Prometheus: Sci-Fi horror at its most cryptic

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Ridley Scott’s “kinda sorta prequel” to the Alien series of movies is a fascinating and beautiful piece of filmmaking with some great acting and haunting visuals. It’s also quite confusing. Mostly in a good way.

The film takes place near the end of this century and is about a team of people in the depths of space who are searching for where life began. Their motivations range from daddy issues to a simple paycheck and everything in-between. But as these things often go: they get more than they bargained for.

Or perhaps less, since they mostly end up dead.

Though I enjoyed the movie the whole way through, for the most part, the highlight was easily the beginning. It featured simply stunning cinematography with a surprisingly wonderful musical score. Then this slimmer-version-of-the-Michelin-Man dude drinks some goo and then dissolves or something. Not quite sure what that was about.

Then we meet the character who has rightfully been the most talked-about: David (the android). Played to perfection by Michael Fassbender (X-Men First Class, Inglourious Basterds), this man (notice the lack of air quotes) is the heart and soul of the picture. He might also be its villain, or its hero. Depending on how you look at things.

Our introduction to David evokes both the original Alien in terms of the set and the atmosphere but also other sci-fi powerhouses like 2001: A Space Odyssey. My friend Bob, a fellow lover of old films, once articulated that in 2001 “the most human character is the robot.” I’d say that rings true here as well.

The humans in the film are all instinct and emotion. They want money! They want answers! They want power!

David enjoys playing basketball. His favorite film is Lawrence of Arabia. He even makes his hair look like Peter O’Toole’s T.H. Lawrence from the classic film. And Fassbender brilliantly incorporates aspects of the performance into his performance as David, subtly implying the hero worship.

So if the robot is the most human character, does he represent humanity? And if so, what do the people represent? And do the “engineers” (the aforementioned Michelin-esque people, who created us apparently) represent God allegorically or are they meant to evoke the lack of God in lieu of evolution?

All fascinating questions. Which is why it’s a shame that the film eventually transitions from asking them to asking “how crazy would it be if these guys got attacked by tentacle things and then died?”

I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who were waiting for the horror elements. I’m just not one of them. Horror is probably my least favorite genre of film, as it often relies more on shock value than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, there’s fascinating stuff in this movie all the way through. But all the gore and craziness drags it down for me.

There was also an absence of completed character arcs, especially with David’s character. Whereas the other characters in the film are concerned with lust, he seems to be legitimately in love with one of the other characters. He’s also devoted to his “father” (who created him) and interested in learning about history and culture.

So once again, it’s kind of a shame that all of that turns into bodies dropping and audiences jumping in terror. The film recovers itself at the end, but it leaves you with the idea that there might be four of these movies too. Which is annoying.

That brings me to another qualm: the idea of continuity. There are four Alien movies. There are two Predator movies. Everyone was happy. Then they made two Alien vs. Predator movies, which for some reason take place in modern day. Now this movie makes it fairly clear that the AVP series doesn’t count.

That’s a mess.

So instead of looking at all of it as counting, I instead choose to look at this as a prequel of the original Alien film and not much else. Each of those movies has a very different tone already, and the character of Ripley is the only main connection between them (aside from the aliens).

My study of film professor once remarked to me that “the first film is a horror movie, the second is a sci-fi action, the third is a prison escape, and the fourth is a French graphic novel.” I’m not sure what comprises that last genre exactly but given how much that movie sucked, I don’t think I’ll be reading any.

So with an already disjointed series, it’s easier to look past those issues. So I chose to view this film as a direct prequel to the original film, given that they both have the same director (Ridley Scott, Gladiator) and tone. In much the same way that X-Men First Class is a prequel to the first two films, and largely ignores the next two. Messy, but it works.

I’d say the larger problem with this film is that it feels incomplete. There’s nothing wrong with having a movie that’s both a fascinating sci-fi philosophy piece and a horror film. As long as you do justice to both genres. Given that the script was co-

Ridley Scott

penned by Lost scribe Damon Lindelof, I couldn’t help but wonder if he created a larger and more comprehensive mythology that didn’t make it to the screen. That means the sci-fi bit was left out in the cold.

Normally I’m a fan of leaving things as unsaid as possible, as long as they’re clear or discernible in some way. But there are some plot points in this movie that simply don’t make sense. So I’ll give the filmmakers, all of whom I respect, the benefit of the doubt and say that some of the more informative parts of the film were on the cutting room floor.

Even after all of that, there were many parts of the movie that were simply breathtaking. The design of the planet, the homages to the original film, and the music and atmosphere were top notch. And though I’m not a horror fan, there were some

actually terrifying and well-done scenes.In addition, it’s always better to have your audience discussing your film at length afterwards. My friend Andrew and I are still discussing one of David’s actions within the film. On one hand, it’s frustrating because it didn’t make a ton of sense. On the other hand, it’s been really great to see all of the different theories.

So while it’s certainly not for the queasy, Prometheus is a fascinating and beautiful sci-fi film. It happens to be stuck inside a gory horror film, but that’s OK. All fans of the genre should see it and discuss. Because whether or not you end up being a fan, it’s on track to take its place in the books  as one of the iconic representations of gritty science fiction.

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