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Scott Mendelson

Scott Mendelson
Location
Woodland Hills, California, United States
Birthday
April 02
Bio
A ten-year Salon reader, Mendelson also has a film and politics blog/column at Mendelon's Memos: located at: http://scottalanmendelson.blogspot.com/. He is also a free lance voice over artist and occasionally contributes film reviews for www.ValleySceneMagazine.com.

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JUNE 7, 2012 12:32PM

Open Salon review: Prometheus (2012)

Rate: 12 Flag
Prometheus
2012
124 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Come what may, Prometheus is a mid-level version of what it is.  By that, I mean it is, in the end, a somewhat generic Alien/The Thing-type horror film.  It is mostly science-fiction only in that it takes place in the future and involves inter-stellar travel.  Its 'big ideas' can be summed up in two sentences, and they are not only not-revolutionary but recognizable to probably 90% of the viewing audience.  It has some truly wonderful visuals and it's arguably worth seeing once purely for some of the images it creates.  But as a full-blown movie it doesn't quite work. Like Super 8, it gets tied up with horror elements in its last half that its filmmakers don't truly care about and feel like a commercial concession.  Like last summer's botched 80s-Spielberg homage, Prometheus takes advantage of a genre audience so worn down by threatened reboots and remakes that it seems almost groundbreaking that this film is merely a glorified rip-off of earlier genre entries of this nature.  While advertised as an original science-fiction epic with tangential ties to the existing Alien franchise, it really is a bigger budgeted and better cast variation of that specific template.  Despite must-see production values and some genuinely compelling imagery, it's somewhat closer in quality to The Thing 2011 than The Thing 1982.

Since the marketing campaign has pretended to be cryptic while in fact being quite spoiler-filled, I will try to reveal less than the marketing chose to.  After a discovery that drops a big clue about the origins of mankind, a team of 17 hop aboard a spaceship to travel to a distant world that may hold answers to the various 'big questions' of human existence.  Of course the scientists immediately find what they are looking for, they record and log the scientific proof of their groundbreaking discoveries, and everyone goes home safely with fortune and glory awaiting them.  I jest, but what they find or how explicitly things turn south I won't reveal here.  I will say not to expect too many mind-blowing plot twists as there aren't any.  What's left unspoiled is merely the existence of storytelling past the second act.  It seems that in this day-and-age, the very fact that a film actually has its story unfold over all three acts qualifies any third-act narrative beats as 'shocking plot twists!' (essay).  

Other than a few lead characters (personified by Nooni Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba), the vast majority of the humans are blank slates and even the film doesn't bother to care when a number of them start dying.  This is clearly a film more concerned with visuals and its alleged big ideas than with any kind of viewer investment in the people partaking in the journey.  Back in the 1980s and 1990s, a film that put emphasis on special effects and set design over character was a prototypical bad film, but I guess times have changed.  It's fitting that the most engaging and interesting character is not a human but rather a robot, played with duplicitous charm by Michael Fassbender.  His interactions with the lead characters make up the bulk of the engaging dialogue scenes in a screenplay otherwise lacking in thoughtful dialogue.  It's one thing when you don't care about characters in a genre film, but it's quite another when the filmmakers clearly don't care about them.

As for its alleged profundities, its centered around an age-old theory that most of us first heard about in grade school (highlight to reveal: Chariots of the Gods), yet Ridley Scott and company seem to treat it as never-before explored scientific territory.  Most frustratingly, the film teases at some indeed interesting questions brought about by third-act revelations, but it refuses to answer them instead using said concepts as cliffhanger material for a theoretical sequel.  There are moments of good storytelling peppered here and there, especially in the first act (the prologue is flat-out spectacular).  But the second act gets caught up in halfhearted horror elements (really halfhearted, as in the film loses track of its own body count), first aping the likes of Alien, then moving on to a mostly forgotten 2000 science-fiction drama (hint - *not* Red Planet) before somewhat riffing during the third act on another more recent science-fiction film that ironically shares at least one cast member.  There are moments of visual wonder and at least one outstanding scene of squirm-inducing horror (which is the prime reason for the film's R-rating, natch), but overall it fails to compensate for the lack of interesting characters or a narrative that goes beyond the template for the genre.

