Prometheus is a lot of things, a horrifying, science fiction thriller, a mystery, and a tragedy about a few humans who find themselves faced with an impossible choice on a faraway alien planet, and a well-crafted film about a descent into a horrific nightmare in a movie with a flawed narrative. Revisiting the movie last night, watching it again reminded me of how visually captivating and mesmerizing it starts. This is classic Scott, transporting the viewer to another world without effort. This preface shifts into a more disturbing scenario with the appearance of a single Engineer who ingests a substance that causes him to disintegrate, not just physically but on a genetic level, until he is no more. Overhead a large shape seems to be a massive ship departing the planet. It’s a sort of perfection the film achieves right away but loses as it continues.
Prometheus became one of the most controversial science fiction films of the 21st century. Initially billed with an overabundance of hype, as the long-awaited prequel to the Alien series of films, it fell victim to the hype that preceded it and was inevitably found wanting by fans who as always seek perfection in every new product and grow mean when they feel they have gotten somehow betrayed.
It’s directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, and featuring an excellent cast starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marchall-Green, and Charlize Theron. Prometheus is set in the late 21st century. It centers on the crew of the eponymous spaceship as it follows a star-map discovered among the artifacts of several ancient Earth cultures. The idea of evidence that ancient aliens interacted with prehistoric humans is not a new one. It is, in fact, a time-tested trope that is an acceptable device used here. Prometheus is not the first film to ‘borrow’ an idea to use as the basis of a plot. Seeking the origins of humanity, the crew arrives on a distant world and discovers a threat that could cause the extinction of the human species.
For me, problems with the film begin not long after they arrive and land on their planet of choice. What could be considered the film’s second act is poorly written, and considering the Hitchcockian approach Scott uses making his films, I suspect this one just got away from him somehow and slipped by without setting off any alarms.
The film’s narrative doesn’t always make sense. The scientists seem far too casual considering the situation, which seems out of character. When they encounter an alien life form, they, instead of practicing the utmost caution, provoke the creature until it attacks them. Also, the entire expedition doesn’t seem very organized in its approach to exploring the place. These people do not seem to be cooperating as a unit, do not behave like professionals, or seem very intelligent. Fassbender is notably creepy and memorable as David the android alone seems focused on his task and pushes ahead of everyone else, seemingly with a singular sense of purpose that turns out to be somewhat sinister and even evil.
The behavior of the scientists and the lack of organization get swept away as the film moves along at a steady pace. The fast pace of the narrative’s developments works to an extent because the film never gets boring or dull. I’m not a big fan of science fiction horror movies, but I now count Prometheus as one of my favorites in the sub-genre, and my memory tells me it’s one of the best I have ever seen, including the earlier editions to this franchise. There’s some exceptionally well done horrific material here convincingly well portrayed.
Also memorable is Noomi Rapace as Shaw. What a woman! She endures some of the film’s most creatively nightmarish situations and handles them like a champ. Shaw is a woman made of sturdy stuff; her character’s perseverance and stamina reminded her of the energizer bunny. The remaining crew that survives the encounter with the engineers and their hellish creations chooses to sacrifice themselves to save humanity by intentionally setting a collision course with an engineer ship full of evil goo as it tries to leave the planet.
Overall I enjoyed the movie this time despite its flaws, and it seems to deserve more appreciation than it has gotten in the past.