Thursday, June 14, 2012

Prometheus - Theatrical Review


Release Date: June 8, 2012

The search for our beginning could lead to a lot of unanswered questions, some of the most stunning production design of any film this year and the return of a filmmaking legend to the genre he helped define in one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Edwards Irvine Spectrum 21
Time: 12:03 am June 8, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 3D
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 2 hr 03 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox

Loves: The Alien franchise, Ridley Scott, movies that make you think
Likes: Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, Sci-Fi horror
Neutral: Unanswered questions
Hates: That most people get what this movie is all about
Best use of 3D since Avatar?: You betcha!

It has been over 30 years since legendary director Ridley Scott showed us his vision of the future. Since he has filled that gap of time with such classics as Black Hawk Down, Thelma & Louise and Kingdom of Heaven, the wait hasn't been too excruciating but never the less I awaited his long return to the genre of Sci-Fi horror with great anticipation. The 1979 Alien is a near flawless film, the set designs, the iconic creature, the inspired casting and a slew of classic film moments helped make this sophomore directorial effort from Scott more than just another cheesy horror film and turned it into one of the biggest and most revered horror franchises of all time. So, with the Alien series being a personal favorite of mine, I was filled with an extreme amount of enthusiasm when I first heard about his return to the franchise and the genre itself. Prometheus is more than just some summer blockbuster with a lot of neat (and expensive) effects for people to inhale popcorn while watching, it is that rare summer film that makes you think. While it doesn't quite provide all the answers some may want from it by the time it is all over, there is no question when it comes to the expert craftsmanship that Scott uses to create a world that is beautiful in all the wrong ways and is compelling in a way not usually associated with this genre of film.

It is the year 2089 and after discovering corresponding hieroglyphics from all over Earth acting as an invitation to another world, on the behest of corporate tycoon Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) along with the crew of the space ship Prometheus captained by Janek (Idris Elba) are sent into the depths of space on a mission led by the cold as stone Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) to determine who and what awaits their arrival on the distant moon Zeta 2 Reticuli. While Shaw and Holloway are in search of answers pertaining to the creation of mankind, Vickers and the loyal android David (Michael Fassbender) are in search of their own private agendas.

The crew of the Prometheus is about to discover more than they bargained for.

Well before I even saw the first trailer for Prometheus I knew it was not going to be what most people would expect from it. Call it a curse or call it by design, Ridley Scott films are almost always universally misunderstood upon their initial theatrical release. If they aren't misunderstood, then they are compromised in some fashion. That's not to say all his films hit these roadblocks, but it just seems the more ambitious the project is the more it runs the risk of being derailed in some form or another. Take Blade Runner for instance, probably one of the most misunderstood films of its time. Most just wanted to see Harrison Ford running around shooting bad guys and being a hero, but what they got was a striking take on a future Earth that was beautiful, bleak and methodical with little to no action whatsoever. Did that make it bad? No. But most at the time (including critics) just didn't get 'it', they didn't see the underlying messages buried deep within the confines of this visually breathtaking neo-film-noir and with Prometheus I can imagine history is about to repeat itself, albiet in not as grand a fashion.

I bring all this up because Prometheus is not the film the public has been sold on in those intentionally misleading trailers. It is a film with grand ideas and some truly intriguing concepts that challenges its audience to actually think about what they are seeing instead of just simply reacting to it. There has been much debate over whether or not this film is in fact a prequel to the 1979 Sci-Fi horror masterpiece Alien and unfortunately that debate will continue. While there are many nods and direct links to that film, Prometheus has bigger ambitions than to be relegated as just another film in that franchise. Whether or not that works for you is something I cannot answer, but for someone like me who is a huge fan of the franchise and considers the 1985 James Cameron sequel to be one of the best films ever made, I thought every instance of Prometheus works brilliantly as both an origin story for the xenomorphs and as a stand alone film that just so happens to take place in the same universe as those other films.

The film is nothing short of a technical marvel.

