STYLISH SEQUEL ANSWERS QUESTIONS BUT FALLS SHORT OF HIGH SPECTATIONS
Asking the big questions, like who created us and why are we here, comes with a dangerous side effect: you might learn the answers. Such is the mission and fate of two archeologists and the crew of PROMETHEUS, an advanced spaceship built in the late 21st century to find a distant moon that may be an origin point for the human species. Or perhaps it's the home of so-called Engineers who put humans on Earth in the first place? Per the ancient Greek myth of Prometheus who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind, possessing such a gift can enlighten your world or burn it down. Director Ridley Scott walks this thematic knife edge for two hours of dramatic intrigue and thought provoking philosophy, but his mission to revisit the ALIEN universe he created 33 years ago doesn't quite satisfy the heightened expectations promised by reigniting the spark of a sci-fi horror landmark.
If it seems harsh to hold PROMETHEUS up to such high expectations and nigh impossible standards, it's only because Scott has such artistic command of his films that a prequel to his 1979 spacebound Gothic blockbuster is a ridiculously tantalizing prospect. Since the director didn't miss the mark by far, PROMETHEUS still has a great deal going for it. Visually stunning landscapes of an alien moon mirror those craggy, otherworldly locales seen in the Isle of Skye prologue set in Scotland, underscoring the film's central question about how the origins of humans on Earth might have connections to the alien moon LV-223 and/or mysterious beings which might be discovered there. As expected, Ridley Scott presents these panoramic vistas with unparalleled visual bravura, and indeed PROMETHEUS is most often a gorgeous sight to behold (especially in IMAX 3D that really lets you 'fall into' these worlds). Scott has an uncanny talent for creating and presenting wholly conceived worlds in the larger sense of the term, from introducing alien realms to making future tech seem common place and lived-in. The director's visual sense, while expanded and evolved greatly since 1979 (along with this film's $130 Million budget), is the greatest, strongest bridge between ALIEN and PROMETHEUS and those who admire Scott's films for this cinematic knack will not be disappointed in the least.
Unfortunately the philosophical reach of PROMETHEUS' plot exceeds the grasp of its characters. In 2089, two romantically linked archeologists Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover ancient cave paintings which depict a being pointing to a star map, an iconic image they've found repeated in cultures across Earth who had no possible connection with each other. The scientists theorize that the depicted star beings possibly had a hand in 'planting' or aiding the development of humans as a dominant species on Earth. Shaw and Holloway also suspect the star map is an invitation to "meet the gods" as it were, and a quick jump in story time reveals the immensely wealthy — and late — Peter Weyland (a rather unexploited Guy Pearce) had funded the Prometheus Project to go find the gods and ask them where we came from . . . and possibly why they left us here. Enter Meredith Vickers (frost-brewed Charlize Theron) as the Company rep and inhuman taskmaster in charge to ensure Weyland's money is well spent, or at least not well-wasted in what she considers a pipe dream. Also on board is David, the Company's latest android model and Weyland's surrogate son, portrayed impeccably by Michael Fassbender as the caretaker of the human hypersleeping crew on its long journey. David obediently facilitates Shaw's directive to seek out these Engineer beings and help obtain the answers she seeks, though how he fulfills her mission is an unexpected twist.
The Prometheus arrives at the moon LV-223 in the Zeta 2 Reticuli system (which should ring a bell with franchise fans) and discovers a row of large, ancient structures in a valley: ruins of a bygone species, perhaps, and hollow. With the ship's crew and Vickers sufficiently knocked back on their heels, the ship lands and an investigation inside the nearest structure begins. Outside a doorway, the away team find the decapitated corpse of what ALIEN fans refer to as a Space Jockey, remnants of the same creature found in the derelict ship of Ridley Scott's 1979 film. Inside the chamber the team finds the corpse's head, along with a giant humanoid statue surrounded by a field of strange cylinders. Then all hell begins to break loose, and beyond that you'll have to see the film yourself. We note that the overall answers in question do relate back to Scott's ALIEN in a direct, somewhat clever way, but audiences may have to work a bit at enjoying the irony such a connection provides.
