Film review: Prometheus (2012)

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Michael Fassbender as David in Prometheus (2012)

Prometheus is a beautiful and thrilling mess. It marks Sir Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction since Blade Runner (1982) and serves as a distant prequel to the Alien franchise he created in 1979. But unlike Alien, which had a simple but effective storyline and used suspense to great effect, Prometheus gets bogged down in plot holes and the big ideas that it superficially tackles.

During an archeological dig in Scotland, Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover an ancient cave painting of a large man pointing to an unusual group of stars.  But this is not the first time they have encountered this. The same constellation has been depicted in other artefacts from ancient but unconnected civilizations.

Several years later Drs Shaw and Holloway are onboard the Prometheus, a scientific research vessel headed for a planet in the constellation depicted in the ancient artefacts. It is here the main premise of the story is presented: the ancient discoveries are thought to be invitation to meet mankind’s extra-terrestrial progenitors, a human-like race referred to as the Engineers. The story is driven by the determination of several characters to meet their makers.

Among those on board the Prometheus is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), an ice-cold whip of a woman from the Weyland Corporation, which funded the voyage. If Weyland Corp. sounds familiar, it should. It is a reference to the same mega corporation Weyland-Yutani from the Alien franchise. Also on the vessel is the android David, played by the always-excellent Michael Fassbender.

There is a lot going on in this film – too much perhaps. Apart from the main story arc in which Ridley Scott explores creation mythology, there is a David and Goliath narrative with scientific endeavor battling corporate interests. The film also touches on identity, altruism and consequentialism. It ties these in loosely with science and faith. But it doesn’t really progress these issues in any meaningful way.

Instead, the film leaves many questions unanswered and the motivation for character’s behaviours and actions are dubious. In what will probably be a much talked about scene in which one character undergoes emergency self-administered abdominal surgery, I found myself bewildered by the lack of concern of the crew when they see the person covered in blood. This is one of numerous inconsistencies throughout the movie.

With its scientific, religious and existential themes, it is clear that Scott and the film’s writers want us to think. The writers have alluded to this in interviews. But unlike some films that benefit from restrained detail and audience discourse, thinking about and finding meaning in Prometheus is a tedious and frustrating process. Your best bet is to take your seat and enjoy the spills and thrills, but don’t be looking for the meaning of life.

About the author

Don Gomez maintains Science By Fiction and is undertaking a masters degree in science communication at the Australian National University’s Centre for Public Awareness of Science. Donnie loves a good yarn and is interested in the depiction of science in popular fiction.

Follow Don on Twitter @hairycanary

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