Film Review: Prometheus (2012)

I don't know if we'll ever get a true hypertext novel. I'm not talking an online, pick and choose what you want to read thing. I'm talking a totally immersive text ala the holodeks in Star Trek. If we never reach that point, we can at least absorb what a new wave of science fiction films are giving us. Movies like Sunshine, Prometheus, and Moon are less about the individual story being told and more about the creation of a rich universe filled with ideas to ponder and debate. To judge any of these films on the story--when there is story--alone would be a pointless endeavor. They're not narrative features. They're idea films.

Prometheus, the latest sci-fi/horror epic from Ridley Scott, seems to do away with traditional notions of storytelling all together. The plot--presumably taken from the screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof--is nothing more than an excuse to tell a series of vignettes concerning the reality of life and death in the contexts of faith, fantasy, science, and society.

Prometheus MapThe crew of the Prometheus is on a mission to explore a distant planet that may hold the key to human existence. Drs. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe that an ancient race of alien lifeforms created all of humanity. A series of cave drawings are found all over the world with the same cluster of stars in them. Shaw and Holloway convince Weyland Enterprises, under the guidance of executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and android David (Michael Fassbender), to fund an expedition to prove once and for all the origin of life on Earth.

Prometheus succeeds and fails in its approach to this small bit of plot. If you view the film as an interactive text designed to stimulate the mind and provoke a response, it's a great success. If you view it as a prequel to the Alien series or an actual attempt to answer questions of our origins or the existence of god, it's a total failure. This is not Avatar. There are no easy answer here. This movie exists to make you think, think, and think some more.

The acting is strong. Rapace, Theron, and Marshall-Green have a great dynamic that drives the conflict until the darker sci-fi elements invade the story. Michael Fassbender, however, steals the show. As David, the humanoid android whose only purpose is to see to the needs of the expedition, Fassbender creates one of the most compelling sci-fi images in year.

Prometheus DavidHis perfect veneer--blonde hair, blue eyes, white teeth, lean body, charming smile--is all the more disturbing for his convincing portrayal of a human-like creature who cannot empathize at all with the lives of the people who created him. The entire mission is a mystery to him as he has no desire to find out why anyone creates anything. He will never be born and he will never die. Their concerns mean nothing when weighed against his orders to serve the mission.

Ridley Scott attempts to do something so different with Prometheus that people are bound to be disappointed. No one can have all their expectations met because his goal is not satisfying any singular goal. Would the film be easier to absorb and discuss if he focused in on a single issue or a specific character's development? Yes. Would it be as rewarding as the debate his sprawling sci-fi epic has created? No.

Prometheus Dr. ShawIt's impossible to even suggest how to approach a film like Prometheus. It's easier to try to discount elements. It's not funny (except for when it's hilarious). It's not a prequel (except for when it totally is). It's not a character study (unless you count humanity or faith as a character). It's not a creature feature (unless people behaving badly count as monsters to you). It's not survival horror, space opera, or a showcase of special effects (except for when those overtake specific character arcs again and again).

Prometheus is everything and nothing. It is the alpha and the omega. It's is the best and the worst film you will see this year. It is brilliant and flawed. It is beautiful and ugly. It is inspiring and lifeless. It is all of these things because the goal is an exploration of humanity through the lens of speculative fiction.

Is it entertaining? Depends on who you talk to.

Rating: 8/10

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