The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.
Prometheus is a very spiritual movie. It’s not an accident that the ship lands on Christmas Day. It’s no wonder some people were turned off by the actions of some of the characters in the film. How could scientists be taking these strange risks and acting irrational? Well, faith can be strange and irrational. It can also be beautiful and enlightening. Prometheus is all of these things.
Ridley Scott clearly felt like he had something to say about faith and religion, using ideas from Alien as a stepping stone to discuss those themes. The lead scientists on the expedition, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) represent two sides of the same coin. Both are scientists, both are eager to meet the Engineers of life on Earth, but both are hoping for and expecting very different answers. Shaw is a believer and Holloway isn’t. Most of the characters in the film fall on either side of that line and to its credit I don’t believe the movie denigrates either side. It’s the personal choices made within that framework that determine the fate of these characters.
There’s a lot of interesting things going on with the layers of Creator and Creation when it comes to David (Michael Fassbender), Vickers (Charlize Theron), Weyland (Guy Pearce) and the Engineers. David is the best and most complicated character in the film. He’s inscrutable at times, showing both wide-eyed innocence and cold-hearted calculism. He has an internal struggle with knowing he’s mentally and physically “better” than humans yet seemingly yearning to be one of them.
Just look at Fassbender’s great work here when the hologram of Weyland introduces David by saying “He is the closest thing to a son that I will ever have”.
He then immediately follows that up by saying “He is not human. He will never grow old. He will never die. Yet he is unable to appreciate these remarkable gifts, for that would require the one thing that David will never have: a soul.”
Just that tiny acting moment speaks volumes of David as a character and echoes out to the rest of the movie. Is humanity to the Engineers what David is to humanity? If so, do we have souls, or an equivalent spiritual specialness? And if we do, and if we’re no different than David, does David not then also have a soul?
The look on the Engineer’s face when he’s confronted with David seems to imply there’s something existentially horrifying about humanity creating artificial intelligence.
It’s interesting stuff for a monster movie.
Prometheus isn’t just a monster movie, it’s also a very weird movie. It takes all of its B-movie influences and “legitimizes” them with modern sci-fi trappings. The movie opens with a direct quote of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ridley Scott continues to quote 1965’s Planet of the Vampires as he did in the original Alien. He also invokes ghosts, throws in a space-werewolf, space-zombies, people doing drugs or having sex and then dying and, for good measure, he beats an old man to death with a severed robot’s head. Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof clearly have lots of love for the sci-fi and horror films that came before and they wear that love on their sleeves.
The design work in the movie is amazing, which comes as no surprise. Scott builds off of the work he did in Alien when it comes to the alien structures and landscapes. There’s an eerie tactility to everything that makes it seem dangerous and appropriately otherworldly. Arthur Max, the production designer, perfectly envisions H.R. Giger’s hellish work.
It’s also the perfect argument for their being no right answer when it comes to practical effects vs. CGI. Whichever serves the story best is the correct choice, and Prometheus has top notch examples of both.
I don’t think there’s any right answer to which entry in the Alien series is the best. I could see an argument being made for any of them… excluding the Alien vs Predators or course, don’t be insane. I do believe that Prometheus gets lost in the shuffle a bit and if it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it then you owe yourself a rewatch. It’s my second-favourite in the series, coming just behind the original.
Prometheus isn’t “hard sci-fi”, it’s an exploration of faith and God, a love letter to sci-fi and horror from years past and a beautiful piece of art. The movie doesn’t tell us what the black goo is. We don’t know definitively why Millburn tried to touch the vagina-snake. We don’t even really know why Shaw still has faith and flies off with a robot’s head to keep confronting God and looking for answers.
The trick is not minding.