Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Prometheus (Spoilers)

A funny thing happened on the way to the Alien franchise...director Ridley Scott has delivered an interesting character study dropped in the middle of a summer SciFi flick.

If like me the last films you saw in the theater where The Avengers and Battleship then it is a bit of a disorienting experience in viewing Prometheus.

The first hint that this is not going to be your average SciFi movie is the rather delicate musical score.

At it's core Prometheus is a philosophical meditation on human nature and it draws on both our strengths and our flaws.

Prometheus is far from a perfect film, and will certainly not appeal to all audiences.  It felt like most of the film's action sequences where already shown in various trailers and previews, so keep in mind going in that while there is action it is really not the focus of the film.

The general plot of the Prometheus is that in the not so distant future scientists discover a series of archeological paintings/carvings that have common symbolism and provide an interstellar road map.

A rich loon (Peter Wayland) decides to fund a massive expedition to these coordinates in search of the creators of humanity with a largely uniformed crew.

Upon reaching the habitable moon they find ruins and remains and then all heck breaks loose.

The "main" character of the film is Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, but the most important character in the film is Michael Fassbender's David.  David is a rather interesting robot to put it mildly.

My biggest problem with the film was the way that key items where introduced into the film. There are a number of times that we are introduces to something that will play a large role later in the films and almost every time it feels to obvious. I'm looking at you surgical table.

The other thing that really had me shaking my head was Dr. Shaws ability to run, jump, and fight for her life seconds after having a Caesarean section procedure performed on her.  I am sorry but even doped up on super awesome future pain killers that seemed like an impossible feat for a human being.

Prometheus explores human emotions and impulses by using both human and non-human characters in a bit of an echo chamber of actions and reactions.

We have the humans, David, the Architects and the proto-aliens.

The proto-aliens are the easiest to understand and assess. They provide an illustration of the most basic biological imperative, the urge to survive. They where a biological weapon designed that was to effective and once the genie was out of the bottle there was no way to put it back in. A bit like the development of nuclear weapons, if only the weapons where self-aware.

The proto-aliens' "evil" is really just a matter of perspective.

The ability to reason and the ability to choose self-sacrifice over self-preservation is a profound human strength and is illustrated at to important points in the film. It is a good contrast to the proto-alien's behavior.

The Architects behavior is very human, but present us with a species that can truly play God. Interestingly the film begins with the rather noble act of self-sacrifice by an Architect in order to disperse the DNA building blocks for humanities creation.

The desire to create is natural, but it appears the Architects either disapproved of their human creations or simply neglected that creation and it spread beyond the scope they intended for it. The desire to eradicate humanity may simply have been the way to sterilize the lab environment after the experiment was over. It sets up a rather interesting look at how human's view other life forms on our planet as being of a lower order and how casually we create, experiment on and destroy those other creatures.

The Architects also apparently have the war like tendencies of humans, if the alien virus was designed as a biological weapon then clearly they had someone to fight, could have been each other or another species.

The Architects also suffered from the rather human flaw of being unable to anticipate or control the results o their action. In the end are we destined as a species to be the architects of our own destruction?

I rather enjoyed the irony of both the humans and proto-aliens both attempting to kill the lone surviving Architect at the installation.

The humans are a rather mixed bagged of characters.

We see illustrations of how the natural instinct towards curiosity can led to disaster. The curiosity and ability to create David has some rather unfortunate ramifications for certain crew members and ultimately for the human characters in the Alien films. That curiosity and need to know also leads to the planet where the humans walk into a situation they do not comprehend and do not react to until it is to late.

On a more micro level the curiosity leads directly to the snake charmer death that befalls Millburn.

The emotion of fear plays a large role in the film. The fear of death and the questions we face when considering our own mortality seem to be the key motivation for the funding of the expedition.

Faith is displayed at different times in different ways, from faith in a higher power or afterlife to a misplaced faith in our own abilities.

The desire for revenge is a very human if ugly quality. The end reveals another quality that results from the ability to reason, sometimes the desire to harm others is more important then self preservation. At the end is Dr. Shaw anything other then a intergalactic suicide bomber? Is she any better than the Architects she seeks to destroy?

Charlize Theron's character Meredith Vickers may have a pretty healthy case of patricidal tendencies, but she illustrates unbridled ambition and covetousness well. Though I wonder if the film's pacing and story telling would have been better served (tighter) with her and her father's role diminished greatly.

The most interesting character to think about is David. He is not the evil robot that we see in Battlestar Galactica's Cylons, nor is he the rather benign Star Trek: The Next Generation's Data.

The biggest unexplained question about David in the film is how much his actions are defined by his programming and how much was his own initiative. Perhaps this is left open as an allusion to the nature versus nurture debate in human behavioral psychology.

Why does David infect Charlie Holloway? Was he ordered to by Wayland, or was he simply curious to see the effects of his experiment?

Did David view himself as a higher order of life form than his flawed human creators? Did he view Holloway and Shaw the same way we view lab rats?

In a debate between morality and immorality, is David simply amoral? The easier answer would be yes, but there are enough slights that David suffers at the hands of his creators that it would not be unreasonable of he desired their destruction, even on a subconscious or in his case sub-routine level.

As a film I don't think Prometheus answers some of the larger questions and themes it addresses, but I don't think it is trying to. To me it is an attempt to in an entertaining way point out these themes from a variety of perspectives and expect you to ponder the film after you leave the theater.

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