Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Roger Ebert (4 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB's review -
Roger Ebert's review -

Prometheus (directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof) is certainly a grand (at times grandiose) film that follows very much the style/conventions of both high science fiction and Scott's own films.

With regard to following long-standing the conventions of Sci-Fi film-making, Prometheus pays obvious homages to preceding films, notably to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey [1968] and then to Ridley Scott's [IMDb] own Alien [1979, 1986, 1992, 1997] as well as Blade Runner [1982] films.

The opening sequence of the Prometheus featuring a large gray (though very muscular) humanoid alien treading on an apparently still lifeless but already well watered planet harkens back to the opening sequence of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Oddysey of a group of excited apes apparently encountering some alien presence.  Further, the presence in Prometheus of a not altogether friendly (robotic) android named David (played masterfully by Michael Fassbender) who accompanies and (as programmed) nominally if _resentfully_ "helps" the human crew on the space-ship/expedition named Prometheus is a further more or less obvious homage to 2001's HAL [IMDb].  David could further be compared/contrasted with StarTrek: The Next Generation's [IMDb] android character named Data IMDb] who seemed far better adjusted in his relations with humans than David appears.  (But then the StarTrek franchise has generally had a far more positive outlook with regard to the future than the far more dystopian visions portrayed in many sci-fi films, those of Ridley Scott being perhaps emblematic sci-fi's cinematic "dark side.")

Then two thematic concerns in Ridley Scott's [IMDb] previous sci-fi films -- life's "will to survive"/"propagate" portrayed in the Alien series and "search for one's maker" present in Blade Runner -- are present here.   While over the years, the Alien series' treatment of reproduction, presented as almost monstrous (the Alien monsters in the series of films follow a truly bewildering number of pathways to reproduce and all at the expense of other lifeforms), should probably give the Catholic pause, the CNS/USCCB's review focuses on (and IMHO rather unthinkingly condemns) the current film's suggestion that life on earth could have come (perhaps by means of Aliens) from somewhere else in the universe.  This rather reflexive condemnation of the possibility of life coming to earth from elsewhere (and even perhaps, but _not_ necessarily guided by intelligent essentially good (angelic) and/or essentially bad (demonic) Aliens rather than directly by God, Creator of All) seems _to me_ to carry the same flaws in thinking as the knee-jerk condemnations by many literalist American Protestant denominations of Evolution.

Is the Catholic Church, which has famously _refused_ to condemn Evolution, heading in a direction in which we'll soon be stuck in the same "God had to create the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th because the Bible tells me so" (never mind that the poetic imagery of the six day creation story of Genesis 1 may have only sought to express that God created the world/us in a planned purposeful way) coul de sac that our least educated "Solo Scriptura" Protestant brothers and sisters have chosen to place themselves in?   Honestly with all the educated minds in the Catholic Church, both now and across the centuries (we were the ones who built Europe's first Universities, the Jesuits (as well as the nuns) in particular maintain a world-wide network of state-of-the-art universities across the globe, and folks from Copernicus, to Mendel, to Tielhard de Chardin, to Karl Rahner to heck, even Martin Luther, were _all_ Catholic religious), are we honestly going to turn back from asking tough questions (and respecting the answers) now?   There was ONE TIME and only ONE TIME when the Catholic Church chose to impose its will on Truth in defiance of the results of scientific inquiry.  That was in the case of Galileo at the dawn of the use of the scientific method (which Galileo arguably invented, hence wasn't even widely known let alone accepted at the time) and the Catholic Church has been apologizing for its ONE OVER-REACH in such matters ever since.

Returning to the story ... ;-) ... Prometheus is about an expedition, set 100 years into the future, in search of our possible Creators.  Near the beginning of the film, some previously unknown cave drawings were found somewhere in Scotland a few years before the expedition is assembled.  (According to the story) the cave drawings prove to be more explicit than anything found previously as to the location from where supposedly such Creator beings (called in the film, "The Engineers") had come.  A rich, but sick/elderly industrialist named Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pierce) organizes an expedition to an earth-sized moon orbiting a planet belonging to the star system depicted in the cave drawings.  He does so in part because of the quest and in part hoping that if these beings created us, they could perhaps fix him.

