Space oddity – Prometheus review

PrometheusStarring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, and Charlize Theron. Directed by Ridley Scott. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Prometheus is perhaps the best blend of thoughtful science fiction with classic genre thrills since Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. However, much like Sunshine, Prometheus will likely amass detractors disappointed by the final act. Whereas I believe the extremely intense finale of Boyle’s film is earned, it’s harder to support the choices made by director Ridley Scott and screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof in the last minutes of their Alien prequel. Though the first two thirds are fantastically compelling – particularly in the way they ponder some fairly big questions amidst a gradually increasing CO2-filled atmosphere of genetically-modified dread – the movie eventually runs out of oxygen and suffocates under the gravitational weight of its own set-up. Until we reach that point, Prometheus astounds. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

One century from now, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are driven to discover the origin of man, inspired by inscriptions found in the 32,000-year-old Chauvet caves pointing them towards an unexplored intergalactic system. Their thesis is that we were engineered by some kind of higher power (a theory affirmed in the sumptuous and perplexing opening), and they’d very much like to ask those engineers what their goal was. They convince ancient multibillionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) to fund their two-year trip to the cosmos, and they’re joined for the ride by captain Janek (Idris Elba), Weyland’s stern surrogate Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and an android named David (Michael Fassbender), modelled – quite literally – after Peter O’Toole. There are more aboard the good ship Prometheus, but learning names is a task for those less familiar with the Alien series and horror flicks in general. Brace yourselves – they ain’t gonna make it.

Lindelof was one of the creators of Lost, and as much as this project has been purported to feature the DNA of the Alien franchise, the genetic material of that now-defunct TV show has clearly been added to the strain too. There is much Christian imagery, religious allusions, and the protagonists’ quest to discover the meaning of life – or even the afterlife – is practically torn from the scripts of Lost’s final season. The title is similarly taken from Greek mythology; specifically that of the deity who stole fire from the Gods and gifted it to humanity, affording them previously inconceivable power. In the aforementioned first scene, we get to glimpse the engineers/deities building life on Earth, never really determining if it’s intentional, accidental, or experimental. When the ship’s crew arrive at their destination, they’re not greeted by Titans, but rather canisters of black goop that evolves into the xenomorphs and face-huggers we know and love. Have the engineers, fearing our ability to evolve and replicate their power, set for themselves a fail-safe? Do they summon people with the ability to travel through space and build humanoids of their own – like David – to a planet where they will be wiped out indiscriminately by these weapons of mass destruction? Why does God create, only to destroy?

These are the questions that make Prometheus so rich. To consider and recontextualise the opening moments; to ponder the motivations of the engineers; to debate the origins of the alien matter once the credits have rolled is what elevates it above all other recent blockbuster fare. It’s an impressive feat setting up such a confounding, mind-bending, and captivating mystery. That being said, it doesn’t amount to much at all if the filmmakers can’t stick the landing. The final confrontations seem to disregard much of the intelligent groundwork laid earlier. Characters that have been hinted as being significant to the plot are brushed aside without much of a second thought, while we are asked to forget questionable actions made by others so that the table can be set for a follow-up instalment.

There is so much to like in Prometheus, however. Fans of the saga will be pleased to see the mythos expanded (oh, hai Space Jockey!). It’s absolutely gorgeous to behold, and Scott still knows how to maintain tension just as he did 33 years earlier in the original Alien. Composer Marc Streitenfeld’s score recalls Star Trek, which is fitting considering the sense of discovery at the tale’s core. Rapace is a decent Ripley 2.0, successfully carrying off the movie’s most outrageously creepy – and also hilariously gory – set-piece (think of the chest-burster sequence, turned up to 11). Elba almost steals the show, overshadowed slightly by Fassbender’s marvellously mannered and imposing turn as the not-quite-right David; it’s a shame his character is written into a corner in the picture’s miscalculated ending. Theron and Pearce are also intriguing, despite having to battle the lack of a resolution to their storyline, and in the latter case, being buttered in enough layers of old-age make-up to drown both Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer.

Prometheus is easily Scott’s best effort in years, offering food for thought along with your typical popcorn delights. But, if we can stretch the nutrition metaphor further, the film doesn’t finish its meal before moving onto dessert; abandoning a satisfying conclusion in favour of starting work on the inevitable sequel. Naughty Hollywood! Eat your greens!

