Review: ‘Prometheus’ a lot of Gorgeous Emptiness

There’s no denying that the long awaited  prequel to the sci-fi Alien franchise Prometheus is pretty.

Sadly, like a sorority girl just finished with her first semester of Psychology 101, it’s all lip-gloss and profound-sounding pronouncements with no real substance.

It will catch your eye and entertain for a while, but it’s nothing you want to take home to mother.

Despite months of denials that Prometheus was a prequel to the events in Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror hit Alien, that’s exactly what it is.

Charmed by nearly-identical cave paintings scattered around Earth, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) travels through deep space, following the clues she believes were left by alien life forms. More than that, she suspects the aliens were the engineers of humanity, seeding our planet with DNA to become life.

She’s not alone.

On the ship, I mean.

She’s joined by a human-like droid named David (Michael Fassbender), her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), and the new CEO of the company that funded the expedition, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). There’s also motley crew of assorted fodder for whatever horrors you just know they’re going to find: The usual mix of mercenaries and minor scientists who, if this were an episode of Star Trek, would be wearing red uniforms.

Arrived at the planet of destination, they begin exploring ruins of an ancient civilization.

They’re not alone.

In the ruins, I mean.

Triggering a holographic sort of Blu-Ray player, they see footage that only proves Very Nasty Things happened there a long time ago.

Hmm. Maybe they are alone after all.

Or maybe not.

A great part of the movie is spent in tense anticipation of the reveal that They Are Not Alone that the viewer is just sure is coming. We discover we’re still riding on the adrenaline of aliens suddenly popping out of corridors and peoples’ chests back in 1979, 1986, and, to a lesser extent, 1992 and 1997.

There’s plenty of action, fighting, and an occasional something under, in, or through a person’s skin. We’re not always sure what they’re fighting, but they do fight. Rapace, especially, shows the tough, gritty determination made great in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, even resorting to self-surgery in a scene that makes it impossible to look away.

Between jumping out of their skins, literally and figuratively, the characters stop to ruminate on What it All Means. Dr. Shaw wears a crucifix around her neck, a piece of jewelry that becomes a symbol for Faith (With a capital F. This movie has a lot of Capitalized Ideas.) Although she is a scientist, she is also a believer of some Christian sort. Her hope is that they can find the engineers that created humanity and get a step closer to knowing the mystery of the existence of God.

The rest of the crew, both human and droid, think she’s nuts.

David, the droid, has been created by humans but is self-aware, at least enough to know he doesn’t feel what they feel or understand freedom. The humans are his god, in the sense that they have some ‘splainin’ to do on why they made him the way he is.

So we have this chain of beings, creators and those created, all asking each other “Why?”

Add in the fact that, apparently, the aliens that created humanity later decided to destroy it, which is where the prequel portion of the movie comes in. Then there are two questions: Why create? And Why destroy?

It’s a lot to ponder as various people fight various dangers while protecting their hidden agendas.

The technical aspects of the movie are fantastic. Ridley Scott’s direction soars through gorgeous space, made all the more impressive by 3D technology. Acting is top notch, especially by Rapace and Fassbender.

The characters, however, don’t all come to life. We don’t have the instantly-relatable, excellent crew that we had on the previous adventures. Idris Elba, as the ship’s captain, shows some life, but the rest don’t pop.

Finally, the story will disappoint hard core fans and confuse casual fans. While it does hearken back to the previous movies, and include some fun Easter Eggs as it does, the film doesn’t answer all our questions about the origins of the aliens. In fact, some of the plot lines will have you pondering later why this or that happened. They just don’t make sense.

All those Big Questions that make up the core of the movie? They stay just that: Big Questions.

Just like the sorority girl who asks “Do you think there’s life out there?” while twirling her hair and drinking her beer at an outdoor party, it thinks it’s deeper than it is.

It might be an enjoyable way to spend an evening, but you wouldn’t want a second date.

