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Rapid Review: Prometheus

June 10, 2012

Ridley Scott can present fictional and fantastical environments like no one’s business.  He’s an artist when it comes to developing worlds, and this isn’t just limited to their outward appearance.  He’s a micro-manager right down to the mores and nuances of the people who populate the places we’ve come to know and worship as movie lovers.  Even in his less-successful films, such as Robin Hood, there is always that sense of awe and appreciation as we view the minute details that make up the substance of his movies.

Prometheus has been well-hyped from the announcement of its existence as a potential prequel to the Alien films, but to pigeon-hole it into that limited genre would be to do it a disservice.  Scott directed the first Alien film, which takes place almost entirely within a few cell-sized, darkened rooms and is as much a film about humanity’s own foibles and responses to fear of the unknown as  it is one of the most effective sci-fi horror tales ever made.

Rapace as scientist Elizabeth Shaw

Scott’s focus on building suspense in tandem with character development is key to his success.  Alien and its many sequels would be nothing without Sigourney Weaver’s ground-breaking and human portrayal of Ripley.     In Prometheus we once again have several strong female characters working side by side with not only their male counterparts, but some interesting android technology as well.   It’s a compliment to say that in a Ridley Scott film, no fuss is made about how women are just as good, qualified and capable as the menfolk.   It’s just understood that this is the way the universe should logically function.

Having said this, it is perhaps ironic that much of Prometheus centers on the search for what came before “us” as humans; what’s for certain is that it is inevitable that people always regret looking in dark corners for things that were perhaps meant to be left alone.

Scott’s assembled a decent cast playing the spectrum of somewhat predictable sci-fi roles.   There are a couple of scientists (who ARE a couple) with differing religious and social views (Noomi Rapace and a guy whose name you don’t need to know), there’s  a steely cold blonde working for the steely cold private corporation (Charlize Theron – perfectly cast) , a chisled-faced,noble captain (Idris Elba), and finally a droll and witty android (Michael Fassbender – who can act circles around most everyone else by just arching an eyebrow).   There’s also a second tier group of scientists and hired hands which consists of such folks as assassin guy from The Borgias, Lysa from Game of Thrones, and poor Rafe Spall, who really needs to talk to his agent about taking these roles over and over again.   All these various and sundry personalities work for the Weyland Corporation (headed by Guy Pearce with plenty of old folks makeup action) and are independently contracted.  They behave as such; there’s little unity and many different agendas in play.  This leads  to the interesting set up of a group tied loosely together by fraying threads, with many discrepancies in terms of world views, politics and even social graces.

Theron as Meredith “don’t mess with my grand plans” Vickers

Scott has much more to work with visually than he did 30 years ago when cornstarch and spaghetti made for acceptable android parts, and he runs with it.  The spectacle is pretty awe-inspiring from the stunning opening scene.   The acting is also successful, if at times a little too intense.  What is undeniably true is that this is Ridley Scott’s best film of the decade on many levels and you can tell he knows it.  The proof is in the attention to detail, so much so that at times you are too busy looking at the scenery to remember what pithy remarks come forth from the various characters.

To say too much about the workings of the story would be to spoil most of the fun.  Let’s just say that Scott is still as interested in tackling the question of what price we must sometimes pay in the name of knowledge and discovery.  And, oh yes, keep your eyes peeled for connections to the Alien films; that’s part of the enjoyment.

The story and the payoff aren’t as original or sharply felt as some of Scott’s earlier films, but that’s pretty much to be expected when you are re-treading familiar territory.   One of the co-writers of the script is LOST helmer Damon Lindelof, who knows how to unravel a myth or two.   We know the end results of this journey; the intriguing part is how we got there in the first place.   It’s actually a compliment to say that the movie left me with more questions than I felt I had answers.  That’s the sign of a film that makes you think much deeper than surface level.   There’s much to debate and discuss in Prometheus, and that fills me with nerd-like glee.

Overall, Prometheus is a mesmerizing and thrilling film with a backbone and brain to boot.

Overall Grade: A

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