Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” is as large (in shear scale) and ambitious as Christopher Nolan’s, 2010 mind blower “Inception,” and like that movie it provides themes and provokes questions but it doesn’t necessarily answer them, or at least answer them clearly.
Among other things, the main question it addresses is one many people--whether it be a monk atop a mountain in Tibet, or even Woody Allen—have wondered about: What is the meaning of our existence? Why are we here? So certainly, there’s absolutely no way Scott, and his writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, could possibly answer that.
It must be said that going in you really have to drop all of your preconceived notions about the movie. Ever since the first teaser trailer came out, there has been a barrage of behind-the-scenes featurettes, additional trailers, and clips, making it one of the most hyped movies of the year. To add on to that hype, it’s Ridley Scott’s return to the science fiction genre (he’s most famous for “Alien” and “Blade Runner”) as well as the notion that “Prometheus” is some sort of prequel to the “Alien” movies. I’m going to tell you up front that “Prometheus” is not a direct prequel to “Alien” but--according to Scott in an interview-- it shares “strands of Alien’s DNA so to speak” and that it takes place in the same universe but explores its own mythology and ideas.
Naturally, I avoided all of the trailers and clips (except for the first teaser) so going into the film I didn’t really know what to expect. Coming out, even though I had gone in with a fresh mind it still took me by surprise and I didn’t know what to think at first. It’s visually and audibly stimulating. The special effects and CGI, the makeup department and the production design by Arthur Max are all awe-inspiring. And Marc Streitenfeld’s instrumental score gets to be so loud and thundering that it’s practically ear shattering.
“Prometheus” can be at once epic in scale. It takes place deep in space of course—the perfect place to ponder the meaning of life-- as well as on a massive, wide-open and barren alien planet. But at the same time it can be small and confined, like in the scenes that take place on the cramped and low-lighted spaceship known as Prometheus.
The crew is made up of an assortment of scientists, big corporation employees and tough guys alike. The main scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Repace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) lead the expedition. Some mysterious cave paintings found in Ireland have led them to this barren alien landscape that supposedly holds clues to the origin of human existence.
Along for the ride is Meredith Vickers (a stiff Charlize Theron) who works for the Weyland Corporation (who’s providing the funding for the trip) and a man made android known as David (a menacing yet smooth Michael Fassbender) who can help them translate any alien language if needed. On top of that there’s Idris Elba as the ship’s captain, as well as a few other crewmembers.
Unlike “Alien,” “Prometheus” cannot be considered a horror film. There are a few jump out scenes and gross outs, but overall it’s more of a sci fi drama, with a little bit of action thrown in. But like “Alien” Scott lets his story unfold gradually instead of getting right to the payoff. Sure, it does get off to a quick start. We’re up in space and to the alien planet soon enough, and before we know it the crew is suiting up in neat space suits to go and check out a mysterious structure containing corpses of ancient humanoid creatures and vases oozing black liquid.
But the story doesn’t stop there. We learn more about the characters and their intentions, especially Meredith and David. More questions and theories are raised, with possible solutions. Even with the jump outs and gross outs Scott doesn’t overdo it. The film’s climax is literally mammoth, to say the least, though it feels deserved because there haven’t been a thousand action sequences before it. Scott gets the pacing and balance right.
As I said before, it’s easy to get caught up in the visual and audible wonders of “Prometheus.” Some of that might be because you can see it in IMAX 3D. Most of the time 3D doesn’t really work but the pairing of it with IMAX makes the experience exhilarating and almost like an extension of the room. However, by about the halfway point or so, as the plot thickens, the movie becomes the most confusing and ambiguous. Walking out of the preview screening I attended, my guest immediately started asking questions at rapid-fire speed, and wondered if perhaps he had missed a key scene.
To that last question the answer is “no” and to the other questions he had, in all honesty, I’m not entirely sure. “Alien” was a much more straightforward horror/suspense movie, whereas “Prometheus” is a “big idea” picture, much like “Blade Runner.” Like any ambitious work (“2001” or recently “The Tree of Life”) it requires you to go home and think about it and draw your own conclusions. And that’s the fun. Just as numerous Internet chat rooms debated about the ending of “Inception” I’m sure people will do the same with “Prometheus.”
I realize that by making it a thinking-person’s movie, Scott has run the risk of disappointing a certain number of moviegoers. The ones that like big, simple and straightforward spectacles like “Battleship”. People expecting a movie like “Alien” will be let down but that’s not a bad thing at all.
By crafting a movie that has many unanswered questions and doesn’t talk down to you, Scott has given you a reason to go back to it again and again, and has created a world worth revisiting in future movies. Besides, it’s outrageous to think that one movie could possibly answer The Big Question.