by Daniel Rester
Director Ridley Scott delivered two of the greatest sci-fi films of the 20th Century with Alien and Blade Runner. Since the latter (back in 1982), however, he has not returned to genre until now. This return is marked by Prometheus, a sort-of prequel to Scott’s Alien. But the question is, is it as terrific as his previous sci-fi projects?
Prometheus (with the title derived from the mythological Greek titan, and closely connecting in ideas to the film itself and serving as the film’s spaceship name) follows the story of a crew that set out to discover the makers of mankind. In 2089, after archeologists (and lovers) Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) find maps possibly connecting to the origins of man, they join a group financed by the pioneering Weyland Corp. and set out on the mission. This leads the two of them and a group of fifteen others on an expedition to planet LV-223 — where the possible makers (or “Engineers”) live. Shortly after landing on the planet (in the year 2093), the crew discovers a pyramid-like structure and begin to explore it. They then get more than they bargained for…
People just expecting an Alien prequel with lots of horror and alien attacks from Prometheus are going to set themselves up for disappointment. The film is much deeper than that and has its own ambitious agenda. Yes, some various icky creatures do pop up, but less than some may expect. They are just a few pieces of the big puzzle. The film also raises many questions and ideas about life, sacrifice, creation, etc.
The way Scott and writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts go about such themes and the story is rich and thought-provoking but simultaneously demanding and hazy. Some questions are left unanswered or answers are gone about in blurry ways, and this is occasionally really frustrating. That said, I admired how the creators had the nerve to bring about such ideas (and actually make the audience think) in an age of dumbed-down sci-fi.
The story does play out in traditional-feeling ways at times (replete with expendable crew member characters doing stupid things), though. Some of the development of supporting characters is weak and some of the character motivations seem incoherent, as well. Such feeble parts of the script and its occasional fogginess lessen its (and the film’s) impact as a whole.
Scott’s meticulous craftsmanship in directing really shows here. Prometheus is absolutely stunning to look at, and even more impressive in 3D (Scott actually uses it to add depth and it is easygoing on the eyes). The way Scott showcases the landscapes and blends them with the visual effects is epic and breathtaking. He also does a very good job at pacing the film, with a snappy exposition and then a slow-burning buildup that really works – though some key scenes either lack suspense or seem toned down (while others do genuinely shock).
The cast of Prometheus is superb. Rapace makes for a strong female lead, and even makes Shaw give off some echoes of Ellen Ripley at times. There is also Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in supporting roles, as the mission’s director and Prometheus’ captain, respectfully. The two bring what they can to their underdeveloped characters. Guy Pearce also pops up as Peter Weyland for a few brief but effective moments. Only Marshall-Green lets down sometimes, as he is over-the-top now and again (and he and Rapace share little chemistry).
The scene-stealer of the film, however, is Michael Fassbender. Fassbender plays the best-developed character of the film, an android named David. The android enjoys basketball and Lawrence of Arabia (a plus for film buffs), and works to better understand human conditions by acting like them as much as possible. Fassbender plays this curious, witty, and interesting character to perfection, and further cements that he is one of the best “new stars” working today.
Prometheus has both masterful and disappointing moments, and is likely to polarize audience members. It is no landmark like Alien or Blade Runner, but only time will tell for where it lands on the sci-fi line. The script has some great ideas, but it also has some pieces that cripple the film. Such things are mostly redeemed by Scott’s visual treatment of the material and the cast (especially Fassbender), though. Once again, Prometheus is not a direct prequel to Alien, so take it on its own terms as a whole. However, expect a few fantastic nods to the classic film – especially towards the end.
Rating: 3 (almost 3 1/2) out of 4 stars.