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The Best 'Prometheus' Analyses So Far

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire June 18, 2012 at 11:35AM

If you're still puzzling over Ridley Scott's new sci-fi movie, you're definitely not alone.
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"Prometheus."
"Prometheus."

The following post, along with every single link it contains, includes SPOILERS for "Prometheus." Like here's one right here: SPOILER -- alien gods from the ancient past have amazing abs. But they're as stingy with their dieting secrets as they are with the origins of life in the universe.

Despite the best efforts of the Worst Theater Ever, I finally saw "Prometheus" this weekend. I didn't repeatedly try to catch this movie because I'm a huge Ridley Scott fan (I'm not) or because I loved screenwriter Damon Lindelof's TV series "Lost" (I didn't) or even because I'm obsessed with "Alien" (more of an "Aliens" man, myself). No, I was finally stirred to see "Prometheus" after months of skepticism when it became clear that its cinematic merits were irrelevant; good or bad, the film was provoking some very good writing and even better conversations, and I wanted to read all of them. So, yes, I basically paid $17.50 in order to read several dozen articles online for free. This is why my wife manages the family bank account.

My own thoughts on the film can come later, probably in the form of the review-slash-thinkpiece that's bubbling away in my brain like so much black goo. In the meantime, though, let's enjoy some the best "Prometheus" analysis posted online so far -- and I say so far because I imagine this movie will be provoking debate for a long time to come. Perhaps centuries or even millennia from now, some ancient race will discover these words, penned on a cave wall or like an 8-inch floppy, and use it as an invitation to come find us, presumably still in a movie theater lobby debating how the hell the squid baby got so big in a matter of hours with no food supply. Until then, here are:

The Best "Prometheus" Analyses So Far (With Lots of SPOILERS)

1. Adrian Bott on "Prometheus"' Mythological Motifs

"We know something about the Engineers, a founding principle laid down in the very first scene: acceptance of death, up to and including self-sacrifice, is right and proper in the creation of life. Prometheus, Osiris, John Barleycorn, and of course the Jesus of Christianity are all supposed to embody this same principle. It is held up as one of the most enduring human concepts of what it means to be 'good.' Seen in this light, the perplexing obscurity of the rest of the film yields to an examination of the interwoven themes of sacrifice, creation, and preservation of life."

2. Jon Korn on the Film's Literary Ancestry 

"Examining Lovecraft and Clarke's own takes on ancient astronauts also allows us to see where, in macro terms, 'Prometheus''s narrative stumbles. Both the older authors succeed by limiting our contact with the superior races they describe, rendering them fittingly unknowable. In contrast, 'Prometheus' tries have it both ways, giving the Engineers a lot of screen time while keeping their intentions frustratingly opaque. It becomes hard to parse their reasoning for initiating life on Earth, then returning often to the planet during early human development, and ultimately wanting to destroy the same beings they created. While it probably would have run counterintuitive to the studio notes, I think the film's plot would be vastly improved by an injection of the same mystery that Lovecraft and Clarke so artfully deploy. (And it would lead more organically to the sequel so artlessly implied.)"

3. Drew McWeeny on What Does and Doesn't Work About "Prometheus"

"Ultimately, my biggest question about the film is 'Why didn't Ridley just make the 'Blade Runner' sequel instead?' It's obvious watching the film that David is the character he's most interested in, and the questions he explores with David would work just as well in the 'Blade Runner' world.  If Ridley wanted to play the game with a character who might or might not be a Replicant, as it appears he's doing with Vickers, then why not do that in the actual 'Blade Runner' world as well?"

4. Steven James Snyder Decodes "Prometheus"' Mysteries

"This is why David extracts, analyzes and manipulates the metallic orbs found in the cargo holds, why he drops a bit of the black goo into Charlie’s drink. David is trying to do anything -- everything -- to these precious alien artifacts to resurrect mankind’s ancestors. It is here where David utters the memorable line “big things have small beginnings,” and indeed the entire 'Alien' universe as we know it can be traced back to this single decision -- the mingling of this exotic DNA with human DNA."

