(Last chance. The latter half of this essay does get very spoilery.)
Film fans live in a wonderful, paradoxical, and challenging time. We can obtain information with absolute ease, and enjoy worldwide connectivity wrought by the Internet and facilitated by countless and varied resources, from social networking tools—such as Twitter and Facebook—to online film outlets for both news and criticism from a vast array of minds. The effect is such that cineastes today are theoretically better informed and more aware of what goes on in the film world than ever before; we know about productions that won’t receive a marketing campaign for years into the future, we know who’s being cast, when filming starts, where a film is being shot, upon what it’s being shot, and more. If even ten years ago we could have looked into the future and seen where we’d be today, I think everyone one of us would have turned green with envy.
Undoubtedly, film fans have it easy today. But in some ways, that access to news, scoops, whispers, and rumors represents too much of a good thing. Actually, scratch that. There’s no such thing as too much information, I think; a more cogent idea is that we perhaps consume too much information. It’s free, it’s available in a pinch, and it’s omnipresent. The same story printed on one web-based hub of cinema geek enthusiasm invariably shows up on the next one, and the one after that. With no checks and balances in place to limit our consumption (and there very much should not be any), the amount of material we can absorb in a single day is endless.
Taken at face value, that’s a positive, but like anything else we ingest and process, it’s important to carefully measure our intake of the web-based noise we’re so attached to— whether it’s interpretation and analysis or bombast and hyperbole. Look, I love a big frosty cone or bowl of ice cream as much as anyone else*, but if I ate it every day, I’d weigh five hundred pounds. And if I read every single morsel of delectable gossip and rumor-mongering, fun as that stuff can be, I’d probably come to hate going to the movies. And who among us wants that kind of fate?
I’m writing all of this down as a reaction to the hand-wringing that’s followed the early word on Prometheus, the much-anticipated prequel (or is it?) to Sir Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction-horror classic, Alien. As advanced reviews and responses come in from all around the web– for example, Empire’s infamous 3-star review or Devin Faraci’s “lower your expectations” warning Tweet— reader reaction to the critical feedback suggests nothing short of catastrophic expectation failure.
For any other film, maybe this wouldn’t be a big deal. Nobody, for example, seems to give a damn when critics and film writers get harsh on a Battleship or a Snow White and the Huntsman. But Prometheus is, well, Prometheus. It’s Ridley Scott. It’s connected to Alien**. And it’s also enjoyed all the benefits of some fantastic trailers and a huge, incredibly effective viral marketing campaign. Go back to the beginning of this essay, and think about the massive satisfaction quotient that Prometheus has to meet, then combine that with the disappointing first reviews; as you do, you start to get a picture of the film’s fate.
I won’t mince words: I liked Prometheus. A lot***. I feel like that needs to be established in order to cast the rest of this piece in a more charitable light, because while I like it, I think it’s flawed, and moreover I think it’s a movie that’s almost doomed to fall far, far short of where people (read: fans) anticipate it to. The culprit behind Prometheus‘ downfall– which I admit yet remains only a possibility– should be fairly obvious given that you’ve been reading up this point: it’s the hype.
And I think that manifests itself in several ways. However, I’m very much a man interested in honesty and fairness, and I think it’s pretty much correct to posit that Prometheus by its very nature has too much to live up to, and therefore would likely be seen as a disappointment to many regardless of its hype level. Think about the pedigree. Alien is a “best” on two levels, a film that stands out as one of the greatest works of Scott’s career and also maintains its position even today as one of the strongest science-fiction/horror films ever made. Given the height of quality Prometheus must be able to stand next to– though no one should expect a director to out-pinnacle one of his pinnacles– it’s quite apparent that it’s already starting off on the back foot from the outset. But if Prometheus sprang from the minds of Scott and Lindelof already several sizes too large for its britches, then that aforementioned hype can only exacerbate that characteristic.
With all that said, if there’s one thing I’m certainly not attempting to argue with this essay, it’s that Prometheus is a perfect film. That would be a lie. There are missteps, several in fact, but none more grievous and detrimental to the rest of the film as the flat-out lie that is Peter Weyland’s death. That we learn he’s alive and on board the ship should serve as little surprise; the hologram stinks of red herring, and the medical device Shaw uses to extract the alien beast from her belly is inexplicably calibrated for males only. When the reveal is made, there should be no doubt that one of Lost‘s co-creators helped write the movie’s script; the moment receives poor telegraphing and plays terribly.
Apart from that, there are minor slip-ups here and there but the ultimate point is that Prometheus, stronger qualities aside, is flawed. But it’s flawed on its own merits and not in the face of being unlike and unable to equal Alien. If Prometheus does not live up to the hype, then that’s arguably a failing on behalf of the film, but then again nobody forces us to watch the trailers or the viral spots or the TV ads; we watch because we want to experience part of the finished product now. We watch because we’re curious and excited. All of that is fairly natural, but devouring excess hype material for a movie steeped in cinematic iconography as much as Prometheus does a disservice to us, the viewers, and to the movie itself. Is Prometheus a scuffed and marred film? Absolutely, but only on its own terms.
None of this is to suggest that the unfavorable reactions to Prometheus all fall in the same camp. Indeed, there are plenty of reviews bearing valid criticisms against it, even if I disagree with them. More than anything, what I’m producing here is a plea to take Prometheus and observe it for what it is rather than what expectations dictate it should be. If you already have an idea of what the film looks like built up in your mind– erase it. If you’re anticipating placing Prometheus on your top ten of the year already– don’t. Could the movie end up matching what you have in your head, and could it tickle you so much it deserves a “best of” nod in your esteem? Sure. But let Prometheus earn its accolades or disappoint without the interference of outside influences****.
*Actually, that’s a huge lie. Nobody likes ice cream more than me.
**I’m really loathe to call it a straight-up prequel. It is, but that nomenclature does it a disservice. Read my review for more.
****And while I’m speaking to Prometheus in particular, this sort of thinking should be applied more broadly as well. Let films stand on their own two feet without letting early perception warp them. Last night, for example, I saw Brave, and while it wasn’t anything like I’d expected it to be, that’s okay; I still enjoyed it immensely because I actively stopped myself from structuring an idea of what the film would be in my mind.