Prometheus (20th Century Fox, 2012) – REVIEW

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‘Prometheus’ was released in 2012 by 20th Century Fox. It is a science fiction film directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. It stars Noomi RapaceMichael FassbenderGuy PearceIdris ElbaLogan Marshall-Green, and Charlize Theron. Set in the late 21st century it revolves around the crew of a spaceship, Prometheus that is seeking the possible origins of humanity.

Many thought that it was a continuation or prequel to ‘Alien’, but Scott has stated that although the film shares “strands of Alien‍ ’​s DNA, so to speak”, and takes place in the same universe, it explores its own mythology and ideas.

The film took over $403 million worldwide. The visual aesthetic, design and acting.. .. most notably Fassbender’s performance as the android David were critically acclaimed. However, the plot drew a more mixed response from critics, who criticized plot elements that remained unresolved and/or were too predictable.

The story (contains spoilers)

In what has to be one of the most beautiful openings to a film ever created, we follow a large spacecraft across the surface of a planet, which has seemingly left a single humanoid alien behind on the edge of a powerful waterfall. As the spacecraft departs he disrobes and ingests an iridescent liquid, which instantly causes him to disintegrate.. ..his remains falling into the waterfall.

As the title credits roll, we see a stylised render of his DNA disintegrating and then recombining to form rapidly replicating new cells.

There is then an abrupt switch to the Isle of SkyeScotland, 2089, where archaeologists Dr Elizabeth Shaw and Dr Charlie Holloway discover a set of prehistoric paintings in a cave. The paintings contain a star map that they have seen before.. matches several others found from unconnected ancient cultures.

They interpret this as an invitation from humanity’s forerunners, who they name ‘engineers’ to find them.  As such, Peter Weyland, the immensely wealthy and elderly CEO of the Weyland Corporation, funds an expedition to follow the ‘map’ to a distant moon, LV-223.

They travel there, whilst remaining in stasis, aboard the scientific vessel Prometheus. During their voyage, both the ship and the crew are monitored by an advanced, almost human, android called David. David is able to view the dreams of the crew as they sleep and he is particularly curious about Shaw’s.. of  which is about the death of her mother.. ..her father is telling her that he ‘chooses to believe’ that she went to heaven. David also perfects his understanding and pronunciation of ancient languages and dialects during the long voyage.

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The ‘Prometheus’ entering the atmosphere of LV-223 © Twentieth Century Fox

Arriving in 2093, a video hologram of Weyland informs them of their mission to find the ‘engineers’ and Holloway and Shaw describe how they found the ‘map’.. ..when asked about what the ‘engineers’ created, Shaw confirms they believe that they created us. When further confronted about evidence for their hypothesis that the ‘engineers’ created humans, Shaw responds that she ‘chooses to believe’ it.

The mission commander, Meredith Vickers, sternly warns everyone not to make contact with the engineers without her permission.. ..she also firmly establishes with Shaw and Holloway, that she is skeptical of their hypothesis and that she is very much in charge, as the Weyland Corporation funded the mission, not them.

The Prometheus lands on the barren, mountainous surface of LV-223 near a large artificial structure (one of many), which Holloway has spotted as there are clearly visible ‘Nazca’ type lines in front of it.. ..stating that ”God does not build in straight lines!”.

Inside the structure they find stone cylinders, a monolithic statue of a humanoid head, and the decapitated corpse of a large alien, thought to be an engineer; Shaw duly recovers the head. Shortly after this the crew finds other bodies, leading them to surmise the species is now extinct.

Two other crew members Millburn and Fifield, who have formed an uneasy alliance, grow uncomfortable with the discoveries and decide to return to Prometheus, but have become stranded in the structure as it is now unsafe to return. Indeed, the rest of the expedition is cut short as a sand storm forces the remaining crew to race back to the Prometheus. David secretly steals a cylinder from the structure, whilst the remaining cylinders start leaking.

Back on the Prometheus the engineer’s DNA, taken from the recovered head, is found to match that of humans. They try to electrically stimulate the head, but in doing so it explodes.

Secretly, David investigates the cylinder and its contents. He intentionally taints a drink with the liquid from the cylinder, giving it to an unsuspecting Holloway.. .. who had told David earlier that he would do anything for answers. Shortly after, Shaw and Holloway, after celebrating their discovery and affirmation of their thesis, have sex (this section of the film includes a tender scene where Shaw is saddened that although they have found the start to human life, this is something she, personally, can never achieve).

Returning to Millburn and Fifield, who remain in the structure, a snake-like creature (Hammerpede) kills Millburn, and sprays a corrosive fluid that melts Fifield’s helmet.. ..he then falls, face-first, into a puddle of the dark liquid, which has leaked from the cylinders.

When the crew return to the structure, they find Millburn’s corpse. David separately discovers a control room containing a surviving engineer, still in stasis, and a star map centered on Earth.

Meanwhile, Holloway is sickening rapidly and is rushed back to the Prometheus. However, in fear of contagion, Vickers refuses to let him aboard and, at his urging, burns him to death with a flamethrower.

Later, a medical scan reveals that Shaw, despite being sterile, is pregnant. Fearing the worst about the biology of her fetus, she uses an automated surgery table in Vickers executive ‘life boat’ to extract a squid-like creature (Trilobite) from her abdomen. She then discovers that Peter Weyland has also been in stasis aboard Prometheus.