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Prometheus opens in Australian cinemas June 7, 2012.

12 Responses to “Space oddity – Prometheus review”

  1. Dessert is spelled with two S`s.

  2. of course hollywood will follow with sequel………. that’s what they do, if they think worthwhile. With so much hype ‘for/against’ this title, ‘alien/not alien’ the exposure alone should ensue success good luck, i know i’m one of the dedicated people & this is on high priority ‘to see’ list

  3. Hmm… nice review as always but disappointing to hear that the ending was weak. If it weren’t for the sequel setup, some wishful thinking could have made me hope for a Director’s Cut with a proper ending, like with Blade Runner (several endings in fact, though I’ve only seen the two usual versions).

  4. Visually stunning and the soundscape is extraordinary. My advice is avoid contact with the 22 or so film trailers floating around marketing the film. Fans will notice the nod towards Alien. Worth a look just don’t eat seafood before watching.

  5. Just write a simple normal review instead of trying to use clever sentences & big words, to many attempts trying to come across as some highly educated film goer!

  6. Ii’ve got to say, I didn’t think the ending was weak. Sure, it was a touch ‘cliche’d’, which upon reflection is almost tragic in such an intelligent and original movie, however I did not care at the time. Really, I don’t care so much now. I haven’t seen a movie quite like this one in a very long time and I’m going to be going back to see it again soon. I look forward to the sequels.

  7. As always; an excellent summary and review. Thanks Simon.

  8. Nice, thoughtful review, Simon. I pretty well agree with you but I felt Prometheus lost its way far too often and that you might’ve been a little generous with your score.

    Jr – you’ve obviously got a chip on your shoulder about intelligent film reviewing. Oh well, next time try putting a comma between ‘simple’ and ‘normal’ and spelling ‘to’ as in ‘… to many …’ as ‘too’.

  9. Thanks all for reading! It’s certainly a film that has generated a lot of discussion. Positive or negative, that’s always a good thing.

  10. Really boring movie. Another “Hugo”, if you will. People want to be entertained when they go see a movie–on this point alone Prometheus fails miserably.

    The worst part of this movie is that the story is so stupid and riddled with plotholes that it insults your intelligence and just kills your suspension of disbelief.

    Ridley Scott hasn’t made a good movie since Black Hawk Down. I think part of the problem is that he has not chosen good scripts lately. Visually, Ridley Scott is a genius but movie audiences want a story and characters they can relate to–Prometheus is such a huge disappointment in this respect. Nice visuals but no heart. Prometheus never connects with the audience at any point, and this is a real problem. Even the corny Dances with Smurfs by James Cameron was miles better than Prometheus because audiences could relate to some aspects of the story and characters.

    Honestly, since 1986’s Aliens, there hasn’t been a truly great sci-fi movie. Aliens just hit all the right buttons–great characters, solid plot, great suspense and thrills, and great action. Who can forget Ripley in mum mode kicking the alien queen’s ass? It just connects instantly with audiences–there was no need for tons of meaningless semi-mysterious dialogue like in Prometheus. Everyone understands how ferocious a mum can get when defending her child, people get this instantly. There is nothing like this in Prometheus, just emotionless dialogue and characters doing stupid irrational things.

    Wish that movie directors in general would study Aliens and get back to basics. Seriously folks, this is not rocket science–people just want to be entertained. If you’re going to spend hundreds of millions on a movie, (1)don’t insult the audience’s intelligence and (2)make sure the movie is entertaining. Look at Avengers 2012, not a classic by any means but entertaining and it cleaned out at the box-office.

    Heck, even The Artist 2011 was way more entertaining and thought-provoking than Prometheus–and it was made on a $15 million budget in black and white! If Blade Runner 2 is going to be more drivel like Prometheus, seriously Scott–don’t bother.

    The best science fiction movie in the past 3 years remains District 9–made on a small budget yet was superbly entertaining and thought-provoking. Even “Moon” by Duncan Jones (another sci-fi movie made on a small budget) kicks Prometheus’ ass bigtime.

  11. Such an overhyped movie with incredible stupid parts, reminds me of “The Grey”.
    “These are the questions that make Prometheus so rich” but not enough to distract from all those stupid plotholes and the forced wannabe-deepness-philosophy-for-12year-old-sh*t.

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