When Ridley Scott’s newest film Prometheus was released in theaters earlier this year, it was greeted with a firestorm of nitpicking from angry online critics and fans of the Alien franchise. Many said they liked the film (indeed, CraveOnline gave it a positive review), but more than a handful of critics found numerous plot holes and odd bouts of behavior, which distracted from their enjoyment of the film. One of the funniest bits of nitpicking came from a video put out by Red Letter Media, wherein Mike Stoklasa, one of the two critics on that site, simply asked a bunch of questions about the plot that really had no cogent answers. A lot of the plot holes they describe don’t bother me (plot holes don’t matter of they don’t distract you from the film at large), although I did notice a few of them (like why did David spike Holloway’s drink? Was David a secret assh*le?).
When the film came out, I called it one of the best films of 2012, and I stand by that statement. Here is a science fiction film that doesn’t treat aliens and space travel like clichéd sci-fi traps, and actually assigns a kind of epic quality to them. The film is gorgeous and atmospheric, and looks amazing on Blu-Ray. What’s more, Prometheus deals openly about some of the great mysteries of creation, the function of scientific knowledge, and even questions of theology and religious longing. The quest for knowledge is endless, you see. We are humans and we are, hence, seekers. We crave more answers no matter how many answers we already have. And while many felt frustrated by its lack of definite answers concerning the creatures from Alien, I felt that the film managed to expand on the Alien myth without incorporating any of those obnoxious narrative connections that would have made the film lean too heavily on previous material.
Prometheus, for those who haven’t seen it, is a prequel of sorts to Alien, and involves a team of various scientists (led by Noomi Rapace, and including Charlize Theron and the android Michael Fassbender) who follow a series of ancient hieroglyphs to a distant planet light years away in the hopes of not only discovering the origin of human life, but talking to the beings that actually seeded the planet with quick-evolve human DNA millennia ago. There’s a lot of talk about the origins of human life, and how humans continue to quest for it, be it through religious means, scientific means, or through simple human curiosity. Or even, perhaps, with malevolent intent, as evidenced by the late-film appearance of the 96-year-old Weyland (Guy Pierce) who seeks to extend his life with alien technology (a sub-plot that has been, perhaps unfortunately, been used before in the comparatively churlish Alien vs. Predator). What the scientists discover is a race of nine-foot-tall white-skinned alien beings (nicknamed Engineers) who have been lying dead for about 2000 years.
What we learn from Prometheus: That the Engineers created humans. That they could somehow harvest and create evil murderous creatures for militant purposes. That they changed their mind about humans at some point two thousand years ago, and sought to deliver evil aliens to Earth to wipe us out. That their plans went awry somehow. And that the creatures in Alien were intended to be a weapon of some sort. Like a good mystery film (and indeed like any good sequel), it explains the nature of the creatures in Alien while bringing up bigger questions about the Engineers.
I listened to Ridley Scott’s commentary track, hoping for perhaps more illumination on his story, but his commentary is a bit plummy and conversational, and Scott merely talks about what’s happening on the screen, kind of giving a general description as to what is happening. It’s not insightful in any sort of direct way, and Scott will not tip his hand as to the bigger mysteries of the flick. What you do learn from the commentary, though, is that Scott has no mind for building on any of the Alien sequels, and likely hasn’t seen any of them. He approached Prometheus as if there were no Alien cult, which is a wise thing to do creatively, but perhaps not so wise in an internet age of powerful geek culture where questions like this are traded in fan screenplays for years. Scott didn’t make a film for his fans, oddly enough. The only way to appease fans these days, it seems, is to hire someone who is already a fan of the material, who thinks like the fanboy audience. Case in point: The Avengers.
I also got the impression that Scott, like David Lynch, appreciates a mystery. Indeed, he appreciates a good mystery so much, that he feels it’s almost crass to present a proper solution. And while this makes for a creepy and mysterious movie, it will frustrate many people who want more concrete answers. Ironic, given that the film is about being unable to find concrete final answers, and continuing to seek them anyway. Indeed, watching Prometheus for a second time, I felt like I understood Ridley Scott as a filmmaker a little better. I’m not the biggest fan of his work in general (Alien and Thelma & Louise notwithstanding), but I can finally understand his filmmaking malaise; evidently, he likes working in a kind of smoky dreamspace where images have a lot of portent, but the stories don’t ever tie up neatly. Looking at films like Blade Runner and Legend will prove this. Talk about smoky and dreamy films with ambiguous plots.
The Blu-ray also contains several deleted scenes which, in true Ridley Scott fashion, go a long way to explain the doings of the events of Prometheus. Know that Scott likes to recut his films after the fact, perhaps these shorts will one day be reinstated. As they stand, they are vital footnotes that perhaps should have been included in the final film, but really would not have fit anywhere. Many of these deleted scenes have already been released online as part of a viral marketing campaign, so you may have seen a young Guy Pearce at a futuristic TED talk, wherein he declares his central technological ethos: “If we can, then we must.” If we were given this directive early in the film, it would have gone a long way to explain a lot of David’s seemingly random behavior, and Vickers’ bitterness. When taken with the film these deleted scenes are vital and awesome. But it does make me regret that they weren’t somehow included.
Prometheus is an excellent film, it’s an excellent looking film, it’s sticky and gross, and asks some big questions. And for me, that’s enough. Seeing it on Blu-ray allowed me to explore the film again, and I was glad to. For those frustrated by the unanswered questions, the Blu-ray may also have a few answers for you. But only a few.