As director Ridley Scott’s first science fiction film in almost 30 years, it’s hard not to have expectations and compare Prometheus with his first effort Alien, but though both films contain foreboding atmosphere and slithery troglodytes who have a habit of reproducing with people in a rather uncomfortable manner, Prometheus is ultimately more about the questions that Alien never had time to worry about since it was too busy bursting out of your chest and menacing Ellen Ripley in a cramped escape pod. Beyond the horror that Alien instilled in us was a question that the film asks from the get go; where does life come from, and what would we do if we came face-to-face with our makers?
It’s these ideas that drive Prometheus’ story, and though its characters may occasionally un-subtlely state them, it also preserves a genuine sense of awe and purpose to the questions that linger in the back of our minds. Our characters reflect this, Noomi Rapace, esteemed for playing un-readableness and intensity as Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo fame, here plays Ellie Shaw, an archeologist who believes she has found a map left behind by beings that were responsible for the creation of men. Ellie is motivated by her faith in the search for answers, while her boyfriend Charlie (Logan-Marshal Green) is just as motivated, but his curiosity is of the more scientific kind. Financing the mission to the planet of their suspected creators is the Weyland corp (Of which Alien fans will no doubt recognize) represented by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theoron) who maintains an almost unnatural poise of calm and professionalism, and acts as the most practical and skeptical of the crew.
There is also David, given eerie grace and tactile emotion by Michael Fassbender, an android whose creation and search for answers echoes the journey of the crew to find theirs as well. Fassbender is fantastic in his role, bringing curiosity and concern to the character, while still maintaining his air of artificiality that robots cannot escape. He adds upon his personality by incorporating human actions (He watches Lawrence of Arabia and styles his hair after a young Peter O’Toole, who he could almost be a double for) as well as making some sly jabs at the rest of the crew.
The film has a great sense of scope to it, from the opening shots of Iceland displaying the ridges of pristine valleys and lakes that take on an almost primordial quality, to a towering dust storm flows over the surface of the planet like the wrath of God seeking to punish those dare to search for our origin. When the film narrows it’s focus it loses a small part of itself due to many of the crew members besides the captain, Janek (Idris Elba of The Wire) making little impression beyond their job, which is really nothing new (Despite what film critics will claim) when compared to the crew of the Nostromo in Alien.
Though the nature of what the would-be pilgrims discover in a monolithic temple full of strange, cylinder shaped vessels should be seen without spoilers, a number of scenes stand out as particularly provocative. David’s discovery of a navigation room within the engineers building” communicates all we need to know about the their technology and their reach throughout the Universe, all through the use of images and gestures. Ridley even manages to exceed, or at least level with, the horror of the alien’s birth of previous films with a harrowing sequence depicting a hasty caesarian section that is just as gruesome and disturbing as the bloody body-horror of the first film.
The films narrative is slightly skewed in a way that means a lot of characters seem to be encountering separate dangers when it feels like the whole crew should be altered to them. Each of these comes back to the themes of meeting one’s creator, and discovering that they are not what you expected to find, as well as the importance of belief and not stopping with the answers we discover. It’s just a shame that they seem to happen in a random order and some of the crew seem entirely oblivious to them, as they wouldn’t be if there were a hostile Xenomorph on the loose.
In many ways, the movies’ “show, don’t tell” approach is the both its strongest element and the one most likely to frustrate audiences. Since the whole journey (and ostensibly the movie itself) has been about the search for answers, some might find it’s refusal to answer these disingenuous, due to many aspects of the engineers and their planet remaining in the dark. In this way, Prometheus is the opposite of Alien, which gave distinct rules to the creatures and anchored them in the realm of the physical, while Prometheus allows the observant viewer to pick up clues and draw their own conclusions.
Ultimately Prometheus doesn’t offer clear-cut answers because its questions are not ones that can be answered by simple explanations; rather they are the things that one must uncover in the course of one’s life. A lesser movie might have tried to explain everything by having another character figure it out, but Prometheus admits that no journey, even one to meet our creators, could possibly satisfy us, only lead to more questions. Because of it’s refusal to give us easy answers, we, like Ellie Shaw, are made aware of the importance of continuing the search for these, and thus the search for our physical origin becomes a spiritual journey to understand our place in the vast, unknown universe that is the human soul.