"Prometheus" - The return of smart sci-fi

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While neither a sequel nor a prequel to director Ridley Scott's Alien film, "Prometheus" is set in the same fictional universe. It deals with the discovery of an alien race known as 'The Engineers' - who supposedly created mankind. Using a star map found on ancient stone carvings, a group of archaeologists decide to travel to a distant moon in the hope of making contact with them. Once there, however, they get more than they bargained for.

This film's first plus is that - like movies used to do - the story begins with a lot of setup and a lot of mystery. In 2089, archaeologists Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie embark on a mission to the distant moon LV-223, which the star map pointed to. The expedition aboard the ship (called Prometheus) is funded by elderly CEO Peter Weyland. Also on board are android David (Michael Fassbender), mission director Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and various other crewmembers.

After spending a few years in cryogenic slumber, the crew awakens in 2093, and their ship reaches its destination. After finding an alien corpse in an artificial structure, they learn that something terrible happened to the Engineers on this moon. When crewmembers accidentally come into contact with a sinister dark liquid, things begin to go horribly wrong, and what was initially an exploratory mission becomes a desperate effort to make it back to Earth alive.

First of all, this film deserves serious credit for the writing that went into it. It explored an uncommon theme - the largely overlooked theory of ancient astronauts (the idea that aliens made contact with humans at some point in history). This influence was confirmed by the director, who was inspired by Erich von Daniken's book Chariots of the Gods.

The storytelling approach here was very cerebral, which instantly makes "Prometheus" a candidate for the best science fiction film seen in several years. Ultimately, the movie raised more questions than it answered, and if this was the intention, it was effective in that it could intrigue the audience. On the flip side, it could also agitate the viewer who wanted things to be a little less mysterious.

Of these questions, "Prometheus" posed a big one: Could another race have created mankind? Though this is sadly one of the inquiries to which we don't get an answer, it is an interesting take on things.

Another popular theme here seemed to be forbidden knowledge, and the consequences of looking into things that one is not perhaps mentally equipped to handle. Many of the main characters, for example, eventually reap the grim rewards for the careless way in which they handle some of the items or creatures they find on this alien moon.

The cinematography was absolutely stunning. One could really feel as though they were looking at an alien world. The opening scenes of the film were not unlike watching a nature show on the Discovery channel; that is, until a strange life form appears, paradoxically looking as though it blends perfectly into the canvas of forests and waterfalls behind it.

The acting was solid and never disappointing. Theron's performance was particularly impressive, especially within the confines of her admittedly small role.

The weak link in this otherwise perfect chain of craftsmanship was the plot. The first half of the film had many exciting, horrifying, and bewildering events and scenes, but things slowed down a bit later on and became a little disjointed. Though the final portion of the movie certainly contained an underlying hint of menace, it didn't have the shocking or explosive touch a film like this could have benefited from.

When Elizabeth faces off against one of the Engineers, there's no real palpable sense of immediate danger or dread. Something was amiss during this conflict, and that was slightly disappointing.

Another problem, albeit one that only occurred in certain portions of the film, was that the plot seemed unable to carry its own - apparently unwieldly - philosophical weight. "Prometheus" was like a multi-faceted diamond. The problem was, some of its faces were more prominent than others - namely, an elaborate and grand scale drenched in esotericism, but without enough action and suspense to adequately accompany it.

A little reflection on "Prometheus" as a whole though, assures the viewer that the experience was rewarding. One is left with much to think about, and a renewed sense of hope for the potential of sci-fi films to be both brainy and entertaining. And, at the end of the day, that's more than can be said for films like Battleship.

"Prometheus"

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron

2012, 124 minutes, R

Photo: Scene from film.   Official Prometheus website

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  • I watched the movie a while ago and thought it was easily one of the best sci-fi movies that came out of Hollywood in years. No surprise because it was directed by Ridley Scott, the maestro of sci-fi. Though it really left me with many unanswered questions, thankfully, I found out that there was going to be a sequel to Prometheus. Perhaps the next movie could answer some of these plot holes.

    Posted by Michelle Kollathe, 08/14/2012 11:12pm (2 years ago)

  • Here again another emphasis that ancient astronaut "theory" is worse than wrong: It is dishonest in its presentation of the evidence. Additionally, I would like to point out that so far from being overlooked, the ancient astronauts were the premise of the older scifi movie, Stargate! Except that this movie ended with the oppressed masses rising up against their ancient astronaut overlords, which I daresay is far more original than anything in Prometheus, even though I will wait for the right price to see Prometheus. (Redbox, $1.27)

    And of course, Stargate the movie led to the television series, Stargate SG-1 (which lasted for ten years,) its two direct to dvd sequels; Stargated: Atlantis (which lasted for four years,) and Stargate: Universe (which lasted two years.) It is true that these series didn't take themselves too seriously. Indeed, I would outright call Stargate SG-1 an action comedy. But you certainly can't say the ancient astronauts haven't had their time.

