Theatrical Review: Prometheus

In the year 2089, Doctors Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway make a remarkable discovery; clues that the origin of mankind did not develop on Earth but from “engineers” from far off space. They interpret these clues to be an open invitation from the “engineers” for their “children” to contact them abroad. Dying industrialist Peter Weyland believes in this idea and has chosen to fund a deep space mission with Shaw and Holloway taking the lead, but all under the watchful eye of Meredith Vickers, a high-ranking official within the Weyland Corporation and David, a synthetic being who represents the pinnacle in the creation of Artificial Intelligence. What they are about to discover is something that they could never have prepared for.

That’s a nutshell premise for Prometheus, the latest movie from visionary director Ridley Scott. It is also very much a prequel/reboot to Fox’s Alien franchise, which just also happens to be the series where Ridley Scott made a name for himself. This marks Scott’s third foray into the world of science fiction with his first two being the aforementioned Alien and Blade Runner, both very much considered (and rightfully so) iconic science fiction films. It also marks Scott (and writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof) somewhat mixing ideas from both of these movies together to go for a bigger statement (or more readily, to ask bigger questions).

I am a huge fan of the Alien movies (I enjoy them all, though the first two are my absolute favorites) and so I was very much looking forward to seeing Ridley Scott come back to this and see what he’d do with it. Personally, I enjoyed Prometheus a great deal, though I can also see why some will not.

Like I said, I’m a huge fan of the series and remember big articles on the first movie in magazines like Starlog and Fantastic Films from back in the day. I purchased all of the stuff that I could that came out on the movie after it’s released and one of the books that I enjoyed the most was The Book of Alien which showcased the impressive artwork of Chris Foss, Moebius, Ron Cobb and H. R. Giger for their designs created for the film. Now my memory certainly might be fuzzy on some of this, but I seem to recall from those old articles one huge area of fascination for Scott being the “Space Jockey” seen in the first film and that’s obviously gestated into one of the big ideas shown in Prometheus. In addition to that, there are design aspects around the structures discovered on this planet (designated LV-223- no this is not the same world seen in Alien and Aliens) and the original Xenomorph that have found their way back into this series, which I thought was quite cool to see.

Visually, Prometheus is absolutely astounding and I’d expect no less from Ridley Scott. The shooting style, the visual effects and the framing of shots is all on point. I chose to see this in 3D and I’m glad I did. Scott shot and/or planned for this for 3D and it really works especially with a key scene where the android David is looking into a dream of Elizabeth Shaw’s. I think this scene in particular would stand out as it is, but Scott’s new visual punch to it makes it even more memorable. Mark Strietenfeld’s score mixes both a sense of wonder along with a sense of dread and horror and in one key scene even uses Jerry Goldmsith’s music from the original Alien.

Where this will really make it or break it for most is in it’s actual story and it’s performances and so far a lot of what I’ve been seeing out there has been on the negative side, and again, I can understand that. I think there’s quite a bit open to interpretation here, moreso than most films, though I do wish one or two little things might’ve been explained. For instance, there’s quite a bit of behavior that’s being seen as stupid on the part of most of the characters, which basically could’ve had an explanation by the android David after the crew chooses to take off their helmets within the first structure that they enter. Once David tells everyone that their air is breathable within the structure it was to me fairly logical that they’d go ahead and take off their helmets considering they were told this by the pinnacle of Artificial Intelligence. But there’s more to David than being the “android” of this film, and so an explanation by him later that he withheld certain things about the effects of the atmosphere on the humans could’ve gone a long way (especially so with two characters who are lost in the structure who end up doing some pretty crazy things once they encounter a lifeform within).

Noomi Rapace (from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and more recently the second Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes film) leads this cast as Elizabeth Shaw and is certainly the most developed out of most of the cast. She does a good job here though it is slow-going at the start. It picks up considerably for this character after she’s performed a bit of gut wrenching self-surgery. What’s shown of her dream to David near the start is a different sort of purity of discovery that’s foreign to the android and her later resourcefulness (with the same surgery scene) could be seen as further attraction and use for him. Rapace is backed up by Logan Marshall-Green as Holloway, Charlize Theron as Meredtih Vickers, and Idris Elba as Janek, the captain of the ship, Prometheus. These characters are the stand-outs of what is a pretty one-dimensional crew at best (though again, I have my own interpretation of that). They work for me, but I can see why they might be seen as laughable or ridiculous by others.

There are two points in the casting that I do want to address, one in a negative light and the other in the positive, let’s get the negative out of the way first. Guy Pearce is cast as Peter Weyland but you’ll be hard-pressed to recognize him under the very obvious old-age make-up that he’s under. Now even with that drawback, Pearce is just “OK” here where this character could’ve been much more memorable had it been cast differently. Personally, I would’ve cast either Ian Holm or Lance Henrikson in the part. Now obviously, they both have connections to the Alien series with Holm having played the android Ash in the first film and Henrikson having played the android Bishop in Aliens as well as having parts in Alien 3 and Aliens Vs. Predators (playing a Weyland no less). Holm really would’ve been my main choice- he’s of the right age so additional make-up wouldn’t have looked too obvious and it would’ve been a very darn good bit of fan service as well. As it is, Pearce as I said is just “OK,” bordering on being inappropriate thanks to the make-up.

My positive point though is Michael Fasbender being cast as David. Now if you’ve read any of my previous reviews, then you already know that I think Fassbender is one of the best actors out there today. I’ll stand with that and I certainly think this performance adds to his already impressive resume. As I said above, David is described as being the absolute peak in Artificial Intelligence and I tend to think that he’s playing that part to the hilt, so much so that he’s on the verge (if not already taking the step) to going beyond what he was originally built for. Much like the humans here are taking their steps to understand their origins, so to is David. As part of my own interpretation of the character, I’m figuring that Weyland let David choose the crew of this expedition beyond Shaw and Holloway, and David thus chose people who he could use in an experimental way. The entire opening introduction of this character pretty much paves the way for him especially with a telling moment in which David is watching the movie Lawrence of Arabia. This is strong and complex work from Fassbender and he certainly deserves to be recognized for it. As far as I’m concerned, MIchael Fassbender is the real lead in this film.

Prometheus isn’t as visceral an experience as the first two Alien movies and it won’t answer all of the questions that it sets up (and yes, I very much think it’s intentional that this isn’t the same planet that’s seen in the first two movies). I’ve read a few interviews with Damon Lindelof on this, and he’s basically said that the original film Alien would come after a third Prometheus film which makes sense here, though it may not be what an audience will want. When Alien first came out in 1979, it wasn’t with the intention of creating a franchise which is so much par for the course for most movies like this now. Because of that, Prometheus is very much open-ended and literally the start of something new which could or could not lead into the Alien movies as we know them. Because of that, I could certainly understand why some who see this might be underwhelmed or downright angry after they see it. If a second and third film do get made, then I’d expect that Prometheus will have greater resonance down the road, I just hope they get made and preferably with Scott, Lindelof, Spaihts and Fassbender all still connected to the series. Even with my own complaints, I had a ball with Prometheus and can’t wait to see it again (which I plan to do next weekend).