Ridley Scott foreruns his classic and groundbreaking “Alien” with a compelling and existential film that reaches wide, but ultimately fails. Visually and cinematically stunning, “Prometheus” indulges in the action and one-liners that summer moviegoers may be craving while also bringing a sense of eerie irony. It falls prey to many of the pitfalls found in the “genre” formula, yet it holds a bizarre and resonant quality that other blockbusters lack. This is perhaps what makes this film a particular disappointment. If there were no potential, then the letdown would be less stinging.
The film opens with wide sweeping shots of Scotland and a majestic score to accompany it. These shots are mirrored later in the breathtaking aerial shots of the alien terrain to which the team journeys. After an archaeological dig produces an ancient cave painting of what seems to be an alien being and solar system, a Christian archaeologist (Noomi Rapace) and her partner (Logan Marshall-Green) venture on a deep-space mission to locate the being or planet to which the paintings point.
Once in space, there is an almost (but not quite) uncomfortably long scene in which A.I. David solitarily mans the shuttle, and engages in decidedly human activity. Michael Fassbender, in a stunning performance, portrays David with what one would imagine is both humorous and chilling accuracy. The discomfort in this scene is effective and gripping. The audience is made to feel like a voyeur, setting the tone for our relationship with David, and his relationship to the other crew members.
The real mystery begins upon arrival when the crew is awakened from their cryogenic stasis. It becomes apparent that there are a few different agendas at work here. The scientists are on a pseudo-religious mission, the representative of the corporation who is funding them (Charlize Theron) has her orders, and it is not exactly clear to whom David reports or what his motives are. This intrigue maintains an electric level of tension throughout the movie. Indeed it is the only interesting and believable conflict between the characters.
The typical themes of life, death, creation, and destruction are present here, with parallels (such as the A.I. character) that add to the philosophical nature of many of the questions raised, but can seem a touch heavy-handed. This may be in part due to underdeveloped characters that come off at times as two-dimensional. Some of the later reveals among the characters are especially jarring, and seem to be there only to create human conflict, or drama, when the larger plot could have been arresting enough were it more carefully crafted.
Problems arise when the viewer tries to connect all of the dots. This movie hinges on a sense of mystery, and unfortunately this means that many questions are left unanswered; in fact, even entire scenes never quite find their place within the story. Some of these moments are for the sake of action, or to move the plot forward with more urgency. Without a firm foundation in the logic of this world, though, they fall flat and seem absurd. It is hard to feel, at the end of this movie, as though everything (or even most things) within it had a clear design or purpose. Characters act counter to their personalities, and the motive reveals at the end don’t explain all of their actions (and some of these actions are hard to ignore). Science fiction has a history of making difficult imaginative leaps, but where successful science fiction is concerned, these leaps are always backed up by either science or logic. One particular and simple example is the alien parasite. Unlike Alien, where the incubation and transformation is consistent, in Prometheus, we never see the same reaction twice. The parasite is contracted and incubated at least three different ways, and this is left unexplained. Also, if the movie is seriously trying to reconcile Intelligent Design with Evolution (oh yes, they sure are), then the irrefutable discrepancies must be addressed, or at least theories brought to light. And never mind about getting any sort of closure on the creator/creation relationships. Since there is a definite opening for a sequel, it is possible some questions will be answered then.
The action scenes, as well as the editing, photography direction, and costumes, were spectacular and well done. The film is difficult to look away from, even during scenes where you might want to. The audience is sure to be pleased, at least, with the thrilling ride these visuals create.
Emily Hockaday is a writer living in Queens. She has poetry published in Pear Noir!, The Chaffey Review, The West Wind Review, and Plainspoke. Her first chapbook, Starting a Life, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. You can find her theater reviews in Show Business Magazine, and her educational fiction and poetry with Storied at www.readstoried.com. As an avid Science Fiction fan, she is pleased to be reviewing for Asimov’s and Analog.