Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Prometheus

One of the most anticipated returns to a film franchise is Ridley Scott's revisiting of the Alien universe. Prometheus has been hyped as something of a prequel to the original film, set some 30 years before Ripley and the Nostromo answered the distress call from L-426. Prometheus details the first deep space mission sent by the ubiquitous Weyland (sans Yutani) Corporation, after scientists have discovered extra-terrestrial intervention in Earth's past, and what appears to be a map (and invitation) to where they originated from.

Scott has assembled a great cast—Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), Charlize Theron (fresh out of Snow White and the Huntsman), Guy Pearce, and Idris Elba, with Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Logan Marshall-Green (Across the Universe) as the two scientific visionaries that kickstart the mission. It's also written by Damon Lindelof (Lost), and depending how you view the end of Lost will have a bearing how excited you are to have him writing Prometheus.

The main cast is pretty decent overall, though it's Fassbender's performance that rises above the rest, playing the original Weyland android and his struggles to search for meaning in his own creation just as Elizabeth Shaw does for humanity's genesis. Charlize Theron has a tough act to follow as the cold and calculating CEO of the mission. Idris Elba is workmanlike as the captain.

Noomi Rapace is the heart of the movie, with her near religious zeal to discover why the alien engineers influenced humanity. Boyfriend Charlie is a little less the fanatic, but the two of them represent the sense of wonder and discovery amid the more corporate elements on the ship. The other characters are the least of the film's strengths, as many in the crew aren't given any development whatsoever, and don't seem like they would measure up to the selection process in the real world. We're told there's a crew of 17, so many of them only show up at pivotal moments. 

Visually, Prometheus succeeds in creating a spectacle—the sets, the environments and the ship itself are stunning and leap off the screen in vivid detail (especially in the IMAX). I rank it up there with 2001 for a memorable take on future space flight. In fact, seeing the Prometheus sitting on the vast alien plain made me think of a similar image from Forbidden Planet. It's quite a contrast to the claustrophobic Alien. Here we get whole worlds rendered beautifully, and vast catacombs and caverns filled with wonders (and a ton of Alien references).

I've noticed a lot of criticisms about Scott's so-called message or theology infusing the movie. I don't get that at all. Sure some characters have their viewpoints, but I don't get a sense that there's a specific message about religion or, as some have said, anti-science. On the contrary, it's all about technology. Equally strong is David's storyline and all the themes that go along with creating artificial life. So there are, in fact, two threads to the story—the alien engineers and David's, both of which deal with creations/creators and all the questions that go along with it.

It's been awhile since I've seen as many spoilery trailers and TV spots for a film like we have with Prometheus. I felt I had a sense of the entire plot, and this is my major criticism (hello, spaceship collision, I'm talking to you). And I was initially concerned the movie wouldn't have the chills, but by the time the crazy starts, there are some really effective scares and disturbing scenes, including one in a surgical pod that should have you on the edge of your seat.

Prometheus doesn't provide any easy answers. It leaves a lot up to the audience to interpret a plethora of clues and elements to piece together the motivations of the engineers. In that sense, Scott was right all along—it's not so much a prequel as a precursor to Alien, and it can take off on its own set of sequels (I hope). As far as flaws, there will likely be enormous criticism about the ending and just what (and what does not) tie in with Alien, a source of debate on the ride home, that's for certain. I believe all the elements are there to tie the movies together and hypothesize just what led to the events in Alien

There were also a bunch of sloppy moments where I just shook my head at some of the stupid things the characters were doing. I don't need any training to know I'd be keeping my damn space helmet on inside an alien temple, breathable air or not. And the idea that some members of a mission would actually try to touch an obviously threatening alien lifeform? Seriously.

Prometheus is something to experience just for the style and visuals, but the story is there, as well. It may not rank up there as a ground breaker, genre-changing film like Alien, but it is certainly a smart sci fi entry that warrants multiple viewings, especially for Alien fans. And perhaps even better for those with no Alien baggage whatsoever.

Spoilery Musings:
So, it's obvious the moon in Prometheus is not L-426. Not only is the name detailed, but atmosphere is different. The space jockey at the end dies in the life pod, not the pilot seat. Ripley's crew never saw a bunch of human bodies in the spacecraft, and there was no distress signal initiated here. So that leaves another ship to crash on L-426 (and from the fossilized sample over 2000 years old we get here, it's likely already long crashed by the time of the film). 

The xenomorph which appears to develop during the credits isn't anything new at all, given we see a carving of it on the temple, and the L-426 eggs are presumably already in existence. Does the black goo naturally bring out the classic xenomorph over successive generations?

Other lingering questions—why did the aliens leave cave paintings pointing to their weapons installation moon? Why give those details at all? Who was the alien at the beginning, and was it Earth? Given the goo destroys him, I assumed he might have been infecting the life on that planet to exterminate it as they had wanted to do with Earth.

Using the canisters of the black goo to wipe a planet clean of life is undoubtedly effective. But what a mess to clean up after! Do the aliens plan on terraforming these worlds again? How do they get rid of all the weird ass killer organisms running amok? And why opt to destroy Earth 2000 years ago? Does it have anything to do with the rise of Christianity? Prior to that the cave paintings and artwork suggests they were getting along fine with their creations.

Lots to consider. I'm relieved it honored what went before with Alien, answered a few questions and offered some possible solutions to others, while raising a host of other mysteries. Not a perfect film, by any means, but far smarter than a lot of what passes for summer entertainment.

1 comment:

  1. The promotion for this film made it look freakin’ awesome but also, a lot like Alien and I think that’s the big problem with the film. It’s pretty much the same formula used over again and even though Scott tries his hardest to get our heads past that, it’s too obvious, too quick. Good review Jeff.


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