Words cannot express how glad I am that Ridley Scott has finally returned to his sci-fi roots. This is not to say that I did not enjoy “Thelma and Louise,” “Gladiator,” or “American Gangster,” but I definitely could have done without “A Good Year” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” I consequently overhyped “Prometheus” in my head, though I suppose over-hype was unavoidable with the “TED Talks” featurettes and other promos they came out with months before its actual release. This movie was a valiant attempt to recreate the awesomeness that was “Alien”– it is admittedly something of a quasi-prequel to the “Alien” franchise– and it succeeded in certain areas (effects, action, casting, general storyline). However, it failed in others (cliched, formulaic, overly vague) and left me rather frustrated when I got out of the theatre.
The movie is about the journey to find who created the human race (the “engineers”) and the consequences of this search. When the ship Prometheus journeys to the moon identified as being the location indicated on archaeological star maps as the origin of the alien race that created humanity, the crew on board has one motivation: to make contact. The archaeologists who made the discovery, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), see the engineers as being benevolent creators who will be able to answer all of their questions. However, other crew members– David (Michael Fassbender) and Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, and possibly an android as well)– have a less optimistic outlook. David in particular seems to have ulterior motives, as it is clear (even though he is an android and not supposed to be capable of feeling emotion) that he hates being treated as a second-class citizen.
The dynamic between humans and android(s)– creators and created– is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of “Prometheus,” not only because it foreshadows the eventual consequences of making contact with the aliens but also demonstrates the faults of human superiority. Fassbender does a fantastic job at conveying his android-character’s unfeeling frustration at being treated like he is less than human, even though he was created to look like one so that people would be more comfortable around him: Peter Weyland (an aged Guy Pearce) says in a holographic video that David cannot have a soul because he is a robot, which clearly irks him, and Holloway constantly pokes fun at how David can’t possibly feel feelings. One of my favorite exchanges in the movie is between Holloway and David:
David: Why do you think your people made me?
Charlie Holloway: We made ya ’cause we could.
David: Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator?
This exchange clearly foreshadows the eventual consequences of exploring the alien planet and attempting to make contact: it turns out these aliens were none-to-thrilled at the human race’s creation, which seems to have been carried out by a rogue alien. When the crew enters one of the alien structures, all they find is dead humanoid bodies, and a high-tech carbon dating test indicates they have been dead for about 2000 years. Probes are sent to create a digital map of the interior of the structure, and while the crew is exploring, they find a room full of these vase-like vessels surrounding a monolithic humanoid head. One of the vases is “sweating.” It is at this point that we realize that David has ulterior motives: he takes this vessel without telling anyone, as though he knows that it contains something useful or interesting to him. These vases are full of glass-like bottles holding some kind of black liquid. David puts a minute amount on his finger, which he later dips into Holloway’s drink. This liquid turns out to be some sort of virus, yet it is also a source of life, capable of manipulating DNA to create some sort of alien-hybrid. The liquid, in a more tar-like form that leaks out of the vessels in the alien cave, also harbors snake-like parasitic aliens that use human bodies as incubators to hatch more aliens.
The conclusion that is reached after much death and destruction is that this planet is not the home planet of the engineers, but rather a military base used to house a “weapon of mass destruction” intended to be sent to Earth to destroy the human race. However, the engineers were not able to contain their creation, which killed the vast majority of them off before they could complete their mission of total annihilation.
The most frustrating part of the movie for me was the end (and I am about to give away a lot of major plot points, so if you don’t want the entire movie given away, I recommend you stop reading): when David put the virus-liquid into Holloway’s drink, Holloway slowly starts showing signs of infection, but not before he has sex with Shaw. After another exploration of the cave, he becomes very ill and his face seems to be decaying. Vickers knows he is infected and refuses to let him back on the ship; likewise, Holloway knows that he has no chance at survival and provokes Vickers to burn him alive with a flame-thrower. But it doesn’t kill him: he turns into some sort of human-alien-zombie. Shaw is discovered to be 3 months pregnant after this– an impossibility because she is both infertile and had been in cryostasis 3 months previously– and she is carrying an alien baby. A machine performs an abortion on her, which David tries to prevent, and the “baby” is this terrifying squid-like creature that is alive and thrashing shortly after it is taken out of her. She assumes it is dead after the chamber that performed the abortion is decontaminated. At the end of the movie, when the last living humanoid is thwarted in his attempt to launch his ship full of viral weaponry intended for the human race, it looks for Shaw and finds her near the room where she got her abortion. The “squid” is now massive, and she unleashes it on the humanoid, allowing her to escape with David (who is just a head now, after the humanoid tore it off) to find the real origins of the engineers. The squid kills the humanoid, but in the very last scene, something is emerging from its dead body: an “ancestor” to the xenomorph aliens of the “Alien” movies.
What is frustrating about all this is the damn liquid. It creates life– I get that. It manipulates DNA– I get that too. But is it “viral”? Is the implication that the xenomorphs are 1/3 human, 1/3 humanoid, and 1/3 “virus”? Why couldn’t Scott make up his mind about wanting this film to be an original story or a prequel to “Alien”? Why did they want to destroy us when we clearly were having no effect on their civilization (and they obviously had the capability of creating new life anyway)? I like how Rotten Tomatoes summed up their 74% rating on the Tomatometer: “Ridley Scott’s ambitious quasi-prequel to Alien may not answer all of its big questions (my italics), but it’s redeemed by its haunting visual grandeur and compelling performances — particularly Michael Fassbender as a fastidious android.” It clearly is relying on a sequel to maybe answer some of these “big questions”– and I hate it when movies have to rely on sequels to answer questions posed by their prequels because it is a cheap trick to make people spend more money at the movies– but I am ridiculously frustrated in the meantime. Perhaps if I brush up on my “Alien” knowledge I won’t be so annoyed.
However, I do have to concede that, now that I am home and have been digging through the internet to find some answers, I’m not as frustrated as I was immediately after I got out of the movie. Michael Fassbender was, as always, fabulous, as was Charlize Theron. The graphics and cinematography were also amazing, though I think I have demonstrated in my previous review that I am easily swayed by such film tactics. Nevertheless, the movie showed so much more promise and left me feeling a little flat afterwards.