Directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba - Rated R
The main discussion concerning Prometheus is whether or not the film is a prequel to Ridley Scott’s classic, Alien. The cast and crew have been vague about it, at most admitting that there’s some Alien DNA in the film. I think they’ve been dodging the question not because of spoilers but because of revenue. If Prometheus had been billed up as a straight up sequel to an old sci-fi film, then interest in it might lessen. The big question, then, is if Prometheus can be enjoyed by someone who has never seen Alien. The short answer is yes. This film does stand on its own. But only Alien fans can fully enjoy it because no matter what the filmmakers have to say about it, this is a prequel.
Prometheus is great without any prior knowledge, though, because of the questions asked within the film. The main question is the age-old question of humanity, “Why are we here?” That question takes on different variations as the film continues, but it is that initial curiosity that sends the crew of the titular spaceship Prometheus to a planet light years away from Earth to investigate a message left by multiple ancient cultures. Asking a loaded question like “Why?” can make or break a film because it has to deal with religion and science and how it can co-exist. Not to go into spoilers, but the film dodges the issue in a satisfying way. But anytime an issue is dodged there will be complaints. Could Prometheus take a risk and answer the question in a definitive and dividing way? Yes, the film could have done that and made a small group of obsessed fans (myself included, most like) extremely happy, but instead the filmmakers left it open. That not only makes the film more accessible for the population; it also allows the viewers discuss the film.
That is what makes Prometheus truly great. I am writing this review twelve hours after I watched the film and I am still rolling ideas around. If all my questions had been answered then I would have very little to write about. Instead, I am left with so many questions and theories that I can hardly focus on just one. I find that exhilarating. I’m usually happy if a film simply makes me feel something. When a movie makes me think deeply about life: that’s special.
I realize that I have not given a proper synopsis for this film yet, but I don’t intend to. Prometheus is science-fiction and it’s about the origin of life. If that interests you (and it should), then watch it. If that sounds like a bit too much for you, then skip it.
But Prometheus is still a movie and should be judged as other movies are judged. First, the visuals. Sci-fi films are typically the most impressive visual films and this movie does not disappoint. Director Ridley Scott insisted on using as many natural landscapes and practical sets as possible and the film benefits from it. The locations are otherworldly and impressive because most of them are real. The title sequence is so beautiful it seems like Werner Herzog or Terrence Malick took over directorial duties for it. As for the sets: they were great. The ship looks polished a bit, but it still fits into the technology of Alien in a very satisfying way.
Of course, a sci-fi film has to feature some CG effects. It’s all handled very well, though. The film is in 3D, as well, and it is better because of it. Prometheus is a visual spectacle and it should be presented in 3D. I have decided that all science-fiction films should be in 3D because the vastness of space is best shown in the third dimension.
“Prometheus” also works thanks to the amazing cast. Noomi Rapace is tasked with the leading role and she does a fine job. She doesn’t make quite the tough heroine that Sigourney Weaver did in the Alien films, but she certainly holds her own, especially late in the film. Idris Elba has some interesting scenes as the benevolent captain of the ship, and there are a few questions raised by his actions. Charlize Theron makes for an effective and emotionless corporate minder. Sean Harris provides some lively moments as a disgruntled geologist. And Logan Marshall-Green does fine in a slightly boring role.
It’s Michael Fassbender, though, who steals the show as an android named David. Who better than Fassbender to play a robot? Not to mention a robot that watches actors like Peter O’Toole and emulates them. Fassbender constantly propels the film and every scene he is in is instantly better than those without him.
But the real star of the film is director Ridley Scott. I am a huge fan of his work, most notably his sci-fi efforts, Alien and Blade Runner. A lot has been made about Scott’s return to his best genre, so I don’t need to add much to that discussion apart from saying that I am glad Scott is back in sci-fi. He has always been an ambitious filmmaker and sci-fi is the perfect place for lofty ideas and questions. Scott has tried to insert themes and ideas about life in general into recent works like Robin Hood and Kingdom of Heaven to mixed results. The vastness of space is a much better place to present ideas about humanity than historical settings are.
