Prometheus: Commentary, Part One

I can be very critical of movies in my favorite genre, and its easy to do so with what little science fiction ends up on the big screen that doesn’t have lightsabers, vulcans, or aliens in it.

Science fiction isn’t an Oscar winning formula in the eyes of producers. I think it’s obvious that in the business of Hollywood, science fiction is a big risk unless it’s an existing franchise. Even when something like Avatar hits the screen, you find that its success was really just the experience, not the story, and not the message. Sure, the average movie-goer may have thought the story was original, but I saw only cowboys and Native Americans.

What I’m leading into is this: Prometheus, while visually pleasing and spectacular in its presentation, had something deeper. This is where I would love to see science fiction go. It takes people like Ridley Scott to not just make science fiction work, but to say something with it – to paint a human picture, even though you use gunmetal grey, alien slime green, and parasitic infection purple in the palette.

This post isn’t necessarily a critique or review of the film (though if you ask, I’d say I gave it 5 of 5 stars). I just wanted to share my feelings on it. It most likely won’t be the last you hear from me on Prometheus.

Spoiler-free synopsis follows:

The films’s title,  Prometheus, is taken from Greek Mythology. According to Peter Weyland’s assessment of the myth of Prometheus in the film: “The Titan Prometheus wanted to give mankind equal footing with the gods – for that he was cast from Olympus.” Prometheus is given credit, in some versions of the Greek myth, for the creation of Man from clay and the return of fire into the hands of men.

At the beginning of the film, we are given the suggestion that perhaps our divine creators are merely an advanced species of spacefarers, master geneticists who seed barren worlds with life. Two archaeologists, digging at a site in Scotland, discover a cave painting with a certain configuration of what appear to be stars that matches the same configuration found in other ancient pictograms scattered throughout prehistory. These archaeologists, Holloway and Shaw, through scanning the cosmos for such a configuration of stars, discover a system that matches, and also find that one of the planets in the system has a satellite that may support life.

Pitching this to financiers, in an effort to send an expedition to this moon, LV-223, Shaw and Holloway eventually convince aging trillionaire Peter Weyland to fund their efforts. With a science team assembled, the crew, including Holloway and Shaw, leave on a two-year flight to LV-223 in stasis aboard Weyland’s ship, Prometheus.

While Holloway and Shaw are seeking the beings they perceive as the creators of mankind, it becomes increasingly evident that Weyland and his people may have ulterior motives in funding the expedition. David, an android built by Weyland’s company, oversees the long voyage to their destination, but his behavior, along with that of the representative of Weyland Corp., Vickers, supports the possibility that Weyland had something else in mind.

The crew discovers a facility on the surface of LV-223 and go to investigate. What they find isn’t exactly the answer that any of them were looking for.

Spoiler-laden review follows:

Had this film not automatically been associated with the Alien franchise, I think it would have been met with the same lukewarm reception that any other hard science fiction tale might receive. I consider this hard science fiction because regardless of the horror-film type frantic action that it descends into, the meat of the film is a study on the nature of man, and how it relates to the nature of the universe.

If you go into the film expecting xenomorphs and colonial marines, you’ll be disappointed. Granted, there are plenty of face-hugging, acid-burning, chest-bursting suggestions, but this is not a direct Alien prequel anymore than Kull the Conqueror is an ancestor of Prince Namor. There is a tangible path of progression between the two, but both films can stand alone.

Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of David is magnificent. He did a stellar job as the young Magneto in X-Men: First Class, and he excels once again in this role. His outward innocence makes him appear like a puppy along for the ride – a mascot. As the film progresses, however, David becomes the coldly calculating android you’d expect.

Guy Pearce plays the aged Peter Weyland, a futurist entrepreneur who outwardly seems to be funding the mission for scientific purposes, but later is revealed to have done so for purely selfish reasons.

Noomi Rapace is Scott’s leading woman as Shaw. You might see parallels with Ripley from the Alien franchise, but Shaw is more of a Pandora character – which fits with the whole Prometheus motif. Rapace’s protrayal of what would probably have been an annoying character, is done honestly. When she’s in distress, you can feel it. When she’s blindly trudging into the wild with her beliefs held before her like a torch, you feel her faith.

Charlize Theron plays the cold Vickers. Another perfect choice for what had the distinct possibility to be a two-dimensionally vapid character. My only gripe with her is the “father” scene after Weyland wakes up.

Idris Elba plays the ship’s captain. My god, I’m really starting to love this guy. I first saw him in The Office of all places. Now that I’ve seen Luther, and even his portrayal of Heimdall in Thor, I want to see this man in everything.