Prometheus is rated R, almost entirely for bloody, gory violence. There is some mild language and a scene of purely implied sexuality.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • http://ticketstubz.blogspot.com Candice Frederick

    i think some of the same questions you have, the characters had as well. I think it was a mutual exploration that made the movie very moving for me.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Yeah? I think they did. The questions got introduced very early on and then never got moved along. I don’t expect a movie to spell everything out and solve all questions (after all “The Tree of LIfe” has done it for us), but I’d like it to move just a little down the road.

  • Sean

    (Ed note….SPOILERS! Do NOT read if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know what happens!)

    A few random thoughts on the movie.

    Why would anyone make a movie claiming to provide insight into the origin of life and then say absolutely nothing when the moment comes?

    What exactly was the purpose of Vickers character in this movie? It seems she is tacked on so she can be crushed by the alien ship.

    Who is in charge of this mission? Is it Shaw and her boyfriend? Is it Vickers? Is it the “dead” founder of Wayland? Is it the ship’s captain? Also why did Vickers tell Shaw and her boyfriend not to make contact? I think I know on this last one, but it’s still stupid. Also the foreshadowing on the surgery device in her room was really lame…

    Who is this villain in this movie? Is it the black goo? Is it the android? Is it the creators? Is it the founder of Wayland?

    Why were the two other main scientist in the story turned into cannon fodder? They had a role in being a counter weight to Shaw and her boyfriend’s believing life come from intelligence, but were used as scifi horror victims instead of advancing this key story element.

    Why was the alien / creator so mad when he woke up?

    Continued later…

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Exactly.

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    Gorgeous emptiness? Sounds Buddhist.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      Sounds that way, but the movie was very much an exploration of a god and creator concept.

  • Alec

    (Ed. Note: Spoilers ahead. Do NOT read if you haven’t seen the film and wish to be surprised)

    Maybe there is no answer to the question of why the Engineers made humanity, or maybe the answer is disappointing (“because we can”), like David suggests. That would be consistent with the disappointing (and horrifying) revelation in the original movie: The discovery of alien life, and finding that we are not alone, is not a cause for celebration in the original series, because that life is completely hostile and only semisentient at best. Nor did Scott’s first movie romanticize space in the same way the popular predecessors Star Trek and Star Wars did. Space is *hostile* and unforgiving in the Alien universe. Our existence out there is always precarious, and that theme is further explored in Prometheus. They do not discover a planet that can sustain human life, but a barren world toxic to the human body that is in essence a weapons cache. Instead of discovering a fulfilling meaning to life, they encounter the possibility that we are simply a science experiment, possibly part of weapons research for conflicts that we have no sense of and play no role in.

    I don’t think that the holes you identify are the real problem, though. Here are the ones I found significant: Why would Shaw trust David after what he did to her lover and the others? Why would she risk Earth by visiting the aliens’ homeworld after barely managing to prevent a derelict ship from wiping out the human race? I suppose there’s a possibility that her monotheism blinds her to the danger of the Engineers, although that seems unlikely. And there were other annoying plot points, like revealing that Vickers was Weyland’s daughter.

    Upon reflection, I actually agree with the film’s decision to withhold information about the Engineers. David has no interest in telling the humans why the Engineers do what they do, if he even knows, and clearly he is not a great judge of the Engineers’ disposition, given what happens to him. In light of that possibility, the viewer has the same imperfect knowledge that the crew of Prometheus does. And this is consistent with the near complete lack of information about the xenomorph’s origins from the original Alien series. And in fact that is probably what would happen under the circumstances. Similar, I think, to the ruins; there’s not always a light at the end of the tunnel, and the only thing that the protagonists in the Lovecraftian universe of the Alien franchise can hope for is survival.

    • Rebecca Cusey

      I agree about not revealing too much about the Engineers. That’s ok with me. It’s ok to leave questions open. But I felt the movie posed questions, set them up, and then gave no hint of a resolution. Didn’t move them forward at all. I don’t want everything explained, but I do want a moment of “oh” or “aha,” no matter how small.

      Personally, I think the biggest plot hole is the whole storyline with David feeding the slime to Shaw’s boyfriend and then, later, trying to send Shaw to the hibernation chamber to protect her pregnancy. Why would he do that? What was his motivation? Who was he working for? It’s a huge betrayal and yet there’s no payoff of an explanation of why. The best I could do was that – maybe – he wanted to experiment to see if there was life-giving properties to the slime on behalf of Wayland. But that’s pretty weak, if you ask me.

