Theo Zenou on Ridley Scott’s latest film, opening in theaters today, Friday June 8.
We live in an era of blockbuster cinema in which the trailer of a film (the possibility of what a film might be) has sometimes more worth to us than the film itself. The excess of this sadly real behavior can only be countered by a new type of blockbusters: character-driven, theme-driven, and story-driven; in short, a return to what made the blockbuster film such a compelling form.
So, before sitting down in your giant IMAX 3D theatre – when queuing to purchase your popcorn and Coke – forget all you’ve seen so far. Prometheus is a radically different film than the one the hype showed it to be. Ridley Scott redefined science fiction cinema with Alien. But where the former was openly a B-movie with an A approach, Prometheus is another beast. It is one of those rare genre films bold enough, free enough to aim and succeed at more than the great pleasures of entertainment, and in a compressed window of 2 hours, explore thematics straight out of theology and anthropology.
In Prometheus, two scientists, an android, a corporate woman, and a rough crew take off from Earth to a distant planet with the mission of finding there the makers of mankind. And what Ridley Scott cares about here is the characters’ search, the path from certainty to doubt, from belief to faith, from choice to truth. Eerie at its core, Prometheus is a masterful balance of three movies in one: an intimate drama, a sci-fi thriller and finally a myth film, featuring a symbolic narrative. The picture is virally mysterious, there’s a profound urge of constantly wanting to know. Truly, the film makes us remember what it means to be human, in its instinctive throwback to a question that (should) animates us all: Why are we here? As a consequence, the emotion does not only emerge from the characters and their plights, it also takes its inception in the purpose of humanity. We sense that – within the film – there is something that our minds and hearts cannot fully grasp, and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us subtlety, slowly. From the carefully crafted imagery (that include immense corridors, the characters dimly backlit by dark green textures) emerges an other- worldly feeling, the uniting transformation – under our eyes – of science and religion into spirituality. Nonetheless, the story offers its share of exquisite chills, better left unspoiled, although each set pieces is rather short and never the focus of the film. If you’re in it for the action, sit this one out and go enjoy The Avengers (again). Prometheus is all theological dialogue and anthropological exploration.
The familiarity with its prequel, Alien, is present, but will not satisfy those expecting a strong link to Scott’s original film. It seems that Alien is only a mere result of Prometheus, and the latter would be the exact same thing without being called a “prequel”. Nevertheless, some elements are drawn from the 1979’s landmark: the main ship’s design, the technology, the android. But where the android was a plot point in Alien, in Prometheus it serves as a reflection upon the very act of creation, and its meaning. Mankind created androids because they can, so were we created because they could? Is the act of creation thus devoid of any intrinsic goal? As an audience member, this is a film that will test your faith, or ability to possess, feel faith. One could draw comparisons to M. Night Shyamalan but the closest work that shares its thematic sensibilities and concerns is “Lost.” And this comes as no surprise as Damon Lindelof – one of its creators and show runners – is the co-writer of the film, and he infused the Prometheus scriptwith the same intelligence, spirituality and use of spectacle for intimacy that made Lost the most compelling show to air on TV.
Sometimes, in films or novels, a quote or a sentence can define the spirit of the entire work. In Prometheus – when looking at a particle that originates our DNA – the android states: “Big things have small beginnings.” Prometheus covers the biggest thing we could ever deal with: who we are and where we come from? And it does it with the intimacy and integrity to characters that often only small films have. Ridley Scott thus signs an immensely bold film, a testimony of his achievements as a filmmaker but also of his passions as an artist.
And rest assured, Prometheus is only the beginning of the search for our beginning…