Film Review: Prometheus

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Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

When Ridley Scott brought the world his film Alien in 1979, he not only crafted a stellar sci-fi film but also helped to advance the science fiction genre. A few short years later Scott followed up Alien with Blade Runner, further advancing the genre.

Then he stepped away from sci-fi. Forever.

That is until now.

It has been 30 years since Blade Runner. Scott has made his triumphant return to the genre he helped define with Prometheus, a spiritual prequel to Alien. The elements at play have caused Prometheus to become one of my most highly anticipated films of the past few years. Can Ridley Scott return to reign supreme or will Prometheus come up a little short?

In the year 2089, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) along with a team of archaeologists discovers ancient cave paintings in Scotland that appear to be a map to a planet in a far-away system. With the aid of the mega-corporation Weyland Industries, Shaw and her lover/partner Charlie Holloway (Logan Gordon-Green) team up with a ragtag, rough crew of engineers and specialists to discover the link between the new planet and ours. The crew intends to meet Earth’s creators, but instead discover something else entirely. Something more sinister.

Though the film initially starts off with an interesting premise, it ultimately falls flat in execution. For me, the film never reaches the level it seemed to have promised. This can be attributed to multiple reasons such as telegraphing the answers to mysteries, one-dimensional characters, plot holes, and tonal inconsistency.

The film’s mysteries are not the type that are particularly original, but they certainly would have been more exciting had the filmmakers not spoiled them well in advance. This happens a few times in the film and comes at a great detriment to the narrative. A good sci-fi film should give you a tingle on the back of your neck and Prometheus never once filled me with that sort of wonder. This is sad because the revealing scenes are presented as if they were intended to be eye-opening experiences, but it seems as though the filmmakers were not aware that they had already showed their hands.

Compounding the flat narrative is the presentation of a cast of characters that neither possesses emotional depth nor the ability to create an attachment to the audience. Outside of the android David, there was not a single character that I cared about it. Whenever a crew member was killed (which understandably occurs frequently in a film like this) I found myself wondering what role that character played in the grand narrative and why I should see their death as anything more than eye-candy for the audience. True, horror films regularly kill off the shallow characters for the audience’s enjoyment but there is usually at least a couple of characters that you want to see through to the end. I never felt that feeling, not even for the main protagonist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. It’s not that Elizabeth is a unlikeable character. It is more than she isn’t given much depth until the final 20 minutes of the film when it is too late. I did not care if the hero lived or died and that is damning for a film.

Plot holes are common in sci-fi films, but in a film of this caliber you would hope that they would be few and nearly transparent. Prometheus’ plot holes borderline on blatant. There are moments in the film when crew members reveal information that they could not possibly know or understand, moments where characters seem to forget their specific trade, and moments that don’t make sense period. Also, the tone of the film fluctuates between sci-fi, adventure, sci-fi horror, and monster house flick and never decides what it wants to be. I’m all for genre-bending but Prometheus seems to suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder. It’s hard to take a serious moment as it is intended when the film cannot seem to figure out what it is exactly. The audience during my first screening was laughing out loud during moments that were not supposed to be seen as comedic.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

 

This cast is certainly an impressive one. It’s nothing short of amazing to see a film list Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, and Noomi Rapace amongst its ranks. Unfortunately, the lackluster nature and shallow depth of all of their characters causes their efforts to be an exercise in futility. Rapace attempts her best Ripley impression in the final moments of the film. Elba seems to be stuck trying to be the typical “captain-ain’t-scared-of-anything” all while struggling to formulate a discernible accent. Guy Pearce is in such heavy make-up that any decent acting is lost in the distraction of his appearance (his best work for this film is seen in the TED viral marketing).  Fassbender is the lone stand-out from this film, but this should come as no surprise as he is one of the best in the industry currently. Though Fassbender’s David is not a character that the audience can root for, he has most of the best moments in the film. Fassbender not only pulls off a perfect android interpretation but he is also able to mix in an emulation of Timothy O’Toole’s Lawrence from Lawrence of Arabia. I honestly could have done with just a Moon-styled sci-fi film that focused solely on David. As I always say, Michael Fassbender can do no wrong.

Beyond Fassbender’s acting, the other aspect of this film I will wholeheartedly praise is its aesthetics. Visually this film is a stunner. This may be one of the most beautiful films of the past several years. Being that it takes place in a science-fiction future, there is a great use of CGI, but it is done well. This can be attributed in large part to the crafty way the filmmakers combined CG with the use of practicals. The transition between these two styles is seamless and helps to create a greater sense of reality. Prometheus’ cinematography is continuously breathtaking with vista shots of Iceland and sterilized-clean imagery from within the ship. I am sucker for spaceships and being aboard the Prometheus is the greatest joy to be had from this film.

Yes, the bar that I set for Prometheus was incredibly high. I tried to go into this film with no expectations, but it was impossible for me to shed all bias. Prometheus isn’t awful. I have just seen more impressive sci-fi efforts in the past decade: District 9, Sunshine, Monsters. I expected Ridley Scott to deliver something on par with Alien and Blade Runner and instead we receive something that is less. It is possible that I am looking too far into the film and failing to see the decent popcorn flick that it is. Prometheus is intended to be the first chapter in what we can assume will be a trilogy and there are obviously going to be some growing pains in a first chapter film. Still, it is impossible for me to lower my standards.

Is this film outright horrible? No. But being that this is his triumphant return to sci-fi, Mr. Scott disappoints. If we receive a sequel to Prometheus, I will definitely give it a chance. I am just hoping that they can combine the imagination and imagery of this film with a well-written story.

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