That's true of much of the film, in fact. It's full of questions, about life and creation — by parents, by engineers (in David's case), by the gods themselves — that are meaningful ponders, and certainly at the core of what this film is about, but that are only teasingly or glancingly handled. And unfortunately when we're not just dealing with a small character detail, the film's elusiveness is a serious detriment. Simply posing a question is a fine thing for a film to do, but sometimes a little more is required. And in Prometheus' case, in order to justify all the shriek and rattle that comes with these big questions, we need some kind of, if not definitiveness, maybe opinion by the end of the film. I blame this "Ask a bunch of cool questions and then run away" tactic on the film's screenwriter Damon Lindelof (he updated an original draft by Jon Spaihts), the chief ideas man behind Lost who turned that show from a canny mystery machine into an unwieldy tangle of ultimately unanswered riddles. This is Prometheus' chief sin, and it's a big one. For all the film is struggling to be about, nothing tangible is created by the end, there is nothing to walk away with but a shrug and a frustrated head scratch.
I realize I'm being vague, and that's on purpose. I don't want to spoil the particulars of the film, because it is certainly one worth seeing and discovering on your own. Just know that, of course, things do not go as planned on this jagged, unforgiving moon. That creatures are encountered. As to those two eye-poppingly scary scenes mentioned up top, they come at perfectly paced-out points in the film's timeline. The first, involving two lesser characters, satisfies a long 45-minute-or-so wait for something awful to happen with the kind of parasitic body terror that made the first Alien such a squirmy phenomenon. It's one thing to have a big monster kill you with a swipe of its claws. It's another to have it kill you from the inside. That "get it out, get it out, get it out" sensation carries into the film's other big horror set piece, which is so shocking, so bizarrely and wonderfully political, that I can't wait for you all to see it so we can talk about it. Scott stages these scares with an old pro's confidence but an ever-growing artist's sense of inventiveness. In the second sequence in particular, I was oddly reminded of Alfonso Cuarón's work in Children of Men, that smooth and technically nimble approach to something soul-shakingly awful.
So let's say that, as a sci-fi horror/thriller, Prometheus works beautifully, if increasingly a bit nonsensically. The motivations and mechanics of our villain(s) are never made clear enough, but they scare and intrigue nonetheless. But as a bigger film, an inquest into deep questions of faith and science, Prometheus is both too big for its britches and too small-minded. Scott is once again saddled here with a script not up to the level of his impressive technique. If he wanted to make a movie about all this existential wondering, I wish he'd sought out someone who knows how to end a story as well as he can begin it. All of the actors are game and ready for both the visceral stuff and the intellectual heavy-lifting, but by the climax are mostly left to their own devices, scrambling around with as much conviction and fury as they can muster over a rather half-baked premise. With an occasional spike of activity or two, Prometheus is sadly a downward slope from beginning to end, starting sharp and alluring but finishing up a muddle. For a film at least partially about what happened before evolution, Prometheus spends most of its time devolving.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.