Prometheus (2012) Review (R)
Prometheus is director Ridley Scott’s third entry into science fiction films. With the ‘sequel’ to Blade Runner on its way, I can only say that I hope that he makes a new sci fi film every year and I pray the old master lives to be 200. Prometheus, for me, lived up to the hype and to my own expectations (and I have long been a longtime Ridley Scott fan). Science fiction is probably the best genre to present interesting concepts and ideas. Here, the ideas are on a grand scale, whereas Scott tackles a ‘What If…?’ when it comes to the origins of man. It’s not a new wrinkle in science fiction… 2001: A Space Odyssey tread the same ground, for instance, but it is Ridley Scott’s unique take and it is as his other two sci fi films have been: A work of art onscreen.
Much has been talked about in the media about the film. It’s a prequel to ‘Alien’. No it’s not. Yes, it is. It has Alien’s ‘DNA’. It’s evolved into something completely original. But not exactly. It’s set in the same universe. The Space Jockey. It has an all star cast with Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, and international star Noomi Rapace. It has lesser known stars in the making like Idris Elba and Logan Marshall-Green. It has ties to other great sci-fi films with Benedict Wong’s precence (Moon, Sunshine). Etcetera… Whatever. It’s gotten a lot of hype if you keep track of such things. If you’re a fan of science fiction films, there’s a great chance you’re going to appreciate this.
I loved the opening titles that does lend itself to the original’s. The font style and the way the parts of the letters slowly form create a subtle and immediate bridge from the earlier film. There is a brief prologue involving a large pale humanoid standing over a waterfall. He disrobes,eats something that can’t possibly be good for you and immediately starts to decompose into the waterfall. You get lots of indications (mainly from the microscopic close-ups of pulsating DNA double helix strands) that his bits dripping into the water are some sort of catalyst for life.
Then the human part of the story begins with a team of scientists on the Isle of Skye (in Scotland) some 77 years in the future. It’s led by Elizabeth (or is it Lisbeth?) Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and boyfriend/scientist Charlie Holloway. They have found cave paintings from a primitive society (dating back over 35,000 years). The art depicts similarities to other artifacts found from other primitive cultures from around the world (and from various periods of history). The thing they have in common is a configuration of planets depicted in the art. The odd thing is that the planets would not be viewable from the earth until modern technologies allow for this team to pinpoint a solar system much like our own with it’s own sun and with a moon of one particular planet that they believe has the key ingredients to be able to sustain life there.
Cut To: 4 years later. Shaw has convinced Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce under a gallon of wrinkles), an aging (and dying) CEO for a gigantic conglomerate to finance a trillion dollar trip to the uncharted solar system in the hopes of contacting the alien race that potentially has ties to the beginnings of mankind. The crew is in suspended animation to make the long journey, while an android named David (Michael Fassbender) sees to running the ship and monitoring the crew. He also does quite a few other odd things. He uses a ‘neuro-link’ to share in the dreams of some of the crew. He watches his favorite movie Lawrence of Arabia and practices lines from the David Lean classic (He even resembles Peter O’Toole’s appearance and is shown to try to groom himself in the same way). Once in the target destination, Meredith Vickers (the lovely and talented Charlize Theron), who is the Mission Director (and I believe the new CEO of the company) wakes up, (does a few pushups) and quickly show herself to be quite icy (which Theron can be quite good at)in an exchange with David, then orders him to wake the rest of the crew.
There is a stark contrast between this crew and the crew of the Nostromo (the ship in the original ‘Alien’) and their working environments that I’m sure was intentional. Whereas the Nostromo’s crew were working stiffs hauling mined minerals across space, this is a well financed crew of scientists, engineers and business types. While the Nostromo is a dank, dark gnarly, industrial ship filled with average working stiffs, the Prometheus is a bright, somewhat lavish, technologically superior craft with the best and brightest. Both are filled with people (and androids) that each have their own agendas, though.
