“Prometheus” ponders several big questions, but it has no plans of answering them. Though beautifully designed and possessing of some nostalgic charm, the film falters in the story department with underwritten characters whose emotional detachment works only to amplify the disengaged plot.
Those questions, as some of the film’s characters repeatedly remind us, are “How did we get here?” and “Why are we here?” It is the type of philosophical musing that many have meditated through for centuries.
While no one in their right mind would expect a movie — let alone a big-budget extravaganza — to provide literal answers to those questions, when it becomes a film’s driving mantra there is a rightful sense of frustration when the story utterly sidesteps it. Worse, the mild answers hinted by the script add little to the discussion, except for a dread-laden don’t-ask-questions-you-don’t-want-to-know-the-answer-to truism.
The film tells the story of a group of researchers who travel to a far-away planet after discovering archaic remains that point to it being a possible source of mankind’s existence. Suffice to say, the planet gives them much more than they bargained for and may very well cost them their lives.
The film opens with gorgeous aerial shots of majestic landscapes that look familiar and out of this world at the same time. The divine panorama and bewitching special effects continue throughout the film, even as it traverses through the planet’s darker regions and less-than-friendly natural inhabitants are introduced. There are also satisfying explanations for longtime devotees of the ”Alien” franchise, which the film is a part of, including details about the alien pilots known as Space Jockeys.
“Prometheus” was written by space thriller specialist Jon Spaihts and, more significantly, Damon Lindelof, who is best known for co-creating the acclaimed TV show “Lost,” a series that was filled with soul-searching, myth-building and sci-fi mysteries and which closely parallels “Prometheus.”
What “Prometheus” also has in common with “Lost” is that the TV series’ habitual nature of chucking out throwaway poetics as pseudo-answers to its mysteries. The series managed to atone for these shortcomings through its characters’ variable humanity which grew during the six-year series.
Conversely, the space cadets and scientists in “Prometheus” do not have the luxury of having countless TV hours to nurture their characters. So when the people in “Prometheus” display certain notable behaviors, there is little time to change the image of who they are in our minds. When they do act out, it is not a revelatory moment but an implausibility that the script never bridges.
Archeologist Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) goes from scientist to cranky drunk to self-sacrificing semi-hero with weakly written rationales.
When you care little about whether a film’s characters get ripped apart by tentacle creatures, it is hard to care about anything else that much. The script clearly tries to inject some life into its main protagonist, archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), but it struggles and wavers, providing dull layers that make it hard to follow the character’s shift from scientist to hero.
Some of the actors manage to still command attention, in particular Michael Fassbender, who plays David, an android with an agenda. The actor pushes much further than the scheming robot the story dictates, decorating his character with curiosity and compassion. Charlize Theron also enlivens her one-dimensional ship’s captain character with a subtle villainy that is almost dramatic in its mysteriousness.
Some will certainly claim that “Prometheus” follows the path of director Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece “Alien” as well as the rest of the “Alien” saga in providing heart-pumping thrills first and foremost. It is, after all, set in the same universe and works as something of an origin tale to the first “Alien,” though Scott says it is not a prequel. But “Alien” created characters — from the iconic Ripley played by Sigourney Weaver to John Hurt’s alien-hosting Kane — that were more than mere alien lunch. Even the alien itself felt alive, like a dreadlocked baby that the audience followed from birth to death like surrogate parents.
“Prometheus” is a pleasant sci-fi thriller that falls beneath the weight of its self-imposed expectation.
The myriad teasers and secretive marketing masks the fact that there is very little mystery or scares beneath the elegantly dark surface and wide-eyed ponderings.
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce
English with Indonesian subtitles