Scott Scores A Qualified Success
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.)
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."
"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.
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"