“A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable. “
Prometheus is Ridley Scott‘s return to science fiction over thirty years after he created the two very influential classics Alien and Blade Runner. Prometheus is the quasi-non-sequel/prequel/reboot(?) of the Alien Franchise that actually ties very loosely to the actual classic. The film has been highly anticipated by fans of the genre because of Ridley Scott, the high class cast, and the overall feel of classic sci-fi that the film presents. While the film has been highly anticipated; a number of fans have been worried about the always polarizing pick of Damon Lindelof(Lost, Star Trek) as the writer as well as the general feeling that this movie was forced into existence by studios as opposed to organically created. Can Prometheus deliver a new and intelligent take on classic science fiction or is this film just another way to cash in on Alien fan expectations?
Prometheus begins with a prologue that more or less establishes the epic scope this film is going for as well as takes some steps to immerse the audience in the film. It opens with some absolutely gorgeous shots of what appears to be a primitive earth and a somewhat moody musical score that is very reminiscent of the themes found in classic science fiction films. The prologue introduces us to the engineers(who look like pale, bald, and giant humanoids) that will later be found in the movie however to avoid spoilers I will not include exactly what the engineers were hoping to accomplish in the opening scene. The movie very quickly introduces the audience to the main character Elizabeth Shaw(Noomi Rapace) and her lover Charlie Holloway(Logan Marshall-Green) in 2089 as they discover a cave drawing that seems to them to be an invitation from who they believe is their creator. The movie then moves us to on board the Prometheus in 2093 where most of the film will take place. The voyage is funded by Weyland Corp. and initiated by the extremely old and sickly Peter Weyland(Guy Pearce). After the reveal of the Prometheus we are introduced to David(Michael Fassbender), the ship’s android who takes care of the ship while the crew is in cryo-sleep for the two year voyage. The characters begin to wake up and we meet Meredith Vickers(Charlize Theron), a corporate representative who is in charge of the mission, Captain Janek(Idris Elba), and several other crew members made up of people with various professions. Once they arrive at LV223(not to be mistaken for Alien’s LV 426) the crew, lead by Shaw and Holloway, go into an oddly shaped rock formation which they believe is a house to their creators. Once they are there they begin to discover many unsettling things about the engineers and what their purpose on LV 223 was.
The movie is certainly set up in a similar fashion to the alien films, but the movie takes a very different direction once the crew discover a chamber with a mural as well as a giant head statue. The crew continue to explore, and eventually find that all of the engineers are dead. The crew is very disappointed, but interested in what killed the engineers as well as hopeful that they can still find the answers to why the engineers created them. At this point the movie unfolds in a series of deaths gruesome on various levels. The crew certainly do find something, but what they find is not what they were looking for. On the surface this film may sound like a typically formulated sci-fi horror, but make no mistake; this film is far more sophisticated in both it’s production value and its writing than most science fiction films made anymore. The story is very layered in it’s story telling as there is Greek philosophy and mythology, ethical questions, and some light Christian ideas and symbolism laced into the story that Lindelof and Scott are creating. For a film that could easily be too slow; the film manages to find near perfect pacing as it knows just when to unveil something new to the audience to propel the story forward. The film hardly ever drags and should keep audiences engaged throughout the film. The story evokes many questions and leaves the audience with plenty of questions to chew on after the movie is finished. Where did mankind come from? Who created us? Why did they create us? Was it a God or just another creature? How the heck does this relate to the Space Jockey in Alien? Can Ridley Scott do it again? Can Lindelof do it(write a script of this density without feeling vague) ? Can mankind really create life with a soul? Does our creator love us? Is there a God? If God did create us then what is he like? Are we an accident? Are we an experiment? Is mankind striving to become more than we were meant to be? Are we crossing lines that we shouldn’t cross to achieve these goals? Should we really be asking these questions in the first place? Wow.This is just a handful of the questions this film tackles, and while it doesn’t answer many of them; the film does give the audience plenty to walk away with. Take these questions and mix the ambiguous nature of the script; and you have a love it/hate sci-fi film on your hands. Lindelof crafts a story that gives the audience all of the puzzle pieces, but only gives them the basic outline of the puzzle by the time the film is finished. Many people will not like this approach to story telling as it requires time, thinking, repeat viewings, and an appetite for theorizing to be the most effective. It is up to the audience to put the puzzle together which gives the film a whole new layer of depth. I personally think that this approach, especially to a film of this nature, is very effective as it leaves room for interpretation of the audience. The way people feel about this story is going to be more on personal preference, but I believe that this story was intelligently conceptualized by Scott and masterfully scripted by Damon Lindelof as a story that gives enough answers to satisfy on the surface level, but also enough depth and intricacy to be interpreted and analysed in all sorts of different ways. What does Prometheus mean? I have my own speculation, but that’s for another post.
