Prometheus 3D (2012)
written by: Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
produced by: Ridley Scott, David Giler, and Walter Hill
directed by: Ridley Scott
rating: R (for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language)
runtime: 124 min.
U.S. release date: June 8, 2012
The science fiction films that director Ridley Scott has made, 1979’s “Alien” and 1982’s “Blade Runner”, are two of my all-time favorites of the genre. Both of them justifiably went on to become highly influential, not just in the filmmaking industry, but in other literature and art forms as well. Now Scott returns to the genre after a thirty year absence with “Prometheus”, an indirect prequel to “Alien” and as much as I had been highly anticipating this film, I still found myself equally apprehensive. Could Scott bring something different or better to a franchise that has already seen three sequels and two lousy spinoffs? Well, there’s no easy way to answer such a question, but blame that on the screenwriters. While Scott does once again bring his masterful visual skills to “Prometheus”, he unfortunately is working with a story that consists of ambiguous concepts spliced with a recycled formula from the “Alien” mythology . I was really hoping for something daring, maybe even existential (or at least a little more intellectual), but instead I was left with several unanswered questions.
The film opens with a beautiful and bizarre introduction accompanied by a mesmerizing score by composer Marc Streitenfeld (who’s worked with Scott before and did some fine work on “The Grey” earlier this year), that apparently takes place on a primordial Earth. A giant milky-white humanoid figure stands before an expansive waterfall. He/it seems calm and reflective and then drinks a cup of black goo that does a fatal number on the being’s DNA – it’s like a trippy prog-rock album cover come alive and undone all in one sequence. That’s all pretty cool and it had me immediately hooked, but it also started the first of many inner questions that I would formulate as I watched the film.
We then travel to the year 2089, where an archaeology team led by a curious Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (the captivating Noomi Rapace, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and her boyfriend Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, “Devil”), discover cave drawings at the Isle of Skye in Scotland that match others they have found around the world. What all of them include similar objects that they believe to be star maps that are left behind by ancient….astronauts? gods? – well, Shaw calls them “Engineers” with the supposition that they created mankind. There’s no real thought as to why the figures in the drawings are pointing to these stars. Is it a travel tip or an act of cautionary warning? But Shaw wants to believe this location in outer space will provide us with answers (Where are we from? Who made us and why?) and possibly give some face time with their Makers.
So, now we know where they’re going (well, sort of) – but the big question is whether or not how they’re getting there is going to be any different from what we’ve seen in past sci-fi flicks. The answer is no. Not really. And that’s okay, because for some viewers, this is something new. But others will feel a feel a twinge of deep space deja vu. See if this sounds familiar….
Peter Weyland (an unrecognizable Guy Pearce, in old man make-up that’s almost as silly as Leonardo DiCaprio’s in “J. Edgar”), billionaire and CEO of The Weyland Corporation, takes an interest in Shaw’s findings and offers to back an expedition to the mysterious distant moon called LV-223. On board the spacecraft Prometheus, a well-quipped exploratory vessel run by two pragmatic characters, Captain Janek (Idris Elba, of “Thor” toying with a Southern accent) and suspicious Weyland rep Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, intriguing in just about every scene), Shaw and Holloway find themselves in charge of a skeptical crew. The most vocal among then is Fifield (Sean Harris, “Harry Brown”) a tattooed, mohawk-donning geologist and Milburn (Rafe Spall, from Scott’s “A Good Year”) a biologist who questions whether or not Shaw is debunking centuries of Darwinism with her theories.
It feels like we know these crew members. Probably because they exhibit some of the same characteristics we’ve seen before in these sci-fi expedition films. But before we’re introduced to the crew, we meet David (yet another amazing performance from Michael Fassbender, “Shame”), who is taking care of the ship and watching over the crew as they sleep in stasis. In the tradition of the other “Alien” movies, he is an android, one who spends his time pedaling a bicycle or playing basketball (or doing both at the same time), learning alien languages, and watching “Lawrence of Arabia”; which he studies, mimicking Peter O’ Toole in both looks and voice. While an artificial humanoid in a science fiction film isn’t a foreign concept, seeing them interact with humans is always interesting, but then again that always depends on the actor.
