Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cult Movie Review: Prometheus (2012)



Director Ridley Scott has already given the science fiction cinema two of its greatest and most cherished films: Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982).  His new  genre film, Prometheus (2012) brazenly grasps for the same zenith in terms of quality…and largely succeeds.  The film features twice the symbolic imagery of Blade Runner, and many, many times the implications of Alien.

In terms of visualization, Prometheus is nothing less than staggering. And in terms of narrative and meaning, Scott and his controversial writer Damon Lindelof have forged an intricate puzzle box, one which remains available to multiple interpretations and deep analysis.

This high-minded, symbolic approach to silver screen science fiction has not pleased some of the more literal-minded critics and audiences.  Indeed, there is a fine line between creating an open-ended, ambitious work of art that provokes discussion and crafting a movie that is so open-ended and impenetrable that the narrative itself seems muddled. 

Although I remain sensitive to those who insist that Prometheus is so confused and cryptic as to be  meaningless, I remain delighted that Ridley Scott has crafted an elaborate, complex film; one worthy of multiple viewings, and which can be best understood through careful dissection and consideration of the text’s symbols and multitudinous allusions.  A thorough understanding of the film is gleaned not necessarily by following the 1-2-3 steps of the plot, but rather through interpreting the deliberate nods to earlier films (such as Lawrence of Arabia [1962] or Blade Runner), and reckoning with a consistently-applied leitmotif that contextualizes all the players -- including the alien engineers -- in a specific manner.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have long been concerned with the way that the modern genre film has determinedly eschewed sub-text, and spoon-fed us obvious answers to  mysteries and puzzles.  Prometheus flouts this convention, and practically begs for an engaged, active, thoughtful viewership.  I would be a hypocrite if I complained both about the lack of ambiguity in most contemporary blockbusters and then shouted down Prometheus for its commendable surfeit of ambiguity.  If the film errs somewhat on the side of being inscrutable, so be it. 


In other words, this is precisely the kind of film I hoped Ridley Scott would give us.  Prometheus largely exceeds my own sky-high expectations because it is provocative, challenging, infuriating, dense, and daring.  Some of the specific questions that fans have hungered to have answered, like “what’s the exact life cycle of the creatures we see in the film?” are ultimately held subordinate to the committed exploration of Scott’s chosen thesis: that all parents -- God included -- in some manner hate their children, and that children, equally, despise those who gave them life.  This the film's thematic terrain, and once you accept it (even if you disagree with the premise...), the film opens up and becomes infinitely more accessible.  

By charting the dynamics of the parent/child dilemma, Prometheus thus emerges as the ultimate “Generation Gap” film. The underlying, subconscious reason for this reciprocal relationship of apparent hatred involves our very mortality, a topic that Ridley Scott also explored meaningfully in Blade Runner.  Parents want to live longer and hold onto their supremacy until the bitter end.  And children -- symbols of a future that parents won’t live to see -- want to usurp established authority and become dominant sooner rather than later.

The problem with the human condition, Prometheus suggests, is that we cannot see ourselves simultaneously as both children and parents, and that this tunnel-vision regarding our self image provokes resentment equally in those we raise, and those who raised us. This central running motif about parents/children actually resolves -- albeit obliquely -- many of the problems I’ve read that people have with the film. 

Why do the Engineers hate us?  Why does Holloway hate David? What does David feel for Weyland?

All the answers – or at least most of them – can be excavated by comprehending the particularities of the parent/child relationship in question. If we go in search of our Creator, Prometheus warns, we must understand that our Creator may not like, let alone love, his creation. After all, we possess something he does not: an unwritten future…one filled with potential and possibilities rather than an already-inscribed history of regrets and mistakes. 

If you view Scott’s Prometheus through this lens of parent/child relationships -- and consider the imagery and symbols that support this reading -- you may begin to view the 2012 film as a work of art that asks some very important and pointed questions about our nature.  This is worthy intellectual territory for an Alien-related movie to explore, since so much of that franchise mythos has been about the pain and horror associated with “birth.” 

Beyond that painful physical experience, Prometheus suggests, the real horror awaits.  Birth is just the beginning of the pain.  Try living up to God's expectations...

“A King has his reign, and then he dies.  It’s inevitable.”


In the distant past and presumably on Earth, a white-skinned humanoid – an Engineer – consumes a viscous black fluid and promptly begins to disintegrate. He tumbles into a roaring waterfall and his decomposing body fills the water with his DNA…the building blocks of life.

In 2089 AD on Earth, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her lover, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) put together the final piece of a strange puzzle.  In a prehistoric cave on the Isle of Skye, they find the sixth pictograph showcasing a star map; one pointing towards mankind’s destiny in a distant solar system.

In 2093 AD, Shaw and Holloway awake from cryo-sleep aboard the space vessel Prometheus, a ship under the command of Captain Janek (Idris Alba). With the patronage of the Weyland Company -- represented by executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and a polite android named David (Michael Fassbender) -- the two scientists explain their theory of the star map to a skeptical crew. 

Shaw and Holloway believe that mankind was created by a race of alien engineers, and that the pictographs in the prehistoric caves represent an invitation to seek them out.  Prometheus is now near its destination: a life-supporting moon around a ringed planet, called LV-223.  Here Shaw hopes to find evidence of man’s beginnings.

On the moon’s surface, an exploratory team discovers an Engineer construction: a giant earthen temple that generates its own breathable atmosphere.  Inside the temple stands thousands of vases which contain a viscous black fluid…possibly a life form, possibly a bio-weapon. 

When the containers start to leak, a chain of events is set into motion that will threaten not only Shaw and Holloway, but all human life on Earth itself.

“Don’t all children want their parents to die?”


Gazing deeply into Prometheus’s DNA, one can detect how the parent-child relationship is expressed up-and-down in terms of the dramatis personae and the central narrative.  In terms of the latter, man goes out in search of his “beginnings” or parents, the alien Engineers.  And man’s child, the android David (Michael Fassbender), also embarks on the search for his own destiny or freedom -- beyond man -- at the same time.

In terms of the former, most of the important characters in the film are developed in ways that signify they are either children or parents…or both.

Take protagonist Elizabeth Shaw, for example.  We learn from an early flashback/dream sequence that she lost both of her parents when she was very young.  Furthermore, she is unable to bear children herself.  Because of the absence of parents in her life, and because of her own inability to become a parent, Shaw is a woman of deep “faith,” viewing the Christian God as parental source of wisdom, support, and comfort.   She has fashioned a "personal" parent in the western, New Testament God image.

In need of a benevolent father figure to replace the one she lost all those years ago, Shaw “chooses to believe” that the Engineers are mankind’s creators, and that they are good, loving, wise creatures awaiting her arrival -- or return? -- with outstretched arms.  Her assumptions -- forged in the heartbreaking absence of human parents -- prove utterly wrong, and Shaw grows vengeful and bitter in the course of the film, determined to hold the Engineers’ feet to the fire for failing to live up to her personal imaginings of them. 

Why do the Engineers hate their own children?  Shaw asserts that she “deserves answers” to this pressing riddle.  This is so because she has erected her entire life and self-image around the myth of a loving God, benevolent father to the human race.  As the film ends, Shaw doubles down on her belief that the Engineers must love their grown children, and heads off to their planet of origin to confirm the answer she seeks.  This pursuit of her Creators is not one based on facts, since we have seen with our own eyes that the Engineers are unremittingly hostile.  Rather, Shaw's zealous continuation of the journey is the result of a closed mind, one which won't accept new data and new facts.  And yes, her character -- while heroic -- is certainly a comment on epistemic closure in those of faith.  One wonders, perhaps, if Shaw views herself as the prodigal child, one who has committed some (unknown) sin, but who will ultimately be accepted upon her return.  If she (along with the human race)  represents the Engineers' prodigal child, then the xenomorphs may be our more dutiful siblings...


Meredith Vickers is also defined in Prometheus as a child.  She is the long-suffering daughter of tycoon, scientist and magnate Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce).  Vickers has waited patiently throughout her adult life for her father to relinquish control of his multi-billion dollar company so that she can assume it herself; so that she can start constructing her own legacy. 

But Weyland is reluctant to let go.  So reluctant, in fact, that he finances a mission to LV-223 on the long shot chance of discovering the secret of immortality from the Engineers…from God.  Late in the film, Meredith rails against her father for his failure to observe the accepted way of things. Like Shaw she is angry and embittered by her experience with a parent.  He won't let her complete the process of transformation...of becoming.

It’s inevitable, Vickers tells Weyland, that a king has his reign…and then dies.  But Weyland steadfastly refuses to end his reign, landing Vickers in a kind of arrested state of not-quite maturity.   Trapped in that purgatory, she is not respected by others, and her authority inside the company is constantly questioned. Vickers is always heir to the throne, but never gets to sit on that throne.  She watches her father's death not with dread or pain, but with something akin to acceptance.  It was time for him to go, and his last act -- going to an alien to demand more life -- was pathetic and needy.


Weyland’s other child is David, the android or artificial life form that he created. Weyland serves as both God and father to David.  But he has created David not to be an independent entity or even an individual with a unique personality, but rather a living glorification of Weyland’s reputation as a genius.  

Accordingly, Weyland is routinely dismissive of David, noting in front of others that although David is immortal, he possesses “no soul.”  The uneasy nature of the David/Weyland relationship is best expressed in a sequence in the medical bay, during which David washes his father’s feet.

Foot washing is a Christian religious ritual.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of the Last Supper, his final night on Earth.  In this tradition -- unusually -- the superior washes the feet of the servants, or the apparent inferiors.   Jesus said: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example…that you should do as I have done to you.


What David’s act of foot washing signifies is not the love of a son for an elderly, infirm father, but rather a subtle warning to Weyland that he, perhaps, should be prepared to wash the feet (symbolically) of the Engineers rather than demand from these absent parents more life (fucker…to paraphrase Blade Runner). 

David’s act of foot washing looks like one of subordination and respect, but in the tradition of Jesus, it is actually not subordinate at all.  Rather, David informs his father -- in the deliberately symbolic terms of foot washing -- that he should act just as David has acted.  He should wash the feet of the others, to humble himself before the Engineers.  But David knows that Weyland is arrogant and prideful and will not follow his example.  This suits David, because he wishes his father dead so that he can chart his own path.  He no longer wishes to take orders from the Old Man.

Another child in Prometheus, of course, is the human race itself.  It is the (perhaps unwanted…) child of the Engineers.  And in typically childish fashion, this child goes before its parents and demands answers about life.  The Engineers -- as parents -- however, clearly fear the humans.  The humans – their children – have in two millennia escaped their playpen (Earth) and sought them out at Daddy’s work, on LV-223.  This act suggests, perhaps, that the child shall eventually overcome the father, and eclipse the father. 

This deep fear, I submit, is the source of resentment on the part of the Engineers: they have created something that they can’t control, but which may outlive them and out-achieve them.  Now, if you read the net with any regularity, there’s much talk about the film's deleted “Space Jesus” and the idea that the Engineers sent an emissary to Earth, Christ, who was killed by humans.  That is the specific reason, apparently, that the Engineers dislike us.  But that omitted explanation was also rejected by Scott as too “on the nose,” and does not mitigate or undo the explanation I supply here.

In fact, the idea of a parent being jealous or vengeful towards a child conforms beautifully with the Prometheus myth, which the film evokes.  In Greek Myth, Prometheus is a God-like creature, a Titan, who created man from clay and then stole fire for mankind so that the child could stand on equal footing with his progenitor.  Prometheus’s punishment from his fellow Gods was everlasting torment.  Implicit in this story is the belief that the Gods -- the ultimate parent figures -- don't want competitors.  They fear that Prometheus's gift will make man an equal, just as many parents fear that their children, once grown up, will be equals...or betters.

