By David Poland email@example.com
Review: Prometheus (Spoiler-Free)
It’s almost impossible to write about Prometheus without spoilers, as the very first scene of the film is, in fact, a visual you have not seen in any of the materials and a story spoiler that establishes the foundations for what the movie will be.
That said, the film is a prequel to the Alien movies, though not a direct prequel. It feels like there is room for a few more movies (2?) before there is a direct connection to Alien. Set in the late 2000s, the mission is on a trillion dollar ship going as far out as any human ship had gone. The women at the center of this story are Noomi Rapace, as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, and Charlize Theron, as Meredith Vickers, the apparent boss of the ship, though she struggles, coldly, for control throughout the movie. Shaw desperately wants to be on this journey and seeks higher insight and Vickers is there out of obligation and is deeply frustrated by what she clearly sees as a waste of time.
Shaw and her boyfriend, Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), discover the symbolic maps placed through human history on earth that lead to the journey. Shaw & Holloway offer a conflicting dyad, she seeking a higher/spiritual answer to the origins of human life and he seeking a scientific explanation only.
The movie is loaded with these dyads. The other major character in the story is David (played by Michael Fassbender), who is the most advanced robot created by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) at the time of the story. He is, in may ways, the HAL 9000 of the story. He doesn’t have a HALian meltdown, but he does have a lot of control and is quite close to being omnipotent on the ship. He quirkily sees himself in a mirror of Peter O’Toole’s TS Lawrence, as he leads a group of humans into a conflict, the futility of which he cannot understand until he has experienced it. He is in a dyad with Theron’s Vickers, two controlling figures with short blonde hair, crystal-blue eyes, and seemingly perfect physiques. And by the end of the film, his relationship with Shaw will form another dyad.
Also pairing up are Fifield and Millburn (Sean Harris & Rafe Spall) and Chance & Revel (Emun Elliot & Benedict Wong). And there is “Ford” (played by Kate Dickie), who seems to be a medic of some kind. Another 8 humans on the journey, so inconsequential that they are credited as “Mercenary 1 – 4″ and “Mechanic 1 – 4.”
Last but not least, there is Idris Elba as “Janek,” as the old school ship’s captain, gets a surprising amount of screen time, given that he is really an outside perspective on the whole thing. His dyad is himself and his ship, which along with his crew, is his only real priority. He is the film’s true pragmatism with no off-setting motives.
The “big theme” in the film is our origins as a species. How did human life come to be on earth? Why? As Navin R. Johnson might put it, what is our special purpose?
I’ve already read one review that thinks the answer is not in the film. I think that the answer is not only there, but that it is so simple that it became invisible to that critic and to others… including, during the film, Noomi Rapace’s character, who is desperate to know why the other species they discover “hate” humans so much, which is the wrong question, offered in an emotional fit, lacking perspective.
The images in the film are, simply, exquisite. This is not your 1979 Nostromo, in which Scott made beautiful things out of a broken down, dank, wet ship. On the inside of this ship and even more so, in the world outside this ship, Prometheus offers a visual universe of a level never before put on digital film. (I thought a few times during the film how much I’d like to see a Fincher movie shot with these tools.)
There is one super-cool new technological gimmick in the film, which leads to the film’s best single sequence. And the visual mapping elements look in the film feel familiar and fresh all at once… perhaps they are just the best ever done.
There wasn’t a bad performance in the film. Fassbender has the showstopper… and it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing it as well.
Noomi Rapace is the real deal, it turns out. Ridley Scott and DP Dariusz Wolski shoot her like a period portrait, her face stretched on its frame, every odd angle emphasized and romanced, her eyes the most animated part of the close-up frames in which she appears. And she delivers. There is the real possibility that the screenplay could have aspired to more based on her abilities here. She is capable of being the Virgin Mary in this tale, but when her character wanders into the relationship of religion and semiotics, the script is at its weakest.
