I’ll admit that Prometheus wasn’t even on my summer movie radar; I had never seen Alien so when I heard rumors that Prometheus would revisit that universe (and would be a possible prequel) I wasn’t particularly interested. Science Fiction isn’t one of my favorite genres so I figured this movie just wasn’t for me. But then, much like what happened with Revenge, I noticed that a lot of different types of people were talking about Prometheus and were very excited for it. At every movie screening I attended for the last month, I overheard someone in line talking about their anticipation for the movie. There was a genuine buzz around the film and if there is one thing I hate it is being late to the pop culture party. So when I was presented with the opportunity to go to a midnight screening of the film for free, I decided to take it.
But I also didn’t want to go into the movie unprepared, so before the screening I made the effort to watch Alien. While I firmly believe that movies that are sequels or prequels should be able to stand on their own or they have failed, I also wanted to be able to catch any references. Besides, Alien has been on my list of movies I should see for a while now and this seemed like as good an opportunity as any to take the plunge. I was surprised to find that Alien came out in 1979; for some reason I figured it was the mid-80s since so many of my peers had seen it. I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t quite what I had imagined it would be. It held up remarkably well for a movie that was over 30 years old and it was fun to see a young Tom Skerritt as the ship’s captain. Also a surprise was the appearance of Yaphet Kotto as one of the ship’s mechanics; he was the Lieutenant on one of my favorite shows of all time, Homicide: Life on the Streets. I was already aware of the iconic “alien from the stomach” scene, thanks to the parody of it that appeared in Spaceballs (which I watched a lot as a kid):
As it turns out, I probably didn’t have to do the homework before going to see Prometheus. While the movie does take place in the same world as Alien (though a few decades earlier), there are not a lot of allusions to the film. Prometheus totally works even if you’ve never seen Alien.
Prometheus follows the story of the crew aboard the titular ship. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Swedish version) and Charlie Halloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil) are two archeologists who believe they have stumbled upon the answer to where humans come from (hint: it involves aliens). With the assistance of the mysterious Weyland Corporation, they put together a team to travel to a distant planet to test out their theory and to see if they can make contact with “the engineers” of humankind. On board are an icy representative of the corporation (Charlize Theron), the ship’s pilot (Idris Elba, The Wire), a lifelike robot (Michael Fassbender, Shame) charged with taking care of them during their journey and various other scientists and crew members. Once they land on the planet and begin exploring the terrain, things do not exactly unfold as they expected. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that you might not want to get too attached to anyone.
All of the actors are strong in the movie; they do a great job with the weighty philosophical subject matter as well as the action sequences. A particular standout was Fassbender, who was completely believable as a humanoid. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a flesh and blood real person. He is very compelling and any time he was on the screen it made the movie just a little bit better. Theron has the cold and aloof woman down to a science at this point; between this role, her turn as the wicked queen in Snow White and the Huntsman and her performance last year in the great Young Adult, I have to admit that I think I am a little afraid of her. She’s kind of intimidating and scary. They need to put her in a movie with kittens to soften her up for a spell. She’s extremely effective. Rapace and Marshall-Green are also very good as the romantically involved doctors. Rapace’s Shaw is a continuation of the Scott portrayal of strong women, first originated by Sigourney Weaver in Alien. The women in his movies are no shrinking violets and can take care of themselves, as evidenced by one memorable scene where Shaw has to take matters into her own hands to take care of business. I’m always happy to see Elba in anything (long live Stringer Bell!!) and he and the supporting cast all contribute to the success of the movie.
Prometheus is a visually stunning movie; the opening scene is absolutely gorgeously crafted. The sweeping landscapes could take your breath away and all the action is beautifully shot. Throughout the movie, you feel like you are actually on an alien planet. It’s all kind of epic. The first hour or so of the film, you are completely engrossed in the panoramic views and the unfolding story. I looked at my watch and couldn’t believe how quickly the time was flying by. The film is very atmospheric and similar in tone to Alien; you have an impending sense of dread as you watch. This is not your typical summer movie – if you go into Prometheus expecting a lot of nonstop action and an alien “shoot ‘em up” you will be disappointed. Scott slowly builds to the spectacular moments and they feel earned. The aliens are used sparsely, but effectively.
Unfortunately, after the first hour the fingerprints of co-writer Damon Lindelof become more apparent. Lindelof is best known for the television show Lost, which unfortunately shares a bit too much DNA with the second act of Prometheus. The movie raises a whole lot of interesting questions and issues that we just never get the answers to, much like Lost. We never understand the motivation of several characters and their actions within the film. For example, one character does something to severely jeopardize the success of the mission, but we are never privy to what his or her agenda is. There is a lot left unresolved in the last half of the movie, to the point where I thought I might have missed something (it was a midnight movie, after all, and my second screening of the night; I was a little tired). The movie gets too bogged down in trying to find existential meaning, without resolving the basic issues already posed. Essentially, the film gets into its own head and can’t juggle the mysteries to any great satisfaction. Even though the movie is very enjoyable, I left the cinema feeling a little let down and confused. I didn’t need an answer to everything, but it was frustrating that there were answers to so little. I’m beginning to think Lindelof is not a closer; he just can’t end things well. These problems mar what is otherwise a very entertaining film and prevent it from being truly great.
Despite the flaws in the second half, Prometheus is still a very good movie. The direction, cinematography and acting are reason alone to check it out. Even the use of 3-D didn’t really bother me; the movie is pretty dark to begin with, so the added dimness that 3-D glasses usually contribute was not distracting or problematic. I think the movie just bit off a bit more than it could actually deliver and it might have benefited from a slightly refined scope. Prometheus tackles some pretty heady stuff (Where do we come from? What is our purpose? What happens when we die?) and it would be nice if the movie could have resolved some of the basic plot points to give more attention to the more lofty issues raised.
Prometheus opens nationwide today.