A film review by Craig J. Koban June 10, 2012
2012, R, 124 mins.
2012, R, 124 mins.
Elizabeth: Noomi Rapace / David: Michael Fassbender / Charlie:
Logan Marshall-Green / Meredith: Charlize Theron / Janek: Idris
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.