Ridley Scott has returned to the Alien franchise, directing Prometheus, a prequel that incorporates elements from the Alien canon but tries to distance itself from certain aspects of the previous films. Basically Prometheus is trying to be its own film, which it largely succeeds in doing.
As far as Alien films go, the franchise hasn’t had a truly decent movie since Aliens was made in 1986. It’s safe to say that Prometheus breaks the curse. That’s not to say it isn’t without its flaws, and it never seems to rise to the high standards put in place by Alien and Aliens.
This is a film that invites viewers to think deeper about the meaning of existence, which in turn requires people to think deeply about the film itself. Unfortunately when you do that with Prometheus, the film begins to reveal lots of cracks in the logic of its plot and ultimately prevents this film from being as great as it could have been. Nevertheless if you’re looking for something fun and entertaining Prometheus doesn’t disappoint.
In 2089 archeologists Elisabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) discover a set of ancient cave paintings that depict a star map. This star map matches paintings found from different ancient cultures from different times all across the globe. The archeologists believe this map is an invitation from a race of humanoid aliens that are called “Engineers.” Shaw believes these extra terrestrials may be responsible for creating humanity.
Shortly after this discovery, the archeologists find themselves on board the ship, Prometheus, with mission director Meridith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the ship’s android David (Michael Fassbender), and a host of other scientists and mercenaries. There mission is to explore the location of the star map and make contact with the Engineers.
Prometheus is a Titan from Greek mythology that was believed to have made humans out of clay. After creating humans he defied the Gods and taught mankind how to make fire. As punishment for defying the Gods, Zeus had Prometheus bound to a rock, and everyday an eagle would rip out his liver which would grow back the next day and the process would repeat itself.
A number of morals come out of this story and they include the importance of mankind’s striving for knowledge, and they warn about the risk of overreaching oneself (which Prometheus did by defying the Gods). Prometheus the film is a cautionary tale, and it largely explores the dangers of overreaching with technology, creating a parable with the thematic structure of the Prometheus mythological story.
It’s this type of depth within the storytelling and filmmaking that invites audiences to dig deeper into Prometheus’ story. While the analogy to the mythology of Prometheus works wonders for the film, it unfortunately opens it up to nitpicking at certain missed details and flawed logic. And that is where the flaws of this movie begin to pile on. Plot devices are left unexplained by the end of the movie, for example what’s the deal with the huge green stone? And a good example of flawed logic is why were the Engineers in the hologram escaping to a room for safety that had the very dangerous black goo in it?
Other explanations for character motivations aren’t explained directly in the movie, but rather the film expects the viewer to understand certain things based off of previously taught knowledge in the Alien films. For example anyone who hasn’t seen Alien will have a difficult time understanding David’s decisions and actions.
The standout acting performance and best character in the film belongs to Michael Fassbender’s depiction of David, whom I like to call Robot Lawrence of Arabia. In the film, this android’s hero is Peter O’Toole’s depiction of T.E. Lawrence from the 1962 classic, Lawrence of Arabia.
David has Lawrence’s movie blond hair, he speaks with the same dialect as Lawrence, and he frequently inserts quotes from Lawrence of Arabia into his speeches – “Big things have small beginnings.” If you’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia, you should have an extra appreciation for David because there are so many analogies and similarities between him and Lawrence.
Charlize Theron is delegated a supporting role in this film, where she plays the acting leader of the ship and a representative of Weyland Corporation. She handles the blurred lines between corporate interests and moral interests perfectly. Noomi Rapace carries the bulk of the film as Dr. Shaw, and gives an impressive English speaking performance (she’s Swedish) that does justice to the role of female heroine that the Alien films have become so famous for.
Inevitably she will invite comparisons to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, but there are enough differences between the two characters. Shaw for example is capable of having a romantic relationship with someone, she has a more intellectual based background, and she is a religious advocate.
Despite trying to distance itself from Alien, the film still pays tribute to the original film, including an intense re-working of Alien’s famous birthing scene. Other aspects from Alien like the extended silences in the film’s score, and various references to the goo, acid, and other physical characteristics of aliens from previous films are abundantly featured in Prometheus.
This feels like the first successful attempt at a reboot of the Alien franchise. A lot of questions are left open ended, and a lot of things are left unexplained – this may frustrate some people. The film’s ending is not entirely conclusive, Prometheus answers the primary question that’s being asked throughout the film, which is – were humans created by a superior race?
However, by the conclusion of the film, a lot of new questions, many of which are closely related to the previously mentioned question, are brought up and instead of creating anticipation for a sequel, the film leaves many wondering why they didn’t just answer all of these closely related questions at once. I can’t say whether or not this was a good idea, because there isn’t a sequel yet, but should the sequel be a terrible movie, it would do a lot to undermine the shaky structure that is holding this film in place.