Prometheus is a multi-layered, fascinating, visually-stunning sci-fi masterpiece. Ridley Scott channels his inner Stanley Kubrick to realize an intelligent, yet exciting and visceral, thrill-ride. The film resides very much in the Alien universe Scott launched in 1979 but it is also very much divergent from that film and its themes. With Prometheus, Scott transports the audience to another world, another place, another time unlike many contemporary films of its ilk. The destination of Prometheus and its crew is remarkable both in its surprising familiarity and its alien physiology and design. By being so familiar, the visuals are allowed to become that much more alien in the small ways that separate it from Earth. One character’s line “God does not build in straight lines” is perfectly realized in both the discovery of the Engineer’s Terra-formed landscapes and the contrasts found in the designs reminiscent of H.R. Giger. The film also has a remarkable cast, highlighted by a memorable performance by Michael Fassbender. The special effects and the 3D are equally remarkable with every dime of its budget visible on screen. The film asks some serious questions and answers many (but not all) of them in controversial and rewarding fashion. A bold and exciting film, full of vision, intellect and imagination; Prometheus should not be missed.
Ridley Scott returns to the ideas and themes that provide the framework for the Alien franchise he brought to life along with Dan O’Bannon and surrealist H. R. Giger in 1979 which were later fleshed out by James Cameron with Aliens in 1986. Where Cameron took the adventure towards a more action turn, Scott goes more for intellectual science fiction with Prometheus but still manages to stay within the confines of the Alien universe. In Prometheus, the script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof follows archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Greene) on an adventure funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the CEO of Weyland Corp. Shaw and Holloway have discovered a road map of sorts to another planet much like Earth. They believe that the beings from that planet, beings they call “Engineers,” are responsible for human life, the evolution on mankind. That these aliens are the creators of man. They hope to come face-to-face with these creatures, to get answers. Scott illustrates a invigorated eye to detail and wonder within Prometheus. He dances between pure science fiction, the tapestry of the Alien franchise and the very questions about man’s existence and mortality. In many ways, Scott seems as determined to meet the “Engineers” as Peter Weyland or, perhaps rather, David.
Lindelof and Scott pose a number of deep questions within Prometheus that elevate the film above standard science fiction films but are questions that are at the heart of classic serious science fiction literature. It’s how it handles many of these questions that the film soars. The film tackles weighty themes of creation, god, faith, even down to the very DNA that defines man at a molecular level. By using the Engineers (Alien‘s Space Jockeys) as an allegory to god or god-like creatures, it opens doors to discuss origin and purpose and destiny. This is brilliantly illustrated in a conversation between Charlie Holloway and David, where Holloway suggests to David (an android) the answer to “why did man’s creator make man” is “because they could” causing David to respond “how do you think that makes me feel.” It’s an interesting way to turn the question on it’s ear, to make if far more reaching than simply “man.” The film teeters on being weighed down by the sheer number of questions asked during the film. How it handles answering these questions, sometimes with more questions (in classic Lost Lindeloft style) is likely to challenge how rewarding the film may be. The film is at its best when the characters are challenging each other, the contrasts between belief and faith and science. Most of these moments surround David, but Shaw and Welyand’s opposing views in the true nature of the Engineers are stirring and foreboding. Even in its small moments, the film is about differences when the team’s geologist, Fifield, is ready to leave because he is there for “rocks” not the mummified corpses discovered in the alien pyramids. Oddly, the film is as much about what is similar than what contrasts, especially when it comes to DNA and motivations, which also builds the framework for the established Alien franchise.
The entire cast of Prometheus is superb, with each actor bringing more to their characters than their dialog or character backgrounds might suggest; however, it is Michael Fassbender who stands out with his triumphant and exceptional performance as David, the ship’s synthetic. Ironically, he gives the android character more depth and emotion than many of his human counterparts while remaining decidedly cold and mechanical in expression. His physical presence, his gaze, is always calculated; yet, existing just behind his eyes is a creature that shares a human intelligence that is haunted by his own being, his own purpose. It’s a complex character and a multi-faceted performance, a highlight of the film. And yet, as Elizabeth Shaw, Noomi Rapace is the star of the film. She provides her character with a quiet strength and determination, a solid faith in her self, her exploration of alien terrain and in mankind. While she shares many qualities as Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from Alien, she brings shift in tone and strength, she is a different kind of female hero for a different time. She has the same instinct for survival and similar qualities in understanding and adapting to her environments, but she is more about faith, belief and science itself. For her, it’s more that just survival, it’s answers, it’s that burning need to understand and become involved. It’s these two characters, their opposing beliefs, purpose and motivations that underline the entire film.
