How do you review Prometheus, when it has become one of the most talked about and theorised films of the year? Endless questions, theses, conspiracies, and arguments flood the internet regarding Ridley Scott’s newest venture into the unknown. What does it all mean? Who is that? Why did this happen? Why did they do that? What the hell is the green goo? No definitive answers can mean frustration, bitterness, or excitement, depending on who you ask. Often attacked on the grounds that it is aesthetically pleasing rather than intellectually engaging, Prometheus has come off as a bit of a flop. An exercise in picturesque Science Fiction, it offers many pretty images, but no depth.
Reading other people’s reviews, I tend to agree that it has some weak characterisation and a shoddy script at times. So why did I love it? This is my own question, and one that has been haunting me more than others. I could say that it’s because it looks amazing. The engineers are uncannily beautiful; ripped and chiselled, they strut around like fondant statues. And the opening scene where the camera flies over the landscape is breath taking, the greys, whites and blues carefully matching the skin tone and the robes of the engineers themselves. But to praise only the visuals would affirm all major criticisms of the film. And I find it hard to celebrate the film’s makeup when faced with the shoddiness that is Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland, who resembles a young man who’s been in the bath too long.
So perhaps it’s the story? After all, it’s one that is age old. Human curiosity and a desperate desire for answers is humanity’s Achilles’ heel. Always sensing something missing, always wanting that last piece of knowledge that will make us whole, we venture into the unknown in order to make it known. Shining light on the darkness, labelling the uncategorised, providing a past for that which has no history, all of these things can be seen in Prometheus, and are, in a sense, the driving force behind the creation of the film itself. Providing a “back story” to Alien, and a history for the Xeno, Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof feed our need for information with this newest chapter, and yet leave us with more uncertainty than when we arrived. Scott knows that we will come back for his sequel, just as we know that the Nostromo will make similarly horrifying discoveries decades later.
What I liked about Prometheus, though, is that it engaged David in this curiosity. An android with no soul, this character is surprisingly one of the most curious of all the characters. He is the one who stays behind for further observation, pushing the limits of safety. He steals a vase, experiments on humans, and plays around with the dormant ship without any hesitation, prodding random buttons like a child. His disregard for caution and his eager investigations break down this human/curiosity association, suggesting that meddling and questioning is in fact hardwired into intelligent life. It is the logical reaction, otherwise David would not engage with it.
One of the most interesting points about David is that he consistently disrupts the distinction between humans and technology. His smiles are often unjustified, leading us to muse over his capacity for emotions and private thoughts, and his obsession with film, music, and sport, is uncannily human. Add to this his line: “The trick, Potter, is not minding that it hurts”, taken from Lawrence of Arabia, and you have a suggestion of feeling and sensation ignored. David hurts people around him; he gives Holloway the black liquid which causes him to mutate and die, and he allows Shaw to be at risk around an infected man. His seemingly cold exterior can be easily explained by his being an android, but another option is to see David as ignoring the guilt he feels at hurting others by focusing on the bigger picture. Just as Prometheus in mythology felt endless pain for giving fire to the humans, David too must feel the pain of a conscience but “not mind that it hurts” as he destroys some lives in order to help others, or succeed in greater plans.
Apologies for the lengthy analysis of David, but I can’t mention him without mentioning another film, one that Scott is undoubtedly influenced by. 2001: A Space Odyssey sees David Bowman on Discovery One, flying to Jupiter in the company of a computer named Hal, and I couldn’t help but notice similarities between Hal and David whilst watching Prometheus. Both are computers with personalities, looked down on but ultimately powerful. Their speech is similar, and there are even lines in Prometheus which echo 2001. The key difference is that roles and names are reversed. David in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the human, whereas he is the android in Prometheus. And Shaw’s “What are you doing David?” recalls Hal’s “What are you doing Dave?”, but sees the human asking the question rather than the other way round. These role reversals again blur the human/computer binary.
It is details such as these which I think are intelligent, and are part of the reason why I love Prometheus despite its flaws. However, I still feel as though the strong characterisation of David isn’t enough to warrant four stars. What else is it that I love? I think for now I’m going to have to do a Ridley, and leave this question unanswered. Perhaps I’ll offer solutions in a second or third review, but for now I’ll let everyone go frantic and try to work it out for themselves.
FINAL VERDICT: ★★★★