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PROMETHEUS

July 10, 2012

Well, I’ve seen Prometheus twice now and it is incredible. I can happily announce that it only improved on second viewing. There is a lot to talk about with this one so here we go.

The first, and admittedly unfair, thing about Prometheus is that it is director Ridley Scott’s attempt at a loose prequel to his own 1979 masterpiece, Alien. However, it is important to associate Prometheus to Alien only as loosely as possible. The story does occur in the same universe and Prometheus does lay some groundwork for what will go on to happen in Alien, however Prometheus is an entirely different animal with its own unique story to tell.

I don’t want to get into spoiler territory so, basically, Prometheus is about a team of scientists who travel to the far reaches of space in hopes of uncovering the beings (nicknamed “Engineers”) responsible for life on Earth. Things go awry when the crew believes they have found their makers, and they find themselves asking even bigger questions after uncovering a dark secret.

The film sports a strong cast and gets particularly good performances out of stars Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds). Both actors have really been on the rise in recent years, and live up to their reputations in Prometheus. Rapace is Elizabeth Shaw, the lead scientist and central character and Fassbender is David, the humanoid robot onboard the Prometheus vessel. Fassbender follows in the footsteps of Ian Holm (Alien), Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Alien 3), and Winona Ryder (Alien: Ressurection) as the newest  “artificial person” in the Alien franchise and Rapace steps into the true lead role previously occupied by Sigourney Weaver.

Other notables from the cast include Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman) as the company woman sent along to supervise the expedition, Guy Pierce (Memento) as the deceased founder of the company behind the expedition, Idris Elba (The Office) as captain of the Prometheus and Logan Marshall-Green (The O.C.) as Dr. Shaw’s scientist-boyfriend.

Having seen Marshall-Green in The O.C., I feel he was miscast and a little distracting. I had trouble separating him from Trey Atwood, the delinquent from Chino. I only mention this out of my probably-false perception that anyone still cares about The O.C. besides me.

Two quick nitpicks with Prometheus before I start gushing is that the script isn’t always graceful. It is definitely serviceable but not completely without groan-inducing lines such as “you’re the most special person I’ve met in my life,” or some such drivel.

Lastly, I think the very final scene is an unnecessary reference to Alien that sticks out like a sore thumb in a movie that otherwise stands alone as a completely original work.

Visually speaking, Prometheus is gorgeous from start to finish. The locations, production design and cinematography are breathtaking, particularly in the opening sequence featuring remote landscapes and the first glimpse of the Engineers. The spaceship interiors are also beautiful and effectively recall those in Alien while still adding a unique flavor. Ridley Scott has always made visually striking films (Alien, Bladerunner, Gladiator, etc.) and shows no loss of ambition or skill here.

Prometheus bills itself at least partly as horror. While it’s not as chilling as Alien, it has great atmosphere and crafts a few genuine scares in addition to the requisite gross-out gags expected of such genre entries. More than being scary, Prometheus is a mystery yarn at its core and that’s what really propels the story.

As for the story, there is a certain amount of backlash against Prometheus for supposedly opening a whole can of worms without resolving everything or concisely tying its storylines to those of Alien. While I agree that Prometheus does/doesn’t do these things, I see the final product as exceptionally effective and provocative rather than frustrating.

The story is ripe with nuance and the title itself is pretty loaded. Prometheus was the Greek titan who provided humanity with fire and suffered punishment for it both eternal and grotesque.  This myth is an interesting parallel to the mystery of the Engineers, the race that is credited with creating life on Earth in the film. For those who prefer Christian mythology to Greek, the Engineers also seem to parallel the Angels.

The script involves a great deal of religion and briefly explores a reconciliation of the creation and evolution myths, which are typically in stark opposition. And what was that big event in Christianity that happened about two thousand years back, give or take? In Prometheus, wasn’t that about the same time the Engineers attempted to return to Earth before getting sidetracked?

This food for thought, along with many more questions arise from Prometheus.

What compelled the Engineers to return to Earth?

What is the nature of their cargo?

Who created the Engineers?

These are all questions that I’m perfectly fine being left with to ponder on my own. I sincerely hope to see a single follow up movie to find out if Dr. Shaw ever finds her answers but if Prometheus ends up being a one-off, I’ll be fine with that too.

When the subject of the movie is finding out why humans exist, can you really expect it to be presented with a neatly tied bow? The very fact that the movie ends openly is very much in line with the aim of the story. It would probably be insulting to watch a movie that concisely explains the origin of humanity in two hours. The Tree of Life (2011) was an interesting exercise in existentialism and yet it certainly didn’t answer any big questions, even with a longer run time. The allure of discovery is the real draw here.

It is even touched on in the movie that compulsively seeking answers is an essential element of humanity. Prometheus is about the quest for answers, not simply the answers themselves. Prometheus delivers on its high concept, period. I’m just glad Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof and co. were on hand to lend their talents in taking on such a task.

As a film, there are some minor fumblings but nothing egregious enough to derail the first-rate mystery. It dug itself a hole by trying to follow in the footsteps of Alien, and it somehow managed to be completely compelling on its own merits. Ridley Scott’s visual flair plus great performances by Rapace and Fassbender elevate Prometheus above typical genre fare and make it a one of the best sci-fi films of the past decade.

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