While the terms 'smart' and 'summer blockbuster' hardly ever go together, Prometheus bridges that gap rather effortlessly by providing a gorgeous backdrop and setting to its ambitious undertaking. Ridley Scott's films have been attacked for many things, story and/or plot shortcomings, uneven pacing, being unfocused and even some have said he is all about the look and feel of his films instead of providing compelling characters or a solid narrative. But the one thing he has never been labeled as is cheap or lacking in vision. All of his films have been universally praised for providing rich and dense worlds that feel extraordinarily real. His use of practical sets and mastery over the digital age have only enhanced his already natural skills behind the camera and Prometheus stands tall as a prime example of his ability to create interesting and believable worlds for us to get lost in. Just the way he populates this world with an assortment of technological advances that aren't distracting or too far fetched but still capture the imagination is a testament to his dedication to not let the look of his film overwhelm its narrative while leaving an everlasting impression. He knows how to set the mood and knows how to suck his audience into the worlds he creates.

Take for instance the first time we see the Prometheus space vessel itself, I love films that have that revealing shot of a giant ship floating through the vastness of space as it gives us a read out of its crew and destination. There is just something so ominous about it, knowing the people on board that ship are about to have their world turned upside down and most likely come face to face with death in all its incarnations. Scott knows how to put his audience in a constant state of discomfort just by prolonging the inevitable and the slow descent of the ship as well as the preceding excursion into the bowels of the planet below creates an immense amount of tension that will leave thrill seekers out in the cold but those who appreciate the staggering attention to detail present in every inch of every frame will be enthralled by what they are witnessing. There is a steady build up to the events that occur in Prometheus, the film is in no hurry to show its hand too early and while that may be appreciated by someone who was raised on films that took their sweet time to get to their payoff (such as myself), it may also spell certain doom for how it is received in the end.

The android David contemplates his discovery.

Audiences now days are an impatient bunch, they want their movies to blow their load as soon as possible and then continue shooting all over the place at regular intervals. There is nothing wrong with that, I like a good cinematic orgy just as much as the next guy, however there is something to be said for a film that likes to tease its audience and lull them into its grasp where they aren't sure what is going to be around every corner. The problem with those action heavy movies is that you eventually become numb to its tricks. Having every moment be an adrenaline rush seems great on paper but in execution it often runs the risk of becoming boring (see every Michael Bay movie ever made) and certainly doesn't give the audience enough time to soak in the little details that usually help them identify with the characters or learn the intricacies of world that is being presented to them. So, while it may not have been the popular choice to hold back on the goods for as long as he does here, I for one found Scott's restraint to be a breath of fresh air that was both welcome and needed in this summer of overblown action extravaganzas.

Part of the reason for the more relaxed pace of Prometheus is its focus on those more philosophical questions about humanity and the origin of our species as opposed to seeing things blow up or people getting maimed every couple of minutes. Littered all throughout the film are these intellectual insights about why we would want to meet our creators, what we expect from meeting them and what meeting them would actually constitute. This is not a film you want to turn your brain off for because otherwise you will miss its best parts. I can already see religious groups getting fanatical about how the film seems to lean more towards our creation being more of a scientific event than one based on the idea of a solitary individual who spawned us out of nothingness, but that is what I find so fascinating about Prometheus and all the questions it raises. It challenges its audience to think about grander ideas than just some monster who wants to kill us (although that is there too) and I believe even the haters will find themselves thinking about the themes and meanings behind Prometheus long after it is over which is the mark of any great film.

The films big ideas are matched equally with its beautiful vistas.

However, for all those theories about the genesis of life on Earth and scientific studies being thrown about, this is still a horror film at its core. I hesitate to call it a full on horror film though since it doesn't really relish in its death scenes or have any real gruesome tendencies. That being said though, there is some shit that goes down here that will undoubtedly have you squirming in your chair. The self-surgery sequence is probably one of the most tension filled and disturbing moments of any movie I have seen all year and there is also the series of events that take place near the end of the film that have characters getting their heads smashed in and ripped off without hesitation. If those don't sound like the trappings of a horror movie then I guess you and I just have a different outlook as to what actually makes a horror film. So the complaints about Prometheus being a little light on the horror elements are a little exaggerated. I won't say they are unfounded though since every single scenario I just listed are usually very fleeting, but someone has to be very jaded to not at least acknowledge the fact that there are plenty of horror filled moments sprinkled liberally throughout the entire film.

