Movie Review: Prometheus
By Matthew Huntley
June 14, 2012
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.
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.