Ahh, Prometheus. How I have waited for you so. Were you worth the wait? For the most part, hella yes. But my position must be explained.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was all of eleven years old when the original Alien came out in 1979. My only connection with it was through the articles and photos of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Starlog — not to mention the masterful comic adaptation by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson. It would be a few years later when I would actually see the film via premium cable television, and it was all the better. Here were the fruits of Giger, O’Bannon and Scott — here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron. I was pierced by tendrils, and burned by acid blood — and loved every second of it.
And some thirty-odd years later comes Ridley Scott with Prometheus: A film which doesn’t directly involve itself with Alien, but has “a shared DNA”.
Well, it wouldn’t be the same. It couldn’t — not after Cameron’s Aliens (a classic in its own right), the much-maligned Alien3 — and not even Joss Whedon’s wit could save the miasma that was Alien:Resurrection. And don’t get me started on the whole AvP “franchise”. While it may have worked out well for videogames, the films suffered. According to Scott, Prometheus would not involve the “xenomorphs” of the previous films — but instead would focus on the mysterious “Space Jockey” from the first film. I was intrigued.
In fact, Prometheus is the tale of Elizabeth Shaw (the adorable Noomi Rapace), who heads a space-faring expedition to the faraway planetoid LV-223 (not the LV-426 from Alien and Aliens) in the Zeta II Reticuli system, lured by a series of highly similar symbols found at ancient far-flung sites back on Earth. The whole shebang is funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, as seen in the TED talk video here, but considerably aged with bad prosthetics in the film), and represented onboard the Prometheus (the ship) by smarmy corporate-type Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and the Weyland Corporation’s top product, the android David (Michael Fassbender, who is my MVP for the film). Running the ship is Captain Janek (Idris Elba, who manages to capture some of the more “human” responses in a film about scientists, androids, and other things), with his “crew”, Milburn and Revel (Rafe Spall and Benedict Wong, respectively). The other scientist-types onboard include Logan Marshall-Green as Shaw’s career and life partner Charlie Holloway, Kate Dickie as the medic Ford, and Sean Harris and Emun Elliott as the geologist Fifield and botanist Chance. Without mentioning the four mercenary-types who were added “for security”, this makes for a massive cast.
Needless to say (without spoilers, that is), once the planet is reached things begin to go downhill for the expedition. Discoveries are made, and while some expectations aren’t met, others come into play. Like the majority of films in the Alien franchise, the story of Prometheus is about varying, often opposing aims. And it is due to these oppositions that the fate of the Prometheus is made all the more dire. Unfortunately, the story of the film Prometheus is similar, a tale of expectations met and others not.
Don’t get me wrong, here — my statement above still rings true — I loved this movie. I am so getting the blu-ray, the art book — but maybe not the soundtrack. In fact, the score was one of my sore spots. While the late great Jerry Goldsmith — whose lush and dulcet tones lurked in the corridors of the Nostromo — is probably now composing cantatas in the afterlife, Marc Streitenfeld’s music for Prometheus was basically one theme — played over and over. The theme itself seems more fit for an episode of Star Trek: Voyager than anything involving the Alien universe. Here’s to hoping there’s more of Henry Gregson-William’s music that can be pulled out at a later date.
While there are a few things in Prometheus which simply aren’t explained (like how the final moments of the “engineers” — those mysterious beings beneath the Space Jockey suits — were somehow recorded for posterity, and the exact motivations to some of David’s actions throughout the story) the two major beefs I have with the film’s script are as follows (without spoilers):
1 – A surgery takes place. A surgery that in almost any other case would leave the recipient unable to simply get up and walk away from it. However this is exactly what happens in Prometheus. The circumstances aren’t completely detailed (and couldn’t be here), but from what information we’re given in the film, this doesn’t make much sense.
2 – The Captain makes a decision. It’s not necessarily a bad one, but one that truly deserves a greater amount of emotional gravity in the film — and that is clearly not given.
Besides these faults, the general one goes back to the massive cast, as noted above. While for the most part, the main characters’ motivations are detailed and explained, the many supporting characters have been distilled down to a scene or a beat. While not necessarily a bad thing, it shows that the Prometheus script deserved the same sort of combing over that David Giler and Walter Hill did with the O’Bannon script for Alien so long ago. While that film ran like a lean and mean machine, this one sort of chugs along like a riverboat.
But again, I loved it. It was a beautiful and fascinating experience, and excellently shot in 3D. The eleven year old in me thrilled to CG and practical effects (which, outside the horrible Guy Pearce makeup, were really well done), and to the stunning cinematography and sound. Performances are solid, with Repace, Theron and Fassbender undoubtedly at the top of the bill. Repace is the emotional core of the film, and her struggles kept me on the edge of my seat most of the time. Theron made the absolute most of what could be considered a one-note character, giving a subtle layer of perception and humanity through her performance. And Fassbender was the perfect android — conscienceless, almost naive and damned and darkly funny.
So, all of this and a certain tip of the hat to projects past made me infinitely glad I was there on opening day. The iconic swords and irons were raised yet again, and yet, while I was not pierced and burned — I was informed. The 44 year old man may not be the eleven year old anymore, but he still has it within him to be so. Thank you Ridley Scott, if anything, for that.