Prometheus is grandly ambitious in scale and visual scope, using its $130 million budget quite well, as every penny is clearly onscreen.  The 3D may be useless to the film, but it looks fine and shooting in the format has forced Ridley Scott, like Michael Bay last year, to tone down the 80-cuts a minute editing style personified by Gladiator and Black Hawk Down.  If you choose to see it and can handle 3D, do seek out an IMAX screen for this one.  This film is shot and edited in a classical style, with big sweeping shots plus long and fluid takes.  The picture looks spectacular, and there are indeed moments of must-see visual splendor.  But the size of the film masks what it basically a mega-budget revamp of, if not quite Alien per-se, an Alien-type film.  There is no harm with Prometheus merely being a B-level science-fiction horror film dressed up in A-level production values.  But the film fails to engage beyond its visuals, with lackluster characters, too few moments of genuine terror or even compelling violence, plus allegedly big ideas that are rehashed from other sources without any unique spin to justify the recycling.

Those expecting a game-changing science-fiction masterwork will be painfully disappointed.  Those expecting merely a top-notch variation on the sci-fi "And Then There Were None" template will be only slightly disappointed.  Only those who came purely for the eye candy will feel they got their money's worth.  Despite all the pomp and circumstance, Prometheus ends up being another scenario on that dry-erase board from Cabin in the Woods.

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I have not been interested in horror films for 8 years. They bore me silly. This one sounds visually appealing for only about the first half. Guess i'll skip it entirely. Thanks for the review.
R
You just saved me the price of admission. Thank you!
Thank you, Mr. Mendelson. You actually reviewed the movie. Mr. O'Hehir of Real Salon didn't review the film, so much as reiterate how much he doesn't understand and doesn't like science fiction. Worse, comments weren't permitted on his post, on the front page of Real Salon. It was only when the review was moved to the archives that responses were possible.

Frankly, I've seen so much hype about this film that I presumed there was little of value in it. Perhaps the PR campaign was the real creative effort in this film, rather than the film itself. It teased people; "is this or is it not a prequel to Alien?"

Inasmuch as everyone's movie budget is sparse these days, and the desire to do something original is even more sparse in Hollywood, reviews by people who understand the genre under question are even more valuable. From the bottom of my cold, dark heart, thank you.
That's too bad. Noomi Rapace deserves a script that would really introduce her talent to American audiences.
I saw it a couple of days ago. Special effects were reasonably good but no reason to see another take on the Alien standard and the scientific reasoning was non-existent. I am pretty turned off on alien monsters with apparently super-civilization capabilities acting like angry dinosaurs rather than displaying their avowed super intellect. Insofar as I am concerned it wasn't worth the admission price.
Saw the film yesterday. Totally disagree. Visually stunning. Well cast. A compelling narrative that continues to explore the themes of Scott's previous Sci Fi masterpieces "Alien" and "Blade Runner'.

Ridley Scott has always been a master of set design and dark ambience. He doesn't disappoint here. I'm often disappointed with 3D and find it overused and abused. Scott, like the artist he is, adds it effectively to his palette without beating us over the head with it and has utilised it more impressively than any director to date.

I agree that Michael Fastbinder's performance as David was a standout but I also felt the performances from Theron, Alba and Repace had depth, texture and verisimilitude. Admittedly, the film belongs in many ways to Fastbinder. He is superb. But as always Scott has a way of adding dimension and insight to character with simple stunning scenes...eg...the vignette of Charlize Theron doing push ups...shot face on at low angle...immediately establishing her cold predatory character...a crouching tigress. The naive enthusiasm and innocent vulnerability of Repace's character captured succinctly in one or two quick vignettes .

This is not an "Alien" redo and it seems a little trite to compare it with "Cabin in the Woods". I don't think "Prometheus" can easily be slotted or categorised as horror.

Eye candy? Abso-bloody-lutely!...but eye candy that enhances narrative and creates a solid atmosphere and ambience. As always Scott creates images that haunt you well after the viewing...whether it's machine gun cartridges raining down from a Black Hawk Helicopter...the "Paradise Lost" imagery of futuristic Los Angeles in the opening scenes of "Blade Runer" or the simply lit and stunningly simple low angle shot of Charlize Theron in feline attack mode.

