The prodigal son returns! Ridley Scott, director of such science fiction classics like Blade Runner and Alien, has returned to science fiction with "Prometheus." Over the course of this film's development we have seen it metamorphose from being a clear-cut prequel to Alien to something more than just a prequel. Since the first teaser many have wondered what Prometheus was. Is it a prequel to Alien? Is it an original film? Is it a meta-prequel? So, after seeing the film, some may wonder what my take on the identity of this film is and the answer is that Prometheus is a film that strives to be something truly original but is bogged down by the so-called "DNA" of the Alien franchise within its makeup.
I will begin the non-spoiler portion of the review by saying that Prometheus is truly a beautiful movie to behold. From the very first shot it's clear that Scott has a talented eye for visuals. The initial shots of primordial-Earth are spectacular and the rest of the film is beautiful as well. The look of the film is definitely one of the selling points here, and this even goes for the 3D (yes, I saw this in IMAX 3D, mostly due to scheduling) which is well done. Not once did the 3D detract from the story unfolding in front of our eyes, in fact it did help immerse viewers which is how 3D should be done (I even forgot I was wearing 3D glasses because it was so seamless).
As for the story, well, you pretty much get the gist of it from the trailers: Shaw (played by the always amazing and always beautiful Noomi Rapace) and her fellow archaeologist/lover Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover evidence of an alien civilization who created the human race as well as a star map pointing towards a distant planet. They manage to convince Peter Weyland (played by the always charismatic Guy Pierce in old dude makeup) to fund an expedition to the distant star system in the hopes of discovering the race who created us. Weyland's company, Weyland Industries, builds the good ship "Prometheus" (played by a special effect) and puts together a crew consisting of Shaw, Halloway, a crew to fly the ship, scientists, a security team, and an android named David (played by the ever impressive Michael Fassbender) in order to reach the planet to find answers. Of course, things aren't as they seem and what the crew of the Prometheus finds could spell doom for the entire human race.
It's a standard plot found in science fiction, however it's the characters and the execution that are what make such dime-a-dozen plots into multi-million dollar franchises. Here, we have a number of very talented actors and actresses, a talented director, and a somewhat skilled writing crew (more on them later). The result is a somewhat mixed bag of great ideas and characters woven together with less interesting versions of both the latter and former.
Of course, to start off, we have the characters. Of the supposed 17 crew members on the Prometheus we regularly focus on about five of them. These are Shaw, Halloway, David, Janek (played by Idris Elba), and Vickers (played by Charlize Theron). Shaw, and somewhat Halloway, are the primary protagonists. As per an unwritten law in the lore of the Alien universe Shaw represents the lead female protagonist (commonly called "The Ripley" in some circles). Rapace plays her well enough, even though I found her character to be somewhat flat and uninteresting. The main distinction between Shaw and the other characters is her religious views, noted by the cross worn around her neck, and how it drives her desire to "meet her makers." This trait produces a lot of interesting notions and issues due to the discovery she has made and what it means for humanity. Throughout the film other characters, mainly Halloway her polar opposite, wonder what she must think having revealed that it wasn't "God" who made man but aliens, called Engineers in the movie, as if she should be having a crisis of faith upon making this discovery. This, coupled by her infertility (which is brought up way too late into the story), sets up an interesting arc that is never really explored in the film. I say this because, at this point, how could she still have faith? Shaw lives in a world where man has essentially become god, as the existence of David shows and mentioned in Weyland's TED video, science is an overpowering force in this world and Shaw, a scientist herself, still clings to faith. It would've been interesting to see this get explored throughout the movie much more than it did. In the end, Shaw's faith is never strained and remains intact. However, Rapace still manages to make you care about Shaw, which is a testament to how talented she is as an actress.
Halloway is another creature altogether. Marshall-Green's character comes off, as I stated before, as Shaw's polar opposite. This makes the fact that the two are lovers all the more interesting and slightly confusing. Halloway isn't religious, he's more scientific, a skeptic, and a bit of a bonehead really. He's the first down a dark, uncharted, hole and the first to take off his helmet on an alien planet regardless of the obvious health risks it poses. I really didn't like this character all that much to be perfectly honest. Sure he plays an important role in the movie but that role is reserved strictly for plot. His more scientific interest isn't at odds with Shaw's faith, which could've provided some fun conflict for the couple, and with that in mind there also isn't a real redeeming quality to the character that justifies why Shaw loves him apart from handsome factor. The lack of science vs. faith conflict in a script from one of the head writers of Lost (Damon Lindelof) is down right shocking in my opinion.
Idris Elba, however, manages to take a flat character and add some life to it as Janek, the captain of the Prometheus. Of what little screentime Elba has he manages to convey a character who has seen it all and done it all. I particularly liked the scene he had with Theron's character Vickers.
Speaking of Vickers, Theron manages to play the character as a complete bitch, which is good. She's a driven, calculating, and cold businesswoman who has a clear goal: "make sure everyone does their job." And she doesn't fool around, especially when she has a flamethrower. She's the first to wake up from cryo-sleep and the first thing she does is push-ups in her future-undies (or "fundies" as I call em) whilst still dripping with stasis-goo (the scene is alone worth the price of admission, folks). However, she does have a human side, regardless of whether or not the captain had his suspicions of her being a robot as he well finds out later on.
Then there's David. Oh boy is David fun to watch! Of the characters, I think David was the most fleshed out of them all. The first scene you see of him he's alone on the ship while the others are in stasis and he's just killing time with bicycle-basketball, watching his favorite film Lawerence of Arabia, dying his hair to make himself look like Lawrence of Arabia, and conducting a creepier version of inception on the sleeping crew members with his dream helmet. As said in many other reviews, Fassbender steals the show as David. He manages to be a likable character with his robotic tendencies while also being devious as per the unwritten requirement of a robot in an Alien movie. Needless to say, had David been the protagonist of the film, it would've been an awesome movie.
To round out the cast of characters we have some no-names and red shirts who really don't seem to belong. In fact, apart from the exposition scene at the beginning of the film, the ship felt empty even though there should be like 17 people roaming around. I honestly think they should've made it just these five characters and like three more to compose of the entire crew, that way we could have a lot more meaningful deaths in this movie instead of your average horror movie fodder.
So that's the characters, what about the story? Well, like I said before, this film has the makings of a great original sci-fi epic but is bogged down by the sparse references to the Alien franchise. Had someone cut the references to Alien as well as some rather unwelcome horror scenes you would have a solid science fiction film that could've been right up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey. From the very beginning, Prometheus feels more like an epic than a horror film. This is further solidified by the epic score by Marc Streitenfeld which I feel has been getting under appreciated due to it feeling out of place in the scope of the film, some feeling it wasn't "scary enough." In fact, I feel it's the horror elements that don't belong in this movie. Yes, you can kill off characters in spectacularly horrifying ways or have scenes of body horror and still not be a horror movie. 2001 is a science fiction epic but the best part of that film is technically a horror movie. However, where the first two thirds of this movie are all sci-fi epic, the last falls apart and heads straight into sci-fi horror territory and it really isn't needed.
Regardless, what horror there is in Prometheus is actually good. The most gory scene being fairly memorable. However, it does feel forced at times.
And with that, I give Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" 3 screams you can't hear in space out of 5
For the SPOILER filled portion of the review, see Part 2