Prometheus is going to be a controversial film. As a prequel to Alien, and a “summer” movie, it has a certain suspense / horror / sci-fi pedigree that generally belies serious conversation. There’s no particular reason Prometheus should have “big” themes running through it, any more than Battleship or MIB 3 would, except for the salient fact that we believe director Ridley Scott has embedded some interesting nuggets throughout, much as he did with Blade Runner.
So what are these “big” ideas? What are the questions and themes Prometheus tackles throughout its two-hour running time? We’ll start with the easy ones, and then progress toward the more philosophical questions.
Note: Massive thematic SPOILERS follow, naturally.
#1 Always Wear a Helmet and Proceed with Caution
After watching Prometheus you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that many of the calamities that befell the intrepid explorers could have been avoided, merely with stronger safety protocols. Who takes their helmet off approximately 45 seconds after arriving on an alien planet? And why did the humans continually think, “Hmmm, I should probably touch this crazy looking snake animal”? Let’s just reflect on the replete failure of the Prometheus crew to maintain even a modicum of discipline while studying a COMPLETELY NEW world. I mean, c’mon people, let’s all act like we’ve been there before, even if we haven’t.
#2 The Visual Eye of Masters
Ridley Scott isn’t afraid of depth of field, which is something many younger filmmakers seem to be missing. (Well, with the exception of Tarsem.) Even a cursory look at the more interesting films of 2011, Drive, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Bellflower, Shame, Attack the Block, and The Descendants reveals that they were all filmed really intimately, and up close. Much of this is good old-fashioned budgetary constraint. It’s become (relatively) easy to pull together enough financing to make a legit drama, but getting risky with really wide shots still scares off the new guard. Not so for Ridley, as Prometheus continually takes a good long meandering look at its surroundings. If he did make the film for the reported $130m production budget then 20th Century Fox got a nice product for far less than Battleship cost. Win.
Regardless of budget, Mr. Scott wants you to have a God’s eye view, and he’s willing to give it to you on the regular. It’s a wonderful technique, full of artful force, a quality I hope inspires bigger thinking from our current crop of directors. There’s also a possibility that this “God’s eye view” was more than a filming technique, as the majority of the film deals with Gods and monsters. If Prometheus is a treatise on the nature of divinity, then it makes total sense to make it as big and grand as possible. Big things may indeed have “small beginnings,” but films about the quixotic nature of humanity should have big surroundings, right?
While we’re on the subject of big thinking …
#3 The Mapping Tech
Thankfully, we’re getting as much sci-fi into cinemas as we ever have, but we’re sadly seeing less and less innovation. Films like In Time show off a future that looks very much like ours, only with more roadblocks. Tron Legacy looks like a video game, but it held very little in the way of imagination where future tech was concerned (though I’ll admit the outfits were quite snazzy). Movies such as Minority Report and the original Total Recall remain interesting even today because they took innovative risks with tech trends.
Prometheus is (mostly) set 80 years forward from now, but Ridley Scott has done a serviceable job at predicting how things might work. The mapping robots make sense given current nano-abilities, plus they show a bit of art and imagination. While watching the mapping scene it was easy to think “Why don’t other directors try to make a guess as to where everything is headed?” Even James Cameron’s Aliens figured cameras would still be huge in size and scanning technologies would still be clunky. The lesson: It’s better to take a chance on futurism and be way off as opposed to simply making things a little shinier than they are today.
That said, it should be noted that Prometheus completely swings and misses on the idea of DVRs, as Fifield and Millburn are flat-out murdered while Captain Janek (Idris Elba) takes a sex break. He gets back to the control room and is all “Hmmm, wonder where those dudes are at.” He should be saying, “Run that tape back. Whoa! Them fellas got totes eaten!!” Ah well. At least the mapping droids were cool. A point for Ridley there.
While we’re on the subject of tech, let’s get into the most prominent tech (and character arc) of Prometheus …