Early word on Prometheus was that it was going to be a prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi terror, Alien. Later, word came out that it had blossomed into an entirely different story completely separate from the Alien world. Finally, we were told it would exist within the same world of Alien and maybe cross paths, but still have its own mythology that won’t interfere with what Alien established. I hesitate to divulge how integral it is to the Alien movies, but whatever it is, it’s solid. It’s not the scariest movie in the world, nor the most exciting, but it has ideas and explores a question that has plagued mankind since its creation: how did we get here?
The movie begins in Scotland in 2089. Two researchers, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan-Marshall Green), have just stumbled upon a cave painting that dates back at least 35,000 years. It predates any similar discovery they’ve ever made, but it shares a common characteristic: it depicts humans pointing towards the stars. In each painting, the stars were shaped in the same manner, exactly like a galaxy that those primitive cultures never should have (or could have) known about, given that it was too far away to be seen with the naked eye. This leads the researchers to believe that there may be life out there and that maybe that life created us. A few years later, after sleeping in stasis aboard the spaceship Prometheus, they, along with 15 other crewmen and women, arrive to explore a planet that they hope will give them meaning to their existence.
If you’re alive today (and if you’re reading this, I have to assume you are), chances are you’ve thought about the meaning of life. You’ve wondered how we got here, what the purpose of our existence is and who, if anybody, created us. Prometheus wonders that too. The screenplay (and therefore, the characters) taps into our natural human curiosity, our intellectual need for answers. It has a natural wonder of how life began and how important (or, just maybe, unimportant) it is. Their search is what keeps you drawn in because their curiosity is our curiosity. Although obviously fictional, what they discover is mind-blowing and only those without a similar intellectual desire for answers will find their revelations uninteresting.
Greater emphasis could have been put into the validity (or lack thereof) of religion in regards to their findings, which would have made a powerful real world statement on an important modern issue, especially given that one of the characters carries her faith with her regardless of the contradictions she discovers along the way, but religious observation is not the movie’s goal. Its ambitions go much higher than that—besides, human existence probably isn’t as simple as many religions make it out to be—but that ambition is its primary problem. Aiming high and hitting the target is a hard thing to do and Prometheus doesn’t quite reach the standards it, and its eagerly awaiting fans, have set for it.
Ridley Scott tries to convey the same sense of terror portrayed in his quintessential 1979 science fiction landmark, perhaps in an effort to make some type of tonal connection between the two, but his ambition requires a broader scope that contradicts Alien’s more focused nature. Alien took place all on one ship where there was nowhere to hide, giving it an unsettling, claustrophobic feeling while Prometheus takes place across multiple locales, both land and ship. The characters travel all the way through space and explore a previously unexplored planet and what appears to be an elongated cave with its own breathable atmosphere. It also introduces far too many characters, 17 in total, most of whom get only a minute or two of dedicated screen time before essentially disappearing. It focuses on a select few people, including the captain (Idris Elba), Meredith (Charlize Theron) and the ship’s android, David (Michael Fassbender), as it should, but it only brings forth the question, why even have the other characters?
Regardless of its sci-fi content, Prometheus is a human story. Its grandeur may not match its ambition like Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the fact that it has ambition at all is worthy of praise. Those looking for another Alien movie will walk away disappointed—in nearly every regard, Prometheus is quite different—but those who have a natural wonder about where we came from and what our purpose is will find Prometheus both profound and awe inspiring.
Prometheus receives 4/5