Prometheus is a film saddled with impossible expectations. For some, it is first and foremost the mysterious prequel to Alien; for others, it is Ridley Scott's return to dark sci-fi; and for a smaller subset, it is the next thing from LOST writer Damon Lindelof. I just wanted a fresh sci-fi film, because the truly adventurous, horrific, and dangerous sci-fi seems forever trapped in the 80s and early 90s. That Prometheus serves all these masters without being a complete disaster is a small miracle, but it's not without some serious flaws.
The year is 2089. Two archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered an identical star map in several drawings around the world. The map points to a system with a life-sustaining moon, and thus a mission to said moon begins.
The film follows that ever-so-sexy theory that ancient aliens seeded our planet and created humanity. For Shaw, the journey is about more than meeting her makers. With her cross ever-present around her neck, Shaw is looking for the answers of existence, for her god, and for her tightly held faith. That faith is questioned among the team of scientists she travels with, but Prometheus never challenges the questions of science vs. religion in any particularly interesting way. It is simply a science fiction film with blatant religious themes thrown into the mix, and it's an awkward fit.
The journey to the distant moon takes two years, and during that journey we are introduced to David (Michael Fassbender), the android left to run the ship while the crew sleeps in stasis. Much like the androids of the Alien films, David has mysterious motives. He seems well-intentioned, but the distances he'll go to achieve those intentions are frightening. Well-acted by Fassbender, David is easily the most compelling character in the film.
The crew wakes from their long sleep with many not yet knowing the reason for their arrival. The reasons are given in an awkward info-dump by the hologram of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), CEO of Weyland Corp. Weyland claims he is dead by the time the crew is viewing this message, and we are left to gather this through quite possibly the worst old-man make-up job in Hollywood history.
Guy Pearce's ridiculous wrinkled maw is only more confusing considering the rest of the film's stunning visuals. The best thing about Prometheus is how it takes the iconic designs of Alien and modernizes them. The ship itself is futuristic by today's standards while maintaining that white-washed, padded-wall atmosphere that was so distinct in the 70s.
While I saw Prometheus in 2D, the visual splendor of the film is probably best-viewed in 3D. There are some stunning alien vistas and strange interiors to be had. Regardless of where you end up standing on the plot, Prometheus is worth seeing simply to soak up the old-school sci-fi atmosphere that's so lacking from modern film.
That said, expect the plot of Prometheus to polarize audiences in much the same way LOST did. Like Damon Lindelof's previous work, Prometheus explores philosophical themes and wide-reaching mysteries, but doesn't go out of its way to provide satisfying answers. But what I saw as horrible writing in LOST ultimately works fine here. Unlike LOST, Prometheus did not string me along with expectations across six seasons of television. Two hours later, I didn't come away with the answers to life, the universe, and everything, but I didn't really want them either.
Unfortunately, I also didn't want so much Alien fan service. For a film that seemed to distance itself from the franchise in marketing, Prometheus is not just a true prequel, but an homage to the original film. It follows many of the same story beats, especially toward the end, almost note-for-note. One of the most brilliant and horrific scenes in the film is still ultimately a play on the chest-burster scene from Alien. Prometheus has a soul of its own, but these moments are so prevalent that I couldn't help feeling a “been there, done that” sensation about the whole thing.
I want to like this film more than I actually did. It isn't a bad film by any stretch. In fact it's a pretty good one, but somewhere in the mess of expectation, the amazing potential of Prometheus is lost. I hope Ridley Scott tries again. He has at least one last amazing sci-fi classic left in him; Prometheus is evidence of that much, even if it isn't brilliant itself.
When Ripley and crew stumbled onto the long-dead alien ship pilot on LV-426, it introduced one of science fiction's greatest mysteries. That it was simply glossed over in the face of deadlier threats was part of the dark magic of older sci-fi. As much as we wondered who that space jockey was, did we really want to know the answer?