Jun 13, 2012|
(USA) Directed by Ridley Scott. Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce. Category IIB.
Just like the outer space in which it’s set, “Prometheus” is a thing of breathtaking beauty and wonder—and not without a couple of black holes. Marking Ridley Scott’s first (and much welcomed) return to the world of science fiction since “Blade Runner” 30 years ago, the eagerly anticipated thriller was famously conceived as a prequel to the filmmaker’s 1979 sci-fi horror staple, “Alien.” While inheriting many of the “Alien” virtues both in spirit and in style, the picture—which can be viewed perfectly fine as a stand-alone film by non-fans—trades in the original’s winning minimalism for some high-minded philosophy that increasingly wears off in interest level as the film moves towards its end.
The stunning, wordless prologue, shot in the otherworldly landscapes of Iceland and featuring the suicide of a marble-skinned humanoid, vaguely hints at the origins of mankind. This intriguing riddle leads the storyline, but never gets deciphered. Next thing we know, in 2093, the titular spaceship—named after the Greek demigod who stole fire for the mortals—embarks on a mission bankrolled by the deceased tycoon of Weyland Industries, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce). A few years before, archeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discovered cave murals suggesting that human beings might’ve been created by aliens. Now, the pair—she a true believer eager to meet her “maker” and he a Darwinist skeptic—leads a crew that’s just awakened from hyper-sleep after a two-year space journey; they all land on a planet situated in a distant solar system where those extraterrestrials are believed to reside.
Also on board are icy corporate representative Vickers (Charlize Theron), ship captain Janek (Idris Elba) and some others that you don’t need to know by name because they will mainly serve as canon fodder. Then, there is David (Michael Fassbender), a highly intelligent android who studies Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia” to understand human behavior, and possesses an impish—and possibly dangerous—curiosity. The team explores a massive, labyrinthine underground structure, where they find dead alien bodies, secret chambers and thousands of cylinders with a sticky green substance coming out of them. And you don’t need me to warn you that shit goes down from here.
The horror set-pieces in “Prometheus” are mostly formulaic and predictable, but they are nonetheless effective. In its more original moments, a scene of minimal body horror in a mirror will chill your spine, and a jaw-dropping sequence featuring a gruesome operation—easily reminiscent of John Hurt’s chest-burst moment in “Alien”—propels the movie to its macabre zenith. In comparison, some of the lesser scares are silly and nonsensical: seriously, if you’re so horrified by the eerie cavern that you just want to return to the ship, don’t interact with that gross-looking snake-shaped creature and greet it with a “Hey, little guy!” on your way back. Another misstep is Marc Streitenfeld’s lush score. Unlike the long stretches of silence in “Alien” that excellently brewed a moody atmosphere and maximized its intensity, the musical bravado here—though nicely done—hardly does the film any favors.
The script, co-written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, has its fair share of questionable developments and inconsistencies. There are profound cosmic contemplations and a weighty Oedipal undertone, all of which, unfortunately, give way to action sequences and grotesque monsters before they ever get explored. The majority of the fine cast is relegated to thinly written roles, but two actors stand out. Swedish star Rapace (the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), whose skinny frame and superhuman resilience call to mind Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, wonderfully carries out another physically demanding job. Her performance is only topped, though, by that of Fassbender (bless him), who steals virtually every scene he’s in. Basically a sexier version of HAL 9000, robot David’s man-made nature is both the source of amusing moments and the trigger for existential debates. At one point, he conducts a dubious action without a clear motive—is it a pre-programmed agenda? Does he do it out of envy? Or maybe he just has a dark sense of humor?
Myriad questions like that are raised and left unanswered. But although the logic starts to flag (badly) during the second half of the movie, fortunately the tech department consistently triumphs at creating dazzling visuals and vivid 3D effects that—for once!—are worth every penny of your hard-earned cash. If you can get over the film’s unfulfilled intellectual and spiritual aspirations, it is at least a greatly engaging and gorgeous experience. And who knows, maybe someone will eventually explain a thing or two in the potential sequel.