Rewatched Jun 09, 2012
Gregory Ashman’s review:
So "Prometheus" has finally landed. It seems the hardest critics of this film will inevitably be fans of Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" and even 1982's "Blade Runner" which also favored conflict between creators and the created. However, it was "Alien" that solidified the subgenre of Sci-fi horror for mainstream audiences by masterfully combining the elements of production design, score, groundbreaking special/practical effects, and character work to create a haunted house creature-feature in space -featuring, it should be noted, a creature of unprecedented malevolent savagery. "Alien" put people on edge and spoke to something intrinsically primal when forced to confront its body horror imagery and sinuously measured pacing.
The question going into all this is: do we really need another film that replicates or even attempts to copy the alchemy of everything that made "Alien" a classic? No, that feat has already been achieved and the outcome still stands as a solid piece of suspense drama. I can certainly say that I didn't go into this film expecting or wanting to see a retread of the same material even though there were occasional homages in the composition of shots and general structure that I loved(for instance, the slowly crawl of the word "Prometheus" in the title card , some of the approach shots of Prometheus arriving at LV-223, plus the pseudo strobing light effect when Shaw is attempting to escape her attacker mirrors nicely with the almost seizure-inducing spectacle between Ripley and the alien in the climax of the first film , and androids....gotta love the use of androids).
2012's "Prometheus", happily then, is a different beast, which ultimately I feel works as its greatest strength.My feeling is that Scott at this point in his career isn't interested in a re-do, but the universe obviously spoke to him on an artistic level and it makes logical sense that he would venture back to pull at the DNA strands of the 1979 original to not only fill in some of the missing pieces in the mythology but also to open up a trajectory for new stories that work on a greater philosophical level.
The universe has been worthily reconfigured by different directors in the past, so "Prometheus" doesn't feel like it exists as some new phenomenon or signifier of a further breakdown in the studio system to produce cinematic products of quality and originality. Cameron's interpretation and style progressed the original story into a muscular, machimsmo'ed military action saga that was ultimately (gasp) a thematic contemplation on motherhood, while Fincher's follow up took the story's long suffering heroine, Ellen Ripley into psychological territory much darker and claustrophobic than ever before- essentially creating a neo-noir in space. After seeing all these different variations on the story, I think it was definitely time to start thinking about the bigger picture of how the overarching destiny of humankind factors into the larger canvas of action adventure that has primarily defined the Alien franchise for decades. It is not surprising then that Scott would call on the talents of Damon Lindelof who a masterminded an irresistible combination of island bound mythology with character study (we will disregard the fact that Lost fell off the rails for not having a clearer endpoint but more on that later in how the deficiency applies to the scripting of "Prometheus").
So does Ridley Scott do a great job in this new frontier? Well, mostly yes, particularly in the first hour. Scott's sense of environment and scale is still pretty amazing - the opening shots of the film as the camera pans over vistas of mountains, fields and rushing water look richly sweeping in the IMAX format and the production design of both Prometheus herself as well as the pyramid/ catacombs environs found on LV-223 definitely bring an eerily primordial and otherworldly tone to the proceedings- a clever mix of both high and deceptively high tech.that's the thing, I absolutely LOVE the setup of this film- it moves with a narrative economy that slightly jars but has a visual style that I adore- its scientists out in the field doing their thing in sleek spacesuits, utilizing a lot of amazing tech and fully entrenching themselves in the art of deduction through observation. Scott as a director and the actors as performers perfectly nail the thrill of adventure and discovery that the film earnestly reaches for in the first act.
In terms of performance, this is Fassbender's movie- the imagining of the character and the execution is fantastic and I love how he is used as a device to help drive the story forward. Little dramatic touches here and there help make the character really interesting (loved the shutout to Lawrence of Arabia and his collusions with the Weyland character). I really like Noomi Rapace as an actress and I felt like she carried a nice subtle earnestness but somehow I feel like there should have been more setup to establish her character as a person of faith who also approaches scientific discovery with the same kind of zeal. While we get very broad strokes that inform her character, the remainder of the Prometheus feel annoyingly anonymous- in particular the flight crew who make a rather drastic decision in the action climax of the film don't get much screentime so their sacrifice in the end feels a bit hollow, unearned and cornball. The other specialists along for voyage include scientists Milburn (Rafe Spall) and geologist Fiffield (played by Sean Harris, like one of the prison inmates from "Lockout") simply felt like fodder. Other nitpicks I have aren't huge, just some lazy writing in the film's third act (for instance, everyone seems to have a completely subdued reaction to the news that their benefactor who is supposed to have passed away three years ago suddenly turns up towards the end).
All in all I really enjoyed Ridley Scott's return to science fiction and I felt like the broader philosophical questions setup here have somewhere to go in future installments- there is something pretty intriguing in the pairing of a scientist/woman of faith with an atheistic robot to unravel the mysteries of mankind. Hopefully the producers and writers have a good sense of where they want to take this adventure because I want to be along for the ride.