One interpretation of Prometheus suggests that the Engineer seen in the prologue is either a Prometheus-like renegade or heretic who similarly gives the “magic of life” – his very DNA – to create man, perhaps over the ardent objections of the other Engineers.  Why does he do so?  We can’t know, of course, but perhaps this Engineer wanted to create something that was “good” instead of something destructive, like the black ooze biological weapon which – no matter which way you cut it, or what life form you utilize as intermediary – always ends up as vicious population control: a nasty, saliva-dripping xenomorph.

In this reading of the film, an “unwanted” child, the human race, is created by an unsanctioned renegade, and the rest of the Engineers realize they must destroy it before the child threatens them and eclipses them. 

Another possible reading: the Engineer in the prologue creates man simply because he can.  This is a deliberate mirror of Holloway’s explanation for David in the film’s dialogue.  Holloway tells David that mankind gave birth to an artificial life form only to prove that it could create life, not out of love, not out of responsibility, and not out of any deeper meaning or emotional truth.

By extension, perhaps this explanation applies to the Engineers and the human race too.  The Engineers conducted a test (they seem to be experimenters...)…and humans were the (fearsome) and unexpected result.  Not all parents intend to be parents in the first place, after all.  For some, parenthood is an unexpected and unwanted burden.  This is the existentialist, nihilist interpretation of the film.  Man goes out into space in search of the meaning of life, only to get the answer that his life -- his very existence -- is meaningless. How does he know?  Because the Bible (er, God...) tells him so.


I have read in many venues since Prometheus’s premiere how much genre audiences apparently dislike the character of Charlie Holloway, and how critics and viewers have grappled with what a “shithead” he is.  Why is he so mean and condescending to David? 

The answer, again, determinedly concerns parents and children.  As the Engineers view their creation with disdain, so does Holloway view mankind’s creation, David, with disdain.  But it’s not merely disdain…it is casual disdain. 

This rude and condescending behavior expresses Charlie’s hypocrisy, and his absolute inability to see himself as both a father and a son.  He goes to space to find his genetic father, while belittling and destroying mankind’s son...a miracle who stands right there in front of him.  Can’t he see that he is treating David in a way he would not want to be treated by his father or God?

I submit Holloway is actually a pretty intriguing character because of this casual, reflexive, unthinking rejection of David as a “lesser” being.  This is racism in its worst form, a thoughtless denigration of one of God’s creations.  And sometimes, this kind of racism exists in even the most enlightened individuals.  The point is that men – even great men like Charlie Holloway – can’t always see their own hypocrisy, or their own blind spots.  Charlie never gives voice to a specific reason for his hatred of David, he just blindly considers him inferior because David is artificial...just as generations have blindly considered African-Americans inferior because of skin color, or gay people inferior because of sexual identity.   

Does this racist behavior make Charlie a shithead?  I don’t know.  It certainly makes him a genuinely complicated character.  He seeks a God who loves him, like Shaw, one that he wishes to “talk to,” but yet he steadfastly denies that very love to David, a being created by man.  It’s a very elegant dynamic and point of comparison, and one that reveals how so many people of faith wear blinders in the face of their own foibles.   Charlie can position himself only as a child, shirking his responsibilities as father.

Weyland’s trajectory is similar to Charlie’s.  He has played God, but is not kind or good to his creation, David.  Yet Weyland wholly expects his God to honor a personal demand for immortality.  The Engineers have no reason to grant Weyland this prize, and in fact the brazen nature of the request only seems to confirm the Engineers’ apparent belief that man will eclipse them and threaten them if left unchecked.  Human appetites are boundless.  As Weyland dies at the end of the film, he warns David that there is only “nothing” (a reference to the desert, and Lawrence of Arabia).  What he means, however, is that -- going back to the existentialist interpretation of Prometheus -- God has no answers to give.  This is important information for David. Weyland has no answers to give, either.

Given the importance of the parent/child dynamic in Prometheus, the significance of the black ooze may just be that it violently makes parents of even the most unwilling organisms.  It usurps the normal life process and co-opts life for its own agenda.  And again, that may qualify as a cynical definition of “children,” at least according to some.  Children are a demand on time and resources, and the grisly bio-weapon of the Engineers forces unwanted parenthood on one and all. But the children of the black ooze are literally monsters, slavering beasts dedicated to murder, and therefore true weapons of mass destruction.  And yes, if the Engineers did create the black ooze, that makes the black ooze -- and by extension the xenomorphs -- our "brothers."

Now, of course, I don’t feel this way about children and parents.  I’m a happy parent of a delightful and wonderful five year old boy…who happily plays with Kenner Alien toys, incidentally.  But Prometheus gazes deeply at the reasons why parents and children sometimes gaze at one another across a gulf of suspicion and dislike.  Parents and children vie for resources and time in the quest to achieve dominance and immortality.  “Don’t all children want their parents to die?” David asks late in the film, and Shaw rebuts him, stating emphatically that the answer is negative.

But judging by the interactions between parents and children in the film, and taking into account the Prometheus myth, the film makes a case that David is right.  Parents fear children because the ascent of their offspring in some way portends the death of the creator.  And there's nothing more frightening -- even to Gods, apparently -- than facing annihilation and oblivion.  And children fear and hate parents because parents control them and hold onto precious life to the bitter end.

This is a rich, consistently-applied theme, diagrammed in character after character, and literally hard-written into the structure of Prometheus itself.  Of course, some will ask, if the Engineers despise their children so much, why give them an invitation to come visit?

The simple answer is that it’s a trick invitation.  Notice that the children are invited not to a home world, but to a dangerous weapons facility.  If the children come, they’ll more than likely be destroyed.  If you've ever been ambushed at a family gathering, you kind of get the point.  An invitation to "come home" isn't necessarily or automatically benign, is it?
 
“It looks insubordinate, but it isn’t really:” David the Android, and the Lawrence of Arabia (1962) connection.


One of the key characters in Prometheus is Michael Fassbender’s effete android, David.  As we witness early in the film, David has adopted as his human role model the character of T.E. Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia.  Specifically, he models his hair to resemble Peter O’Toole’s cut in that film.  One also wonders if he is  named David after that film’s director: David Lean.

By remembering some of the details and dialogue of Lawrence of Arabia, we begin to unlock the puzzle of David’s behavior and motivations.  Other critics have already pointed out, accurately, that dialogue in Prometheus deliberately and explicitly references Lawrence of Arabia on three occasions. 

These are when David notes “Big things have small beginnings,” when Weyland notes that the “key” to doing risky things is “not minding that it hurts,” and the commentary, finally, that “there is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.”

Yet such references are only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. 

In ways important and complex, David clearly models his very behavior and actions after his cinematic hero.  For instance, T.E. Lawrence tells General Murray (David Wolfsit) in the Lean film that his manner looks insubordinate “but it isn’t really.” 

This is precisely David’s manner. He operates by an agenda that is seems insubordinate, but is not. Over and over, David ignores the orders of his superiors. Specifically, he opens the door to the temple vase room over Holloway and Shaw’s objections, and then de-activates the live feed showing his progress to the ship’s bridge, irking Vickers.  By and large, David -- like Lawrence -- “pretends” to be insubordinate, when this is not the case.  He is secretly operating by Weyland's command.  In other words, he is perfectly subordinate...at least until he can be free of his "father."

Also harking back to the filmic T.E. Lawrence, David recognizes his isolation and also independence from those surrounding him.  He is neither human, nor alien engineer.  He is singular in his nature. In Lean’s film, Lawrence describes himself as similarly possessing “no tribe,” and believes that this lack of specific membership makes him the perfect person to “execute the law,” as he tells Aida Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn). 

Again, consider David’s behavior in Prometheus: It reveals no allegiance to any particular group, but rather a consideration only for David’s “law,” his personal quest, I believe, to “kill” his parents (Weyland and the other humans) and become, essentially, for the first time, a free man instead of a slave. 

When David suggests to Shaw that she rescue him from the alien bridge and return to the engineer spacecraft, he is essentially operating according his own agenda.  When he “views” Shaw’s dreams, similarly, we are led to believe that this is not something that was part of David’s recognized duty, since Shaw registers surprise.  David also lies to Vickers about Weyland and seems to suggest, to Shaw, that he would like to see Weyland – his “father” – dead.  Everything David says and does in the film is -- on some fundamental level -- related to his own desires and needs.  If those needs conform with Vickers’s, Shaw’s, Holloway’s or Weyland’s, that’s fine.  But if they don’t, David doesn't hesitate to take the path that seems to most benefit him.

Finally, David, like his cinematic mentor, seems to recognize the fact that he is virtually indestructible, or at least hard to kill.  He observes safety protocol and rituals, such as adorning a spacesuit and helmet, but these are affectations for the comfort of the nearby humans. David can touch biological black ooze without worrying for his survival, for instance.  And even when his head is severed from his body, he continues to thrive.

As T.E. Lawrence joked with Colonel Brighton (Anthony Quayle) in Lawrence of Arabia: “They can only kill me with a golden bullet.”  Very clearly, the same assessment could be made of David.  He expects to be immortal, sans a nasty encounter or two with an angry Engineer.

The point of all these allusions is simple.  T.E. Lawrence suggests in Lean’s film that his allegiance is to “England…and other things,” a comment which cements his status as a man of uncertain or conflicted loyalties.  David could very well describe his sense of allegiance as being to “Weyland…and other things.”  He has thus learned from viewing Lawrence of Arabia how to successfully navigate conflicts and still achieve a goal he desires.  The Lean film is our visual cue to understanding David’s “nature,” and there are even scenes in both films where the David/T.E. Lawrence make mention of their emotional or unemotional state of “fear.”

The Lawrence of Arabia comparison is important in another way.  Specifically, in context of the parent/child dynamic the film explores so assiduously, T.E. Lawrence grants David the advice and wisdom of a mentor he actually likes, an important alternative to the cruel Weyland.  Similarly, the film itself is considered one of the greatest works of film art in history.  This is a status Prometheus hopes to achieve, only as a science fiction masterwork. 

In other words, David longs to be T.E. Lawrence, and Prometheus longs to be David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, metaphorically-speaking.  A key to understanding Prometheus is to understand what the text of Lawrence of Arabia means to both David and to Ridley Scott.  If you aren’t familiar with the classic film, you’re missing a whole avenue of interpretation and symbolism.

The Alien (1979) Connection: Too Much or Not Enough?


Prometheus depicts the story of the space jockey – an alien engineer – and reveals to audiences more of that famous alien’s technology and history.  As you can see from the Alien Movie Matrix that I printed below this post this morning, Prometheus also knowingly conforms to many of the tropes established in the Alien series.  There are familiar character types, including an android, a company man (or woman in this case), and comic relief.  In terms of plot situations, we get another pregnancy, plus new alien life forms, a heroic self-sacrifice (Janek), and a failed mission (Weyland’s quest for immortality).  So for those who wonder if Prometheus is truly an Alien film, the component parts – the DNA – answer in the affirmative.  A xenomorph may not hold center stage, but the conventions of the franchise play out all over again, in recognizable but adapted form.  Using all the paints and ingredients of Alien, Scott has created a new masterpiece in the same vein.

The connection to Alien established, Ridley Scott is also creative the father here, and so we can also recognize his career DNA in Prometheus.

Specifically, the director has imported Roy Batty’s quest from Blade Runner to serve as an important motivating factor here.  Weyland, much like Rutger Hauer’s famous Replicant, is facing a built-in expiration date, the impending end of his life.  As Batty went to visit his God, Tyrell for answers about immortality, so does Weyland petition his God, the Engineer in this matter.  In both situations, the quest ends…badly.  But the connection between Prometheus and Blade Runner is made explicit in visual terms during Weyland’s holographic presentation.  Weyland’s office closely resembles Tyrell’s sun-drenched sky-rise paradise, right down to the majestic columns bracketing the frame.  Weyland is thus – interestingly -- both petitioner and petitioned in this film, both a Creator and a child; both Tyrell and Batty, essentially. But Weyland picks up the quest for immortality where Batty left off.

