Directed By: Ridley Scott
Written By: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce
Science Fiction is a complex genre with an assortment of specific layers that tell familiar stories in fantastical ways. It can be used to tell the common young man coming of age tale in a unique way through the use spaceships and lightsaber battles. Examining the natural process of human science and where our imaginations and need for exploration will take us is also often found in this genre. This is a more realistic approach to Science Fiction that is more about predicting where will will take ourselves rather than creating a world far beyond our reach. Science Fiction maybe at its best however when it uses a future context to examine the questions and themes that have plagued us since our earliest days of gazing up at stars and questioning where exactly we fit in this endless universe. It’s a way of showing that through-line of humanity and how our simplest need to find meaning connects every generation of humankind. Even in a world where space travel is a norm we pontificate on those most basic questions. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is the latest entry in the Science Fiction genre to make an attempt to tackle those issues. Interesting enough it provides its own set of answers while raising a different set of questions. In the end although Prometheus’s framework is forged by an attempt to answer these questions the true investigation is focused on how our inner desires effect our choices and the brash decisions we make. Some may leave unsatisfied by the lack of answers others like myself will leave inspired by what Prometheus’s attempted to accomplish. Unfortunately this isn’t the Science Fiction masterpiece many of us hoped for, but its not too far off. Prometheus may never reach legendary status in the Science Fiction world it is at least a return to form for Ridley Scott and perhaps his best film since Gladiator.
The big question on the minds of many was where this film fits in the Alien universe. Some wondered if we would get answers to the mysteries that have had fans debating ever since we first saw Nostromo answer that distress beacon. There are many questions that are answered, but this should not be looked at as Alien Begins. It does exist in the same universe but is not meant to be a full fledged prequel. This story instead focuses on the famous ‘Space Jockey’ that we only saw in busted chest skeleton form in the first Alien film. In this film Noomi Rapace plays Elizabeth Shaw who along with her husband/research partner Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green, discover a series of ancient drawings from completely different civilizations from different parts of history. Though these civilizations were thousands of miles and years apart from one another their drawings all share a common symbol of a giant man like creature pointing yonder in the sky to a specific grouping of stars. Elizabeth and Logan believe the drawings hold the key to human creation and that the creatures in the drawings are the ones who engineered the human species. Not only that they believe the series of stars is actually a map that points us to the ‘Engineers’ home planet. With the help of the Weyland Cooperation they set off on the spaceship Prometheus in hopes to finally find the answers to our greatest questions.
The Prometheus ship is full of assortment of crew members all of who joined the expedition not knowing what the actual mission was. Some joined for money while others for profit. Then there is Idris Elba’s character Janek who seems to be simply along for the ride. Also along for the ride is David the human cyborg played by Michael Fassbender. Fassbender’s performance as the inquisitive but adumbrate David was by far the film’s best. Fassbender is a master at nonverbal emotion and that technique worked wonders for David. Despite the fact that his character is designed to be emotionally absent Fassbender is still able to absorb your attention any time he is on screen. In a way this could be considered David’s story as he was the one constantly driving the film forward. That’s not to say the rest of the cast isn’t noteworthy as well. Noomi Rapace fit nicely into the mold of what you would expect from a female lead in an Alien film. Her character was strong willed and capable at the same time she was still able to hold onto her femininity. Her character was one that was easy to be sympathetic towards as you saw her struggle with the complexities of what their discover means and what responsibility they hold from unearthing it. One performance I had mix feelings towards was Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers the no nonsense mission director. At moments I enjoyed what she doing but most of the time she felt a little too cartoonish and out of place. When she attempted to be ruthless it came off as generic, but in the moments when her character was fleshed out she was able to bring something of value. Right when I thought I was able to get behind her character she would do something off putting causing me to get off board yet again. On the brighter side was Idris Elba who gave another standout performance with a character that had the most personality out of anyone in the film. With a film that has such a serious tone you will come to appreciate when his character is on screen. It’s a must needed relief as you get a reprieve from the complexities of examining the mythos of the cosmos.
As the crew of Prometheus arrives at their destination to examine those mythos of the cosmos they quickly discover ancient remains that fortify their original thesis. Pyramids and other landmarks show a strong link with this far off planet and our own. As they unravel this finding further a source of danger they weren’t quite expecting begins to emerge. This danger not only threatens the lives of the crew of the Prometheus but all of humankind. They all quickly realize their search for answers may lead to our ultimate destruction. The classic Science Fiction conundrum. It was great to see a Science Fiction film focus on complex issues to simple questions again. It was once a staple of the genre, but something most Science fiction films shy away from nowadays. Today it is all about the big and brash battles and special effects and less about the story. The story is first and foremost here. In fact the tension never truly gets going until the last twenty minutes or so. Personally I didn’t have an issue with it taking its time because I really enjoyed the characters and exploring this world. The alien world had this chilling coldness to it that was both beautiful and terrifying. In fact the first thing you will notice about Prometheus is how gorgeous it is. The combination of high quality special effects with Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography created visuals that engross you to the point where reality and fantasy become blurred. Simply watching the Prometheus ship flying through a cloudy atmosphere had me memorized by the beauty of the art direction. This is for sure one film I would advise seeing in IMAX. The art direction all around was handled quite well. From the tech to the ‘Engineer’ character design it all looked distinctive and original. Visually ever facet of this world is fleshed out to its fullest potential. The landscape and atmosphere even play a key role is establishing the films mood.
On the other hand the actually story isn’t as fleshed out as those visuals. I was fine with the plot not answering every question it raised. My disappointment lied with the underdevelopment of the ‘Engineer’ characters. This was certainly a purposeful choice it was still one that made the overall arc a little flat. The general progression was laid out well but as the climax came closer that progression got lost in the shuffle. Progression was abandoned as the pressure to be more entertaining increased. That made for a more thrilling finale but a less fulfilling story. The biggest struggle this film had was balancing its lofty goals and themes while still maintaining a tension filled story the audience will find thrilling. There were specific subplots and sequences that had a sole purpose of dealing with this issue. If you were to isolate those moments they are perfectly fine and fun to watch, but if you were to infuse them with the rest of the movie you are left wondering if they ever served a genuine point. You can be intelligent and interesting it just requires discipline and unyielding focus. For the vast majority of the film it handled that challenge with grace. The failures that did occur stood out as they happened in some of the most important moments. Leaving wanting more is not necessarily a bad thing. The issue is when that feeling is due to a films lack of focus. In this the focus was never absent, but it did walk a tight rope. It wanted to let you peer into this world, but only in glimpses. The best part of those glimpses where watching how they effected the characters and their motivations especially when it touched upon how discovery and faith intertwine. It never went in-depth with that idea but it did hint at it providing more reason to enjoy this dissection into what drives us.
When comparing this to the other Alien films it’s a strange fit. It’s certainly not a action filled blockbuster like Aliens, and it doesn’t have the horror like atmosphere of the first Alien. It’s a completely different beast in many ways. Many want this film to answer the mysteries of that franchises and it does to a certain extent. It doesn’t give you everything and honestly that is a good thing. Prometheus is at its best when it goes beyond being a simple franchise film and becomes a case study of human reaction to histories deepest inquires. Does discovering what started the fabric of existence provide us the ultimate answers, or do those answers just fuel further questioning. We may never know the answer to that question and perhaps that is the point.