Big Things Have Small Beginnings: Prometheus (2012)

I am constantly baffled by the way that decidedly watchable movie become victim to heavy criticism and end up completely disregarded or even worse, deemed bad and to be ignored.  This was absolutely the case with Cloud Atlas, which will, undoubtedly, prove to be the sleeper hit of 2012 and probably end up being a film highly praised ten or fifteen years from now, while many of the other works this year will fade into obscurity.  Prometheus is certainly no Cloud Atlas, but this extremely loose prequel to Alien is by no means a terrible film and aside from a rather drawn out and rocky third act it is a completely watchable and definitively enjoyable film.  I am almost certain that a larger portion of the condemnation directed towards Prometheus comes from the mass expectation that the film would exist in a cinematic framework similar to that of Alien, yet at this point in Ridley Scott's career the action heavy element simply does not fit his framework any longer, favoring, instead, the reflective, enigmatic nature of works like Blade Runner, for which Prometheus seems to share closer ties.  Of course, this is not to overlook the introspective nature of Scott's original Alien film, unfortunately, I am also certain that the average moviegoer foolishly lumps the trilogy into a set of films made by a single director, however, as most readers know the trilogy was directed by three distinct directors, who have branched out in considerably varied directions.  Nonetheless, Prometheus is calling back to this original work and no matter how much Scott attempts to deny its relationship to Alien, the various visual cues and the seemingly forced extra closing scene tie the film together.  Of course, the film is a visual masterpiece, one could expect no less from Scott and his creative team and it is hard to find a bad performance within the film, although I would make a particular note of Michael Fassbender who, as I am sure I have said before, is proving himself to have an acting caliber equal to that of a Daniel Day-Lewis or a Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  While it will be quite unlikely that Prometheus will be even close to cracking my top ten films of the year, I must confess that it is far better than the negative press it seems to have received, although my bias favoring Blade Runner may very well cloud a subjective review, but to be fair critics, by their very nature, live in a world of objectivism.

Prometheus begins in a rather expansive way focusing on some far off universe where a large blue being is depicted drinking some sort of black liquid, only to immediately follow this consumption with his body becoming overpowered by black virus resulting in his crumbling and falling into waters.  The narrative then fast forwards considerably to depict two scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discovering a cave drawing of a colossus pointing towards a set of stars.  This drawing, it is later revealed, has been discovered at various places in the world from different time period that would have yet to have been in contact to have shared such information.  Shaw believes that these images point to some sort of creation figure, a quest for a God of sorts, something that influences her navigation through space after the death of her father decades earlier.  The narrative moves forward to 2093 and viewers are shown the spaceship Prometheus moving through space, helmed by the robot/cyborg David (Michael Fassbender) a cold and distancing figure whose quest for learning and "understanding" human nature is marred by his lack of a soul, although it is clear he take a particular interest in the historical figure of T.E. Lawrence, as depicted in Lawrence of Arabia.  Regardless, David is subject to the orders of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) a stoic and distancing captain who simply concerns herself with enacting the orders of their employer Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce) an aging man whose dying wishes were to help Shaw and Halloway discover the source of the cave drawings, which appear to exist in some planet so far in the depths of space that it would have been impossible for any astronomer to discover it till well into the twenty-first century.  Along with a diverse crew they approach the planet to discover it seemingly uninhabited with the exception of thousands of air-tight sealed pods.  David, however, possesses and ability to recreate moments in the past through a sort of particle regeneration and it is revealed that the beings of the planet were seemingly overtaken by some violent bug, causing them to die in a mass genocide of sorts.  This bug, becomes a source of fascination for David, as well as a threat to the members of the crew, especially when it becomes released on the ship.  Needless to say distrust and deception cause the ship and crew to fall apart leading to a large, messy and climactic encounter with "their maker," one that sets into motion a series of events that will inevitably result in the world depicted in Scott's earlier film.

The preoccupation with a higher being is something new to a Ridley Scott film, at least in regards to the works I have seen.  Take for example Blade Runner, it is clearly a film intended to remind viewers that their own aspirations to reach the heavens, by creating a veritable Tower of Babel, or building futuristic pyramids, are only a result of their own foolish hubris, put into check by a couple of cyborgs that deconstruct exactly what factors into human experience.  Similarly, Alien is many things, if not specifically, a reminder that human exploration and endeavor will invariably lead to their downfall and a lonely foray into nothingness, completely detached from a higher being.  With these two films as a reference point it would seem that Prometheus stands as a stalwart consideration of the place a higher entity plays in human understanding and as a suggestion that to obtain any semblance of a quantifiable relationship would prove to end all frustration.  However, in the tradition of Scott's films, the quest is ultimately unravelled by the human desire for more.  They find the colossus figures that served as a point of question for nearly two thousand years, only to realize that the movement of point A to point B results in wondering what lies within point C.  As the characters confess, they may well have found their maker, but what about their maker's maker, a terribly extensive inquiry into the nature of existence and a sort of larger transcendental scope.  While Scott could simply be suggesting that a quest for any one single ideology is foolish, it appears as though he is completely deconstructing any sense of a creation myth, because as he believes it to be, such myths do not account for the origins of the crafter of said creations (a mindful and a mouthful to be sure).  As his films clearly seem to do, and as Kubrick did years ago with 2001: A Space Odyssey, who looks at the tragedies of human understanding both as they long for a backwards movement, as with Shaw's quest for God, as well as in their forward looking notions as with the interactions with David, who reminds the humans that he was created to look like them as a means of comforting, a deeply profound statement on our own disconcerting relationship with artificial intelligence as an extension of the normalized self.  While I am not sure that Scott provides an answer he certainly seems to suggest living within a moment, as opposed to dwelling on the past or future, one of the seeming golden rules of life as it were.

Key Scene:  The unveiling of the universe schematic when initially discovered by David is one of the most beautiful moments in the film, despite being nearly entirely comprised of CGI effects.

This is a solid film, not one for everyone, but for those individuals who truly get the philosophical inquiries present in films like Blade Runner and Alien, Prometheus should prove a welcome surprise.  I would say rent it and be the judge of its value.


  1. The promotion for this film made it look freakin’ awesome but also, a lot like Alien and I think that’s the big problem with the film. It’s pretty much the same formula used over again and even though Scott tries his hardest to get our heads past that, it’s too obvious, too quick. Good review Travis.

  2. Yeah, I could see that, although they super minimalist trailer that initially introduced Alien. The one that was just the zooming into the egg before it cracks, will, undoubtedly, go down as one of the greatest trailers of all time. I do agree though, Prometheus could have been a much moodier and far more introspective film, were it not set up to be the action heavy sic-fi film Scott seems to have created.