I watched Prometheus  this evening (thanks to the $7.88 blu-ray bin at Walmart).

A brief synopsis of the film: At the tail end of our current century an exploratory space mission is bankrolled by a powerful corporate tycoon to the moon of a Saturn-like exo-planet in another solar system. There is compelling evidence that this moon is the home of the earth’s extra-terrestrial “gods” of ages past (i.e., a la Erich Von Daniken’s ancient alien astronaut theory). The young scientist couple that made the discovery is on the mission, and there is an android aboard the ship equipped with powerful AI who was created by the trillionaire tycoon patron. The ship they’re making the voyage with is called the Prometheus. Upon arrival the researchers immediately stumble onto ruins of a site that is clearly engineered by intelligent beings, and they go exploring.

This is the sort of film that truly perplexes me. It has so many strong ingredients:

  • a talented, visionary, and proven (if uneven) director (Ridley Scott)
  • a story that ties in with the Alien  series (the first two films were great, anyway)
  • some truly gorgeous CGI and set design
  • a great cast (Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron)

So what could go wrong? Sadly, the film bears scant resemblance to what scientists would actually do in the situation that the film places them in. I’m not a scientist, mind you. But I feel that I can say that with total confidence.The film simply uses the framework of a scientific mission as a kind of prop to… I think … try to craft an allegory about… what it means to be human?… That is my best guess, anyway. Because the picture regularly voices a number of basic existential themes. But if so, it was rather difficult to decipherable what the film’s deeper message is.

Or maybe I’m over-thinking it (as I am wont to do). Maybe it’s just another haunted house movie in space, following in the footsteps of its brilliant predecessor Alien ? If so, the film falls well short on that count as well. In that department Alien did what this film did ten times better.

The central question that arises in my mind with this film is: why  would the director knowingly make a science fiction film that he surely must be aware is likely to alienate the majority of science fiction fans due to its near total disregard for any sort of scientific realism (i.e., methods used by the protagonists)? As science fiction Prometheus  is just bad. Exploration of an extraterrestrial archeological site would be painstakingly and slowly conducted with great patience. There would be tremendous care given to trying to avoid contamination in either direction (from humans to this planet’s ecosystem, and vice versa). And space is also a supremely hostile environment. As noted, scientists proceed with caution in general; and the greater the physical dangers, especially, the more precautions they would take. This group is about as careful as a bull in a china shop. That is to me a big immersion buster. There goes my willing suspension of disbelief.

Ironically, in light of the film’s subject matter (I won’t spoil here) the crew truly deserves a Darwin award. It is actually hard to have any sympathy for them. (Really, only one character, Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw, is fully likeable. Although I was rooting for Fassbender’s android character David as well, despite his flaws. And the ship’s captain also deserves honorable mention, though I won’t spoil as to why). If director Ridley Scott’s allegory is basically that humankind deserves to go extinct because of our stupidity, then perhaps the film redeems itself by couching it in self-parody. I say this half in jest: because I think it is actually conceivable that it is the film’s message. If by some stretch it is the point that Scott is trying to make, then it’s really not a very satisfying cinematic experience for the film-goer. And it would amount mainly to a form of self-indulgence on Scott’s part as a director.

Thinking more on this, it could be that Scott’s commentary on humanity is that our insatiable curiosity is both our downfall and saving grace (our innate curiosity does receive a more positive slant at the film’s end). That is a worthwhile observation to make. It is just very awkwardly executed by this film.

What makes this film watchable despite these criticisms is the incredible CGI, which was to me truly mesmerizing. It is a feast for the eyes. And the performances by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender in particular also make the film worth the trouble to sit through.

It’s just a shame that Prometheus could have been a very good film–but instead an insultingly dumbed down script ruined the experience for those who love science and space exploration.


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