PLOT: When scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of ancient cave paintings that seem to be an interstellar map, theyíre whisked away on a trillion-dollar journey aboard the spaceship Prometheus, to discover what they hope may be the truth behind humanityís very existence. Theyíre accompanied by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) a cold-blooded employee of the corporation sponsoring the trip, a brilliant android named David (Michael Fassbender), and the shipís crew- led by Captain Janek (Idris Elba).
REVIEW: PROMETHEUS is a film thatís expectations have been set so high, that even if it were some kind of masterpiece, people would still be disappointed. Granted, itís hard not to get excited about Ridley Scottís return to sci-fi, as his only other two entriesí into the genre, ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, are among the very best sci-fi movies ever made. But hereís something to consider- neither of those films was universally acclaimed when they first came out. ALIEN was a smash, and while it was received warmly, many critics said it was just a high-tech B-movie, and it took a while for it to build up the rep it so richly deserved. And BLADE RUNNER? It was a financial flop that was trashed by the majority of critics- although itís worth noting that it came out in a severely compromised version.
As such, take any review of PROMETHEUS with a grain of salt- including this one. Thereís enough going on here that Scottís game may not be entirely clear to the first-time viewer, and I admittedly walked out with a lot of unanswered questions as to what I had just seen. But, like a lot of good films, the more I reflected on it, the clearer it got and maybe this is the one time Iíve been grateful for an embargo, as it gave me a chance to reflect on the film a bit.
So, is all this just a prelude to me telling you that I didnít care for PROMETHEUS? No. Throughout, I was stirred and sensationally entertained. Scottís film is a more elegant, thoughtful attempt at sci-fi than weíve seen in many a year, and like ALIEN- this is a chiller thatís without a doubt a classy, A-level film.
But did it live up to my expectations? No- it didnít, although that probably would have been impossible on a first viewing. I find it incredible to think that the first time I saw BLADE RUNNER I despised it, and that after forcing myself to sit through it again and again, itís gotten to the point where itís one of my all-time favorite films (Iíve easily seen it twenty times- including once every week it played my local theater during the 25th anniversary re-release).
Considering that I REALLY liked PROMETHEUS on the first viewing, Iím excited to see how it holds up- especially if Scott puts out an extended version at some point. As it is, PROMETHEUS is a lean, taut thriller. It exists on that middle ground between art and commerce, as it feels for most of the running time that Scott was trying to make something profound, but occasionally forced to supply some spectacle that was maybe more of a commercial addition than one that was needed for the plot. Thereís one action beat in particular that, while good, didnít make a lick of sense to me, and could have been cut without anyone missing it.
But, having a film that tries to be great and mostly succeeds is something to be happy about. A lot of the reviews have complained about cardboard characters and stiff performances, which makes me wonder if I even saw the same film they did. For a sci-fi action film, the characters are remarkably three-dimensional, and without exception, the performances are terrific.
Noomi Rapace is the marginal lead, although itís an ensemble, and she lives up to the hype of the Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO after a stiff turn in SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS. Her character, Shaw, is haunted by the fact that her faith in a creator maybe be disproven by the science she embraces- with her lover, the more skeptical, pragmatic Holloway. Shaw is a far more idealistic character than Sigourney Weaverís pragmatic, cynical Ripley, and itís nice that Scott resisted the temptation to make her another Ripley. Ripley was a heroine, but here, Shawís victimized in a way that Ripley would never have allowed, but rather than make her seem weak, it makes her relatable.
But, Rapace is just one piece of the puzzle here, and Michael Fassbenderís David is just as essential- if ultimately unknowable. As a prototype of the model of android that eventually led to Ash in ALIEN, and Bishop in ALIENS, he lacks the malice of the first and the heroism of the second- but also has his moments of innocence, such as when he styles his hair and patterns his speech to imitate Peter OíToole in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Fassbenderís incredible, and plays the part in a neutral way that constantly makes us re-evaluate Davidís role in what weíre seeing on screen.
Theron probably has the most one-dimensional part, with ice-cold bitch probably being the only way to describe her, but as the face of Weyland-Yutani, the corporation which has emerged as the true villain of the ALIEN franchise (more than the xenomorphs), itís firmly in the tradition of the franchise.
And yes, PROMETHEUS is part of the ALIEN franchise. Scottís been downplaying that in interviews, but itís clearly set in the same universe, with the interiors of the Prometheus being nearly identical to the Nostromo. The disparity between the corporate suits of Weyland Yutani and the blue-collar types, such as the crew of Nostromo or the colonial marines of ALIENS is also very much a part of PROMETHEUS, with Idris Elbaís Captain Janek being cut from the same cloth as Tom Skerritt in the first film, or Michael Biehn in ALIENS. Itís also worth noting that Marc Streitenfeldís score has many elements of Jerry Goldsmithís ALIEN in its DNA- so thereís continuity there (not to mention that itís an excellent score in its own right). Thereís also enough gooey, bio-horror here to justify its inclusion in the franchise- but, PROMETHEUS is noticeable tamer. Other than one gory operating sequence (my favorite set piece of the film), it feels like it could have been PG-13, and the R-rating here is obviously due to intensity rather than gore.
But, PROMETHEUS also stands on its own, and you could walk into it with no knowledge of the franchise, and never know that you were missing something. In that regard, hopefully itíll connect with audiences. Certainly thereís enough action to satisfy the masses, and itís probably the one 3D film since HUGO to actually justify the technique. Itís not perfect, as it still feels a bit streamlined compared to what Scott might have pulled off if heíd been allowed to work without worrying about appealing to a mainstream audience- BUT, this same audience got him a budget that allowed the film to look spectacular, so itís probably a necessary evil. Overall, I thought PROMETHEUS was excellent, and borders on brilliance at times. And who knows, maybe thereís a version out there thatís even better.