How far would you go to get your answers?
Very few summer blockbusters can be at once visually arresting, packed with entertainment, and intellectually deep. Prometheus is all three, and aside from a few missteps, it works to a great degree. Needless to say, there is more to Prometheus than meets the eye — and what meets the eye is pretty spectacular.
Prometheus is, of course, the much-hyped and now inordinately divisive film from Mr. Ridley Scott. It has become referred to as an indirect prequel to Scott’s 1979 sci-fi thriller Alien, in that it shares some of the same “DNA”, so to speak, as Scott’s slow-burning original. I’d argue that the two share more than “some” DNA, but hey, that’s just me.
The story of the crew of the spacecraft Prometheus begins when two archaeological researchers, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), find a star map that is depicted by various unconnected ancient civilizations over thousands of years. This star map contains a planetary system not unlike our own, in which a planet, revolving around its sun, has a moon that is capable of sustaining life. As such, it is thought that these markings could hold the key to discovering the origins of mankind.
Engineer and tycoon Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), a very old man who longs for immortality, sends a group of archaeologists, geologists, engineers, and expeditioners on what could be called the world’s greatest journey. That is, until the crew gets more than they bargained for and ends up in an unscheduled battle for Earth’s salvation. As the tagline states, the search for our beginning could lead to our end.
We get a range of performances here, some great, some less so, and there is an issue at times with character development.
The two female leads in the film, Charlize Theron, playing Weyland Corporation employee Meredith Vickers, and Noomi Rapace, as archaeologist Shaw, fall at two opposite ends of the spectrum. Rapace turns in a rather outstanding performance; Shaw has an interesting story arc, and Rapace does well to tap into it and fulfill her role in various situations, including the film’s most gruesome and disturbing scene. More than anything, Theron’s Vickers is a one-dimensional character, bad for the sake of being bad, though in the end we do come to understand why she is, in short, such a bitch.
Idris Elba is good as Janek, the everyman captain of the Prometheus that represents the true humanity of the crew. Logan Marshall-Green, however, is pretty dull in comparison, a one-off character that you sort of dismiss after 15 minutes. It’s Michael Fassbender, as the ship’s android David, that is the shining star here. Fassbender gives a tremendous performance in a role that should have been extremely limiting; he is muted and emotionless as a robot, and yet, he really isn’t.
Fassbender’s David and Marshall-Green’s Charlie have one of the best exchanges in the film. In response to a question from David about why humans made him, Charlie responds, “We made you ’cause we could.” This prompts a haunting and foreboding response from David: “Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?”
With David, Ridley Scott explores what it means to be a human. For the purposes of the voyage, David is made as human as possible: he has human features, displays human emotions, and interacts like a human. David is an idealization of what a human should be, yet he is constantly reminded by the crew that he isn’t capable of humanity.
As with other sci-fi epics, the narrative of Prometheus is a bit thin. A lot happens on-screen, but there really isn’t too much depth to the story. It can more or less be summed up in one five-word sentence: mankind seeks out its beginnings. However, when it comes to a film like this, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, or at least not as detrimental as it could be.
I don’t want to go into too much detail with the happenings of the plot because I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone. With that said, Ridley Scott puts a lot of questions and ideas on the canvas but never quite paints the full picture, continually begging his audience to use their brains to try to fill in the white spots.
Another one of the big questions Scott tackles in the film is that of how the universe and humankind were created. You see, Charlie and Elizabeth are a couple, and not only that, but they also have vastly different belief systems. Charlie is a staunch Darwinist, while Elizabeth believes strongly in God’s creation of the universe.
Even after the discovery of humanoids that could, in fact, be our “makers,” Shaw says this, upon being asked by Charlie if she will take off her crucifix necklace: “If they made us… then who made them?” What Ridley Scott creates is an idea for the coexistence of these two clashing ideologies. Perhaps God created these earlier beings, and then we evolved from them? Whether you could ever believe this theory or not isn’t what matters. Scott really just wants us to ponder: how did we get here?
He does this, of course, all in the pretext of crafting an excellent sci-fi epic. For what is a summer blockbuster without spectacular visuals and a cargo full of thrilling sequences? Prometheus is easily one of the best looking films I have ever seen, period — if it doesn’t win the Oscar for Visual Effects, I don’t know what will — and it comes chockfull of action and horror.
It seems that I enjoyed Prometheus more than any of the people I saw it with. Perhaps that’s because I seem to connect rather well with Scott’s curiosity; I have pondered time and time again some of the same questions that he asks during the course of the film. How is our universe connected? Is there life outside our planet? And if so, is it intelligent? Harmful? Searching for us as passionately as we are searching for it?
To these questions, I say this: I don’t know. And neither does Scott. Rather than give you the answers to all of its big questions, Prometheus instead is wrought with ideas and questions and theories and skepticism and beliefs. It’s up to you, the viewer, what to make of it all, and I think that is probably one of the greatest strengths of his film, but also why it has caused such a rift among critics and viewers alike. We want answers, and it’s just easier if they are fed to us than if we take the time and effort to explore the questions and come up with our own answers.
Ridley Scott spent the first part of his career shaping the sci-fi landscape with films like Alien and Blade Runner. With Prometheus, Scott spends the better part of two hours trying to revive it. How well he succeeds will rely almost entirely on how willing his audience is to explore the ideas and questions he presents.
Prometheus is a very entertaining film in myriad ways. It has a sense of grandeur about it, both in terms of the visuals on-screen and the scope of the actions and ideas within. While its suspense may not be as rivetingly built-up as Alien, its praise as great as Gladiator, or its action as packed as Black Hawk Down, Prometheus certainly is a film worth watching at least once, and thinking about for hours, for it packs a punch that few summer films do.