Friday, June 8, 2012

"Prometheus" (2012)

Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron
Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Directed by Ridley Scott
Rated R - Sci-fi violence and brief language
Running Time: 124 Minutes

Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have made an amazing discovery: ancient civilizations on Earth sharing a common imagery that they couldn't possibly have in common.  They're excited to find that the images are actually coordinates for a star system light-years away from Earth.

Several years later, Shaw, Holloway and a team of explorers and scientists arrive on LV-223 via the starship Prometheus.  Along for the ride is ship's captain Janek (Idris Elba), icy Wayland Corp. representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), android David (Michael Fassbender) and a handful of scientists, doctors, and ship's crew.  Shaw and Holloway explain their theory that a race of beings they call the Engineers are actually responsible for the rise of human life on Earth, and that the cave paintings were an invitation to come and meet them.

On LV-223, Shaw and the others discover a massive hollow structure full of corridors and a breathable atmosphere.  Further mysteries compound: the human expedition soon finds that the Engineers within are all dead.  A series of containers seems to be leaking black, organic material of unknown composition.  The crew brings some samples back to the ship to examine as a storm closes in, but soon things begin to go very wrong. Two of the scientists are trapped in the alien structure, and they are not alone.  Some kind of creature lurks within the black liquid.  Back aboard the ship, David reveals that he has ulterior motives as he begins to experiment with the liquid himself.

As Shaw learns more about the creatures and the fate of her vaunted Engineers, she begins to realize just how wrong she was about them.  And if she can't stop what's happening on LV-223, the Earth may just suffer the same horrific fate as the Engineers.

"Prometheus" is the long-awaited return of director Ridley Scott to the "Alien" franchise.  Though it takes place in the same fictional universe, "Prometheus" is not quite a prequel to the first films.  It shares a number of characteristics, and by the end of it I wanted to leap right into watching "Alien," but it presents a story that goes off in a different direction.

This return to that universe, exploring a different corner of the same room, so to speak, is fascinating.  On a purely technical level, "Prometheus" is a gorgeous film.  From the sets to the costumes to the gorgeous effects, everything is perfect.  The interior of the Prometheus itself looks very much like the ships from Scott's own "Alien" and James Cameron's follow-up "Aliens."  Even though there are lots of floating holographic screens, the ship still feels very real and has lots of small details that make it look futuristic but lived-in.

The designs of the various creatures is also excellent, what little we really get to see of them.  The alien Engineers (the so-called "Space Jockey" from the original film) are revealed to be much different than we thought from the short previous glimpses, but far more sinister.  The revelations regarding their true nature, and their true appearance, are key to the plot of "Prometheus," and add a fascinating new layer to the franchise.

The performances of the cast are uniformly first-rate.  Noomi Rapace isn't quite the heroine Sigourney Weaver was, but mostly it's the script that doesn't allow her to perform similar functions within the film, even though the climax seems to recall the ending of "Alien." Still, she has many fine scenes, and she really sells the idealism of her character, the drive to meet the Engineers and ask important "meaning of life" questions.

The standout in a film already loaded with good acting is Michael Fassbender as David.  Every scene he's in, he takes command of with subtlety and grace.  When his actions are sinister, his innocent, almost child-like manner becomes all the creepier.  His performance seems informed by the artificial life forms in "Alien" and "Aliens" played by Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen, but he doesn't copy them.  Ultimately, those performances are even closer to human than Fassbender's, which makes the precursor concept of he character fantastic in execution.

For all this praise I've heaped upon "Prometheus," the film is not without its problems.  Its pace is rather slow, and at times the narrative seems a bit unfocused.  Occasionally, the characters' motivations aren't particularly clear, either.  A noble sacrifice late in the film by several of the ship's crew rings hollow - people who earlier in the film said they were in this for the money suddenly decide they want to do the right thing, but we're not really sure why they did such a thing instead of just running away and saving their own asses.  Other times, a character's motivation is revealed late in the game and suddenly their seemingly complex behavior beforehand seems... unjustified.  Overall, the script asks a few too many questions that it doesn't answer, and some of the concepts it presents just aren't explored deeply enough.

And, now, this may simply be a personal thing, but I didn't find the film particularly scary, save for a few brief moments.  While I was entertained and fascinated by it, I didn't feel the terror I think I was supposed to be feeling.  Other reviewers have talked about how relentlessly scary this film is, but I didn't see it.  The violence in "Prometheus" is much more obvious and straight-forward than in "Alien," which almost makes "Prometheus" feel more like Cameron's take on the story.  Again, that's just me... other people seem to be responding more to the horror aspects of the film.

I need to see "Prometheus" again.  I need to temper my expectations and look past all the glossy window trappings at what's really going on.  I want to look into it and have more than just these impressions to share.  Right now, my feelings are that the script is the weakest point of "Prometheus," but I suspect that a second or third viewing might help me solidify my feelings on the whole enterprise.

And I need to see the last minute again.

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