by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 73%

PLOT: A deep-space research vessel arrives at a distant moon, searching for clues to the origins of mankind.  What they find instead threatens their lives and the lives of everyone back on Earth.

I am at a loss to explain the mediocre Tomatometer score for Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited return to the universe he created in Alien [1979].  Intellectually, I can hear the arguments:

  • “Where’s the Xenomorph?”
  • “So did the ‘Engineers’ create humans or what?”
  • “Is that planet at the beginning supposed to be Earth?”
  • “Where’s the Xenomorph?”
  • “Why did that idiot scientist approach the snake-looking creature?”
  • “How is the android able to break almost all of Asimov’s Laws of Robotics?”
  • “What’s with the open-ended ending that provides no resolution?”

I get it.  You hear Ridley Scott is making a prequel to Alien and you build up a lot of expectations, especially after watching some of the sorrier sequels that piled up after Aliens [1986].  When you go into a movie expecting one thing and get another, people get hacked off.  I feel you, bro.

But to those people who dismissed Prometheus because it didn’t deliver what they expected to get, all I can say is: your loss.  Because Prometheus is one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, in my humble opinion, and it’s mostly for the very same reasons that people disliked it in the first place.

After a brief prologue set in an unknown time in an unknown place, we jump to the year 2093, when a deep-space research vessel arrives at a far distant moon, searching for clues to the origin of mankind.  Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) says they were led to this specific moon by “Engineers”, humanoid beings who are visible in ancient cave drawings from across the globe.  She believes the Engineers can provide an answer, THE Answer, to Life, the Universe and Everything. (Apologies to Douglas Adams.)

Instead of Engineers, Dr. Shaw and her expedition discover miles of underground caverns and a room full of canisters that turn out to contain a horrifying contagion that attack the body at a cellular and/or genetic level, creating painful mutations that, if they don’t kill the host outright, turns them incredibly violent.  We also get a glimpse of the famous “space jockey”, the fossilized alien creature seated in some kind of contraption inside the spaceship in Alien.  So at LAST we’re in familiar territory.

But still no Xenomorph.

The story progresses, the shipboard android turns out to be less than trustworthy, people die in creative and horrifying ways, an Engineer actually turns up, we get a couple more visually spectacular tie-ins to the first Alien…but by the time we get to the end, what gives?  The movie’s obviously over, but we haven’t gotten any answers to the burning questions: Who are the Engineers?  If that was an Engineer in the prologue, was that supposed to be Earth?  If it WASN’T Earth, why even HAVE that prologue?  And don’t try to tell me that was a Xenomorph at the end…

Well, here’s my two cents.

First, of all, expectations are tricky.  They can color and compromise your entire movie-watching experience.  When I went to see Prometheus, I did have my own set of expectations, but as the movie settled in and it became clear that the movie had other designs, I had to consciously shake myself loose of my expectations and embrace what was being presented to me.

Second of all, the visuals are stunning.  I happened to see this in 3-D, and it’s one of a handful of movies where the technology was used PERFECTLY.  No gimmicky shots of spears or harpoons or whatever being pointed out of the screen.  It was used as it should always be used: as a tool to further immerse you into the world of the film without overloading you or being ridiculously obvious.  The gorgeous landscapes during the prologue and during our heroes’ descent to the surface are awe-inspiring.

And then, the story.  I was completely okay with the open-ended nature of the story, and I’ll tell you why.

There are some films out there that play Prometheus’s game of asking questions and not answering them.  One of the most famous examples is Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey [1968].  If you’ve never read the book, I defy you to provide a concise explanation of the last thirty minutes of that movie.  But that didn’t bother people, because the goal was to get the viewer to ask questions, to provoke discussions about the movie that would eventually get around to some of the same questions asked in Prometheus: Why are we here?  What is our purpose?

And then there are other films that play that open-ended game and fail.  The one that comes immediately to mind is Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain [2006].  By the end of that movie, my head was locked in a tilted position like a cocker spaniel hearing a strange noise.  If I had been a cartoon character, the word balloon over my head would have been all question marks.  I once read a full description of what was really going on in that film, but to the degree that I understood it, I simply didn’t care.  If I have to go that much work to “get” a movie, the movie didn’t do its job.

There are those who say that’s what Prometheus did, throwing us in the deep end and making us do some mental heavy lifting with no payoff.  But I disagree.

I think, for me, it has to do with the very nature of the questions Prometheus is asking.  “If we could discover the answers to the riddles of our existence, to what lengths would we go, or should we go, to get those answers?  And do we even want to know the answers?  Are we better off NOT knowing?”  These are questions that, almost by definition, can’t be answered in any satisfying way.  So Prometheus presents a possible answer, but then teases it away so there is still some mystery in the story.  If the characters in Prometheus had discovered some kind of document that laid out the Engineers’ plans in detail, I would have felt cheated.  It would have been woefully anticlimactic.  I liked it better that the biggest questions went unanswered, so I could formulate my OWN theories about the Engineers, their plans, their methods, their history, their future, etcetera.  It’s much more stimulating to let my imagination run riot.

(Granted, some of those questions are answered in Alien: Covenant [2017], but that movie still had the guts to leave some things to the imagination by the end.)

Prometheus couches deep philosophical riddles about our very existence within a crackling good thriller with spectacular visuals from beginning to end.  It stands tall as one of the best prequels ever made…Xenomorph or no Xenomorph.

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