“Prometheus” is a damn tough movie to write about, namely because it’s still jostling in my brain days after seeing it. It’s not a confusing movie to follow, but I want to see it again to make sure I understand certain details correctly. It’s an “Alien” movie that’s also not an “Alien” movie. It wants to combine both the philosophical aspects of its original story with the body horror gross outs that come with the franchise. It wants to get these story threads up and running while at the same time clearly leaving some of them to be explained in a continuing sequel. How do I begin to approach a film that I definitely think is good, but still has me debating about it in my head?
Right from the get-go throws in a whopper of a concept: that the beginnings of human life on Earth originated from extraterrestrials of another world. After scientists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway find cave drawings with matching star maps that point to one planet, the Weyland Corporation agrees to fund a space expedition to that planet and possibly learn about humanity’s start. What they find there astounds them, although something more sinister and dangerous is waiting to happen.
It’s heavy stuff, and I won’t deny that “Prometheus” doesn’t address most of these at length as the films divisive reception has pointed out. While some more explanation definitely could have gone down, I’m not sure that was entirely the films intent. There are a couple points where the characters ask whether it’s right to find all the answers to mankind, and whether it is worth answers that may not be entirely satisfying. The android David, who is played by the excellent Michael Fassbender and easily the most interesting character, asks why he was built by Weyland. Charlie replies, “Because they could.” David then further asks, “How would you feel if that was the reason why you were made?” This goes back to that old adventure story adage about cursed treasure that some things were never meant to be found.
This is not meant to be a cover I’m making for all of the movies unexplained pieces. There is a line between ambiguity and vagueness, and “Prometheus” treads over the wrong side of the line at times. Some explanations can be easily inferred (one drastic action of a character gets some light after a late movie twist), while others are just plain ignored. What I love about the movie though, even if things don’t entirely line up, is its sheer cojones within a Hollywood blockbuster. That a modern day sci-fi blockbuster could be made where the focus is more on the big ideas and actual science fiction writing rather than grand action is quite amazing in its own right.
Yes, the second half eventually gives audiences the excitement that they want, but it’s done with such style and panache by director Ridley Scott that the shift never felt jarring or that it overwhelmed the movie. Make no mistake though, while I believe that “Prometheus” is NOT a horror movie overall, there are multiple scenes where I was squirming. The standout surgery scene is filled with tension and suspense, and recalls the classic chestburster scene from the original “Alien.” The famous alien being that most people recognize is not at the heart of the story (although it does figure in the story in some ways), and Scott and his visual effects designers have created some really creepy and inventive looking new creatures to fill the void.
Complaints about the lack of character development honestly perplex me, as I thought the main characters had just the right about of attention. Idris Elba’s Captain Janek has some well-placed comic relief moments, Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers is revealed to be a little more than just a cold person, and Noomi Rapace’s Shaw is a very sympathetic protagonist who isn’t just a replica of Ripley from “Alien.” As I said before though, Fassbender is far and away the best of the bunch, proving his worth as one of the most reliable and dynamic actors of this generation. However, there are a large number of tertiary characters that are merely blank faces and should have been whittled down to a reasonable number instead of being figures in the background.
All in all, “Prometheus” is both a pleasing return to form for director Ridley Scott after several duds, but at the same time could have felt more complete with some tweaks and slight additions. As Scott has proved in the past, his director’s cuts of his movie are for the most part improvements on the theatrical releases, and that seems like the perfect opportunity for there to be a smoother, more fully formed film to exist. I wasn’t disappointed in what I got, although my time to reflect has evened out my reaction.