Prometheus review (2012, dir. Ridley Scott)

(Contain mild spoilers)

Prometheus isn't a horror film. It is a summer blockbuster with ideas above its station. It is a film of awe and mystery punctuated by occasional bouts of terror and action. If you want any indicator to its ambitions, the first scene is nothing less than the creation of life on Earth.

A series of ancients artefacts strewn across the globe all hold a pictogram inspired by visiting celestial beings. It is Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who first put the pieces of the puzzle together. It is a star-map to a particular point in space; an invitation to meet another race. A team of scientists are assembled via funding from the powerful Weyland-Yutani corporation. The film wastes no screen-time setting up the logistics of such a trip and the team are soon en-route to the planet LV-223.

Landing fortuitously close to the only building on this barren rock, the team embark on their exploration. What they find there points to the origins of the human-race. Things fall apart when alternative agendas are revealed by the accompanying robot, David (Michael Fassbender) and the Weyland-Yutani  representative, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron).

Prometheus is a beautiful film. Shots of the space-ship cascading through the atmosphere of the planet and an opening montage of landscapes from a young-Earth spring to mind. There are also strange moments when the cinematographer's attention seems to have been diverted and exterior scenes resemble a quarry location from a 70s episode of Doctor Who.

One needs to pay attention in this film. On the planet events unfold rapidly and the seeming innocuous disturbance of a chamber has complex ramifications later on. There is a clearly a deeper mystery at the heart of the film but creaky dialogue and occasional moments of flat-out silliness threaten to overwhelm them. Musings are made on the nature of life and death with a Christian perspective shoe-horned in when the script needs to feel like it is still edgy and relevant. With such big notions at stake the locking of all the action to one small location makes it all feel strangely parochial.

Prometheus is a good film which is only a few scenes and a couple of script redrafts away from being a great one. Stronger characterisation and better dialogue would certainly have helped. Some characters are sketched vaguely, making it hard to care for them. The film has several influences. Most notably the HP Lovecraft novella At The Mountains of Madness (which could have been a film in its own right had Guillermo Del Toro received funding) in which man discovers the own hideous nature of his creation and the malevolence of those creators. The powerful opening recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey in its scope and ambition. In terms of ideas Prometheus is every bit as important as 2001 or Solaris. I can't think of any science-fiction film which has attempted to weigh in on such lofty matters since those films, with any degree of seriousness.

Performances are uniformly strong with Fassbender and Rapace providing stand out moments, stoically carrying on through the sillier moments. In the end this is a science-fiction film which has been forced to accept summer blockbuster stylings. We should be glad that a mass-market film is attempting depth with its ideas and philosophical-musings but somewhere in its gestation something prevented it shining as bright as a new star.


Some questions to ponder:
Why do worms appear in our heroes footsteps? They seem to mutate pretty rapidly into the proto-face-hugger/snake creature. Do Meredith's eyes glow like a Bladerunner replicant when she is talking to David? Is she a robot as well? Is this why she pronounces "father" so strangely? What were the Engineers running from? Why is this ship different from the one on LV-426? Was the woken engineer angry because he met a life-form created by the people his race made? Why did the Engineer at the start willingly kill himself? Why did the engineers visit early Earth civilisations? Why are they hostile? Or did we get that wrong?