In terms of Alien, Prometheus certainly continues Scott’s penchant for showcasing grisly, unexpected births.  Here, Shaw’s alien “baby” turns into a protean, giant face-hugger-like creation, and uses the Engineer’s body to incubate a monstrous, vaguely familiar xenomorph. 

Again, I realize that many fans of the Alien series have been upset with Prometheus for not more directly creating a definable life-cycle for the creatures in this film.  However there’s an easy and simple enough way to understand the monsters: Every road that the black goo embarks upon leads to one destination, eventually: the xenomorph.


Sometimes the route is direct, sometimes not.  It depends, I suppose, on the host DNA and the amount of black goo utilized.  But in the end, the weapon acts as just that, a weapon, and always creates a near-indestructible “beast.”  It’s a clear enough dynamic: whatever intermediary medium is used, you start with black goo and end up with a monster that eliminates, hopefully, your enemies.  I can see, however, why this kind of amorphous process rubs Alien fans the wrong way.  It’s a big change from what we have seen before, and change is always difficult to reckon with, at least initially.  Over time, as audiences come to accept Prometheus, I believe this concern will dissipate and people will start to recognize the film as, indeed, a genre masterpiece.

That sense of mastery rests in Scott's sense of composition, in the visuals he so carefully crafts to allude to other, great stories.  The film's opening -- an aerial tracking shot across a primordial planet surface -- is incredibly beautiful, and reminds one (intentionally, we must assume) of the Dawn of Man passage in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).  As the camera move over roiling river rapids (a UFO hovering above), we intuit the sense of the swirling, turbid forces that give rise to life.  Sequences later in the film, overtly Lovecraftian in nature, fill us with anticipatory dread.  The temple of the Engineers -- a veritable necropolis -- is a vision inspired by Milton.  Again, this is an appropriate allusion.  The crew of Prometheus goes out in search of God and finds, instead, the devil.  In Paradise Lost, man was tempted by the devil (and by the fruit of the tree of knowledge) to leave innocence and paradise behind.  That loss of faith and innocence seems reflected in the film in Shaw's spiritual journey and loss of faith.

Clearly, I’ve written a lengthy piece here, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Prometheus, its symbols, and hidden meaning. I think it's a wonderful thing to be given a film so rich in meaning, motif, and allusion that it can’t easily be digested or parsed in one 250-word review.  Before I close, I just want to comment, finally, on the canny design of the Engineers.  With their alabaster skin and haunting black eyes, they resemble – to me anyway – humanoid sharks.  There’s something fearsome and predatory about them, and by coincidence, no doubt, here’s a recent news story on the net suggesting that sharks and humans share a common ancestor.   Engineer DNA?

That’s a nice bit of serendipity that works in Prometheus’s favor, I think. But at least on a subconscious level, when we view the Engineers, we are viewing things that we already judge fearsome....human and shark natures. That's important to the success of the film's final act.  For here, the terror rests not on slimy shape-shifting aliens, but on a reckoning with these twisted, over-sized reflection of ourselves.  That fact fits in with the theme of parents and children too.  The Engineers are a mirror for human life, only with an overtly wicked visual twist.

These are my thoughts on Prometheus right now, but I will continue to communicate them in future postings, hopefully with significant interaction from all of you, the readers.  Right now, more than anything, I want to see the movie again.  It was definitely worth the wait.

[Note: My friend Ed Erdelac noted on Facebook that the quote from Lawrence of Arabia is actually about Lawrence being insubordinate, not subordinate.  The review has been updated to conform to the correct quote.  Even though I mis-remembered the exact quote -- sorry! -- I think the point stands about Lawrence of Arabia...that David uses him as a role model and mimics his personality.  Thanks, Ed, for setting me straight.]  

79 comments:

  1. Hi,

    Nice long review you got there :). Short on story but that's OK, because so was the movie.

    As a fan of Alien, you have no choice but to like the movie. Or to want to like it. And I too wanted to like it, and I sure hope there is another sequel (or two) coming to complete the story, in the manner of star wars episode V, for example.

    And I can understand your interest in the child-parent dilemma, as you have mentioned it more than once, and I too have some experience with it.

    But for me, who found the Alien script to be lazy and the characters in it dumb beyond belief, no mater how suspended that belief was, Prometheus has one major, frightening problem: it's creator's view on people and on humanity is terrifyingly cynical. If those people are the best the world has to offer to a top company like Weyland, then the humanity as a whole is hopeless and deserves to die the most horrible and pointless deaths imaginable.

    Other than that, the visual spectacle is a treat, and the younger members of my movie goers club gave it high grades.

    Best,
    J.J.

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    1. "Prometheus has one major, frightening problem: it's creator's view on people and on humanity is terrifyingly cynical. If those people are the best the world has to offer to a top company like Weyland, then the humanity as a whole is hopeless and deserves to die the most horrible and pointless deaths imaginable."

      J.J.,

      What you view as a problem I view as a strength. Prometheus is at its most terrifying not when it focuses on its menagerie of wiggly beasties, but when it stares into humanity's potential emptiness and finds little there to recommend us to the "gods".

      Great review as usual, John. I'd enjoy sharing my own thoughts on the film with you when they go up later this week.

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    2. Hi Jay-Jay,

      Thank you for writing about your perspective on the Ridley Scott film. I agree that the visual spectacle is almost overwhelming. So beautiful; so stunning.

      Where we differ, I suppose, is in the assessment of the human characters. There is no doubt that these people are flawed and difficult and even abrasive at times...but they certainly reflect who we are...for better or worse, at this juncture in time. We see the person who is faithful in the face of facts to the contrary (Shaw); we see someone who is mindlessly disdainful of others who are not like him (Holloway); we see a woman desperate to outgrow her father, professionally (Vickers). These characters reflect aspects of reality in 2012, so I don't see them as being cartoons or over-the-top or unnecessarily dark. Prometheus offers a realistic, not idealistic or romantic view of mankind, and I think there's room for that in the genre.

      As far as the parent-child dilemma, I personally don't believe in it. I personally believe that the only way to achieve immortality is to raise your child well...and be remembered positively by that child. But I think it is inarguable that the characters and situations in the film reflect a negative parent-child relationship. You read my review: when you go down the line, you can see how virtually every important character is contextualized as either a child or a parent, or in some cases both. It's there. It's not something I made-up. I just happened to notice and explain it.

      Great comment! Thank you for posting.

      best,
      John

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    3. Yes, the cynical parent-child connection is undeniable. There's even that sibling element between David and Meredith or at least it felt that way to me.

      Delete
  2. Anonymous2:16 PM

    John excellent review. Ridley Scott has delivered again. A hat trick of science-fiction films ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER and now PROMETHEUS coming full circle to the Alien franchise he began. I hope there will be a sequel with an ending tied directly to what is found by the Nostromo on the planet in the 1979 film.

    SGB

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    1. Hi SGB,

      Thank you for the kind comment. I agree with you that Ridley Scott delivered, and that he did so in an unconventional and quite beautiful, enigmatic way. There's nothing easy or simple about Prometheus, and so we will have something debate for the next thirty years. I would also like to see the story line continue in a sequel, but -- like Alien -- I also feel that the film stands alone as a singular masterpiece.

      Thank you for posting, my friend.

      best,
      John

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  3. Bravo on the review John.

    The investigation of themes and comparisons to Ridley's Blade Runner are wonderful. And you're right, the open approach to the narrative that made Blade Runner so striking in its revelations about life are indeed woven expertly into the structure of Prometheus. This is perhaps one of the starkest contrasts in approach to Alien. But like you, I really think it's a special film and there's nothing but true vision and intelligence breathed into most of the picture.

    Your expertly penned look at this really covers it all. The puzzle box allure of the picture is indeed one of the true highlights.

    The parent child dynamic is a fascinating one to analyze. I definitely see that and you bring it to the fore here. I especially see this hunger for life as a theme to Scott's pictures particularly the ones you note here. In fact, the Shaw birth scene speaks directly to your analysis of parent and child birth and those fears you directly reflect upon regarding the child replacing the parent.

    With regard to evolution inherent in the picture I really enjoyed your shark / human comparison. That's a very appropriate description of the Engineers.

    Regarding Fassbender, I love his vacant but probing, inquistive nature. He plays the android meticulously. It's a terrific performance. I loved your point about Fassbender's own search. Interesting. Your analysis of his motivations is terrific and certainly speaks to why he may be Scott's most complex android creation.

    I also really enjoyed your exploration of Shaw and her beliefs and how her positive impressions of the creators becomes altered throughout the film yet she still believes. The idea of giving life and the influence of belief is tied together and you mine a lot of areas that I'm looking forward to revisiting soon.

    Your examination of life and the quest for where it came from and the creators that gave it to us as explored in Prometheus was great fun to read. You did it again John. I must see Rapace and company again soon.

    I loved the intensive look toward Lawrence Of Arabia as a source for this film's own motivations. This was exceptional.

    Anyway, this was an outstanding piece and as much as the parent/ child relationship was apparent and the ideas that you present here were how I interpreted relations between engineer and human, you have done so most eloquently.

    And by the way, family relationships, especially extended, are tricky, but I certainly don't share the theme here in my own heart towards the film's message.

    Lastly, I agree with you and certainly see the evidence of this film's evolutionary process toward Alien and the dna established here that would lead to that franchise. It is very clear and Scott is commended for resettinmg established expectations to a degree with something remarkably fresh and new.

    I too think Prometheus will endure for me through time and you really sum up the visual composition of the Engineer in relation and juxtaposition to humans as both familial and alien. I really loved your post here. SFF

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    1. Hi SFF:

      Thank you for your detailed and appreciative comment. I think we both feel the same way about family: no hatred or resentment. I don't buy into that belief of jealousy or hatred at all. But the film certainly treads that path, and you can see from all the characters how it works insidiously -- like the black ooze -- darkening the hearts of humans and "Gods" alike.

      I agree that in David, Scott has given us his greatest android yet. David is a marvelous creation, one searching for the meaning in life and looking, beautifully, to our art (Lawrence of Arabia) for it. It's the same thing with Prometheus: Scott has given us a work of art where we can probe for answers about "who we are." It's a marvelous film, and a masterpiece.

      As I'm fond of reminding folks, Blade Runner got mixed reviews when it was released as well. If the Internet had been around back then, no doubt many fanboys would have hated it. We can't late these loud voices demanding ANSWERS! obfuscate the great gift of this film: it's open to many interesting interpretations.

      Great comment, my friend. Thank you.

      best,
      John

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  4. Anonymous3:37 PM

    John...

    This is one of the best reviews I've read so far on Prometheus. Having seen the movie twice, you viewed it from a perspective I hadn't thought of yet and as a result, made me feel like I hadn't watched it at all. Wonderful work!

    There's so much to discuss with this film, but I'll leave it at this for now:

    I don't think a lot of people (critics and viewers) understood just how ambitious Ridley Scott was with this film. He shifts into a symbolic mode of filmmaking, as opposed to a traditional narrative-based approach. The narrative in Prometheus is almost incidental; this is as close as any sci-fi film has come in approach and execution to 2001: A Space Odyssey. And like Kubrick's symbolic masterwork, I predict Prometheus will age very well.

    Jeffrey Siniard

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    1. Jeffrey,

      The observation in your final paragraph is, I think, brilliant, and right on the money.

      Scott is working in a symbolic, metaphorical mode in Prometheus. Thus to focus obsessively on minutiae like specific alien life-cycles is to miss the forest for the trees.

