Some of the most revolutionary artists have that child-like quality of looking at everything as if for the first time (and showing it to the viewer via the art of cinema, literature, theatre, and so on).
Ridley Scott is one of these rare artists. The sense of wonderment with which he opens his peepers every time he looks at something is contagious. He did it in Alien and Blade Runner, creating dystopian worlds of utter devastation and infecting his audiences with lasting horror that haunts and transfixes at the same time. He did it in Thelma & Louise, as an Englishman, staring at the American landscape, wide-eyed, jaw-dropped – as if no one stared at these plains and hills before, and sharing the experience with those who’ve accepted the invitation.
And yes, he is doing it again in Prometheus, despite what you may have heard from whiny critics, when he shows the viewers their home – planet Earth – as they’ve never seen it before. But like a true artist who is always enchanted with wondrous beginnings, he is also drawn to inglorious ends…
Prometheus opens with show-stopping shots of the Earth in its early days (filmed at the base of the active volcano in Iceland), and there is a terrifying creature to observe, but not the one many would expect in a movie that began as Alien’s prequel but ended up being its own master.
Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover an ancient painting in Scotland which is one of a series of similar paintings from different cultures and historical periods (H.R. Giger designed the murals). All the etchings point to the same planet, as if inviting humans to visit, so both Elizabeth who is a cross-wearing believer and Charlie who is a steadfast scientist, are filled with wonder and hope.
The all-powerful corporation Weyland Industries sends the two, together with a crew of scientists and the friendly android David (Michael Fassbender – enchanting), headed by the steely Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, not an ounce of fat in her body) to a planet similar to Earth on a ship called Prometheus. They arrive in 2093 to make history, but as power struggles start, the hidden agendas of the seemingly obvious characters begin to unfold – with disastrous consequences for most of the crew.
The eager viewers will find out what David the android is doing when the rest of the crew are sleeping. Michael Fassbender is brilliant at showing the methodological movements of his double agent character – whether he is learning ancient languages and bleaching his roots. It’s hard not to like David. He looks at human beings with a sense of quiet disgust – at their will to explore, conquer, kill the living things, bring dead things to life, theorize, analyze, categorize. When Elizabeth asks David what he is going to do when no one programs him, he answers he will be free, with a dry smile. That dude knows that freedom ain’t all that; but he never forgets he is just a slave in the eye of the humans; there is a twinkle in his eye that suggests that one day he will retaliate.
Charlize Therone is perfect as Meredith, the embodiment of corporate claustrophobia, of the pervasive eye of the Big Boss. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth turns out to be the perfect Last Girl Standing, a warrior and fighter, whose transformation is a real pleasure to watch.
I disagree that the rest of the cast are disposable; it’s the people they play that are disposable – suffice the plucky captain played by a handsome Idris Elba. Most critics have dismissed the crew members as perfunctory, threadbare characters, dead meat for the aliens. But have they thought that such a portrayal of scientists can be a deliberate critique? Who are these people if not mere boys poking at a half-dead snail with a stick on a rainy day, pretending it’s the most important business in the world? After Thelma & Louise Ridley Scott was criticized for making a man-bashing film.
Prometheus is a dig at a bigger part of the population. It’s a dig at all of us, poking our noses into shit we should avoid at all costs. But is that what makes us human? Different from the animal kingdom? Different from the creators? Are we the only animal willing to ditch the survival instinct just to answer a couple of questions?
Some critics have complained about the lack of foreboding settings, drawn out silences, of that all-encompassing mist that made Alien so frightening. I think fog was necessary in Alien because ‘it was a C-movie done in an A-way’, as Ridley Scott puts it in this interview. Now, as there is no need for this crutch, and he can focus on every detail of his dreamed out world, his imagination truly takes flight, backed up by the generous budget and the technology that is there to match his daydreams. Low-budget sensations become such at times because the limited means of production make directors push the limits and be innovative (think 28 Days Later); but, common, it’s 2012 and it’s Sir Ridley Scott, no one should expect him to film a bunch of foggy clouds just cuz he did so in 1979. And what do we have to represent sci fi these days anyway: Transformers? Battleship? Or maybe Men In Black 3? (Please, don’t even get me started on Avatar).
The special effects are something else in Prometheus and they don’t exist for their own sake either (there is a magical sequence where David holds a holographic image of planet Earth in his hands). Ridley Scott doesn’t waste a minute of time to cater to 3D conventions or impress anyone just because he can. Of course, not everyone is going to like that – the ‘modern viewer’ is a spoilt animal, bred on constant action and exploitation. For me, the visuals were breathtaking, and apart from other blockbusters, the images were backed up by thoughts. The whole process of asking questions is what makes us human; it’s finding the answers to those questions that turns us into something else. Do we have a right to the secrets of the universe? Should our creators expect docility or is rebellion irreversible? Is curiosity nothing but a seed of destruction planted in us on purpose? And once we create something we weren’t supposed to – will we be rewarded by our creators or will we be squashed like cockroaches by their iron boot?
REALITY VS FICTION
30 years ago, when Alien was made, technological discoveries common today would be unthought-of. Today they are part of the background (curiously, the trailer of the upcoming Resident Evil: Retribution looks into this topic). Why did people laugh at a talking head of David when androids are already reality (and if you are wondering about their life-like physical features, just check out the Real Doll website), and not a very amusing one. We are creating stuff all the time. Do we stop in the process, to think about the consequences? Some of us do. But something tells me we are too eager to see our own end to make it out alive. That’s gonna be one hell of a movie.
Prometheus is a magnificent return of sci fi to the paramount questions humanity has to ask itself once in a while. Dumb audiences will be expecting answers, and will be disappointed. A smart viewer will be left with a bitter aftertaste, and leave unnerved, uncomfortable, haunted. Hopefully, a sequel will get made. After all, I am just as curious to poke that snail to death as anyone else.
An absolute must-see.