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Review | Prometheus

I am the girl who, to this day, cannot watch director Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien without hiding my eyes and jumping at every scare. It’s one of the most perfect films ever made, and after 33 years, it’s as effective as ever.

Sadly, history won’t be as kind to Prometheus.

Perhaps it’s unfair to so doggedly compare Scott’s latest to Alien, but — whether you consider the director’s return to the Alien universe a prequel or simply a continuation of its themes — the parallels are abundant. Prometheus is one part fascinating, one part frustrating, and endlessly discussable. And within that last bit lies its merit. It’s not so much that Prometheus’ heart isn’t in the right place; it’s just that its guts get in the way. The script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof needs a chest-bursting, to say the least.

There’s a lot for purists to love in the first act: We’re treated to Scott’s understated introduction of the spaceship Prometheus, via the wanderings of android David (Michael Fassbender), as the crew slumbers in stasis. He ambles through the washed-out, spare kitchen, control deck, exercise and entertainment rooms, watching Lawrence of Arabia, clutching a basketball and peering at holographs of crew members’ dreams. These quiet moments give us a glimpse into the locations we’ll be familiarized with, but the fact that David is our chauffeur resonates strongest. He’s truly the film’s most-faceted, fully realized figure, in no small part due to Fassbender’s brilliant performance. Among many of the themes that Prometheus unravels, meeting (and questioning) one’s maker is its most fascinating. And David, a robot created by man to mimic and assist him, but who also struggles with the reason programmed within him, is an omnipresent reminder of that.

Perhaps this is also why the human characters seem so wooden in comparison, though frankly that’s giving their pithy development a pass. The rest of Prometheus’ crew consists of hollow archetypes boasting confusing (or, at times, nonexistent) back stories and motives.

Charlize Theron, as corporate representative Meredith Vickers, gets the most succinct introduction, emerging from stasis first and immediately launching into a round of push-ups. She’s present to keep the mission on track, and she does so with a steely, detached demeanor. We’re supposed to hate her — she embraces the cold-hearted bitch role with reckless abandon — but her decisions continually make sense (in fact, they’re eerily reminiscent of Ripley’s actions in Alien).

Among the rest of the crew are Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), archaeologists and romantic partners brought aboard for their knowledge of ancient cave drawings depicting alien encounters. The two divulge that the ship is headed to a shared point among nine of their archaeological sites — a planet where they believe the answers to the origin of man exist. They’re hopeful that, upon landing, they’ll make contact with these Engineers, and the rest of the crew has been recruited to assist. Most notable among them is the otherwise-excellent Idris Elba as Captain Janek, relegated to generally hovering about the deck quipping orders in a velvety tone. He and Theron make the best of one sparky scene together, but his talents are sorely underutilized.

There are some awe-inspiring moments shortly after they dock, when the group enters a hollow dome structure containing a massive human-like head (a goose bumps-inducing reveal akin to landing on Easter Island, only, y’know, in space). Canisters within pose a mystery that quickly reveals itself, and this is about the time when the plot begins to trip over its own ambiguity, weaving the untied ends of confused religious undertones, baffling character arcs and ever-evolving motives.

To her credit, Rapace does everything that’s asked of her, and as the main female protagonist, it’s not her fault she’s given a trite backstory, cardboard-cutout love interest and the general inclination to pout sullenly in the face of danger. She’s no Ripley, but then again, Alien didn’t bother with the history of its protagonists. Prometheus, in an effort to take the development a step further, tangles the plights, characters and action pieces into a mess of clichéd confusion.

The rapidly unhinging plot showcased in the second and third acts admittedly doesn’t altogether spoil the film, however. First and foremost, Ridley shot in native 3D, and he showcases the technology incredibly. Every frame is rich with saturated colors, flawless lighting and impressive effects, and the creature design (namely, the desaturated humanoid-on-steroid Engineers) is inspired. It’s undoubtedly a film to be seen in 3D (this coming from someone who almost always shuns the technology). Prometheus is a technical showcase of sweeping vistas, claustrophobic caves, otherworldly compounds and futuristic living spaces; if only the narrative could follow suit in brazen, bold style.

And where the action is concerned, the trademark Scott tension is instilled early on, building and releasing to harrowing effect throughout. You’ll white-knuckle your way through the gross-outs and jump scares. (At one point during my screening, a woman near me tossed up her hands and yelled, “I can’t take it!” The outburst made me smile.) Scott, in his sci-fi element, hasn’t lost his touch.