The expedition, traveling by means of a scientific vessel called the Prometheus after the Greek God who helped humanity by giving it fire, arrives at said earth-sized moon only to be disappointed.  Though with an earth-like atmosphere, the planet appears totally uninhabited.  Soon, however, they find an pyramid-like structure, which they then descend to the surface to investigate.  Much, of course, ensues ...

Even as all this is "ensuing," as in the case of many other Sci-fi films, the actual action isn't as important as the various characters' motivations and interactions in what was unfolding.  Peter Weyland motivations though somewhat conflicted are rather easy to grasp.  He was being simultaneously altruistic and selfserving -- financing this trip in part out the sheer coolness of the mission (seeking reach the folks who may have made us) and in hopes that our would be creators could perhaps help him.  The chief scientist on board, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) explicitly a Christian believer sincerely hopes to meet God or at least those who would have created us on behalf of God.  Her more skeptical boyfriend Charlie Hollaway (played by Logan Marshall-Green) as well as David the Android (played by Michael Fassbender) make fun of her faith throughout the film BUT SHE MORE THAN HOLDS HER OWN.   The rest of the crew, including ship's icy captain Meribeth Vickers (played by Charlize Theron) and her more amiable helmsman Janek (played by Idris Elba) as well as some of the other lesser experts/engineers on the expedition are less than enthusiastic or ambivalent about the mission, fearing honestly for their lives (not unlike apparently the crews on Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the Americas).

David the the Android, indeed, is a fascinating character in all this because unlike the humans on this ship, HE KNOWS HIS "MAKER" (humanity, us ...) and he's both unimpressed (he's smarter, far more capable than any of us) and resentful (despite that he's programmed to serve us anyway).  So he doesn't particularly understand why people like Peter Weyland or Elizabeth Shaw would be so keen on finding their makers, and more or less openly snickers (as much as an android could snicker) when the "Engineers" (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS) who may have been responsible for our Creation turn out to be something other than we would have hoped/expected.

Be all this as it may ... when the human expedition reaches the largely desolate earth-sized moon and the apparent pyramid artifact built there, it begins to explore the region around and within the pyramid.  To their dismay, they find that "the Engineer" race that they had been looking for appeared to be (largely?) extinct.  And to their horror, they find some rather vicious and slimy octopus/snakelike creatures there.  What were these strange, apparently unintelligent but certainly driven/vicious creatures?  What happened to "the Engineer" race?   As is often the case with regards to Voyages of Discovery (remember Columbus again...) the expedition/viewers are soon left with more questions than when they had when they arrived.

This film has been billed as a prequel to the Alien series, by the end of the film, some of this becomes to be clear.  However, it is obvious that there is room for several more films to both tie-up the connection between Prometheus and the first Alien movie and to develop the direction that Ridley Scott's [IMDb] and the other makers of the film wish to take the audiences with regard to humanity's possible origins and how these origins could fit together with regard to our previous belief systems.

So perhaps here the CNS/USCCB's warning (though condemnation??) is somewhat appropriate -- Ridley Scott's [IMDb] and the script writers are "playing jazz" (exploring the implications) here with regard to a couple of strands of popular thought -- Intelligent Design as explanation for human/the world's/universe's origins and Ancient Alien Theory.  It should go without saying that these _very difficult_ to prove musings should be approached with large grains of salt.

