This Was Ridley Scott’s Return to Sci-Fi?
A Film Review of Prometheus
By: Lawrence Napoli
The second, most concerning ailment in Hollywood behind “adaptation fever” is “prequel-itis” and for the franchise that would not die, Ridley Scott decided to revisit his original foray into space horror with Prometheus. I didn’t quite know what to think about this film when it first hit the rumor mill, but I really enjoyed the first two Alien films, so any return to that level of greatness would make for an exciting proposition. Then, a curious promotional blitz via web and TV was engaged by Ridley Scott and his production team to state, and restate and RESTATE how Prometheus is a film not exactly linked to the Alien films, but is “set in the same universe.” What?!? You are devoting a new film (and possible new franchise) to developing a key plot point that was the inciting incident for all Alien films and there’s no connection? For the record, there are several key elements within Prometheus that connects it to the Alien franchise: hyper-sleep, flame throwers, androids, evil corporations and high body counts. So I ask, “Why the big need to disconnect?” The answer is quite evident once the final credits roll and whether this is a good thing or not, I’ll leave to you, but bear this in mind. Not only is this film marginally connected to the Alien fiction, it is also a very different type of film from them all and I believe that was the biggest surprise in this entire film.
This is what you get for not casting ME!!!
The story of Prometheus is an intriguing exploration into the possibility of human civilization interacting with alien life forms as a result of scientific research and discovery on Earth. It certainly sounds nice, but if human beings were to actually encounter an alien organism, the results would probably be ugly and dirty; ergo the Alien films. Don’t worry, everything goes to hell in a hand-basket soon enough but the first act of Prometheus seems awfully cerebral considering the common bloodbath the plot intends to take the audience in the end. I’d liken it to taking a limousine ride to a demolition derby.
I was extremely intrigued to learn more about “The Engineers” a.k.a. the alien race that owned that derelict spaceship on LV-426 back in Alien and certainly the script does much to build the wonder and fascination about them despite the crew knowing little more than their “home” address. I was as disappointed in the Engineers as much as Liara T’Soni was in encountering an actual Prothean in Mass Effect 3. For being so far advanced in terms of intelligence and technology, the Engineers curiously take a crush first, ask questions never approach to confrontations and so as visually dynamic and impressive as they are, I was unimpressed by being presented yet another alien species with a one track mind that murders anything in its way.
I found the parts of the script that centered on the crew of the Prometheus and their various interactions to be much more satisfying, particularly the android, David. Ever wonder what happens on a spaceship when everyone’s in hyper-sleep? Apparently even androids get bored as David partakes in some interesting activities to pass the time. I liked being introduced to the human protagonists and I would have loved to see more, but their character development was cut short to start accumulating the aforementioned “body count.” This brings me to the ultimate reason why I feel this script doesn’t quite measure up. There is no element of suspense, stalking, or evading in Prometheus. Sure, the trailers did a great job making it seem like this film would be one heck of a thriller, but that is simply not true. There are plenty of gore and gross-out moments but there is NO fear and that was a huge disappointment.
Where did we lose the story?
Many people left the premier night of Prometheus on the IMAX screen scratching their heads at what they saw. I know this because literally one person applauded at the end and it wasn’t me. People were expecting some questions to be answered such as who are the Engineers and what do they want, how/why did they get to LV-426, why were they transporting face-hugger eggs in their ship and how does ANY of this connect to human beings. Guess what ladies and gents, nothing gets answered! Again, this was another big disappointment but the reason for it is no more complicated than reviewing who the writers are and in Hollywood Land, a writer rarely proves him or herself to be more than the one type of writing that got them jobs in the first place. Damon Lindelof is a veteran writer of the quintessential IP notorious for answering questions with more questions: Lost, ”˜nuff said!
The real reason to see Prometheus is for the visual style. Every second of this film looks gorgeous from its framing to the CG, to the costume design, set design, makeup, special effects; heck even the color palate is pure genius. I believe we can attribute this to Ridley Scott’s acumen as an auteur (just wished he gave the script the same level of polish), but like all great filmmakers, he didn’t do it alone. Cinematographer Dariuz Wolski, production designer Arthur Max, set decorator Sonja Klaus and costume designer Janty Yates all deserve singular recognition for their contributions to this film. There is not one aspect of the Prometheus spaceship that presents itself as anything less than pristine, luxury living in the future. The Engineers look as elegant as they do threatening, the desolate planet is a perfect example of a techno version of Egyptian ruins and human beings being stomped, ripped apart or being eaten from the inside is all stomach turning. In this regard, Prometheus is like The Matrix; you have to see it for yourself.
Although some sci-fi, action/adventure, blockbuster films feature some standout performances that contribute greatly to their success, Prometheus is not one of them. The main character Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace (you’ll remember her from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) does an adequate job being the starry eyed scientist with hopes of being acknowledged by her fictional alien creators like a good little girl. The problem I have is less with her actual performance and more with the fact that the character is required to take a back seat to others in addition to being completely reactionary as opposed to being proactive. I’m used to Sigourney Weaver taping a machine gun to a flamethrower to take on a nest of Aliens by herself. Perhaps this is the type of character Noomi will be asked to generate for the sequel because Lord knows, her character has plenty of motivation to start kicking ass at the end of this film.
Charlize Theron plays the Weyland Corporation rep, Meredith Vickers who carries over her “take no BS despite looking like a goddess” charm from Snow White and the Huntsman. Her character is meant to keep the mission on task, funny I thought that would be the captain’s job, but I guess that’s the privilege that comes from private enterprise funding a trillion dollar voyage into space. Regardless, Charlize is compelling in her cold yet amicable portrayal of a woman with a purpose. Part of the mystery of this film is learning what that purpose is, but the manner in which Charlize plays it could be for or against the protagonists all the way to the climax. All in all, Charlize shows that she’s a true leading lady that can produce a solid performance in ANY film rooted in ANY genre.
The true star of Prometheus is yet another inspired performance by Michael Fassbender as the android David. His performance mirrors Charlize’s in many respects save one, he never breaks from being deadpan in all scenes whether he’s being helpful, scheming, deductive, destructive or pragmatic. For a human being to produce a distinguished performance as a robot, a certain level of elitism is necessary for the actor to generate, for which Fassbender easily flips the switch. It’s his dedication to keeping that switch on that is truly impressive as he seems to relish in characters the audience loves to hate or hates to love.
Prometheusis a film that I will forever recognize as not meeting the great expectations set before it. Even if Ridley Scott wanted to distance this new film franchise from the Alien films, he didn’t necessarily have to make so many conscience choices to turn it into a film that only alludes to horror in space. Even if he did, he still could have made choices to at least make that kind of film stand on its own merit. The way I see it, without the Alien films, Prometheus would have nothing going for it because at the end of the day people want to see the moment that explains why human beings are the ideal host body for the most feared alien predator the universe has come to know and guess what? This film implies exactly that at the very end so get your tents packed up to wait outside the theater for the sequel because it’s going to happen and maybe Ridley can hand the franchise off to James Cameron like last time in order to take it up a notch or two.