      What we have here is a brilliant, ambiguous, symbolic work of art that asks us to gaze in the mirror and consider ourselves. Who are we? Parents? Children? Creations? All of the above? What drives us? Hatred for those who came before? A need to impress them? And what drove our Creators to have us? Was there purpose? Or was it a whim?

      Like you, I agree that Prometheus will age well. The dumb criticism dominating the net now will eventually die down and people will have the chance to evaluate -- without the distraction of screaming -- Scott's gorgeous, thought-provoking film.

      Excellent, enlightening comment...

      best,
      John

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  5. A wonderful and as thought-provoking a review for this film, John. I left my initial screening, perhaps, feeling a bit disappointed. However, for days afterward I continued to think of PROMETHEUS in ways unlike any of those other summer films I've watched this season. Going back on Father's Day for a second sip I found more rewarding. Yes, there are a number of critical looks online nitpicking the Hell out of this, like here, and more power to them. Still, I found the film a mesmerizing experience. As I've commented on other blogs, I sense the theatrical cut is a compromise between the filmmakers and the studio (who don't want a product lengthier beyond two-hours to maximize screening schedules and ticket purchases). Too much was riding on this to let Ridley Scott deliver what may have been is true vision for the film. I think, beyond the obvious puzzle box element you noted, there is a Director's Cut (hopefully) in our future. Many thanks for this, my friend.

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    1. Hi Le0pard13:

      Somehow blogger ate my original response to your comment. D'oh. Sorry, Michael!!!

      I love how you put it: "for days afterward I continued to think of Prometheus in ways unlike any of those other summer films I've watched this season."

      Yes, the film gets under your skin. After our viewing, my wife and I both had nightmares that night involving the Engineers. How weird is that, huh?

      I agree with you that despite any imperfections, the film remains a "mesmerizing" experience. The theatrical cut may be a compromise, but it's still a brilliant work of speculative art, and the most important genre film to come around in some time.

      I too look forward to a director's cut.

      Thank you for posting a comment, my friend.

      best,
      John

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  6. This was definitely a film I felt bad writing a review for the day after seeing it for the first time as I knew that there were many interconnected layers that I wasn't going to be able to flesh out having watched the midnight release with a smile on my face rather than with a notebook in hand. I've greatly awaited your write-up and this teaser of future coverage is exactly what I expected from you. Your tact is ever appreciated both here and in your physical writings. Here's to future viewings for us all.

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    1. Rian,

      Yes, future viewings. More Prometheus! This film has so much going on, I feel that I only began to explore it in this review.

      And, honestly, I have it easy compared to many critics who must see a film, process it instantly, and then write a review on a deadline.

      I have the luxury, writing on this blog, to take my time and think things through very thoroughly. I can see a film twice (as I did here), and afford myself the time to ask "why" things unfold as they do.

      That's how I began unlocking this film. I looked at the foot-washing film and asked myself: what is this about? Why is this scene here? What does it mean?

      And that probing led me into an understanding of symbols and metaphors. And quite frankly, if I had written this review on a shorter time table, I would not have gotten there.

      Here's to future viewings for us all. Can't wait to see this one on Blu-Ray!

      Great comment!

      best,
      John

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  7. Nice review John. I was entertained, to say the least, but I think I was expecting something so much better after all of the promotion for this flick. Maybe it was too much like Alien.

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    1. Dan,

      Thank you for the kind words about the review. I appreciate your support.

      Listen, I TOTALLY sympathize with the expectations game. It's something I struggle with very often, and must constantly try to defeat.

      But we have to understand, too, we are responsible, ultimately, for our own expectations. I keep telling myself that...! :) It helps me get through all the horror remakes out there these days.

      The real game, I submit, is to meet the film on its own terms, and consider what it is trying to convey. I don't always succeed, mind you. In fact, I often fail.

      But I do believe that on a second viewing of Prometheus -- when you have defeated pre-existing expectations you had at first -- you can view the film more dispassionately, and understand the artistry it offers; rather than those thing it lacks.

      Thank you so much for posting. Great comment!

      best,
      John

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    2. I count myself in the ranks of sympatizing with Dan's plight, but just as you submit here John I am working through this film in my head still days after seeing it.

      AS L13 said, just mesmerized by it all. I'm beginning to put the pieces together and distance myself from those inititial expectations but it has been an interesting process for me.

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    3. Hi SFF,

      It is an interesting process. We have a vision in our heads of what we want the film to be; but ultimately are met -- smack! -- with Scott's vision of what the film should be. It may not be what we wanted, but as you say...it's mesmerizing; it's genius. It's a film that asks us to engage with it on so many levels, most importantly symbolically.

      I'm so glad that Scott didn't just give us another action film, or some easily digestible piece of fluff. By making a provocative film, he has assured that Prometheus will be debated, argued over, and remembered for decades to come.

      Good for him for not going the route of lowest-common-denominator.

      best,
      John

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    4. Completely agree on this point John.

      I have literally been paralyzed all week withe ruminations on Prometheus. I have not had a film engage me this way in quite some time. It has really limited my output in writing because I've been caught up in it. Reading, thinking, considering the film's implications. I am actually quite eager to see it again, hopefully in 3D.

      I'm putting my first post up today in over a week. I've just been swept up by Scott's vision as you put it and I really needed to embrace that and I think I have been and I've certainly open to it since the beginning but I needed to work through the disappointment a little. Odd, it's like breaking up with a really sexy girlfriend, but this new girl is kind of nice too. : )

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    5. Hi SFF:

      Literally paralyzed. That's very much how I feel. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to fully disengage from the Prometheus experience. I better not see it again, because then I'm doomed. This will become the Prometheus Blog.

      Warts and all, Prometheus is the meatiest, most provocative movie to come down the pike in a long while. It looks like we're both cherishing and savoring it fully...

      Best,
      John

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  8. "Yes, the cynical parent-child connection is undeniable. There's even that sibling element between David and Meredith or at least it felt that way to me."

    @ SFF: Oh, yes. That certainly plays to the Vickers-is-a robot speculation out there, à la Decker in BLADE RUNNER. That vibe is hinted along with the fact she's up before any other of her sleeping cohorts (w/ no sickness or lag -- she's exercising for Chrissakes!), and that she manhandles David easily when she confronts him after he's communicated with you-know-who.

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    1. Hi Le0pard13,

      Great thoughts here about Vickers and the "is she or isn't she" dilemma. She has been supplanted in Weyland's heart with David, and android, and so I submit has become as android-like as possible to win back Dad's affection. She sleeps with Janek, I submit, simply because he has challenged her, comparing her directly to the usurper, David. She wants to prove she's not like him...

      Fascinating stuff...

      best,
      John

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    2. What I want to know is why Weyland himself never had any kids, if this is true? Also, if she's an android like David, then why does she need an advanced bio-bed that can perform surgery?

      Just saw the movie again on Blu-Ray DVD, and think that it's great, as is your review-great work.

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  9. Anonymous9:39 PM

    Mr. Muir,

    I am truly delighted to have stumbled upon your analysis of this beautiful film on the interwebs. This film really requires you to think about and beyond the images and the dialogue. I am constantly discovering unique and insightful interpretations of the film - yours being one of them.

    I really enjoyed this film. I found it rather befitting that Weyland was, in the end, bludgeoned literally by his own creation. While David does not bring about Weyland's demise, he arranges a meeting between Weyland and his creator knowing that Weyland's arrogance will be his downfall. We need not know explicitly what David has said to the Engineer - Weyland's request for immortality is sufficient enough to anger the Gods.

    Kay

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    1. The thought of a Rapace Fassbender sequel is really enticing when you think about how strong those two characters were and that David is clearly searching for the same kinds of answers as Rapace in many ways. Very clever.

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    2. For those of us hoping for a Rapace/Fassbender sequel (count me as one), here some info that's not exactly optimistic:

      Will Prometheus Get A Sequel? Plus Two More Big Questions

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    3. Hi Kay,

      Thank you for this comment of support regarding my review of Prometheus. Like you, I think this is a beautiful film; like a jewel with many facets. Your point about David is an excellent one: What did he say to the Engineers? Probably just the right thing to assure Weyland's destruction! :)

      best,
      John

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  10. Wow. No shortage of meet in this review! Awesome. Let me first just say thanks for the Lawrence of Arabia referencing. I've never seen it (must remedy that) and so while I think I subconsciously felt I was missing a certain amount of context there, I didn't have it to work with either.

    I hadn't traced the parent/child theme as thoroughly in my own head, but I've followed it down enough to note that I'd agree with what you see there.

    With that said - I went into the film knowing I'd have time to screen it the one time. My schedule just doesn't allow the indulgence beyond it. So what I tried to focus on the most I think was the notion put forth that Prometheus contained threads of Alien DNA but was not necessarily a prequel in the strictest sense. I looked for the hooks that tied the two films together, as a thought exercise, and I think that helped allow me a clean-ish viewing. (Although - in the interest of full disclosure - it's no secret that I'm undeniably a fan of Alien films in general). I picked up that we were on LV233 as opposed to 426 (and then made me wonder exactly how are these celestial bodies numbered anyway? How far away are they?) While that initially disappointed me, having it noted later that there are many engineer sites and/or vessels settled that twitch in my head.

    But there's oh so much in this film to go over.

    Visually, I was a kid in a candy store. One thing that definitely made me sit up and widen my eyes a bit was the reveal that what we had been looking at all these years wasn't a skull, but a helmet. I also thought it was a nice touch that the pyramid has some visual ties with some of the material from the original Alien concept. I liked that a lot of the Prometheus interiors were very Nostromo reminiscent, just of a higher class, and given Weyland's presence on board, not out of character. I loved that one shot of a boot stepping across the chamber floor, with the earthworms curling out post foot-fall - a miniature foreshadowing of things to come. On that note - tying into a previous article you posted recently - I don't think we've ever had the forcible oral penetration so viscerally presented. Yowza. I was pleased by the Aliens-esque briefing on the Prometheus cargo deck, complete with mercenary guns for hire. Likewise, I chuckled at David shooting hoops while he bicycled, which brought to mind Ripley's amazing backwards one-handed swish in Resurrection. All of these little visual touchstones and the new visuals as well - I had no doubt the world I was in, and I was delighted.

    I very much liked the characters as well, across the board. Not in the sense that I'd want them all as my best friends, but I appreciated the characterizations.

    I'm definitely fascinated with David, who sounded for all the world like HAL had been transplanted into a human body. Now we're accustomed to certain synthetic behaviors from the other films. So when David first started to not follow orders directly - one had to wonder - was he operating under corporate instruction? Was he pursuing his own agenda? Perhaps one to complete the other? I think you could probably write entire chapters on him. My biggest question though is this: When confronting the engineer at the end, and David is being asked to translate, we're given no translation ourselves - and thus we have no clue whatsoever what he actualy told the large being - which then went on a rampage. Did he accurately convey Shaw's words? Did he accurately convey Weyland's request? Did he say 'That old guy next to me? He said your mother dresses you funny'.? or something as simple and visceral as "F*ck Off. This is our ship now'. Maybe it doesn't matter, and it was more a realizatoin that the creations had begun to do the same: create. Hence time to nip -that- in the bud before it got out of hand.

    There's more in my head but it's late.. I'll leave it there for an initial comment.

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    1. What’s going on in here? Oh, Prometheus.

      Part I

      Saw it opening day. Madcapped a mixed review a day later on another blog, in haste. The following week was a doozy. The film kept eating away at my brain. Finally, last Friday, I just threw my hands up in the air and said "fuck it!" before making my way to the theater for a second viewing. I enjoyed it the first time around; better appreciated it the second time around. Whatever it means to "get" something, I finally got Prometheus. Sorta.