    Posted by steven johnson, 06/15/2012 8:21am (2 years ago)

  • Rather than being "persuasive and important" the theories of "ancient astronauts" influence on human history is considered by the vast majority of legitimate scientific researchers to be without credible evidence or logical demonstration and is virtually without support in the academic community which, for the most part, considers its importance to be exclusively as an artifact of intellectual fraud, deception and popular gullibility. How does one account for this? A conspiracy of “mainstream scientists”? I hope nobody here is foolish enough to propose that, although, I fear I may be mistaken.

    It should be noted that the discourse around ancient astronauts is deeply embedded in the milieu of what have come to be called “conspiracy theorists”. It has, as well, historical connections, not with scientific investigations of any kind, but with the speculative ravings of a pre-von Daniken generation of often extreme Right, occultist and racialist theorists of Aryan supremacy who postulated possible extraterrestrial origins of a “Master Race”. Pseudo-archaeology and pseudo-anthropology of the kind that forms the basis of ancient astronaut speculation, has long been a mainstay of “alternative” explanations of history which are common in the lower depths of the Nazi movement from its pre-Hitler origins to its current manifestations.

    Conceptually, theories about the influence of ancient aliens are, at best, little different from the pseudoscience of “scientific creationism”. Like scientific creationism, ancient astronaut theories argue from supposed “gaps” in the record, from incomplete or unsettled scientific argument and from the evidence of alleged anomalies which , supposedly, the scientific consensus cannot explain. Where creationists see the hands of God, ancient alien theorists use the deus-ex-machina of extraterrestrial space-ship visitations and alien interventions to explain the so-called “mysteries” to which they point, problems which “mainstream science” supposedly cannot adequately address. I would suggest that the proponents of ancient astronaut stories are no more “persuasive and important” to people with a consistent scientific wold-view than the people who think that there is “scientific” evidence that dinosaurs and humans walked the earth at the same time.

    I can’t present a full argument here, but I have found a rather good summary of the case against this kind of reasoning at the following website, devoted to debunking a recent movie of cult renown, Thrive,a film which apparently is a virtual compendium of conspiracy theories and just one of the many examples of pop cultural advocacy for the absurd theory of "ancient aliens" : <http://thrivedebunked.wordpress.com/2012/01/05/ancient-astronauts-debunked/>

    For a general summary of the fallaciousness of von Daniken's "theories" see : <http://www.skepdic.com/vondanik.html>, an excellent, brief treatment.

    The compatibility of this stuff with Marxism?… It boggles the mind that someone would seriously suggest that here !

    As for the film under review, I am sure it is electrifying entertainment for sci-fi fans and will clean up at the box office. But if it contributes to the further popularization of pseudo-scientific theories like von Daniken's I'm afraid that its more significant impact will be to the detriment of our culture, already supersaturated with nonsense about zombie apocalypses and Mayan predictions of the end of the world in 2012.


    Posted by Mark Charles Rosenzweig, 06/14/2012 1:37am (2 years ago)

  • I saw the movie last week, enjoyed it and am looking forward to the sequel. It would be interesting to know more about the cave carvings upon which the star map was based. I believe that this part of the story may be based on historical/archeological data. I think that the "ancient alien theory" is persuasive and important. The historical foundation of the evidence needs to be better established. I believe that this theory is fully compatible with and supportive of Marxism.

    Posted by Terry Jeroloman, 06/12/2012 6:37pm (2 years ago)

  • It is puzzling and embarrassing to read, in a review in a Marxist publication, the following: "[Prometheus} explored an uncommon theme - the largely overlooked theory of ancient astronauts (the idea that aliens made contact with humans at some point in history). This influence was confirmed by the director, who was inspired by Erich von Daniken's book Chariots of the Gods'

    The suggestion that the huckster von Daniken's thoroughly debunked claptrap ( see , "The space-gods revealed: A close look at the theories of Erich von Daniken" by Ronald Story with a foreword by Carl Sagan), with its extremely reactionary implications, was an "uncommon theme" which has been somehow "overlooked" is utter nonsense. The book in which von Daniken initially expounded his "theory" - illustrated with fabricated evidence, illogically argued and replete with plagiarism from dubious sources - was an international bestseller . selling millions of copies and it sparked a whole slew of related books. The influence of this rubbish has been lamentably immense since its intiial publication in 1968. His fraudulent theories of "paleo-contact" by "ancient astronauts" being responsible for the pyramids of Egypt, the Moai of Easter Island, the Nazca lines in Peru and Stonehenge, tremendously popular and widely disseminated, are even the basis of a theme park (Mystery Park ) which opened under his direction in Switzerland as recently as 2003, with another similar theme park announced recently.

    As Carl Sagan pointed out in the intro to Story's detailed refutation of Von Daniken: "I know of no recent books so riddled with logical and factual errors as the works of von Däniken." Sagan also suggested that the fact that von Daniken "should be so popular is a sober commentary on the credulousness and despair of our times."

    I hope that the reviewer for the People's World is not suggesting otherwise.



    Posted by Mark Charles Rosenzweig, 06/12/2012 3:36pm (2 years ago)

  • Cool review. I want to see this one. The themes of prehistoric aliens and forbidden knowledge remind me of Lovecraft.

    Posted by Jjack, 06/12/2012 12:55pm (2 years ago)

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