Film Review: "PROMETHEUS"
Published: Friday, June 8, 2012
Updated: Friday, June 8, 2012 14:06
We open on a planet, conspicuously framed exactly the same way Stanley Kubrick did Earth in the opening of “2001”. We pan through valleys, mountains, waterfalls – all serene, devoid of life. A figure, human in stature, but not in appearance, stands on a cliff, drinking a dark liquid. He disintegrates into the water, and the water disintegrates into the films title. “PROMETHEUS” opens with a bang. It’s beautiful, provocative, ambiguous, and enthralling. And it never once lives up to the potential that scene promises.
Much has been made about whether or not “PROMETHEUS” is connected to the “ALIEN” franchise and how it would tie into the first film of that series .The real mystery, to me, is why anyone gives a fuck about such queries in a world where “ALIEN VS. PREDATOR 2: REQUIEM” exists. But still, within minutes this proves to be an incredibly silly question. The answers: of course, and pretty directly.
In many ways, it’s as if Scott has remade “ALIEN” for the 21st century, for an audience that wants big action scares but would reject the wonderfully pulpy haunted house aesthetic of his original take. We’ve got the same screams, the same slasher-movie structure, and the same haunting score (though unfortunately, not the same practical effects work.) We’ve still got the female protagonist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who may not be as battle hardened as Ripley, but gets to run away from things in her underwear anyway. We still have the gruff manual labor (though no one lives up to Harry Dean Stanton,) best exemplified by the ‘space captain’ Idris Elba – he actually has fun in the role, it feels more Clint Eastwood than “AVATAR”.
And of course we still have the evil corporate drones who cause the mayhem in all these films, the Weyland Corporation, here depicted by head-Bitch-in-charge Charlize Theron, a badly aged Guy Pearce (he’s playing a man pushing 100,) and the films unquestioned highlight, an android played by Michael Fassbender. It’s telling that the most believable character here lacks a human heart, but his diabolically unemotional turn provides the film with the fresh glance it so sorely needs (he couldn’t have possibly played this further from the androids in the previous films.)
But won’t we don’t have is the fun, the terror, and the unpretentious presentation of the original “ALIEN”. Instead, “PROMETHEUS” becomes a Christopher Nolan film - like his blockbusters, it’s way too silly to take seriously, and far too serious-minded to enjoy for its silliness. Scott’s film is about nothing less than a search for the meaning of life; its characters following a star map in search of “Engineers” who created life on our planet. But it’s still a big budget franchise studio movie, so while the first half is closer to “A SPACE ODDYSEY” than to anything else, the 2nd half more closely resembles “ALIEN VS. PREDATOR”.
It promises to deal with interesting questions, like Shaw’s devout Christianity keeping hold even in the face of proof of life on other planets, but then ditches them all so it’s third act can focus exclusively on different forms of CGI villains attacking humans and each other. You know, “THE DARK KNIGHT” had a lot of interesting things to say, but it’s still a movie where a criminal smuggles a gun into a courtroom in a major city, only to have it wrestled away in a struggle by the DA who is interrogating him. “PROMETHEUS” has a lot on its mind too, but it’s still a film asking us to believe that professional scientists would remove their helmets in an unchecked atmosphere, and would stick their fingers near the mouths of alien creatures without the slightest bit of protection or preparation. Maybe that’ll play with general audiences, but I still can’t understand how these directors can achieve such thematic weight and still see no interest in sweeping the scripts for logic holes.
It’s not that the film itself is stupid, it just wants to have its cake and eat it too – to be the fanboy-era blockbuster for the thinking man while still treating most of its characters like nothing more than the drunken teenagers sacrificed to slashers like Freddy and Jason. It plays well while you watch it: the cinematography and camerawork is stunning, its carefully controlled shadows and movements aided by set design that is nothing less than haunting in its corporate construction. But I can’t help but notice that even THAT doesn’t make sense – if this is years and years before “ALIEN”, why am I subjected to the glossy, tech-based look of 2012 instead of something more like the derelict ship of the original?*
It gets to the point where you can’t even connect with the characters anymore, because these futuristic space-scientists are that damn stupid. At one point, an infected character literally chooses, consciously, to jump in bed with another shipmate (this isn’t a spoiler: there’s more suggested space-sex here than you’d expect) and then later goes out on an expedition with the rest of the crew. They’ve trusted these people to make first contact with our GOD, however many decades in the future, and they don’t even comprehend basic medical procedures of the early 2000s?