Review: Prometheus

Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba
Runtime: 124 min.
MPAA: R

There exists a perception that religion and science are in a perpetual state of war. One cannot maintain faith in the scriptures of their respective dogma while acknowledging the strengths found in the Big Bang theory … at least, insofar as those that seek some sort of ubiquitous truth are concerned. To those that seek the answers to those questions that have been pondered for as long as history itself – where did we come from? why are we here? – it is essentially inconceivable (if not offensive) that there may not be a single truth, or that the truth may be in stark contrast to the beliefs that one holds dear. Questions, to some, are not meant to be open-ended. To others, considering such issues is a paramount aspect of life, as a mind is a precious thing to waste.

The ability to appeal to the viewer’s philosophical foundations, in the most intrinsically beautiful sense of the bounds of the human mind, and subsequently challenge them is the defining characteristic of Prometheus.

This appeal to reason, or open-endedness to some, is set forth at the outset of the film, with a viscerally beautiful scene that contextualizes all of that which will follow. The cycle of creation (or, perhaps more accurately, a cycle of creation) is presented in its most fundamental form – the bookends of existence. That is, birth and death. However, the viewer is left unawares of what exactly is created … and thus begins the dogmatic challenge of Prometheus.

In a practical sense, Prometheus follows in the footsteps of its forebears (specifically, Alien and Aliens). Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are scientists following a trail of impossibility to all ends of the Earth, as they discover distinctive star maps among the ruins of cultures separated by hundreds of miles and thousands of years. Such may well be evidence of the origins of life on Earth, and, with the assistance of the trillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), a group of scientists embark on a journey to meet our potential makers.

The very essence of Prometheus is epitomized by Shaw and David (Fassbender), the android caretaker of the Prometheus and its crew. Shaw is a woman of faith, believing that there is some higher purpose to life and existence. To her, this is a journey to discover not only the origin of humanity, but also the reasoning behind our creation – an answer to ‘why are we here?’ in its purest form. For Shaw, the purpose of the journey is to substantiate her beliefs, or at least conform the fruits thereof to her beliefs.

David, on the other hand, is inquisitive and open-minded. Despite the purported limitations of his android construction, he gleans a clear sense of purpose and enjoyment in learning languages to attempt contact with our creators, exploring the ruins on the alien world, and discerning the properties of the discoveries therein. Whereas Shaw is seeking confirmation, David is most interested in the journey itself and the acquisition of knowledge.

Noomi Rapace is superb in her role, displaying remarkable range with respect to the human condition. She is flawed, to be sure – she is somewhat iron-minded and perhaps overly dependent on her companion. At the same time, though, she demonstrates remarkable grace under pressure in constructing a believable (and relatable) character.

Despite this, it is Michael Fassbender that shines brightest in the darkness of Prometheus. Fassbender is equal parts witty, sullen, and off-putting, displaying an endearing sense childlike wonderment. There is an eerie sense of calculation to most everything that he says and does, particularly where his jaw is set and his gaze fixed in consternation, giving him the vaguest of robotic qualities while making the viewer wonder what, if anything, is dancing through his thoughts. Where Rapace is a testament to the human condition, Fassbender is an outsider’s bastardization of humanity, so much so that it begs the question of what it means to be human.

The remainder of the cast, save for Charlize Theron and Idris Elba – both of which were underutilized despite strong characterization and fine acting – was essentially disposable. This is a weakness, to be sure, particularly when viewed in contrast to Alien. However, when taken in concert with the faith versus reason quarrel between Rapace and Fassbender, it seems almost necessary.

As may well be expected with a Ridley Scott film, the grandest star of Prometheus might just be the filmmaking itself. The landscapes are lush and desolate, the color palette is remarkable, the caves are ominous, and the music is pervasive and haunting. The sheer visual scale of the film is awe inspiring, with rich details soaking up every bit of sight and sound. When held in concert with heartbeat and breathing provided by the score, each setting comes alive as a character of sorts, as something that the viewer is always aware of, lurking and hiding, ready to pounce.

To me, the true beauty Prometheus lay in the metaphysical. The viewer is presented with a series of questions and, while there may not be clear answers for each inquiry, information is given in such a way that we are left to decide what to believe. There are obvious links to the Bible throughout the film, as well as references to On the Origin of Species and Enlightenment thinking. We are given scientific explanations for most everything, and yet the specter of something akin to Intelligent Design rarely strays too far.

Prometheus is a very ambitious film that finds itself in the wheelhouse for those of us that enjoy asking questions and appreciate the vagaries of life. It is certainly not for everyone, as it is wholehearted science fiction that relies on the viewer’s ability to take in the scale of existence and appreciate that which cannot be answered. It is a philosophical meditation on the perception of faith and fact, and it is wholly rewarding from credits to credits.

It is, in short, one of the most beautiful filmgoing experiences in recent memory.