      The familial dynastic through-line is apparent, as is the element of spiritual faith when reacting and changing to less than idyllic revelations. Honestly, I wont bother discussing what you’ve already explained (with your usual annoying perceptive clarity!), but there are a few details that I’d like to expound upon, some good and some that still leave me questioning what is, undoubtedly, the result of a theatrical cut. First, the latter: continuity, or lack thereof. Though well edited shot-for-shot, the whole extended sequence involving Shaw’s emergency C-section was nonetheless poorly edited into the larger narrative. That one had me scratching my head.

      She wakes up on a gurney in the medical bay as two physicians are about to examine her, and then she attacks them, knocking both out. From there she scrambles her way down a series of corridors until she reaches Vickers’ private quarters, enters and then accesses the custom automated, operating medi-capsule. When the procedure is done she then makes her way down more corridors before opening a random door to a room where she finds, lo and behold, Peter 'Mr. Burns' Weyland in the middle of a foot bath. They sit and talk about some stuff and the scene ends. In the following scene she is back in her own room having, understandably, a bit of a meltdown. And then she decides to join up with Weyland his crew as they embark for the alien pyramid.

      what. the. hell...?!

      So many questions. I don’t even know where to begin. Why were no alarms sounded once Shaw, who was under quarantine, escaped the medical bay? Those two doctors she knocked out; did they ever wakeup and alert anyone? Can the private quarters of the ship’s corporate boss be accessed without anyone being notified of a security breach? Did Shaw ever bother to tell Vickers (or anyone else for that matter) that there was an alien fetus locked up in the medi-capsule? That piece of information might have been, ya know, important. Did anyone question the fact that Shaw, who was under quarantine, is now heading out with Weyland? Speaking of which, did anyone else amidst the ship’s crew ever question, or seem surprised by, the fact that Peter Weyland, who they thought had died back on Earth, was on-board this whole time? "Oh, hey, it’s that one guy. Who wants coffee?"

      How many people were aboard this ship to begin with? During the initial, post-cryo briefing scene the personnel numbered anywhere from 20 to 30? But so many of these crew members seemingly disappeared over the course of the film; the ships corridors were inexplicably empty during Shaw’s panicked flight to and from surgery. There were private security guys escorting Weyland; where did they come from? Were they, too, hiding aboard the ship? If not, were they merely keeping tight lipped the whole time about Weyland’s presence?

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    2. Part II

      Now, I agree more with a previous comment about the film’s play-by-play narrative being incidental. However, that doesn’t mean it should be downright NONSENSICAL. You can’t have it both ways. Prometheus may excel thematically on a conceptual, cinematic level -- with keen symbolism, subtext and visual motifs galore -- but it also aims to exercise a plotline. It still wants to function via the B-movie formula of Alien, which is fine, I suppose, until said narrative starts to feel random and haphazard. Again, this reeled me far, far less during my second viewing, but it’s still there, nipping around the boots of the grander story being told.

      Not only does the zombie attack go unexplained, but furthermore feels arbitrary. Does Prometheus even need nondescript side monsters and shock-scares? As mentioned, the real horror of this film is existential while the immediate physical dangers involving hostile planetary environs, an abhorrent pregnancy and malevolent Engineers, in my opinion, was more than enough to sustain a tense and thrilling viewing experience for audiences. And the mysterious black bio-liquid could have still served its purpose without yielding snake-squid-thingys and a reanimated corpse; said scenes of gore, though executed with flurry, felt time consuming. They felt less central and more like distractions. These are my lasting issues with the film. It suffers from clumsy footwork.

      What has improved from my second viewing is a better understanding of Shaw, Vickers and Holloway, and how they each define a thematic portion of the film, though I never had a problem with Holloway being unlikable; assholes can drive a story as well as anyone else. Nor did I have any complaints over Guy Pearce looking a tad artificial in old man makeup. I actually think it appropriate for the character, as he is meant to appear aged beyond the natural order of things, a man perverted by future sciences to a degree that likewise reflects his vain thirst for immortality ...a word strangely phonetically similar to immorality.

      I do like this movie. A lot. Lazily recycling excerpts from my initial review...the opening sequence, from the first image to the eloquent title reveal, is worth the price of admission. I was truly spellbound. The subsequent audiovisual canvas of the film is so powerful and so well-crafted by Ridley Scott that all aforementioned criticisms are practically washed away. His visual, art-directorial exploration of the space jockey/derelict ship lore established over thirty years ago definitely lived up to my expectations. His return to the realm of biomechanoidia feels like a genuine evolution of ideas since the closing image of Deckard and Rachel escaping into the night. Like Spielberg with Minority Report so, too, has Scott mastered sci-fi technologies as clever graphical illustrators. David nimbly interfacing cryo-dreams recalls, if not mirrors, John Anderton image-conducting his way through precog visions. I dig how spinning red laser probes are employed like Precrime spyder bots to spatially design scene-setting layouts; even Anderton's bathtub retina scan sequence is vaguely echoed during Shaw's gruesome cesarean by equally apathetic robotic surgeons.

      The way audiences are treated to a glowing green, particlized holographic recording of the Engineers and their doings literally puts the story up there, on the screen. It creates an immersive world. And then there is just the sheer scale of it all. The vistas of Prometheus flying through LV-233’s swirling cloud vortex or micronized over its topography are as potent to me as anything from the original Alien, Blade Runner or even Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Scott has the eye, the senses, no doubt. He also expresses a more hopeful vision for this film, though never at the expense of its darker qualities.

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    3. Part III

      Composer Marc Streitenfeld’s reoccurring theme of discovery is more reminiscent of the original Star Trek films or even Richard Donner’s Superman, which marks the first time in this now extended franchise where the music has been given a shot of optimism that isn’t exclusive to Ellen Ripley surviving last minute before closing credits. I like that. It’s a new and proper tonal dynamic to this larger saga.

      The choice to link this film with Lawrence of Arabia was as ingenious as it was unexpected. What a brilliant move by Scott! And it runs deeper than many may realize, to the very core of the premise. Consider the fact that the original Greek titan was the one who stole fire from the Gods which eventually led to the civilization of mankind. Now superimpose that concept over the famous image of Peter O' Toole lighting a tiny match flame which then cuts to an epic rising of the desert sun. Okay, now parallel that scene with the close-up of David as he examines a single drop of the bio-liquid: "Big things have small beginnings." In one swoop Ridley Scott reworks the mythic visual architecture of Lean's cross-Arabian adventure into a cosmic stratosphere.

      David is the dark Prometheus, an android (like a titan, neither god nor human) who steals fire from the creator of his creator that will later give rise to the xenomorph race. As such, perhaps this movie is nowhere near the perfect organism that is Alien, but maybe it's not meant to be an organism at all, but rather the myth from whence this organism came; less precise in structure, even a bit messy, yet bigger and bolder as the abstract entity that seeds all beliefs. Either way, it makes for some pretty good science fiction.

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    4. Excellent additional input here by Cannon. I especially agree on Part I that the film has segments that felt a little "clumsy". That does ring true. It felt a bit disjointed. Cannon's Part III analysis was tops too.

      An exceptional addition to the conversation here. SFF

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    5. Woodchuckgod:

      I loved your commentary on the film. I appreciate how you excavated the moments that offer "call backs" to the previous Alien films, such as the basketball shot in the Prometheus gym.

      Like you, I thought the characterizations were fine. It's not that these are "good" people, it's that they are interesting, human ones. With flaws and foibles aplenty.

      I love your final point. Just what did David say to the Engineer to so enrage him? I think it's great that Ridley Scott left that moment untranslated, so we are all left guessing, speculating and wondering. Given David's behavior in the film, it could have been something quite...insubordinate. Or it could have been entirely appropriate. But it's fascinating to think about.

      I like that you mentioned yourself as a "kid in a candy store." That's how I felt as well, in Scott's capable hands, re-visiting this world. I found Prometheus an amazing and even wondrous experience...

      Great thoughts, my friend!

      best,
      John

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    6. Now Cannon, you're next. (I'm working through the comments one at a time...).

      Part I:

      "The film kept eating away at my brain." That's a brilliant formulation, and it describes perfectly how Prometheus works. I have not been able to stop thinking about it. I've actually dreamed about the damned thing; as has my wife.

      Now, to specifics.

      So Shaw doesn't buck or rebel, and goes along to the temple to meet the Engineer with Weyland. My explanation: Would you want to keep God waiting? Would you want to miss this appointment? What wouldn't you put down to be a part of this historic meeting of man and his maker? This is all Shaw has left at this point, and it is the purpose of her whole life. Of course she's going to shut up and go...so she can understand and contextualize her journey (and the loss of Charlie) and still "choose to believe." As far as she knows, maybe God can bring Charlie back...

      Why no alarms in sickbay? Well, Prometheus isn't a military ship. The Enterprise did not have alarms in sick bay, either, in Star Trek. I can't count how many times dangerous personalities broke Dr. McCoy's restraints and went out to wreak havoc. Sure, this could have been addressed explicitly but it's not really a deal-breaker, and it's not unprecedented in terms of the genre.

      Why doesn't Shaw tell the others about the alien? Easy, she thought she killed it. She hit a button, to "decontaminate" the tube didn't she? I read that act as meaning the med capsule was going to clean itself...at the expense of the alien life form. So Shaw thought the bloody thing was dead.

      Then, in a haze of pain and agony, she sees Weyland and is drawn into a new problem. Considering that everything is happening at once, it's not unreasonable to figure that she'd handled the "alien" crisis and to move along.

      Why didn't more people register surprise at Weyland's presence? Almost everyone important already knew. David knew. Vickers knew, after a fashion. And the medical/security detail Weyland had with him during the foot washing must have known too, and must have been monitoring his health the whole way. We aren't witness to Janek's response, but I imagine he wouldn't really care. At this point -- Weyland or no Weyland -- he knows what it is he must do: destroy the WMDs.

      onto Part II...

      best,
      John

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    7. Hi Cannon,

      In response to Part II:

      You ARE right. Absolutely. A movie can be splendid thematically and sub-textually and symbolically, but fail utterly as a coherent narrative. A film must aim to exercise its plot line first. Yes, I agree.

      I just don't happen to think the issues raised here significantly hamstring the film, or make a hash out of the story.

      Certainly, there are more nitpicks regarding the clarity of the thing in the last half of the film, and so yes, I do think a better job could have been done there. But I think this is a minor quibble, once you actually dissect the things that seem troubling.

      Almost all of the problems seem a result of flawed, foolish humans interfacing with monstrous creatures...a typically Alien-esque conceit. I can buy it.

      We can second-guess why a character said one thing, or didn't share a certain fact at a certain moment, but events aboard Prometheus spiral out of control quickly. Sometimes, there just isn't time to share fully, especially if what needs to be shared isn't applicable to the immediate threat.

      That said, I also agree with you 100 percent about the zombie attack. That's my least favorite scene in the film. I think it exists only to kill off some of those quasi-visible crew-members you mentioned as being present at the briefing. This scene does feel like a random shock, for certain. I can see why you feel it contributes to "clumsy footwork." It sticks out like a sore thumb. It's there for cast-killing purposes only.

      But your succeeding paragraphs explain -- far better than I could -- why these small, momentary lapses or missteps in narrative don't really handicap the larger tapestry, a gorgeous meditation on life, artificially engineered or naturally-arising. Your last paragraphs get beautifully at the values and artistry of the film. Could Prometheus be a tad more coherent? Yes. Is it so incoherent that the film is spoiled? As you acknowledge....no.

      Onto Part III...

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    8. Cannon Part III:

      Your analysis and dissection or compare/contrast between David and Lawrence of Arabia is staggeringly brilliant and on point. I intend to steal this line of thinking at the earliest opportunity. Brilliantly written, my friend, and written in an illuminating fashion. Yes!