Beyond these stars, the rest of the cast is passable. I’ll briefly mention Sean Harris as Fifeld, who did a fantastic job, but got stiffed by the R2-D2/C-3PO, Laurel/Hardy, Tahei/Matashichi relationship with Millburn, played by Rafe Spall.

My girlfriend and I turn this movie on to fall asleep to – almost every night.

So, I guess the big question is: Why am I so in love  with this movie?

This is Science Fiction. It’s pure Science Fiction.

You could say that the myth of Prometheus was one of the first science fiction tales, because the genre, at its core, is about creation and imagination. Prometheus was a forward thinker – he saw the potential of mankind, the evolution of life in the universe. He didn’t give fire to man, he gave it back to man after Zeus had taken it away from them. He opposed the rule of one, in favor of the progression of all, regardless of its consequences.

There is always a price. For Prometheus, it was martyrdom, perpetual martyrdom in the form of a regenerating liver and an eagle that devoured it everyday. The Titan is a hero of mankind and futurism. Even in the era these myths were first passed down generationally, there was the realization that man can stagnate, or man can progress.

There is some great extra material on the Blu-ray that shows a speech by a young Weyland. I want to be that man, to a degree. Weyland’s fatal flaw is that he not only thought he could kickstart man’s progress alone, he thought he could watch it happen. In the end, if we wish to truly control the direction of our future history, we have to be forward thinkers, like Weyland, but it requires us to be a forward thinking species … not just selfish individual men.

In Prometheus, it appears our creators are fallible. We, as their children, carry that trait. We make poor decisions based on emotion and fear. We’re influenced too greatly by the words of others, and the stories of our ancestors. We are ultimately fallible. That’s nature.

I think we’re given a poignant parallel in the film in the form of David. David is the creation of man – just as humans were creations of the Engineers. In the end, David carried the traits of his creators. You can easily make the connection that David infected Holloway because of a grudge. Even in the perfect, logical android, human emotion caused the disaster.

Still, in the end, it was David, pushing the boundaries of ethics for scientific gain, that inadvertently saved the crew. Had the mission left the planet, the Engineer would have eventually awoken and destroyed humanity as planned.

If you want blatant connections between this and Alien, you can find them. A couple of texts in the extras mention LV-426, reveal some of Weyland’s other reasons for funding the mission, and even make vague references to Blade Runner.

I highly suggest, if you liked this film in the version that ultimately made it to the big screen, you’ll like it even more after indulging and diving into the extras and outtakes that didn’t make it into the film.

Scott left the end of this film open. Shaw and what is left of David depart to the Engineer homeworld, a supposed Paradise. Scott has said that a bridge between Alien and this film would require another film beyond the one that follows. I honestly don’t care if a blatant connection is ever made. Prometheus stands alone, in my opinion, as a fantastic movie, and a perfect example of what a Science Fiction movie should be.

I have so much more to say about this movie, and I plan to do that eventually.

To be continued then?

5 thoughts on “Prometheus: Commentary, Part One

  1. I dunno. I like your take on this film, but it haunted me. The scene I saw painted before me was a depiction of man as either an animal or a machine. All the benevolent intentions the movie bagan with quickly evaporated into selfish motivations or cold calculations. The only real sacrifice was Elba’s and his two remaining crew members. Thanks for helping me see this in another light, but I still don’t like it. Call me naive or hopelessly optimistic, but the story and the charictors paint the recesses of the human spirit as too macabre for me to identify with and appreciate.

    • There’s a deleted scene that explains Elba’s role much better. At first, his sacrifice seemed shallow to me. I don’t know why they cut the scene.

      I don’t see anything wrong with your feelings on it, even though I love the film.

      I agree that the depths of the human soul presented here are probably difficult for most humans identify with. In the end, the crew of the Prometheus represents mankind as a whole. We have to balance the dark side with the light, the optimist with the pessimist, the good with the evil, the selfishness with the altruism, and use the power from the balance of it to propel us forward.

      We’re all rightfully afraid of that balance – we unnaturally want black and white in a universe of endless colors.

  2. I just read the original script of Prometheus, which was titled Alien:Engineers. It made more sense than the film, and I totally get what you’re saying here. I absolutely love this film, because it goes beyond pure fiction and “what if we’re not alone?” and actually takes a step back and says, “where did we come from?” no film, sci-fi or otherwise, has ever really tried to answer that question! Obviously, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s so completely ahead of its time that I can’t forget about it! It’s typical Scott, however – not made to entertain, but to enlighten.

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