Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus (2012) Directed by Ridley Scott

A lot of real and digital ink has been spilled over this film. For many, it was the most highly anticipated movie of the year, even over the likes of The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit. Expectations were perhaps too high, especially considering the result.

Ridley Scott has returned to the Alien universe with a story set some 30 years before the first Alien movie. The movie opens with a striking scene of a pristine landscape. The camera flies overhead, eventually coming to a cloaked figure running to a waterfall. In the distant sky a space ship can be seen. The figure takes off his robes to reveal a very buff and very pale hairless humanoid. He takes out a cup which he opens. It's full of some black ooze that seems to have things swimming around in it. He drinks it and it has a devastating effect on his body. He fall into the water as his body breaks down into its DNA components. From there, the story jumps to a Scottish cave circa 2089 AD, where anthropologists discover a 35,000 year-old cave painting that points the way to the adventure ahead.

The opening scene is a bit cryptic. Is this supposed to be the Prometheus myth brought to life? Is it about the creation of the xenomorph alien creature? After seeing the rest of the film and thinking about it for a day, the most plausible answer finally occurred to me. It was a fun mystery to ponder because enough information is eventually communicated in the film for the pieces to be put together. If only all the other questions had a similar, satisfying resolution.

Part of the challenge is that the film makers are planning on sequels to continue the story and the exposition. While it's nice that they are thinking ahead, it does a real disservice to this film because it comes off as an incomplete work. A lot of the questions like "Who made us?" and "What is our purpose?" are mentioned again and again with little to no resolution or even an indication of what direction they are going to take.

It almost seems like the real theme of the film is not "who made us and why" but "what is the proper relationship between creator and created?" At the beginning of the story, the main character, Elizabeth Shaw, wears a cross and we see in a flashback/dream that her father was a Christian and believed in the Christian afterlife. She remains attached to her father's cross, though whether it is from sentimentality for her father or for true faith in the Christian God is ambiguous. Characters in the movie talk about her as a "believer" or one with "faith." The movie itself seems to lean toward the sentimentality. She is searching for her creators in the "Engineers" who left the cave paintings pointing to the remote planet where the movie's main action takes place. She assumes they created mankind and, through the cave painting, has invited us to come visit. She hopes to find out the answers to why we (humans) are here. It's a quest for ultimate knowledge, to be, if not an equal, at least an intimate with one's creator (what the gods were punishing the mythic Prometheus for). There's no explanation of how this fits in with Christian faith from her, anyone else, or the film as a whole. She is optimistic that things will work out well.

The other characters have a different view of things. Several of them say that children always want to kill their parents. Not replace, kill. The theme is ubiquitous: The android talks about destroying creators and the disappointment of finding out you were created just to see if you could be created. Another daughter wants to see her father gone for selfish reasons. Shaw can't get pregnant, which seems to grant her immunity from the pessimism of the others. In the end, though, she is brought down to their level. The finale has her taking off for another planet in pursuit of the "Engineers" not with hopeful wonder but more with demands for answers.

A lot of other ambiguities crop up with no logical explanation at all. The most inexplicable is the android David's motivation. At times he works for the corporation's interests; at other times he seems to be working for the "Engineers;" at still other times he seems to be working in favor of creating the Aliens. There's no suggestion that he is malfunctioning or that he is being reprogrammed. His actions seem quite random. I kept hoping for some reasonable explanation but another random alliance happens toward the end of the movie. The problem definitely is not with the performance. Michael Fassbender is the one unanimous point of praise in various reviews; he portrays the robot's actions with the sleek efficiency of an emotionless automaton. The problem is a script that doesn't know what the character is supposed to do other than to move the plot along.

All of the other performances were good. The design, atmosphere, and mood of the film were well executed, building up tension and horror. If only the plot were more coherent or the future plans had some sort of form the viewer could grasp onto, it would be a much more satisfying film.

I have to admit, I would watch a "director's cut" of this film if it ever comes available, to see if the many holes can be patched and the flaws fixed to create a more coherent and complete whole. It's an intriguing but seemingly unfinished film.

Oh, yeah--it's also super-gory, definitely for adults only.

Here's some other interesting comments:

Steven Greydanus quotes a great line from another review and gives his own thoughts.

Catholics in a Small Town talk about it around 25 minutes in on their 218th episode.

Interesting archeological/mythological perspective from Pop Classics.

Crazy pro-Prometheus blog posting here.

Crazy anti-Prometheus blog posting here.

The point of all these links is that the movie has so many blank spots that the viewer can fill in any number of possible interpretations or assessments.

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