Prometheus – A sort of review (with spoilers)

I’ve been struggling with my review of Prometheus ever since I saw it on Saturday.

Not because there isn’t a lot to discuss…this is a movie that whether or not you like it, there is a lot to think about and a lot to talk about.

Partially I think I’ve been held back because I am not 100% how much I liked this movie. There are moments when I think about all the plot holes, jumps in logic, idiotic character decisions, and I think “Wow, that really wasn’t very good.” But then I’ll think about watching it, being caught up in the story and visuals, the questions the movie posed and mostly never answered, the handful of wonderful performances, and I’ll think “Wow, that was really very good.”

See the problem?

Add to this the issue of talking about the movie, the heart of the movie without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it.

So I had written about 2/3 of a regular review and stopped because it working. And since then I’ve just been thinking and reading a lot about Prometheus, and then doing some more thinking.

I will do a spoiler warning now because I will have talk about particular plot points. Sorry.

Prometheus is essentially a movie about the search for meaning. Yes, that is a grand statement and yes, it’s fairly reductive, but that’s at the core of what happens. Humanity has always looked to understand the “why”, not just the “how”and that is what moves everything. To know the why you have to ask someone, your creator; you have to meet your creator to find out. If one exists, that is.

Thing is – what if your creator doesn’t want to meet you. What if your creator made you just because they could, not because of any grand plan or moral purpose. Just because.  How utterly demoralizing would that be. An answer like that would make so many lose whatever hold they have on their place in the universe and become completely untethered. And how much worse would it be to know that your creator looked up on you and didn’t see that it was good…

With that we think about the opening of the movie. On a green and vibrant planet, a giant, pale humanoid watches as a spaceship leaves him behind. He purposefully opens a small container, whose dark contents seem almost alive. He drinks. Almost immediately he starts to come apart – his skin becomes flakes in the wind, his connective tissues dissolve. He falls off the cliff and into the waters below, all the while breaking down into the barest of components. We end with his very DNA strands becoming infected and disintegrate. But before we leave this, we see the strands reform, creating the proteins for something new. And life is born.

A god? Ridley Scott has dubbed him “the farmer”

Is this our creation? Is the above our creator? Within the confines of this movie, probably.

And these creators or “Engineers” leave star maps in caves and stone walls all across the globe for two intrepid scientists to discover. These scientists – Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe that these maps exist across civilizations and across centuries because the Engineers want us to come find them. An act of faith and hubris if there ever was one.

So they go looking and find this moon, LV 223 (not, LV426 the moon where the original Alien took place). This is a desolate moon, that clearly housed some sort of alien structure (nature doesn’t do straight lines). Once on the moon, the crew heads for this structure and explores where perhaps they shouldn’t and things start to fall apart. Personal and secret agendas change the course of basic scientific exploration. Human make human decisions and err the way humans do; endangering the lives of all, the way humans do. And theories are proven oh so very wrong.

Poor decision – seeing this in your eye and going back out to explore

Even though this is at its core a movie about ideas, there are characters and performances that are just as essential. Michael Fassbender’s synthetic human David is the most remarkable of all. Before the ship Prometheus lands on the moon, we are treated to several minutes of David awake and roaming the ship, as his human counterparts are in hypersleep. These are some of the most fascinating scenes in the movie.

From the moment I saw the viral video about David, I knew that this was going to be the character that I would want to follow most. Being the only conscious creature on board, he has to find ways to keep himself occupied. David watches over his fellow shipmates as they slumber, peering into their dreams, learning about them in a manner that is most unfair. David rides a bicycle in a cavernous room, shooting hoops as he circles around. He studies ancient languages. David watches Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia, and adopts O’Toole’s mannerisms and carriage, and dyes his hair to match. You get the sense that there is a lot going on beneath the surface while that surface remains calm and collected.

Curiosity killed the synthetic human

His motives aren’t always clear, though. It’s more than just working Weyland. The moment David dips his fingertip into that glass, that moment that changes the rest of the film, does not seem to come from an order. Like Ash and Bishop after him, David has his very own agenda. And I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a little bit of revenge in that flick of a finger.

