Prometheus is the long-awaited ‘prequel’ to Ridley Scott’s Alien films. This movie is paradoxically both entertaining and disappointing, but certainly worth the price of the ticket.
The movie is visually. The spectacular the vast landscapes of an alien world are brought to life, perhaps as no other film ever has, with the possible exception of Avatar. Earth-bound cinematography at the film’s beginning is also exceptional. Grand sweeps of mountains and waterfalls herald the promise of a similar grand vision by the famed director. The viewer will no doubt be aware of the essential plot line. Set towards the end of the twenty-first century, ancient cave paintings found across far-flung civilisations point to a connection with an alien civilisation, seemingly inviting humankind to venture forth and visit them. And ‘now’ that human beings have the technology to span the galaxy, a vehicle is sent to a distant world to investigate, seemingly in the hope to uncover the origins of humanity.
Acting takes backseat in Prometheus to special effects and a promising story-line. Barely a character in the movie becomes anything more than cartoon-character deep.
Many of the characters are so ‘flat’ that their reactions in particular scenes often appear inexplicable and confusing. For example (slight spoiler incoming) when a team searching the landscape of the planet stumble across the remains of a giant humanoid alien, one of the party seems completely disinterested, saying angrily “I’m going back to the ship”. Given that this is, assumedly, the first time human beings have ever laid eyes on alien life, the reaction is bizarre to say the least.
Meredith Vickers (Chalize Theron), with her Aryan good looks, plays the role of a rather robotic executive for Weyland Industries. The robot analogy is clearly played up, given the similarity in appearances with David, the one ‘real’ robot on show. A heavily made-up Guy Pearce plays her boss. However Pearce’s screen time is minimal, his importance being that he is the expedition founder. Idris Elba portrays the ship's captain Janek. But again, he remains something of a cardboard cut-out.
The other unconvincing and disappointing aspect of the characterisation is the sameness of the human beings on show. Each seems to be shallow, egotistical and untrustworthy. The best science fiction allows us to penetrate the veneer of human surfaces to peer into the soul of mankind. Director Scott did this brilliantly in Bladerunner, where Rutger Hauer’s amazing performance as the replicant (robot) remains a defining performance in the long history of Hollywood robots. Other characters in the film also spring to life.
Having commented on the lack of characterisation in Prometheus, the one redeeming and memorable acting performance is that of Michael Fassbender as the android David. Ironically, without his meticulous acting the film would be devoid of any genuine soul. Like the androids in Alien and Bladerunner, this machine man has depth and complexity, as well as a seemingly mischievous agenda which seemingly transcends his programming.
David (Michael Fassbender)
The ultimate disappointment of Prometheus is that it fails to address any of the questions that it apparently seeks to answer – the deeper existential and spiritual queries of the human species’ place in the cosmos, or the ‘meaning’ of life. Of course the refusal to answer the questions is not a ‘sin’ in itself, as great science fiction films are notoriously ambiguous in this respect. It is the refusal to address them in any genuine way which disappoints.
In part the problem is that both the aliens and humans depicted are driven by little ‘higher’ motive than profit, sexual gratification and the survival instinct. Where are the deeper mystical and spiritual moments that a narrative that sweeps the galaxy might invite? We don’t get to see any. Instead what we get are essentially neo-Darwinian biological machines in a shit-fight to survive, to destroy ‘the other’. This leads me to wonder whether Scott’s own spiritual vision has stagnated in the three decades since the beautifully crafted Bladerunner was released. Thus in mnay ways Sctt's future fails to transcend what I call "Money and Machine Futures", where technology, money and selfishness dominate at the expense of greater depth of meaning and experience.
This problem is compounded by the dominance of the special effects, which are admittedly very special. They make the movie worth seeing for that reason alone. The aliens – both humanoid and monstrous – are as realistic as any seen on the big screen.
The movie retains elements of the space-horror genre. After all, Alien is probably the greatest of all such movies. It does retain elements of suspense quite well, and there are a few scary moments. But experienced horror film buffs won’t need to worry about covering their eyes (although the young Chinese girl and her boyfriend beside me did seem genuinely horrified at times!)
Prometheus doesn’t live up to the greatness of his previous science fiction films. In some ways, it is almost a parody of them. But that does not mean that it is not worth seeing. It certainly is. Despite its limitations, I stayed gripped for the entire two hours.
I give Prometheus four stars out of five. If this were not a Ridley Scott movie with such high expectations, the movie-goer would leave the cinema thinking “that was a pretty good flick”. But given the weight of expectation on the film and its director, I left feeling just slightly let down.