“Prometheus”, the sci-fi thriller that marks Ridley Scotts return to the genre, is a cerebral and intense motion picture that asks a lot of challenging questions in an attempt to be more than the average blockbuster. Does it exceed? Well my answer would be yes…but only barely.
Most people, like me, were fairly excited when they learned Scott would return to science fiction. He is responsible for two of the best films of the genre, “Alien” and “Blade Runner”; and when word spread that his newest film would be a sort of quasi-prequel to “Alien”, taking place in the same universe, lots of rumors began to swirl as to what exactly we would be getting.
Well, the story here revolves around two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, who have discovered various ancient cave carvings and drawings across the globe from different cultures that depict the same scene, people worshipping tall creatures pointing to a cluster of stars. Because these civilizations never had any contact, and because the star cluster is located so far from earth that humans would have never known it existed, Shaw and Holloway go to the large and powerful Weyland Industries to get funding for a trip to these planets, one of which just so happens to contain a moon that might be able to support life. But why risk so much on such a long and expensive journey? Shaw and Holloway believe that the drawings they found are an invitation from “engineers”, intelligent life forms that created life on earth, and they as well as the founder of Weyland Industries hope to find the origins of life, and the reasons for our existence.
When the crew headed by Meredith Vickers, a strict representative from Weyland Industries, reaches the moon what they find might not only provide the answers to life that they were looking for, but also bring about the very destruction of that life. All exacerbated by members of the crew, including an all too human android named David, who appear to have hidden agendas.
The entire plot is very thought-provoking. Mainly because the questions brought up, such as the creation of life, planet seeding, and trying to find the answers to why we are here, are all challenging and universal. The only problem is that it doesn’t do very much to answer any of them. There is a bit of ambiguity surrounding the events of the film that I did in fact enjoy. There are times when it leaves thing open for interoperation, understanding that in reality many of these questions can’t be answer, and instead just provides alternative explanations. This is all fine, what bothered me though was when many of these themes were just dropped from the film after only being brought up once. For instance, there is a moment in which Shaw and Holloway talk about god and how if these “engineers” are responsible for life, should she remove her cross necklace because it means a god doesn’t exist. In the very same conversation one of them questions the important of life if it can be created so easily. Both are very intriguing notions, but both never really come up again. Yes, the audience can take what happens in the story and try to make their own assumptions as to god and the importance of life, but the real issue is that the characters themselves never really do this.
This mostly has to do with my second big issue of the film, which was the lack of really any development of the crew members outside of Shaw. One thing I enjoyed about “Prometheus”, which is one thing I loved about “Alien”, was that it takes it time. It doesn’t really jump right into the action. The major difference is that whereas in “Alien” the crew members seem to all have their own personalities and we get enough of each to care or at least make us think we know them, “Prometheus” fails to make anyone, besides a very select few members of the crew, have any development. This wouldn’t usually be an issue even if death in horror films is made more effective when those threatened are people we care about; but considering stuff that happens in the end, when some of the characters make decisions that could typically make for rather emotional moments but alas because we know nothing about them it just doesn’t hit as hard as it could. So with more development, not only could there have been more of an emotional connection with the crew, it would have also let them have more time to contemplate all these questions the film asked. It makes me wonder and hope that a director’s cut will be released.
Thematic and character issues aside, the film is damn near perfect on a visual and heart pounding intensity level. The set designs, of the ship Prometheus and foreign world for example, are stunning. This comes as no surprise given that Scott has always been very good at creating futuristic worlds. His use of 3-D was also incredibly effective. It isn’t used simply as a gimmick, nothing made to come shooting out of the screen for scares, it is just there to add a bit of depth which I like.
As for the horror/thriller aspects of the story….well the first thing that came to mind when I walked out of the theater was that what I just watched was absolutely insane. Like “Alien” it just has those totally shocking, eerie and at times bloody moments that are not for the squeamish. This was incredibly satisfying of course; of all the things I wanted from the film, to feel completely uncomfortable at times and just stunned by what I was seeing on screen was one of them. It is in these two ways, the visual beauty and intensity, in which the film really makes up for some of the previously mentioned flaws.
Another of the films redeeming qualities are the performances from the main cast, which were generally great. Michael Fassbender steals the show, as the eerie and impassive android David. Fassbender is always brilliant, and the mystery and wonder he brings to David makes for a fascinating but also unnerving character. Noomi Rapace (Shaw) was also wonderful. She is one of the better actresses to emerge in the past few years, and the emotion and horror really work all the better when being channeled through her. Also, Charlize Theron is at her stone cold bitchiest and Idris Elda just continues to prove he is one of the coolest individuals around, which made them both fun to watch. The supporting cast held their ground I guess, though most were just the stereotypical hard-ass’s “just here to get paid” while being complete morons until their inevitable death.
So in the end, I can say that I did in fact highly enjoy “Prometheus”. It works on a whole lot of levels, in being both visually stunning and intensely thrilling. Its only fault is that it tried to be a bit too smart, asking far too many questions, and not having answers to most of them. Perhaps on another viewing, or given more time to mull it over…or if a director’s cut comes out with more story and characters…then I will think more highly of the themes it attempts to tackled. Until then I can only admire it for being a better than average sci-fi thriller blockbuster and at least trying to strive to be challenging and thought provoking, and maybe that is enough, but I can’t help feel a little let down.