There’s a simple, effective story somewhere within Prometheus, a straightforward yarn about searching for meaning, and being displeased with the discoveries made along the way. While it looks phenomenal and thoroughly entertains, you may find yourself left wanting when it comes to the details. And they will inexplicably haunt you. Will Prometheus land itself the same classic status as its predecessor? Not likely. Will you find yourself talking it over with friends long after the credits roll? Definitely.

It seems like an easy pass to say Prometheus dangles unanswered questions due to the possibility of additional movies — but that’s a likely argument you’ll encounter. Even franchise films need to be self-contained, but, at the end of the day, you’re probably going to see Prometheus anyway. And it inspires a conversation worth having.

Prometheus opens today nationwide.

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Comments

  • Sadfran

    yeah yeah yeah… a great movie so far, probably the best of 2012.

  • Musicpowered

    Like true Ridley scott films especially where the Alien/Aliens movies are concerned. You always find out more in the directors cut and I feel this movie will share the same tradition. Once out on DVD we’ll get even more info. Maybe not all answers that we want, but more than what was originally released.

  • Dedieckmann

    Um, Musicpowered…. ‘Aliens’ was not a Ridley Scott film. It was a James Cameron Film.

  • Paul Moses

    I would agree that this is one of the best movies of 2012 so far, even with the sketchy characterizations.

  • http://twitter.com/ComputerSci5 Cory Jameson

    No. This is a horribly bad film. Damon Lindelof RUINED IT. The plot holes that he introduced are unforgivable. 

    Visually, Ridley Scott is a master. There are visuals in this film that are truly breathtaking. But the plot and the reactions of various characters are moronic. 

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    Also, the directors cut of Aliens is terrible compared to the actual version. 45 minutes extra that serves to destroy tension in an already long film? No thanks please.

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    It’s hard to blame only Lindelof and not Scott too. It’s not like Scott could have looked at the script and gone “too complex, let’s simplify it”. But yeah, the things that Ridley’s good at (the visuals, the overall largeness of his vision) are pretty excellent.

  • madasafish

    Deeply disappointing,no sense of story build up or horror. Technically brilliant, yes, but as a story confused, confusing and muddled.  4 out of 10 … and likely to be forgotten and go to video.

    A waste of effort.

  • http://profiles.google.com/200328sept David Fullam

    This one is going to be divisive. I’ve heard everything from 4 Stars to Alien Episode 1-The Phantom Menace. Got to be honest, I was one of the few who was not blown away from the trailers.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/YJU6CYIVLUW5DMIRVH5PPQP4VE Hypestyle the Hype Man

    I just want the black fellow to survive until the end.  Reverse the cliche’s of the genre!!

  • coalminds

    Part of the problem was that the cast was too large. They go out of their way to establish a crew of 17, but offer very little reason for having so many people. Some of Ridley’s foreshadowing is also overly obvious, and the statement that Vickers acts way more logically than most is accurate. The visuals though.. are incredible. Really worth seeing for that alone.

  • http://twitter.com/JoeTeulon Joe Teulon

    I’ve actually yet to see Alien, so I went in there completely fresh to this. This was a terrible film. Terrible. Nothing happened. There was hardly a plot, and it was painfully obvious where it was going the whole way through. From what I can make out, this is to Alien what The Phantom Menace was to Star Wars.

    Oh and every single one of the people I went with? We were in hysterics. If you really REALLY have to go and see this, watch it as a comedy. It’s hilarious. 

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    It fills in gaps sure, but consequentially destroys the tension. We all know their are aliens on the colony, but don’t really know until finally they find their lair and by then it’s too late. Unless we’ve seen the directors cut, and then we know about the aliens from five minutes in. (Also, Aliens takes a long time to get going anyway, it’s a very slow build, adding 15 minutes on the front takes it over the top.) With the sentry guns it’s the same thing. We know the aliens are going to come right, because they’re the aliens and this is an action film, but we don’t know when, and we don’t know if we can deal with them. Except if we see the directors cut and then we know that they’ve been trying to get in for a bit they just haven’t had any luck. That’s not the same scary aliens as before.

