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Prometheus: something I left under the seat

The premise behind Ridley Scott’s movie Prometheus, opening on June 8, is that extraterrestrial super-beings created humans.  The film (and the predicted sequel) is more of a Frankenstein story than a search for religious or scientific answers.

This connection to the origin of the human race is discovered when scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) & Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) identify symbols common to ancient cave paintings all over the earth.  The cave paintings are also an intergalactic map and invitation to find our extraterrestrial creators on a planet in another galaxy.

A few years and a gritty double helix sequence scene later, it is the year 2089.  The mission, organized by the Weyland Corporation, is nearing its destination: the location indicated by the cave paintings. Although Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway are a part of the mission, it seems to be led by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a representative of Weyland Corporation.  A crew of disparate scientists is assembled to… um… well, no one really seems to know just what is supposed to happen if an alien settlement is actually found.  Scientists – so typical.    This subplot about who is in charge and why they are there — and why they are REALLY there — was probably the most interesting part of the film.

This kooky idea of creation is the major theme of the film, but our extraterrestrial creators aren’t the focus (that is a job for the predicted sequel). The focal point is the android operations guru and butler Phillip (Micheal Fassbender).   Instead of going on a Frankenstein-style orgy of death and destruction, Phillip goes rogue with sarcasm and irony.  Fassbender is excellent; he delivers just enough ambiguity to make you suspect, then question, the suspect, whether he has gone off the map. 

Every detail and every piece of throwaway dialogue from the first half of the movie, takes on some significant meaning in the second half of the movie.  Although that isn’t unusual, it feels a little too obvious and sloppy in Prometheus.  Really, you could live comfortably in Ms. Vickers’s living space even if something happened to the rest of the ship?  Spoiler alert: something happens to the ship.  Scientists Charlie and Elizabeth are romantically involved (don’t worry, that doesn’t get outrageously complicated).  For its too many too obvious moments, Prometheus does keep plenty of cards up its sleeves.

During Ridley Scott’s decades long break from science fiction (he directed Alien and Blade Runner) he stayed plenty busy making blockbuster films like Gladiator and Black Hawk Down.  Without spoiling it, Prometheus covers a lot of old territory from Alien including some of the unpleasant sexual overtones.  There is a stale planetarium soundtrack.  The pop up computer screens and holograms aren’t that imaginative.  Ideas and discoveries aren’t really developed. As science fiction, Prometheus seems kind of half-assed.

The movie does cover some new ground.  3D is used to enhance the cinematography, not to test your bladder by having loads of things pop off the screen into your face.    The intersection of archaeology and science fiction is pretty interesting.  Usually the sign of a good film, the question, ‘why’ takes on a whole new level of importance.

You can take it to the bank that there will be a sequel to Prometheus.  The entire movie is a giant tease that never attempts to really answer the central question in the film: what about the Frankenstein role the human race plays to our alien creators.  Are humans just an experiment gone rogue?

All of the holding back for the sequel and the movie’s ambition is its undoing.  Prometheus touches on so many themes that it doesn’t really pull any of them off.  As they attempt to lay the groundwork for the sequel, new plot twists and surprises are being thrown in right up until the last minute. But, this isn’t Ridley Scott’s first rodeo as they say.  Despite its flaws, is it is really well done and it is entertaining.  Prometheus is a lot like chewing gum: it is nice enough while you’re enjoying it, but when it’s over you dispose of without another thought.

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