47 comments

  1. Nephums

    Awesome review

  2. I can’t see this being a top ten for me at the end of the year but I did really enjoy the film. I too liked the open ended manner of the questions and enjoyed most of the journey. Particularly the first hour. It goes by in seemingly 20 minutes.

    Visually this thing is fantastic. In the true sense of the word.

    Once it gets into some of the more thrilling parts, the pacing felt off and it wasn’t quite as interesting as the set-up. Not to mention there were one or two plot details that didn’t quite make a lot of sense to me.

    Also, how does everyone feel about the final shot? On the car ride home, we kind of decided it was pretty unnecessary.

    3.75/5 for me. Possibly higher given the chance to chew on it some more.

    • PROMETHEUS is my favourite movie of the year so far, but I agree Andrew – the last shot is just a fan-wank. Being one of the fans being wanked I don’t entirely mind, but it definitely doesn’t need to be there from either a storytelling or thematic perspective.

      • With the exception of a couple films at Hot Docs (i.e. THE IMPOSTER and HER MASTER’S VOICE), I have yet to give a film top marks this year.

        The closest to the top I’ve gotten was MOONRISE KINGDOM, though some unnecessary violence against animals and a third act that was a little uneven knocked it down a notch.

        PROMETHEUS would probably be placed right behind MOONRISE.

      • Yeah, people in these circles like to use the word “pandering.” It’s a word I fucking hate and never use. Except now. That final shot is pandering and it doesn’t fit.

        • Its the money shot, come on now. There were people waiting the entire film for that. To me it is the perfect segueway to the franchise.

          • antho42

            It is pandering… but it is awesome pandering.

          • Pandering would be if it was like the equivalent of Boba Fett, the alien is integral to the franchise and is the glue between this movie and the next one, it is kind of the point of it all. Now if it was Newt’s great great grandfather or something, THAT would be pandering.

          • One more reason I HATE the word “pandering” and never use it. Everything is pandering to something. Everything.

          • antho42

            I prefer the term “fanservice.”

        • Give it this much credit at least: At least it wasnt a post-credits stinger. We don’t need an Alien to join the Avengers.

        • fandjob. big tip for a happy ending.

    • Ripley23

      Yeah I would be very shockingly surprised if the final scene in question makes it onto the inevitable director’s cut.

      Although I still liked it…

  3. I liked the movie, the visuals where perfect, music was great.
    The main theme was great, but talking abou Lindellof – I like mistery plots, but not fake one’s like in LOST.
    So only 4 out of 5 stars.

  4. I’m going again tonight and look for some of these things I missed. Gonna try it in 3D this time.

  5. Jericho Slim

    You’ll like it better Andrew – I’m going for the third time tonight. Also, look out for one thing among the others.

    Spoilers

    Look at all the stupid, cocky and mean things that helmet guy does in the movie, besides just the helmet thing. From putting his feet up on the console, to getting up against the captain’s orders, to not waiting until the next morning to explore, to teasing his wife about her religion, to calling the robot “boy”, to getting drunk, etc.etc.

    He is, in reality, not a protagonist. He’s a cocksure asshole that does one good deed. The movie doesn’t like him – that’s why he gets killed twice.

    • yeah, so the helmet thing makes sense considering the character.

      • It never really bugged me, because it still all fits in to me with hubris and that these people are still risk taking explorers… i mean. They’re in space.

        On top of that I’m probably very much conditioned to people testing the world around them so haphazardly when they find a new world, take on a new persona or have new skills, not considering the consequences the way you or I would. Spiderman falling off buildings, Kick-Ass getting stabbed, Jake Sully running off on everyone, could go on and on and on. When people make movies, unless they intend to say something about it, they don’t make heroes who are scared of their new surroundings or powers. The trend is to the dumb/courageous rather than 15 minutes of toes-dipping-into-water before someone takes a leap.

        In Moonrise Kingdom (yeah, weird turn but follow me) Sam and Suzy jump off the rocks all devil-may-care. In a different version of the movie one of them gets cut by pointy rocks they didnt see and dies. You could go “Those characters were dumb, you dont just jump into shallow water around rocks!”. But instead we have a movie where they jump in, everyone is fine, it makes them look adventurous and passionate and we move on without you ever having to think about it.

        • In other words… if in Prometheus… if they took their helmets off, but nothing bad ever came from it, would anyone be nitpicking after the fact that these scientists took their helmets off?

          Is it really about the helmets being off itself, or about the helmets being off and then bad stuff happening? Is it always dumb, or only dumb when someone dies because of it?

          Again, plenty of war movies with people with their helmets off, but it gets let go and instead we remember when this happens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLopbgNVbAI

          • The second he even contemplated taking his helmet off, I rolled my eyes. It’s a nitpick and it’s kind of stupid we’re even discussing it at this point. The snake thing was worse. But again a nitpick in an otherwise impressively awesome movie.

          • (1:20)

            Best ‘no helmet’ scene ever:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1-Wpq-NOQg

            They should have just done this instead.

