Many consider Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) to be one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, and not just because it’s scary, but how it’s scary. The film drips with atmosphere, ideas and perfectly timed revelations. Its pacing is eerie; its sound effects (or lack thereof) are ominous; and its characters are creepy and suspicious. Nearly everything about the film puts us on edge and makes our skin crawl, ultimately ensuring an indelible cinematic experience.
Movie Review: Prometheus
By Matthew Huntley
June 14, 2012
Prometheus, Scott’s long-awaited return to Alien territory, doesn’t have the same effect as his original masterpiece, but how could it? It’s already drawing countless comparisons to the previous film and there are innumerable theories floating around cyberspace about what the plot means, how it relates (or doesn’t relate) to Alien, and why certain characters do what they do or say what they say.
All this was to be expected, and while it’s difficult not to place Prometheus alongside Alien in order to gauge its value, I think we have to judge it on its own merit. After all, it’s been over 30 years since the first film and surely Scott himself is aware of its success and legacy. As an artist, he’d be foolish to consciously imitate his best work simply to appease fans and would defeat the very purpose of artistry. Prometheus isn’t a remake or a sequel (it might be a prequel, but even that identifier is questionable), so it’s best to view and judge it as a standalone science fiction thriller.
On that level, Prometheus is a good movie. It’s far from perfect, but it’s full of ideas and poses many questions that keep our brain juices flowing. Granted, it’s not willing to answer a lot of what it brings up, and it doesn’t risk arguing for or against its own theories, but its restraint and ambiguity often work to its advantage. By being vague, the film creates tension and anxiety for the audience, which puts us in the same shoes as the characters, and that’s really the point of a thriller. If the answers came to us easily, we’d be less inclined to pay so close attention. Deep down, I think Scott knows the movie isn’t about the answers anyway, but about the journey and struggle toward finding them.
The broad question asked throughout Prometheus is “Where did we come from?” and it’s one archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe they have the answer to, or at least they know where to start looking. In 2093, they’re on-board the vessel Prometheus that’s been traveling in outer space for the past two years toward a distant moon called LV-223, where the romantically-linked scientists team have pinpointed a series of star maps drawn by ancient civilizations, none of which had any contact with one another. Shaw and Holloway believe the maps are an invitation sent by the creators, or “Engineers,” of the human race, asking us to come visit.
Billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) funds the expedition, but his associate, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), makes it abundantly clear she’s in charge and that Shaw and Holloway are technically her employees. She warns them not to make contact with the Engineers, should they find them, and we get the sneaking suspicion Vickers has a hidden agenda.
We also suspect something is awry with David (Michael Fassbender), the android who watched over the ship during the crew’s stasis. During this time, he read the crew’s personal memories, learned a plethora of ancient languages, exercised with a bike and a basketball, and watched classic films like Lawrence of Arabia. Although stoic and emotionless, his behavior doesn’t always seem objective or loyal and his motivations aren’t always clear. In other words, he seems to have obtained the characteristics of a human.
The film’s other characters illustrate one of the flaws of the screenplay. They’re made up mostly of stock movie types, including the brave black captain (Idris Elba); the unfriendly and testosterone-driven biologist, Fifield (Sean Harris); and his geeky counterpart, Milburn (Rafe Spall). Unfortunately, all the film’s characters are one-dimensional and underdeveloped. The moment we lay eyes on them, we know who will live and who will likely be tossed aside as a victim.
When Prometheus lands and the crew members start exploring the isolated moon, they find a large structure containing a giant monolith in the shape of a human head. Fifield sends out his handy dandy floating probes to survey and photograph the facility, which reveal…well I can’t say what they reveal. I also can’t say what else the crew finds except it includes holographic recordings of events from the past. Do the recordings suggest something good? Bad? Evil? Fascinating? Any hints and I fear I’d be giving too much away, for Prometheus is a film about discovery, and while the events don’t always make sense to us, they do engage us.
What doesn’t engage us is the standard horror movie fare. The movie has too many of those “gotcha!” moments, most of which aren’t that shocking to begin with. For instance, when one scientist reaches down to touch a slimy creature that peeks its head out of the water, we can pretty much guarantee what’s going to happen next, and when it does, it’s even more disappointing because part of us hoped Scott and writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof had outgrown this sort of thing. Scenes like these are boring and obvious, and they don’t mix well with the film’s grander scenes and ideas. We’d rather have the film be about its science and spirituality. Let it thrill us on those levels; not with loud crescendos, screaming characters and gore.
I say this, and yet one of the film’s best scenes finds a character screaming, running and exposing her insides. All I’ll say is it involves a medical breakthrough, a panicking Shaw and an automatic surgery machine. It’s exciting and innovative, and the way the scene was devised and executed makes us anticipate the series’ other possibilities.
Will Prometheus turn into another series? The ending suggests it will, and I’m hoping it does, especially since it has so many questions left to answer. Not that it has to answer them all at once. I’d rather the writers and filmmakers take their time exploring the science behind an intelligent story than racing to deliver sensational fiction.
Many filmgoers have already expressed their disappointment over Prometheus and say they feel cheated by it. I have a feeling they’re over-comparing it to Alien, which is reasonable enough since it’s the same genre, takes place in the same universe and Ridley Scott is in the director’s chair. But I think if you’re able to turn mute the impression Alien left on you and look at Prometheus on its own terms, you’d agree it holds its own and is worth a trip to the theater. I can understand the plot getting frustrating, but surely film’s the technical presentation is something to behold. Did I mention how great this movie looks, even in 3D? True, on the whole, it’s no Alien, but in this day and age, when it’s so hard even for Hollywood veterans to make something original, Prometheus shows they can still create something thoughtful and memorable.