Another character who was interesting, but didn’t work quite as well for me was Elizabeth Shaw. Noomi Rapace captures Shaw’s fervent belief and the brief glimpses we see into her past explain her ability to have faith when it would be so easy to dismiss it. But by the time she has had to perform a self surgery (easily the most difficult scene to watch) and been chased down narrow corridors and across the moon’s surface by a creature that would rather see her dead than give any explanations, you have to wonder why she is so eager to continue to follow her research at the end. Her faith propels her forward when all rational minds would stop dead in their tacks. Perhaps that is just the way of blind faith. It struck me, however, as foolish.

Theron’s second act this summer as an ice queen of sorts

There is a nice dynamic between Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers, the corporate member of the delegation with an icy demeanor and calculating stare, and Idris Elba’s Janek, captain of the ship. Their little chat about whether Vickers was a robot herself gave the movie a much needed moment of levity, and cracked the surface just a bit on both their characters who weren’t otherwise wholly fleshed out.

And I had a personal soft spot of Fifield, the geologist played by Sean Harris. His attitude was the most pragmatic, his desire to leave early logical, and his end was the most bizarre.

Fifield proves apparently that tattoos = sassy attitude

These characters aside, this is a movie about the why of it all. There is an obvious parallel between the situation of humanity and the Engineers with that of David and humanity. Holloway is almost combative when he questions David about his lack of curiosity about his own creators. When Holloway answers that David was probably created because “we could”, he fails to see the danger in that answer. Since David is without real human emotions and is only a simulacrum of a real person, the answer doesn’t bother him. But perhaps this is where David’s thoughts of quiet revenge began?

Holloway and Shaw and the rest are not as lucky when they get their answer to the same question. The utter indifference that the Engineer shows Shaw and her fellow humans is shocking. Our very existence was spawned by the self sacrifice of one of their own, but the Engineers seemed so hell bent on destroying us nonetheless. Ships full of the mysterious black goo that mutates DNA and creates monsters with the slightest contact were headed for Earth before the Engineers were downed by their own folly (and a few xenomorphs). This discovery is just as devastating as hearing that you came into being “just because”; created on a whim, destroyed on a whim.  Nothing like apathy about your very survival from your creator to make you feel completely insignificant and random in a universe that already makes you feel insignificant and random.

Creator. Destroyer. Mutation. Take your pick

While the plot may be a bit overworked and spotty, that doesn’t translate to what you see on screen – everything visual is beautifully realized. The opening scene, filmed in Iceland, is a vision of paradise. LV 223 is desolate and harsh. The alien structure is dark and scary and just alien enough to make you feel ill at ease. Filming in 3D makes a huge difference to the quality of the 3D effects – you feel immersed, rather than poked at. And Scott’s decision to use CGI only when reality couldn’t work is visible in every shot.

So I still struggle. Is this a great movie that will stand the test of time as Alien and Aliens have? No. Does it try to tackle the great mysteries of the universal truth and fall short? Yes. But is this a movie that has stuck in my head and I continue to mentally chew days after seeing it?

A resounding yes.

(An all paper version of the trailer)

About ilmozart

Pop culture addict. Reading enthusiast. Music lover. Occasional believer in the city of Atlantis.
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7 Responses to Prometheus – A sort of review (with spoilers)

  1. Joey Joe Joe Shabadoo says:

    Wow-who knew it would be just as creepy in paper?

    Well, of course I had the honor to see this with you and then discuss many of the themes and issues and there were some issues in this mother, and I think you hit on the key point–humans yearn for purpose and meaning and answers but will getting those answers be fulfilling, or even remotely positive? I liked that you used the word “hubris”, because not only was the mission one of selfish folly and imagined control, the whole movie is a kind of conceit.

    Nevertheless, I dug it and Fassbender’s David was devine. Having to be non-human and yet more human than the rest of the cast requires an actor of skill and nuance and Fassbender is that.

    And I was hugely entertained. I also liked that there were elemental questions left for us at the end of the movie. That is so like life, ain’t it?

