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Prometheus: A Film Review

(First published on Urban Times on 1st Jun 2012)

Prometheus was a Titan. His name means “Forethinker”, and he brought fire to mankind.

Those of you who are familiar with Ridley Scott’s movie Alien know that it involves a mining spaceship, a remote planet, an ominous discovery, and a claustrophobic, apocalyptic showdown with forces assembled from the dregs of nightmares. You are also aware that it involves an Alien bursting out of a man’s torso.

How fitting then to call the movie that revisits this haunting universe Prometheus, blending the echoes of Alien birth with the mangled body of the Titan who dared defy the Gods. The scriptwriters did their homework on this one, and the thematic tone is established from the get go, title first. A few promotional teasers helped it along the way, setting the tone and pace, highlighting the conceptual overlap between titan and movie.

Prometheus is a story about the origins of mankind. Right there, right off the bat, is the key word, the big clue to this movie: Origins. Humanity sets out on an expedition into space to find out the beginning of life. A trillion dollar expedition.

Make it the trillion dollar question, the one nobody asks lightly, certainly not without expecting repercussions. Discovering the roots of Creation is a topic that is bound to stir the waters and make big trouble. In the depths of those waters our characters find themselves tested, and so does humanity. The truth, like fire, or like the lava seething under a planet core, to mix our metaphors, is hard to handle, and our protagonists run the risk of having their lives burned and their livers mauled for having messed with things they can’t handle.

Then again, it’s tough to say whether they should have been messing with them or not. Great discoveries have always come at great pain and sacrifice. Old structures had to be shattered for new ones to take their place. Being timid never did the human race any good. Boldness is not something to scorn. There may be merit to tackling the unimaginable, whatever the cost, and humanity is out on a Promethean quest that may bring it those answers.

Prometheus premiered on May 31, in London. It opens at UK cinemas on June 1, and in US cinemas on June 8.

This is where Ridley Scott shines. He offers a movie that grips the audience from the start, sucking us inside this journey with ambivalent feelings. Should we, shouldn’t we? What do we do? How far do we go? What aim do we uphold? Discovery, knowledge, humanity, morality, the ship, one’s own skin? These are the questions that drive the story, with challenges waiting at every turn. The crew, like the legendary titan, have to make their choices, for better or worse.

It’s an ingenious premise that sets the pace and direction without giving much away. It moves neither too fast nor too evidently. We are talking Scott at his best here, giving the audience the opportunity to get into the film without ingratiating them with a straightforward, bombastic shootout that leads to a predictable ending. A forethinker Prometheus may have been, but the conclusion to the story is far from foregone, and the way there is fraught with trials. At every step of the way we are left with just another corner to turn, something that takes us where we think it’s taking us, but not quite, setting up the next turn, and the next, leaving us wondering, twisted in tense knots.

Tension. It’s all about gripping, visceral, excruciating tension. Confined to a remote planet, once again the ship’s crew have to face their darkest fears. Weyland Corporation has taken them there at a cost, and has an agenda to meet, making things harder for everyone involved. A game begins to unfold, whereby all parties are out to get what they’re after. Boundaries get violated at every step of the way, building up to a gradual, screw-tightening climax.

The cast shines in this movie. Aided by superb lighting and cinematography, and carried by a powerful score, which, like the movie, is intense rather than bombastic, they play off each other superbly. Michael Fassbender brings out the cold, creepy robot in him, and Charlize Theron brings out the cold, creepy human in her. Noomi Rapace is ideal as an idealist scientist looking for answers in the narrow space provided between a remote planet and a ruthless corporation, and the pacing is wise enough to let the characters show us how eviscerating the process is.

Damon Lindelof, creator of Lost, did an excellent job on the script. The story is layered, dealing with the topic of Creation on the level of ‘human and engineer’ as well as on the level of ‘human and robot‘. The ‘creations’ search for their creators with a creation of their own by their side. Issues of superiority and inferiority are dealt with. Evolution is dealt with. Parenthood and inheritance are dealt with. Loyalties are tested in the face of disaster. The purpose of science as opposed to the drive of business is examined. Religion, and notions of good and evil, are presented through the purity of the scientist, the selfishness of the corporation, the idiosyncrasies of each individual. Layers upon layers of life and reality, all mixed up and blended in a remote, claustrophobic arena, where life as we know it prepares to meet life as we don’t yet know it, presented to us in an incendiary cocktail of events, adding new meaning to “Prometheus brought fire to mankind.”

Alien fans are probably aware that this movie is a standalone piece. As Scott and Lindelof have already pointed out, it creates its own mythology, “tipping the hat” to Alien fans while venturing into its own domain.

As Lindelof said in another interview with Collider.com, the idea was to “tangentialize from the Alien story line, something they will do even more if a sequel is greenlighted.

There you have it. A taster of what awaits you. For those of you who are not fans but are thinking of watching the movie anyway, prepare yourself for a strong, challenging film, where entertainment meets the frayed ends of normality. This is not your average sci-fi flick. It is an experience.

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