My mind is only half blown, but quite a film. And now I know what I like about films most. Make no mistake, Prometheus is a great movie, but not the greatest.
Last week I watched a video of two guys deconstructing the extended trailer of Prometheus, Ridley Scott's latest film. And it reminded me of the fact that no matter what kind of sparkly dialoge you put into a film, it is still mostly a visual medium - and filmmakers attend to visual details more than anything, especially when they speak about greatness. And so from what a couple of college kids could speculate by freeze framing through a trailer, about 50% of this film was revealed.
So I still have to say that Inception is the best movie of the past few years. Why? Because it has a main plot, several subplots, a backstory and three or four things that go wrong in the protagonist's plan for which he must improvise. That's what I like in a film.
Prometheus starts off with a decent backstory, and subplots, but then lets them fade into short scenes that resolve in a few minutes. For a crew of 17, there sure isn't a whole lot of real human interaction. So in that regard, Prometheus compares disfavorably to Event Horizon, my favorite space horror and even to 2010. (Panting in space-suits has been done, Ridley). But all of that may fade in significance with a second viewing.
Spoilers ahead. All the things that make Prometheus great lie unrevealed in everything you can guess about this film. So seeing it is extremely rewarding.
Firstly, the creepiest robot in all of creation is David. He is, in every respect, a tool. More dangerous than Roy Batty and more unnervingly inscrutable than Bishop, but in the kind of way that is supremely disturbing, and all the more so because he uses no self-deprecation and is in all appearances, a model of integrity. He is, of course, and just like any tool, he is as dangerous as his creator's intentions and instructions cause him to be. The implications of this in the story make Prometheus deeply resonant because as events transpire, it is almost impossible to understand whether David's curiosities are native, as one compares him to Commander Data, or if they are part of a hidden and sinister plot.
But by far his most most sinister aspect is that, as an android, he is self-conscious and apparently indifferent to Asimov's Three Laws. David is a sentient android who understands very well his similarity and his superiority to human beings. We understand no matter of 'why' for David. He understands without feeling but hearing him tell it, you realize that perhaps he understands your feelings. In the end, David is faithless and merely deals with human and factual reality from the perspective of a creature that cannot die. He is, then, somewhere in the narrative of Groundhog Day, but we cannot be sure at which, but it certainly is not the ever-benevolent part.
David then, by his complications in the mission of the Prometheus is more awesome than HAL and really for me, the sort of android I have not encountered in any fiction. That's saying something.
The central conundrum of Prometheus whose driving force we are left to contemplate long after the events of the movie are completed are those philosophical questions which arise from the revelation that their apparent aim was to destroy humans. So this puts an interesting spin on all of the Alien vs Predator movies that I now am obliged to suffer through for some clue. The Engineers made human beings, or at least it can be said that they are our offworld ancestors, and they made the Alien creature as a biological weapon of mass destruction. Their intent was to head to Earth and deliver the warhead. But why? Well that is the answer for the obviously implicated sequel.
The drama inherent in the meeting of the created with the Engineer is not wasted in Prometheus, nor is it handled at any appreciable length, since all communications were moderated through David, who rather lost his head in the brief exchange of words. It was a very taught moment in the film and at once, one recognizes how impossible it is for the Engineer to represent his race, nor the humans present to represent their own. So having the ensuing events transpire like a breach in security was rather predictable - after all, it's a movie and a whole book could have been written for that scene alone. My Dinner With Andromeda, perhaps.
There was only one major technical mistake in the entire film. I presume that Prometheus was travelling at some significant fraction of light speed in its journey to LV-223. That being the case, but depending on the technology, a ship approaching a planet should be spending all of its energy slowing down. So watching four massive engines burning in the traditional forward propulsion mode, wrong wrong wrong.
There in one extraordinarily nice visual effect that in employed throughout the film, and that is of 3D holographic projections. Whether it is done in the crisp business intelligence mode of the ship displays or in the crufty snowglobe effect of the ghost ship echos, or in the sweet light blues of the awoken bridge of the ship, it's magnificent. The mind blowing moment of Episode II's star maps (with the little Jedi) has been surpassed. These are the best star maps ever. Yes and better than Avatar.
I did also notice that the vehicles on the planet did make motoring noises, as if they were using internal combustion engines. That won't play well when we look back at it in ten years. The headstrong arrogance of taking off one's breathing apparatus on a foreign planet is also rather dumb. Aint they heard of bacteria?
The ship Prometheus itself is flawlessly executed and entirely convincing. The monsters are appropriately hideous and very realistic. The sound is ominous and dramatic. The planet and the moonscape are just fine.
Apparently, somebody in Hollywood, around the time of Modern Warfare 2 and MI4 decided that the new super special effect would be a full blown sandstorm. Now the idea first came back with The Mummy, but now it's very realistic. Ridley out storms them all which his flying shards. Very nicely done. That was actually scary.
The Giger ambience plus the Engineers themselves are pretty much unbeatable.
The woman who survives all of the drama was weakest of all. She's no Sigourney Weaver, that's for sure. If there is a big hole at the center of Prometheus is is that the woman who is supposed to be telling all the story, the sole survivor doesn't have the guts to do it all, and her character simply appears too fragile to acheive what she does, surviving a cesarean section and then running a couple miles within an hour of the operation. No freaking way. In fact, she only seems to be heroic in retrospect - there is nothing in our introduction to her that makes us say, now she's something. This is something Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams would have never left undone, and it almost undoes the movie.
Nevertheless, this is a story that must continue - if only so that the art directors can build more Giger. The Engineers are fascinating. There's is a whole culture to explore.
So here's how I would do Prometheus 2. Shaw and David confirm that the Engineer was indeed on a mission to sacrifice Earth with the biological warfare known as the 'Alien' xenomorph. The new movie begins with Shaw putting David back together in the adapted environment of the Engineer ship which is headed to one of the Engineer homeworlds.
The Engineers it turns out are/were engaged in a civil war and the LV-223 outpost was a secret military base whose activation was a doomsday contingency. There was some controversy even among those who originally populated Earth as to whether Earthers were worth the sacrifice i.e. if that sacrifice would be seriously considered as a bargaining chip in the war. You see, humans are, to the Engineers, what chimps are to humans. Biologically close, but nothing you really want to have in your house. This is what David can determine from the limited library in the Engineer ship which has been out of contact with the Engineer homeworld for 2000 years.
Shaw and David arrive at the homeworld long after the events of the Alien series. They have hyper-lightspeed travel, but by the time they arrive, it's many many years after Sigourney Weaver's exploits. They arrive among the remnants of the great Engineer culture which have gone to another sector of the galaxy or have undergone some trauma. Nevertheless, the arrival of the ship brings a new controversy forward - ie the existence of the plot to destroy Earth, which was a violation of all sorts. Shaw now learns that Earth's population was, in the first place, a contingency in and of itself. That the Engineers goosed human evolution around the time of the Neandethals so that in several thousand generations there would be a good humanoid stock in that sector or the galaxy. This was called the Neanderthal Correction. Ethical? Who cares, after all it's just one planet.