A film review by Craig J. Koban June 10, 2012

RANK:  #13


2012, R, 124 mins.


Elizabeth: Noomi Rapace / David: Michael Fassbender / Charlie: Logan Marshall-Green / Meredith: Charlize Theron / Janek: Idris Elba

Directed by Ridley Scott / Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof


Prometheus is a Titan in Greek mythology that is attributed with creating man from clay and more notoriously was punished by Zeus for stealing fire and then giving it to humans.  The latter action eventually allowed for humans to progress into civilized and advanced beings.   

Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi film - his very first since 1982’s BLADE RUNNER - takes its name from that Greek myth and references it in many ways.  The film’s central conceit is that, during an unspecified time in Earth’s distant past, we received contact from an advanced alien race.  In a bravura opening sequence of scope and epic majesty, we see a vast alien vessel land on Earth that drops off a tall, pale, bald, black eyed and unimaginably muscular humanoid.  It disrobes, takes out a mysterious orb, and consumes its dark liquid.  The creature then quickly finds its body rapidly decaying and plunges itself into a waterfall.  The inference here is that it sprinkled the young Earth with its biological material.  Somewhat like the Greek Prometheus, did the actions of this being create humans? 

The film’s title also is a direct reference to a futuristic space vessel.  After its highly intriguing prologue, the film niftily flash-forwards to 2089 as two scientists – Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, the original GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) and her boyfriend and colleague, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) - make a startling discover that could change theories of mankind’s evolution in incalculable ways.  They find pre-historic cave paintings of primitive humans worshiping beings from the stars and what appears to be a star map of sorts…but they appear in exact detail in completely unrelated caves from different cultures from around the world.  The wide-eyed scientists see this as an open invitation to seek out their potential creators, or “engineers.”  The wealthy and dying founder of the Weyland Corporation, Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce, caked in prosthetic makeup) funds the creation of the scientific spaceship, the Prometheus, to take 17 crew members on a two year star trek to LV-223, a distant moon that the scientists have charted as the resting place of the engineers.   

Outside of Elizabeth and Charlie, the key members of the crew are Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a tight-assed bureaucrat that always reinforces that she’s in charge; Janek (Idris Elba) the ship’s no-nonsense captain that only seems protective of his vessel; and an android named David (Michael Fassbender) who seems to have murky loyalties altogether.  When they do arrive on LV-223, they are initially surprised to find a nearly inhospitable planet of dark swirling clouds, oppressive winds, and large cavernous mountains.  They do, however, discover vast pyramidal stone structures of incalculably large dimensions.  The scientist are explicitly warned to not make any contact or interact with the engineers if found, but Elizabeth and Charlie seem far too inquisitive to heed such orders.  They, along with a survey team, explore the inside of the structures. 



I don’t want to spoil too much more of PROMETHEUS, other than to say that the scientists do make more astounding discoveries in the creepily desolate and murky caverns: cylinders of unknown origin and purpose, a massive statue of a head that looks suspiciously human-like; and, more importantly, the fact that the engineers have a 100 per cent DNA match to humans.  This causes many insightful and theologically compelling arguments between Elizabeth and Charlie.  Despite being a woman of science, she is also a woman of faith and wears a cross around her neck.  She is asked why she continues to sport it after their discovery of the incontrovertible genetic link of the engineers to humans.  To Charlie, God didn't make humans as the engineers had something to do with the creation and evolution of our species.  Yet, as Elizabeth chimes in, “Then who made them?”  Moreover, why did they come to Earth?  Why have they not visited since?  Why is one engineer in a state of suspended animation inside the structure, waiting to be resuscitated?  What’s their end game as the creators?  And, more sinisterly, what is that black oozing liquid that seems to be coming from those metallic cylinders? 

Like the greatest examples of sci-fi, Scott’s PROMETHEUS is a film of ambitiously laid out ideas and themes beyond being a pure vehicle for numbing action and spiffy visual effects.  The script – by Jon Spaihts and LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof - seduces audiences into all of its cosmic, scientific, and spiritual possibilities by posing compelling questions without thankfully pandering down to us by outright answering them.  The film atypically puts more value on being primarily a cerebral and thought provoking exercise; the philosophical inquires it makes still has me thinking: it begs viewers – and its characters – to explore what it means to be human in relationship to space and time, not too unlike, perhaps, Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY or Terrence Malick's THE TREE OF LIFE.   

