Movie Review 5/6/12
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green,
Directed by: Ridley Scott
WeeeehhhhRRRRrrrrrrrr! WeeeehhhhRRRRrrrrrrrr! WeeeehhhhRRRRrrrrrrrr! The haunting mechanical whine that played in the background of the trailer for Prometheus and before that the trailer for 1979’s Alien was the sound science-fiction fans were overjoyed and excited to hear again after so long. It was the sound that heralded director Ridley Scott’s return to the world he helped create with Alien, and marked his first science-fiction film since 1982’s Blade Runner, in its own right a landmark sci-fi film. The film world has been bristling with anticipation and now, Prometheus has landed.
The story tells of an expedition into outer space in search of the origins of life on earth. In 2089, archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and her colleague/love interest Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green) discover a cave painting on the Scottish Isle of Skye that corresponds to others discovered at sites across the world and spanning millennia. The painting depicts a star map, and funded by the aging multibillionaire CEO Peter Weyland (Pearce), Shaw, Holloway and their crew travel across the cosmos to a distant moon. Weyland Corp employee Meredith Vickers (Theron) oversees the expedition with a watchful eye, assisted by the advanced android David (Fassbender). The crew makes one groundbreaking discovery after the other, coming to the conclusion that humanoid beings called the Engineers was the genesis of life on earth, but encounters more than they bargained for as the mission unspools and they find they should be more concerned about survival than existential head-scratchers.
The film is best-described as an indirect prequel to Alien – it’s a different beast, but clearly of the same ancestry. This reviewer watched Alien with Ridley Scott’s audio commentary before watching Prometheus, and Scott muses about the mysterious “Space Jockey”, what his purpose in the story was, who or what he might have been and the nature of his cargo of alien eggs. Scott has said that he wondered why the directors who took on the Alien sequels never addressed this, and has his chance to remedy this big-time in Prometheus. That strange skeletal figure is central to the story, and where Alien was a locked-house thriller confined to the dank spaceship Nostromo, Prometheus is far more ambitious in scope and practically announces its intention to be an epic film. It even pulls off making the oft-ridiculed “ancient aliens” theory seem somewhat plausible.
Prometheus tangles with omnipresent philosophical themes and attempts to tackle the issue of science vs. religion, mixed in with a “curiosity killed the cat” cautionary tale, all on a grand and involving scale. It’s a movie that aims very high, and results in an absorbing and challenging viewer experience. There aren’t just plot twists; there are plot twists on steroids. At times, the intensity is at a fever pitch and may leave audiences desperately gasping for air and reeling in shock. It’s a film that requires the audience to do some thinking – however, this is not necessarily a completely good thing. Towards the end of the film, multiple plot points and bits and pieces are tossed at the audience, and it’s near impossible to connect the dots as the story unfolds before your eyes. Several connections to the original film feel a tad forced and superfluous. As much as one wants to get swept up in the breathtaking moment, one also struggles to sort out all this sensory input. This niggling bit is ultimately difficult to reconcile, and the film occasionally buckles under the weight of the philosophical overtones.
One thing that’s for sure is that the picture is lavishly produced and has a really rich atmosphere. While the Nostromo was a creaky, lived-in commercial freighter, the Prometheus is slick, state-of-the-art and ultra high-tech (it’s interesting in the same way the Star Wars prequels look far more refined than the original trilogy). The barren moon of LV-223 doesn’t look terribly interesting, but inside the cave complex the atmosphere is chilling and menacing and ties neatly into the Space Jockey’s ship. Production designer Arthur Max’s impressive physical sets complement the impressive digital effects, and the lack of an over-reliance on the latter is welcome amongst blockbusters infested with overblown, plasticky CGI. The creature designs are generally excellent and carry over the aliens’ sometimes-obvious sexual imagery from the other films, and all of these beings look decidedly creepy.
An important component of any deep-space expedition movie is the crew. The cast is more than competent; however there are several characters that practically announce that they won’t make it too far, taking some of the fun out of guessing how each of them ends up. Noomi Rapace leads the charge as the typically strong but multi-dimensional woman found in many Ridley Scott films. Dr Elizabeth Shaw is put through the wringer and a whole host of horrible things happen to the character, Rapace pulling us in completely. Her performance during what is arguably the most intense, gory scene of the movie is harrowing and powerful. As her love interest, Logan Marshall-Green embodies a sort of naïve enthusiasm as a character who is as much an adrenaline junkie as he is a scientist. The two have a fairly interesting dynamic that isn’t given a whole lot of attention, but is fun to watch.
Michael Fassbender plain steals the show from everyone else. Playing an android realistically is a remarkable acting challenge few performers pull off seamlessly – Fassbender is certainly one of them, mastering the facial tics, vocal inflection and body language to teeter on the edge of the uncanny valley. He definitely invokes HAL 9000 from the sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey in the way the character begins as seemingly childlike but gradually acquires human characteristics; not all of them savoury ones. Machines are usually clear-cut and precise, but David’s moral ambiguity is intriguing in the extreme. Charlize Theron’s icy, no-nonsense, and businesslike Meredith Vickers has something lurking below the surface, and is a character that in the hands of a lesser actor could turn out laughably flat, but is played with care by Theron. Guy Pearce is caked in slightly less-than-convincing makeup as an old man but still makes something of an impact as someone who is powerful in spite of his frailty.
Those looking forward to a masterful science-fiction film packed with captivating visuals, impressive performances, the thrills and body-horror gore expected of the franchise will mostly not be disappointed. Viewers are advised not to expect a carbon copy of Alien, and the slightly muddy bits of plot are compensated for by an altogether-dazzling end product.
SUMMARY: Hop aboard the Prometheus: there may be a little turbulence, but you’re not going to regret taking the ride.
RATING: 4/5 STARS