After a holographic appearance by Weyland introducing the scientists and referring to them as essentially being ‘in charge’, we quickly learn that they are not. Shaw (and Holloway) are sort of looked down upon since they are ‘believers’… religious. The other scientists aboard voice their own skepticism (side note: in film critic Roger Ebert’s review he wrongly suggested it was Holloway that offers up the accusation that Shaw is dismissing ‘300 years of Darwinism’… It wasn’t him. He was on her side. I believe the person making that accusation was Millburn (Rafe Spall), but I digress). Vickers voices her own displeasure of the situation, feeling Shaw tricked an old man into financing her very expensive wild goose chase. She doesn’t believe that they’ll find anything (which would be a real crappy movie if she’s right) and she orders if they did manage to come across this alien race (that they dub ‘The Engineers’) then they are in no way given the authori-tie(!) to make direct contact.
We also learn before they enter the atmosphere of this moon that David has a bit of a hidden agenda. He’s harboring secrets, as is Vickers, but not necessarily in collaborative fashion. they clash with one another behind the scenes. The viewer also gets the idea that there is something sinister about David despite his polite retorts and mannerisms. He harbors a resentment towards his own creators, feeling himself superior. And he has a particular disdain for Holloway, who treats David with the respect he would give to a talking household appliance.
The skepticism of the crew changes however, after they pick up lines on the moon’s landscape that would have had to have been made as opposed to naturally formed. This leads them to what looks to be some kind of curved massive structure. Shaw, Holloway and especially David are excited about the prospects while most of the others are decidedly apprehensive.
A small team is sent in with the excited trio to investigate and they soon learn that inside this structure, their helmets are unnecessary. There are indications that terra-forming (the process of making a toxic atmosphere breathable) of some kind was being done or at least there is something that makes the air breathable. That’s where I say, I’ll leave the rest for the reader to find out for themselves.
It’s quite a bit of setup, but once things get moving, it becomes more and more chaotic; more complicated. There is a lot of tension and one sequence in particular I think will have most members of the audience squirming in their seats. It seemed to be an effort by Scott to out-groo that particular moment in the original ‘Alien’ involving John Hurt at a dinner table. You (kind of) know what’s coming here which (kind of) makes it worse.
As Hitchcock said, suspense is showing the ticking bomb under the table to the audience, but not to the characters onscreen (paraphrasing). There are also quite a few gibbering gribblies running around oozing disgusting fluids. Distinct traces of the H.R. Giger designs for ‘Alien’ are on full display (quite a few creatures resembling phalluses, for instance). There is also that same kind of metaphor for rape that you got in that first film. Yuck.
I’m a fan of British film critic Mark Kermode, but I disagreed with his assesment of the film. His take was that the character of David was the center of the film and like with Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ the core idea of exploring what ‘makes us human’. For me, Blade Runner was not about ‘what makes us human’ as much as ‘what constitutes identity’. There IS a difference therein, I think. In Prometheus, the film is about ‘what makes us human’ to some degree, but David’s role is only in that he cannot grasp that particular concept as Rapace even points out to him at a key moment in the film, stating basically ‘If I gotta’ ‘splain it to you, you just ain’t gonna’ get it’. The core of the film (again, for me) is clearly focused on the beliefs of the protagonist Shaw and it’s blatantly spelled out to the audience at various points of the story. Speaking of which…
All of the performances in Prometheus are top notch. Great directors are largely responsible for that, though. Noomi Rapace is remarkable in this. I like that she is not even heroic in the way that Ripley was in the original film. The entire Alien series has a touch of female empowerment to it without rising to vomit inducing levels, despite what Sigourney Weaver recently said. She stated that the director (and producer) did not allow Ripley to be a survivor for any pro-woman political reason. They just thought she was the ‘least likely to survive’ and it would most surprise the audience. I think that’s another case of an actor not quite understanding the material of a film they worked on. Ripley was one of the more capable members of that crew, being a pilot, besides being the protocol officer. Had they listened to her character in the film at the beginning, they would have never been faced with the situation that they were faced with. And this is the director of a slew of films with a (strong) central female character. I mean he directed ‘Thelma & Louise’ and ‘GI JAne’ for God’s sake. To imply he’s a bit of a chauvinist is ridiculous. But, wow, am I digressing…
