How do we separate the filmmaker from their fantasies? For years, Ridley Scott has continued to keep us focused on the heavens. The master filmmaker created his masterpieces long ago, with Alien, Blade Runner, and Thelma & Louise each releasing more than two decades ago. Yet when you’re as talented as Scott, there’s no reason to stop trying to craft one more. While imperfect, Prometheus symbolized many of Scott’s most exciting ideas and concepts. The only problem was the fact that we wanted his story in a more familiar package. An Alien story without Xenomorphs allows Prometheus to explore the horrors beyond and within our galaxy.
Distancing itself from the original Alien franchise, Prometheus follows a Weyland Corporation voyage to a planet lightyears away from Earth. The crew prepares for an expedition led by archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), who found a map of the planet on Earth. Representatives from the Weyland Corporation are on board, including Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the android David (Michael Fassbender). Attempting to balance the uneven motivations leaves Janek (Idris Elba) and his crew (Benedict Wong and Emun Elliot) as the workmen on board.
Scott drifts from the dingy world of Alien, replacing it with a crew who seems more at home on a cruise ship. He pushes cinematographer Dariusz Wolski to shoot some of the most striking images of his career, especially once the new planet comes into focus. While Scott seems obsessed with the beauty of the Prometheus and the world they’ve found, he expertly needles the story with the ugliness of humanity. He only leads us down this paradox for a minute, quickly showcasing the brutality and violence inherent within any untamed atmosphere. The only truth present on LV-223 is a monument to humanity’s ego.
Ridley creates stark differences between his characters, and where he chooses to side tells us everything. On one hand, Shaw (Rapace) seeks to upend hundreds of years of established science on a belief that man was created in a different procedure. She never stops to consider what that purpose might have been, or what cataclysmic effects this would have on the human race. Instead, she races to the other side of the universe to simply prove a belief without a shred of proof for her claims.
In most stories, a zealot like Shaw becomes the villain of our story. For David (Fassbender), this devotion to belief above reason becomes an obsession. The android believes that he has many more answers for what will happen when the team finds the gods that created them. In David’s opinion, his own creators deserve punishment for their arrogance. Shaw offers a slight detour from that belief because she might the first human he’s ever met that does not seek personal gain for her discovery. While that aspect of her voyage can certainly frame her as a good person, David’s intrigue in her psychological journey seems to provide the keys to unlocking the next step of evolution.
Scott’s use of Shaw and David creates parallel journeys of questionable motives. For one woman, she wishes to change human understanding at all costs, ignoring the fact this has resulted in some of the deadliest moments in humanity’s history. On the other hand, an android believes that humanity’s benefits to the galaxy have run up too high of a tab. For David, the only path forward will be to destroy those who look down on his ideas and intellect. Forcing the viewer to acknowledge that the destruction of humanity will come from our own hands does not make for a feel-good blockbuster. It does, however, make for a wildly entertaining work of grandeur.
Juxtaposed against the philosophical underpinnings of Prometheus are some of the most impressive sequences of Scott’s career. A sequence focused on Shaw running through the hallways of the Prometheus remains stomach churning. Few moments in film have ever felt as transgressive, or sadly pertinent a decade after their release. If Alien served as a metaphor for sexual violation, Prometheus provides compelling pro-choice arguments, even if the creature within Shaw was not a Lovecraftian monster. The production design and world-building of Prometheus showcase top-tier work. The visual effects and cinematography are just as impressive; they still feel top-of-the-line against today’s best VFX. Without delving into hyperbole, Prometheus remains one of the most visually impressive films of the past decade.
To fully explore these ideas, Scott pushed screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof to distance the tale from the known franchise. This results in ninety-nine percent fewer Xenomorphs than audiences expected, creating a perceived bait-and-switch that upset audiences upon the film’s release. With years of focus, it’s clear that a straightforward reboot would likely have left audiences just as testy. In an era where fewer films find themselves underappreciated, Prometheus has found its defenders. Yet, at the same time, a landmark science fiction epic deserves better.
Alan’s Rating: 9/10
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