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Review: ‘Prometheus’

Scott Scores A Qualified Success

Above: Michael Fassbender is the best part of "Prometheus."

So is Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" (opening June 8 throughout San Diego) worth the wait and living up to the hype? The answer is both yes and no. (And spoiler free.)

Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" has a permanent place in the pantheon of horror/sci-fi films. I want to remind people that when it came out it was on the heels of "Star Wars" and all the "Star Wars" inspired films that served up likable, even lovable aliens, robots, and exotic creatures. So "Alien" arrived to say screw that, aliens and robots should be scary. It was a refreshing change of pace that then inspired its own legion of rip offs and imitations.

The franchise has attracted some big name directors: James Cameron ("Aliens," 1986), David Fincher ("Alien 3," 1992), and Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Alien Resurrection," 1997), and delivered some interesting twists to the story. (Sorry I don't count the "AvP" films as really being part of the Alien franchise.)

Ridley Scott directs Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus."

20th Century Fox

Above: Ridley Scott directs Noomi Rapace in "Prometheus."

Now Ridley Scott returns to the franchise that he fathered (and abandoned) to deliver a prequel. His return generated a huge amount of buzz and anticipation, further fueled by a series of clever viral videos. Now that the film has finally arrived it proves to be both satisfying but a touch disappointing. It is well worth seeing if you are a fan of Scott or the franchise but I was hoping for something more from the man who also gave us "Blade Runner."

Extras from the press kit. The medical pod figures prominently in one of my favorite scenes.

20th Century Fox

Above: Extras from the press kit. The medical pod figures prominently in one of my favorite scenes.

"Prometheus" is set in the "Alien" universe but about 150 years before Dallas, Ripley, and the Nostromo had their lethal encounter with the less than friendly E.T. In "Prometheus," a pair of scientists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), have been studying past civilizations in the hopes of finding a key to man's origins. They think they find a clue in an ancient cave and end up on an expedition funded by the Weyland Corporation to go out and explore some possibilities far off in space. But when they get to the foreign planet, what they find is not exactly what they expected.

In a nutshell, the best thing about "Prometheus" can be summed up in two words: Michael Fassbender. Fassbender plays David, the latest (or earliest if speaking in terms of chronology) android in the "Alien" franchise. (And that's not a spoiler.) Fassbender's David is by far the most interesting character in the film. Early on we find him watching a scene from "Lawrence of Arabia." It is the scene containing the line from T.E. Lawrence that Peter Weyland quotes in the viral video that came out. It's the scene where T.E. Lawrence (played by Peter O'Toole) shows his trick of extinguishing a lit match between his finger. When asked what the trick is Lawrence replies: "The trick is, not caring that it hurts."

After watching the scene, David dyes his hair blond and sports a jacket reminiscent of what Lawrence wears. It's an interesting connection to make because the similarities (apart from the physical ones) are not immediately evident. David behaves much like a butler (that's Fassbender's description of the character) yet as the story plays out, he does end up displaying some of the arrogance and ego of Lawrence's character. Fassbender is endlessly fascinating as David, and makes the film worth checking out.

Humankind has always been fascinated by trying to determine its own origins. Scott, working from a script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, follows scientists who seek the origins of man in order to gain knowledge and answers. They are a contrast to Weyland who funds the exploration for more selfish and personal reasons. There's a nice parallel set up between the humans seeking their origins and David knowing his. Maybe whatever created the human race is not something god-like and holds no answers. Or maybe the answers, like the answer David gets about his creation, will not be very satisfying.

The origin tale gets a spin in "Prometheus."

Above: The origin tale gets a spin in "Prometheus."

At times the themes are played up too overtly and without the complexity I was hoping to find. Some scenes are downright awkward in their scripting and dialogue (the more intimate, the more awkward). I also had uncomfortable flashbacks to the "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" (with its Voyager connection). Those flashbacks were partially inspired by the music cues that were annoyingly heavy-handed. The origin story gets a little spin too because it's not merely the origin of the human species that gets explored but the origins of alien as well. So we get to mee Alien in an earlier, and you could say pre-Giger, form.

Visually, the film is quite impressive. The 3D looks amazing (I highly recommend seeing it at one of the Cinepolis luxury theaters where the 3D is state of the art and the screens are so bright). It was not gimmicky 3D but more about presenting an immersive experience that enhances the film. I do miss H. R. Giger's influence on the look and design of the film and the aliens. There are hints of his original work but nothing as dark or twisted (some of his designs on the first film were supposedly rejected for being too overtly sexual). Giger's absence may have also contributed to another problem I have with "Prometheus:" the production design. The major problem with the production design is that although this film predates the "Alien" timeline, the technology here looks more advanced. The film suffers from the same problem as the "Star Wars" prequels. The film industry has become so much more advanced in its technology and effects are such a draw for audiences that it seems like filmmakers can't resist the urge to make each film shinier and more slick, even if that doesn't make sense for the story being told.

