As of this moment I consider Prometheus a think piece. At the heart is the search for the origins of mankind. Included in that is a theoretical exploration of Creationism, Darwinism, what it means to be human and the potential consequences of trying to find the answers. It begs the question, “Where did we come from?” and, at a point, asks, “Does it even matter?”
As depicted in Prometheus, drawings found on Earth serve as evidence there was once extraterrestrial life on our planet. Life that inspired ancient civilizations to paint their likeness on cave walls and carve them into architecture. The distance and time separating the civilizations that recorded these encounters suggest multiple visits. Who were these beings? What do the drawings mean? The mind reels at the possibilities and Prometheus prepares to answer these questions… and then doesn’t. At least not explicitly.
Prometheus is an amalgam of ideas some will determine don’t really add up to anything, others will say paint a perfect picture of its intent. I’d argue closer to the latter, but at the same time it beats you over the head with a level of self-seriousness that stands to say, “This is important. You should care about what we are talking about here.” That, for a lot of people, will get old and isn’t conducive to constructive debate.
Where this film’s detractors will differ from its supporters will depend entirely on how deep you’re willing to dig for answers and how willing you are to overlook the film’s flaws. Director Ridley Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof invest the audience on an exploratory mission only to leave them grasping at straws for meaning as soon as you walk out of the theater. “What was that all about?” you may ask. Whether you’re willing to try and figure it out or if you’re too frustrated to even begin will determine your overall opinion.
Walking out of Prometheus I was unwilling to immediately come to the conclusion it was a film chockfull of ideas without direction, though the narrative gaps are a definite cause for frustration. The opening scene, taking place on an unnamed planet, at an unknown time and involving an unfamiliar character, is ambiguous, but upon further inspection a sound theory can be achieved.
We next meet scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) exploring Scotland’s Isle of Skye in the year 2089 as they come across one of the ancient cave paintings I referenced above. They interpret these paintings as an archaic map (and/or “invitation”), one that may potentially lead mankind to their makers. Fast forward four years later and we’ll find out if they were right.
Funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), their exploration takes them to a far off planet aboard the ship Prometheus, a name originating from the Greek titan who attempted to bridge the gap between humans and the gods, a name perhaps best known now for its literal association with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus” proving scientific ambition may well demand limits, otherwise the consequences may be dire. The film does well to walk a balance when it comes to the idea of where science ends and faith begins — Darwinism versus Creationism — and exploring the gap between humans and their makers, whomever they may be and what it might mean should we one day meet them. In fact, I think Prometheus gives way for Darwinism and Creationism to coexist peacefully, though the potential for an actual Garden of Eden is left up for debate.
All of this is interesting and Prometheus forced me to open my mind more than most films, but within its multiple levels of scientific theories you bump up against narrative and character deficiencies that take away from the movie as a piece of entertainment.
Shaw and Holloway are so preoccupied with hammering home the intent of their mission, they are never fleshed out as characters. Holloway, in particular, is a bit of a mess, going into an unexpected funk only hours after arriving on the alien planet and not immediately finding what he came searching for. Boo hoo, have a drink pouty boy. Rapace, as Shaw, is at least given room to roam and explore her emotions on top of being given the film’s most gruesome scene (one in fact that caused a member of my audience to faint in her seat). Her character, however is no less frustrating than the rest as their botched and hasty exploration of their surroundings calls into question their professionalism from the get go.
The rest of the human crew is no better, most blending into one another and if this were “Star Trek” they’d likely all be wearing red shirts. The only exceptions to this are Idris Elba and Charlize Theron, Elba playing the ship’s heroic captain and Theron playing Meredith Vickers, a Weyland Corporation employee whose icy exterior turns her into something of a villain. Elba, on one hand, is the film’s everyman whereas there is more to Meredith than meets the eye.
Humans aside, the film belongs to David, an android played by Michael Fassbender modeled after Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia, a film David watches often and quotes throughout, all the more furthering this idealized, yet artificial construct of a human. It’s through David we explore what it means to be human, the questions we should be asking and what we can potentially learn from the film. Considering his lack of a beating drum in his chest, David is in fact the heart of the film and Fassbender is perfect for the role in most every way.
Visually, Prometheus is stunning, particularly on a massive IMAX screen that fills your entire field of vision. Marc Streitenfeld’s score is very much a soaring “Star Trek”-esque score, which is apt considering this is very much a “Star Trek” kind of film, seeking out new worlds and new civilizations, boldly going where no “man” has gone before. Hell, Captain Kirk once talked to a man he thought was God only to be disappointed it wasn’t, does he get to be the only one?
Thematically and in terms of being a conversation starter, Prometheus is a piece worth examining for hours if not days. However, where it falls short is in its storytelling and character building efforts. It’s one thing to present ideas worth exploring, but it’s a whole other thing to do it in such a way that’s entertaining.
The entertainment Prometheus provides is something I can’t necessarily quantify after only one screening. I’m still thinking about it a week after first seeing it, which certainly says something as that, to me, is entertainment. The question is whether or not — once I arrive at my final conclusion on what it all means — I’ll be able to watch the film again and enjoy it merely as a piece of entertainment. Can it exist as a story beyond its ideas? I’m not so sure.