      Okay, your final paragraph: "David is the dark Prometheus, an android (like a titan, neither god nor human) who steals fire from the creator of his creator that will later give rise to the xenomorph race. As such, perhaps this movie is nowhere near the perfect organism that is Alien, but maybe it's not meant to be an organism at all, but rather the myth from whence this organism came; less precise in structure, even a bit messy, yet bigger and bolder as the abstract entity that seeds all beliefs. Either way, it makes for some pretty good science fiction."

      You realize that this valedictory paragraph pretty much negates all of your earlier criticisms of the film right? You thought through Prometheus in the process of writing your three comments, and came out the other side with a deeper, more appreciative stance on the film.

      My work is done and I didn't even have to do anything! :)

      best,
      John

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    9. "You realize that this valedictory paragraph pretty much negates all of your earlier criticisms of the film right? You thought through Prometheus in the process of writing your three comments, and came out the other side with a deeper, more appreciative stance on the film.

      My work is done and I didn't even have to do anything!"

      You witch. You crazy, Hale-Bopp witch! You converted me with your Scientology brainwash. *Cannon tears up pamphlet in fit of rage*

      Avatar is still dumb, though.

      Delete
    10. Cannon,

      Ha! I love it! Cannon, you're so awesome -- as I've said before -- because you aren't afraid to think things through to their logical conclusion, and because you are actually susceptible to reason. I hope I'm the same way. You've certainly made me think about and re-consider my own stance on certain films, namely True Lies (1994).

      We'll just have to keep converting each other (but not to Scientology...).

      Now about Avatar...

      best,
      John

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  11. In light of this review, I went back and re-read my own over on the Stumptown Horror blog. To distill what I wrote then, I saw Prometheus as a warning to hipster culture and the ambivolent mindstate of such that generates our current ennui. The trust-fund coddled kid need not ever challenge him/herself, life is merely about the aquisition of expereinces without moral complication. Opinions are expressed in a vaccuum, and generally the opinion is "meh." Value is lost when something is given rather than worked for. Watching the actions of our Prometheus characters, I couldn't help but be reminded of those living in the Golden Age in Arthur C. Clark's "Childhood's End" -- everyone is free to assume whatever roll they want to play.

    Neitzsche proclaimed God was dead, and now Scott is showing us a future-world in which Science is dead too. These aren't scientists, they're well-funded hipster-scientists going through the motions of their craft without actually committing to the work of the scientific method. They are merely doing things because they can. Everyone here in Portland is an unemployed artist/designer/musician simply because they can (and because of food stamps), but no work of quality is resulting from this "creative epicenter."

    If Prometheus begins in the world of "Science is Dead" it ends in a world where "Money is Dead." The trust-fund is about to dry up and the hipster finds no tool to define value. Weyland has never failed, has always had everything he wanted because of money. He can even buy a seat at God's table to negotiate immortality -- but the buck fails. A society that loses all forms of value is a dead one. The Alien that will destroy us all, originates in each of us.

    To quote the end of my Muir-esque review, "eight self-deluding years under a cowboy president came to an end with the promise of hope and change that just turned into more of the same. We tried to care, but now care even less. Prometheus lenses the belief that we were made in the image of our God, that the emotionless android David was made in ours. Prometheus is a product of its time just as much as Alien was, and in this contemporary moment the 70's trope of science-gone-awry is re-envisioned and warns of our apathy-gone-awry trajectory."

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    1. Rian,

      Bravo! Your reading of Prometheus is genius, and it absolutely works. I think it absolutely tracks with what we see playing out on screen.

      This is the paragraph that really persuaded me: "If Prometheus begins in the world of "Science is Dead" it ends in a world where "Money is Dead." The trust-fund is about to dry up and the hipster finds no tool to define value. Weyland has never failed, has always had everything he wanted because of money. He can even buy a seat at God's table to negotiate immortality -- but the buck fails. A society that loses all forms of value is a dead one. The Alien that will destroy us all, originates in each of us."

      What an elegant way of understanding the film. I take it as a compliment that you call your review Muir-esque, because it is incredibly impressive, imaginative and true to the film.

      In particular, you excavate a key point/thesis in Prometheus: "They are merely doing things because they can." This applies to Weyland (in the creation of David, and mounting the mission to LV 223), it applies to the Engineers (who experiment with pretty dangerous stuff...) and it may apply to David too, depending on what he tells that Engineer in their ancient language.

      I really enjoyed reading this perspective, Rian, and your comments helped me better understand and "see" the film.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective and insights with the readers here. Keep up the good work. And by all means, keep calling it Muir-esque! :)

      best,
      John

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  12. Anonymous12:39 PM

    Great review, John, and some fabulous and insightful commentary from your readers as well. My own feeling is that PROMETHEUS should not have been linked to the ALIEN franchise. Scott should have been allowed to craft the Lovecraft*-Kubrick-William Blake-John Milton mythopoetic epic that he clearly wanted to make.To be blunt, this should have been Scott's 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY, not 2001....with ALIENS.

    *I'm rather surprised that more people haven't commented on the Lovecraftian elements in the film (well, Guillermo Del Toro has: he's stated that the film's Lovecraftion elements are partially responsible for sinking his proposed adaptation of AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS). In particular, note the strong similarities to Lovecraft's AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, where a scientific expedition to Antarctica discovers the following:

    1. Ancient aliens visited Earth and created all terrestrial life.

    2. The aliens feel no loving concern for their creations, life on Earth having been created as "jest or mistake."

    3. The scientists learn that some of the aliens are not dead, that they have been in hibernation for millions of years.

    4. The aliens were overthrown by their own creations, the amorphous shoggoths.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thank you for dropping by and letting me know your thoughts on the movie and this review. I very much appreciate your words of support.

      I think you make an absolutely intriguing point about Scott and the opportunity to make his own 2001. I agree that would have been splendid could it have happened outside of a brand we all know and carry strong opinions about.

      On the other hand, as all film artists must, Scott made the film he could make, not the one he couldn't get made. Today, studios seek sequels, re-boots, prequels and brand names in films. Studios demand this connection to successful works to get people into seats. We can argue whether that's good or not (I'd say it isn't), but Scott is an artist working in this particular time and place, and had a choice: hold out for a non-Alien variation, which wasn't likely to be greenlit, or make Prometheus -- with an Alien connection -- the way he wanted.

      I know that I'm very glad to have Prometheus as it is, whether or not it is connected to the Alien world.

      And you're absolutely right that it is positively and deeply Lovecraftian.

      Maybe the success of Prometheus will inspire the studios to go with Del Toro's At The Mountains of Madness. After all, I learned a long time ago that similarity -- not difference -- is what guides a studio's decision making process. It's like Star Wars? Do it! It's another asteroid collides with Earth movie? Do it! It's another volcano erupts disaster film? Make it!

      So maybe we'll yet get Mountains of Madness yet...(it's like Prometheus, only not in space!)

      Thank you for your interesting thoughts and astute commentary on this aspect of Prometheus. Your remarks really got me thinking again about the film...

      Warmest regards,
      John

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    2. Anonymous4:11 PM

      I must say that this is the best piece I've read so far on Prometheus, and I have read everything I could find. It is brilliant, definitive and comprehensive. I'd like to add a thought about a particular contrast in the film that I found cut through much of the cynicism noted by other responders. The figure of Janek, whose name means "God is Gracious" stands in stark contrast to Weyland particularly and the self-serving or fearful reactions of other parent /child characters. Janek affirms that he he will stand up and allow no evil to return to earth. He stands at the bridge grasping a horitontal bar, with two thieves/crewman on either side, who were gambling on the outcome of the mission but now stand with Janek. Janek then sacrifices himself to save humankind, in part at the urging of Shaw but within a kind of integrity to good not seen as clearly in any other charcter. Ridley Scott, or was it Lindelof or Spaights, then gives Janek the unusal roller coaster pop reference to lifing arms as they go over the top, gesturing a crucifixial pose. Could it be that this contrast between Weyland's selfish, self-seeking purpose in exploitation of life human and alien; and the sacrificial act of Janek is meant to point toward transformation, transcendence, and even the ulitimate purpose and mission overlooked in the other relationships in the film? Could it point to an alternative much more resonant with an authentic faith/hope in humanity, symbolized in the act of a loving parent/God/ultimate reality?

      Delete
    3. Anonymous,

      Thank you for the supportive words about my review of Prometheus. The film such a genius work of art, I felt I had to rise to the occasion. Writing about a great film, I hope, brings out the best in me too.

      And you're no slouch yourself in terms of artistic interpretation. In fact, you add a new and critical piece of the puzzle with the derivation of the name Janek -- "God is Great."

      Wow, that piece of data adds a whole new element to my understanding of Prometheus, and I think you're spot-on about the direction it leads us. Janek must represent the best of humankind (self-sacrifice). I like how you describe the journey he reflects "toward transformation, transcendence..."

      Janek must represent that "loving parent," and a spark of the true divine in mankind. Very well said.

      Thank you for adding so much to this discussion, and I hope to see you around these parts again.

      best wishes,
      John

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  13. Anonymous11:37 AM

    John, you've nailed this movie left, right and centre! Just like the movie, your review rewards us reapeatedly. I shared a link to your blog on a Prometheus site, its just too good for others to miss!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anonymous,

      Thank you so much for your positive remarks about my movie, and for sharing my work on the Prometheus Cult Movie Site. I appreciate your efforts tremendously.

      I agree with you about Prometheus, it rewards multiple viewings and an open mind. In my opinion, it is a masterpiece that will only grow in esteem over the years and decades.

      Thank you again, and I hope to see you again soon.

      best,
      John

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  14. Anonymous7:17 PM

    ******SPOLIERS ABOUND******




    *****Seek and you will find what David said to the Engineers****.....or turn away and wait for the Extended DVD*****





    But for all who want answers, Internet research says David said to the Engineers....I believe it went something like this:-


    "This man is here because he does not want to die. He believes you can give him more life."

    The man in the movie that David is taking holographic lessons languages from, is the very same man who acted as a Languages Expert in the movie. Watch again! Check it out!

    And no, sadly, David does not become 'self aware' but sticks to Weylands every command'..or does he...:)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Thanks for filling us all in on this detail about what David said to the Engineers. Secretly, I had hoped he had said "kill this fucker -- he wants your ship." But I'll settle for this explanation. I still think David hates his "Dad" (Weyland) and probably had a pretty good idea how things were going to turn out.

      Thank you for adding to the discussion.

      best,
      John

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  15. LV 223

    Leviticus 22:3 --- Say unto them, Whosoever he be of all your seed among your generations, that goeth unto the holy things, which the children of Israel hallow unto the LORD, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from my presence: I am the LORD.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lander,

      Wow, another fascinating insight and nugget to chew on regarding Prometheus. A very interesting reading of LV-223 as it relates to Scripture.

      Thanks for sharing this, as it isn't a line of investigation that even occurred to me.

      all my best,
      John

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  16. Great review, John. I have finally allowed myself to read it as I *finally* went to see Prometheus last night. I had been hesitant, but am now somewhat mystified at the level of poor reviews that this film received.

    You pull out its themes way more deftly than I could from a single viewing, but as you note here is clearly a piece of art that merits deep and close examination, a quality all too often absent from the medium in recent fare.

    I like too that the main characters in Prometheus are so... well, human. They are clearly competent at their day jobs, but betray many of the desperate flaws inherent to the human condition, and I think that is a necessity for the themes it explores. A crew of high-minded, elite individuals a la Star Trek was not what the film needed, and instead this band are more recognisable and identifiable to us, which I think was important.

