Prometheus Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Damon Lindelof, Jon Spaihts
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
Twentieth Century Fox | Rated R
Release Date: June 8, 2012
“Some of you may have figured out we’re not home yet. We’re only halfway there. Mother’s interrupted the course of our journey.
She’s programmed to do that should certain conditions arise. They have. Seems she has… intercepted a transmission of unknown origin. She got us up to check it out.” – Captain Dallas, Alien
In Ridley Scott‘s seminal 1979 film, Alien, the crew members of the Nostromo are awakened from hypersleep to investigate a mysterious beacon on LV-426, a natural satellite orbiting a ringed planet in the binary star system Zeta Reticuli [Yes, this will be on the quiz]. The year is 2122.
In Prometheus, Scott’s first science-fiction film since 1982’s Blade Runner, the year is 2089. Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered a star map within the pictographs and ideograms of several otherwise unconnected civilizations.
They interpret the star map as evidence of mankind’s forerunners, an open invitation to meet our makers. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the elderly founder of the Weyland Corporation, funds the construction of the scientific vessel Prometheus to follow the map to a distant world – one in the Zeta Reticula system.
The ship’s crew travels in stasis while David (Michael Fassbender) monitors their voyage. Designed by Weyland, David is a blond-haired android who has spent the past two years studying ancient civilizations and languages to aid the scientists in their mission.
Fassbender has created a fascinating, uncanny amalgam of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth and Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. His mannerisms are reminiscent of Blade Runner‘s replicants, less refined than Ash (Ian Holm) and Bishop (Lance Henriksen), his synthetic successors in the Alien universe.
2093. The Prometheus reaches its destination: LV-223, a small moon orbiting the ringed gas giant Calpamos. After shaking off the cobwebs of their two-year hypersleep, the crew is briefed by Weyland representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Vickers explains that the crew will attempt to make contact with Shaw and Holloway’s “Engineers,” the ancient aliens responsible for our existence.
After surveying LV-223, they find an inhospitable, barren environment and a road leading to a strange alien pyramid. As Holloway points out, “God doesn’t build in straight lines.” Shaw, Holloway, and David are joined by biologist Milburn (Rafe Spall) and slightly unstable geologist Fifield (Sean Harris) in investigating the structure.
As the film’s foreboding tagline suggests, “The search for our beginning could lead to our end.” The star map wasn’t an invitation. It was a warning. The Prometheus has traveled 39 light-years (220 trillion miles) to uncover the meaning of life – the reason for our being. Inside the temple, the crew stumble upon incomprehensible, horrific truths. The discovery of mankind’s origins, it seems, has assured its destruction.
Prometheus refers to the Titan of Greek mythology, who stole fire from the gods. The gods tied Prometheus to a rock, as an eagle ripped through his belly and ate his liver over and over, day after day, ad infinitum. Needless to say, the gods were not pleased that Prometheus had given mankind their first true taste of technology – fire.
In David Lean’s 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) extinguishes a match between his thumb and forefinger. Potter (Harry Fowler) attempts to do the same, only to find it hurts. “Certainly it hurts,” says Lawrence. “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”
Discovery is often a violent, penetrative act that scars what it observes. Any breakthrough or radical innovation comes at a cost. The question is, how far would you go to get your answers? What would you sacrifice? Are you willing to endure unimaginable pain – the punishment of the Titan Prometheus – to find the truth?
Visually, Prometheus is astounding. Scott’s skillful use of 3D to enhance the richness and depth of image has validated the technology as an extension of the art itself and not just a money-grab gimmick. The staggering visual effects supervised by Richard Stammers complement Arthur Max‘s top-notch production design, including some of the most impressive sets since Alien. Composers Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson-Williams provide a graceful, haunting score that accompanies Dariusz Wolski‘s beautiful cinematography.
Prometheus is a brilliant, ambitious work of existential science-fiction flawed by its own ambiguity. The script, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (ABC’s Lost) tackles massive, provocative concepts by asking questions – questions that don’t necessarily have answers.
Scott’s film eschews the constructs and confines of Screenwriting 101 and does little to assuage the viewer’s need for explanations, which will no doubt frustrate those expecting answers to its numerous questions. Prometheus is a collection of exquisite broad strokes – a film you’ll contemplate, discuss, and argue about for days afterward.
In 1968, New York film critic Andrew Sarris called Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a complete disaster. “It is much too abstract to make its abstract points.” A film that is now considered a masterpiece was initially dismissed by critics as being intellectually obscure and inordinately long. The same can be said for Scott’s own 1982 future-noir classic, Blade Runner, which left audiences and critics polarized by its complexity.
Prometheus doesn’t have all the answers. It’s a challenging, possessing work of art that deserves your careful attention and should be thoughtfully interpreted instead of having a simplified meaning assigned to it. Some will recognize its genius. Others will see nothing but inconsistencies, plot-holes, and “lazy writing.” The same was said for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner – now two of the American Film institute’s 100 greatest films of all time.
Chronologically speaking, yes, Prometheus is a predecessor to Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, Alien. The word ‘prequel,’ however, communicates to an audience that they already know the ending. This is not the case with Prometheus. The mythology established by Scott, Spaihts, and Lindelof has bits and pieces of Alien DNA interwoven throughout, but ultimately Prometheus is an original science-fiction story. You won’t see Xenomorphs fucking each other for a goddamn percentage (or Paul Reiser, for that matter).
Much like Terrence Malick’s nebulous The Tree of Life or Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, Prometheus is an engaging, inspired piece of cinema that encourages speculation yet confirms nothing.