We agree to disagree on this one. Still an interesting review...thanks for posting. Cheers.
Blade Runner was something else and not relevant. It had great plotting and wonderful character development and terrific special effects.
Prometheus had the effects but the story development came nowhere near the great progression in the original Alien. The scientific premise that humans were some sort of artificial invention by a superior race goes against all huge scientific evidence that humans were derived from previous Earth species and to separate humans from other Earth species is groundless SF bullshit. The plot elements of a one surviving woman and an untrustworthy robot is pure copy from the original Alien. What I found particularly objectionable was the degrading of an individual from a superior civilization into a giant monster with no mental capabilities whatsoever. Humans were ethically superior in the film and current and past human history is clear indication that humans deserve, at minimum, some analytical criticism from a superior culture. It was great visual experience and lousy science fiction.
One other interesting point, and that holds for the whole Alien series, is the miraculous way these monsters grew from tiny horrors to gigantic creatures with tentacles and double jaws and claws with no source of nourishment. Whatever they might be, they were organic creatures and they had to have had gigantic meals to permit them to grow and you never see them eating nor what the source of their food might be.
yeah, this is yet another one I will wait to hit DVD. I HATE sitting in a theater for over an hour and walking out realizing I will never get those minutes of my life back.
I honestly can't remember the last time I saw what I considered to be a true horror movie, something that actually scared me. The whole slasher genre (Freddie, Jason, Saw) are, like, yawn. I also detest the ones that make you jump in your seat a tad only because it went from being quiet, vewy vewy quiet, to a loud sound.
I would LOVE to see a truly scary movie again.
OK thats a pill I can swallow. Will check it out and get back to you on this...
ame inman, perhaps you should see The Cabin in the Woods. It's gory and ugly, but in essence, it's a critique of all the horror films that went before it. It makes clear the philosophy behind every contemporary horror film: Jesus Christ is nothing, and the only real gods are Cthulhu and the Old Ones. All else, including the philosophy of a "nice" God, is simply human hallucination.

I don't believe that, but clearly the people who make horror films do, and the legions of gorehounds who watch these things avidly take it as a matter of faith. That's why there were so many negative comments by gorehounds about Cabin - it gave away the secret heart of modern horror.
I'm with PW and Doug Socs. Thank you for your review.

R♥
For a concise review, this one is spot-on. Your last sentence was an excellent, and beautifully succinct, condensation of the myriad disappointments of the movie. One conspicuous omission to the review might be Fassbender's amazing turn as David–the one character the writers seemed to actually care about. His presence was (in my opinion) the movie's only redemption where story is concerned. Beyond that, I'd only recommend it for the visuals. I did think Super 8 was considerably more successful as a story than this one. I found this one pretty ponderous and ultimately chickenshit at even entertaining some of the answers to not just the big, heavy questions it fancied, but even the smaller questions, like who the characters even were (and why they were so damn stupid...?) To me, the lead couple never seemed like more than idiotic tourists who somehow scored a free ride...but then, the rest of the crew never seemed like adequate chaperones, either.

This wasn't Rapace's fault...her character was painfully underwritten...as was Charlie's, but that actor, even with a better script, might still have irritated the hell out of me. I wanted to turn the flamethrower on him myself.
Oops, upon re-reading I just saw that you HAD mentioned Fassbender's David. Not sure how I missed it! Apologies :)
Saw it yesterday. The visuals were terrific and interesting (worth the price of admission alone), but there was something seriously wrong with the pacing and/or editing. I was also extremely annoyed with the scenes at the very end and the outcome: The usual single woman with the beheaded android.
Scott Mendelson writes on a link, "Because it is possible to re-edit essays after they have been posted, please feel free to alert me to any typos, grammar issues, and questions of factual accuracy. "

OK, retired rhetorician here: You didn't mention formatting, but your 'graphs are too long for blog format and the journalism tradition. (Well, and you might want to re-think your use of "personified" in paragraph 5 and the mild spoiler slam in paragraph 1. It's standard to avoid or at least warn of "spoilers," but I'd say that any movie spoiled by finding out about plot elements, up to and including a surprise ending, isn't worth seeing.)

Having gotten that off my chest — thank you for your comments. I went to see PROMETHEUS for a second time, the 3-D version. The 3-D is indeed done well, and the visuals are stunning. But, then, that's why I like R. Scott: ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER aren't great SF story telling, but they are indeed important contributions to the "videography" of science fiction.