When you walk into a Ridley Scott movie – Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator – you never know quite what to expect. In each of these movies, there is something you don’t see coming, some twist that takes you by surprise. In Scott’s latest movie, Prometheus, there are a number of those moments.
The story is set in 2089. From IMDB: “A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind on Earth, leading them on a journey to the darkest corners of the universe. There, they must fight a terrifying battle to save the future of the human race.” The clue is the discovery of the same image found in caves at archeological digs all over the world, a pictogram of a giant being beckoning toward the stars. As character Elizabeth Shaw says, the pictogram is “an invitation.” Come find us.
The stunning visuals pull you in immediately. You are there – inside the exploratory vessel known as Prometheus, on the surface of the strange planet where Shaw and her partner, Charlie Halloway, believe these giant beings, these titans, are located. And then you’re inside the hollow sphere of rock where they find answers – and more questions.
Elizabeth Shaw is played by Noomi Rapace, the same young woman who was Lizbeth Salandar in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She looks so completely different that I didn’t recognize her. I knew I’d seen her somewhere, but had to look her up. Her performance is outstanding. In one particularly harrowing scene, her fear and horror are so palpable that I was grateful we weren’t watching a 3-D version. Her character is well drawn – it’s her burning desire to know humanity’s origins that drives the expedition.
In scripts – as in novels, as in most storytelling – there are points where the plot twists. In movies, the first plot point happens about 30 minutes into the story and the second point occurs about 30 minutes before the end. Both points pivot the plot in new directions. Plot point 1 is when the character Meredith Vickers, (Charlize Theron), informs the two archeologists that even if they find beings here, they are not to engage them in any way. Since a corporation paid the trillion bucks for this expedition, Shaw and Halloway are employees of the corporation and she (Vickers) represents this corporation, so they are to do what she tells them to do. She’s the boss.
Uh-huh, sure. Theron is a plus for any movie, if only because of the way she looks. But in this film, she comes across as more robotic than David (Michael Fassbender), who is the actual robot, immortal, soulless. In terms of plot, David does something to Halloway that is never explained in a satisfactory way, except when he asks Halloway what he would do, the lengths he would go to, in order to prove that these titan beings exist. Later, David becomes Shaw’s only ally, but I was never really sure what his agenda is.
My only other gripe about this movie – and it’s small, really trivial – has to do with the flashlights. Given all the other stunning visuals and technology, why are the characters using flashlights that most of us have in our homes right now? Haven’t flashlights evolved at all? Despite my nitpicking, I loved the movie and sat there enthralled for more than two hours, alternately riveted, grossed out, and blown away by all of it.
We stopped by our local grocery store afterward to pick up some fish and I was so disoriented by this movie I could barely talk to the guy behind the fish counter. I kept wanting to say, Hey, I just saw Prometheus, and it’s a mind blower. But I didn’t. I didn’t say it not only because I was in a grocery store, but because I would have to start with Blade Runner. Even though that movie initially got lukewarm reviews, it has since been recognized as one of the best sci-fi movies ever made. And that’s the thing with Scott’s films. They grow on you, just like Philip K Dick’s stories (Blade Runner). When you leave the theater, the story and the characters shadow you, follow you home, snuggle into bed with you, infiltrate your dreams.
While it’s true that Scott doesn’t answer the ultimate questions – where did we come from? What happens to us when we die? – it really doesn’t matter. Clint Eastwood didn’t answer that question in his movie Hereafter. Martin Brest didn’t answer that question in Meet Joe Black. What Dreams May Come came close, but it was way too Catholic/heaven and hell and all that, for me. Movies tease you with the visuals, make you think they’ve got the answers, but in the end, they don’t have anything more definitive than any of us do.
In the end, it’s all speculative, maybe this, maybe that. But Scott certainly pushes the envelope by suggesting that Earth was seeded by the stars, that we are the progeny of alien life forms, that we may be, in fact, the end result of some sort of hybrid experimentation somewhere way back when.
Don’t take my word for it. Go see the movie.