Movie Review: Prometheus

I saw this highly anticipated Ridley Scott epic last Tuesday. Thoughts follow!

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Starring:
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron
Director:
Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner)
Rating: M
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If you were Sir Ridley Scott, director of such massive critical and commercial successes as Gladiator and Black Hawk Down and architect of one of the most ponderous sci-fi films ever made in Blade Runner, you could probably do whatever you wanted with your late career. So thirty-three years after he practically reinvented the horror genre by sending it into space with Alien, Scott figured it might be a cool idea to revisit the fictional xenomorph-infested universe he built himself with a new film, Prometheus. In doing so he whipped up a storm of hype and, as so often happens with these things, all kinds of questions started flying around fan circles. Would the film be a direct prequel or just set in the same universe? Why that odd title? How would the advent of CGI impact the atmosphere of the film? And perhaps most importantly, in what new direction would Scott take the series?

Fans received an answer to that last question as the director began to do publicity for the film; Prometheus would attempt the ambitious task of tackling a handful of big questions about humanity. Sir Ridley was ready to serve up his own intriguing sci-fi theories on who we are, where we come from and why we exist. Moviegoers were ready to be enthralled by them. Hype built further thanks to a viral video released on the movie’s official website, which featured the revered character of Peter Weyland (played by Guy Pearce) waxing lyrical about the Greek legend of Prometheus and comparing himself to the rebellious god. Fast forward to June 2012 and Prometheus was finally unleashed upon the world.

The first thing that is plainly obvious to viewers of Prometheus is that it’s what you might call an “event movie”. It knows that it’s a big deal. The film opens with a sprawling view of weirdly beautiful black-grey mountains and waterfalls, set to an immediately affecting score. The title slowly reveals itself in strokes a la the Alien opening and you can sense that something large and majestic, perhaps even meaningful is about to unfold on screen. Unfortunately, that never quite eventuates. Prometheus‘ biggest failing is that it doesn’t do enough with its intriguing premise. We never get those answers Scott claimed he would propose, certainly not in any clear fashion. In fact, the film’s mythology only serves to open up more questions, dangling the possibility of a sequel in a rather deliberate manner.

But to focus on what the film doesn’t do would be to miss a thoroughly entertaining ride. It is a credit to the director that he can fall so frustratingly short on his promise to differentiate his new effort from his past masterpiece, yet still deliver such a watchable movie. That wonderful Marc Streitenfeld score is ever-present. The visual spectacle never lets up, expanding on Sir Ridley‘s vision for space travel in Alien thanks to some great use of CG as well as some typically excellent set design. The interplanetary vessel Prometheus, with all its nooks and crannies and secrets, is almost a character all on its own, which is just as well because there aren’t too many crew members who escape stereotypical characterisation.

Chief protagonist Elizabeth Shaw is thankfully an exception, though one of the traits that supposedly defines her, her spirituality, is glossed over. This is thanks in no small part to the committed performance of Noomi Rapace, who manages to differentiate Shaw from Alien mainstay Ripley when the going inevitably gets tough. Even Rapace is eclipsed by Michael Fassbender, however, who plays the android David. Fassbender switches effortlessly between helpful and vindictive, from awestruck to controlling and back again, stealing the show on a regular basis. Charlize Theron isn’t half bad herself as the android-like company rep Meredith Vickers and Idris Elba‘s ship captain provides some nice comic relief.

It isn’t easy to describe exactly what kind of film Prometheus is without indulging in spoilers. It is definitely a prequel to Alien, but it stands to launch a franchise all its own. It is ostensibly more about human life than extra-terrestrial, yet it features a number of new H.R. Giger creature designs that expand on the twisted ecosystem the Swiss designer created for Alien. It is punctuated by a persistent sense of wonder, yet it features some truly disturbing scenes, one of which stands out as a particularly memorable cocktail of knife-edge suspense, CG, old-school puppetry and human performance. The scene is a visceral ode to the survival instinct, a fantastical version of the pivotal moment in Danny Boyle‘s 127 Hours, if you will.

Prometheus isn’t on the same level as Alien, which it bears comparison to by choosing to take the narrative path that it does. It parades some things in a shamefully half-interested manner, but it succeeds very well at achieving others. It is greater than the sum of its parts and demands to be watched, except by those with weak stomachs. Seriously, don’t go if you have a weak stomach.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Majestic score, cracking visuals, nice performances, at least one particularly amazing scene
Bad:
Shortage of memorable characters, doesn’t deliver on its central premise
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3.5 VsG !

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