Prometheus – 2012
Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charleze Theron, Guy Pearce. Idris Elba, Logan-Marshall Green, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Patrick Wilson, Kate Dickie, Benedict Wong
Screenplay by Damon Lindelof, Jonathan Sphaits
Early on in the classic film, The Player, there is one long, magnificent scene in which we get to see a number of pitches in a Hollywood studio. Each one of the pitches involves, in some way or form, a “Julia Roberts”-like actress as the main female presence, starring in a sequel to any number of films, like The Graduate. I thought of this yesterday, while reading the slew of reviews for the grand new film, Prometheus. Many of these reviews portrayed Ridley Scott’s new film as a complete or a near miss. Several of the films described the film as an overly graphic splatter film in which, essentially thinly explored characters die in reverse order of the credits. Almost every review compares Rapace and, to a slightly lesser extent, Theron, as worthy successors to the “kick butt” archetype of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Equally sad, most of these same reviewers sighed while passing judgement that this film failed to live up to its cinematic predecessor and chronological (in the Alien Universe) follower, Alien. While many of these same critics decried that the story makers copied many of the elements of Scott’s earlier film, and having the gall to leave some of the story elements unresolved. Intentionally, they said, for purposes of having a sequel.
This type of review, like the generic plots discussed in The Player, writes itself. There is an element in the society of critics, both professional and self-proclaimed, that has an incredible urge to be the first one in line to see the film…and the first one to say they hated it. It is really just the archetype of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. It’s one thing to hear these a-holes rip a movie over Nachos at Applebees after the movie. It’s quite another to see any of them paid by the column inch.
For those wanting to escape the world and go anywhere else, Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof and Jon Sphaits have succeeded in bringing real world possibility into the promise of future exploration. Starting out in Scotland, archaeologists Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall Green) make a discovery of something that mirrors discoveries in many other parts of the world from many different times. We witnessed one such discovery when my wife and I visited Chitzen Nitza for our honeymoon a decade ago. The discovery, pieced together with the others, reveals itself as some sort of star map. This map leads the archaeologists, along with other scientists and representatives of Weyland Corporation to a 4 year journey through space to LV-223 (as compared to Alien / Aliens LV-426), a semi-habitable moon off of another planet.
What they find, I will leave for you to discover. Anyone looking for anything resembling an Alien feature, where people are picked off one by one by the creature, should be bottled up and shipped back to 1979. This movie is called Prometheus for a reason, folks. There is a yearning in this film that is missing from the other features. It is a quest to find where we come from, and why. Shaw and Holloway represent two sides of this search. One believes in an ultimate creator, appreciates the mystery, but searches nonetheless. The other takes Darwinism as a given, thinking that each piece leads to another. The film wisely avoids answering this question, but it does offer clues for you to ponder.
As Shaw, Rapace is what you would expect from someone on a quest. She is not daunted by new evidence, and gladly incorporates it into her search. It is quite easy to appreciate the transformation that she makes from confidence to doubt and back into search mode. All aspects are played convincingly by Rapace, even if some of the physical feats are more than a little remarkable.
Contrast this curiosity to Lt. Ellen Ripley, who asks Burke: “You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back.” It is apparent that while everyone has motives in this story, there is no foreknowledge of what is to come.
Meredith Vickers is another case entirely. She seems intent on playing defense through most of the film. It is obvious that she is not happy to be where she is, but, as we’ll find, for her interests, there is nowhere else she would rather be. Why is this? Again, this mystery is for the viewer.
Elbas’ Captain Janek is a wonderful character. His development is consistent with the circumstances surrounding the events. While not throwing caution to the wind with false bravado, he seems genuinely strong in his character and his decisions quite reasonable. Add to that a couple of ships officers that are always where he needs them to be and we have something unique to other films in this universe.
Michael Fassbender pulls off something quite beautiful with his portrayal of David. As the 8th incarnation of the androids developed by Weyland, David is there to help the mission along, and otherwise serve the will of his masters. This depends, of course, on who his master appears to be at the time. His allegiances may be called into question at anytime, but certainly not his curiosity. In this way, he is like a spiritual sibling with Shaw. This is relevant, of course, considering where they go.
The parallels between David, Ash and Bishop are many. One can picture the development of the android line from one to the next, and view them as sentient beings who wonder about their own purpose in life, all while serving out the commands of their “masters.” So deep is the Universe that Scott helped to create, one could find a series of films based on their own self-discovery as interesting as anything else done to now. Other’s might lazily make connections to the androids in Blade Runner as a potential parallel. None of the beings in the Alien Universe have any illusions to whether they are human. They know they are not. This does not entail they feel any less valuable, however. They have an entirely different reality behind the one they present to humans. The whole concept is fascinating.
Guy Pearce is a necessary addition, if for no other reason, the way that he approaches dialogue. There is a ferocity to his eyes, even as an old man, that just could not be replaced by putting Hal Holbrook in the same position. As smart as Weyland is, demonstrated by the TED Talk filmed by Ridley Scott’s son, he is also greedy and ferocious as any lion unwilling to cede his kingdom to the rest of his pride.
The remainder of the cast varies enough that it gives a feeling of uniqueness without being absurd (if you discount Harris’ Fifield). They are given moments to show some individual character and sometimes are involved in contrived conflicts, but overall they work well within the construct of the tale.
Scott presented Prometheus as a chance to explore the world of the Space Jockey. In this effort we have undoubtedly the most screen time dedicated, but also the least amount of concrete answers. Their motives are hard to figure, and we are given precious little time seeing them in the act of doing much, except for recorded holographic images. David helps to explain some of these, but are we to accept his answers? The live jockey that we are allowed to see apparently understands much, but reveals little. The questions that arise about its intentions are fascinating and make the observant viewer yearn for more.
Does the movie accomplish the goals it sets out for itself? It all depends on whether you can accept more questions than answers. There are several things to criticize about the film, like the lack of scientific protocol for one and the superhuman (and unnecessary) ability of one of the characters after having been compromised by an abdominal cut. These issues are small when compared to the glory of exploring new worlds, seeing new things. These things seem dangerous for now, but that really kind of depends on if you take David’s word for things. In this universe, who knows what tomorrow brings?
Notes on a second viewing, Saturday, 6/9/2012:
- The thing that stands out most to me on this go through is DNA. That is, think about the order people (and other beings) are infected, what they are infected by and who (or what) they infect. I think this is vital to understanding what types of questions we are facing with the second movie. From the very first infection and change to what we find in the space jockey’s helmet. The Space Jockeys, I think, are not so close to us as we should think, based on how Shaw read it. It took a change to reach that point. As for the Alien DNA that Scott mentioned in interviews, I don’t think that was an accident. I think he was not only giving the lazy reporters, reviewers and watchers a bone, he was giving the more discerning of those something to ponder about the rest of the film.
- Reactions, especially facial ones, are the key to understanding both David and the Space Jockey. When you see a peculiar expression, think of what was just said. The last decision made by Shaw in the film is an excellent example of this.
- Captain Janek was incredibly adept in his analysis of the planet they were on, and I believe this means we will find less “weaponry” in the next film.
- One cannot say enough about the job that Scott did in this film. The imagery, framing and pacing are all as good as I have seen. The 3D effects are good as anything I have seen except for Hugo, then Avatar. Still, the digital 2D looks even better and I saw several things more clearly. This may well be, because I knew what I was looking for. This is one of Scott’s top 5 films, to be sure, and the next one should be even better.