I finally got to see Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel-but-not-really to Alien this weekend. Even though I had been looking forward to this movie for a long time, I tried to keep my expectations “open”, meaning I had high hopes, but tried to not let those hopes wander in a fixed direction. I think that philosophy served me well. Those who expected yet another “they end up in a closed space with chest-busting aliens and get picked off one by one” will be disappointed.
Since the movie has been out for quite some time, and the fans have already seen it, this review contains spoilers.
Prometheus begins with beautiful pans over a familiar yet strange alien planet. A ship is about to take off, and a lonely alien appears to commit suicide. We then jump to Scotland in the 2089,where a group of scientists have discovered cave paintings that seem to represent aliens. This leads them on an expedition to find who they call “the engineers” on their planet of origin.
There is an immediate sense of anticipation of the familiar. We can not wait to see anything that might resemble something from the Alien world. It’s a very odd way to watch a movie. The characters are all filled with wonder at what they’ve discovered, but the audience bites its nails and wants to warn them, as if we were watching a splatter movie and the killer is creeping up the stairs behind them. We’ve been here before, or have we? The visuals seem to indicate yes, and they are beautiful and at times grotesque to behold, but it’s not simply a prequel. I think it’s best if you take the references where you get them, but leave the actual questions and answers hanging in the air.
I tried to go to sleep after coming home at 2 am from the cinema, but I couldn’t shut my mind off. The main buzzing sound in my head came from the movie’s take on life and death, alien and familiar, sentient and robotic. The two main scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), believe the engineers are our creators. This leads to many more questions than just why or how, like why did they leave, and who created them? What does such an act of creation mean? Humans in this world have created near perfect androids (this time called David and played by Michael Fassbender), so if we can not give our creations souls, were we given one?
There are so many pieces of dialogue that can be picked apart if you want to. It’s not a very quotable script, but it does leave a lot of room for interpretation. The first one I spotted was when they are hovering over the alien moon, looking for signs of civilization. Charlie gets excited when he spots long lines on the ground. “God doesn’t build in straight lines,” he shouts. But of course, if the engineers are our gods, our creators, then obviously they do just that.
In contrast to her belief in the engineers, Elizabeth still bears her father’s cross around her neck. The main events of the film take place in 2094 and when they find their first dead alien they date him to around 2000 years, “give or take a few years.” When they enter the chamber filled with suspicious – to us at least – egg-like vases, we see an alter structure with a fresco of an alien, its arms spread out like its on a cross. All these strange references to Christianity made me very curious, though like so many things in this movie, I have no real answers for why they are there. That doesn’t bother me, however, and the thing I most enjoyed about this film was the little details that aren’t pointed at directly.
Keeping with the theme of creators, or gods, and their creations, is the android David’s curiosity about our need to meet our makers. David models himself on Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, and occasionally the lighting and framing cause you to do a double take at how similar they are. What does this say about David? I’m sure you could write a whole article about what the filmmakers were trying to say. At first this seems to be an attempt at achieving individuality, or at least some sort of personality, but can a robot even want individuality? Also, why chose a character who appears egotistical and slightly masochistic (the scene David watches and quotes is the one where Lawrence extinguishes the match with his fingers, ignoring the pain)? Does it hint at David’s free will or dreams of them? Does he have free will already, or is he even sentient? His expressive face lures both us and the characters in, making us forget he’s a bag of circuits, but his very automatic responses of “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure” seem to hint at a strict adherence to programming. As a robot he can do nothing else after all, and everything human-like is simulation.
David is the closest thing Weyland (the head of the corporation that finances the expedition, played by Guy Pierce) has to a son. The way he says this fact seems to indicate he has no real children, but this is proven false fairly quickly when we guess that the expedition leader, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is his daughter. Someone mentioned this plot point was too obvious and cliche, but the point isn’t to drag it out and have us gasp at the revelation. When Vickers sneers the word “father” to Weyland, it is to show how much she truly despises him, not to surprise us. We need to know early on to be able to interpret David and Vickers’ interactions. Her first encounter with him is entirely the master-servant kind. Then she reveals how much she resents him, especially how he has her father’s ear. She is the daughter, the creation, that wasn’t enough, wasn’t perfect. Weyland regrets creating Vickers, who doesn’t even bear his last name, because she believes in the natural order of things. David in constast shares Weyland’s morality because he was programmed to do so. Although Weyland, like the engineers, will come to regret his selfish act of creation at the very end.
Perhaps it is here we can find a hint to the engineers’ abandonment of us: we weren’t as programmable as expected. We ask too many questions that can’t have answers, the most common being do we have an immortal soul? But if a computer asks you that, would you even bother to try and answer? Again, we get no answers from the film itself.
I could go on about so many other details in this movie. For example, Elizabeth’s lack of power to create, and the corruption of that power in the form of the first face-raping alien that we can recognize. Instead, we have to get to the not so good stuff.
There is a slight problem with pacing, and the middle act lacks a definitive starting punch, I felt. This feeling could stem from previous Alien films, however, so it is always worth keeping in mind that this is a sci-fi film, not a scary movie. I also really hated how Vickers and Elizabeth run away from the falling spaceship. It played out like a cartoon where they run straight instead of to the side until they get run over.
There are other small plot points I either didn’t like or didn’t get, so this is far from an instant classic in my book. However, this is a case of the good far outweighing the bad. The amazing acting really can’t be understated in my book, and my hat goes off to Rapace, Theron and Fassbender. Their achievement, along with the fascinating questions of life, death and creation, made it a very enjoyable night for me. The constant sense of strangeness and familiarity simply tickled me, for lack of a better word. I am so glad this wasn’t another Alien film, even though I’ve been a fan of them for ages. Certainly, the trilogy also asked questions about the act of creation (especially in the third installment) but in the end I remember them for the face-raping and chest-busting. Prometheus managed to creep me out and draw me in at the same time to a much higher degree. If I had to sacrifice a few jump scares for that, so be it.
Dice roll: 5