I went to see Prometheus at the cinema recently and I was very excited. Partly because it was carrying on in a vein of sci-fi that I really like (the crossover of ancient history with far flung advanced civilisations from space) and partly because it looked gorgeous.
I, like many, was very disappointed. It was gorgeous, the effects were unstoppably brilliant and the acting was universally outstanding… that, if anything, made it worse. There was no story, character development was hazy and contradictory, the series of events were confusing and convoluted and the whole thing was an exercise in feature-length exposition and pretention. In my opinion.
I wanted to like it, and I was entertained by the aforementioned performances and visual effects, and maybe that disappointed me even more. So a search for an explanation or at least a reason for why it didn’t work was high on my priority list even though I came away disappointed with the film.
My lady found me this: http://cavalorn.livejournal.com/584135.html
. If you’ve seen the film I suggest you read this guy’s blog. It’s great and my blog post won’t make any sense unless you do!
It’s a brilliant explanation and certainly clears up everything that seemed to be confusing about the film. This journal entry is by no means intended to attack the writer of this blog (as I said, I think he’s done a great job) or rant and batter you about the head with my opinion, more to put in words why I’m still disappointed with the film (maybe even more so) and many other films that operate on a similar storytelling ethic.
This explanation of Prometheus proves that there is quite a strong backing, and a lot of thought to the film, and if it’s true that Ridley REALLY DID INTEND ALL OF THIS PREPOSTEROUS POSTERING, then WHY DIDN’T HE PUT IT IN THE MOVIE? It’s not in the movie. It’s just hinted at, and that’s not storytelling.
In the old days of stories told by word of mouth, you didn’t hint at what happened. BECAUSE THEN NO-ONE WOULD KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. You told it. And the exciting thing was HOW, either through, song, rhyme, poetry or powerful beautiful description you drew your audience in and with respect to their fore-knowledge and intelligence weaved a narrative experience for them to engage with and explore. If you don’t put up the road and the sign posts how the hell are they supposed to know where to go?
Using overt religious and philosophical allegory is not an excuse for bad storytelling. The bible is all allegory and parable and as such is consistently misinterpreted and twisted to mean whatever those people want it to mean.
This does not make the bible a brilliant story that is worthy of acclaim for narrative brilliance and storytelling mastery. The bible is DELIBERATELY a book of mystery and interpretation which people use as guidance, they get their own help and assistance from it in their own way.
No-one’s going to make a movie of the BIBLE.
I’m not saying you have to make story points so ridiculously obvious that even a child could understand, and thereby do what Hollywood does all too often and treat its audience like idiots… but I AM saying you have to TELL YOUR STORY. Who is the intended audience for this film? MASTERS LEVEL PHILOSOPHERS AND ARCHAEOLOGISTS?
Hiding behind interpretation is bad storytelling, there is no excuse for that and it annoys me. If I wanted I could interpret anything to be anything. That’s what conspiracy theorists do and they’re hardly credited as being the most credible or reliable purveyors of information.
As it stands I DO know a lot of these obscure philosophical and historical references that this film apparently hides it’s story behind, but that doesn’t mean I understood the film. Having someone line up a load of explanations in parallel with the ‘plot’ of the film does not mean I missed the boat on understanding the films complexity, it means those very ideals (all of which are brilliant and deserving of being a apart of the mythos of the film) WERE MISSING FROM THE FILM AND YET ARE CLEARLY INTEGRAL TO THE STORY.
It means the FILM NEEDS A GUIDE. IT NEEDS A KEY that you take into the cinema and watch it with and I’m not sure that concept is going to catch on.
Stories teach us things. They not only teach us about moral choices and the human condition, but they can actually teach us facts, historical or scientific facts. Countless movies have been made telling true stories about events of our own history in order to teach those who don’t necessarily fancy settling down with an ancient tome of pre-history in the library, about what happened. Entertainment is one of the greatest ways to learn things as you engage with it on a higher level and realise that sometimes, just the facts are brilliant stories in themselves.
Science Fiction can teach us about scientific facts but it can also teach us about technology, it can warn us about the misuse of advancement and development through the medium of hypothetical imaginings and extrapolated theorising.
Stories are amazingly powerful things.
Prometheus could have taught everyone about all these brilliant ideas, about ancient cultures ideas of sacrifice to bring forth life, about the importance of our history and the negligence humankind often has for its world… but it didn’t.
The film didn’t actually SAY any of that at all. It relied ENTIRELY on foreknowledge. Which means it doesn’t deserve any credit for it! Only the guy who wrote the blog post I linked to earlier deserves any credit for the entertainment gleaned from understanding Prometheus. He did what the movie makers didn’t do. HE TOLD THE STORY!
It wouldn’t have been an insult to us intelligent viewers if the film had cleverly stated something we already knew. We would have all gone ‘oh wow, that all lines up! Amazing!’ we would have gone away and researched further into the titbits it had revealed to discover more and realise that even more lined up with Ridley Scott’s great vision. And we would have loved the film. It would have been a film that lined up historical fact and teachings of the nature of humanity with a new story and a context of space travel and exploration and as such would be the movie I was expecting to go and see.
Instead it was elitist and pretentious. It revealed nothing and expected all the work to be done by the audience saving any work to be done on actual storytelling or character development. Those who didn’t know what it was alluding to come away having learnt nothing, and those who do actually know a bit, miss the boat because the film never outright connects itself with any one of these great ideas.
And the few who do make the connections and feel as though they have understood it, haven’t learnt anything new and have done all the work.
They’ve essentially been presented a blank canvas, upon which they wrote all of their own ideas and philosophies, and then stood back, appreciating their own work and crediting all of it to Ridley Scott!
Prometheus doesn’t teach us anything. It doesn’t even ask the questions. It just sits and expects us to write the story ourselves.
That is not what I come to a story for.