Like Scott’s previous sci-fi outings, PROMETHEUS is a masterpiece of technological grandeur that marries it mesmerizing themes with virtuoso production design (by Oscar winner Arthur Max) and CGI effects that helps to instantly convey and transport you into the film.  Scott is still a crafty auteur when it comes to drumming up suspense and a mood of undying dread, and they are on chief display during the film’s best sequences where the survey crew breathlessly walks through the shadowy extraterrestrial passages that no other human has explored.  There are times when, yes, moments like this inspired a similar sense of disquieting and nail-biting tension and unease as Scott’s ALIEN

This is the director's first digitally shot film.  It was also natively shot in 3D, which is crucial to mention as so many other cash-grabbing exercises in the format have lazily unconverted films that were not shot in the format.  Considering the darkness of many of the film’s sequences, 3D may seem like the least ideal choice for Scott, but he is shrewd enough to understand the limitations of the format by using special color grading processes to compensate for the infamous dimming effect that 3D is known to have on an image.  As a result, even the murkiest scenes in PROMETHEUS have an uncommon clarity and consistency as far as 3D films go; from the stark white Prometheus interiors to the grim obscurity of the alien catacombs, the 3D cinematography achieves a level of richness and detail that have not been seen by me since AVATAR and HUGO.  Most importantly, Scott uses 3D for subtle immersion and not for eye-gouging gimmickry.  PROMETHEUS belongs on a very small and select list of films that demand to be seen in its multi-dimensional version. 

The film’s stunning visual design and themes are nicely complimented by some equally absorbing performances that bring authority to PROMETHEUS’ ideas and fantastical visions.  Theron is calculatingly strong for playing her project leader with an icy resolve and unwavering austerity.  Rapace has the more thankless task of replacing a role similar to what Sigourney Weaver played in Scott’s original ALIEN outing, but Rapace – like she did in the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy – brings a fiery resolve and a primal fierceness and courage that would make Ripley proud (just watch her during a positively stomach churning sequence where she uses ingenuity – and a lot of anesthetic and ultra-high tech surgical machinery - to rid herself of an alien entity that’s growing inside her). 

The most fascinating performance comes from the great Irish-German actor Michael Fassbender, who is beyond ideally cast as an android being that has the emotional detachment, curiosity, and low key menace of a Hal 9000; his real intentions on the mission are always kept at an uncomfortable arm’s length.  He looks conspicuously like Peter O’Toole from LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, which is intentional, seeing as David’s favorite movie that he references is Lean’s classic.  Fassbender is impeccable for neither tipping off his robot as a clear-cut villain nor cementing him as a complex protagonist.  His performance fills you with trepidation, which compliments the look and feel of the film rather nicely. 

I have not mentioned ALIEN very much in my review thus far, but I will say this: PROMETHEUS is both a prequel and not-a-prequel to it.  It’s a legitimate prequel in the sense that it chronologically takes place before ALIEN, references some of its concepts, and has a final shot that more than establishes a correlational link to the 1979 film.  Yet, PROMETHEUS is not a direct prequel in the sense that it daringly stands on its own apart from ALIEN and the other films in the series in terms of its overarching tale and themes.  ALIEN was a watershed sci-fi/horror film for the way it scared audiences into submission and its sequel was one of the best pure action films of its decade.  I was refreshingly surprised by how PROMETHEUS is almost the antithesis of those films.  The film certainly generates nail-biting suspense like ALIEN and ALIENS and it’s an imaginative and fantastical marvel to visually behold, but it’s a more inquisitive minded and introverted ideas-first sci-fi film than an exercise in gore and thrills.   

Some directors are lucky to make one great sci-fi film during their careers; the 74-year-old Scott – with ALIEN, BLADE RUNNER, and now PROMETHEUS - can now take claim to having a superlative triumvirate. 

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