It was also nice to see Scott return to the Alien universe for both his style and his attempt to shock. Scott emulates the style of the original film with his long tracking shots throughout the ship. It’s pretty much mimicking Kubrick, but who better to copy? Also, Scott doesn’t turn the camera away when things get gory. Prometheus earns its R-rating (something fans were worried about for a while) by featuring some truly gruesome moments. Is anything as shocking or iconic as the chest burst scene from the original? No, but it is definitely some disturbing, cringe-worthy stuff.
Overall, Prometheus is an incredibly ambitious film made with great style by one of the best working directors out there. The film doesn’t answer many questions for the viewer and, honestly, a truly great film never tells the audience much. Prometheus is an excellent film to discuss and think about. Just check out some message boards and you’ll find multiple complex debates going on about this film. Even if you hate it, you have to respect that it presents some interesting ideas about humanity, technology, religion, abortion, faith, and…well, life. It helps that the film is absolutely beautiful and features some great performances. It’s my favorite film of the year thus far and will certainly be near (or at) the top of my list by year’s end.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
Okay, I have a lot more to write about on this one. First: all the potential issues this film raises.
I loved that the question changed from the why of our origin into the why of our attempted annihilation. And I am okay with our why simply being because the Engineers could. It ties into our issues with technology. Why do we create a lot of the technology we have? Because we can and we want to make things better and better. In the world of the film, it is brought up in a very effective scene between David and Holloway. It is also extremely interesting when you factor in the timeframe when the Engineers decided to destroy humanity, which is roughly the time when Jesus walked the earth. Scott has made this reference himself in an interview, going so far as to say that Jesus may have been an Engineer (i.e. alien). But they strayed from that idea, for better or worse. (If you want to check the interview, just Google "Ridley Scott moviefone interview.")
Religion is definitely a major factor in the film, though it isn't given the main focus. It's more about faith and how someone can still believe after being put through trials and the answer given by Shaw is that she simply "chooses" to believe. Not a groundbreaking answer and really kind of a boring answer, but it doesn't make it any less logical and it is still a statement about belief systems.
The religion aspect is what I had in mind when I mentioned that Idris Elba's character, Janek, raises questions. It is almost out of nowhere, but Shaw talks to Janek near the end of the film as he was God. She asks how he can just sit back and watch horrible things happen without getting involved. If you think back before that scene, we get to see Janek watching over all of the characters and even though they appear to be in imminent danger, he is very nonchalant and even uncaring a bit. Kind of sounds like a certain deity who gets prayed to but seems to never intervene, right? Of course, this changes a bit when Janek decides to care at the end and basically saves humanity. So God was finally forced at act, basically. Hey, at least this deus ex machina didn't simply magically show up...
Now, looking into how the technology of this film matches up with Alien. An issue with a sci-fi prequel is that technology is better today so even though the film takes place before the original, the ship looks much better. This has been explained in an interview I read a few weeks ago (so I don't remember who said it), but the basic idea is that the Prometheus is filled with scientists, which explains why they would have all the bells and whistles that the Nostromo does not, since that ship was basically an 18-wheeler in space. Aside from that, the corridors still look similar and the ship does fit in nicely within the franchise.
Lastly, there is the issue of where this film takes place. At first, I just assumed this took place on the same planet that the first film took place on. That is not the case. This is a completely different planet, but it is very similar in that it is also used as a cache for the Engineers' deadly weapons. Presumably things went bad at all these locations which is why such a similar ship and issue occurred on an entirely different planet. I know, I know, wouldn't it have been much easier just to make it the same? Yes, but the story can go in more places if it isn't, so I'm cool with it. Plus, it still explains the origin of the Space Jockey in an interesting way. So Prometheus didn't end up being a true prequel, but it's still pretty damn close.