Weyland reveals that he had funded the whole expedition just in case they got this far.. ..he wants the engineers to prevent his death from old age. It is also revealed that Weyland is also apparently Vickers father, who is understandably resentful as he has already declared that David is the closest thing he has to a son.


‘Prometheus’ theatrical poster © Twentieth Century Fox

A monstrous, mutated Fifield then attacks the Prometheus‍ ’​s hangar bay, killing several crew members before he is also killed. This leads the Prometheus‍ ’​s captain, Janek to speculate that the structure was a military installation that the engineers lost control of.. ..this seems to confirm a ‘recording’ some of the crew witnessed when they first entered the structure. The dark liquid is assumed to be a virulent biological weapon. Janek also reveals that the structure houses a spacecraft (as presumably do the others), which is similar to the ‘derelict’ introduced in ‘Alien’.

Peter Weyland and a team return to the structure, accompanied by Shaw. David proceeds to wake the engineer from stasis. He then speaks to the engineer using his previous studies to guide his language and attempts to explain that Weyland seeks to extend his life.

This enrages the engineer who decapitates David and kills Weyland and his team. He then begins to reactivate the spacecraft. Shaw realises that the engineer intends to fly back to Earth and release the biological payload. As such she warns Janek.

Janek prepares the Prometheus for take-off, ejecting the lifeboat. He then accelerates the Prometheus ramming it into the departing spacecraft controlled by the engineer, causing it to crash.. ..having realised this is the only way to preserve life on Earth. The Prometheus explodes upon impact, but not before Vickers manages to flee in an escape pod.

The engineer’s crippled spacecraft crashes onto the ground; its wreckage killing Vickers. Shaw enters the lifeboat and finds that her alien offspring (the Trilobite) is very much alive and has grown to gigantic proportions. David’s still-active head then warns Shaw that the engineer has survived and is coming for her. The engineer forces open the lifeboat’s airlock and attacks Shaw, who releases her alien offspring. It immediately attacks the Engineer, thrusting an ovipositor down the Engineer’s throat, subduing him.

Shaw recovers David’s remains, and with his help, launches another engineer spacecraft. She intends to reach the engineers’ home world in an attempt to understand why they wanted to destroy humanity.

Prometheus Decon Screen

The ‘Deacon’ creature © Twentieth Century Fox

Finally, in the lifeboat, a new alien creature (Deacon) bursts out of the engineer’s chest.

What does it all mean?

A lot of people were disappointed with ‘Prometheus’, which is a shame as it is a fantastic film.. ..I think the main reason for this is a general lack of understanding and comprehension. Additionally, I think some thought ‘Prometheus’ was going to be a continuation of the ‘Alien’ universe.. ..but ‘Prometheus‘ compliments, not continues it, which disappointed some.

So what the does it all mean? The main, underlying theme in ‘Prometheus’ relates to the eponymous Titan of Greek mythologyPrometheus defies the gods, granting humanity fire, for which he was subjected to eternal punishment. The gods want to limit the abilities of their creations, save they confront the gods themselves.

‘Prometheus’ is all about humanities relationship with gods, creators.. them what you will, along with the consequences of defying them. In the film they find superior beings who appear god-like in comparison to humanity and suffer the consequences of their pursuit and perceived disobedience. Not only has Weyland pursued his makers simply for personal gain, wanting to achieve ‘god-like’ immortality, to add insult to injury his request is delivered by a lifeless ‘machine’, created in the very image of the engineers own creation, man.

Shaw wants her religious beliefs to be confirmed by meeting her makers, she is probably the only truly religious crew member on the Prometheus (maybe with the exception of Janek). This, one would assume, would be slightly dated in 2093, but she is excited when she realises that the engineers may have created us.. reaffirms her religious convictions. Lindelof said that asking questions and searching for meaning is the point of being alive, and so the audience is left to question whether Shaw was protected by God because of her faith. Scott wanted the film to end with Shaw’s declaration that she is still searching for definitive answers. In addition to the religious themes, Lindelof said that ‘Prometheus’ is ‘pro-science’ and explores whether scientific knowledge and faith in God can co-exist.

Further religious allusions are implied by the engineers’ decision to punish humanity with destruction 2,000 years before the events of the film. Scott suggested that an engineer was sent to Earth to stop humanity’s increasing aggression, but was crucified, implying it was Jesus Christ. However, Scott felt that an explicit connection in the film would be “a little too on the nose.”

Scott has revealed in many interviews that he took inspiration for such ideas from authors like Von Däniken. Indeed, an engineer is shown ‘seeding’ a planet at the very start of the film.

Maybe this was all a bit too much for some people.. ..there is a lot to think about with the story and its various meanings, some of which certain people probably prefer not to confront.

Retrollection recommendation?

I think this is a great film, indeed it is one of my favourites.. ..I love the imagery, the music, the story and the lack of key decisive information. This latter point actually makes me feel more part of the story.. .. I am left to conclude certain points for myself.

From speaking to others I think ‘Prometheus’ is a bit of a ‘Marmite’ film, you either love it or hate it. Maybe it is a little too clever for its own good? What I do know is that people, including academics, will be talking about this film for years to come.. many modern films can we say that about?

Fair usePrometheus’, poster and film stills © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Used under fair dealing and fair use for research and commentary purposes only. No copyright infringement is intended. Please refer to the ‘Welcome to Retrollection‘ page for full terms and conditions.

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