A lot of people had really high expectations for “Prometheus.” I wasn’t one of them. I do like “Alien” and “Aliens,” but I haven’t seen any of the other films in the franchise, and I’m generally not given to ruminating on the mythology of made-up movie worlds for more than five minutes.
This attitude might explain why I loved “Prometheus,” which might or might not be a prequel to “Alien,” but is definitely set in the same universe. Both films were directed by Ridley Scott, who in recent years has made his share of mediocre films, but demonstrates why his early work generated so much excitement.
“Prometheus” is the rare film that is worth seeing in 3-D, and its astonishing special effects and visual design are the main reason I’m willing to forgive virtually all of its flaws. Salon film critic Andrew O’Hehir suggests that Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, Arthur Max’s production design, and the art direction of John King, Marc Homes, Karen Wakefield and their team are the true stars of the film, and I have to agree. From the film’s entrancing opening scene, in which the camera sweeps over a landscape of stunning beauty, before settling on an alien who disintegrates into a waterfall, his DNA triggering some sort of transformative event, I was completely engrossed.
“Prometheus” makes the best use of cutting-edge film technology since “Avatar,” and recalls that film’s ambition and scope. Like “Avatar,” “Prometheus” is occasionally bogged down by a clunky script, but I was so immersed in the images and overall atmosphere that I didn’t really care. After being somewhat disappointed by all the other big-budget films I’ve seen recently, “Prometheus” hit me like a blast of fresh air. Despite being clearly influenced by a number of science-fiction films — including “2001,” “The Thing from Another World,” John Carpenter’s “Dark Star” and more recent films, such as “A.I.” — “Prometheus” doesn’t feel at all derivative.
The film focuses on two archeologists, Elisabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green), who find what they believe is a star map drawn by a race of aliens. They convince a mysterious billionaire to bankroll an expedition to search for the aliens, and are put into a deep sleep while traveling, leaving an android named David (Michael Fassbender) to run the ship. David awakens the crew as they get closer to the moon; also on board is an unpleasant representative from the billionaire’s company, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, who has been playing really mean characters lately.) The ship lands and a small crew sets out to find the aliens; Shaw and Holloway believe that the aliens created human life, and want to know why, while Vickers is less interested in hearing what the aliens have to say, and forbids direct contact.
For its first hour, “Prometheus” is been a fairly thought-provoking science-fiction film, posing interesting questions about the nature of human existence, whether there’s a god and, if so, whether that god is caring and benevolent. (An interaction between David and Charlie suggests that Scott has a pretty grim view of the universe; when David asks Charlie why humans invented androids, Charlie says, “Because we could,” but lacks the self-awareness to consider whether his creator would give the very same answer, if asked.)
In its second half, the film segues into a much more traditional sci-fi thriller, with the team of explorers SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! having some nasty encounters with a nasty liquid they find in a cave, and David surreptitiously spiking Charlie’s drink with it. Unsurprisingly, things start to go very badly — one of the scientists is attacked in the cave, when the liquid forms a menacing, cobra-like creature, and Charlie develops a dangerous infection, after impregnating Elisabeth with a hostile alien baby. This leads to one of boldest, ickiest movie scenes in recent memory, in which Elisabeth figures out how to use one of the ship’s operating tables to give herself a C-section.
“Prometheus” leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which has been pinpointed by critics as a flaw. I think Scott’s refusal to explain everything is intentional, for two reasons: He’s probably going to make a sequel, and he understands that some questions don’t have answers.
That said, “Prometheus” does occasionally require a willingness to overlook a certain lack of logic. For instance, these might be the dumbest scientists I have ever seen in a movie. (I have friends who are scientists, and they are a lot smarter than these guys. You’d think a billionaire with unlimited resources at his disposal would be able to hire a more talented staff.) Also: Would a woman who just oversaw her own C-section really be able to run around a spaceship battling aliens? I don’t think so. On the other hand, I really enjoyed watching Noomi Rapace transition from archeologist to action hero; she’s not quite as compelling as Sigourney Weaver in the original “Alien” films, but she’s close.
So “Prometheus” isn’t perfect. Perhaps it loses something when it transitions into more of a horror film, although the horror film parts are pretty enjoyable, albeit in a sick and twisted sort of way. But it makes other big-budget films look weak and small-minded, and contains so many cool things that it’s difficult to take them all in. I can’t wait to see it again.
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