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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Review: Prometheus (2012)

* * * 1/2

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron

Prometheus was probably one of the most anticipated movies of the summer, perhaps only behind The Dark Knight Rises, Brave, and The Amazing Spider-Man, but judging from post-opening weekend responses, it may prove to have the greatest difference between expectation and actual reaction. It may not be on par with Alien (which, it might be noted, also opened to fairly mixed reviews before settling into its place as a classic of the genre), but considered on its own terms, it's a pretty good movie.

After a brief prologue, the film moves forward to 2089 when a team of archaeologists led by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a star map inside a cave which is similar to several other cave paintings from various cultures around the world. Convinced that the map is an invitation, the scientists are able to convince Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the CEO of Weyland Corporation, to fund an expedition into space. In 2093, Shaw and Holloway, along with several other scientists and the crew of the ship Prometheus, are awakened from stasis by David (Michael Fassbender), an android, as they approach their destination, named LV-223. Although Shaw and Holloway are eager to make contact with the aliens, whom they refer to as the Engineers, they're warned by the mission's director, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) that direct contact is not the goal of the mission; that they're simply to observe and report.

The crew sets down near what appears to be a large, artificial structure, and a small team is sent out to explore, discovering a statue of a human head and the body of one of the Engineers from which the head has been severed. Shaw brings the head back to the ship to investigate further, in the process discovering that the DNA of the alien is a match to human DNA. Meanwhile, David has secretly brought a mysterious cylinder into the ship, the contents of which he uses to prove that even androids are capable of malice. As the crew discovers more about the Engineers - although ultimately not all that much - it becomes apparent that the situation is a lot more sinister than anyone had initially suspected. Of course, by this point, it may be entirely too late.

The Alien series has always been one thematically concerned with anxities surrounding motherhood and female sexuality, and Prometheus is no different, although it may be said to be concerned with the notion of reproduction generally rather than motherhood specifically. The notion of creation, and its inherent anxities, are central to the film, both subtextually and textually, particularly the notion that the act of creation and the desire for destruction go hand-in-hand. The Engineers created humans but also planned to destroy them, and this theme is echoed in the way that the parent/child relationship in the film is characterized as being a battleground where both parties struggle for dominance. If having children, or in the case of the film "creating" another life form, is rooted in a subconscious desire for a part of you to live on in someone else, then the desire to destroy that person/life form is natural because in order for you to live on in them, you first have to die, and the progeny is both an extension of you and the figure who ultimately usurps your place in the world.

Written by Damon Lindelof and John Spaihts, Prometheus is a film which raises a lot of questions but ultimately answers few of them, which is what seems to have sparked much of the criticism about the film. It must be admitted that the film's greatest weakness is that it was obviously designed as the first entry in a new series, rather than a stand alone film. It ultimately falls short of what it could have been because its focus is so thoroughly on the long game - the one or two films envisioned to follow it - that the short game - making a movie that makes you want to see more - suffers as a result. The other big weakness of the film is that it sometimes relies on the characters to act like idiots in order to facilitate moving the plot along (seriously, when you see a tentacle creature rise up out of some black goo, you do not reach out your hand to it the way you would to an unfamiliar dog you want to pet), but for the most part this doesn't present too big a problem in terms of enjoying the film, because the product as a whole is very engaging and entertaining.

The strengths of the film lie in its cast - Rapace, Theron and, especially Fassbender, are all excellent, bringing different but essential shades and tones to the story - and in the small details that pepper the film, such as the cave paintings that Shaw and Holloway see at the beginning, which borrow images from the actual paintings that feature in Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and the fact that David models himself on Peter O'Toole as Lawrence of Arabia (though there are also echoes of Hal 9000). Although Prometheus is a glossier product than Alien, both show director Ridley Scott to be a master of the science fiction genre. What he presents here is a film that is equal parts meditative and menacing and completely riveting. Although I agree with the critcism that the film shouldn't rely on promises of future installments to offer resolution to its plot threads, I still think Prometheus is a film worth seeing.


Candice Frederick said...

i loved that the film asked questions. and it was epic.

Steven S said...

This was a massive let down for me. It looked great but descended into usual sci-fi farce seen a million times and Fassbender apart, I didn't care for any of them.