When it comes to science fiction, I’m not really a fanboy. Sure, I like all the standby’s, like Star Wars, 2001, Close Encounters and Planet of the Apes. I like David Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth, kind of dug the original Solaris and my wife introduced me to the greatness of Blade Runner. But I don’t hang on the latest sci fi releases and, generally, don’t really seek them out as must see movies. This is all to say that, if you are a hard core sci fi geek, my review of Prometheus may or may not do a whole lot for you.
Whew. Now that we have all the disclaimers and excuses for why I might not get it out of the way, let’s get to my take. Overall, Prometheus is a decent little movie, but it’s really two different films in a lot of ways. The first section is a more human take on science vs creationism, science vs corporation profit, science vs the human soul and the quest for knowledge vs do you really wanna know. Or something like that. The second half is a more by the numbers, aliens vs humans, slightly creepy and icky battle for survival. There was a lot of overlap, to be sure, but that’s the basic gist of it.
The first section, the more thoughtful, slowly developing setup section of the film, which asks the old how did we get here, where did we come from and why are we here questions, for me, was the far more successful section. Ironically, the center piece of this success, though, isn’t the human characters, mostly scientists (clouded with the specter of a Corporation) thrown aboard a space ship headed for a distant planet to find out where humans came from, but a robot created by humans named David. Played to a how human is he, is he a good robot or bad robot, why is he really there T by the pitch perfect Michael Fassbender, David is a key co-protagonist of the film and receives not only the best lines but also propels the drama and story forward in crucial ways.
David neatly sums up the crux of the film in a short, but key scene in the first third or so of the movie. Engaged in a conversation with one of the head scientists, Charlie (who is drunk), David asks what the mission is all about. When Charlie says it’s all about finding out where humans began, how we began and, just as importantly, why we were created, David (again, a robot) is perplexed by why humans would want to know why we were created, as opposed to just being satisfied with the where and how. What difference would it make why, David asks. Wanting to know why is part of being human, Charlie says. But when David asks Charlie why humans created David as a robot, Charlie gives a condescending, superior laugh and says, “Because we can.” David lightly smiles back at Charlie and says, “Imagine the disappointment you’d feel if that’s the answer you end up getting.”
For me, this was a too early in the movie peak for Prometheus and created the type of a movie hill to climb for Ridley Scott that is usually not really scale-able. Because, unfortunately, having a film “give us the answer” to the Big Questions is a fool’s errand in most cases. Asking such over- arching, let’s solve the riddles of the universe questions and then trying to actually answer them almost always ends up as a very limiting movie device. How can one definitive answer, presented in a film, possibly live up to all the possibilities the human imagination might come up with to answer this sort of stuff? This isn’t to criticize the effort. There’s something incredibly impressive to me, and even sort of admirable, at taking a shot at it all, and Ridley Scott certainly takes his shot and at least presents in a thoughtful way many of the universal questions we all have about our collective existence. And does it in the middle of a Hollywood summer blockbuster.
Once the spaceship and the crew get to the distant planet they’re looking for and the questions begin to be at least partially answered for us, though, inevitably the payoff is less than satisfying. The story veers off into sci fi clichés like a human/alien impregnation (that is dealt with in a particularly gruesome fashion), characters being killed off in a completely predictable, by the numbers order, beings on the distant planet being expectedly creepy and crawly, and having the action degenerate into a fairly hackneyed version of what you’d expect. It’s not that this part of the movie is really terrible. It’s not, and there are some genuinely suspenseful, edge of your seat moments. It’s just that this part of the movie doesn’t really rise to the lofty levels the first half of the film sets up, and because of that the clichéd nature of some of the second half stands out even more than it might usually. Naturally, the beings from afar don’t exactly have our best interests at heart and that means the humans have to save themselves. The question is, can they save themselves and will we ever get the full answers that we’re looking for?
As far as full answers, the economics of Hollywood being that films like this are never just about stand alone stories, but more about creating a franchise, the ending of Prometheus does do some question answering, but mostly sets up more questions for a potential sequel. The cold, money and corporation focused character brilliantly played by a standout Charlize Theron would have been very happy with this vague ending, and happy at the future payoff the movie studios can expect from the Prometheus mission. As for other aspects of the film, I really thought Scott struck a near perfect balance of creating some truly cool technology and a clean, sleek look for the movie without overdoing it or banging us over the head with it. The biggest weakness of the movie, first pointed out to me by my wife (and completely agreed upon by me) was the absolutely terrible, almost distracting, music. It truly sounds like a ripoff version of a ripoff version of a ripoff version (yes, that cheap and far removed) of a mid-season television episode of the new Star Trek. Really almost can’t emphasize enough how poor it really is.
I also can’t wrap this up without commenting on the Noomi Rapace character, the stand-in in Prometheus for the Sigourney Weaver Alien movies character. Rapace played Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movies, and was just as good in the Swedish movie as Rooney Mara was in the American version of Girl. Rapace’s character in Prometheus, Elizabeth Shaw, is the ostensible human core of the movie. She wears a cross and is a believer, but she is also a scientist totally committed to, and even turned on by, scientific discovery. Her character here, to me, is woefully underwritten and Rapace shines more in her physical performance than in any other way. It’s Shaw’s fate juxtaposed with that of the robot David, though, not only in her living or dying but in her internal science vs religion battle that holds the key to a possible sequel. And for that, Rapace deserves credit as much as the story for a performance that is at least effective enough for us to invest something into her character’s (and, by proxy, humanity’s) ultimate fate.
In the end, this is better than average fare, particularly for a movie positioning itself as a summer blockbuster. Not quite rising to the level it seems to be aspiring to doesn’t mean it isn’t better than most of the movies out there. Just that it isn’t a classic, and isn’t quite as good as it possibly could have been. Not a crime, by any means. How about an “A” for effort, something slightly less for execution and focus?