  • http://twitter.com/sparticus Mark Walley

    Transformers 2 was (alongside, terribly acted, badly shot, excessively jingoistic, entirely moronic) far too complicated. Someone should have sat down it Michael Bay and gone “how the hell have you made so much money?” and after that gone “look, this script is too complex, let’s reduce it down to the essentials”. Maybe I should have used the word complicated, as opposed to complex, but the point stands. Prometheus is fun and well acted and beautifully shot in places, but the script is too complicated and so we’re left trying to work out what just went on and if it made sense afterwards. Are you trying to say that the script couldn’t have done with being simplified? That if they’d removed a couple of characters or random scenes it wouldn’t have been a better film? I liked it, and I like films that make me go away and think, but it shouldn’t be thinking “you know what, I’m not sure that made any sense”.

  • Trunks7178

    David’s motivation are all but openly stated.

    He is disappointed with his creators and yet forced to served them. He is superior in every way, but they treat him like a empty toy. He wants to be free and to be recognized by his creators. He can feel. His contempt leads him to be generally aloof about humanity’s safety. His anger leads him to poison the boyfriend, and awe/kindness leads him to finally assist Shaw. 

    As for the Engineers, the sludge was a biological weapon, that was a military facility, and we don’t know why they created humanity and then consequently wanted it destroyed.
    That part was left open, to the film’s credit I feel, for a myriad of reasons:
    To encourage conversation and thought, to have somewhere to go for possible future sequels, and because thematically, to reveal the motivation of the Engineers is to, essentially, answer the question of the meaning to life. 

    Humanity believes itself to be special. Yet we create life for no reason other than we can. 
    That’s disappointing. We’re disappointing. 
    Perhaps that’s why the Engineers want us dead. At any rate, any kind of answer to the question will always be subjective, and if the director injects his truth into the film, it would probably lead to mass rejection and an unsavory film experience because it wouldn’t fit in with our own beliefs. Better to leave it open so that people can draw their own conclusions, insert their own ideologies, and thoroughly enjoy the film raising these questions. 

  • Cjorg

    You call them plot holes. I call them obvious things that don`t need to be explained, and require a modicum of intelligence to figure out. But like said, the curent audience seems to need to have everything explained because they are a passive audience reared on brain numbing fare such as Transformers and Avengers.
    What next, let` complain about plot holes in Taxi Driver because no one has sat down and written 5 pgs of exp position explaining DeNiro`s charact ers motivations? That` just the sign of a lazy audience.

  • Cjorg

    No I don`t, because there wasn` t anything in Prometheus that confused me or needed to be explained. I` d love to go thru it in depth, but I doubt all the spoilers I would reveal would be allowed on the comments section, and understandably why.

  • Cjorg

    I agree with everything you said but why the Engineers wanted to destroy us. The title of the film, and the scene at the very beginning of the film make it clear that humanity was created by a rogue Engineer. Why? For the very same reason Prometheus stole fire from the gods. Like Prometheus, this pacifist Engineer, based on his state of dress, sacrifices himself to bring about humanity that willevolve to challenge the supremacy/ selfishness/ outright evil of his fellow Engineer race. The cave paintings are not invitations, but warnings of the militaristic Engineers and their experiments out in space, that have been delivered by other pacifist Engineers. The reason humanity has been created by this rogue Engineer is so that one day we will overcome the militaristic Engineers who must be some sort of tyrannical race if they are out there creating biological weapons of mass destruction.
    Thats why the Pilot Engineer reacts so badly to the humans – were an unsanctioned experiment that threatens their own survival. The reason he gazes at David, and careses him is that he marvels how far we`ve come since he was put into suspended animation and how much of a threat we are if we can create David, which is creating life. That`s why he goes batshit – he realises his races existence is at stake, aand thats why he is so hellbent on delivering the biological payload to Earth. But luckily humanity kno2s about self sacrifice, and by the crew sacrificing themselves by crashing their ship into the space craft, humanity survives.
    Even the human crew represent the distinction between the Engineers. Humans like Weyland and his daughter are clearly supposed to represent the evil Engineers and how there DNA is promenent in such humans, while Shaw and the captain and crew represent the self sacrificing qualities of the pacifist Engineer who created us. David is clearly stuck in the middle, and is faced with making his own choices, but constrained by his own programming,his own DNA. He is the one who truly gets to decide who he will be – evil and self serving or benevolent and self sacrificing.

  • coalminds

    If questions to a movie are not answered until a possible sequel, the film has failed in telling a story on its own. This isn’t a serialized TV show. I have no idea why you think saying that would defend the movie.

