“Big things have small beginnings.” -- David
Speaking of things, you should know these before you see Prometheus.
In full disclosure, I need to say I went into this movie extremely biased. Suspicions arise when people define their movies as "prequels that aren’t prequels" and describe them in terms of "questions about human nature."
There’s a certain level of arrogance involved in trying to define the human condition, and that’s immediately off putting to me. This trait is encapsulated in the very name of both the ship and movie. Prometheus, he who stole fire from the gods, that’s a pretty good clue of what’s to come in the movie.
Also, I haven’t been much impressed with Ridley Scott since the '80’s. There’s only so far you can go on past success. And lastly, it didn’t help my opinion that I’m a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson (and you should be too!). After a midnight showing, the renowned astrophysicist immediately pointed out a science error before I’d ever stepped foot in the theater: "Half a billion miles is just past Jupiter!"
Having seen Prometheus now, I can say the dialogue Tyson complained about was really judged too harshly. It was a flippant remark made by a character without any basis in knowledge during a moment without importance or relevance, and had absolutely nothing to do with the story. So, yeah, I find myself prejudging a movie on the wrong criteria.
But onto the right stuff: Prometheus is an enjoyable movie, even though it takes itself too seriously by far. Before going in, you need to know that it’s one part really bad science, one part an examination of faith, and one part an attempt at the noblest of science fiction: exploration.
If you can suspend your disbelief regarding biology, and you don’t mind a bit of proselytizing, then the last part is completely for you!
We learn the ship, en route to another world, is populated by about a dozen people; your typical scientists mixed with blue collar space folk, just trying to earn an honest living in the stars. You might note, there’s a curious resemblance between the Prometheus and a certain class of freighter named after a bug, but alas, fan fiction aside, there is no connection.
Of the characters on the ship, you’ll only be interested in three, and this isn’t because Scott doesn’t try to flesh out the others, or give them neat accents or characteristics. It’s because only these three grab your attention and keep it.
The first is the main protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw. I’m not really sure what her scientific background is. It seems half biological, half archeological, so she’s probably an anthropologist. Noomi Rapace plays the character superbly. But the character seems to have no purpose other than to have her faith repeatedly tested. You’re given every opportunity to feel sorry for this character, but she refuses to accept it. I find myself becoming a fan.
The second character, and the one who steals the movie, is the android David, though everyone kept referring to him as a robot. Maybe that’s the cool slang of the future, or a derogatory term of some sort as no one on the Prometheus much seems to like him. Michael Fassbender fittingly channels Peter O’Toole for this part. He walks the razor’s edge between childlike innocence and creepy with ulterior motives in such a way that you yearn to understand him more, and watch him as he watches us.
And the last character you’ll want more of is the ever underutilized Idris Elba, playing Captain Janek. He’s a cynic and idealist at the same time. He’s a fan of "classic" music but with dirt under his nails. While I enjoyed both the characters Shaw and David, I would have sat in the theater another half an hour to watch this character. The fact that he was so important without actually doing anything most of the time speaks volumes.
Charlize Theron was also in the movie. She was completely wasted, however. Her story was predictable, and could have been played by anyone. I’m not even sure she or Guy Pearce were trying.
While the story strives for epicness, and certainly a few scenes achieve it, it’s not necessarily that original. I recall a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode dealing with the same topic. Coincidentally, they had an android, too.
But fear not, there is at least one scene that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, riveted to the screen and squirming uncomfortably, wishing you could look away, but unable to. There are also a couple of moments that Scott, unintentionally or not, steals from himself. These same events happen in his previous work, but just when you think you’re safe in a predictable place, he pulls the rug out from under you. I give him credit for that.
For all its faults, you’ll enjoy this movie. Most scenes in every Alien movie prior to this were dark, with narrow corridors and dripping water, which is in stark contrast to everything about the Prometheus with its slick, well lit, and wide open passageways. It’s a nice visual pairing to the way the story opens up the greater Alien universe and takes a very, very, claustrophobic timeline and tears it wide open. I can imagine a thousand different stories happening in this universe now. What was limited has become nearly limitless.
Now, for what to take away: Perhaps most importantly for continuity freaks like myself, I saw nothing that has to conflict with any other Alien or Predator or even AVP movie. In many ways what’s established in Prometheus can even tie it all together, at least in my mind.
I still appreciate what Prometheus attempts to do, and the way it purposely creates more questions than it answers. You’ll want those questions answered and will follow the story into a sequel, if there is one. And if there isn't, I'm satisfied without having the questions answered, because with Prometheus, it's more about the journey than the destination.
RevolutionSF's saturation coverage of Prometheus continues in this review.