Review: Ridley Scott's 'Prometheus' is Very Close to Being a Great Film
by Jeremy Kirk
June 8, 2012
Ridley Scott's Prometheus will anger a few; some due to the content and what it says about the creation of humankind, some because of gaps in explanation in the screenplay, some because of how little of a prequel it really is to Alien. You shouldn't go in expecting a straightforward prequel. This does a great disservice to Scott's latest epic from minute one. It's a film with huge ideas, though with some of the big questions and what ifs known to us, and even grander displays of visual ambition, but love or hate it, Prometheus is a splendid, sci-fi yarn with much going on underneath its B-level surface. It's very close to being a great film.
Set in the year 2093, the film centers on the crew and mission of the Prometheus, a massive ship that travels to a distant moon where the answers of mankind's birth may rest. Archaeologist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) has discovered clues on Earth of an ancient race of beings who came to our planet countless years ago and began life as we know it. Along with these clues are directions to finding these beings, which the crew, funded by the notorious Weyland Corporation, follow. The discovery on the moon is not what any of them expected.
Scott has always been a visionary director, one who creates vast worlds and then transports you to take in the stories that play out there. The neon but grimy streets of Blade Runner. The enveloping corridors of a mining vessel in Alien. The Coliseum as it's seen in Gladiator. These are only a few of the brilliantly conceived and flawlessly executed settings that form around the action of his films. Prometheus is no exception. From the ship itself to the alien world that it sets down on, to the design work of the creatures they find there. All of it is created with breathtaking realism, the kind that you lose yourself in before being gripped with absolute terror from all sides.
Aided by stellar effects work, the visuals in Prometheus are the kind that require a pause button. You want to take them in for as long as possible before moving on to the next item of magnificence and beauty. It's no stretch at all to compare the film to an art museum, one containing pieces of imaginative sci-fi glamour but that go so far to distract you from the horrors that lie ahead.
Prometheus' script was written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, the latter of which seems more appropriate with this film. There are more than a few items of comparison between this film and "Lost," which Lindelof served on as executive producer and writer for the length of the series. That, too, was broad strokes of ideas shaped in the guise of a sci-fi thriller, and that, too, had issues with answering the intriguing questions it asks. Prometheus is a film loaded with ambiguity, but its an acceptable amount, as many of the questions raised here are only half-answered. They more often than not strike at the right half. You still can't help but think few more scenes of exposition — smartly handled exposition, mind you, since we don't like having our hand held — would have turned the vagueness away enough that it didn't feel so murky.
But even these broad ideas and interesting inquiries that lead to creation versus randomness debates are a bubble housing what is essentially a deep space monster movie. This is still the man who directed Alien taking us back to that world to tell us another tale of creatures from other worlds showing humans just how expendable they are. Prometheus is a film that earns its R rating tooth and nail and bone and a whole lot of blood and gore. The crew, though not as fleshed out in the screenplay as one would hope, dwindles in number as Shaw grows closer and closer to finding her answers, and most of them meet ends that require an awful lot of makeup work and even a healthy dose of CG effects in many cases.
There's a Roger Corman-esque vibe to much of Prometheus, the kind of B-grade, gory horrors the Alien knockoffs of the 1980s tried to get right. The film has more in common with Galaxy of Terror than 2001. With its mega-budgeted cylinders firing one right after the other, Prometheus' graphic imagery, much like its environments, are on an ambitious level far superior to anything that might be considered a knockoff. One particular moment involving Rapace will likely go down as the film's most memorable moment, even if not everyone will get through it without feeling the blood leave their head.
Those being picked off one-by-one are mostly nameless, nearly faceless characters. Prometheus' crew of 17 is far more difficult to get to know than the crew of 7 found in Alien. Those we get to know here are Idris Elba as the ship's captain, Charlize Theron as a Weyland Corporation suit sent to make sure all goes to plan, and Logan Marshall-Green as Shaw's archaeological, and romantic, partner.
All do a fine job bringing some color to underwritten characters, but it's Michael Fassbender as David, the ship's android who acts as maintenance man and butler to the crew's needs, who really shines. As with every other android in this universe, there's more to David than he lets on, and Fassbender has a blast riding the line between charming and mischievous. David is a necessary character in Prometheus, a man-made creation who has questions of his own as his engineers search the deepest reaches of space for theirs. Fassbender plays the role with every ounce of sincerity he can muster but never allows the character to get too dry or cartoonish. Early moments with David living on the ship while the crew sleep are among the many high points.
And high points Prometheus has in abundance. Whether viewed as an intense, horror movie with grotesque monsters, an epic space opera full of awesome sights that can only be seen in the vast depths of distant galaxies, or a unique look at one, possible answer to our greatest question, Prometheus is a film that, at the very least, serves as an excellent conversation starter. Though not as explicit in its answers as it should be — don't worry, the Alien connection is made very apparent — it ends up being an extremely good, very nearly great achievement in filmmaking.
Ridley Scott's return to the universe that launched his career as we know it is not a spotless journey. Few are. But with a hook that makes the film ripe with amazing design, a varied and interesting cast, impeccable visual effects, and the once and future master of atmosphere, Prometheus is far above most current sci-fi thrillers. A few script adjustments would have made it one of the best, but there's always the sequel.
Jeremy's Rating: 8 out of 10