A second opinion of Prometheus can be read here.
I really do believe this review, filled with spoilers, raises some interesting points about Prometheus. More specifically, in delving into spoilers, it is able to discuss the thematic underpinnings of the film in greater detail.
Prometheus does cover some interesting ground, the nature of the rift between creator and creation is explored through the human crew attempting to make contact with the aliens (that looked like Greek statues) and David’s attempts to understand and win the approval of his creators, humanity. I do find the fact that the way the relationships played out were reversed to be quite an interesting touch. David experimenting on crew members and mentioning that he would appreciate being free and that every child wants to see their parents killed was the opposite of the aliens who engineered and created humanity and then chose to destroy it.
I have already mentioned I enjoyed the brief exploration of faith in the face of undeniable proof to the contrary. I also enjoyed the aliens looking like Greek statues. It was interesting to see the aliens take the form of the human ideal rather than some monstrosity. Their design served as visual shorthand for their status as our creators, a role that is often filled by God in a theological sense. That our “gods” would want to kill us is a disquieting notion indeed.
The main issues I have with the film lay in the screenplay. It was an incredibly weak screenplay committed to an otherwise excellent production. The writing did not do the deeper philosophical questions any favours. The poor characterisation did not do the human drama or tension any favours. The scattershot nature of the menace presented by the alien planet did not do the horror any favours.
I am not complaining that the movie did not answer all its questions. I do enjoy a bit of ambiguity in movies. It makes for a much more interesting cinematic experience. I am complaining about the fact that so many things were thrown into the mix that they were dropped almost as quickly as they were brought up. A film that raises a question, explores it, and then leaves you to make your own mind up is a satisfying film. A film that raises a dozen questions and then focuses on attempting to one up the director’s other films instead of said questions is a film that feels like a first year philosophy essay, full of points of interest with no underlying thesis.
I was wondering why the video game media would mark down a game like Spec Ops: The Line because despite the fact it tackled some heady themes about dehumanisation and morality during armed conflict, it stayed too close to conventions of gameplay mechanics. I think I finally have an answer for that after watching Prometheus. It was a movie that aimed high but was ultimately dragged down by its uninspired characters that made the same mistakes that dumb, stoned, teenagers make in teen slasher movies. The conventions of horror dragged it down because the film did nothing interesting with them. It just laid them out on the table and said, hey, this will get the body count up and that’s good enough for us.
Another film that explored ideas while being forced to follow horror conventions was The Cabin In The Woods. It stuck so true to horror movie conventions that you could almost predict how and when certain characters would be killed and why. However, unlike Prometheus it used its strict adherence to horror conventions to convey its message rather than undermine it. Smart writing allowed characters to be bent into archetypes they did not originally fit because it served the death toll’s best interests. However, the characters being bent out of character was an in story occurrence and not a product of a screenplay that forgot which characters behaved in which ways.
I suppose the type of message Cabin was trying to get across also helped with lessening the impact of the film’s strict adherence to horror conventions. It was not talking about man’s relationship with god, a parent’s relationship with its children, the horrors of pregnancy and the sadness of infertility, the makings of a human being compared to an automaton, the adherence to one’s faith when challenged by empirical evidence to the contrary, or the dangers of using biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction to both the target and those deploying them. A simple and cliched horror script does not do those lofty ambitions any favours.
But at least Prometheus tried to make us think. It may not have been as successful about it as it had hoped it would be, but it tried its little heart out and looked pretty while trying