Still, I've long appreciated that one of the possibilities with regards to Intelligent Design at least with regard to the origins of life on earth / humanity's origins is that God need not have _directly_ created either life on earth or humanity.  Life created/coming to existence elsewhere _could_ have arrived to earth by means of bacteria/spore carrying meteorites.  And yes, life growing on earth _could have been manipulated_ by intelligent aliens who would have been clearly "less than God" but perhaps acting in some way according to God's plan (as the film's character Elizabeth Shaw understood as well).  If today we can make a glow-in-the-dark rabbit by adding genes of jellyfish to the egg of a rabbit, there is no reason why a postulated intelligent alien race could have conducted similar manipulations with us or otherwise earthly life a "long long time ago ..."  Again, these are now _scientifically possible_ musings if presently all but _unprovable_ ones.

Finally, a note to parents.  While I think that some of the horror scenes in this film are probably simply too intense, slimy and, yes "gross" for young children, I do believe it okay for most teenagers.  There may be some questions of bad language (I often have a tin ear for this, but I live and work on the South East side of Chicago ...).  The main couple in the film Elizabeth Shaw and her boyfriend Charlie apparently sleep together in the film (not shown, but something which becomes important as the film plays out ...).  Keeping these language and implied sexuality concerns in mind, I nonetheless would think that a teen/young adult would find the film's musings and their implications very, very interesting.  All in all, with parental consent, I'd recommend the film to high school teens and above.

ADDENDUM -- I would remind readers here, that I've been very impressed over the past several years with the Science Channel's television series Through the Worm Hole with Morgan Freeman.  Like any as yet incomplete television series, that series could "go off the deep end" sometime in the future.  However, some of the questions explored in this film have been discussed in a more sober way there.  It would behoove Catholics especially our younger ones to "take a look."  Otherwise, honestly we are going to find ourselves _needlessly_ being left in the dust.  Over 100 years ago, the Vatican, which could have chosen to put its head in the sand and "fear for the the best," instead chose to be brave and created the Pontifical Biblical Commission.  Today, Catholic Biblical scholarship is second to none and we don't fear Evolution or the developments in Historical-Literary Criticism as a threat to our faith.  PLEASE LETS NOT CHOOSE TO PUT OUR HEADS IN THE SAND NOW.

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  1. Father, I was disappointed in this film. After reading your and Roger's reviews I was set to love it. Ridley Scott borrowed too much from his Alien franchise, and without a bit of remorse or artistic homage, he stole from Stanley Kubrick. I felt as though I knew what was going to happen before it happened, and some of it felt like it was warmed over. Perhaps Scott is counting on his audience to have not been alive at the time of these previous presentations of this material. I'm a scientist who hates to hear Fundamentalists lamely and blindly defend their indefensible positions, and I wanted to have this discussion aired. But it was too cliche. However, as a Christian the best moment of the film for me was when Elizabeth Shaw asked the disabled android, "Where's my cross?" That's what I would have asked.

    Thank you for your fine commentary here. I guess I've just seen too much for this film to resonate.

    1. Thank you very much Dr. Mack for commenting here. I didn't mind that Ridley Scott so clearly took stole from Stanley Kubrick's initial sequence in 2001 A Space Odyssey because it was obvious and yet he took it in a very different direction. Was the movie predictable? I do think that you are right there. And I do think that Riddley Scott spent too much time chained the obvious goal of eventually linking this story to the Alien movies. Perhaps he would have been better off just taking Prometheus in a completely new direction. Blade Runner, for instance, thankfully "stands on its own" separate from any connection to "Alien." So perhaps it would be better if he just took Prometheus in its own direction. BUT LIKE YOU I ALSO LIKED THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER IN THIS FILM (and that she held her own in the movie). Perhaps it was too much to expect there to be more discussion of Intelligent Design (and the full ramifications of the idea, which includes actually that life here and elsewhere could have been come from (or perhaps even manipulated by) previous generations of space-faring aliens ... even if the "spaceship" could have been a "rock with bacteria on it" ... ;-). ANYWAY, ALWAYS GOOD TO HEAR FROM YOU. GOD BLESS!

  2. Shaw's desire to not go home but rather pursue the Antagonist was interesting. She was laying down her life for her friends.