There is a horrific charm to the genre of science fiction. In it lies the opportunity to see into the future and predict our fate as a species.
It has been labeled as a genre that is both escapist and fantastic, but it has also shed light on the questions that make us human. Where do we come from? Why are we here? Questions that filmmaker Ridley Scott wants answered in Prometheus.
Prometheus is, at its heart, a film that wants answers. It attempts to trace back the origin of human life, but at the same time it attempts to answer a more fundamental question: the origin of the Alien franchise.
To talk about Prometheus without talking about the Alien films would be a misstep. The film makes no effort at hiding its place as a prequel to the franchise, and is forced to tread underneath the shadow of over thirty years of genre cinema.
Having directed the first film of the franchise, Ridley Scott takes a gamble at tarnishing his own record. His work on the original Alien (1979) set the bar for science fiction horror, and he now risks his reputation as father to the now ailing franchise.
In a very real sense, Ridley Scott is returning to the same genre of science fiction horror he helped inspire. He is not unlike like the crew of the Prometheus itself, returning to what they hope to be the birth place of humanity.
Prometheus follows the story of the ship’s seventeen strong crew as it makes its way towards the distant moon LV-223. The ship’s mission is primarily scientific, led by archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) as they follow the coordinates to what they believe is the home planet of the very species that engineered the human race. However, what they discover on the moon not only threatens the survival of the ship, but the survival of the entire human race.
The synopsis of Prometheus reads like generic scifi horror fanfare, but it’s Scott’s ambition for the film that elevates it above the usual Hollywood trite. Unlike previous films in the franchise, Prometheus’ main concern isn’t the basic survival of its cast members, but to give insight to humanity’s undying need to seek the answers to our own origin.
Ironically, the film makes its best case with a character who isn’t human at all. David (Michael Fassbender) is an android and glorified man friday to the rest of the Prometheus crew; but he is just as mystified by his existence than any of his other human companions.
In a particularly striking scene aboard the ship, David asks Holloway why his kind was ever made.
“We made you because we could,” Holloway answers.
And with a preprogrammed coldness, David parries Holloway’s words with a piece of penetrating truth.
“Wouldn’t it be just as satisfying to hear the same answer from your makers?”
Prometheus makes no small effort in exploring the purpose of life. But it also presents audiences with the brutal possibility that there isn’t any.
Screenwriters Damon Lindelof (Lost) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) make a valiant effort at crafting a story that engages on both an intellectual and visceral level. Unfortunately, Lindelof and Spaihts run into some obvious problems when answering some of humankind’s greatest questions.
To make matters worse, there are more than a handful of glaring gaps of logic littered across the film. And though they do not rob the movie of any of its truly tense moments, it does detract from the story’s credibility as anything more than generic science fiction horror.
Unfortunately, the film’s gravest sin is what Prometheus now means to the Alien franchise as a whole. Much in the same way that the Star Wars prequels opened a new can of worms to the Jedi and Sith canon, Prometheus leaves a laundry list of loose threads.
If Prometheus had existed in a pop culture vacuum, this wouldn’t prove to be too much of a concern. But in context with a franchise that has shaped science fiction horror for over thirty years, this poses an endless amount of problems to how the franchise moves forward from here.
In the end, the film falls for the very same trap that inevitably dooms the Prometheus and its crew. The need to find answers becomes the final nail in the ship’s coffin, but it may also spell death for the Alien franchise itself.
The timelessness of the Alien films is largely due to the mystery surrounding its stories. The Aliens have been nothing more than reincarnated nightmares, spawned from the mistakes of naïve humans, and fueled by nothing more than instinct and carnage.
But now Scott attempts to put method in the very madness he had unleashed. But for better or worse, it is something that cannot be blamed on the aging filmmaker. The very thesis of Prometheus, despite its flaws, is humanity’s relentless search for answers. However, the uncovering of those answers themselves may reveal to be just as unsatisfying.
Prometheus isn’t an Alien film in the truest sense; which will definitely be a problem for those fanatically loyal to the franchise. But it is Ridley Scott’s attempt at evolving a story, a franchise, and a legacy that has admittedly remained stagnant for the past decade.
PARA SA MGA TAMAD MAGBASA:
Though barely an Alien film in tone, style or subject matter – it is an undeniably entertaining, if not confusing, piece of science fiction.