Theron & Elba are not on unfamiliar turf here. Both deliver, but both are in service of the film, not asked to create more complex characters than that. That said, wearing a skintight space suit most of the time, it struck me for the first time in a while that as unique Ms. Theron’s physique is, the sexy thing about her is all in that face and the brain behind it. Like Rapace, who is not afraid to be nude (in other films) or swathed in gauze here, the “hot bod” thing rarely fails to distract from the actresses whose curves fill the screen. Crass as we choose to be, it is still the spirit of great actresses that move an audience, not their asses or boobs, great or otherwise.
But I digress…
The mystery casting of the film is Patrick Wilson as Shaw’s father. He’s sporting a UK accent and isn’t in the film for a full minute, so what is he doing there? Lost scenes or sequels? You tell me. (I also have a vague feeling he was dubbed… but maybe not.)`
The thing about Prometheus is that it is the first true Science Fiction movie from a major studio in years. i know that a lot of movies are positioned as sci-fi. But watching Prometheus, I felt like science and fiction were pushing me, as an audience member, to think about the ideas being presented in a fairly complex way. This was not, as Alien itself was, a genre film of a different sort with sci-fi elements superimposed on top of it (brilliantly, in that case). This film is about ideas. This film is about whether there is a greater meaning in the tradition of the first Planet of the Apes, early Trek, Soylent Green, Serling, Matheson, Bradbury, and others.
Is this the best film of that tradition that I’ve ever seen? No. Scott & Co. were doing other things as well and, no doubt, the epic scale and visual intensity got in the way of some of that exploration. As Serling and the rest showed us, you don’t need a big budget or great special effects to discuss ideas. On the other hand, I think – and I’ve only seen the film once – there is a lot in the unvoiced parts of this film that can be and will be mined for depth… not spoon-fed so that you walk out of the theater with The Answer.
I felt Prometheus. It’s not another version of Alien or Aliens or Alien 3. I guess this is why Scott was so serious about this not being positioned as a prequel. In many ways, this is closer spiritually, in Scott’s filmmography, to 1492 or Gladiator or the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven than to Alien. Seemingly earned arrogance is broken down, the hero gains insight into how their world was prioritized, they struggle on. Many different perspectives are represented on that ship without the crew sitting around a table arguing their views. And personally, I prefer that.
Are there the scares of Alien? Not too many. It’s an action movie this time, not a slasher movie. No cats making the audience scream.
Is there a new creature as exciting as The Alien in this film? No, not really. It’s not about that. (Though there are new, cool alien forms.)
And by the way… any talk of this being PG-13 was just publicity working overtime. There is no f-ing way this movie was ever going out as anything less than an R.
I found Prometheus to be a fresh, new, and visceral movie experience. Every bit of goo was fun. Every stupid move made by characters – which we know is stupid from knowing the previous films – was fun. I enjoyed seeing what every character with a name was going through and how the sequences manifested themselves. And there is still that bit of Hitchcockian anticipation in the film, as small seeds are inevitably going to lead somewhere familiar. But as my dad used to say, it’s not the situation, but how you react to it. And here, we have a group of new characters whose choices are not predictable.
I expect some critics to be very hard on the film. They seem to expect the Second Coming. But while they may have found The Avengers or whatever easier to swallow, there are things in Prometheus that will sustain audiences, not just offer that sugar high. (Hulk SMASH!) And when the questions about what isn’t in Prometheus are given voice, I will ask the question without irony, “Are you sure that what you think you want would satisfy you or make for a better movie?” I can’t say that I know the true answer to that question. But I am pretty sure that no one else will really know that answer about this film in the first hours after walking out of the theater.
Not only is Prometheus the best film of the summer so far, but I don’t anticipate anything but The Dark Knight Rises being able to challenge it for quality before the end of this summer. I’m really looking forward to the sheer joys of Brave and The Amazing Spider-Man and Ted, and others. But amongst movies that work for thrill-seekers and people who want to think and audiences that just want to be entertained, Prometheus hits to all fields. If you love movies, Prometheus has to be a part of your vocabulary this summer and for years to come.
(NOTE: I will do a spoiler review of the film AFTER it opens.)