Back to Rapace. I like the fact that she is not a ‘superwoman’. Personally, I am much more interested in stories where an average person, not an action hero, is put into extraordinary circumstances. Elizabeth Shaw has that feeling of the old Challengers Of The Unknown comics (or the Fantastic Four to some degree) where normal folks are put in a situation where they are dwarfed in the presence of some enormous threat to the world… and they rise up to meet the challenge. She is bombarded by things bigger than herself and as David tells her in the film, her will to survive is admirable. I liked that she was a vulnerable person, though, almost visibly tearing up at just the prospect of what their discovery early in the film might implicate. Scott found the right actress. On another side note, , she keeps playing characters named Elizabeth. If there’s ever a Sanford & Son movie, she may have a ready made role… That’ll be the big one, Lisbeth.
Michael Fassbender has deservedly gotten a lot of praise for his role as the android David. He is presented from the get go as the ‘malfunctioning robot’ as opposed to the android in Alien, which was a complete surprise that he was a) a robot or b) that he might have an agenda of his own or c) that he might actually be malevolent. Scott gives full reaction shots of David when there are words being said about the character that might be taken the wrong way by David. He did a great job of not blinking, too.
I also liked some of the peripheral roles in the film such as Idris Elba, who I liked FAR more in this than, say, in Thor. He plays the captain of the vessel and someone who can see the big picture without it having to be explained to him. He and his crew offer up a little humor, too. And this was the first of two films I saw on Friday featuring Charlize Theron. That by itself made for a pretty good day. Shockingly, she played really hot ice-queens in both films; in this figuratively, the other literally.
Which leads me to say that this is quite a beautiful film to look at. As I said earlier, this crew is a lot less haggard/ruffled than the Nostromo’s. They’re dressed better, have better equipment, better jobs. The ship reflects that. And then there’s the incredible alien landscapes. They’re magnificent in their gloominess. The structure of the ‘Engineers’ is also impressive, owing a lot to the set design of the original, only with a bit more polish.
That’s not because of the advancement of special FX in the last 40 years, as much as it just makes sense to the story. The creatures of Prometheus are also designed with just a ‘cool’ factor (and some are just grotesque).
The Engineers themselves have a large heaping dose of Greek art in them. They have the ripped god-like bodies of statues depicting the heroes of Greek tragedies. The other monsters that turn up are fittingly Giger-esque. Maybe even with a bit of H.P. Lovecraft.
Is that sufficient, to say that I enjoyed seeing this? If it’s not, I’ll state that I will be seeing this again at the theater in the near future. It’s a big screen movie if there ever was on in modern times. It has a story on an epic scale and it ends on a note where there is clearly more to be told. I don’t think I’ll have to wait 33 years this time, though.
Great, great film. Does it have flaws? Yes, but they’re minor as far as I’m concerned. It’s getting mostly begrudgingly positive reviews amongst ‘critics’. I say begrudgingly because I believe a lot of the negative reviews are because of the reviewers’ ideaology or because of Ridley Scott’s. From what I gather he’s a little more conservative in his politics than most film directors, so naturally he’s going to get a backlash from some reviewers solely based on that, which is shameful. I love the guy. He’s one of the best directors of our time. Even his ‘failures’ are better than most everything else out there.
Prometheus is a visual feast that begs to be seen on a big screen while offering up a story with a lot more to chew on than your typical summer blockbuster. I can only hope the next big eagerly awaited summer blockbuster ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is half as entertaining as this one was.