Mark Schoonmaker’s thoughts on Prometheus

Written by Mark Schoonmaker.                                                      

Prometheus is a sci fi thriller directed by Ridley Scott of classics Alien and Blade Runner. The film has less shadows, dread and suspense than the original Alien, and seems to be more of a visual spectacle similar to Scotts’s film, Blade Runner with familiar Alien elements scattered about. It seemed to be less atmospheric and more action driven. The film is very unsatisfying that does not surpass its hype. The film’s core is about searching for mankind’s most meaningful questions about where do we come from, who made us, and where do we go when we die? The film offers a very intriguing theory – humans were seeded by extraterrestrial life.

So, is Prometheus meant to be an original stand-alone film or an Alien prequel? That’s a good question. Out of all of the unanswered questions in the film, I can’t even begin to answer the basic one. The filmmakers seem to leave that to people’s interpretations. I don’t think it was an Alien prequel at all. I feel since Scott has been absent in the science fiction genre for thirty years, he had an idea about a “new adventure” and found two different screenwriters to helm the screenplay. Fusing the meaning of life into a sci fi horror was a very interesting idea. It’s one of the reasons that attracted my attention towards the film.  Adding Greek mythology was a very unique touch. I view Prometheus and Inception as rare summer blockbusters that offer us fresh, original ideas. However, I feel Prometheus falls to the wayside due to its poor execution on the story and character developments.

The film has very few intense scares. Of these few, one occurs when Milburn, the botanist, and Fifield, the geologist, meet their demise in a terrifying way. I thought it was a bad move to kill both of those characters off so quickly and at the same time. Why? They were not well developed at all. Fifield reminded of me of Bill Paxton’s character, Pvt. Hudson from James Cameron’s Aliens. They share the same duplicitous personalities, in the end they chicken out. But keep in note, Cameron never killed off Paxton’s character in Aliens until the end. You barely see Fifield develop as a character in Prometheus. The moment when Fifield and Milburn die, you couldn’t really care less. You need empathy for your characters, and I feel they just died for no reason. The screenwriters rushed their characters to kill them off quickly to move the story along. The only intellectual part both those characters had is when Milburn was talking about Darwinism and Fifield’s questions Shaw during the debriefing scene. All the other scenes after that the filmmakers made them out to be complete idiots that I perceived to be stupid and silly.

I’m aware these two weren’t the main focus, but you can go a long way with strong supporting characters. But, this film didn’t really have any of that. You want the perfect amount of screen time for your characters, regardless of how big or small they are. They did not have a fair amount of screen time at all.  I feel the screenwriters were like, “let’s just kill off these characters super quick in some horrible, gruesome way possible”. There are so many more things you could have done with them to simply develop and direct their characters further. Looking back, Aliens has great developed characters, but also great supporting characters. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy watching that film because of well written story, characters and dialogue. In honesty, I favor Paul Reiser’s corporate character in Aliens than Theron’s flat, ice cold corporate character, Vickers in Prometheus. Even though, Vickers was there to make sure the expedition go smoothly as she is an employee at Weyland Industries. For the most part thought she was an extremely dull, useless character that just complained a lot and was there in a lot of odd composed shots.

Patrick Wilson who played Elizabeth Shaw’s father in the flashback scene was a very underused character.  They could’ve incorporated him in the story a little bit more compared to just being a quick flashback explaining Shaw’s strong in faith and is a believer. Because if Shaw is just going to say she has strong in faith through poor, written exposition dialogue later, then what’s the use of even having Patrick Wilson in the film anyway? Michael Fassbender’s performance as an expressionless android named David was the scene-stealer, but his motives and agenda were not understandable. I don’t need to fully understand them, but the majority of interactions with David and other crew members were utterly confusing. I can’t really tell if he was curious or if he was told to infect Holloway with the alien material. Or if he simply doesn’t think to highly of humans after the conversation he had with Holloway. Does he simple uses people as experiments to fuel his curiosity? I will never know the full extent of what exactly David’s mind set was and to carry out with those actions which in the end killed Holloway and impregnated Shaw with an alien baby. Despite the slight impression that David seemed to have no compassion for humanity, I did find the end fascinating as David is persuading Shaw to rescue his mangled body. Through his persistent tone constantly communicating with Shaw, you can tell he had a huge desire of wanting to survive.

The beginning had stunning visuals, but thematically so extremely vague that I completely forgot about it later. From the unnecessary number of times the crew members go back and forth from the ship to the alien location was ridiculous to horribly scripted dialogue, illogical actions, major gaps in the story and plot holes. Science fiction films are always great when they have multiple layers, but not layered with endless uncertainty. I feel like since there are so many gaps throughout the story, the filmmakers probably are leaving it up to your interpretation about things that happened in this film. In some cases that’s fine, but here with a kind of film like this people want to know what you know. Not unsatisfyingly figure it out later and still be really disappointed. Either way I’m highly disappointed about the outcome of the film. It didn’t have a strong ending. The film ends with more questions rising than answered. We all know that stirs conversation but come on. That’s the worst to leave your audience with something that doesn’t seem to be fully there.  Cliffhangers nowadays really bug me because you either gearing up for a sequel or just want to annoy people with a plethora of questions forming that’ll go around in a vicious circle. I thought the very last shot of the alien popping out of the space jockey’s chest was the worst way to end a film. That’s giving us nothing and then it fades to black and cuts to the end credits. What do you plan to achieve with that kind of ending? One last questions about prometheus – what was the importance of the vases? What were the contents of them exactly, the black liquid goo?

Overall, the visuals were excellent. My favourite scene features David walking around the Prometheus by himself. I loved all the composed shots, specifically the shot when David is walking through the ships interior and he stops in a medium shot, his body darkened in shadow. Also the shot as David steps through the sliding doors and simply stands there in the centre of the frame, the room dwarfing him as he stands in the centre holding his helmet. I love those shots, aesthetically cerebral.

The film itself was entertaining, engaging and stimulated thought. Ridley Scott is a master on filming with practical sets, using special effects when needed with great choice of cinematography. I give him tons of respect for immersing us back into the Alien universe with a new story, characters and mythology. I’m super mixed about this film though and I don’t want to be. I really wanted to like it tons, but I am so uncertain about a lot of stuff that I’m in the dark. And I can’t fully like something immensely if I don’t understand it one bit. Sometimes I question myself, what did I just watch? That’s what I felt when I sat there in the theater during the midnight showing during the end credits. In the end I like that Scott was reinventing the genre with something fresh, but do the ambiguous questions about the meaning life make or break this film? I’m not entirely sure, but the characters in the film along with the audience will never know because they were never answered.

© Mark Schoonmaker

Writer/Director of short film PITCH BLACK HEIST:

and the upcoming HINDRANCE:

You can find Mark on Twitter


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