I am not going to spoil whether or not this is an Alien prequel. Sorry, I know you all want to know and everyone already assumes that it is anyway, but I will neither confirm nor deny where this movie stands in the world of sci-fi horror films. Partly because I think it would do you a disservice, and partly because I am a bit afraid that 20th Century Fox would murder me in my sleep. Call it 50/50.
Both Director Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox have been playing the relationship between Prometheus and the Aliens franchise close to the chest. The truth, however, is that the relationship, whether there is one or not, doesn’t really matter. Prometheus is a movie that stands on its own, and it needs to be judged as such.
Prometheus has generated an incredible amount of hype, and in many circles, it is no exaggeration to say that it has been the most anticipated film of the year. Unlike The Avengers which is ripping through the chests of the competition, and unlike the unlocked ATM coming this summer that is The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus has less of a wide spread appeal, but is perhaps equally as fanatically anticipated.
Prometheus is a sci-fi film in the truest sense of the word. It is a fictional film that is heavily reliant on science and the concepts beyond the realm of convention. It is a film that makes you want to think more than it wants to make you jump. The horror angle that the ads have been focusing on is actually a very small part of the film. Prometheus is deeper than that, and far more thought provoking. Or at least it tries to be and succeeds about half way.
The film is about aliens, but not the kind that rip out of chests and spew venom when Bill Paxton shoots them. On Earth in the closing years of this century, in that crater of history and culture known as Scotland <snicker>, two scientists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), confirm their theory and set in motion the events of the film.
The duo soon wake onboard the space ship Prometheus after a cryo-sleep, and find themselves in orbit around a planet that ancient star charts marked out as the home of aliens that may have had a hand in the creation of humanity.
Joined by a crew that includes: Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), an employee of the journey’s sponsor the Weyland Corporation, an android named David (Michael Fassbender), and several others, the crew lands on the planet and discovers artificially made structures.
After exploring the first structure, the crew finds more questions than answers as the remains of a long dead alien race litter the ancient structure. But although the aliens may be long gone, that doesn’t mean the crew is alone.
The story is a moral theorem about the origins of mankind, mixed with a touch of tension. The questions raised are intriguing, and the cast is more than up to the task of conveying complex ideas and ideologies with their performances. The world that Prometheus lands on is stark and monotone at times, but amazing and beautiful as well. Scott and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski have an eye for the more fantastic scenes in the film, and things like watching the ship enter the atmosphere is a highlight and will stick with you. Watching this film in 3D is also the way to go, as Scott’s eye for the technology rivals that of James Cameron.
There is also a certain amount of stylishness to the film that stands out. It is somewhat undercut by the drab and gray nature of the world, but that is a deliberate contrast that is meant to give an oppressive feel to the world in a way that the plot never really achieves. Thankfully the acting is exceptional across the board, which adds a bit of color to the otherwise muted world, and can give you a focus on screen even when the visuals and aesthetics are bland.
A particular standout is Fassbender’s David 8, an android that is both comforting and unnerving all at the same time. Although his performance will be overlooked, it is worthy of award consideration and is reason enough to watch this film. Theron and Idris Elba (who plays Prometheus’ captain) also both eat the screen, but neither are given much to do when all is said and done.
Where the film stumbles is in the attempt to create tension through the surroundings without ever really justifying it with the plot. Prometheus wants to have you on the edge of your seat, but instead it is marred by major points of philosophy and moral conundrums, which would be fine, but the story has massive holes in it that are never addressed and are occasionally even contradictory.
The intention is to make you think and continue to keep your mind racing long after the final credits. Prometheus wants to be mysterious and make you search for the answers on your own, which is great in theory, but there is never enough context given to reach any real conclusions, leaving you with the feeling that there is a cutting room floor filled with additional footage or that a sequel was always the goal of this film. Both are probably true, and neither is a good way to make an entertaining film.
It is just too easy to pick apart the questions the film wants to raise. It becomes slightly bloated and ponderous, and seems to forget to make an engaging film while introducing these questions.
The biggest problem with Prometheus is the lack of tension. It is late into the film before anything even remotely resembling an action scene occurs, and then the movie goes into another lull. Again, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but it does highlight an issue with the pacing of the film.
There is just a spark missing to this film until late into the second act when a horror-like moment is created through the most mind-bogglingly improbable result that involved sheer dumb luck masquerading as a brilliant plan. It makes a bit of sense if you have seen the previous movies in the franchise (that this film may or may not be connected to), but take away the knowledge of a similar incident in another movie and it makes no sense.
Part of the reason for the lack of tension is Marc Streitenfield’s score, which is shockingly inappropriate as it desperately tries to create a memorable theme that will stick in your head. It is oddly light and uplifting, even as characters are screaming.
The music is another example of the idea that Prometheus seems to be at war with itself at times. It knows it has to have some horror elements, but it seems to introduce them grudgingly. This is most evident in the climax, which begins and ends with so much haste that you could blink and miss the ending–which also defies logic. It all feels like a prelude to something else coming in the future that could be amazing, but it does so at the expense of the current film.
All that being said, Prometheus is still a decent film, but it is also a forgettable one that attempts to walk the path of genius but too often seems to not want to do the leg work it needs in order to justify itself. But the art design and visual appeal are worth the price of the ticket though, and the acting is at times phenomenal.
There are several incredible, thought provoking, and substantial ideas that are introduced, but they never mature to anything more than a slightly ponderous series of expositions that are held together by very loose plot points that fall apart with even the most cursory of examination. There is a good film buried in Prometheus, and under that good film is a brilliant one. There is enough to enjoy justifying seeing it, but beyond that, the hype and expectations may do more harm than good for what is sadly average film.