One of ALIEN's strengths beyond its Gothic design of worlds and monsters was its incredible tightness (or simplicity, many would argue) in plot and how it played host to scruffy, grouchy, easily identifiable characters. Since audiences recognized the flaws and virtues of Brett and Parker, Dallas the captain and of course Ripley, they joyfully shrieked in horror as the Nostromo crew's lives were endangered. Sadly audiences won't embrace PROMETHEUS' archeologists Shaw and Holloway, ship's Captain Janek, Weyland mouthpiece Vickers or punk-styled geologist Fifield anywhere near as sympathetically or intimately. For the most part, this is not the actors' faults because the cast is strong throughout considering. These reluctant, dubious crewmates simply never develop beyond their plot functions and character idiosyncracies (from a punk mohawk haircut to nerdy thick-rimmed glasses to a haggis-thick Scots accent) to get our hearts pumping in wonder or terror on their behalf.
As created and/or developed by scribes Jon Spaihts and LOST's Damon Lindelof, these characters never exhibit the rich imperfections of fully rounded human beings, which is a significant problem in a story that puts our species at the heart of epic questions being asked of the gods. Shaw is relentlessly obsessive in her quest, Holloway enables her, Vickers is the most humanoid of the lot, which once again leaves the android David as the most interesting, psychologically complex character on the crew — and he has a Weyland logo for a thumbprint. Score one for the robots. In a way, Spaiht and Lindelof have to cheat David out of reaching the lofty mission goal so Rapace's Shaw can take heroic action to fend off utter disaster on an equally epic scale. Noomi Rapace runs an emotional and physical gauntlet as Shaw fights to survive her own quest let alone accomplish gaining the forbidden knowledge she desires. Her efforts deserve all recognition but her character on-paper halts her from breaking through to sublime heights.
Prometheus: The Art of the Film
Appreciation also extends to Idris Elba as Janek as the powerful actor attempts to overcome his underwritten, undermotivated character. These 2D types never quite develop on par with PROMETHEUS' 3D philosophical ideas and creative execution with the exception of Fassbender, whose David commands attention in every scene and one could argue his performance is worth admission.
Ridley Scott and the filmmaking team deserve planet-sized credit for even tackling such an ambitious subject as humanity's origins given the dumbed-down fodder most studio sci-fi films provide at multiplexes. Scott's astounding eye for grand vistas and the minutest set detail, combined with Darius Wolski's superb 3D cinematography and Arthur Max's truly brilliant production design, make PROMETHEUS a cinematic universe begging to be experienced. As his first 3D film, Scott predictably proves to have an uncanny talent for mastering such dimensional moviemaking of course, and his results make PROMETHEUS one of the most enjoyable, least distracting and gimmick-free 3D films I've ever seen. Since the director likens proper 3D filmmaking to how we see naturally every day, he shot PROMETHEUS with the same common sense approach and watching it in 3D is effortless. The original score by Marc Streitenfeld (with a couple added themes by Harry Gregson-Williams) exhibits the right notes of wonder and horror when needed, though it lacks the haunting qualities that made Jerry Goldsmith's ALIEN score so memorable. FilmEdge is compelled to ask, however: is it just us or does the melody of Gregson-Williams' cue "Life" bear a remarkable resemblance to John Williams' title theme for THE TOWERING INFERNO only slower and simpler? One to ask the Engineers on the next trip to LV-223.
Envisioning and directing PROMETHEUS was likely as perilous a task as was stealing the magic technology of fire from the gods in ancient myth. Only a modern cinematic titan like Ridley Scott would dare to attempt it, and though he may not have pulled off presenting this gift with complete success, it's a sure bet no other director than Scott could have come so close. FilmEdge gives PROMETHEUS 3 and 1/2 stars for an astonishing visual journey slightly hamstrung by shallower human characters than required when seeking answers about the meaning humanity itself. The questions left unanswered at its conclusion are worth exploring in the future, but Scott will need to assemble more humans to confront the true mystery of humanity.