Monday, June 11, 2012


Prometheus gave mortals the gift of fire, an act which angered the rest of the gods who promptly punished him by chaining him to a rock where a great bird ate his liver for eternity.

The old gods were certainly less charitable back then.

But what if they were even less charitable? Suppose instead of confining their wrath merely to poor Prometheus, they decided to wipe out mortal man as well?

Ridley Scott rose to prominence as a director with the first Alien movie back in 1979. That film launched a string of sequels of fairly uneven quality in the intervening years. Now he returns with Prometheus, the prequel to the first film, and it is just as uneven.

The problem with the film is that it is trying to be too many things at once. It is both highbrow and lowbrow. It is fast-paced, and yet slow moving. It is an art film, but it is also a horror film. It is a philosophical examination of the nature of the relationship between man and his creator, but it is also an effects laden big-budget (3D) sci-fi flick. It is an ALIEN film but it is also something new. It is a zen garden but it is also a warehouse.

Does it sound schizophrenic? Because it kind of is.

That's probably why most other reviews of the film are all staring of with; "I liked it, but..."

Scott is trying to give something new, something massive, something epic, but at the same time is trying to satisfy the demands of the established franchise. It is a tricky balancing act that would be impossible for almost any other director, but Ridley almost... almost... pulls it off. (He is Ridley Scott, after all.)

After all is said and done the film manages to set the stage for the first movie. The fallout -- the detritus -- the leftovers -- of this film are the impetus for the Alien films. In fact the whole "alien" creature is depicted as an unintended afterthought of the epic events of Prometheus. For me that kind of cheapened all the other films. It also gives the lie to the titles of the subsequent films. Without giving too much away away, given the amount of human DNA that went into creating the thing, it can hardly be categorized as completely "alien".

A ubiquitous problem with a prequel made years after the "sequel" is that film technology improves. Prometheus is a beautifully designed film. The ships, the spacesuits, the technology is all amazing. So much so that it makes the first film, which takes place years after this one, look cheap and shoddy in comparison.

This is particularly true of David, the robot. Michael Fassbinder portrays him as a beautiful creature, with perfectly sculpted features and a Nazi precision that is genuinely frightening. He is the embodiment of human perfection. He is so perfect that he makes the subsequent robots (Ash, Bishop) look dumpy in comparison. To be fair, Ash and Bishop were designed to blend in better with the great unwashed of humanity -- Ash was designed to infiltrate a human crew who was unaware of his artificial nature -- nevertheless, they suffer in comparison.

Some scenes in Prometheus have an almost Kubrickian beauty and pacing. Other scenes "go for the gross-out". There are creatures of beauty and perfection contrasted with bloody, puss filled squiddy critters. Unfortunately the tentacles and blood tends to draw down the beauty and the philosophy --  like a New York steak served with a side of 'tater tots. You wouldn't really remember that as a fancy meal and it isn't fun enough to be junk food.

I can recommend it for the design alone. As I said, the space ships and space suits are amazing (and the actors look amazing in them) as is the look of the planet and the domed structures (with the skull faces on the side.) (It's funny that when the ship lands the skull is hidden from view. If they'd landed 45 degrees to the right it would have been visible and they might not have been so keen to go exploring.).

The "engineers" are beautiful as well and how they fit in with the "Space Jockey" from the original Alien is a surprisingly clever twist. Charlize Theron, is physically beautiful (and has an amazing ass - in 3D!) but she plays a character who is reprehensible -- batshit crazy and kind of scary. Idris Elba stands out as the captain of the Prometheus. Guy Pearce gives a surprising performance as well. Noomi Rapace plays the main character, Doctor Shaw. She has a very odd look and, although she is likable, I did not find her very interesting. She's a good actress but she's no Sigourney Weaver.

So, there you go. Prometheus ranges from really good to somewhat OK. There's nothing really bad about it. It aspires to be more than a monster movie, but it also aspires to be a monster movie. Unfortunately neither movie manages a home run. It answers some questions but then asks several more. There are many nice touches but not really any clear reason for their inclusion. David trying to emulate Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, for instance. Why?

Unless it is that when your creator rejects you -- indeed tries to kill you -- just like that other Prometheus, the modern one -- it hurts. "The trick," David says, mimicking Peter O'Toole, "is not minding that it hurts."

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

You know how much I hate rewriting a movie in my head as I am watching it. I did that alot with Prometheus. I could have have gotten them out of a lot of their story holes by making the whole crew a crew of 'Davids'. Totally remove it from the whole Alien universe would have helped with expectations. This one suffered by comparison and that was unfortunate.

Pat Tillett said...

I haven't seen it, but plan to as soon as I'm back in town. I never expect a movie to be perfection and I have a feeling I'll like most of this one. Thanks for the review!

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