Here are a few of the other things I liked about "Prometheus:" a crazy medical pod that someone uses for clever emergency surgery; the discovery of who those "space jockeys" are; the way Guy Pearce is used in the film; the fact that it's R rated (big Yay!); and the breathtaking opening.

"Prometheus" (rated R for R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language) is definitely worth seeking out in a theater. I was hoping for something more jaw-droppingly impressive but then Scott is a somewhat erratic director. He has given us some breathtaking work ("Blade Runner"), solid storytelling ("Gladiator"), eccentric excursions ("The Duellists"), novelty pieces ("Thelma and Louise") and genre fun ("Alien"). But he has also given us disappointing to bad movies like "1492," "G.I. Jane," "Legend," "Black Rain," "Hannibal," and "Kingdom of Heaven." "Prometheus" scores a qualified success. It's also nice to see the "Alien" franchise do something noteworthy after the ridiculous "AvP" films.

Companion viewing: "Alien," "Aliens," "Blade Runner"

Comments

Avatar for user 'rainestorm'

rainestorm | June 9, 2012 at 7:41 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

As usual, I'm the odd man out. This film was complete mess nearly from the outset and once the absurdity kicks in (very early), every scene becomes more inane than the last.

My review is below.

http://movies.rainestorm.com/2012/06/09/scientific-improbability/

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | June 9, 2012 at 7:52 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Yes, you do tend to be odd man out. How could you not like Fassbender? I don't see him as "bland malevolence" or a knock off of Ash. He's far more interesting.

But we agree on the first Alien being good?

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Avatar for user 'vpolichar'

vpolichar | June 9, 2012 at 8:34 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Thanks for the spoiler-free, excellent review. I think this prepares me well for the movie (which I may or may not see, but leaning "yes-with-low-expectations".)

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | June 9, 2012 at 10:18 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Yes that's a good way to go into it.

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Avatar for user 'scifinut'

scifinut | June 10, 2012 at 12:58 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

I think RAPACE that played Dr. Shaw was severly miscast. She doens't have the intellect, she has this horrible cheek implants and nose job. Her voice is annoying and when she's upset she is just an old shrew. I was hoping for her death throughout the movie beginning within the first 5 minutes of the movie. She sucked.

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Avatar for user 'rainestorm'

rainestorm | June 10, 2012 at 9 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Beth, for the most part, I did enjoy Fassbender. But his little boy wonder (highly reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment's David from A.I.) is upended by his absurd purpose.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | June 10, 2012 at 9:59 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Now scifinut, tell me what you really think? ;)

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Avatar for user 'rainestorm'

rainestorm | June 10, 2012 at 12:33 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

I didn't like it. :-P

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | June 10, 2012 at 2:13 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Rainestorm- really? I was uncertain of your opinion. Thanks for clarifying. ;)

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Avatar for user 'bean'

bean | June 12, 2012 at 8:07 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Everyone has the wrong Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Dr. Shaw was played by Rooney Mara, not Noomi Rapace.

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Avatar for user 'bean'

bean | June 12, 2012 at 9:10 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Oops - got bad info - sorry about that!

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | June 13, 2012 at 10:53 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

It's worth it to see this film. I think it's best next to the original Alien. The sequels don't come close to Prometheus.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | June 13, 2012 at 2:16 p.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

Although I gag a little when I say this, Cameron's Aliens is the best of the sequels. Most commercial as well. But Cameron has so disappointed me with pretty much everything after Aliens. Abyss and T2 are ok but then all downhill from there.

I do think that Prometheus attempts the most interesting ideas of the franchise. Even if it comes up short on the answers.

Thanks for the comments.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | June 19, 2012 at 9:50 a.m. ― 2 years, 6 months ago

You've got to be kidding about THE ABYSS. As far as Cameron's films go, that is his most underrated.

Dramatically the the Harris-Mastroantonio (did I get that right?) relationship was far more believable than the macho Arnie-rich housewife Curtis relationship of TRUE LIES or the n'er do well androgynous Jack and society girl relationship of TITTANIC.

Technically it's just as good as any of them. As far as the story, there is much more depth in THE ABYSS than in Speilberg's anti-climatic CLOSE ENCOUNTERS.

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