  • adobongpusit

    I read somebody else mention this in another forum but it’s one of the biggest plot holes I’ve seen among many others.

    Why did the engineers leave the cave paintings that point not to their home planet, but to the place where their weapons of mass destruction were kept? That doesn’t make any sense at all.

  • http://www.facebook.com/7heHeat Herson Cruz

    According to Ripley, the engineers wanted us dead because we crucified Jesus – a supposed emissary of theirs. In the movie, they said that the headless body was about 2000 years old, give or take. If you go back 2000 years, we come to events after the crucifixion.

  • adobongpusit

    So, the engineers wanted their creations on earth to visit their military installation, eh? Since, you know, cave paintings.

  • Cjorg

    Why would you leave directions to a weapons facility? Well, lets assume that the pacifist Engineers were the ones who left clues. I` m assuming that because if the militaristic Engineers knew about humanity they would have destroyed us right away. So the clues, and visits were made by the pacifist Engineers using that logic. So why try to get us to visit a weapons facility? Well assuming that was the reason, think about relating it to an earthlike situation. Why might a disgruntled member of a race/ culture send clues to secret weapons factories – to destroy it, to take over the facility and confiscate the weapons, to study them and come up with countermeasures, to use them against their creators. There’s lots of reasons why the pacifist Engineers may have sent them there.
    However, you are also assuming they were asked to visit – they may have been giving warnings NOT to visit, but the scientists didn` t understand the message.
    Personally I think the pacifist Engineers were sending messages over the ages, waiting for humans to evolve to the point where they would be able to visit the weapons facility and confiscate the weapons and also become aware of he threat of the militaristic Engineers to humanity`s existence.

  • Cjorg

    It all comes back to when the pacifist Engineers were visiting earth. And they were visiting earth thousands of years ago when that was the only form of writing humanity used to express themselves. Ancient man didn` t have laptops. The intent of the messages were lost because humanity obviously were not civilised enough to understand the messages that were sent toseveral civilizations across different times. The question I ask is why no recent visits? Maybe the pacifist Engineers didn` survive long enough to visit modern man when it may have been more effective.
    smug comebacks only make it appear that you`re resistant to discussing the topic because you may be embarrased that you haven` t figured it out yourself.

  • adobongpusit

    If the “pacifist engineers” were the ones who left clues and wanted us “to destroy it, to take over the facility and confiscate the weapons, to
    study them and come up with countermeasures, to use them against their
    creators” that’s a lot of stupid assumptions on the part of the pacifist engineers that humanity would:

    a) have the ability to destroy those facilities – that engineer technology wouldn’t continue to advance at the same rate that we’re advancing our own technology such that thousands of years later, even with us developing FTL, we’re still waaay behind engineer technology.

    Think of it this way, you belong to a race of a very advanced, space-traveling, bio-engineering species. You create a new specie which will go through the motions of building their own civilizations, devoloping their own technology and somehow hope they would have a match against your own technologically-advanced species?

    b) know that we’re supposed to destroy those facilities instead of, say, thinking it an invitation?

    If the “pacifist engineers” intended the message for us to NOT visit the military installation, the way to do that is this: not make those damn cave paintings in the first place. Space is  a pretty big area and we wouldn’t even have met up with the Alien in part 1 if there weren’t a signal pointing to it, anyway. Or, perhaps the engineers should have used a little bit more brains and gave more explicit instructions.

    Seriously, just because they are an alien, inscrutable species whose minds are mysterious and unknowable doesn’t mean they wouldn’t know what symbology would refer to DANGER! and what symbols would refer to peace and warmth and invitation. Specially if they might have been in constant contact with the human species at least during the early parts of our development as a species and have some idea of our proto-language traits.

    Also, “confiscate the weapons?”

    You’re saying they were expecting their weapons facility to still be there after thousands of years (instead of a homeworld, which would more likely be more permanent than a military installation), that we would be at a technological level that would have a fighting chance against their own supposedly constantly developing technology at that point enough to confiscate said weapons?

    And if they were really as pacifist as you say, you’re implying that they believe we wouldn’t abuse those weapons against ourselves or against the pacifist engineers (assuming they’re a sub-group that’s still around and not wiped out by the time we get FTL) once we have access to them? Because unless they did some engineering of our human psyches themselves, they would have to expect that we’d have all the tendency to be as warlike as their own species, anyway.