    I, for one, can't wait to see Prometheus again and explore it yet further. I suspect a certain Bat may steal its crown, but thus far it's the best movie I've seen this year.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Adam,

      I'm glad you saw the film and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

      I too am mystified at not only the poor reviews, but the sense of anger the film seems to have engendered.

      On the other hand, I'm also gratified at the people who have taken a deeper "reading" of the film as a personal mission, digging deep into the movie's DNA to see what they can discern.

      Indeed, this is the highest purpose of art in my opinion. Bottom line: it's wonderful that Prometheus is out there making people think so deeply about a summer blockbuster. These days, that doesn't happen a lot.

      I think you are absolutely right about the portrayal of the human condition in the film. The characters are not Star Trek-ian in perfection, which seems to be what some viewers want and desire. Drama comes out about when people make mistakes, not when they play it safe; Drama is about people who who have flaws; not who face every situation without making the slightest mistake.

      Indeed, the characters here are imperfect beings in a dangerous situation. To expect them to act perfectly and without fear is ridiculous. Like you, I'm mystified by why people don't get it.

      Thank you for a great comment.

      best,
      John

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  17. Anonymous6:27 AM

    so 'parents' and 'children' hate each other w/references to lawrence of arabia...

    seems like not much thinking went into this one.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous,

      Not much thinking went into the review? Or into the movie? Your point isn't clear.

      So by your apparent perspective, the foot-washing wasn't symbolic and indicative of deeper meaning? Just happened to be there...by accident?

      By your thinking, the connection to Blade Runner (and Scott's career) -- of a being confronting God to ask for more life -- wasn't indicative of meaning?

      Same with the Lawrence of Arabia reference? Just a coincidence and not a character touch giving us a deeper understanding of David?

      And the parent/child relationship -- carried over from the individual characters to the plot line, to God Itself -- not much thinking there, either?

      If you don't want to think about all that material, that is absolutely your choice, of course.

      But don't blame the movie because you refuse to engage with the material the movie presents and asks one to chew over.

      If you return here in the future, be sure to include your real name and not to hide behind anonymity.

      It's very safe to criticize another person's work when you have nothing on the line, when you are shielded.

      It's another thing entirely to criticize one person's work when your name is out there for others to see. I stand behind my work with my name. You should show Prometheus the same level of respect.

      best wishes,
      John

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  18. Anonymous9:25 PM

    Thanks for your thoughtful and interesting review on "Prometheus"...after reading it last night, I actually made a point of seeing it again today, probably for the last time in the theater because the next crop of summer movies are forcing it out of my area. And that's too bad, considering the theater was half-full for this showing. Ah well, remember when movies were allowed to have "legs" in the theaters and "find" audiences instead of having to perform big and fast and then disappear? But I digress....back to "Prometheus"...

    Your essay was so on the mark for this fan...it is quite the thought-provoking piece. One of the many things I appreciate about the film is how it is open to many interpretations to the ideas it introduces.
    It really begs for additional viewings, just to absorb not just the story details, but the world Scott build and pulls the viewer into.

    Thanks again for the great read....you ought to think about an "audio" version of it...it would make a great commentary track for the BR when it comes out....

    Peace...

    A Bear in the Woods

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    Replies
    1. Bear in the Woods,

      Thank you for your excellent comment. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say you appreciate how open the film is to many interpretations. You are also right to note that additional viewings are mandatory. I know a lot of folks were excited for The Avengers this summer, but Prometheus is the movie that has thrilled me, and become something of an obsession. I'm eagerly awaiting the blu ray, and I may take you up on your idea of recording this review...

      Thank you for stopping by to let me know your appreciative feelings for this review, and I hope to see you again.

      Warmest regards,
      John

      Delete
  19. Anonymous1:51 AM

    John, once again another well-written and well-detailed interview. I've seen Prometheus three times this past month. It is, by far, the best film, that I have seen all summer.

    The industry doesn't make films of this calibur like they used to. It's time they went back to that.

    Thanks again for another excellent review. As always, they are a joy to read.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous,

      Thank you for your appreciative and supportive words. I appreciate them very much. I agree with you that Prometheus signals the kind of movie that Hollywood should make, but often does not. I would love to see more films of this quality, especially in summertime. I wish we could clone Ridley Scott...

      All my best,
      John

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  20. Matthew7:01 AM

    A very interesting, thoughtful, if not overly gushing review of a movie that had a great premise, amazing theme, atmosphere, incredible cinematography, yet unfortunately suffered from hackish screenwriting and sloppy editing. It seems that the words "genius" and "masterpiece" are being thrown around a little too loosely here, a great disservice to truly great films like Lawrence of Arabia.

    Not to sell the movie short, the underlying tone, symbolism, awesome alien technology and architecture, and the Engineers themselves were stunning. The disjointed dialogue, abrupt plot swings and/or dead ends, and a dearth of relatable characters left the movie feeling hollow; a beautiful, haunting mausoleum of a film whose artwork, tone, and cinematography were the sole shining points (although Fassbender's David was indeed masterfully portrayed).

    There are many minor points, that although admittedly do not ruin the movie, certainly aren't found in the likes of true cinematic masterpieces like Lawrence of Arabia. A trillion dollar space mission that lacked an even basic pre-mission scanning/scouting probe? Scientist/inventors who use develop and deploy high-tech mapping equipment, yet cannot find their way out of a complex they just entered? The same characters who tuck tail and run at the first sign of danger, yet try to make contact with a very scary looking snake-alien emerging from strange black ecto-goo? A quarantined scientist who fights off two people bent on sticking her in cryo-stasis, only to stagger away, perform an emergency C-section on herself, then interact with other crew members as if nothing happened? The list of gaffs goes on, and that's the problem; a few imperfections are acceptable, but this amount is certainly troublesome, and in my estimation, immediately disqualifies Prometheus from being discussed as anything but an interesting summer blockbuster.

    The cinematography, special effects (aside from the head-scratching choice to use a horribly obvious latex-covered actor playing Weyland, whose younger version was perhaps cut out of the theatrical release), score, and underlying themes, however, were wonderfully enjoyable. It was a fun, pseudo-cerebral sci-fi horror film that relied a bit too much on zombie attacks and a bloody c-section scene for cheap shocks. The Engineer technology, architecture, and the Engineers themselves were amazingly well-done, and gorgeous to look at.

    In the end, however, the film's flaws keep Prometheus from entering a stratosphere anywhere close to "genius" or "masterpiece," and although their are Scott fanboys who would argue otherwise, mentioning Prometheus in the same breath as Lawrence of Arabia in terms of its excellence is borderline sacrilege.

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    1. Hi Matthew,

      I enjoyed reading your perspective, and feel you stated it well.

      I wouldn't call myself anybody's "fanboy," but I do feel that Prometheus is a masterpiece, and remember well when many of the same complaints about weak writing were lobbed at Blade Runner (1982), now an acknowledged classic.

      In fact, historically, Lawrence of Arabia -- which we all acknowledge is one of the best movies ever made -- also faced some negative reviews, mainly regarding a few factual errors (anachronisms), and some of the make-up (Anthony Quinn's fake nose...).

      In short, some similar criticisms that Prometheus today faces. Even a film that is nearly perfect, gets hit with this kind of stuff.

      I wrote another post, "Death by a Thousand Nitpicks" (http://reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/2012/06/death-by-thousand-nitpicks-prometheus.html) which looks at some of the criticism Prometheus has faced, and why some of those reasons don't truly serve as disqualifiers in terms of recognizing the film as a masterpiece of the sci-fi/horror genre.

      Great comment! Thanks for stopping by and adding substantively to the conversation/debate.

      All my best,
      John

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  21. Matthew6:06 PM

    I had really high hopes for the movie going in. I only see one or two movies at the theater per year, and this was one of them for me. It was disappointing, although I do plan on seeing it again when it is released on blu-ray. I am hoping that the extended director's cut will remedy some of the problems.

    Again, please don't mistake my criticisms for saying this is a bad movie; I don't think it is. In its current state, however, it doesn't deserve to be regarded at the same masterpiece level as other sci-fi classics like 2001, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the original Star Wars films, the first two Alien movies, WALL-E, The Matrix, Predator, Jurassic Park, and a few others I'm surely forgetting.

    I'm also not saying that these movies don't have their faults, they just have a lot more going for them than Prometheus does. Had Prometheus been blessed with better screenwriters, editing, and slightly revised plot points, then I do think it ascends into the realm of great film making. Unfortunately, in my opinion, as it stands now, it comes up short of the mark.

    Prometheus gets an A+ for cinematography, an A for premise and tone, and a C- for execution. I wonder how Ridley Scott feels about the final theatrical cut?

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  22. Anonymous11:08 AM

    You are all missing something: Noomi's character can't reproduce. So what the black goo does? Creates, inside her, a reproductive system, that itself can incubate life.

    ReplyDelete
  23. As I've said before, your review of this movie is one reason why I don't listen to mainstream critics about film anymore; the current bunch are only into whatever indie movie about messed-up people catches their fancy. They all have a big bias against sci-fi and fantasy, and can only appreciate it when it's like the recent version of Battlestar Galactica which has said messed-up people for characters. At least here, I can read reviews of sci-fi movies and TV with and by a guy who really gets it and gets to the nitty gritty of said sci-fi movies and TV shows, and isn't afraid to love them. Great work once again, John.

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  24. Anonymous3:46 PM

    ohh man i cant believe the amount of people that say they "got" this movie when in fact they didn't...................The main theme from the start of the movie is "Sacrifice" ... The way the weyland corp deliberately send in complete idiots (mercenaries not scientists)while they sit on a lifeboat safe and sound, sacrifice. Nothing can be achieved without it. Its the main premise of the movie as the intro to the film also demonstrates. Earth was to be used as a seeding point for the engineers parasitic biotech. Thats why they created us. The goal is to produce perfect life.We were to be used as hosts. My evidence?? (links below).. look at the sculpture on the wall. Its the deacon protomorph rising from the primordial goo. But look below that to the left and right at the bottom. What do we see, yes two humans or engineers with facehuggers injecting eggs into them. Go and check again if you didnt see it in the movie, its there i can assure you.. Also the biologist mentions that one of the space jockeys bodies they find has had something explode out its chest. Yes they had an outbreak before they got all the cargo on board. We were to be used as the hosts for the perfect lifeform. So our gods created us to be mere cattle, simples! So all your theories about lv 426 are not correct. The derelict on lv426 predates the weapons lab on the moon by many thousands of years or more, thats why he was fossilized. So there ya go, that's actually what Prometheus was about and its link to Alien. If you are in any doubt of anything ive said, watch the movie again. Also listen to the dialog when they are in the pyramid very carefully. Including the part about how the water isnt frozen although its 12 below as its actually nanite goo. The whole place is made of the stuff as liquid nanite fluid appears to be the basis for the engineers technology. Its also how David figures out how to work the holo emitters. Remember "David" has an iq supposedly of 360 or more. He has been given instructions to look out for the bio technologies the company wish to acquire this is the hidden agenda of the weyland corp and the reason they are on the mission in the first place as its certainly not down to cave paintings.The initial team sent in are nothing more than an experiment or sacrifice with David pulling the strings.Why do you think david is running about pushing things and opening doors like a maniac? He wants at least one of them infected and when it doesn't happen first time round through inhalation he's told to "try harder" As is explained later in the movie Vickers "the suit" wants the company and whatever she can salvage from the bio tech they hope to smuggle back. Of course her father wants immortality or the technology to achieve it.So we also see there is a conflict of interests between family members of Weyland corp . As ive said before i cannot find any plots holes within Prometheus. Only that people misunderstood the film.