Fassbender portrays David with fascinating layers, presenting a robotic being that is both curious and envious of humans. His cadence is stately and elegant, he provides for the crew in many ways, and yet David also has his own agenda that exudes an independent aura of superiority – one that quite often gets everyone around him into trouble. Scott and Fassbender never allow David to overwhelm the rest of the cast, but he easily turns out to be the most satisfying characters to watch.
When they arrive at their destination, they find what appears to be a temple amid a terrain of mountains and cracked surfaces. With the questionable help of David, the team venture inside and discover ghostly remnants of giant humanoid figures in space suits, containers full of mysterious black goo, as well as some slimy malicious creatures. Any quasi-spiritual answers they seek are put on hold, as they become enraptured with what the see. Of course, what they find must be taken back to the ship for examination, because cold curiosity always extinguishes the fire of human survival instinct. Even when a couple of scientists choose to only go so far (clearly these are red shirts) and return to the ship, they predictably have a fatal encounter.
Needless to say, things go array as they often do when humans (even man-made humans) go searching and tampering on other planets. Shaw comes to the horrifying conclusion that they she will not get what she’s come for, nor will the Weyland Corporation. All they get is death, ruin and questions, so many questions. Which is probably where viewers can most relate to the characters here, specifically Shaw – since we are left about as clueless as she is.
There is about 40% of “Prometheus” that makes a deliberate effort to distinct itself from the prior “Alien” movies. Aesthetically, “Prometheus” is an incredible film to behold. Much more artistic on just about every level of production than those other films, like a respectful cross between Kubrick and Lovecraft. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Damon Lindelof (co-creator of “Lost” and the recent “Star Trek”) and Jon Spaihts (the recent flop “The Darkest Hour”) just isn’t as inspiring. They seem to be more concerned with injecting their story (regurgitated sci-fi horror tropes and all) with muddled questions and arguments, showing very little concern for exploring any kind of debate or analysis, resulting in semi-flat fulfillment.
The disappointing story cannot take anything away from some memorable sequences that definitely left a mark with me. The cool visual effects of the floating robotic balls Fifield uses (he calls them “puppies”) to scan the temple, transmitting a map of the area back to Prometheus adds something unique to the mystery of the film. There’s also an unforgettably harrowing self-performed Caesarean scene that is certainly the film’s high point in terms of frenzied squirminess. The action beats toward the end though, involving two specific encounters – one where the few remaining crew members finally meet a space jockey and the other where that space jockey gets surprised by a giant cephalopod – just feel like they’re there for the sake of action. To go into further details would be to step into spoiler territory.
Such scenes are an uneven addition to a film which posits some intellectual head-scratching moments. I guess Scott and his screenwriters know that they can’t get too cerebral on an audience that is either built-in or just trying to get some summer blockbuster enjoyment. I can’t believe I found myself craving more existential ruminations over perennial orifice-ravaging and body-altering bits, but that’s more stimulating to me.
There’s no doubt Scott has left room for more sequel-prequel-spinoffs (whatever he wants to call them) and as much as that seems kind of cheap, I find myself still interested. Out of curiosity, I want to know where this is going from here, but part of me was so impressed with Scott’s use of 3D that might be the selling point for me right there. This is no 3D rush-job, this is crisp imagery the is just stunning. Scott filmed all of “Prometheus” using actual 3D cameras, emphasizing detailed depth and adjusting lighting when necessary – knowing how those awkward tinted glasses can often dim what we see.
Hopefully, any subsequent films that continue the story will have more originality and bravery to them. Scott is a filmmaker who I will always follow and support, regardless of the outcome. I don’t know if another viewing of “Prometheus” will conjure up any new findings or revelations for me, but I’d probably give it another go, just to bask in its impressive visuals.
poster art by Luke Eckstein