The acting and the character work in this film is a mixed bag. David is masterfully played by the scene stealing, underrated, and under recognized Michael Fassbender. He plays David as a souless, emotionless, and well anything-less android that models his behavior after Peter O Toole’s performance from Lawrence of Arabia. He does what he is programmed to do and nothing more or nothing less. This trait makes everything he says and does extremely ambiguous as it is never clear what his intentions(if he has any) are. This trait makes him both the most dangerous the most fun to watch. His cold emotionless responses to things the crew say are sometimes funny, but also sometimes thought provoking or even scary. His role in the film is equally interesting as he demonstrates many of the dangers and ideas behind finding humans’ creator(s) as he himself is created by humans. There are three or four conversations where he demonstrates his lack of understanding as to why humans want to find their creator and why they are so interest in asking why in the first place as he has none of the same issues. Needless to say; David carries the movie as far as characters go. Aside from this we do get a fairly interesting lead lady played by the fantastic Noomi Rapace. She is an archaeologist who relies on science, but also has faith in God or a higher power. While her character’s arc certainly isn’t especially dynamic; it is interesting to see how her character deals with many of these tough questions that are being thrown at her throughout the film especially as what she discovers is not what she was hoping to find. The support cast is filled with hit or miss one note characters. Charlize Theron does a solid job playing the shady and secretive corporate representative who is pretty much exactly what you would expect from this type of character and Idris Elba plays Janek who is also interesting if a bit predictable to watch. The last of the good performances is Guy Pierce as the egotistical founder of the Weyland Corporation, Peter Weyland. Weyland makes a very small appearance in the film, but is very memorable in this small role. Weyland is better known from the viral promotion for Prometheus in which he gives a speech declaring the Godhood of mankind. . Aside from these characters, nearly every other character is a different type of cannon fodder written specifically to get killed and pad the body count. This is very unfortunate considering the original Alien film had an extremely interesting cast that all seemed well rounded and served a unique purpose. The other characters in Prometheus are essentially dumber versions of typical caricatures found in the sci-fi horror genre. The tough guy who just wants money, the overly curious biologist, and the characterless medic are all characters found in the film that leave zero impression or impact on the film.
The direction in this film is absolutely exceptional in numerous ways as one would expect from Legendary director Ridley Scott. The cinematography is truly marvelous as it showcases the epic scope of the plot in various wide shots of earth, LV 223, and the Prometheus yet still captures the terror of the dark tunnels the characters explore throughout the film. The dark color pallet of the film matches the equally bleak feel of the script and the themes it is exploring. There are few other movies out there that have looked this spectacular and the Academy certainly better not overlook the exceptional work done on the cinematography. Ridley Scott also chose to utilize practical sets and practical effects over CGI as the primary form of special effects in Prometheus. This gives a certain believability to the film that most modern science fiction films are desperately missing because of their over reliance on CGI. Scott’s return to Science fiction after thirty years is certainly a triumphant one as he shows that he knows how to immerse the audience into the dark world of Prometheus because of his excellent camera work and bleak art direction that slowly but surely draws the audience in.
Overall Prometheus is an excellent return to Science-fiction for Ridley Scott because of it’s dark but beautiful tone; meshing of the science-fiction, horror, and adventure genres; and it’s intelligently written and layered script. While the character work on the film may not be anything exceptional(aside from Michael Fassbender as David), the movie succeeds in spades in terms of creating an immersive experience while also proposing many ideas and questions for the audience to chew on. This is a movie that makes the classic Alien part of a much bigger picture and the film certainly leaves plenty of room for a sequel while still being able to stand on its own apart from The Alien franchise and any sequel that may spawn from the movie. Prometheus is certainly the return to a classic form of science-fiction that has nearly been forgotten in an age of high concept, low substance sci-fi.
Lindelof and Scott create a story that delivers some answers to the Alien franchise, but also creates a story that can stand on its own. The story is very layered with themes such as creator/creation, the search for a greater power, and playing with fire(hint the name). The movie asks a slew of questions that include the ethics of playing god, the viability of immortality, the nature of man, and the motive and intention of God which give audiences things to think about. Prometheus has answers to many questions, but also leaves many of the questions to the audience to answer. In many ways Lindelof designed a puzzle with some of the pieces left for the audience to place. The only real flaw I can find in the movie is that it doesn’t do anything particularly new in terms of the story it’s trying to tell. It tells a story about themes and ideas we’ve seen before, but it does so in a fairly unique way.
Many of the supporting characters are caricatures that can be found in many sci-fi horror films, but lead Noomi Rapace gives a solid performance even if her character isn’t explored to the fullest and Michael Fassbender steals the show as David the android. David’s ambiguous nature and unclear intentions are easily the the highlight of the film and his interaction with all of the characters is both fun and frightening to watch. Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pierce all turn in solid performances despite the fact that their characters are essentially one-note characters.
Ridley Scott makes and incredible return to science fiction by bringing some beautiful camera work , a pitch perfect tone, and some new takes on age old themes and questions. Scott relies on practical effects and traditional sets which adds to the atmosphere and believability of the film. Scott shows that he still has the uncanny ability to immerse audiences into this vast and frightening universe unlike any science-fiction filmmaker making movies.
Overall Effectiveness of the Film: 9.5
The film was conceptualized as a way to explain the space jockey seen in the original Alien, and this film goes so far beyond this initial idea that it becomes its own full fledged mythology. The movie is intelligent, layered, and full of questions as well as immersive, dark, and creepy. The movie is able to pass as entertainment, but also leaves plenty beneath the surface for people to dissect and pick up on after repeat viewings. The movie succeeds on all these levels, and really only fails to deliver on compelling characters(save for David). Kudos to Lindelof and Scott for living up to the high expectations.
Overall Score: 9.5