By R. David
Published June 8, 2012
“Prometheus” is a maddening, frustrating, exhilarating, and challenging film. Stately, even plodding, but punctuated by big questions, bigger themes and even bigger screams, the movie bites off a whole lot more than it can chew, but damned if doesn’t all taste delicious just the same.
There is no real defense for any of the more obvious criticisms that will no doubt be heaped upon this film by its detractors. The movie is frankly kind of a mess. Conversely, it will be tempting for some to overrate it simply because, in a time of such banal, generic and predictable blockbuster entertainment, it has the guts to be something completely different and reach far beyond the the simple and basic themes and questions of the average film. That those themes ultimately exceed the film’s grasp is unfortunate, but there is no denying that there is pleasure to be had simply in trying to discern the movie’s meanings and implications, even if it doesn’t necessarily have a firm grasp on them. This is certainly a film that will be served well by a director’s commentary, deleted scenes, analytical documentaries and whatever the hell else we can get our hands on to help piece together exactly what is being said.
And all that aside, it’s still pretty good as just a slam-bang sci-fi film if nothing else.
Ostensibly a prequel to his 1979 masterpiece “Alien”, Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” actually has more in common with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” than his own sci-fi classic. Like “2001”, “Prometheus” opens with, I guess (and I may be wrong), the creation of life on Earth. And like “2001”, it is a mesmerizing sequence: Visually stunning, captivating, surprising and haunting. And like “2001” we are left to ponder its point as the film’s focus immediately advances millions of years to the crew of the Prometheus, a group of corporate-sponsored intergalactic archaeologists and scientists. Like the characters in “Alien”, all the voyagers awake from ‘pod stasis’, except David (Michael Fassbender) who has no need for sleep because he is an android. He has spent his time alone watching “Lawrence of Arabia”, dying his hair accordingly, and generally boning up on human nature. The rest of the crew consists of corporate shark Meredith Vickers (Charleze Theron), in charge if for no other reason than because she’s looking out for the company’s bottom line (and because she could most likely dispatch with any of the other characters in a hand to hand cage match if necessary), Shaw and Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshal-Green), boyfriend/girlfriend scientists who hope to discover an alien race of beings they believe have been communicating with Earthlings (and perhaps other civilizations) throughout time by leaving mysterious pictographs in their wake, pilot Janek (Idris Alba), and a few mercenaries brought along for good measure. When the crew arrives at their destination planet, they land and discover a pyramid of sorts protruding from the earth (sic) where they find alien humanoids in suspended animation with DNA that is a perfect match for our own. The question becomes, did this alien race bring life to Earth, and what happened here and where have they gone? (Oh, and they also discover a few of those nasty face-sucker things from “Alien”, among other things that tie the two films together.)
“Prometheus” has no less than the question, “Where Did We Come From?” as its central thesis. This raises the stakes considerably on the outcome of the film. After all, no less then God and Religion and Science and Darwinism hang in the balance. Whatever the answer, whether you agree with it or not, and whether it convinces you to consider something other than what you believe or not, is all beside the point. This is something we care about, something most of us think we have a hard and fast opinion on, so, in a word, we’re invested. What do chest-busting, head-severing alien attacks have to do with it? Well, that’s just good entertainment. Or is it something more? The movie may be implying answers to all of this, but it’s not telling one way or another. In a sense that is its genius as well as its undoing.
Do I have criticisms of “Prometheus”? You bet. I don’t mind being challenged or even confused, but I’d rather it be because the film is so clever or deep that I can’t keep up with it and require repeat viewings to pick up on things I may have missed or to fully grasp all it is saying; not because the film is simply disorganized or has a flawed narrative, presenting ideas but not actually saying anything. “Prometheus” has ideas to spare, but many will be baffled by the disorganized manner in which they are presented and assume they don’t ultimately mean anything. I believe Scott is too good of a film maker and too deep of a thinker for that to be the case, but even knowing that, I can’t help but feel he is being deliberately coy about providing answers, not because they are there for those willing to dig, but because – be it do to cuts or rewrites or whatever – somewhere along the line the script loses focus (probably right around the midpoint where it remembers it also has to be a sci-fi action film – an “Alien “prequel” no less – and things get all muddled and confused because now it has to be a different kind of film and takes its eyes off the prize). Ultimately I think his point is made – somewhere in there – but I’m only assuming I get it; hoping my interpretation is what he was going for; instead of knowing because I can point to it somewhere specific in the script. I’m just gathering up breadcrumbs and putting two and two together. I welcome all theories.
And maybe that is ultimately the point. It’s all up to the interpreter. That would certainly serve as a commentary on religion. But there is also the technical craft of the film making and performances to consider; and these things are all aces. Scott provides us several amazing action sequences, awe inspiring visuals and some tense and terrifying moments of horror. He takes these characters to some harrowing places, none more so than Rapace’s character, Shaw. Rapace does an amazing job with what had to be an emotionally exhausting role. And Fassbender is a revelation; a robot incapable of emotion but not immune to wonder and discovery. How Fassbender can possibly straddle such a murky line – Scott: “OK, Mike, look surprised and amazed but show no emotion, got it? And, action!” – is nothing short of miraculous.
“Prometheus” ends with a big action sequence and then an epilogue that explicitly ties the film to “Alien” where early moments of reference were more subtle. Both feel inorganic and perfunctory. It’s a real shame Scott felt the need to “climax” the movie way he does when everything leading up to these moments had been so ponderous and intriguing. You almost wonder how the guy who wrote the first half of this movie couldn’t understand why resolving everything with a big destructive action sequence wouldn’t feel like a gip.
And still. Still. “Prometheus” sticks. You want to discuss it, argue about it, rush out and watch it again. It may be all for naught, but how can you not love a movie like that?
3 stars out of 4.