          • Also as much hits as Lindeloff is taking for Prometheus I gotta think the helmet thing is a Ridley Scott request because it only make sense out of an interest to shoot them better. I don’t see the benefit for the screenwriter whether or not they have helmets on.

          • Agreed. But the Internet has decided Lindelof hates helmets, just as they all decided that Brett Ratner chose to kill Professor X and Cyclops. The internet hates who it wants regardless of the facts.

          • At this point I feel compelled to offer a round of applause to Lindelof, whose job ain’t easy, and whose detractors are, on the evidence of half the internet this week, fucking satanic.

    • Yeah rewatched in 3D. It was stunning. The 3D for this movie is fan-fucking-tastic.

      I also liked the movie a little more this time. Probably from a 4 to a 4.5/5 – not because of the 3D but because I looked past some of the stupid stuff and just went with it. I still don’t have much of an emotional response to the film, but it’s a good ride and thought provoking.

  6. Ripley23

    3D was totally the way to watch this film– also the Life of Pi trailer in 3D was sick!

    This is a great link especially for the fact that the intro to the list states: “(repeat after us: There are no Alien v. Predator movies)” Amen.

    http://www.vulture.com/2012/06/44-things-you-probably-dont-know-about-the-alien-films.html#

  7. Ripley23

    Ok, here’s a question: doesn’t the DNA in the opening scene dissolve and show infection (black goo) completely consuming and destroying it???

    Most of the post-Prometheus chatter seems to think that the opening scene is a sacrifice of creation by the spreading the sacrificer’s DNA into the water.

    But what good is that DNA when it is blackening and decaying as the scene shows?

    Or did I just see that part wrong? Maybe I need to see it again…

    So the real question is whether or not he sacrificed himself to “seed” his DNA or if he committed suicide and perhaps took the whole environment with him?

    And… if the DNA is blackening and disintegrating like I think I saw then at least half if not all of the comments and interpretations on the opening scene are severely and well frankly, idiotically and completely wrong…

    No offense if you happen to be one of those idiots. Or maybe I’m the idiot. Either way a great film worth seeing on multiple occasions.

    • Well Ripley, I’m fairly sure we see the black goo become bright red healthy cells over the course of the opening sequence. So the impression I have is that the Engineer created life. BUT, Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof have been very clear in interviews that the planet at the start of the film is not necessarily Earth.

  8. Tum Tum Tyranus

    I had problems with the film but how can you guys not see the significance of the last scene. I don’t think it is fan service as it ties directly into one of the stronger themes of the movie(actually probably the only strong theme).

  9. This week’s Cinecast should be a good one!

  10. We got delayed a day, but we are all ready to go tonite.

    If anyone has any Prometheus questions or issues they’d like addressed on the show, feel free to email myself or Andrew, or leave ‘em in the comments section here.

    • If you want to one-up Mamo, the episode title will be:

      Rowthreetheus

      • Jericho Slim

        How about “Dude, where’s my helmet?”

        • Kurt Halfyard

          It’s funny that the helmet thing is what people are complaining about. The one thing that is acceptable. It’s not the helmet, it’s the fact that anyone taking off their helmet in a room full of oozing bio-vases would be allowed back on the ship. Again, not the removal, Halloway is a bit of a cowboy, it’s Vickers allowing all of them back on the Prometheus after they breathe possibly contaminated air….But again, even this is the least of the ‘science-protocol’ nitpicks.

          • all they needed was a scene where they were screened for contaminants, and cleared.

          • I am pretty sure I remember that scene from the movie right after the bit where they save Shaw and the Head from the storm.

          • In all the questioning of the mental capabilities of the crew, people forget that the Engineers are way more advanced, know what this stuff is, and bad stuff still happened to them too. Cap’n Headless had a helmet on, was still infected.

          • Kurt Halfyard

            I plan on going into the the probably intentional ironies and Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt parallels between the Engineers/Humans in the movie. THe fact that the WY Corp were always trying to get the Alien for its bio-weapons division and that the Alien itself was originally a Interstellar Bioweapon in the first place. That’s pretty cool, actually.

  11. I got my thoughts finalized on character behaviors both in this movie and in these types of movies in general I think it is equivalent to metagaming.

    Now to get incredibly nerdy and explain exactly what that is. It comes from Dungeons & Dragons and is the player using knowledge they have the character they are playing would not have at that juncture in the game. For example, if the DM describes the monster you are fighting as a large green thing carrying a club, immediately if you have played a game of D&D before or watch LoTR you would think that is a Troll and start planning your attack based on its weaknesses, but the character would not have that knowledge so the trick is to try and play without letting that information influence you.

    When this is mirrored by people watch characters in horror movie situations it becomes very aggravating.

  12. Just a bit more on this subject. Maddoxx always tells the truth:

    http://www.thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=prometheus_nutshell

  13. Man, I finally watched this, and wow, I thought it was cool. It had the nice balance between being something new, fresh, and interesting and the obvious ALIEN connection. I’d give it an easy 4/5 for entertainment value.

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