Prometheus: The Tree of Death

The thriller boasts impressive horror, but its ideas? Not so much.

<i>Prometheus</i>: The Tree of Death
20th Century Fox
There's a narrative in here, somewhere.

Arriving in theaters on the back of a portentous ad campaign, Ridley Scott's Prometheus assumes the air of something more than a summer movie, a blockbuster-with-brains that links the genesis and the ultimate fate of mankind beyond the stars. It is, incidentally, the story of an ambitious mission gone wrong.

The discovery of a cave painting on the Isle of Skye is the "X marks the spot" moment. Comparing ancient pictograms from the world over, an archaeologist couple, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green), find a recurring image that depicts humanity's titan forebears pointing skyward to a formation of planets that are always arranged the same across all cultural boundaries. This is enough to secure shady corporate backing for a trip to a distant galaxy where precisely that formation has been discovered, a quest for answers as to the origins of humanity from the beings that Shaw and Holloway hope to find there: "We call them 'Engineers,'" Shaw says. "They engineered us."

Prone to shallow ponderousness, Prometheus works best when it steps back from contemplating the cosmos to enter the domain of flesh-and-blood and hereditary terror. There are a few set pieces here that will find a place of honor among aficionados of body horror and all things clammy and viscous, that will stain the memory long after such significant-sounding bits of dialogue like "That being said, doesn't everyone want their parents dead?" have gone.

The events of Prometheus take place at the end of 2093, as the exploratory mission's crew awakens from suspended-animation stasis: Shaw and Holloway are joined by the ship's squeezebox-toting Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and, working according to her own mysterious m.o., mission director Vickers (Charlize Theron as an ice queen wearing her hair in a sculptural blond knot). There are also a number of superfluous crew members who might as well be wearing Star Trek red shirts, for on this trip to meet their makers, many will.

The deep-space deep-freeze commute will be familiar to most viewers from Alien, directed some 33 years ago by Scott, as will be the steel-ribbed, organic-industrial, H.R. Giger–deco interiors of the seemingly abandoned compound that the landing party finds—housing Engineer carcasses, mysterious bongo-shaped canisters, and prehistoric monoliths—upon setting down at the distant moon that is their star-mapped destination.

The script, by Jon Spaihts and Lost's Damon Lindelof, originated as a prequel to Alien, Scott's first hit, before developing into its present spin-off form. Rather than setting out, as scriptwriter Dan O'Bannon did with the original, to build the ultimate creature feature, these gimcrack philosophers have loosely sown Prometheus with Big Themes in hopes that one might perchance take root.

Shaw, a nominal Christian, simultaneously grapples with the mystery of creation and her own (routinely established) sterility. The title, citing the mythical benefactor who stole fire from the Gods for mankind, is also the name of our good spaceship, carrying a freight of associations of forbidden knowledge. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley's story of man tampering in God's domain by creating life, was subtitled "A Modern Prometheus." Scott's film features the product of a future Prometheus, David (Michael Fassbender), the ship's android factotum and caretaker. David stars in the film's single most original sequence, using the Prometheus as his private playground while the mere mortals that he serves slumber, fixing his hair like Peter O'Toole's after watching Lawrence of Arabia and effortlessly sinking impossible hook shots in the gymnasium.

Fassbender gives a wry performance of crisp, precise gestures, but the character's programmed motivations and motives don't quite scan. One bit of business, which involves him slipping someone a mickey, is simply baffling, while scenes that reveal David betraying an expression of private pleasure needlessly tease one to wonder if he is really such an unfeeling automaton.

The same sense of buildup toward a payoff that never arrives—are we supposed to placidly await a sequel?—defines Prometheus. This feels less like deliberate open-ending than an inability to control tone and effect. Although supposedly our point of entry into the narrative, Rapace and Marshall-Green inspire no interest in their fate as a couple, and a scene that calls upon them to perform a wrenching act of sacrifice only reminds one how Brian de Palma, even with a problematic property like 2000's Mission to Mars, could invest similar material with eloquence and pathos.

Inviting comparison to The Tree of Life's formation-of-the-universe digression or 2001: A Space Odyssey's monolith overture, Prometheus begins with a freestanding prologue imagining our planet's infancy. Scott is swinging for the fences here—he is 74 and perhaps looking for a career-capping legacy film to tackle life, the universe, and everything—but his gifts have coarsened considerably over the past decade. With this overreaching Prometheus, Scott seems a bit like David carefully arranging his hair in imitation of O'Toole's Lawrence. He can still mimic the appearance of an epic, noble, important movie—but the appearance is all.