    • ilmozart says:

      It would seem that in mythology the gods always punished humans for their hubris, for reaching beyond what they felt man should be reaching for. This just mirrored that. But of course, as I said to you yesterday, if we don’t try to go beyond our limits, we’d still be sitting in caves, banging rock together.
      I think I’ll have to see this movie again in a few weeks…

  2. Dmargaglione says:

    Hi ilmozart,

    I think your review hit the nail on the head for the most part, but that Scott had some other nails in Prometheus which still need to be struck. Scott fuels his film with mankind’s innate longing to reveal the mystery of its own inception and purpose. However, the director also makes an insightful commentary on how humans do not merely want to know their creator, but they desire to usurp the throne. We see this lust for control and power most vividly in Vickers’ anger towards her father for not handing over the keys to the kingdom. I think Scott uses this father-daughter relationship as a metaphor of the jealous relationship humans sometimes have with their ultimate Father and Creator. In addition, it seems that this human trait somehow exists in David’s programming. How fascinating was it that the android felt it necessary to take away the heroine’s cross, a sign of faith in her God. To take power he attempts to kill her God or at least her concept of God (a horrible strategy used many times throughout history) Do we not hear echoes of Nietzsche in this inhuman act? Is Scott trying to make a social commentary on how our search for truth is at war with our desire to be God? Perhaps that is why the Engineer is so quick to attack the party of inquirers. He knows that behind their search for answers is their eagerness to take power.

    Near the end of the film Scott also throws in another question about divine responsibility. Shaw will not rest until she knows why our creators would want to “un-create” us if you will. Her conscience is unsettled at this injustice. Just as we believe that it is a mother’s solemn duty to take care of her own children, God must have our well being in mind. With creation comes responsibility. It is for this very reason that so many people struggle with the concept of God. When one surveys the suffering that exists in the world, be it disease, natural disaster, or human violence, it can be easy to ask the question “how is this part of the plan of a loving God?” While I will not approach that question right now, Scott uses that sense of injustice as the new thrust of Shaw’s continued search. I find it interesting that she armed herself with the sign of her faith before she set forth again. To look for answers presupposes faith in the fact that there are truths to be found. Does it seem illogical that she decides to keep searching instead of going home? Maybe. However, this is who we are at our very nature – seekers of truth.

    I agree with you that this is not the tight film of Alien or Aliens. I think that this time around the filmmaker was grappling with much bigger questions than how to scare an audience. I think the vehicle he used for this ambitious task was not a perfect fit and consequently it is more flawed. Still, just like you, I find this one a keeper that stays with you.

    • ilmozart says:

      I agree that man has an ultimate desire to usurp power, and there is a definite mirroring in the Vickers/Weyland relationship and man’s relationship with his creator.
      It doesn’t seem to me like Scott believes that divine responsibility leans towards the positive. Or at least he doesn’t have a lot of positive theories about it. All creators in this movie are cold to their creations – the Engineers to man, man to robot, Weyland to his daughter. We create because we can and damn the consequences.
      I saw David taking Shaw’s cross less as an act to destroy her faith or her god, but much more matter of fact. The synthetic human doesn’t see the point in having faith in something he must see as a folly. He probably thought he was doing her a favor. I didn’t see sadism as part of his programming.
      Also, I saw her putting on her cross at the end more as a connection to her father than to god. But one of the great things about movies is that we can interpret them any darned way we see fit.
      The movie is something I really want to see again, no matter how flawed it was.

      • Dmargaglione says:

        I’d go see it again with you…that is after I see Magic Mike. 🙂 By the way, I don’t think David was being sadistic as he was being strategic. He was stripping away something he knew gave her strength and hope. However, the more I think about it, he thought she was as good as dead at that point. So perhaps he was keeping it as an artifact or a memento of a concept he cannot understand.

      • ilmozart says:

        Name the day, we’ll go. I think David was just so enigmatic it’s almost impossible to get any real insight into why he did any of the things he did really. Another reason I want to see the movie again. Maybe a second viewing will shed some light.
        And Magic Mike is on the docket for tomorrow!

  3. Pingback: A Year in Movies – Looking Back at 2012 pt 1 | Movies, TV, and all things Pop Culture

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