Film Analysis: Prometheus

(Warning - there be spoilers for the movie Prometheus as this is more a discussion than a proper review.)

As I mentioned previously, I saw Ridley Scott's Prometheus over the weekend. I've long been a fan of the Alien series of movies (though for some reason my parents didn't take me when I was seven years old to see the original when it first came out. Going through high school and college I was a fan of the Dark Horse Comics various spinoff series (which manage to get more and more invalidated with every new release, though they are still well worth reading in their own right).

The nasty chest-bursting xenomorphs from the series inspired tons of creations in my science fiction gaming - I added my own xenomporph's to my FASA Star Trek game, coming up with the idea of the critters being biological weapons.

So, what of Prometheus? Despite clearly taking place in the same Alien universe, it is not truly an Alien movie. A variation of the familiar Alien xenomorph appears at the end but they are not the point of this movie. I've seen some blogs and reviewers refer to Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness as a likely inspiration and I believe that to be spot-on. Both stories deal with the idea that human life was made by some ancient race and tell tales of scientists reaching an ancient and isolated site of these ancients.

In Prometheus, these progenitors are referred to as "Engineers". They are of the same race as the "space jockey" as seen in Alien.  I aways thought they looked somewhat like bipedal elephants but Prometheus goes with the idea that they themselves are genetically human, albeit super-sized and wearing a funky helmet. A series of ancient artwork showing the same star pattern leads the scientists of this film to the moon LV-223 (a different terrestrial body than the one in the original Alien film). They hope to encounter these Engineers and they do find a complex of the Engineers - one filled with lots of dead Engineers.

Prometheus follows several horror tropes - some of the characters are isolated and an android in the expedition experiments on one of the scientists, secretly implanting him with an alien substance.

We learn that this base was a bioweapons facility and the Engineers were preparing to destroy all life on Earth. The film asks but does not answer some big questions - why were we created, why would they wish to destroy us? What is the point of faith in God next to science, especially with evidence of our deliberate creation? Noomi Rapace's Dr. Elizabeth Shaw answers that last question with a statement of faith, echoing her father - "it's what I choose to believe". I have friends who are atheists who get very frustrated  when they here religious people give that answer. From my perspective, as a somewhat shaky Catholic, it is the only answer possible. In my opinion, at the end of the day, religious faith of any kind is a choice.

Michael Fassbender was a delight to watch as the android David whose character took deliberate care to model himself after Peter O'Toole's portrayal of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. He makes for a counterpoint to the humans of the expedition - he has no illusions as to who created him. While I did not mind so much the unanswered questions I mention in the previous paragraph, I was less than satisfied with the motivations for David experimenting on his fellow crew members. Was he programmed to do so? Did he do so out of dislike for the species that created him? Though as I write this I suspect that ambiguity was an intentional counterpoint to the questions the humans asked.

Prometheus clearly isn't a perfect movie. Beyond the points above, its music at times seemed to be bizarrely inappropriate for the scene in question. Sometimes the characters acted frustratingly foolishly - ignoring signs of an alien infection being one of the biggest. If you are on an alien planet and you notice little worms in your eyes, tell someone! The biggest frustration is the one I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, that of understanding David's motivations. I have heard the original cut was about thirty minutes longer and I have a hunch that while most movies are too long, this is a film which would have benefited from the extra time.

Despite these flaws it is a movie I admire. It is a movie that asks some difficult questions and doesn't tie them down with neat little answers. It's something that the Star Trek films tried to do twice (in the first and fifth filmst) and both times i felt they were done unsuccessfully. I feel Prometheus found the right balance of revelation vs. unanswered questions.

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