An emotionless robot stares at a drop of primordial goo on the tip of his finger and says reverently, “Big things have small beginnings.” This line, while a bit banal, is the essence of Prometheus, a fantasized exploration of the origin of humanity.
Creation myths are usually quite fascinating, and the fictional one that Ridley Scott has created in Prometheus is no exception. (I don’t say “fictional” to imply that other creation myths are “fact,” but rather that this creation myth is made up for the purposes of the movie.) After discovering a series of mysterious cave paintings, scientists and lovers Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) have been given the funding for a deep-space expedition to a planet that could contain intelligent life forms that human beings sprouted from. The company funding this journey is Weyland Corp, for purposes that have, of course, been hidden from Shaw and Holloway. Joining them is David (Michael Fassbender), a robot designed by Weyland Corp to assist the crew, but who also seems to have an ulterior agenda.
The parallels between the events of Prometheus and Christianity are obvious: The film takes place during Christmastime; the theme of self-sacrifice reappears several times; and there’s even an immaculate conception, of sorts. But although the characters discover that mankind was created by other life forms and not a higher being, Prometheus isn’t an atheistic film and it doesn’t portray religion in any negative light. The common thread between the ideas in Prometheus and Christianity is that human beings are severely flawed. But whereas Christianity is built around salvation for sinful people, the “Engineers” in Prometheus planned to eliminate human life after seeing how we turned out.
There has been some confusion as to whether or not Prometheus is a prequel to Scott’s classic Alien, and the answer is an emphatic “sorta.” While the film takes place in the same universe as Alien at an earlier date, the premise is completely original and there are no characters shared between the films. Those going to the theater and expecting to see the famous Xenomorph designed by H.R. Giger won’t get what they want. But even though Prometheus introduces a new baddie to the mix, you can still expect plenty of skin-crawling moments to feed your lust for gore.
Ridley Scott, working from a script credited to Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, gets a little too hung up on the visual splendor and themes in Prometheus and sometimes loses sight of his characters. There were apparently more than 15 crew members on board the ship, but I can really only tell you a lot about two of them, and I only know the names of four of them. Obviously, you can’t spend too much time on every crew member, but after a while, it just seemed quite obvious that they existed only to be killed to show the severity of the situation. Important character relationships, such as that of Shaw and Holloway, and Weyland Corp representative Vickers (Charlize Theron) and her father, aren’t particularly interesting or impactful.
Still, there are interesting characters to be found, particularly in the curious robot David. Michael Fassbender is outstanding as Weyland Corporation’s manufactured humanoid. David is not designed to “feel” or “want,” but he does have an unending curiosity that sometimes makes him seem as though he’s evil. He likes the movie Lawrence of Arabia and styles his hair to match Peter O’Toole’s in the film. He walks around the ship repeating his favorite line, trying to perfect it. David isn’t evil; he’s just corrupted by having to complete his duty. In a film inundated with creation themes, the fact that David is an invention of man is important to remember, particularly when an Engineer makes use of him near the end of the film.
Atmosphere is a huge player in Prometheus, as it was in the Alien films. Ridley Scott knows how to draw the tension out of almost every scene, creating a suspenseful and frightening world. Prometheus manages to maintain a claustrophobic feeling throughout, whether the characters be stuck on the ship or outside wearing those spacesuits with the fishbowl helmets. The one misstep I feel Scott makes is his inclusion of the opening scene, depicting an Engineer creating human life. While visually appealing, this scene removes a great deal of mystery that could have been utilized during the film. In the beginning, Shaw and Holloway want to discover if we are descendants of these creatures. Because of the opening scene, we already know the answer to this. The revelation that our DNA matches theirs has no impact on the audience and seems unimportant.
Prometheus may raise more questions than it answers, but those questions are thought-provoking and shouldn’t really have definite answers. It is these ponderings on life that separate good sci-fi from great sci-fi, and the latter category is definitely where one should file Prometheus. The performances are strong, the atmosphere is right, and the themes are so rich you can talk about them for hours. Prometheus is a thinking man’s film wrapped up to look like an alien movie.
My Rating: (8/10)
(Obviously I enjoyed Prometheus, but there were quite a few unanswered questions. Here’s a pretty funny video that points them all out. Beware of spoilers.)