Rating: 14A – Frightening Scenes, Gory Scenes, Graphic Violence
Run Time: 124 minutes
Ridley Scott has misleadingly touted Prometheus as an original thriller. But from its first shot, Alien fanboys will already be drawing venn diagrams. Even Kubrick nerds will be aghast by Scott’s striking homages to Dr. Strangelove, The Shining, and – as you probably predicted – 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is even a scene near the beginning when android David (Michael Fassbender) analyzes Peter O’Toole’s mannerisms in David Lean’s masterful epic Lawrence of Arabia. You wonder if this is Scott’s way of unconsciously saying he is out to make the David Lean of summer science-fiction movies.
Well…he hasn’t. But I am happy to report that Prometheus is nevertheless an absorbing state-of-the-art adventure film, elevated by Scott’s savvy use of contemporary special effects. Prometheus is what I call the “rabbit hole movie”, where the scenes don’t really serve a coherent thread but act more in the interest of feeding the audience’s curiosity. The moviegoer’s greatest impulse is to pry into another world, and explore its surroundings. And in Prometheus, we are strangers in a strange land.
Having said that, Scott’s latest film is far from a masterpiece conceptually. This is a tale ideally exploring the origins of mankind, the test of human mortality, and our inherent drive to discover and reinvent history. In fact, upon closer look Prometheus is really a sensationalistic retelling of geologist Charles Darwin’s 19th-century five-year voyage to South America on the HMS Beagle. It was the notable trek where he advanced the theory of evolution in his journal.
Prometheus obviously has its differences. It occurs in the late 21st century and dramatizes, instead, a four-year expedition on the titular ship to a distant moon called LV-223. The technology since the 19th century, to say the least, has vastly improved. There are also no journal entries, since this is Hollywood and Scott is in the tradition of action and suspense. But akin to Darwin’s trek, Prometheus features geologists and archeologists, in particular Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), on a mission to unmask human kind’s true progenitors called the “Engineers”.
Their expedition is funded by elderly multibillionaire and CEO of Weyland Corp. Peter Weyland (a brief performance by an unrecognizable Guy Pearce). On the verge of a great scientific discovery, Elizabeth, Charlie and fellow geologists Milburn (Rafe Spall) and Fifield (Sean Harris) travel in stasis from 2089 to 2093 only to be roused and welcomed by Weyland Corp. employee Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, sort of useless here), ship captain Janek (Idris Elba), and android David, who I mentioned before.
David should remind film buffs of the red camera eye HAL, the antagonist and deepest character of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Similarly, David talks in a beguiling monotone and is the brains of the ship and a mechanical creation who has dark plans for those inferior humans. Coincidentally, Fassbender kind of looks like Keir Dullea, who played the David character who disarmed HAL in Kubrick’s said film. He is the voice behind that signature line, “open the pod bay doors, HAL.” I also find it curious that Rapace, now in the Hollywood scene, has an uncanny resemblance of a Swedish Sigourney Weaver. But I digress.
One of the main questions regarding Prometheus is how much it overlaps with the Alien story. If Scott promised an original story, why does this adventure move with the same rhyme and reason as his 1979 classic? This is where I would normally elaborate, but I’m leading you on. Lest I reveal spoilers, I must cut that point short. Once you see the movie, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean anyway.
Still, Ridley Scott remains a skillful visual storyteller. Prometheus is a visual feast that demands to be witnessed in 3D, since it was completely shot in it. Filmed using practical sets and on-location in England, Iceland, Spain, and Scotland, Prometheus immerses viewers in a vast world of unique landscapes and caves that tangibly come to life, almost in the vein of Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’.
Prometheus doesn’t really build, it looms. It moves episodically, which has its limitations. But Scott wraps us up in a bleak and somber tone, blessed with that elated sense of wonder only good epics provide. Despite its expansive world, scenes are enveloped in tight spaces, emphasizing a state of entrapment over exploration. We feel like we are rappelling cautiously down a crevice isolated in darkness. The film amounts to an explosive finale of Strangelove proportions, accompanied by an underwhelming and gimmicky last shot.
But Prometheus is a terrific visceral experience. It is full of moments that are truly gripping, awe-inspiring, and frequently disturbing that nevertheless maintain an azure-colored beauty in 3D. While Scott has truly done something special with modern FX, I can’t help but think he overlooked the concepts. For an adventure of this scope, Prometheus’s scientific themes seem tenuous. The screenplay – by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof – is dramatically compelling, but inflated by the turgid philosophy of its characters.
I read that, with Prometheus, Scott intended to strand viewers with lots of questions. He has succeeded. Scott has crafted an awesome canvas. If only the film didn’t sit on the outskirts of its own philosophy… who knows… this could have been more than an FX advancement. With the mysteries Prometheus tosses in, I am interested to see what its sequel will offer. Maybe, as David whispered with an eerie smile, “big things have small beginnings.”