 
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22 comments
Siezmic
Siezmic

Bottom line...Prometheus is crap over-rated bloated piece of ... Script sidelines that have no point (captains crews bosses daughter for example)...scene jumps with no linkage or reason...monster inc. monsters dragged out to impress per-pubescent movie goers...ummm well it really just shows how desparate someone was to get some review real estate....I'm thinking Ridley Scott...he will no doubt succeed but as far as me and my movie going partner are concerned, it should be for all the wrong reasons.

Will Macke
Will Macke

This is not 2001, although the parallels are numerous and often overt. The reviewer is puzzled by the android offing one of the leads by infecting him with an alien parasite. It seems obvious to me that one of the central themes, as embodied by both the aliens and the android is the conflict between human and inhuman, soul and soulless, good and evil. The android wants to kill his parents (and all humanity) because they remind him of what he is not. This is why he identifies with O'Toole choosing not to feel and with his other favorite quote, "the desert has nothing, and no man needs nothing." As an inhuman android, nothing is exactly what he wants and needs, as in no more humanity. This is why he intentionally incites the sole surviving promethean into killing his creator and setting off to destroy earth... All in all, much more intriguing visually and intellectually than the vast bulk of other offerings on the big screen. Solid acting to boot.

Hancock Walter
Hancock Walter

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George33431
George33431

Why are you fighting referee? Maybe you're the writer. The movie is a tease and the actor was either scrounging to make up for vapid script and distracted direction, or told to do creepy human things to create subplot drama that never really bears any fruit. It is a fun popcorn movie but a mediocre attempt at being a modern classic. Let's all live with it. Now where is sequel to District 9? Now THERE'S a film.

Now  Pow
Now Pow

-----More decades stale, 'cutting edge' predictive programming from the long, long, long ago promising, Ridley Scott. AS full spectrum, indeed, pornographic surveillance unfolds, along with EUGENICS and RED China 'receivership' ---it seems the predictive progamming's become, well, too predictable.

lanzypants
lanzypants

The Lindelof Emperor has no clothes. Didn't we learn from Lost? He's a hack and a sham. His writing ruined this movie for me. If he writes on the next one, forget it.

Sergian
Sergian

Unfortunately, director Ridley Scott put himself in the darkness corner of film making, in spite of his light & bright film title "Prometheus". I have to stress that I was looking forward to 'see' something quite different than famous "Alien". Besides 'well done' horror sequences, set design/art direction, and already seen SFX, there are no fresh and original ideas incorporated into this piece of production. Why is he (Mr. Scott) trying to deteriorate an excellent reputation, after so many wonderful movies he made? Maybe, sci-fi aficionados should wait for "Prometheus" part 2, 3 or 4, to find the answers to so many questions left at the end of this film. Pathetic.

Chino Catane
Chino Catane

"The ending seems to have been manufactured in an attempt to connect the movie to Alien..." No. The end is poetic. A God creates Man. Man creates Android. All three conspire unwittingly to create something that can potentially destroy them all. Though I'm not sure the Alien at the end is necessarily the first instance of an Alien. Inside the room with the giant head, there is a stone mural in back depicting a Queen Alien behind a minion Alien. I speculate that the military installation was just a retrofit of a cosmically ancient temple where mystically-inclined ancestors of the Space Jockeys "prayed." These ancient Space Jockeys were aware of a mysterious black primordial substance, which they had no scientific understanding of, that could give rise to demonically horrifying creatures. The descendant Space Jockeys wanted to control this mysterious primordial substance and weaponize it. Therefore, the Alien species may even predate the Engineers. The beauty of this film is that it encourages wild speculation, and that's fun.

Chino Catane
Chino Catane

The writers are not "trying to scare us all from asking the questions we all have about our creation." The film invites us to speculate what the answer might be and find out how that speculation corresponds to any explanations offered in the sequels.

Chino Catane
Chino Catane

“One bit of business, which involves him slipping someone a mickey, is simply baffling...” This is not baffling in the view that audiences are invited to speculate whether the android possesses some kind of nefarious soul, or he is just trying to accelerate the process of discovering the fountain of youth his creator has programmed him to search for. “...scenes that reveal David betraying an expression of private pleasure needlessly tease one to wonder if he is really such an unfeeling automaton.” The exploration is not needless. It makes the movie more interesting in that it leads audiences to wonder if humanity has in fact succeeded in creating a sort of life in David. “...are we supposed to placidly await a sequel?—defines Prometheus.” You don't have to placidly await a sequel if your are willing to speculate what the sequel should be like, and that speculation should be fun, not a source of disappointment – unless you like to be told what to do.