      • LarryRR

        (Potential spoilers) I agree that the writing could have been better and more subtle, especially considering the writers’ pedigrees, but I’m also aware that there at least one sequel in the works and probably two. You WANT to keep people guessing and wondering, to inch the story along slowly and not reveal too much too soon if you have a larger arc in store. Plus, I love the existential dichotomy that’s been set up – from Weyland’s “There’s nothing,” to Shaw’s “…still searching,” and her father’s “I choose to believe.” Will this be resolved in Part 2 or 3? I hope Scott and I are both around long enough to find out. I have to say that seeing Prometheus a second time helped me make more sense out of the characters and their motivations. Presumably, as an android, David is amoral and his only loyalty is to Weyland and Weyland’s wishes. After all, he did ask Shaw’s boyfriend, “How far would you go …?” to get answers. David was just helping him along the path to enlightenment. :-) Like Alec, I love how Scott and the writers intimate that aliens more advanced than us intellectually, may not be more advanced morally, and in fact may see humans as little more than pests or obstacles. Of course, humans often view each other the same way as well. Anyhow, Prometheus did not quite live up to my Blade Runneresque expectations but I love that these questions are asked and addressed in a sci-fi context.

  • Victor

    (((The rest of the crew, both human and droid, think she’s nuts.)))

    Hey sinner vic! As long as Dr. Shaw wears a crucifix around her neck, she should be ok during the movie! Should she not?

    Victor! Victor! Victor! There`s a LOT more to making a SF movie that meets the reality eyes and the sooner you learn these things the better IT will be for you and your flesh cells if ya know what I mean.

    What do you mean sinner vic!

    Look Victor! If I get into IT right here, right NOW, most people will start to think that I`m crazy so why don`t you just ask `ONE` of your imaginary godly cells of Wesley who might be able to help you humans out. http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/secondhandsmoke/2012/06/09/our-hard-wired-inescapable-mortality/ :)

    Look sinner vic, if ya don`t want to help me just say so instead of laughing at me and my friend Wesley cause we can stop NOW if ya like!

    Victor! Victor! Victor! Don`t be a crowch like Wesley and just listen to what I`m going to tell ya! You`re GOD, (Good Old Dad) has already done everything and you simply need to finish IT and let`s just leave IT at that ok my friend.

    Don`t call me your friend cause you`re nothing but make believe and I created you so stop IT right now or else!

    OK! Have IT your way but no body, I mean nobody is going to listen to you Victor cause they`ve already got their own gods and if ya don`t believe me just ask salvage http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2012/05/murdering-your-child-based-on-gender-is-a-very-personal-and-private-decision/#comments

    Alright! Here goes nothing Victor!
    In the beginning GOD (Good Old Dad) created The Heaven and The Stars with everything that is seen and unseed in IT. He then created The Angels and some of them had their invisible UP`s and DOWN and long story short, there was a great war and longer story short, Michael The Archangel didn`t allow any of Lucifer`s followers back in but GOD who was ALL LOVE allowed IT to be and NOW, GOD is seen creating Adam and Eve to bring back to heaven the `ONE`s who had not been allowed in. Long story short, Eve made friends with one of Lucifer`s followers and you`ve probably heard the expression that a leapard and or anything goes in love and war so let`s just say that Eve followed this angel to earth and eventually Adam went after her butt, I mean but IT is too late NOW cause this angel`s old master has split all of Eve`s cells UP.

    Sorry Victor butt! I mean but I must stop NOW before IT is too late.

    OH! Grow a head sinner vic! I mean go ahead cause you don`t really know what`s UP or Down so I think I`ll ask salvage http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/2012/06/the-weekly-benedict-ebook-volume-21/#comments what he thinks of the hole, I mean the whole story of how we came into being and if he doesn`t know, I`ll simply ask a star who once flew over the coocoo`s net! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo's_Nest_(film)

    Go Figure! :)

    Peace


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