Then you have the cast, a strange group of actors with not a one of them save for possibly Charlize Theron, being known by the general movie going public. Noomi Rapace did not impress me last year with her limited role in the latest Sherlock Holmes film, but she certainly came out guns-a-blazing here as the lead character. Not only did she face the uphill battle of being compared to the incomparable iconic role of Ripley played by the equally iconic Sigourney Weaver, but she had to stand out in a film filled with numerous other personalities and a whole lot of baggage, which I think she did admirably. Green, as her male counterpart did his part as the reckless other half but failed to leave much of an impression. Theron wasn't playing a character nearly as interesting as her role as the Queen in last weeks Snow White adaptation. The only two male actors who truly registered with me were Idris Elba as the fearless but cautious captain of the Prometheus and Fassbender as the intricately fascinating android David. Both actors brought a lot of humanity to their roles, with Fassbender's David being ironic in that way since he wasn't playing a human character. The cast did their jobs for the most part but there was a small problem with the characters in general, there were just too dam many of them.

Vickers and Janek look on as everything begins to crumble around them.

The crew of Prometheus totaled 17, that is including Rapace, Green, Theron, Elba and Fassbender. That leaves over 12 more characters that are there for nothing more than fodder. They are there to die, plain and simple. We never get to know them in any meaningful way and are discarded whenever we need something to jump start our pulse. There comes a scene later in the film where at least six or more people are killed in one instance and they were all faceless for the most part. The scene already felt unnecessary given all the other more important things going on in the background, but when you add in the fact that the scene resulted in only thinning the herd by killing people we never even saw, then that begs the question of why even have that many characters to begin with? There are inconsistencies and problematic situations that pop up all over the place in Prometheus which is probably its one and greatest failing, it just doesn't make sense at certain times.

Why would a Captain leave two of his men unattended who are lost in a cavern with an unknown life form? It is played as a joke (and is funny) but in hindsight that was a horrible decision which makes his sudden need to look after the welfare of his crew later seem a little puzzling. Then there are the alien creatures themselves, called Engineers. Their motivations for whatever they are doing aren't only unclear but completely baffling at times. The scientists as well have some moments where they act off of instinct instead of logically thinking a situation through which just doesn't make a lick of sense. Then you have scenes that seemed to be building to something only to be over and done with in a couple of minutes without any sort of reaction or discussion from anyone about what they just saw or experienced. I am sure that when a room full of scientists attempt to re-animate a decapitated alien head and after it is over that there would be some sort of dialog exchange about what they just witnessed, right? There is a twist revealed near the end that also makes very little sense due to a certain character's motivation for being there and what they did prior to ensure that they got what they needed. For all of Prometheus' big ideas, it certainly has a hard time keeping the smaller ones cohesive and somewhat logical as they unfold.

Things take a turn for the worst for the intrepid crew of the Prometheus.

Whether those inconsistencies will be answered in the inevitable directors cut (this is Ridley Scott we are talking about here after all), I am unsure. But I can't really bring myself to hate on the film for those shortcomings and the myriad of other nitpicks I do not feel the need to mention. I know there are glaring issues that detract from the otherwise smart script, but I feel as though the ambitions of the film far outweigh any of its smaller problems. I will also freely admit to possibly not fully understanding everything I saw during my first experience with the film, there is so much going on at any given moment that it can become a daunting task to try and not only keep up with it but also not fall behind trying to figure things out and get lost along the way. There are numerous unanswered questions that get raised that I imagine will frustrate most viewers and I empathize with them. But I also understand that many of those questions were not meant to be answered, at least not during an initial viewing. That is what makes the film such a rewarding experience, looking back upon it and trying to figure out just what the hell was going on with that opening scene with the Engineer as he is supposedly left behind for some inexplicable reason is one of those great mysteries to be labored over in hopes of coming to your own conclusion. That is not a shortcoming but a brilliant piece of filmmaking and is something to be praised, not loathed.

Prometheus is ripe with intellectual opportunities to pick it apart in hopes of discovering its many hidden messages as well as finding new ways to interpret scenes that at face value seem innocent and simple but almost always contain a deeper meaning. That is the genius behind all of Ridley Scott's films, he tricks his audience into a false sense of security by presenting them with a film experience that seems rudimentary on the surface but is laden with hidden treasures for those who look beyond that deceptively beautiful veneer. Despite its abundance of minor problems in regards to a lack of focus and some truly incomprehensible character motivations, I still find it easy to recommend the film to just about anyone out there who yearns to be dazzled by the visual mastery of one of today's finest filmmakers while also being forced to digest some truly compelling thoughts on what it means to be human and the dangers of looking for answers to questions that should never be asked. I suggest you...


Don't miss our latest episode of The LRA Show where we discuss Prometheus in much greater detail. The episode can be downloaded or streamed at the following link:



Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Bluehost