For about a 4-5 year span, Ridley Scott ruled the movie world. Arriving amidst a post-George Lucas and Star Wars science fiction fervor, Scott brought unpredictability, horror, intensity, and edginess to the science-fiction world with 1979’s iconic Alien. Scott likewise defined much of the look and structure of a great number of post-apocalyptic cinema for decades to come with 1982’s Blade Runner. Both Alien and Blade Runner spawned countless copycats and although Blade Runner failed to initially click with audiences and critics alike, Alien earned the respect and admiration of virtually everyone. With everyone buzzing about Star Wars in 1977, and rightfully so of course, Alien placed science-fiction and horror together on a grand and epic scale, introducing us to another iconic and unforgettable heroine, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.
Alien‘s success earned the film two Oscar nominations and a win for Best Visual Effects. As the film proved to be a big success, people demanded more in the franchise and while three sequels have been made, Ridley Scott shared no involvement. Scott likewise avoided any involvement in those ill advised Alien vs. Predator films and truth be told, science-fiction filmmaking in general. However, the itch became too hard to ignore and with Prometheus, Ridley Scott has returned to the genre and franchise that launched his career.
After a prologue sets forth one very intriguing opening, purposefully ambiguous as to time and space, we find ourselves in 2089 where two archeologists, Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), find a cave painting which serves as a startling and fulfilling discovery. The painting signifies that several cultures have left behind hieroglyphs and drawings, pointing to a distant moon known as LV-223. By discovering this most recent cave painting, Elizabeth and Charlie are convinced that all of these discoveries serve as an invitation to those on Earth and plans are put in place to make the journey to LV-223.
Traveling in a deep and altered sleep, the Prometheus expedition and flight is overseen by a brilliant human-like android named David (Fassbender), introduced to us in a dazzling and engrossing sequence. Also on board — Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a monitor for the expedition, the archeologists, and the remaining members of a motley crew of 17, comprised of former military, a botanist, a geologist, doctors, and scientific experts. The ship and the entire mission has been funded by billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who appears with the crew via hologram. He places the expedition in the hands of Elizabeth and Charlie, also romantically involved, and while Vickers feels slighted, everyone agrees to the provisions Weyland and his Weyland Corporation have placed upon the crew.
At their destination, Charlie instantly discovers a canyon where life may have in fact existed. The set the ship down in the middle of a valley and a handful of crew members eagerly strap on gear and leap at the chance to go exploring. What they find and what they uncover is not initially understood or recognized. For two unfortunate crew members, a sandstorm, faulty equipment, and some strange containers located near a gigantic replica of a human head, start to paint a picture that this mission has either been vastly misunderstood, poorly researched, or full of peril and danger no one could have ever anticipated. As a filmgoer, you do kind of wonder if you have not heard and seen this all before?
Prometheus is an impressive looking film, which essentially pre-dates the first Alien film, but is not really the prequel many might be expecting. Scott has of course linked the two films together in unique and subtle ways, but has crafted Prometheus to wisely stand on its own. Effective in digestible chunks, Prometheus has a lot of wonderful qualities about it. The aforementioned introduction to Michael Fassbender is not only distinctive and unique, but a throwback of sorts to the influential work of Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, more than a few scenes seem to travel back to the aesthetic of that film and while a bit of a baffling choice, Prometheus does not suffer because of it.
Noomi Rapace, when the film finally is placed on her shoulders, delivers tremendously in the de facto leading role as Elizabeth. Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof have not saddled her with a post-Ripley Sigourney Weaver character, and Rapace delves into Elizabeth and brings forth a strong woman — overwhelmed, confused, and trying to survive. Rapace, who was notably a non-factor alongside Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law in December 2011’s Sherlock Holmes:A Game Of Shadows reminds us why the original “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” has the potential to be a star in English-speaking films.
Rising to the top of a fair to middling supporting cast, Idris Elba and Charlize Theron trade some witty barbs back and forth, with Theron trying her damnedest to stifle a rumbling temper tantrum and Elba cracking wise on the escalating danger the Prometheus crew seem to be facing. Unfortunately, Spaihts and Lindelof fail to deliver any depth to a few significant characters, including Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Charlie, an enigmatic and noteworthy geologist (Sean Harris), and Guy Pearce is infinitely a bust as Peter Weyland, saddled under so much makeup and prosthesis that he serves as nothing more than a distraction and/or a caricature.
In my mind, Rapace is terrific, but Prometheus belongs to Michael Fassbender. On a roll like few have ever experienced, Fassbender shines tremendously as David. Immersed in his own program and yet keenly aware of everything and everyone, in terms of decisions and motivations, Fassbender keeps everything and everyone just slightly off-balance. David also seems to have some ulterior motives, exhibiting some unique and alarming decisions and actions. Although eventually the motivations of David serve as a predictable letdown, the entertainment quotient climbs exponentially when Fassbender is on screen.
There is very little to balk at in terms of how the film looks, sounds, and feels. Ridley Scott’s film is stellar from a technical standpoint, with flawless melding of CGI and live action effects and beautiful and impressive art direction and ship design. Prometheus is captivating to watch, easy to get lost in, and the score by Marc Streitenfeld is among the finest of the year thus far.
Where Prometheus misses the mark in moving beyond an entertaining and riveting popcorn film is a weak screenplay that raises more questions than it needs to about humanity, creationism, our place in the world and so on. Perhaps there are plans for a Prometheus 2, all but a certainty based on the way the film concludes, but until we have that follow up, we have this and the first hour especially is slow and strangely lacking any drive or passion. A source of great controversy, the screenplay was largely torn apart by Ridley Scott and Damon Lindelof (Star Trek, “Lost” ) was brought in to orchestrate a significant rewrite. Never boring, but out of balance from the first hour to the second, Prometheus plays a bit of a shell game with its entire premise and alongside stout and impressive ideas rest incomplete and abandoned thoughts.
Yet at the end of the day, Prometheus soars on how much you can take with all of this. There is something here for everyone, as they say. A couple of gory moments will appease the horror fans, those who love suspense/thrillers and science-fiction will be taken by the premise and the second half of the film. Those who like strong heroines will warm to and embrace Noomi Rapace I think, and nostalgic science-fiction fans will spot ties to their beloved Alien franchise and a handful of other science-fiction works they have undoubtedly seen.
One scene in particular induced a fainting spell from a woman in attendance at my screening, so buyer beware. Exhibiting many of the same summer blockbuster thrills which bring you to the multiplex in the first place this time of year, Prometheus can be quite the entertaining film. Buckle in for the intensity, tolerate a meandering and disjointed screenplay, and assuming you personally do not faint…chances are you will enjoy this grand and epic sorta-kinda-maybe prequel to one of the most beloved films of all time.