MuscleJockTX
MuscleJockTX

You've made some excellent points here, officer. Kudos to you for your insights. Thanks for sharing them. PS: spot-on about the globalists. There are no democracies on Earth anymore. Simply the corporatocracy, the Billionaire Boys Club running everything behind the scenes of our world wide dog-and-pony show called democracy. Sad but true.

MuscleJockTX
MuscleJockTX

Chris2: Just found a Prometheus blog, I think they have the figure right. The "overlaid text" in the opening of the film said, 3.27x10/14 power kilometers. That's 327 trillion kilometers, or 215.8 trillion miles, divided by 6 trillion for light years (or closer to 5.7 to be more exact), so that's about 37.86 light years to the alien moon. Again, won't argue with the distance being valid as in our galactic neighborhood--close even, on a galactic scale. But traversing 38 light years in about 2 years, or 19 light years per year, makes it 1.58 light years/month, or 0.053 light years per day, or .0022 light years per hour, which I'm finding is 12 billion 474 million miles per hour. The speed of light is a hair over 670 million miles per hour. So they traveled at roughly 18.7x the speed of light to get to the alien moon. With Ion drive/rocket engines? I don't think so. (Still enjoyed the movie anyhow). And Pizza Face is still a douche-nozzle.

MuscleJockTX
MuscleJockTX

Yes, I noticed that at the opening. 10/14power would be in the range of 100's of trillions of km, since 10/12 power would be an even trillion. Each KM being about 2/3 mile, that's in the neighborhood of 66 trillion miles for each 100 trillion km, or about 11 light years for each unit of 100 (can't remember the opening string of numbers, but we can go with that). So, yep, that's out there in our close-by galactic neighborhood. Not arguing with that. Am saying they didn't get ten's of trillions of miles with rocket engines, even advanced fusion Ion drive, without taking a good bit more than 2 years. PS: the Pizza Face posting on here is a d**che-nozzle.

HEY PIZZA FACE
HEY PIZZA FACE

Ridley scott is a cock blowing superficial director.

Hjblack72000
Hjblack72000

What kills me is critics like this will sit and rip on a film like this, saying it lacks this or that, like they want to be teased and then told. They miss the point of Scott sci-fi altogether. He injects just enough to get you thinking and let's your imagination run wild. This is why he is so loved for Alien and Blade Runner. Blade Runner never got great critical reviews,and look at it now, it's a classic, still debated to this day on whether Deckard was an android himself. I suspect Prometheus will be no different, and I for one can't wait.

SAKARA
SAKARA

i have the 70s ALIEN on dvd, so why should i see this?

i also have STAR TREK VOYAGER on dvd, with the episode of that human crew meeting up with aliens who are descended from earth dinosaurs and look enough like THE ALIGATOR PEOPLE.

lots of star trek episodes have similar "we all share the same dna" plots, with a NEXT GENERATION episode having whatever angry bunch (the klingons?) rejecting the million year old evidence in front of them.

nothing new!

Poometheus
Poometheus

it was shit. I would not be suprised if anyone who has actually seen Prometheus and liked it thought this review was good. It does have a few words in the review that seem to me to be beyond the kind of person Prometheus was aimed at... which was teenagers between 13 to 16. In a word: Cack.

jason
jason

It's nowhere near as good as those two films. Don't worry about it. It's not awful, but it's not great. Disappointment for me. But Scott has made plenty of so-so films so I'm not surprised. When I found out who the screenwriters were I suspected it might not be that great.

Tv-movie
Tv-movie

What the hell is going on I want to be taken into deep space And put into the middle of a complex and precarious situationWith no room for error with scientific action going on all around ,And nobody better say anything bad about my little NaomiS he's so cute and cuddly I would like to cuddle in a cryo Tube with her to the othe side of the galaxy and wake up in aPuddle of sticky goo,, but I want to feel the vast dark labyrinthChase screens thru nostromo like corridors ,what I want is ACTION ,ADVENTURE ,DANGER ,ECT ECT

Tv-movies
Tv-movies

Go back to The space academy. Ohara you missed the point !Your the kind of person that reads the Bible then says now. What doI do?

 

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