Movie review: Prometheus

Prometheus

Ridley Scott (2012)

It’s a very common thing with people my age: I’ve been a huge fan of the Alien saga since I was a child (even though now I’m thinking maybe no kid should see those movies?). Like many, I was expecting a lot from this movie, with Ridley Scott returning to direct a prequel. Like many, I was disappointed when I saw it for the first time. However, with years passing, my take on it has dramatically changed.

At the end of the 21st century, doctors Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway are part of a scientific expedition, travelling in the research vessel Prometheus towards a distant moon, in hopes of discovering the truth about humanity’s origin.

The Bad: Some characters could have benefited from a bit more characterization, the Guy Pearce old-man-make-up sadly very much looks like old-man-make-up

The Good: Michael Fassbender (the rest of the cast is good, I loved Noomi Rapace and Idriss Elba, but he outshines everything) the movie is a serious looker, among my favorite Ridley Scott films in terms of visuals. The music is quite different from other Alien movies, but it’s very good nonetheless, hopeful and fearful at the same time

My opinion: My thoughts on this have greatly evolved, from kind of hating it (but not really), to really loving it now. I will attempt to explain why below.


Note: for french-speaking readers, I wanted to watch the movie again thanks to this video. I’m probably saying a lot of the same things, but the guy makes really good points.

With this movie I completely fell victim to the mob mentality, with everyone (me included) parroting the same dumb-founded arguments to bring it down.

I had a form of cognitive dissonance, like “okay I’m saying to everyone that I hate this or that about the movie, saying it should have been like this instead of that”, but in the end I was still thinking a lot about it, remembering I actually enjoyed a lot of it the first time, and I bought the Blu-ray right away when it was out.

I had to grow up a little, and learn to let go of what I wanted the story to be, and instead focus on what the movie was trying to do. Doing that now, I am find myself very impressed with it, counting it as one of the best movies in the franchise, and also among my favorite science-fiction movies. (Did I tell you I liked science-fiction?)

I’d start by saying yes, the biggest “ret-con” of the first Alien movie, the Engineer / Space Jockey, is disappointing, a muscular white bubble-gum guy in a suit doesn’t have the same aura than the fossilized Space Jockey. I would say though, that in the context of the story told in Prometheus, it actually works very well.

Now I’m asking this, could someone ever come up with a Space Jockey that would be worthy of the mystery of the first movie? I don’t think it’s impossible, but I’d imagine it would be quite hard. It was made so long ago, and is now etched into the public’s imagination, that it would probably never live up to expectations.

There are also only a few actual links to Alien, so it’s not an Alien prequel really, it’s a movie set in the same universe.

But now, what is the point of dwelling on things that could have been? (or should have been according to my own opinion that no one cares about?)

This movie is about belief, and creation. Ridley Scott offers us a gut-punching story, where humanity’s arrogance, its sense of self-importance and its faith, all end up shattered by an unforgiving reality.

It features two kinds of believers, first Holloway and Shaw, who want answers on humanity’s origins, believing there must be a higher purpose to why they were created, and then Weyland, who’s convinced he earned the right to cheat death. They all get severely punished for believing blindly.

The character of David makes a fascinating parallel with the others, he’s superior in many ways to humans, he was created by them yet they treat him like a mere servant. Holloway tells him they made him because they could, and it’s wonderfully ironic with their own situation, they want to find reasons to their own creation, while he’s witnessing firsthand the weakness and hubris of his creators.

In the end the only character who seems to understand what happens (Janek) must sacrifice himself to save Earth from annihilation, because of the believers’ mistakes.

There are many more themes in the film, and ideas to reflect on, but that’s obviously not the only reason why I enjoy it. It’s the combination of gorgeous visuals, beautiful music, outstanding performances (notably by Michael Fassbender, he’s so good) and the thematically rich tragic story. It brings me awe, wonderment, fear, fascination and disgust. So yes, I am a Prometheus fan.


I’ll address some of the complaints people seem to have, and why they actually don’t bother me:

  • the technology is too advanced compared to Alien: silly argument, filmmakers always try to produce the best looking visuals they can at the time, I don’t see the point in complaining about that, Alien looked great for 1979, Prometheus looks great for 2012. Do people seriously care if LEDs have been replaced by holograms? When was the Alien franchise ever about ships, technology and computers anyway?
  • characters are stupid: I actually don’t see what the problem is here. With minimum attention you can see context for each “stoopid decision”. Holloway takes his helmet off because he clearly takes a leap of faith. The character people keep bringing up the most is Fifield. Like he’s supposed to not get lost, because he’s a geologist. Except he’s shown to rely exclusively on technology, it’s brief, but it’s there. Also it’s very clear that as soon as they enter the pyramid, his breathing is very heavy, indicating he’s anxious, and he gets increasingly scared. No wonder he takes bad decisions afterwards. Overall it’s like some people are surprised to see movie characters not behaving like they would in real life.
  • plot-holes: where? almost everything that happens can be explained within the movie with earlier / later scenes, and there is a pay-off.
  • the film doesn’t give you any answers: actually it does, you have all the answers, people don’t like them because they’re disappointing (and that is the whole point). The Engineers created the humans because they could, and then just changed their mind. Janek explains to Shaw what the facility is, and it’s a terribly mundane military installation. David is conducting experiments on Holloway and Shaw because Weyland ordered him to, and it’s clear he has disdain for humans and particularly towards his creator.

I guess there are many others things people decide to be mad about (like how Shaw is seemingly super-human after her operation on the medpod, except she’s clearly on drugs to keep her going), but I won’t address them because it’s not the way I look at films, to me it’s pointless nitpicking.

That level of scrutiny stays on the surface of things, and seems to completely miss the point of why authors and directors make films in the first place. I would bet that if some of those people were to ask Ridley Scott about those “errors” he would be baffled at how silly they are.

Angry Aliens fans are like Elizabeth Shaw keeping her cross, choosing to keep believing in God (or in their case their skewed vision of what an Alien movie is supposed to be) in spite of everything that happened, because the truth is too disappointing (but they’re missing out in my opinion).

The Alien franchise never was a consistent ensemble, it has many contradictory aspects and themes. People revere Aliens, but they always fail to mention it absolutely wrecks the creature’s aura of mystery and perfection from the first film, to transform it into a very scary bug. It explains the Alien to us, and by doing that weakens the whole concept of it. I really love Aliens, I think it’s a great film, but it’s totally demystifying the creature, and the sequels have done that too in different fashions. I am happy with the direction Prometheus takes, and I find it to be more interesting than the wider themes alluded in Aliens, Alien 3 and Resurrection.

I finally love Prometheus for what it is, I think this movie is widely misunderstood by “Aliens-only” fans. I’m glad Ridley Scott was able to pursue his own vision, and its gets even better thanks to its equally great sequel, Alien Covenant.

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