I can be very passionate about film franchises I adore. TRON, Star Trek, The Terminator, Jaws, Indiana Jones, etc. One of my all-time favorites is the Alien series. Each film is pretty amazing in its own right (well, maybe not Alien: Resurrection) due to the different approaches each writer and director have taken the stories, be it a straight up horror film to a dark AIDS allegory. So when I say that I was excited when the original film’s director, Ridley Scott, announced he would return to the franchise to direct a prequel you best believe I was EXCITED! And once the trailer was released HOLY HELL I WAS EXCITED! But did the movie live up to my extremely high expectations? Yes and no.
The story follows Drs. Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Greene) as they lead a group of scientists and military types to a planet where they believe the progenitors of our planet originated. What they do find is a structure filled with containers of a black substance that destroys any form of organic material. They also learn that the “Engineers” of Earth planned to use these canisters to wipe out the human race.
For something that was billed as a prequel to Alien my first thought as I watched this was that I had been deceived. Sure there are little references here and there, like the Weyland Yutani corporation (accompanied by a clever musical motif), the use of an android and the H.R. Giger designs, but little else refers to anything that would tie directly in to that film. The ship that the crew finds is the one from the original film, but the setting is the wrong planet. The navigator’s chair and the design of the Engineer’s suits are the same, but where we saw them in Alien has no bearing here. There are no eggs, facehuggers or even aliens (well, sort of), so you can understand that as I was watching this a sense of profound disappointment began to set in.
Then something happened. A scene so horrific played out in front of me that it received my complete attention and was executed so perfectly that I realized that I was beginning to really enjoy this film and had become sucked into its extremely well thought out world and interesting scenarios regardless of its lack of connection to the franchise. The scene I refer to is the Cesarean section where a creature is cut from the belly of Dr. Shaw. Sure that sounds vaguely like a scenario from the series, but this thing got inside her via intercourse. Don’t ask.
Once I stopped applying all my completely unrealistic expectations to the film as it played out in front of me on that IMAX screen in 3D I began to adore the immersive plot structure that would lay out a series of fascinating ideas and allow the audience to figure out how they applied to the story. Sure there was some stupid shit going on that took me out of it from time to time, like one character taking off the helmet of his environmental suit while in an atmosphere that we were told was toxic or another character reaching out to pet an alien snake/worm thing that looks like it wants to eat his face (and it does). There’s even a scene where one character goes into exposition mode for no reason other than to move the story forward regardless of the fact that he shouldn’t know anything about what’s going on around him.
Writers John Spaihts (first draft) and Damon Lindelof (shooting draft) seemed to have clashing ideas when it came to this material. I’ve read Spaihts draft and it is all about the Alien mythos and how things came to be when the crew of the Nostromo found them on LV-426. Most of it was pretty clever, but the dumb parts that found their way into Prometheus came from him. Lindelof took 90% of the Alien tie-ins out in favor for a more mysterious and original storyline that has the “DNA” of the series in there, but is mostly just new material. This is a good and a bad thing. While I understand why he did what he did to Spaihts’ script in order to keep the material unpredictable, he also made things more complicated than they ever really needed to be and wrote himself into a corner, which explains the odd exposition scene I mentioned earlier. He seems to have a boner for making his plots super complex like he did with Lost, and while that might lend itself well to a television show it doesn’t necessarily work for a feature film. I think the studio people realized this too late and have not asked him to return to script the sequel. Sometimes straightforward storytelling is a good thing, but oddly enough the combination of the two scripts worked for me.
The acting is for the most part unbelievably amazing. Noomi Rapace, hot off her performances in the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, was perfectly cast in the part of Shaw. Her character isn’t written as some Ripley clone, but as a woman of faith that has her beliefs shattered before her very eyes and has to fight to keep them in focus. She never once comes off as an action heroine and I’m thankful for that. Rapace’s naturalistic style is effortless and she pulls off this complex and likable character with aplomb. The same cannot be said for her co-star Logan Marshall-Greene. This guy is just awful. He robotically recites his dialogue with the range of a skipping stone and never once did I believe that he was a scientist or even a character at all. I’ve never seen him in anything else so I can’t say if it’s him or the material, but with the casting being so spot on everywhere else I find it hard to believe that he was hired for his acting chops alone.
