REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

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Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Jon Spaights and Damon Lindelof, Based on Elements Created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Guy Pierce, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall

Prometheus had been my favorite film of 2012 for a long time, and while I may have rethought my position on that moniker, it still remains high in my ranking of science fiction cinema, despite whatever mixed reputation it may have. While it remains an easy target for naysayers, Prometheus was a bold and fresh journey into an underexplored facet of the Alien universe, and while we may be turning back toward creature horror with Alien: Covenant, the effects of it’s unconventional premise are still being felt.

A group of explorers, including archaeologists Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), are on an “undisclosed” mission whose destination is a moon trillions of miles away from Earth. There, they find the remains of an ancient alien civilization which may be the forerunners of the human race. But some of the explorers have an ulterior motive for being there, including Weyland Corporation representative Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the android David (Michael Fassbender).

Opening on a primordial world, presumably Earth, Prometheus wastes no time in displaying the talents of Scott’s now go-to visual team of photographer Dariusz Wolski and editor Pietro Scalia. Together, they weave us through spellbinding sights of this ancient paradise, bolstered by Marc Streitenfeld’s romantic score, painting a picture of the wonder of a cosmic beginning. Stepping into this landscape is a lone humanoid figure, pale white and naked, who drinks an unknown liquid that dissolves his body into a nearby waterfall, where his DNA recombines, revealing the overture of the picture to be the start of life as we know it.

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If Alien was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre by way of 2001, then Prometheus is 2001 by way of Alien. The first hint of this influence is the cut from the primordial Earth to the 2090s, far eclipsing the millennia-jumping cut of Kubrick’s film in terms of history. A brief scene in Scotland establishes the main scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) and Charles Holloway (Marshall-Green), and their mission, to find the alien source of ancient human pictograms, and then we are in space and on our way to the main narrative.

Here we get a more clean meld of 2001 and Alien, as the android David goes about his day, alone while the crew is in hypersleep, aboard the exploratory vessel Prometheus. It’s sleek lines and heavily-digital control surfaces evoke 2001, but underneath, there is a heavy current of the Nostromo to the design, inherent in the meticulous attention to detail and the familiar motifs of motion-activated lighting and European influence to its interior design. In short, one can tell that these ships definitely belong to the same universe, separated only by their purposes and the money spent in building them.

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David, however, is a far cry from his future counterparts Ash and Bishop. He is naturally curious and full of inquisitive insight. He even finds a role model in his solace; Lawrence of Arabia, as played by the great Peter O’Toole. David sees them both as equals, out of place among their peers yet superior, and deserving of praise. It is a role Michael Fassbender was born to play, injecting him with a starry-eyed happiness that later gives way to a sinister lack of empathy for his masters as the picture goes on.

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Dear God, I would kill to have that as my home theater….

While David steals the picture, Holloway and Shaw are an impressive couple in their own right. Holloway, a militant atheist, and Shaw, a devout Christian, display an impressive bit of character writing, as both have come to the same belief that extraterrestrials created us. Rounding out the main cast are Charlize Theron as Vickers, a no-nonsense, mean-spirited Weyland Corp. representative, and Idris Elba as Janek, the Prometheus’s working man captain, obviously cut from the same cloth as the Venture’s sensible skipper from King Kong.

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At their destination, the moon LV-223, the film ventures into Alien territory, taking the explorers into an ancient underground installation which appears straight out of H.R. Giger’s original concept work on that 1979 film. These Engineers are definitely familiar creatures, and every bit of the environment pays beautiful homage to Giger’s art.

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While Prometheus begins to morph into a horror film at this point, it is most certainly a thinking-man’s horror film. Instances of creature horror and jump scares are present, but play second-fiddle to an existential horror that evokes H.P. Lovecraft: the Gods are angry, and they will kill us all. The sense of wonder and cosmic purpose pervading the first half of the film subtly shifts to this fear of the known, rather than the unknown, as the crew slowly figures out that the base our forefathers guided us to may not have a benevolent purpose. Even if the Engineers aren’t evil, David once again swipes the spotlight to posit to Holloway, after the drunk scientist claims humans made the android because we could, “How disappointing would it be to hear the same thing from your Maker?”

But this isn’t even the most ambitious part of Lindelof’s and Spaight’s screenplay. The film’s boldest aspect isn’t that it raises these questions, it’s that it doesn’t answer them. This has been one of the chief knocks against the film, but Prometheus isn’t Aliens. Just as we will never truly be sure of our own answers, neither will Shaw or David. Prometheus is a film that is meant to be talked about, discussed, and theorized over.

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A Prometheus hater watching Prometheus.

That being said, even I have to recognize the shortcomings, mostly inherent in the supporting character writing. While I defend the characters of Millburn and Fifield as the comic relief-archetype, I will admit they are not written to the same standard as, say, Brett and Parker where in the first film. And yes, Vickers’ end was incredibly dumb.

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Whether or not one likes Prometheus, everyone had better start getting used to it, as Alien: Covenant, from early reviews, aims to continue its themes of human origins and the power of creation. It is well acted, superbly written (for the most part), and a nice experience for the senses. I suggest that if you are on the fence about it, now is the best time to give it another try.

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