Character wise, the rest of the cast get short changed, but many rise above to bring depth to their roles. Charlize Theron brings an icy, calculated, authoritative quality to Meredith Vickers as the lead of the expedition. So much so, not only does the audience question if she’s even human, so does Captain Jarek in a brilliant scene between the two. She is also intelligent and strong; defiant while being vulnerable. Idris Elba brings a needed heroism to his role as Jarek, the captain of the Prometheus. He provides Jarek with just the right tinge of rebellion and snarky personality that makes the character instantly likable and relatable. This defines the character, his motivations and his decisions. He also shares that strength with his co-stars piloting the Prometheus during key scenes, Emun Elliot (as Chance) and Benedict Wong (as Revel) which gives them an added boost in the “hero” department. Both Logan Marshall-Green (as Charles Holloway) and Guy Pearce (Peter Wayland) give it their all with their roles, but neither is given ample amount of depth to define their characters. Holloway’s attraction to the bottle and distance from everyone is undefined creating not only a distance from Shaw and the crew but from the audience as well. Wayland’s self-serving greed comes as something that is to be simply understood rather than illustrated.
The visuals in Prometheus are extraordinary from the spacecraft to the alien landscape to the Engineers and the things they “engineer.” Established designs are augmented and elaborated upon in ways that feel natural and organic – as much a theme of the movie as the questions it challenges. H.R. Giger’s influences (from Alien) are felt and realized throughout. These design elements are woven together and expanded upon with new sets and locations. New technologies are woven in as well. The “pods” that investigate the tunnels and hallways of the pyramids are further realized by the three dimensional holographic mapping displayed within the Prometheus. Rarely are two different worlds so thoroughly linked. The film balances the different technologies allowing both the human advances to amaze as much as the alien. It’s structure versus organic, it’s contrast to an art form. Even as outstanding as the effects are, the film has trouble with its alien creatures with the Engineers coming across noticeably CGI at times, especially in early scenes or when monster meets its maker. Still, the film is so rich in imagination, that the film captivates throughout and transports its audience to a fantastic journey.
Prometheus is an excellent example of a film benefiting from integrating 3D. The 3D is exemplary, especially in IMAX 3D. Scott embraces 3D as another tool to tell his tale, much like Scorsese and Cameron in their 3D films. He uses it to expand on the alien world, to illustrate the depth of the pyramids, to immerse the audience into the worlds populated by the film’s cast. He never uses it for cheap thrills or excuses to exploit the technology, even when the opportunity to do so is painfully obvious. When Prometheus enters into the alien planet’s atmosphere, blah blah blah. The scenes within the pyramid are claustrophobic and constricting yet expansive and full of depth. The scenes when the alien spacecraft begins to lift off (seen briefly in the trailers) are breathtaking. Scott uses 3D to emphasize the beauty of the foreign planet and its structures and climate as well as establish the hollow, coldness of the ship, Prometheus, especially as David navigates through its abandoned hallways before its crew awakens. One scene in particular is an elegant example of his use of 3D where a holographic recorded message from Peter Wayland not only includes him, but his dog and his surrounding scenery which engulfs and inhabits the board room. The contrast is further illustrated by the hologram surrounding Vickers as it expands outward toward the small crew aboard the Prometheus. Much like Hugo and Avatar, Prometheus deserves to be seen in 3D.
Prometheus is Ridley Scott in top form, a re-awakened visionary and master of modern cinema. The film is not without its flaws. Many of the films characters are sacrificed for tone, pacing and vision. It also carries a little too much in common with its source material. The film has a few editing challenges containing a hard about-face when it transitions from one key scene to another. This moment, where Shaw suddenly has to deal with possibly being exposed to alien physiology, is distracting and strains the narrative. There are a few other pacing choices, though not as stark, that come across fractured and broken. It is hard to tell if these editing choices are due to time constraints or by design. As a result these jumps can remove the audience from the narrative. The film also raises far more questions than it can answer and some that are far too big to be answered. However, the films strengths are tremendous and the film is extraordinary. David and Elizabeth Shaw are terrific characters with opposing but balanced ideas and themes. Prometheus‘ strength is in its visuals and its 3D. The film is spectacular, entertaining and stimulating – a modern milestone in science fiction cinema.