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Theatrical Review: “Prometheus”

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Produced by: Ridley Scott, David Giler, Walter Hill
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Cinematography by: Dairusz Wolski
Music by: Marc Stretenfeld
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce
Year: 2012

 

Here’s a little thing you really need to know about Prometheus, and it’s something that Ridley Scott would definitely like you to know, as well: Prometheus, though set in the same universe as the Alien film series, is not a prequel — at least not in the sense that one would expect from hearing that word. Prometheus, aside from a few nods, does not feature the parents of Ellen Ripley, does not feature Lance Henriksen, and does not, in fact, really set up any plot points in the Alien films that came before, and without the scattered connections and references to those films, Prometheus likely would have stood on its own as a completely unrelated film. What connections to the Alien films that are present are neat little nods that fans will enjoy that help to effectively build up this universe rather than just exploit a film franchise. But, much like the plot, do not go in expecting a film that apes any of the films that came before it. You will be profoundly disappointed if you do.

After a quick but intriguing prologue, the film begins in an unexpected place, one that the Alien franchise didn’t ever get to feature except for at the very end of the awful Alien Resurrection: Earth. It’s 2089 A.D., and archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway have made a groundbreaking discovery that points to the possible origins of human life on our lonely planet, origins that point outward towards a star system beyond our own, where they believe an alien race they call the “Engineers” come from. With the help of Peter Weyland, of the Weyland Corporation (the company that later becomes the infamous Weyland-Yutani), Shaw and Holloway join a fairly large crew of scientists, engineers, and a few corporate entities to keep an eye on the assets on their journey to what they believe to be the alien homeworld, hoping to find the meaning behind the creation of humanity.

Immediately, I was struck by how beautiful this film was. Though it largely remains in the cool color temperature range of whites, greys, blues, and blacks, Prometheus is a stunning-looking film and, though I did not see it in 3D, I can only presume that it enhances the effect. Guess I’ll just have to give that a try… I did, however, see it on a very large screen, and that alone was a great experience. The set design and general art direction looks to be fully realized in scope and believability, and the ancient but advanced alien technology contrasts to great effect with that of the humans. As an extension of the Alien franchise, it’s only fitting that these elements help to build a larger, more believable universe, and Prometheus does not disappoint.

Also noticeably not disappointing are the performances. Charlize Theron, as the ruthless but conflicted corporate woman Meredith Vickers, is nearly perfect as  the Weyland Corp. representative, portraying the character as someone whose drive and dedication to her company is founded upon far deeper personal issues. I was actually looking forward to seeing Snow White and the Huntsman largely based on the hammy-looking performance of Theron in that film’s previews only to have my interest shattered by the poor response to that film, so it’s nice to have gotten a good performance out of her elsewhere in what I can only assume is a much better film.

Noomi Rapace similarly puts on a great performance as Elizabeth Shaw, a worthy successor to Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley if you really must compare the two, though, like the film, her character is completely different from the predecessor despite the comparisons. Where Ripley was a strong working-class woman, equivalent to a truck driver, Shaw as an archeologist is more of an intellectual and explorer, though her bravery in the face of unspeakable danger is equally admirable. Rapace sells the spiritual and intellectual convictions that Shaw holds, even in the face of the unknown and the conflicting, and never does her performance feel overacted or aloof.

Of course, you’ve likely already expected this if you’ve paid attention to the ads and viral marketing for this film (or, perhaps, you saw last year’s X-Men: First Class or Shame), but Michael Fassbender pretty much gives the best performance in the film as David, a Weyland Corp.-owned android that supposedly wasn’t designed to feel emotion, but there are, of course, signs that he may, in fact, be developing them. Before we are introduced to the rest of the crew, we are given a look into the daily life of David as they all remain asleep in their chambers, and it’s plain that David has been making the most of his solitude. Fassbender’s performance as David is unnerving and subtly creepy, though, as presumably one of the first of his kind, it’s never unbelievable that the human characters in the film don’t not trust him. Fassbender is almost always smiling politely in the film, his character being a sort of glorified machine butler, but, as David, his eyes are always full of wonder, fascination, and even a bit of malice, even if he can’t wear these feelings on his face. It’s a shame that the Academy seldom acknowledges sci-fi film performances, but, then again, Sigourney Weaver was nominated forAliens, so I would not exactly be shocked if Fassbender got some kind of nod, at least, for playing David.

As for the plot? Definitely intriguing stuff, but maybe not as much as one would hope. One very interesting detail about this film, and this is probably one of the film’s biggest nods to the original Alien, is its revelation behind who exactly the mysterious “Space Jockey” was in that film. For decades people had speculated about that creature, what it was, and whether or not it was a skeleton or some sort of suit. Well, for the most part, Prometheus answers those questions, but in so doing, it raises even more questions. Having Damon Lindelof on the writing team might have something to do with this, as the TV show Lost was similarly structured in this answers-lead-to-more-questions sort of way. Some will no doubt find that infuriating, especially since some of these questions are likely to be answered in the inevitable cash-grab sequel (and, no matter how good it turns out, you know it would only exist because Prometheus will have likely made Fox some good money), but as someone who found Prometheus to be thoroughly engaging, I welcome this opportunity to continue exploring this once very isolated universe.

Honestly, if there is anything to criticize the film for, it’s that some of the characters were needlessly killed off when their characters would have been completely welcome in said sequel. There is also a scene between Theron and Guy Pearce that just came off as too contrived to work as well as the filmmakers intended, and a subtler direction in that one particular scene could have eased the rather contrived revelation. Pearce, in fact, is pretty much the only performer I didn’t particularly like, as he comes off as a bit too heavy handed and it doesn’t help that this makeup effects aren’t that convincing either. Luckily, he’s almost so peripheral to the film’s main focus, it barely lessened my enjoyment of the film.

Finally we have a successful companion to one of the greatest film franchises ever created, one that is finally worthy to follow in the footsteps of the first two films and not end up being a general disappointment like the last two — or, in the case of the AVP spin-offs, utter disgust. While the tone and direction of Prometheus sets it apart from the rest, fans of sci-fi and good film making in general are bound to find a great deal to enjoy, and while it is not in the strictest sense a horror or action film, even if you did expecting to be scared and thrilled, this film still has you covered. (The surgery scene alone will likely go down in history as one of the most intense and horrific medical procedures ever put on film!)

Still, perhaps its greatest strength is that it did ultimately set itself apart from its predecessors, unburdening itself from having to build up to some sort of logical and inevitable ending that we already knew the outcome of. Unlike with the Star Wars prequels or last year’s The Thing, Prometheus has successfully answers and references tangentially what will chronologically come later while finding a way to keep the outcome a mystery, and I love it all the more for that. Thank you, once again, Ridley Scott, for showing the hacks out there how to do it right!

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5

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  1. July 3, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I saw that you reviewed this awhile back, so I jumped over here once I got mine done. I agree with you largely, though I was a little harsher on some of the writing choices. Ultimately, an entertaining film which I hope gets a legitimate chance to turn into a series.
    http://johnlinkmovies.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/johnlink-ranks-prometheus-2012/

  1. February 2, 2013 at 12:57 am
  2. October 31, 2013 at 2:46 am
  3. May 19, 2017 at 9:59 pm

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