    Or were they just using the humans to theoretically wipe out the rest of their engineer species and ourselves with it? In that case, they wouldn’t be pacifists now, would they? In tvtropes.org there’s a term for that, it’s Xanatos Gambit.

  • coalminds

    Yes, I’m saying the film got an F, which is why i said I liked it a few comments earlier. I don’t understand the internet’s reading comprehension.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=742034767 Stewart Cook

    Full of cliches?? You obviously didn’t get the mythologically rich nature of the film, myths are the birthplace of these cliches and tropes espoused in the film.

    Probably worth knowing what you’re talking about before writing a review. 

  • AquaBro

    I loved it. I was a fan of Scott’s previous sci-fi stuff, including Alien and this is up there with them for me.

    See it for the wonderfull visuals if nothing else,  only wished I would have seen it in IMAX because the set peices were so good.

  • Benjonesart

     no I dont like dumbed down movies but I also don’t like movies that solely use suggestion to close story questions created within the movie. The movie does not SUCK but i give it a C- at best because of the lacking nature to answers instead of more questions.

  • Benjonesart

     I understand where your coming from and agree in some instances but my problem is, I spent the whole movie making my own judgements about what the hell was going on, and it seemed the characters themselves made illogical jumps to false conclusions, but the truth was never SAID. Im always one that likes movies that leave a little mystery but the whole movie felt like a mystery not just a couple of plot holes.

  • Benjonesart

     Jumping to conclusions does not make that an answer to anything. You have made these conclusions without solid proof from the movie. No where within the movie did it show the Jockeys and humans interact with the exception of cave paintings. Hell we don’t even know if the creation of the human race with intentional or accidental.

  • Benjonesart

     First how in the world are you going to make the jump of him being aloof to humanity because he is forced to serve human kind, especially when it shows Weyland treating him more like a son than anything. Hell even Charlize “SEEMED” pissed that he was being treated like that and not her as the actual child.

    We have no info whatsoever that the sludge, the planet or the facility was a military based or weapons based. The comment from the pilot? He knows as much about the aliens or less than anyone on the ship but HE KNOWS? come on really? Either bad writing or just silliness.

    Im not asking for everything to be revealed just give me something. Like lets say finally the xenomorph explained by David reading, in english, the inscriptions. Can you see where im coming from?

  • Benjonesart

     This was not a sequel and really was not a prequel under the usual definition. This movie is meant to run parallel to the Alien franchise even though these events happen well before Alien. I highly doubt that there will be a sequel because of the bigger movies coming out with squash its sells with only making 144mil so far. It might and I mean might, make 300 mil after its complete theater run and im betting the production cost of the movie +marketing cost.

  • Benjonesart

     The first movie, and don’t be fooled into thinking that this isn’t or won’t be considered the first movie, can not be a set up just for more sequels to explore. Studios want to make money and could care less about the lore ect. If it generates money and creates an incentive to make more then they will. Im a comic book artist and writer and in the serialized nature of that industry its a big no no to make the first comic simply a set up for the rest. You have to hook the people.

  • Benjonesart

     So now we are considering the anceint alien theory as mythological? Prometheus brought fire from the gods and gave it to humanity which in turn birthed the age of technology. This movie brought no mythology to the table, if you look hard enough people will see anything as the truth and I see a lot of people doing just that. I personally wanted this to be the movie of 2012 but it did not even come close to what people were looking for.

  • Benjonesart

     not one shred of evidence showed that the sludge was a weapon, NOT ONE. Using my “common sense” a highly technological race of beings could be using this stuff as a seeding agent on planets to take terraforming to a whole new level and it got out of control?

    How in the world do you jump to a rogue jockey creating the human race, another jump with no proof whatsoever given in the movie about it. Your trying to cover up the holes in the story because you liked it, or you’re another Scott fanboy.

    Weyland was a douche bag and there might be, and im stretching it here, enough circumstantial evidence to say Weyland wanted her impregnated especially if you include info from the previous movies on how much the company wanted the xenomorph. Ill give you this one through gritted teeth.

    Oh and here is something for you and your common sense as a writer artist and aerospace engineer. So your common sense tells you that highly advanced species that had been on earth 35000 years or more needs to come up with a highly complex and dangerous weapon to wipe out the human race? if using the current time line in Prometheus 80 years before the movies setting they could have simply launched a 6+ mile asteroid from the belt and destroyed damn near every human on the planet. Your talking about the equivalent of using a thermonuclear device on a herd of buffalo because we don’t like them.