2012-06-08

Prometheus – Looking For Answers To THE Questions

by Yo Snyder

There were plenty of mysteries in Ridley Scott’s movie Alien,
but the only question the characters in that movie were concerned with
was figuring out what it was that was killing them one-by-one and how
they could get rid of it. It was simple, straight forward, and still
scary to this very day. In Prometheus, the characters are much
more concerned with getting answers to the big questions they’re asking,
and therefore so are we. The problem is, Damon Lindelof of Lost
fame helped pen this script, and if you know anything about that show,
you know that questions are plentiful but answers are scarce and often
frustratingly obtuse. So combine that with the scary, tense monster
atmosphere of Alien, and what you get is Prometheus; a
movie that’s trying to figure things out – including what kind of movie
it wants to be – but remains entertaining despite being somewhat
frustrating.

First piece of frustrating news will be for fans of the film Alien. Is Prometheus
a prequel? Not in any traditional sort of sense. It does have ties to
that film, but the ties are tenuous and implied at best (at least until a
final scene, that quickly frankly, seemed to be there for no other
reason than to solidify the ties, but without answers to any questions
to how the films actually tie together, is rather frustrating). I’m
telling you this so you can go in with the proper expectations. Oh,
there are story beats and moments that resonate quite strongly with
Ridley’s masterpiece, but those often get in the way of the type of
story being told in this movie and it often feel like those moments are
in here more or less just to remind us that, yes, the movies are
connected…somewhat.

The second frustration is that this movie didn’t even really need to tie-in all that much with Alien.
In fact, if it hadn’t worried as much about doing so and had been
content with being it’s own kind of movie just set in the same universe,
I think it may have been much more compelling. Or on the flip side,
just go ahead and make it a full-on prequel that neatly sets things in
place for the other film. The story of Prometheus, of humans
setting off on an adventure to meet the beings that perhaps seeded life
here on Earth – to find questions to things like why were we made, do we
have to die, what is our purpose – is pretty heady and interesting
stuff. Plus, the sense of wonder and exploration with that tinge of
dangers is fun stuff. The problem is Prometheus is content to let
everything remain nebulous. The crew finds what they’re looking for,
but they don’t find answers. Things happen filled with a sense of
impending doom, but there isn’t a motivation or context given. “Why”
questions are brushed aside with the “just because” of getting from once
scene to another. Had more time been spent, not necessarily answering
the questions fully, but giving them more nuance and substance and
meaning to chew on, with some nudges towards possible answers and within
the context of some sort of motivation for the events, this could have
been another sci-fi masterpiece. Perhaps some will still think it is due
to its vagueness; but while sometimes less is more, less can also
sometimes be not enough. 

My final frustration had to do with the
discussions of faith. While one character is said to be a “true
believer”, and at other times questioned as to whether or not she’s lost
her faith, most of this is without substance. What is her faith? Is it a
faith in faith? That’s not much of anything at all, and therefore it
would be easy to lose. Is it a faith in God? The God of the Bible? Well,
then we get into some really interesting territory, or could have had
the movie gone there. Specifically whether or not that faith is
necessary any more after we discover whether or not there is alien life?
My answer to that question would be yes, it would still matter a great
deal. One of the points C.S. Lewis made in his essay “Religion and
Rocketry” was that even if we were to discover alien life in the
universe, it wouldn’t change the condition of humanity one whit. We
wouldn’t suddenly not need God anymore because our nature wouldn’t
suddenly change with such a discovery. We would still be a sinful,
fallen people who still need a Savior to redeem them. The existence of
aliens wouldn’t negate or change that (after all, who’s to say that
we’re the only creation of the Creator, but perhaps, the only creation
of said Creator to screw things up the way we did?). So after making
their discovery, when someone states to our character of faith about her
cross that she carries with her, “Guess you don’t need that any more,”
it’s a statement that really misses the point. If anything, such a
discovery would make what that cross represents all the more precious.

So there are plenty of frustrations in Prometheus,
probably more so (or maybe less so) for nitpicky fans, but there’s
plenty that’s good too. Michael Fassbender is once again brilliant as
the android David, and in fact is probably creepier than anything the
crew encounters on the planet. Charlize Theron also puts in a strong
performance as Ms. Vickers (man, is she on a run with this and her
awesome show in Snow White and the Huntsman). Noomi Rapace does a fine job taking on the type of role that Sigourney Weaver made so famous in the original Alien,
and truth be told, having a bit more time to get to know these
characters would have made the good in this movie even better. The rest
of the crew of Prometheus pretty much amounts to a bunch of red shirts,
and that being the case, we’re never given much time to get to know them
so it’s hard to feel too much when things start going bad, and they do
because extras and secondary characters in these kinds of movies have
never watched what happens to extras and secondary characters in these
kinds of movies. They always want to touch, and that’s always a bad
thing.

The other good thing about the movie is that it looks
great; which should come as no surprise from Ridley Scott. The film has a
cool, bluish, metallic tint to it that accentuates the alien landscape
of the Icelandic terrain. It’s not quite the slow boil that Alien
was, which compared to many of today’s movies, moved at an almost
snail’s pace in the early going, but it is well paced and which helps
build tension for all the appropriate moments. 

Illusionists are
good at what they do because they get us to think we’re seeing something
when it’s not really there. Lindelof is a great illusionist in that he
gets us to think we’re seeing some big questions and mysteries, when in
truth, they’re not really there because they never have any answers and
were probably never intended to have any. The fun was supposed to be in
the mystery, and while there is a tingle of adventure in having
unanswered questions, too many of them going unanswered as more are
being asked can ruin some of that fun. There’s plenty to think about and
examine in Prometheus, but the problem is much of it probably
won’t take you anywhere; it’s just kind of there. Other parts may lead
to some interesting places, but we’ll never know because the movie often
gets distracted with it’s Alien DNA and regularly interrupts
proceedings to try and exhibit that heritage. Well, it was going to be a
tough thing to pull off no matter what direction this movie went in.
There really wasn’t anyway it could fulfill all the expectations of
fans, so the best thing is to check those at the door and just enjoy Prometheus
for what it is and tries to be; sci-fi that once again explores
existential and philosophical questions while entertaining with thrills
and chills that can only be found in space…where no one can hear you
scream. (sorry, couldn’t resist)

Score: 5 of 7