Friday, June 8, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

Look familiar at all?

Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is like a sci-fi opus from a better time in the history of sci-fi films. And I would know, because I like to pretend I grew up then. 

"Prometheus" rises above because for once, it is a movie interested in actually exploring what lies in space, as opposed to just killing everything not from our home planet. If you give Ridley Scott a space ship and weird space creatures that like to impregnate people, he will create his best work. Basically, he needs to stay out of Medieval England and French vineyards.

"Prometheus" was sold largely as a possible prequel to the "Alien" franchise. It would be better suited as a prologue than as a prequel. It is not just expanding on the lives of a few characters and explaining trivial details that didn't need to be explained (do I even have to say it? I'm talking about "Star Wars"). Instead, "Prometheus" is about expanding an entire universe.

Here is a movie that asks a lot of broad questions about the origins of life. They are the kind of questions that have been asked before, but "Prometheus" asks them in ways that you would never think of asking. At times, it doesn't even feel like giving us all the answers. However, I was always down to stay on this ride until the very end.


"Prometheus" begins in some place that looks an awful lot a cross between Antarctica and Victoria Falls on a planet that may or may not be Earth. A bald man resembling Voldemort eats a black liquid goo, which alters his shape and DNA into something else entirely. 

Cut to the year 2093. Just like the explorers of "2001: A Space Odyssey," a team of scientists on Earth are called to examine something that may explain mankind's origin, located in deep space. Scott takes his precious time taking us to the new planet, and points his camera at infinite stars, and then tracks it around the elaborately detailed ship. The painstaking attention to detail and abounding curiosity shows Scott in his absolute element.

On Earth, a diagram of planets is found in old cave paintings by archaeologist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) and their team, which also includes Janek (Idris Elba) and Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). These planets may map out the beginnings of humanity. Or not. Another thing that makes “Prometheus” work is that it takes so much time to explore its characters, and make each of their personalities distinguishable. Yes, Vickers seems like the kind of person who would order a Vodka Up.


Cue the Weyland Corporation, where aging founder Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, in inexplicably silly old man makeup) funds the building of Prometheus, a ship which will take its crew to LV-223, a moon named after the toxic air in its atmosphere. I want to leave as much of the plot as a surprise as possible, but let’s just say that being trapped in a cave by yourself in LV-223 filled with creatures you can’t see is even more frightening than being trapped on the Nostromo with one creature you can’t see.

“Prometheus” is the kind of movie I could see myself watching and admiring with the sound turned off. This is not to say that the story is trivial, but that the worlds created are unlike anything I have ever seen. It just about puts Pandora to shame. The 3D is used in the best possible way: it is present, but not too flashy. It is there enough so as to give the stunning images a little more depth, but it doesn’t make things pop out in your face. It is immersive enough that the eyes gets accustomed to it and at times, it doesn’t feel like you are even watching 3D. I still prefer my images to be flat and removed, but “Prometheus” is a big step up for the technology.

Scott utilizes genre so well here as it is not just used as a means for action, but as a means of portraying an incredibly complex view of life. It both shatters and fuels creation myths. It asks many questions that will have you arguing on the car ride home. Does it matter how we were created? Would knowing the answers better or worsen mankind? We all come from somewhere, and the way “Prometheus” portrays it, it certainly isn’t as pretty as we’d like to think.


As this film’s Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) replacement, Rapace perhaps had the biggest shoes to fill. She is a worthy predecessor to Weaver’s throne. She displays Ripley’s bravery and ability to survive against all odds. Because at the end of the day, the ability to persist triumphs above everything else. While Shaw is certainly brilliant, part of her final battle at the end felt like a bit of a cop out, and didn’t allow her to outwit the enemy in quite the same way Ripley did in “Alien” (SPOILER singing it a lullaby while launching it into space? All of the motherly creation themes of the movie lie right there).

            Meanwhile, as David (Biblical name much?), Michael Fassbender is much more philosophical and sophisticated than the machines in “Alien” movies past. He is also one of the keys to figuring out what this movie is about. He plays a robot that is cold and mechanical, yet also very human. Like Scott’s “Blade Runner,” a very human robot can make us question the very definition of what constitutes human life. Can it be simply the ability to breath and make decisions? Does it matter if we are run by blood, or by gears?

