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Movie Review: Prometheus (2012)

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I genuinely wanted to love Prometheus. I love deep, cerebral science fiction, whether on the big screen, small screen or in novel form. I’ve enjoyed so many of Ridley Scott’s films over the years, and his Blade Runner is one of my all-time favorite movies. So it was with high expectations that I went to see this summer’s most anticipated film.

The story begins in the very distant past when a statue-like ancient spills liquid from a small flask down a raging waterfall before falling into it himself. So, it seems, begins humanity on Earth.

Fast forward to an archaeologic expedition on Scotland’s Isle of Skye with scientists Elizabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace (Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films) and her partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). It is here the scientists discover another in a series of cave paintings they’ve unearthed, all depicting the same scene: a human pointing towards the heavens and a particular cluster of heavenly bodies. Does this discovery provide further evidence that humanity was created by aliens from distant world? Is it evidence of our human origins?

Shaw and Holloway are about to find out as their proposed expedition is funded by a private company headed by the elderly Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, The King’s Speech), whose agenda, it seems, turns out to be quite simple.

Traveling the distance to the planet suggested by the cave drawings, the scientists, their team and ice-queen corporate representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) are put in stasis pods and whisked away aboard the Prometheus. While the crew are in stasis for more than two years, the ship is overseen by David (Michael Fassbender (X-Men First Class), a soft-spoken, attentive android who may ultimately have his own agenda.

As they reach their destination and wake up from two years of slumber, the crew prepares for landing and exploring what they believe to be the origin of the cave paintings. They find the exact place to begin quite quickly, commencing their search deep within miles of tunnels, which possess interesting buttons, controls—and life forms of various sorts. But are they good aliens—or are they bad aliens? Shaw and company are about to find out. The hard way.

Prometheus is visually stunning. I did not screen it either in 3D or in IMAX, but even in the standard presentation, the film is simply gorgeous. The interior sets are gloriously detailed and vibrant, and the exteriors are stark in their pristine beauty; the film score present an atmospheric backdrop for the action and emotional beats.

Among the cast, Fassbender’s android is the real revelation. Equal parts T.E. Lawrence, Nexus 6 Replicant (ala Blade Runner), and Hal 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey), Fassbender gives us an entirely human robot, complete with his own sense of vanity—and even sensitivity. Rapace makes a good heroine, able to confront her demons and even save her own life.

The movie works best in the first half as we get to know the characters, even if for the most part they are the somewhat clichéd crew of throwaway engineers and scientists that seem to have inhabited every sci-fi movie in the history of modern cinema.

Once the action part of Prometheus gets going, the plot becomes confusing and choppy as the crew begins to understand the connection between the cave drawings and the planet upon which they’ve found themselves. What motivates Weyland Corporation and its representative? Is it greed? Who is it that David works for? Is it Weyland, his creator? Or is there some element of his own curiosity gathered over the two years he’s been studying the dreams of the ship’s crew—and studying the ancients’ language? How well does he understand them and what does that mean? In the end it’s all a bit too simple with neither texture nor depth. In the end it’s a good, scary sci-fi flick. Which is what makes it disappointing to me.

Some have said that Prometheus explores the fundamental question of belief in a Creator. Although you can argue whether we as humans were created through evolution or put here on Planet Earth by ancient aliens or by the omnipresent, transcendent God of the Bible, the movie provides no real answers—and never really even poses the question except in an oh-by-the-way fashion. The deep questions that might have been asked and explored are replaced by the usual big-bang trappings of blockbuster sci-fi.

The theory of ancient, all-powerful, even God-like aliens creating the human species is a staple of the genre. Arthur Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stargate’s Ancients (particularly and seriously in Stargate Universe), even Star Trek, among so many others explore this fundamental question about our origins and our human aspirations and have done it better. Perhaps I was expecting something more profound than was intended, but in the end, Prometheus proves to be a fun, cinematic, but ultimately unsatisfying roller coaster ride.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • Charlie

    Save yourself the pain. Watch the original Alien movie to realize this is no more than a cash grab. -10/10. At least George was honest.

  • The Other Chad

    Great take on this, Barbara – I agree totally. Awesome visuals and atmosphere, but not enough follow-through on the big themes presented.

  • Lance

    I really enjoy your review, regardless I have mixed feelings about this movie. As a standalone movie, I wasn’t particularly fond of it. Rather, the impact the film had on me was greatest when I sought some of the answers to the numerous questions queued after its ending. I didn’t find too great a depth to the what the Prometheus story line supplied, so I already know if there is going to be another movie, that I’ll enjoy it more than this one. In a sense, this film seemed more like a prequel to a prequel.

  • http://blogcritics/writers/barbara-barnett barbara barnett

    Thanks Chad and Lance. Lance that ending did scream out “Sequel! Sequel!” Of course we know that Alien is obviously a “sequel,” but…

  • avinash

    ya it is one of the excellent mve i ever saw

  • James

    Elements and themes in Prometheus were almost biblical in nature, but just like the Titan himself, reached high but ultimately fell short of true immortality.

  • barbara barnett

    Hi James, I think the intentions were there, and I wonder how much was left on the cutting room floor. Every once in awhile during the movie I was thinking that it was going hit it, and it never did.