‘Prometheus’ Is Fascinating, But Lacks Answers


My expectations for Prometheus were very high. After all, it is the brainchild of filmmaker Ridley Scott, who has made several of the best science fiction movies ever, particularly Blade Runner (one of the truly brilliant films of our time) and Alien. The new movie is a form of prequel to the latter film. Were expectations met? Is this a great film? A really good one? A bomb?

Well, it fits into the really good category. Scott has said the film takes places in the Alien universe; that it has its DNA strands in it. But it, unfortunately, is not nearly as good. Very ambitious, it raises questions about the origins of man and the basis of religious beliefs. In the end, the questions go unanswered — a major weakness. Great science fiction proposes questions and sometimes even answers them.

Anthropologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover cave drawings that match others in different primitive societies, all of which show people worshiping giants pointing to the same star system. Shaw is convinced that the Engineers, the name she gives those giants, are the race that created mankind, and she wants to visit them, wants to know why we were created and seeks answers to other vital questions. Trillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) provides the money for a voyage to the world for his own purposes. And, as expected, the explorers discover a real lot more than they bargained for.

The crew itself is as varied as any good casting office could create. They are all under the control of Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), an icy corporate type who lives in a comfortable, modernistic pod attached to the ship as a way of avoiding risk. She seems so unemotional that the captain asks her if she is a robot. Captain Janek (Idris Elba) is a rough, tough sea captain type, ready to protect his people at all costs. His character is the easiest to relate to. Shaw, of course, is a bit of a religious fanatic, constantly searching for answers even though she is completely wrong and endangering everyone. Her partner and lover Holloway is a skeptic. Watching over them while they are in hibernation for the course of the trip is the robot David (Michael Fassbender). Of course, several characters note that while they are looking for their creators, David knows that humans created him. He is far abler in most ways than any of them but has his own issues.

As expected in a movie like this one, there are all sorts of portentous discoveries, and a couple of seemingly minor errors (mostly done, interestingly, by David) lead to many problems. Whether they are done on purpose is never answered.

Alien was the high-water mark of space horror films with Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) representing humans, while becoming the archetype of the strong female hero. Shaw is a very different type. Although Scott puts her through a couple of scenes that are, to put it mildly, very tough, she is more a survivor than a fighter. But, eventually, things go pretty much as badly for her and the crew as happened in the earlier film.

This film is very gritty. The space ship, with the exception of Vickers’ pod, is dirty, although it does have a full set of science and other graphic toys to keep us fascinated. The acting is all very good. Theron is icy, Rapace is tough even while semi-hysterical (with good reason), and Fassbender manages to make David interesting despite the handicap of playing him as a robot.

The real problem of the film is that most of what we see is pretty much what we expected to see. The scientists are searching for major answers, and, of course, everything goes wrong. Portentous questions are raised with no conclusions. The very human-like Engineer communicates very little, and, of course, we know that there will be other explorers coming. We’ve already seen that movie.

But, for all of its weaknesses, it is a good movie. It uses fewer computer effects than most similar films, but when it uses them, they are excellent. And it will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are a couple of scenes that are definitely not for the squeamish, but if you like good space horror, you will like this film — but you won’t fall in love like many of us did for Alien.