In order to enjoy “Prometheus,” you don’t necessarily have to have seen the other “Alien” movies, but it would definitely help. Perhaps you just need to know that the ship is named after the Greek myth of a Titan who wanted to be a God, and was punished because of it. Or so a friend more educated than myself tells me.

The best part is that “Prometheus” actually provides answers that make the “Alien” universe far more interesting and complex. It will definitely create new fans of the series. Perhaps the one thing fans of “Alien” were waiting to see occurs in a very brief instant, and in a pretty ingenious way. It is as if writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (“Lost”) were saying, “here this is what you wanted, right? Are you happy now?” Yes, yes we are. “Prometheus” might try and tackle too much some times, but the scope and intrigue puts it streets ahead of the average franchise blockbuster.


SPOILER SECTION

Here are a few of my thoughts on “Prometheus.” This section is made for anyone who has already seen the movie:

-The big revelation at the end, in which we discover how the Alien was first born. This was not just used simply because it looks cool. After leaving the theater, the true significance really struck me: the Alien came from the same creator as mankind. Therefore, Man and Alien are somewhat related. I will not be able to look at the original “Alien” movies in the same light again.

-The role of religion- In the end, Shaw puts her cross back on her neck, to which David asks, “after all this, you still believe?” Shaw doesn’t respond. Despite being a work of science fiction, “Prometheus” is heavily about God and faith. I can see the touch of “Lost” scribe Lindelof in the aspect. In the “Prometheus” universe, everyone seems to come from some kind of creator, and the fact that the human’s creator can be killed shows perhaps that God is not all powerful. Or, as more eloquently put by Hattori Hanzo, “if on your journey you should encounter God, God will be cut.”

-I think another overall theme of this movie is that creation is a natural process that should not be interfered with, and that creating new life will create chaos in natural order. From the beginning, it seems that the creation of humans was a mistake, and perhaps the reason that man’s predecessors wanted to destroy Earth was as a means of righting their wrong, and creating a new, better life form. After all, when one life form goes extinct, another one can come into existence.

-Here is a very good theory a friend of mine pointed out about David: David himself was disappointed with his own creators. Therefore, he wanted humans to be disappointed when they met their own makers, so he decided to “screw up” contact with the engineers as a means of shattering their illusions and beliefs.

-What did everyone think of the scene in which Shaw has the Alien seed removed from her stomach? As bad as the instance from the first “Alien”? Worse? Or lacking the essential element of surprise? Also, it displays a standard for horror that Scott helped set once upon a time: what we don't see is scarier than what we actually do see.

Now, share some of your own theories. There is a lot to dig from here.

3 comments:

Harrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Harrison said...

As the purported "friend more educated than myself" I feel the need, after a couple minutes of research on wikipedia to say this: While Prometheus was a challenger to Zeus' (and therefore the gods) omnipotence and omniscience he is better known for the creation of man from clay and the theft of fire for man. He is more or less a champion of mankind who enabled progress and civilization and was punished by it.
When put that way, it kind of gives new meaning to the film.
Who is mankind's champion in the film?
Our bald alien creators? Well we came from them, but the help seems to end there. In fact, they seemed pretty ok with killing humans and wiping out mankind. Does the act of creation alone entail a god-like identity to the creators? Should mankind revere them as god's (our prometheus) solely for our creation, regardless of why they did it or what they do afterwards?
What about David? Who is his champion? He was created by humans, but seemed to despise the frivolous/nonchalant attitude they adopt concerning his creation "because we could". I feel like, in his opinion, creation in itself is not enough to warrant a god like reverence. He certainly seemed to have little qualms over infecting Hathaway.
The answer? I have no idea really, but asking the question feels like a good start.

dtmmr said...

Just got done watching it and I can’t say I was all that impressed with what I saw. Yeah, it had its moments that were tense and a little freaky but it never fully got off the ground for me. However, it’s a beautiful film the whole way through and one that should definitely be seen in 3D no matter wherever you may be. Good review Ian.