5. Jen Yamato on the Film's Biggest Unanswered Question

"Consider the legacy of the man at the center of David's favorite film, as seen in 'Prometheus''s sublime opening sequence. T.E. Lawrence was born in 1888, helped upset order in the Arab world in 1916, was immortalized on celluloid in 1962's 'Lawrence of Arabia,' and then, years later in the world of 'Prometheus,' inspired an android to not only imitate his blond coif but instigate the beginnings of the 'Alien' universe in 2093. Lawrence is really the key to understanding David; in helping Weyland achieve his immortality by way of launching the destruction of humanity, David is immortalizing himself, and a part of me thinks that a part of him yearns to express this measure of often foolhardy human emotion. Or maybe he's just designed to be a close, but not close enough, imitation of the humans who built him?"

6. Jim Emerson on the Sci-Fi Movie Origins of "Prometheus"' DNA

"A few years later, in 2093, a ship, the Prometheus, is sent deep into space to find out who visited Earth all those years ago, and what they wanted. The archaeologists refer to them (the large white humanoids) as 'the engineers' because it is theorized that they engineered humanity. Are they the gods who created us? And is any of this sounding familiar? Because it's meant to. It's the outline for Stanley Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968), inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's 1948 short story, 'The Sentinel,' in which humans discovered a beacon on the moon that had been left by voyagers from another planet long before homo sapiens had evolved. 'Prometheus' quite consciously piggy-backs on images and motifs from '2001.'"

7. Dana Stevens and Adam Kempenaar Debate Some "Prometheus" Spoilers

"The Engineers have somehow decided to destroy Earth; they're going to destroy the life that they created... I think that's one of the interesting thematic tie-ins back to Shaw. She can't have a baby, and she's upset about that. But then she finally gets to create life and she's not happy with the life that she created and she wants to destroy it -- just like the Engineers."

8. Brad Brevet's Extensive Annotations Based on Filmmaker Interviews and Production Notes

"Talking with T3, Lindelof says, 'The movie demonstrates what [the black goo] does in certain circumstances. So, here's what it does if it gets on worms; here's what it does if it gets on your face; here's what it does if someone just puts a little bit of it in your drink. Now we see that lots of this is headed to Earth. Now, you used the word 'weapon' -- you're extrapolating that based on the theory Janek [Idris Elba] has, because it looks like a payload to him; all these ships are loaded with this stuff, and they're headed for Earth. The intent has to be to wipe us out, or is it to evolve us, or is it for something else?'"

9. Frank Swain on the (Dicey) Science of "Prometheus"

"The alien DNA is a '100% match' to our own. I’m not sure what this means. That we’re them, obviously. But 100%? I share 99% of my DNA with a chimp. Does that mean they made chimps too? But if they’re a 100% match for us, where did they get the extra 1% DNA we don’t share with chimps? Do they use some other DNA that they manufactured? Does that mean the Engineers made all life on Earth or just kick it off and let it evolve? If the latter, why did they let chimps evolve but make us out of a mould? Doesn’t that mean, at the end of the day, that chimps have a better reason to meet the Engineers, as they clawed their way up from a protist to resemble their gods? This movie probably would have worked better if it had come out in the 1950, before Hershey and Chase published their ideas. Or maybe 1850."

10. Julian Sanchez on What's Wrong With "Prometheus"

"The movie opens with an alien 'Engineer' preparing to seed a primordial planet -- presumably Earth -- with life. He accomplishes this by drinking a black goop which causes him to die in agony, disintegrating at the cellular level. It looks cool, but forces you to wonder: Is this really the best means available for this incredibly advanced species to introduce genetic material to a planet? It’s a little like finding out that Prometheus brought fire to humanity by setting himself on fire despite the ready availability of kindling. As with many, many other bizarre moments in this movie, this makes sense at a thematic and allegorical level, but fails at the level of elementary plot logic. This is why doing allegory well is hard: Your story actually has to work at a second level without shattering the viewer’s suspension of disbelief on the first level."

PLUS: The Guys From Red Letter Media Ponder"Prometheus"' Puzzles:

This article is related to: Prometheus


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