Prometheus promised to be great and left me with a bitter taste of unfinished business. Not just because the ending could not be more explicit about a sequel, but because the content itself never truly came to honor the grandness of the title.
Reminder: Prometheus was the titan from Greek mythology who stole the sacred fire of divine knowledge to the Gods to give it to the mortals. He was then punished in return and condemned to be chained to a rock as an eagle ate his liver – the only organ in the human body that keeps growing back – for eternity.
Because we have watched the trailer and because we know the tagline to be ‘The search for our beginning could lead to our end’, it was naturally that we put two and two together to figure out this would be about humans wanting to know more than they are supposed to, and being punished for it. We even recall that legendary Alien scene where a lovely-looking E.T. violently exits John Hurt’s convulsing body while everybody around screams in sheer horror, and how it might all be linked with Prometheus’ punishment. And indeed, without revealing too much, there is a similar scene in Prometheus.
|Prometheus, by Paul Rubens
|John Hurt in Alien (1979)
The movie, who could have been titled «Alien Begins», proves that gut feeling to be right. We were hoping for another level of depth to appear in this outline at some point; psychologically and narratively, but this sadly never comes.
Visually stunning, narratively uninspiring
The movie is very impressive visually, in terms of setting and special effects, Aliens are what we hoped them to be and more: perfectly disgusting. We did not expect any less from the creator of Alien. Less horror would have proven disappointing. Our heart races as the characters are being chased, we cringe in our seats when some of them die (spoiler? Not really), the surrounding sound and the 3D operate their magic on us: we experience it all with fearful delight – how could we not? We’re not cylons.
And yet. We cannot but be aware of what they are selling us: the movie borrows entire scenes, images and references to many sci-fi classics, to sometimes an indecent extent: 2001: A Space Odyssey being the most obvious one. Aesthetically first: when Michael Fassbender as the perfect robot walks around the ship in a similar fashion as the characters do in 2001. His name is David, his personality combines both that of Hal the endearing computer created by mankind and the character who embodies the human race ‘Dave’. The whole fourth dimension part from Kubrick’s classic clearly inspired the setting of the ship. Using Kubrick’s divine fire does not work here.
Followed by a character borrowed from Zemeckis’ Contact, adapted from Carl Sagan’s novel: a rich entrepreneur decides to finance a space expedition for personal health reasons. We also think of A.I. and their human looking robots.
And perphaps this was the original idea: to combine many sci-fi references that worked successfully to create one great sci-fi epic. But despite a few interesting inventions, there is nothing really transcendentally new in the end, and that is where we are let down. A myth is supposed to be renewed, to leave wondering and to raise new questions. The only question we have at the end of the film is «When will Prometheus 2 be released?». Because we know for a fact it is coming.
We also regret the lack of depth of some characters; three of them are just there to fill the ship or to die first, because they are quite unfit to be a part of such an expedition. We even wonder how they got hired in the first place. When the time of their disappearance comes, we firmly believe they have been asking for it since the beginning of the film with a succession of simplistic dialogue.
Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender hold the fire
Noomi Rapace is excellent as a new Ripley (same haircut as Sigourney Weaver, same tendency to walk around the ship in underwear). She is the only human worth saving.
The most interesting invention is perhaps that of Michael Fassbender’s character. An actor who continues to prove the length of his talent with this impressive performance as an un-feeling Nazi-looking robot.
The opening of the film leaves us wanting for more, which leads us to this crucial point:
The problem of filiation
Unknown engineers created humans and humans created robots. An interesting start. When David the robot asks ‘why did you create us?’ to humans who couldn’t care less about their son, the answer they give is «Because we could». A little easy, but at that point we are already halfway through the movie and we just want answers, so we accept it. When humans realize their creators are not what they hoped them to be, we expect this revelation to be mirrored in their relationship with robots. Sons killing their creators to inherit their father’s power, the thirst for existencialist knowledge: all this is left entirely undevelopped. Even the whole religious dimension that is a backbone to the quest: who created us? Shaw’s character (Noomi Rapace) and her Christian beliefs, the Holy Father and the son, the holy cross, the notion of sin and redemption, pagans versus monotheistic believers, it is all present but dealt with superficially.
Granted that the screenwriter is no longer Dan O’Bannon, writer of Alien. Damon Lindelof creator of Lost (but also of Cowboys & Aliens…) wrote the script, which is rather puzzling. Scott and Lindelof seemed like a great match. In the end, this was good, but not enough.