Prometheus takes on God
BY FIRAS AL-ATRAQCHI
Cairo: In 1966, Federation Starfleet Captian James T. Kirk promised that the Enterprise’s mission would go where no man has gone before.
In “Star Trek: The Final Frontier” (1989), Kirk and his crew almost fulfill that promise, but their audience with God, the Creator, turns sour when they discover the deity is not what he seems.
In “Prometheus,” this year’s much anticipated summer sci-fi blockbuster, iconic filmmaker Ridley Scott may have discovered man’s ultimate destination in an alien Kingdom of Heaven.
Or is it Hell?
“Prometheus” kicks off with beautiful vistas of what appears to be a young, yet undisclosed planet the audience suspects may be Earth. An alien ship hovers above a glacier as a humanoid below consumes something which leads to his body — and DNA — disintegrating. His remains fall into the melting glacier and his DNA is reconstituted.
Fast-forward to Scotland in 2089 as archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) uncover 35,000-year-old wall paintings that depict a constellation from whence aliens appear to have visited earth. The archaeologists believe the cave paintings are an “invitation” for Man to visit the planet where, it is theorized, human life was born.
The archaeologists convince the dying CEO of the Weyland Corporation to finance a trans-galactic trip to an Earth-like moon millions of miles away where they hope to meet the “Engineers” — the makers of humanity. Michael Fassbender, of “X-Men: First Class” and “Shame” fame, plays David, the very human-like android manufactured by Weyland, who is tasked with operating the spacecraft en route.
But what they find is paradoxical and far from ideal. In a wicked twist of fate, the notion of engineering becomes more about military experiments and bio-terrorism. Suddenly, the theme is about the extinction, not creation, of Mankind.
Using this plotline, Scott taps into science-nouveau or religion-nouveau (whichever way you prefer to call it): An increasing number of historians, geologists, and archaeologists have in the past 40 years produced volumes of books and documentaries which theorize that our origins are due to advanced races of aliens who engineered our DNA.
This notion seems clear-cut until Scott begins playing with Christian symbolism. This serves his focus on the concept of dualism, best personified by Shaw’s conflicting religious beliefs and David’s android-cum-human resentment.
Few sci-fi films set in the future have tackled religiosity, but Scott attempts to create in “Prometheus” a multi-layered treatise on creation, the fall, original sin, redemption and a search for the Creator.
The attempt is ambitious but falls short of the metaphysical debate Scott hoped to trigger on the cusp of religion versus evolution.
This appears to be Scott’s raison d’etre: in the “Alien” franchise (whose first part he directed), corporate greed clashed with human survival. In “Kingdom of Heaven,” it was the much maligned, very misinterpreted clash of East and West that dominated the discourse; themes he first approached in 1992′s “1492: Conquest of Paradise” about the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.
As well-intentioned as Scott may have been, “Prometheus” feels hurried, jumping from one fundamental concept to another, with little spent on character development.
Most of the characters are hollow, given strong script lines, but lacking depth. Even A-lister Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers comes across as two-dimensional; so much so, in fact, that another character wonders if she is an android. Little to captivate the audience here, move on.
But one shouldn’t give up on the director that gave us the premiere sci-fi film “Blade Runner,” which went on to influence contemporaries as well as future filmmakers. David’s internal conflict comes close to expressing some of the human moral dilemmas in “Blade Runner;” he shares the distinction of most interesting character with Shaw.
Perhaps, more answers will be revealed in the rumored sequel.
In the interim, the film is about going full circle, giving a new definition to “to err is human, to forgive is divine.”
Even towards the end, when Shaw realizes how horribly wrong (was the creation of Man a mistake?) she was, David asks “Even after all this, you still believe?”
Audiences who are not familiar with Scott’s films or his famous franchise are likely to feel dizzy with all the questions left unanswered by the film.
But hardcore sci-fi fans will believe that this is an origins movie.
Yes it is, but whose?
“Prometheus” is showing in Cairo in the following theatres: Family, Concorde El Salam and City Stars.