Movie Review – Prometheus
June 9, 2012 6 Comments
In 1979, Ridley Scott set the standard for science fiction horror with his story of a rescue crew answering the distress call in deep space. They, like us the audience, didn’t know what was going to happen when the distress location was reached. We witnessed the horror of the unknown, a faceless enemy that burst forth from the chest of the magnificent John Hurt and terrorized the crew of the Nostromo. Fear in its purest form, left us trembling and scrambling to make sense of what took place. Alien was and still is, one of the best science fiction films around, combining elements of horror, dark thematic tones, and captivating performances from the unknown female lead, Sigourney Weaver. That film spawned a series that fell to the dreaded serialization, degrading the quality of the lore and series over time.
33 years after our first lesson that “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”, Ridley Scott takes us back to the sci-fi world with a stand alone, slightly quasi prequel to his greatest achievement.
Prometheus begins with an opening sequence that visually astounds the audience with majestic and picturesque landscapes of a planet of unknown origin. High above the darkly patched ground, a giant disc ship hovers and ascends further into the sky. A biped humanoid, one who sports and impressive physique typically reserved for the exaggerated pages of a comic book, performs some sort of ritual. The act it commits, breaks him down, eventually dissolving into the very ground it stand upon. We jump to a time not far off from our future where archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are excavating a dig site where they uncover a relic indicating a connection to something called, “the engineers”. Moving forward to 2093, a deep space vessel named Prometheus skulks about the void of space, carrying Shaw, Holloway and a large crew towards an unknown planet with an unknown mission ahead of them. Their journey in stasis is cared for by the humanoid robot named David (Michael Fassbender), who is tasked with awaking the crew when the time is right to explore and carry out the mission.
I won’t dive into more of the story as it will give away some spoilers, but understand that uncovering the mystery of the relic and mission is all part of the experience. Prometheus carries a lot of similarities to Scott’s original Alien film from 1979. While not a direct prequel, Prometheus stands alone by unraveling a story that sets to expand on the universe in which Alien created, mirroring the original in tone and thematic elements. The fear of the unknown is still there, lurking back amongst ruins of an ancient dig site of “the engineers”. While fans of the original film will draw similar parallels to Prometheus, you don’t need to see the original to understand what happens. There in lies the problem of the film.
Ridley Scott brings his unbelievable technical skills to Prometheus, inundating us with the very definition of what a Summer Blockbuster should be. While the incredible landscape and settings are dazzling and out of this world, the visuals end up masking an otherwise shaky story and character development that is sorely needed in this film. This is more or less, my only complaint, but it is an important one to make. Since Prometheus is an unofficial prequel, it sets up numerous characters in typical, familiar personalities. These are used as a guide or way point for the audience to associate certain feelings with certain characters. You have the chilly, corporate suit Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) who doesn’t really evolve as a character. Then there is Idris Alba as the benevolent captain Janek, a character who fits into a certain mold of an unrequited hero. All the characters in the film, save for Fassbender and Rapace, are all just signposts to direct certain emotions to. They never adapt with the story or budge in their mentality, even in the face of annihilation. It feels stiff and cheap when characters don’t grow organically along with the story, seemingly stuck in the original introduction phase to the audience.
But all is not lost, as Rapace and Fassbender deliver the most compelling and intriguing acting in the film. Rapace, who most people will know as the original Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, turns in a performance that is reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. The marketing for the film downplays her involvement in the film, but she is truly the star of the show along with Fassbender. Rapace plays the naive Dr. Shaw with a doe-eyed love for finding the truth in their existence, only to see it all stripped of humanity and knowing that all is lost. Rapace is leading lady material, overshadowing her contemporaries in the film with an unbelievable chaotic energy. Micahel Fassbender plays the robot David, an eerie, life-like human robot who is both calm stoic, but deftly capable of outsmarting everyone. His motive are masked behind the expressionless veneer his character has. Plotting and staying one step ahead of the crew, his plans for the discovery are slowly revealed through his manipulation and calm actions. I could watch an entire film about David and his attempts to humanize himself further. From his care taking of the crew, to his robotic, autonomic functions, Fassbender gave a bit of soul to a soulless robot.
The shortcomings of the characterizations, as few as they are, seemed amplified by a script that is part solid and part ridiculous. From jumpy scenes and dialogue choices, to the relatively large shrug they give to misplaced action sequences and the expendable crew members, Prometheus kind of befuddles you a bit as you are bombarded with the brisk pace of the story. Clocking in at just over two hours, Prometheus moves quickly from discovery to discovery, seeming a bit incomplete as a fleshed out narrative. Some audience members might be confused and left with questions, but that is the point of the film. The undiscovered meaning to the origin of humanities existence is something we truly don’t want to know about.
All these are small problems that pile up in the end. As the film again draws a lot of similar elements from Alien, doing so doesn’t help out Prometheus as the latter doesn’t match up to the former. Still, Prometheus is the fresh entry we need in a Summer which is going to be ruled by comic book films. A stunning science fiction film that puts Scott back in the seat he so rightly belongs in, Prometheus is a technically impressive film that looks glorious in the 4K Digital Format. Two standout performances from Fassbender and Rapace redeem an otherwise, one-dimensional character layout, elevating the film above the rest of the Summer field. The familiar ground that the film treads is a welcome sight for this film fan and even those that aren’t familiar with the world will be pleased with the film.
Seeing the film with two friends (Sarah and Jeff), both seemed to have the same concerns as I did, but found the film to be enjoyable and well worth the time. Even with story shortcomings and a few spotty characterizations, the overall package and presentation of Prometheus leaves me yearning to go back to the world it set up and continue unraveling the meaning of it all. If you are hoping to have the scare fest that Alien brought you in 1979, you will be sorely disappointed. Prometheus carves out its own path with Rapace and Michael Fassbender propelling the human story, while Scott makes beauty out of the muck of dark caves and space jockey remnants. It might not be as groundbreaking as Alien was in 1979, but it certainly creates a monolith all its own.
Rating: 4 Space Jockey Suits out of 5
*images via RottenTomatoes