Prometheus (2012) / Sci Fi-Horror
MPAA rated: R for violence, gore, and language
Running time: 124 min.
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pearce, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall
Small role: Patrick Wilson
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
A great science fiction film that disappoints by not delivering enough on its first hour's initial promise, or the first chapter of an epic masterpiece series? Time will tell. Either way, fairly serious and not completely crowd pleasing science fiction like this deserves a little bit of kudos on the rare chance that it occurs, though even some hardcore SF fans will find it a bit of an agony to sit through when so many fantastic concepts are dabbled with and so few actual revelations.
The most heady concept in a film with more than its share is that the human race's origins come from being the creations of a superior race of aliens who've made us in their image (comparisons to Erich von Daniken's "Chariots of the Gods" abound). All signs point to a pattern in cave paintings made during different historical periods from different parts of the world. In the year 2093, an expedition is sent from Earth to a distant planet funded by Weyland Industries, in order to find the origin of the species that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and her partner (in most senses of the word)Charlie Holloway (Marshall-Green, Devil) believe are the "engineers" responsible for the creation of the human race and the fostering of various civilizations. A standard crew, a mix of scientists, corporate officials, navigators, and one android named David (Fassbender, Haywire) arrive on the planet for initial exploration, only to find that the engineers they were seeking to find might have all been killed off by sources unknown. Could it be the strange black liquid coalescing around the site that causes bizarre and deadly effects to anyone who touches or ingests it?
Although not a one-genre film director by and large over the course of his career, Ridley Scott (Robin Hood, Body of Lies) did create two of the most significant and influential science fiction films of all time with Blade Runner and Alien, the latter of which does deal with the aftermath of this "prequel" in a very direct way, even if it goes an entirely different direction.
Fans of Scott's Alien will find the material familiar, as it is essentially a prequel to the film explaining somewhat the source of the distress signal that the Nostromo would investigate, plus the subsequent vessel of alien origin. Despite the obvious tie-in, it might be more accurate to call Prometheus a spin-off, as Alien and its subsequent sequels merely deal with a particular strain of the evolutionary alien than its origin. The films are also quite different from a mission standpoint, with Prometheus being a philosophical search, while Alien is merely a fight for survival by people who have no clue about the kind of menace they are dealing with.
The pace of the film is slow, ponderous, and when action does occur, it will likely leave some in the audience wishing it could have been more. Still, there is a certain creepiness to it all that is palpable throughout, and the eerie atmosphere is so thick that it can sometimes be suffocating. There is, however, a good deal of entertainment to be had in admiring the sumptuous set and production design of the film, which, like many prequels, appears to be far too advanced to really jibe with the look and style of the films that have come before to believe this is set in their past.
Noomi Rapace, who is so fantastic in the Swedish film versions of the Stieg Larsen "Girl" books, impresses yet again with raw emotion and good physical action. Michael Fassbender is icy cold as the android, David, but all the more fascinating, as he makes decisions he feels are best that completely ignores the human element -- the element he doesn't innately have -- while he menaces as HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey on asserting his own form of control on his human counterparts. There's a small part, a bit of a head-scratcher really, that has Guy Pearce (The King's Speech, First Snow) donning some very distracting old age make-up to play the hologram of Peter Weyland, the head of the corporation, to explain the mission and introduce Shaw and Holloway. Did he have a scene that was cut in which we seen the younger Weyland, and that's why they didn't hire someone older for the rather unimportant part? That may prove to be yet another mystery left unresolved.
Prometheus is not as intense as Alien, and not nearly as exhilarating as Aliens, but it's better than the rest of the films in the franchise, and looks like it will become an offshoot series in its own right, perhaps one that will explain much more of the ideas that are presented early in this film that aren't resolved. If the continuation of the story, assuming there are any future entries, can stick more with the mind-blowing concepts and unraveling of the mysteries, it should be an interesting ride, much in the way of TV's "LOST' than the Alien series. Not surprisingly, one of Prometheus's screenwriters, Damon Lindelof (Cowboys & Aliens), had been a co-creator of "LOST".
Just as some in the audience might feel that the first hour doesn't contain much in terms of thrills, scares, or action, once these begin to kick in, it might also be said that Prometheus dissatisfies by not spending nearly enough time on the very concepts the first hour of the film builds up. Alien didn't really explain the origin of its species either, but Scott kept everything to a very simple premise, and we didn't mind that we didn't know everything there is to know about the aliens. In fact, the less we know, the more terrifying it truly is. Prometheus is the opposite approach, whereby the entire first hour is dedicated to the explanation, so by the time horrific things begin to happen to the crew, we view it all from an detached, analytical distance of what it might all mean in the larger picture. And then, in the end, we're left unsatisfied that large chunks of the picture remain unresolved.
It's a dilemma for a movie reviewer to recommend Prometheus without knowing if the powers that be will push forward another entry. It's clear from the film that appears to be the intention, and yet with such a high budget, and such a difficult time for dour science fiction to recoup enough money to justify it, it's never a certainty until it actually gets made. But, for the sake of argument, if such a sequel is born and delivers on all of the goods that the first film did not, in retrospect, it will certainly be seen as a solid beginning, enough to intrigue, not enough to fully quench viewers' desire for more. If it is all that there is? Well, then Prometheus may well go down as one of the more disappointing science fiction films of its era, holding such promise to be truly great, but refusing to deliver but half of a story. My recommendation: if you're a hardcore Alien fan, or just enjoy dark sci-fi, it's certainly well worth a look. For the skeptical rest, perhaps waiting until a second film in this offshoot series has been green-lit is in order before investing your time, money and energy in what amounts to one hell of a great teaser.
©2012 Vince Leo