In space no one can hear you scream, but in a movie hall everyone can hear you sigh in disappointment. That is a real shame because Ridley Scott’s big return to science fiction has as tame a climax as it has an incredible buildup.
Scott’s Alien and the James Cameron sequel Aliens aren’t just seminal films – they are sacred entities for millions and millions of movie geeks all over the world. Prometheus, which began as a prequel to Alien and then ‘evolved’ into a completely different storyline ends up devolving into the original film and decades of sci fi clichés. The film is infuriating not only because of its constant reliance on Alien to validate itself, but because after a very promising two-thirds it mutilates itself into a chasm much like the character in the opening scene. It throws a volley of themes like Creationism and Darwinism and grabs you by the finger to take you to the secret room containing the secrets of the universe, only to sneer mischievously and pull the rug under you.
Prometheus, which was spoiled entirely in the trailer, introduces us to Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who discover ancient cave paintings in a Scottish island in the year 2089 – the two quickly realize that the maps within the paintings would lead them to the answers to the origins of mankind. Fast forward four years, Shaw and Holloway embark on a mission funded by the mysterious Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to explore planet LV-223 aboard the ship Prometheus - a name derived from a Greek titan who dared to bridge the gap between humans and the gods and suffered a horrible fate. All kinds of hell breaks loose once the crew lands on the planet, as the ‘where did humans come from?’ quickly turns into ‘does it even matter’.
As interesting as that premise is, Prometheus in its attempt to juggle between Creationism and Darwinism fails to focus on narrative and character. One of the dozens of brilliant things about Alien was that the crew was comprised of simple engineers who indulge in effortless banter and face a nightmare in their own ship. The characters eat lunch and bitch about their salaries – it made them relatable and believable and made us root for them when the Xenomorph attacked. Prometheus sadly comprises of the stock wide-eyed scientists and corporate scumbags who were seen in Aliens and many, many other sci fi films over the past two decades. Not only do the smart and sophisticated scientists in Prometheus behave like blonde teens in a slasher movie but they also mouth some of the worst ever dialogue. One botanist says ‘I ain’t here to make friends’ while a geologist says ‘I just love rocks!’. And when a scientist spots a strange creature staring at them, he acts in the most unscientific way possible by going all koochi-koo and proceeding to touch it with his hands. Later, when a circular ship crashes and rolls on the ground threatening to crush the two supposedly bright people, they run along the path of the wheel for two whole minutes instead of moving aside.
The lead heroine is a rubbery wad of contradictions as well – Shaw is a scientist on a trillion dollar space mission to locate the source of human life, because of her ‘faith’. Moreover, the conflict between faith and science is handled in a hilariously bad manner here, with close-ups of Shaw’s cross dangling from her neck. Then there is Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, an antagonistic Weyland boss who exists in the film mainly to perform semi-naked pushups. Theron’s character adds absolutely nothing to film, even despite the major plot twist involving her in the third act. There is also Idris Elba as the ship’s captain who is bland enough to warrant a red Star Trek shirt. However Prometheus belongs to the android David (Michael Fassbender) who is somewhat modeled after Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Ironically, the non-human David is the brains and heart of Prometheus and Fassbender is just excellent in his role.
Prometheus poses more questions than answers, and the sequel bait at the climax, though frustrating, gives way to a potential trilogy that would be more than welcome. Nitpicking the bad characterization and lack of a solid story doesn’t take away from some meaty dissection of the film. Apart from the extraordinary sets and 3D cinematography, Prometheus presents a very interesting theme of fatherhood, a polar opposite of the motherhood leitmotif of the Alien films. One character is left to deal with the trauma of its father being physically absent, while the father of another is emotionally absent. Another character manipulates a man into regarding him as his surrogate father. Everyone in the film is on a quest to meet the father of mankind, on a ship named after the one who fathered mankind. The final scene of the film offers an even bigger reference to this theme. Strangely, the same theme of abandoned fatherhood works for Ridley Scott, who created the Alien universe and then ran away, only to return years later and is now unable to mend a 32-year-old child intellectually broken by the scars of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection and the Predator crossover movies.
(First published in MiD Day)