01/07/2012. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
Prometheus is a spectacular film and a spectacularly frustrating film. Full of earth-shaking ideas, much of the script just does not make even basic sense. It promises to give us at least science fictional explanations for some of the great questions of human existence, but it never has the courage to answer those questions. With tremendous special effects, much of the film is just plain unpleasant to watch. Spoiler warning: I will discuss some of the ideas of the film after the main review. I do not think it will damage the impact of the film, but be warned.
To director Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien it is at once a prequel, an origin story, a remake, and a broadened context. Scott seems to have intended it as some sort of statement about the relation of science and religion, but that is lost in the muddle of trying to do too much.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Ridley Scott and Ron Shusett created the "Alien" creature that has become as familiar to the world as (the similarly volatile) Mel Gibson. It inspired the creation of Predator and between them the two monsters are responsible for lines of movies and books none of which has Scott or Shusett lent his talents to. Now Scott has returned to that same universe and as if to laugh at all the films and books using his creation, he has come back and said, "You think Alien is bad? His species is just the infestation feeding on a bigger and more important creature--one that has more serious implications for humans." (A similar "that's not the *real* monster" concept was used in the 1956 Rodan.) Prometheus is a real mixed bag of interesting questions of the relation of religious belief and science. It looks at the origins of life on Earth and the Panspermia Hypothesis. At the same time as giving a much larger context to the creature from Alien it is an origin for the creature and the film follows the lines of the film so that more than a little of the story is a remake of Alien.
As the film opens a pale white alien creature, looking like a marble statue, stands on an empty rock landscape and (voluntarily?) commits suicide so that his DNA will be left behind and spread to this world.
Flash forward to the year 2089 and the discovery is made that several Paleolithic cultures independently drew the same star map of six stars on cave walls, a map of a "galactic system" they could not have possibly seen with their naked eyes. This seems to prove aliens visited earth in prehistoric times. Fascinated by this discovery is Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce), the founder of a corporation made fabulously wealthy by the diverting of stimulus money into tax cuts for the rich. Weyland has funded his own personal interstellar expedition to the one moon the aliens could have come from. (Right!)
On Starship Prometheus is a decidedly blue-collar crew in the Alien tradition. The pious Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) has her own struggle between her religious belief and evidence that a somewhat non-Biblical origin for human life may have occurred. Shaw is "partnered" in multiple ways with Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and together they are the scientific thrust of the expedition. Elizabeth befriends the android, David (Michael Fassbinder of Shame) who is fixated on the film Lawrence Of Arabia. The crew is commanded by the impassive Vickers (Charlize Theron), more machine-like than David is.
It is hard to rate a film that does so much well and so much that is cringeogenically silly. While the first hour is full of philosophical questions, it is followed by an hour of empty action. There just seems to be something about having a massive tentacle wound around your throat that that just drives all of the philosophical questions right out of your head. But science fiction that revels in questions albeit brief and unanswered is so rare that I do not want to say anything that might scare it away. I hate to think of a world in which the most intelligent science fiction film around is on the level of Avatar. I may be being a little charitable here, but for the philosophical content I would give Prometheus a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
One question that is not very clearly answered is at what point in our evolution was the alien intervention. If it is well before our ancestors evolved to the modern form, how is it that the random walk of evolution took us to a shape so similar to that of the intervening aliens? If the involvement was after our ancestors took modern form, why are supposedly close relatives like bonobos and chimpanzees so much like us in form and in DNA? Bearing on this question is the question of why an image of a globe found on the alien moon seems to be of our present-day Earth. It could be what the map of Earth looked like when humans began, but it looked very differently when all life began. The question of when the first scene might have occurred arises but is frustratingly unanswered. Scott leaves us to draw our own conclusions.
Also, the film tells how the corporation found a specific moon and just the right place on that moon to find the aliens who had visited Earth. That is ridiculous. The stars are so far away they are not visible from Earth and are in another galactic system. With so crude a source one probably could not distinguish a cave painting of the Big Dipper from one of the Little Dipper, and they are prominent and visible in the night sky. There would be billions of matches in another "galactic system," (a term which they misuse, by the way).
Oh, and Nature makes lots of straight lines. Look at the edge of a crystal.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper
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