Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus


Grade: 73 (B+)

Prometheus seems destined to disappoint many movie fans. It’s Ridley Scott’s first sci-fi film in thirty years, but it doesn’t reach the heights of his two previous sci-fi films (Alien, Blade Runner). It’s a prequel to the original Alien, but it’s less of a space-horror film than its predecessor. It deals with the Alien universe, but it’s a prequel that ends up asking more questions than it answers. But that’s more often to the film’s virtue than it is to its detriment. Prometheus isn’t the uncompromising masterpiece we all hoped it would be, and under those expectations, it might disappoint. But it’s one of Ridley Scott’s most ambitious and gorgeous films, and in an era where there’s too many anonymous blockbuster films, a flawed film by a real vision is more than welcome.

2093: the spaceship Prometheus heads toward the moon LV-223 (adjacent to LV-426 of the previous Alien films). Commanded by Captain Janek (Idris Elba), the vessel is on a mission to uncover the truth behind a series of cave paintings. Discovered by Christian archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her skeptical lover/partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), the paintings suggest that a group of alien beings, dubbed “Engineers”, might have created life on Earth. But something’s fishy about the mission: Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce under a lot of old-man make-up) has funded the expedition against the advice of company woman Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and android David (Michael Fassbender) seems to know more than everybody else. The team finds what they’re looking for, but their creators aren’t as benevolent as they believed.

Prometheus benefits from a terrific cast: Theron gets a lot of mileage out of her chilly company woman, and while Elba’s wry space-captain character is more than a little familiar (Tom Skerritt from the original Alien comes to mind), he manages to breathe new life into the character. Marshall-Green is effectively smug as Holloway. Better still is Rapace, a major talent in the making, as the deeply thoughtful and vulnerable character whose desire for answers overwhelms her fear. It’s another strong female role in a Ridley Scott film.

 Fassbender, meanwhile, is one of the two or three finest actors working today, and while David certainly recalls other android characters (David in A.I., HAL 9000 of 2001, Roy Batty of Blade Runner, Ash and Bishop of the Alien series), Fassbender brings his own spin on the character, a “man” who’s detachment from humanity makes him highly suspicious and often outright creepy, not to mention making it easier for him to carry out horrifying tasks (his obsession with Lawrence of Arabia is a nice touch as well).

It’s unfortunate, then, that the film’s characters aren’t quite as well-rounded as in past Scott films. There are too many minor characters who, while well-acted, feel a bit like monster-food more than anything else. Guy Pearce nails his character’s movements and obsessions, but the lousy old person make-up makes the role feel a bit on the stunty side. And while some of the major characters (Vickers, Holloway) have intriguing beginnings, their arcs sometimes feel a bit incomplete.

Part of the problem is that Damon Lindelof’s script is trying to do too much in too little time. There’s a number of fascinating propositions the film brings up only to leave them behind (most notably Shaw and Holloway’s differing religious beliefs and how it ties into their discovery). The last act, meanwhile, feels a bit abrupt, as if the film is trying to shift into another gear before certain plot strands are fully developed. It doesn’t help that there’s a handful of characters whose idiotic decisions are a far cry from the intelligent but doomed men and women from the world of Alien. It feels as if Lindelof is crafting an intriguing pilot for a highly ambitious series, much like he did with Lost. The problem is that this film feels a bit incomplete because of it: there’s too many ideas that don’t feel fully explored.


At the same time, though, the film’s central thesis- that when men try to seek their maker, it ends badly- is fascinating, and it mirrors Scott’s brilliant Blade Runner for its sheer thematic ambition. Everyone in this film has a major conflict with their maker- be it android to human, child to father, or human to…well, whatever created them. That there are no complete answers by the end makes sense considering how unknowable the answers are to these questions- who made us, why did they make us, and why then do they seek to destroy us?

And no matter how messy the film may be, it is nonetheless one of Scott’s most ambitious, best-looking, and best directed films in years. The film doesn’t quite replicate the creeping dread of Alien (although there’s a number of highly effective body-horror sequences), but it seems to be going for more awe-inspiring moments a la Kubrick’s 2001. It doesn’t hurt that Scott knows how to hold a moody atmosphere better than almost any other director alive, with his Orson Welles-style shafts of light and heavy use of blue filters, particles of mist and dust, and contrast of light and shadows. The visuals of the film, from the art direction to the CGI, are astonishing, and while it isn’t essential to see the film in 3-D, it manages to use the technique with supreme clarity and richness of picture. It’s one of his most thoughtful and most deliberately paced films in years, and it explores a number of Scott's key themes: what makes us human and how mortality affects us. After four films of Scott coasting, it’s good to have the Ridley Scott of old back.

1 comment:

  1. "highly effective body-horror sequences" is a very cold way of saying "HOLY FUCKING TERRIFYING SURGERY BATMAN!"

    ReplyDelete