    The tomb sculpture with facehuggers
    http://i1157.photobucket.com/albums/p589/jokerdeldesierto/georgeft1.jpg

    The tombs Mural with an engineer holding down an Alien biomechanoid his hand melded to its ever evolving/Mutating head.
    http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m6ej46jrPl1rtvb1so1_1280.jpg

    David 8 and the Nanites
    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/600/davidgoo.jpg/

    The Black nanite goo and its function
    http://i.imgur.com/hm4SP.jpg


    Ohh btw the final human biomechanoid hybridization we get to see at the end would have been the final result of what was to happen on earth. Read Davids top secret files on the Goo and its purpose. I have provided links and secondary references. If something seemed strange in prometheus it was more than likely a clue to the real point of the movie " Sacrifice".
    well written piece but go back and watch the movie again. Study Gigers artwork and also all the extras on the blu ray including "ALIEN TOMB OF THE GODS"

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  25. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Really enjoyed reading through both the article and all the comments above, these theories, postulations and sub-textual analyses are some of the most insightful I've ever seen. I only wish I had the brains to contribute...

    Can't wait until Prometheus comes out on DVD so that I can re-watch it another fifty times. :P

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  26. Beautiful, persuasive work.

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  27. Anonymous3:48 PM

    Prometheus is a great story but Scott's execution of it was over-produced. It's hard to see the great story through the spectacle the same way it is hard to see a forest through trees.

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  28. Anonymous4:14 PM

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn't show up. Grrrr... well I'm not writing all that over again.
    Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

    Stop by my homepage: Axl Hazarika

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hum...
    Seriously ?
    Well... I won't try to convince you, then.
    I personaly found this movie to be the worst movie of the year, third on my movie-hate-list. My opinion. Be free to not share it.
    But my opinion is not only a matter of taste, it is also based on several little stupid details, like this dumbass crew of morons and their total lack of, not only efficiency, but simple basic intelligence. I WILL NOT detail every piece of crap this movie served us, I don't even want to remember it.
    I am not even mentionning the "running -straight- ahead of a rolling starship", or the "I just got surgery, but look, I'm running!", or the incoherent behavior of the crew, or the preposterous GOD methaphors that I, as an atheist, abbhore (on that, I may be a lil' biased, but, nonetheless...)
    The methaphors might be there, but they are so badly delivered, that they fail in every way, when they are not utterly stupid.
    This is not a prequel to the magnifiscent Alien, this is a movie "inspired by the Alien franchise". I put this movie in the same garbage bin as my 2 other UN-favorites : star trek 11 and I Robot : movies inspired by a great piece of work, but which not only ARE NOT SciFI movies, because they break sooo much laws of the universe, but also betray the piece of work they pretend to be inspired from, in a way I can only find to be totally despicable.

    Sorry, but this movie is objectively a bad one. The good parts in it (there are some, yes) are so ruined by its shitty scenario and direction that they miss.
    And subjectively, I can only say that I saw and heard the message this movie wants to deliver, I kinda agree with you on some parts of your analysis of it, but this message I dislike. And this is a real understatement.

    I strongly suggest you watch the "How It Should have Ended" video about this movie. It sums it all up.

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    Replies
    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for your post, and thank you for stopping by.

      First, I must establish that I don't take my critical cues from snarky videos that are intended as amusement but not serious criticism.

      A group of video-makers deciding how to better end another person's work of art may be funny, but that's about it.

      The movie is objectively a bad one?

      I don't think you -- or anyone else, myself included -- can be the arbiter of objectivity.

      You can't just declare that "objectively" a movie is bad because YOU happen to dislike it, and disagree with it's message.

      If you want to make a sustained, careful examination of the movie and why you perceive it failed, you should, but using descriptors in your commentary like "stupid" and "moron" only suggest that you are not willing to engage with the material respectfully, and would rather dismiss it with name-calling.

      That's not what we do at this blog, and if you stick around, you'll see that. You're welcome to join the discussion, but in courteous, respectful terms...not with name-calling.

      Finally, I am also an atheist.

      But that fact doesn't mean that I expect all art to reflect my personal belief system, or that I must, by my nature, fail to see the beauty in someone else's art which doesn't conform to my viewpoint.

      Hating a movie's message is okay, I suppose, but the question is: was the movie's message delivered with visual aplomb? With symbolism? In a way that made you think?

      My answers regarding Prometheus are obviously affirmative, as my more than 2,000 word analysis explains in detail.

      Somehow, saying a movie is on your hate list -- you actually take the time and effort to catalog things you "hate?" -- is not film criticism, and not, frankly a constructive way to discuss movies at all.

      All my best,
      John

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  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your comment was published, and I took the time to respond to it respectfully.

      Your doubts were unfounded, as was your victim mentality.

      best wishes,
      John

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    2. I deleted the former comment because I was wrong to put it in the first place. But "victim mentality" is a bit strong, even if kinda right in this occasion.
      best wishes too

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    3. You're right, John. I'm sure it was too harsh. Especially no ow that we're friends and understand each other...

      All my best,
      John

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  31. I could find several movies that are objectively good, because of good writing, or clever filming, or good punclines, or whatever, but that I dislike for personal reason (the movie "Seven", for example) And objectively bad movies that I like for personal reason.
    That I like or dislike a movie doesn't influence me about its objective qualities. But I tend to dislike badly filmed movies, movies with bad science, incoherent movies : objectively bad ones.
    .. Like Startrek 11 (bad science, bad filming, bad acting, incoherences), or I,Robot (bad science, bad filming, average acting, incoherence and worst betrayal of asimov's work ever), and Prometheus (same reasons as Star trek 11)
    Hate-list is a simplistic word I shouldn't have used. I don't maintain a hate list, but I tend to remember when I whatch a movie that I feel betrayed by, like these three.
    As a matter of fact, I tend to agree with HISHE, I don't use them as my source for critical thinking, (of course !), but we do have common points of view. It happens. And it is fun. I'd also watch Honest trailers, if I were you. Good out of the box analysis, and fun ^^

    On the other hand, I agree with a part of your analysis of the film's material, and "hidden philosophy", I simply think that :
    - 1 : I don't like this said philosophy in a movie. My tastes.
    - 2 : these interesting ideas were ruined by the movies objective flaws.
    And I maintain that these flaws are objective

    I don't want to go into details about Prometheus, just give a "different" point of view thant the numerous "positive" ones on this blog.

    And, about the term 'morons' : is the crew of prometheus not composed of a dozen complete morons, 1 android and 1 elderly ?
    I even agree with the "sacrifice" interpretation of Anonymous3:46 PM, about why in the first place Weyland had these stupids as his crew.

    But one can not objectively state that the 2 examples I gave (running in a straight line ahead of the ship, and the post-surgery running) are not objective failures, bad and lazy filmmaking (and bad acting too). And those are just the 2 examples I remember the most, because I would very much like to forget that I ever saw that movie - ie, to "dismiss it", yes. I did the "sustained, careful examination" for Star Trek 11 and I, Robot, and I got exhausted. Loss of lots of good energy it was. To make this examination, I even forced myself to re-watch Startrek 11. I will not re-watch Prometheus. Ever. No friggin way !
    This movie should have been a very good one, and it spoiled its promises with its (hollywood-esque) laziness.

    I find prometheus' creationist, sacrificial and oedipian themes completely despicable, and imo this is NOT a prequel to alien, THIS is an opinion.
    I do see beauty in even the most pro-christian movie, even if I dislike the message (Ben Hur is a good example).
    But sometimes, enough is enough. Again : opinion.

    "The question is indeed : was the movie's message delivered with visual aplomb? With symbolism? In a way that made you think?"

    My answers are : NO, NO, and NO. I would have loved saying yes, but NO. The message is too deeply buried within the global surronding laziness.

    Laziness is the scourge of "modern" movies, and especially in so-called sci fi movies (which are actually fantasy movies, because of plain bad science).
    Not everyone can make a "Kubrick's 2001", or even an "Oshii's Avalon" grade movie, I concede, but they could at least try ! Could they not ?


    Would you have been so personal in your attacks if I had been just as "radical" as I was in my previous post, but in favor of this movie ? Honestly ?

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    1. John,

      I never attacked you. I noted your victim mentality.

      Here are some examples: You came to this blog assuming:

      a.) I wouldn't post your comment

      and

      b.) I don't value free thought.

      Two actual facts: I did post your comment, and I allowed you to have your say on my blog.

      Ergo, I do value freedom of speech.

      You were wrong on both counts, right? Can we agree on that?

      Assuming an affirmative answer, wouldn't an apology on your part be in order since you assumed I was some sort of censorious fascist who would prevent your comments from being posted here just because I happen to like a movie that you don't?

      Jeez, I would have no friends in the world if I treated people who disagree with my taste in movies like that...

      Good-intentioned people can make their arguments, and still agree to disagree rationally.

      You seem like an eminently bright and clever fellow but really touchy. You're always welcome here, but lose the attitude and stick to a discussion of movies in a respectful fashion. Okay?

      Those are the rules. For everyone. And we can share great discussions about our mutual passion -- movies -- if we adhere to them.

      Again, you and your opinions are welcome here anytime. I am sorry if you felt attacked, but remember, you set the tone by making assumptions about me. You can't blame me for picking up on the vibe you put out there. I was just minding my own business, after all, until your comment magically appeared in my e-mail. :)

      As a rule, just so you know, I absolutely post every comment I receive here, unless it is rude or disrespectful. I especially don't like comments from anonymous posters who are rude and disrespectful. I don't think twice about blocking them. But you let me know your name, John, and that's a good start. And your second message was more even-tempered than your first.

      So let's go from there!

      Warmest regards,
      John



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    2. Yes, I think it was rude to consider that you would not post my message. For this I apologize. I always tend to think that way towards sites that don't accept "direct commenting". It is unjustified prejudice.

      Consider my virulence as not an attack, or insult, but more as a side effect of my inability to talk pasionnately about a subject without seeming violent or insulting, especially in writing, and especially in a forein language !

      Even if I say "smug" or "bullshit", it is not directed at you personnaly.
      And I tend to agree with your analysis, which is a pretty good one, on the objective parts at least.
      I just think that centering a movie on this was a total smug douchebag decision on the director, and the writer. Especially with such bad movie-craft.

      Ah, and, err, John Arktor is my real name, yes, but not the one my mother gave me. It is more real to me than my administratively accurate name. ^^

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    3. Hi John,

      Look at that, we are getting to know each other!

      That's awesome. I appreciate your words of explanation and friendship. Maybe we both started off on the wrong foot, and now we can get started on the right one.

      All my best,
      John

      Delete
  32. I forgot to mention that I don't only disagree with the message (parents dilike children, blah blah), even if I agree with the fact that the film is exactly about that, but I also, and more importantly, and like many dislikers of this movie, don't care about this kind of message ! I don't want to be force-fed this kind of oedipian, pseudo-scientific and doctrinal bullcrap. From the opening of the movie, this "message" was so obvious it simply failed in all ways possible.

    Prometheus is not cryptic, not in any way : it slams you in the face with its theologically pseudo-scientific-semi-oedipian message. And it does it with bad acting and poor filming choices.
    "In terms of the former, most of the important characters in the film are developed in ways that signify they are either children or parents…or both."

    True !
    But how does it make it a complex and "cult" movie ? These themes are worn out, washed out, overused themes. Themes I couldn't care less about.

    And, ah, oh, references to blade runner, and lawrence of arabia are necessary to understand the true and profount meaning of Prometheus...

    BS ! Total BS ! A movie should never be so lazy as to not be able to stand by itself ! Doing the contrary is laziness, and most of all, condescendant smugness. And That I dislike.

    Your analysis is quite accurate, I couldn't agree more about what this movie is really about. What I don't agree with is that it was a good choice, delivered with master "filmcraft".

    "A BS smug thematics delivered with laziness" could have been the title of a review I would have written

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