Geoff Pevere: Ridley Scott – Mack or Hack?

I’ve let the matter settle and sink in for a couple of weeks, so I think it’s time to say it:Prometheus may be one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

This is not stated lightly. I am fully aware that I have seen maybe a hundred thousand or so movies in my lifetime, and that I have seen more bad movies than any reasonable person ought to. That’s why I wanted to give the after-effects of Ridley Scott’s epically appalling exercise in ponderous new-agey wanking some time to clarify their impact. Which they have. Prometheus is a crap movie of legendary and timeless proportions.

I was prepared for it to suck up to a point. After all, Ridley Scott has enjoyed a long ride on the genius train largely due to four movies: AlienBlade RunnerThelma and Louise and Gladiator.Each of these movies is commendable and even memorable in their own way, and each has an avid and substantial following. But the time has come to acknowledge that they’re also flukes, what happens when a proficient engineer of moving pictures is blessed by a script that makes those pictures move in meaningful and and apparently significant ways.

It’s a very lucky filmmaker, especially of the otherwise routinely talented kind – as Scott, the former car-commercial maker – is, who lucks out thusly once or twice, let alone four times, but four is enough to fool some into thinking there’s something more going on there than meets the eye. And let’s face it, Scott can meet the eye with a vengeance, and if there’s one thing that must be said even about his worst movies – 1492, Kingdom of Heaven, Robin Hood, Matchstick Men, White Squall, Hannibal, A Good Year, Black Rain – is that they are pretty as well as pretty awful. He’s a turd polisher of the highest order.

But the best movies, or at least that quartet on which his genius reputation rests, are so conspicuously better than the rest that it becomes a matter of almost moral duty to clarify that they’d be nothing without their scripts. Gladiator had a strong script coupled with strong performances.Thelma and Louise had a strong script, strong performances and a hot-button pop-feminist political subtext (which, incidentally, has never re-surfaced in Scott’s work again). Blade Runner was a masterpiece of visionary urban-dystopian design and a complete muddle of cyber-philosophical mumbo jumbo. (That Scott keeps re-editing the movie, and has now ominously planned a sequel, is proof that he’s got no idea what made it work.) And Alien, for all that has been said, written, claimed, argued and otherwise asserted on its behalf, had this and only this: it was a scary little genre movie about people trapped in a floating tin can with a giant killer tiger shrimp. That Scott made that floating tin can look so convincingly lived in, and that he made sure that we felt some affinity with the the tiger shrimp’s victims before they were skewered, is beyond doubt and due full credit. But these are again qualities in the script that the director wisely exploited and elaborated upon. They were the gifts a hack dreams of.

And so Prometheus, a movie so fundamentally at odds with everything that made its originator memorable, and so embarrassingly freighted by the kind of dumbed-down neo-Kubrickian cosmic bombast you just know the director believes is his true calling, is upon us, and it lands not unlike the great rolling spaceship donut that crushes most remaining living things at the end of the movie itself. (A brief note on this: what made Alien so effective was its brilliant sense of confined and clearly articulated space. In Prometheus, the ship is so big and poorly articulated that you never have any sense where anyone is in relation to any one else, which is only part of the reason the movie’s about as suspenseful as a popcorn queue.)

I’ve heard it said that Prometheus may be a stultifying bore, but at least it looks good, to which I say so fricking what? (That it even hassupporters is argument for the start of an off-world migration before it’s too late, but I digress…) A stultifying bore that looks good is still a stultifying bore, and meanwhile my life keeps getting shorter. Fuck pretty. I’ve also heard it said thatPrometheus was just too sophisticated, advanced, cerebral and generally smart for me to get on first viewing, to which I say I’ll happily live stupid for the rest of my life before I’ll ever subject myself to that again. Beam me up.

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Geoff Pevere has been writing and broadcasting about movies, media and popular culture since dinosaurs ruled the earth. This is his final column for Don’t Believe A Word I Say,to which he has been happily contributing since last year and hopes to horn in on from time to time. Meanwhile, check out his Blessed Diversion Network:


4 Responses to “Geoff Pevere: Ridley Scott – Mack or Hack?”

  1. Very interesting stuff. The one thing I would say is although I really enjoyed Prometheus, I think most of its short comings are intentional (or not so intentional) plot holes in the script, which I attribute to the writer. As a director, I do think Scott did a good job making this film and if nothing else it looks pretty fantastic.

  2. Will respectfully disagree on all counts, Geoff. As Andrew King points out in his comment above, the shortcomings are intentional…primarily in that upon first viewing it was immediately apparent that Scott cut scenes out of the movie for the theatrical run mostly, I believe, to speed up the action. As in ‘Alien’, not a lot really happens in the film until more than halfway through the film. Scott is plotting the Blu-Ray directors cut already. Should he have left the material in for the theatrical run? Probably. But he’s left audiences divisive. Exactly as he did with Blade Runner’s initial run. 30 years later people have forgotten that Blade Runner was a commercial flop and that critics – specifically Siskel and Ebert – skewered the movie with Ebert even going as far as saying it was the worst movie he’d ever seen. But after the film later gained fan-boy cult status Siskel backpedalled and Ebert completely jumped on the ‘Oh, the Director’s Cut makes this a brilliant masterpiece’ bandwagon. I have seen Prometheus three times. I will buy the Blu-Ray and will wait for Scott to release the sequel. Which he will, despite box office indifference, because he wisely bought back the Alien copyrights from 20th Century Fox so he could complete the cycle without studio interference.

  3. i have not seen the film so I cannot comment on it. All I wanted to say is that you will be missed Geoff! I’ve greatly enjoyed reading your columns and look forward to your future (if sporadic by necessity) contributions.

  4. tri-state Says:

    this review is brilliant. you nailed it, thank you.

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