- Vancouver, British Columbia - Let’s get something out of the way first. Alien and Blade Runner are science fiction films also directed by Ridley Scott that have not only stood the test of time, but have helped define the genre of science fiction. Visually stimulating, exceptionally well-written, beautifully acted, amazingly shot, and intellectually interesting are all phrases used to describe them. They are milestones of film as an art, and will be remembered for all time as masterpieces. These are films that didn’t impress audiences, as much as it challenged them. They came out astounded at what they had just seen, as it had never been done before. They didn’t fulfill trends, as much as they set them.
So for those out there who say that Prometheus just isn’t as good as those two movies, I say this: your bar is too high.
That’s not to say that we should settle for mediocrity, or that we can’t expect a phenomenally good movie from arguably one of the best directors of all time (wait…he did that Russell Crowe Robin Hood? No one’s perfect, I guess). No, what I’m saying is that you can’t expect a director to revolutionize the film industry every time he puts out a product. So, even though now I’ve joined them, I’m sick of reading reviews that mention Blade Runner and Alien. Let’s judge the movie on its own merits people.
Prometheus opens with an alien on a dead Earth of the past watching his ship take off without him, before drinking some Jello shooter, and decaying in a matter of seconds to seed the world with his genetic material. We fast forward to the near future where two scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) (wait…from Doctor Who??) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover yet another cave painting including a star chart. Hop forward a couple years later, and the space ship Prometheus is en route to the star system with all the crew in suspended animation. David (Michael Fassbender), who is clearly an android, wakes them all up and they land on a moon that once supported life. While down there, the team discovers a clearly manufactured building with strange jars and unusual décor, as well as bodies of the former inhabitants. Something went wrong on this world 2000 years previously, and the team may have just awoken it.
The immediate element to take away from this movie is the atmosphere. It’s thick and intense, and Scott once again shows that he can keep a consistent mood from becoming stale. The pacing is well-developed with enough levity introduced to keep you from being assaulted by the film, but without becoming distracting. To this end, I also congratulate Marc Streitenfeld’s amazing score which was immensely subtle, but strangely powerful. At no point does it waver from what the film is conveying, and sometimes is absent – purely to accentuate that atmosphere.
The visuals are amazing. It can be difficult to really pinpoint what works about them, but I’ll take a stab at it. The Prometheus itself for example is a big clunky ship that is absolutely gorgeous, from its lines and contours, down to the details of the bolts and weldings. The alien base is mostly sparse, but with intriguing details that will draw the eye. But I’ll even go so far as to compliment the costumes that, while functional, also are noteworthy. Clear thought was given into the look of this film.
I must commend the acting here as well. Notably, I love Michael Fassbender as David. The last film I saw Fassbender in was A Dangerous Method where he played Carl Jung, and between these two movies, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it was the same actor. His role is pivotal to the film, and we’re never completely sure what his motives are. He’s received some imperative programming from Weyland, and those programs are never fully divulged. There’s a lot going on with him, and Fassbender plays it very straight. An absolute joy is that you can tell that he experiences no or very little emotion, and that his smiles and frowns are emulations. That’s an impressive feat to pull off.
Noomi Rapace, straight off of Swedish/Danish Millenium film series, plays the protagonist Shaw. She’s remarkable. There’s a fantastic devotion about her, but a very human point of view that tethers the audience to her. She’s no idiot, and undergoes tremendous physical, emotional, and mental trials throughout this film that would be unbelievable save for the urgency and desperation of her situations. Forget Bella girls; Shaw is an empowering woman who doesn’t have to need, or be, a man.
I wasn’t too keen on Logan Marshall-Green’s portrayal of Holloway. He was a little too driven and temperamental for me to identify with. More often than not, he came across as a spoiled kid who can’t understand why the world doesn’t revolve around him. For the most part, I understand having him be that way for a character arc, but it was a little frustrating to watch sometimes.
I suppose I should also mention Charlize Theron as Vickers, the project supervisor, but there’s ultimately not that much to say. Like a lot of the film, she’s a very subtle character with a lot of mystery surrounding her. She observes a lot of the action dispassionately, but there’s a lot going on behind her eyes. Is she a villain? Not really, but I also wouldn’t count her as a good person. She’s ruthless and cold, but not inhuman. We get a brief glimpse at her background through some dialogue, but what’s more interesting with her is what’s not said. With an understanding of unspoken years of frustration, we get a peek at the woman under the mask.
I will admit that this movie was predictable at times. I don’t think it’s a surprise that most of the characters will be killed off in some hideous or violent way in this film, but this doesn’t necessarily have to detract from the film. It can teeter on gratuity, I’ll admit, but it serves the central theme of the movie and its written well. Unlike movies that kill people just for the sake of killing them, every death in this film raises the stakes and develops our understanding of the world and what the crew have stumbled upon. Imagine if a group of aliens stumble across a deserted Earth, which they believe was home to an enlightened and brilliant species, and start exploring what turns out to be a partially automated weapons facility. That’s not exactly what’s going on in Prometheus, but the same sort of crushing revelations occur. There’s nothing more unfortunate, but fascinating, to watch than a group of people confront their own preconceived notions.
I like that this movie will spawn discussion. Does it fit in the Alien universe? If so, how does it fit in? Does it contradict any of the sequels or spin offs? What does it say about humanity’s pursuits? These conversations could last for hours, and there is some (purposely, I think) contradictory backstory spread about this film by the production team.
So although it’s not the most groundbreaking story out there, it’s still a very successful movie with an engaging story and an extremely competent director flexing his muscles once more. Sometimes gory, sometimes tense, but always awesome, Prometheus is what movies like Event Horizon and Pandorum aspired to be but fell short of.
Rating: 4.5/5 Sour Grapes