Saturday, June 9, 2012 07:27 PM
(Last updated on Sunday, June 10, 2012 08:01 AM)
On the Viewer - Prometheus
 by Fëanor

Ridley Scott's Prometheus (written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof) is technically a prequel to Scott's own Alien (with a gap of some 33 years between the two movies). But don't get too hung up on that fact. If anything the movie has more in common - in terms of its subject and themes and the Great Big Deep Questions it asks - with Scott's other science fiction classic, Blade Runner (which, if you're still counting, came out 30 years ago). Despite the thrill I got from recognizing the various references back to the other film - visual and verbal - I almost wish it hadn't been developed as a prequel to Alien at all, as focusing on the places where the two stories don't quite fit together can distract you from the fact that Prometheus tells its own complete tale and is easily strong enough to stand on its own as a work comparable in excellence with its masterful predecessor.

The movie opens with a slightly puzzling sequence that - given what comes after, and given the title of the film - we eventually understand to be depicting a God-like being descending from the heavens onto primordial Earth and sacrificing himself to provide the spark that will give rise to humanity as we know it. A tremendous leap forward in time, to our near future, introduces us to scientists (and lovers) Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who have discovered evidence of these God-like beings in ancient art all over the world. The art takes the form of a kind of map that seems to point the way to where those being came from. Thanks to the monetary assistance of an interested party - Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the founder and CEO of Weyland Industries (a company that fans of the Alien franchise should already be very familiar with) - the scientists get the chance to follow the map and meet their makers. Accompanying them on the expedition is Mr. Weyland's "son," a polite android known as David (Michael Fassbender, in a subtle but tremendous performance - as in the other Alien films, the robot is one of the most fascinating characters). A short but fantastic sequence gives us an idea what his life is like on the ship during its over two year long voyage to its destination. While the human crew and passengers are packed away and preserved in cryo-sleep, he plays basketball from a bicycle, watches Lawrence of Arabia (identifying with T.E. Lawrence perhaps a bit more than is healthy), and takes video lessons on ancient languages.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), another representative from the company, is such a bad-ass that she somehow manages to wake from her cryo-sleep a bit early, and wanders off to her room to do dripping wet, half-naked push-ups while the other humans are recovering from the experience by going into shock and throwing up into buckets. She quickly bursts the bubble of the two scientists, revealing that the expedition isn't really theirs at all anymore, but Weyland's, and that they are forbidden to make contact with any alien life forms they might find. As always in the Alien films, The Company is pursuing its own, secret agenda. (I think one of the things I like the most about these movies is their healthy distrust of Big Business.)

But Shaw, at least, isn't the kind of person to come all this way and then back down in the face of a few obstacles. She's a hunter, a fighter, and, perhaps most importantly, a believer. Holloway nearly matches her passion, but only nearly. When the two of them reveal what they're willing to risk to get the answers they seek, the biologist (Rafe Spall) turns to the cranky, anti-social geologist (Sean Harris) and says, "I thought you were the crazy one." (Aside: I thought it was a little weird the biologist wasn't more interested in examining a giant alien corpse, but whatever.)

And what is it exactly that they find on that alien world? Well, I think I've already spoiled enough. Suffice it to say, the film is about what would happen if we met our maker, and it turned out he was a scumbag. How would we react? What would we do? Would it break us? Would it shake our faith? When Holloway doesn't get the answers he wants, he falls into a funk, and David has a wonderful conversation with him about what it's like to talk with your makers about why they made you, the subtext being that how someone treats what they make says a lot about them. Meanwhile, Shaw just gets to work. And keeps working. Keeps asking. Her faith never wavers.

Prometheus is a wonderful and effective horror thriller, in part due to excellent effects and stunning visuals, but mostly thanks to good writing, great acting, and interesting characters. Although a scene involving surgery is one of the most viscerally horrific moments, the most lasting and chilling scare in the film is the existential horror at the center of its story. But what I like most about it is that it's not about monsters killing people. In fact, it's not really about the monsters at all. It's a deep and thoughtful film about people - who we are, where we came from, what makes us worthwhile. If, at the end of the film, you are frustrated that it has left you with unanswered questions and are hoping a sequel will answer them, I'm afraid you've missed the point. The point is asking the questions. Shaw's last line in the film is, "Still searching." And that's what it's all about: the searching.
Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)

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Welcome to the blog of Jim Genzano, writer, web developer, husband, father, and enjoyer of things like the internet, movies, music, games, and books. For a more detailed run-down of who I am and what goes on here, read this.

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