Charlize Theron had the mysterious role of Vickers down to the slightest detail, be it a subtle expression or sly glance. You never really know what her deal is due to her playing the part in a militaristic and emotionless style. Even though you’re not supposed to like her you do feel sympathy to her once the hammer comes down (literally) and you see why her character has such a solitary nature. Idris Elba is essentially the comic relief as the pilot of the ship, but not in a slap-stick sort of way. His character doesn’t take things too seriously until it directly affects the ship and the crew and he gets a handful of great lines (“Are you a robot?”). He’s another one of those actors that makes his craft seem so easy and effortless.
But the crown jewel of this film is Michael Fassbender as the android David. His performance can only be described as “otherworldly” due to his character being both in awe and in disdain of humanity. He views himself as superior to humans, but since they created him he sees them as “God” in the way the other characters look upon the Engineers. You never really know what angle he is coming from and that is what makes David so damned interesting. Is he a killer? Genocidal? Is he just following orders? Is he simply malfunctioning? Has he gone crazy after being alone on the ship for all those years? You never really know (although in Spaihts’ script his motivations are very clear) and I’m glad his character was written that way. It kept me on my toes.
The FX are amazing and the 3D is some of the best around. The depth of field utilized here was 100 times more successful than what we saw in Avatar a few years back. The practical effects, which were used instead CGI whenever possible, are just as impressive. The Engineers have a creepy, blank slate sort of look to them that gets under your skin and the other mutated creations are just as rad. However, I think I liked the original version of the Fifield creature (as seen in the deleted scenes on the BluRay) more than what was used in the final cut of the film.
The score by Marc Streitenfeld is pretty awesome. The main theme played over the astoundingly photographed opening credits is beautiful, and the often used action music is unsettling and haunting (it was recorded in reverse and played forwards to give it an off kilter feel). I know Harry Gregson-Williams did a little bit of work here as well so I’ll give him a shout out too.
Last, but certainly not least is the vision of director Ridley Scott that made this movie work for me. He knows what he wants on screen and makes damn sure it gets there in the way he originally intended it to be seen. His work with the actors is clearly top notch (I don’t know what was up with Marshall-Greene) and his visual sense is second to none. For a summer blockbuster this was not of a super high budget, but Scott makes it look grander and more epic than the means at his disposal allowed. When you’ve been in the biz as long as he has I’m sure you know all the tricks to make things work, and he hits the nail on the head at least 92% of the time. Dude’s a master of his craft.
But like I said earlier, not all is super awesome in the land of Prometheus. I mentioned some issues before and I really dislike the final scene which feels like fan service and not an organic twist in the story. I can see why some people would have a problem with this movie as it’s about as hotly contested a geek topic as The Dark Knight Rises. I can only assume that, like myself, people went into this movie with unreal expectations. Sure the movie is far from perfect. The script issues can and do cause certain problems and details are vague for major plot points, but I’ve always felt that was the intention from the start. Some people want their movies laid out for them on a platter without having to think about them at all, and while I do like movies like that more often than not I do love a movie that makes me think and use my imagination to work things out. Of all the movies released in 2012 it was Prometheus that was the catalyst for more talk and speculation within my circle of friends than any other film. When I’m still talking about a flick a month after it comes out you know that it’s done something right.
Left open for a sequel or two, Prometheus left me drooling for more when the end credits rolled. It smartly did not give the audience exactly what they wanted and instead laid out the groundwork for something bigger than even the Alien movies could ever hope for. And that’s why I like this movie so much. Like Shaw, the film took my expectations and allowed me to see how a master can take them and show you something new and different instead. Say what you will about Prometheus, but I will always say that this is a masterpiece of science fiction, and not sci-fi like everyone thought it would be. I like it so much it ended up on my list of top films in 2012.
4.5 out of 5