There are three debates that I never hesitate to join. Did Oswald act alone? Should baseball eliminate the DH? And was life on Earth the result of design or evolution? Of these worthy discussions, Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Aliens, more Aliens) addresses the last one but does so without picking sides and possibly bringing more questions instead of answers.
We’ve seen these characters before in films like the Alien series, Jurassic Park, Avatar, and others. The idealistic scientists. The immeasurably wealthy and eccentric benefactor with ulterior motives. The bitchy female who kicks ass and asks questions later. The mysterious and powerful creatures from another world or time. The seemingly innocuous and droid or assistant that might have a monkey wrench in its works. Sometimes it’s about action and adventure. Sometimes it’s about philosophical pondering. And sometimes it’s both.
Prometheus opens with a rather buff but pale humanoid at the top of a waterfall on a planet that should be assumed as Earth. “He” is dropped off by a mothership that leaves while he unwraps himself from a toga and drinks a potion that causes his body to disintegrate. When he falls into the water, his strings and code of DNA are seen and assumed to be planting the seeds that would lead to life on this planet. A number of years later, probably in the billions, we see the idealistic scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend/colleague Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) exploring caves and finding evidence that ancient visitors had explored earth thousands of years ago – and they left a return address. As they say in the film, it might be a way to “meet your maker.”
Let’s get this out of the way now – if you’re going to enjoy Prometheus, and it certainly is enjoyable, there are a few things you’re going to have to accept. They’re not easy to accept, but you can always see That’s My Boy with Adam Sandler instead because at least you know going in that it’s not even close to acceptable. For example, the previously mentioned return address cave drawing of the humanoids seems little more than a cloaked figure pointing at some indistinct satellites. Considering that the story takes place about 70 years in the future, and we can allow that maybe there will be a way to decipher that address at such time. Maybe a Google Maps Universe. Point given. NASA apparently was not willing or able to launch a space craft for a mission with so much uncertainty, so the wealthy and eccentric private investor with his own space craft and crew sends Mr. and Mrs. Sciencebook out into space.
Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, a woman whose rank and role aboard the ship are not as clear as her ass through the fabulous uniform she wears. Believe that I really, really searched for a rear-view picture but couldn’t find one. She’s not the captain, but she tells the captain what to do and when to do it, including when she tells him to be in her response when he tells her he thinks she’s not human: “My room. Ten minutes.” She gives orders to close up the ship as a storm approaches, much like on the ice planet Hoth when Han Solo and Luke Skywalker were missing at nightfall. She has the power to order that nothing will be brought aboard, which makes you wonder why the hell they’d travel two years through space without hitting the gift shop. It’s answered eventually. She’s also willing to eliminate any crew who may threaten the mission, although we’re not sure what her mission is until a hidden crew member is revealed as well as his real motives.
I was puzzled by a few of the other crew members who seem to have vague skills and speak like mercenaries just looking for a big payday. If the mysterious benefactor has enough money to send a ship across the universe, you’d think he could find a more dedicated crew. And you’d also think there would be many reputable and willing scientists across various fields of study who would be more than thrilled to join the crew, even without a great monetary reward. After remembering that those characters are usually like the “red shirts” on Star Trek, the first ones to “go,” I dismissed the thought.
David (Michael Fassbender) is a humanlike robot with the inner workings of “Bishop” from Alien, the demeanor of “HAL 9000” from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the intelligence of Spock. During the two years of hibernation for the others while travelling to LV-223, not to be confused with LV-426 (the planet from Alien), he learned several languages and watched Singing in the Rain more than any human could possibly tolerate. Although he is programmed to provide assistance in ways that humans can’t and contains libraries full of information, he’s also got the monkey wrench. For younger readers, that means he’s the cause of a problem.
Rather quickly upon arriving on LV-223, they find what seems like a giant bee hive. Instead of honey, there are streams of a black goo that you’d be wise to avoid, but the goo wasn’t immediately present. It was frozen in dozens of silvery containers that started mysteriously sort of melting as soon as the humans entered the chamber where they were stored. Instead of finding whatever humanoids that/who may have been responsible for the invitation for earthlings to find them, they find piles of their carcasses. It’s not clear if these bodies are the same “people” who visited Earth so long ago, but it is clear that they are – or were – the same species of pale humanoid, except now they’ve ditched the togas for what seems like Underarmour. That suggests to me that their purposes are different.
In an interesting scene that involves another of those things we have to just accept, scientists Shaw and Holloway, accompanied by the Red Shirts, investigate the giant bee hive. They’re suddenly surprised by what seem to be ghosts of a few ancient humanoids running through a cavern and into a sort of cave. The last in the group doesn’t make it to the descending gate in time and is decapitated. This happened an indeterminable number of years prior, but the body and head were still there. The body, on the outside of the gate, was dried and decomposed. The head, on the inside of the gate, was strangely well preserved. How they can see these ghosts is not at all touched upon, but it’s a very cool-looking shot. They look like a snowy, static image from a bad TV set, and their only purpose is probably because it was easier than having the landing party find a hard drive with surveillance video because the reason for the shot is for them to know what happened a bunch of years ago. So just go with it.
Examining the head showed that the humanoid DNA was an exact match of our DNA, thus allowing the argument that these creatures were responsible for life on Earth. This might satisfy some Creationists because it suggests that there was a Creator, or a Designer, or what they call an “Engineer” in the film. While these giants aren’t exactly God material, they’re still pretty sizable. Looking back at how the head came to be available, we saw a group of humanoids running but one lagging behind and killed because he was too slow to get through the gate in time. It’s a tip o’ the cap to the Evolutionists who carry the banner for “survival of the fittest.” You’re too slow, you’re time to go. These moments allow both sides of the Genesis debate to claim themselves a winner, but it’s really meaningless because it’s just a movie, not an authority.
In Alien, Ridley Scott directed the crew against a powerful and violent insect-reptile hybrid of a monster. In Prometheus, the conflict is more amongst the crew’s opposing ideas of the purpose of the expedition. The humanoids are mostly secondary in action but primary in the scope of the film. The most compelling scene is that in which Shaw finds that she’s been somehow impregnated, but since she knows that she’s sterile, she also knows she must remove it. You. Will. Squirm. The silliest sequence is so badly directed that it should only appear in a film entitled Things to Never do in a Movie. It’s so bad, you’ll see it coming and you’ll know. And you’ll be disappointed that such a big production could contain such a small-minded moment. Just remember kids, when something is rolling after you from behind, run to the side – not in the same direction as the rolling object. Not even Wyle E. Coyote would have fallen for that.
The ending allows for both a sequel and to announce itself as a prequel to Alien. In the final shot of the film you’ll know what I mean, and I’ll just leave it at that. Then you’ll look back at previous moments in which one of the crew is attacked by something, and you’ll say, “I think I’ve seen that before.” At first, I was bothered that the creature attack was so similar to Alien and thought, “Why couldn’t you think up something new?” But then I later realized that this movie is directly connected to Alien, so that allows me to view it as continuity instead of copying. You can decide for yourself though. For me, it’s like the Circle of Life, or maybe the Circle of Death.
My rating system goes like this: worth seeing, worth seeing more than once, not worth seeing at all. This one is worth seeing, especially on a large screen, but many people I know have gone back to see it again.