When Prometheus was introduced by 20th Century Fox CEO
Tom Rothman at the film's London premiere, he called Ridley Scott's
terrifying science-fiction adventure a project “33 years in the making.”
And while that's a hefty amount of hype to live up to, it fits right in
with the rest of the buzz leading up to this weekend's U.S. premiere of
the film, which is being heralded as a landmark moment in cinema
A pseudo-prequel to Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien, Prometheus
is neither a traditional reboot nor the typical prologue chapter to an
existing franchise, and the true nature of its place in the greater Alien universe is just one of the closely guarded secrets that helped build anticipation for the film. The involvement of Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof and an all-star cast that includes man-of-the-hour Michael Fassbender, original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace, and many, many other notables has only added to the ridiculously high level of buzz surrounding the project.
Of course, with that much hype, the question of whether the movie is a
success often plays second-fiddle to the question of whether it lives up
to the hype – a scenario that definitely applies to Prometheus,
which is an excellent film, but not quite the genre-redefining,
mind-blowing, life-changing experience much of the hype suggests.
Rapace plays scientist Elizabeth Shaw, who discovers – along with her
colleague and lover Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall-Green – a
set of universal coordinates repeated throughout history on cave walls
and ancient tomes that point to a mysterious moon located in deep space.
Thanks to funding from the Weyland mega-corporation, Shaw and Holloway
set off on an outer-space expedition to the moon, and are joined on the
space ship Prometheus by the movie-watching, basketball-playing android
David (Fassbender), cold-as-ice corporate rep Meredith Vickers (Charlize
Theron), and a host of other crew mates. After waking from a four-year
sleep in suspended animation, the team sets off to explore the moon and
potentially meet the “engineers” of human civilization, only to discover
a dangerous truth about our origins and the ultimate fate of humanity.
From start to finish, Prometheus is a fantastic treat
for nearly every sense you use as a member of the audience. The visual
effects are just as epic as the previews suggest, and Scott has made
excellent use of both the 3-D aspects of the film and the advantages an
IMAX presentation can provide. Every moment truly fills the screen and
“pops” with the sort of detail only a master filmmaker can provide, and
Scott extends that expert touch to the film's sound effects and score,
too. Whether it's a quiet scene brimming with tension or a massive,
deafening explosion, you feel the world Scott has created just as much as you observe it.
And just as he's done in the past, Scott succeeds in bringing the best
out of his cast – a feat that's certainly assisted by the tremendous
talent of actors like Rapace, Fassbender, and Theron, and supplemented
by a supporting cast (including Luther star Idris Elba) that
elevates the entire film. As the team's android caretaker, Fassbender
continues the franchise tradition of making the film's robot character
one of the most fascinating, memorable roles. His take on David is a
tricky balance of android logic and humanity as interpreted by an
outsider, and like Ian Holm (Alien) and Lance Henriksen (Aliens) before him, Fassbender shows why it takes a great actor to play a great robot.
And though Fassbender shines in Prometheus, he never
quite outshines Rapace (though he comes very, very close to doing so).
Once again, Scott has created a strong, female lead in Elizabeth Shaw,
who's cut from similar cloth as Sigourney Weaver's iconic
space-trucker-turned-alien-fighter Ellen Ripley. Nevertheless, Rapace
truly makes Shaw her own over the course of the film, and gives the
audience a heroine who's more inclined to out-think her enemies than
out-gun them, and approaches danger with the mind of a quick-thinking
scientist rather than a grease-stained cargo jockey. Her grasp of how to
play the horror elements is especially obvious in a particular scene
(that I won't spoil here) combining claustrophobia, xenophobia, and
whatever the fear of self-surgery is called, all in one
Still, the long list of existential questions Scott clearly intended to pose with Prometheus
manages to provide both the best and worst qualities of the film. Much
like Christopher Nolan's infinitely layered 2010 thriller Inception, Prometheus
is the sort of film that demands post-screening discussion from its
audience and leaves many questions unanswered when the credits finally
roll. And like Inception – and better yet, Scott's own 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner
– those questions are part of the experience, and supplement your
enjoyment of the film rather than leaving its audience unsatisfied.
However, in the push to ask these questions and offer only the most ambiguous of answers, Prometheus
occasionally suffers from holes in its plot that distract from the
greater discussion points. Certain characters' motivations for key
actions are never fully explained, for example, and the absence of these
and a few other fundamental story points seems less like a
thought-provoking storytelling decision and more like something the
writers mistakenly assumed would be clear. At times, it feels like the
question being asked of the audience is missing an important word, and
you're left wondering what the question actually is before you can
ponder its answer.
It's important to note, though, that even these flaws are minor when you look at Prometheus
as a complete package, and how much you notice these particular
problems will probably depend on how much of the hype surrounding the
film that you've absorbed. While the movie offers a great blend of
speculative sci-fi and scream-inducing outer-space horror, it's wise not
to enter the theater expecting Prometheus to be the
supreme culmination of an entire cinematic universe and all of the
questions anyone has ever asked about that universe and our own.
Instead, you should expect Prometheus to be a
tremendous sci-fi film by one of the greatest filmmakers of that genre,
and the sort of movie that you'll be thinking about – and likely
discussing with everyone else who sees it – for a long time after you
leave the theater.