Now, we’re not going to talk about Prometheus. In fact, we’re not going to talk about Prometheus at all.
No, we’re not going there. Instead, it’s time to pile on director Ridley Scott. I’m endlessly fascinated by the man because he has this clout. It’s very special. See, he’s been coasting on the rep he received from a movie that is over 30 years old. Granted, it’s one of the very special movies our planet has ever produced. It’s up there with Citizen Kane, Yojimbo, Lawrence of Arabia and all the other worthy pictures you can muster. It’s also a horror movie with a guy a rubber suit.
I love Alien. It is a truly great film. From its simple conceit of a B-picture told with A-level talent to the sweat on Ian Holm’s bald pate during the infamous birthing scene, it is a film that gets all the details right. That’s key because nowhere else does director Ridley Scott ever reproduce that level of correctness again in his body of work.
Why is this important? It seems the appreciation of Prometheus is inversely proportionate to your level of trust in Mr. Scott. Let’s review some of his other films:
Ugh, on second thought, let’s not.
If there’s one aspect in Scott’s filmography that keeps resurfacing, it’s the way his movies cool off half-way through. It’s almost as though he got bored, went home, and left his (albeit quite talented) subordinates to finish the project. And that’s a damned shame because while he cares, he’s one of the greatest filmmaking talents living today. Sadly, he’s only great for 10-27% of any given film, except, of course, Alien.
Let’s take his follow-up, Blade Runner, for example. Now, while some of you may find Deckard as a replicant as your preferred prism through which to watch the film, I find it more problematic that Scott has gone on record declaring that it was his intention from the get-go despite plenty of documentation and on-set accounts that prove otherwise. Now, I won’t get into the bigger problem that Deckard as replicant negates the entire thematic concern that, as a human, he is less feeling than the robot that saves his life, proving that the Nexus-6 are, in fact, “more human than human.”
In fact, we’re not going to talk about that at all.
No, the bigger problem for me is Ridley Scott’s assertion of intent. Deckard as a replicant is a valid reading of the film and the sort of questions and mind games it provokes are the type of interactions films should spawn. Unfortunately, by flat out stating it, Scott robs the film of its mystery and beauty for the sake of co-opting an intriguing post-publication rationalization. That’s the sort of thing that happens when a filmmaker doesn’t actually understand the material.
And I’ll say it, nine times out of ten — or nineteen out of twenty in this case — he doesn’t actually understand the material. This leads to oddly elliptical movies riddled with plot holes, messy character motivations, and ideas that go nowhere. Even when he’s close to getting it right, like say Blackhawk Down, he still misses the target.
I suppose that’s the problem is being the director of Alien in the first place. It’ll never be that perfect again, so what’s left to do but make problematic pictures? That film casts an absurdly long shadow and, I think, that’s where Prometheus is leaving some deflated. Scott’s return to the Alien milieu was something a lot of fans were happy to hear about. When it was first announced, my reaction was dread. “Oh, great,” I thought. “Ridley Scott to do ‘Alien Begins’” I even joked about it in the pages of the Comic Reel on CBR.
Then that trailer came out and it was amazing. I wanted to hope, but I remembered the all-important disclaimer: A Ridley Scott Film.
As someone who appreciate trash cinema, I’m glad Scott is still out there reaching out in the hopes of capturing the magic again. While I find most of films unwatchable, it’s still nice that he’s out there. A while back, Scott’s people announced that he was developing a movie based on the board game Monopoly; a seeming sign of creative bankruptcy. Around the same time, he told reporters in Cannes that the reason he abandoned Sci-Fi was the lack of proactive material worthy of turning into feature films. One might audibly gasp until one remembers that Ridley Scott never read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
And, presumably, will never actually read a Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, or Ursula K. Le Guin novel. Maybe someone will send him the audiobook of Ready Player One and he can fuck that up.
The key thing here is to never trust Ridley Scott to tell you a good story. He doesn’t know how. What he can do is fill your head with interesting imagery that suggests what might actually be lurking outside of the cave. When it’s good, it’s really good. When it’s not …