | Reel Entropy

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