Prometheus

2012 film Directed by Ridley Scott.

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Chariots of the Gods

  • Jun 3, 2012
Rating:
+4
In the run up to its release, there has been much speculation about the exact connections between Prometheus and the Alien movies. The genesis of the project was in 2002, with Alien (1979) director Ridley Scott and Aliens (1986) director James Cameron both involved in the development of what was intended to be a fifth installment of the Alien franchise for 20th Century Fox, but after Cameron bowed out due to studio disagreements and commitments to Avatar, the project stalled. Fox revived the project in 2009 and actively pursued Scott to direct. Originally declining to helm a prequel to his original film, Scott elected to take a producing role and pushed Fox to hire commercial director Carl Erik Rinsch. With the studio unhappy to green-light the project with Risch calling the shots, Scott eventually agreed to direct and writer Jon Spaihts was hired to pen the screenplay. During the development of the script, Scott saw an opportunity to push the project away from the constraints of the Alien series and hired writer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek) to expand upon Spaihts work and turn it into a more autonomous movie.

Knowing of the checkered development history of the film, and having read and heard so many conflicting reports, I was a little unsure about what to expect from Prometheus. Is it a true prequel? Is it a spin-off? Is it a stand-alone movie? Well, now I've seen it, I can confirm that it is very much connected to Alien, but it can be seen more as a companion piece rather than a direct prequel. Scott himself could not have described it better when he said during pre-release interviews that the movies "share the same DNA." That description is both very true and very apt given the storyline of the film. There are definite echoes, and even a few blatant nods, to Alien, but in terms of tone and scope, Prometheus is a different beast altogether. The original movie's feet were planted solidly in the horror end of the sci-fi spectrum - it was a taut, claustrophobic haunted house/monster movie at its heart. Prometheus is a far more grandiose and ambitious affair (though it does have its share of taut, claustrophobic scenes of terror - one even gives the famous chestburster sequence a run for its money).
Despite the connections and references, going into this movie expecting to see a re-run of Alien, or any of the other movies in the franchise for that matter,  is a huge mistake. People who do that will likely be disappointed. Prometheus is painted on a far bigger canvas than any of the Alien movies, which is something that proves to be both a great strength and ultimately its weakness.

Writers Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaiht have done a fantastic job of taking a seed of an idea from Alien and growing it into an epic story. Clearly inspired by the work of pseudo-archaeologist Erich von Däniken , the film explores lofty aspects of theology, evolution, faith, creation and technology. There are even some Blade Runner-style musings on mortality, emotion and the human soul (perhaps the reason for Scott's renewed interest in revisiting that movie too). While their ambition should be applauded, the result is a narrative that lacks focus and resolution - there are far more questions asked than are answered (a problem Lindelof also had with the TV series Lost). The script also suffers from a few stating-the-obvious and signpost-the-plot moments, but they don't detract too much from proceedings.
I have read some reviews that have criticised the movie's dialogue and characterisation. I don't necessarily agree with those criticisms. While it is true that some of the minor characters are very sketchy (but wasn't that also the case with Alien?), the principal characters are all decently written.  Noomi Repace's Shaw, Michael Fassbender's David, Charlize Theron's Vickers and Idris Elba's Janek get most of the best lines and are given the most to work with. It's only Logan Marshal Green's Holloway that feels somewhat underwritten, given his prominent role.

Performance wise, Fassbender steals the show and once again proves why he is one of the best actors out there at the moment. He somehow manages to make David threatening, creepy, comedic and even rather likeable all at the same time.
You have to feel a bit sorry for Noomi Rapace. No matter what she did in this film, the shadow or Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was always going to loom over her. To her credit, she delivers a strong performance and makes an engaging and likable protagonist. Charlize Theron is suitably icy and has a couple of great scenes with Elba, who does brilliantly with the comparatively small amount of screen time he's given. Rafe Spall and Sean Harris also have some nice moments as bickering crew members Milburn and Fifield.
I have to admit, I'm a little perplexed as to why Guy Pearce was cast in this film. It's hard to elaborate on that comment without giving too much away, so you may want to skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven't yet seen the film and don't want it spoiled. Although Pearce's performance as aging company boss Peter Weyland is excellent, I have to wonder why they would cast a relatively young actor in the role and cover him in old age prosthetics. I assumed the reason was that we would see Pearce as a younger Weyland at some point in the film, but we never do. I can now only assume that we will see a younger version of the character in the sequel.

Ridley Scott has always been a great builder of worlds. Whether science fiction worlds, like the rain-beaten, retro-futurist streets of Blade Runner (1982), or ancient worlds, like Jerusalem in Kingdom of Heaven (2005), they are always texturally rich and atmospheric. Prometheus is no exception. Helped greatly by the use of real locations and physical sets, every shot drips with detail, creating a realism, tangibility and solidity that's often sorely lacking in many modern, CGI heavy, sci-fi movies (I'm looking at you, Mr Lucas). This is Scott's first foray into 3D film-making and he clearly embraced the technology. The already stunning photography is greatly enhanced by the extra depth in many sequences. Indeed, this film is astonishing from a technical and visual point of view. Production designer Arthur Max and the special effects team have done a fantastic job and are sure to clean up in the technical categories come awards season. Being a huge fan of the original Alien, I was thrilled to see that some unused designs from that film have made their way into this film - the fingerprints of original concept designers Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and Jean "Moebius" Giraud can be seen all over Prometheus. I was even more thrilled to see that the true father of the Alien, Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, was involved in the film, contributing several stunning mural designs seen in the film.

The score, by regular Scott collaborator Marc Streitenfeld, doesn't quite reach the quality of Jerry Goldsmith's score for Alien, but it's suitably atmospheric and highly effective nonetheless. Be sure to listen out for a couple of fleeting uses of Goldsmith's classic score - one of the more subtle nods to the original movie.
I must mention the sound design too, which is excellent. The heavy bass rumble of the ship's engines during the landing sequence is a standout - it had the entire auditorium shaking.

Aside from the script issues, the only other problem I have with the film is to do with pacing. At just under 2 hours in length, it's comparatively short for a modern blockbuster. And while many movies these days seem unnecessarily long, Prometheus would've benefited greatly from an extra 15 mins or so. The build up and middle sections of the movie are paced well, but the final half hour feels a tad rushed.

Just falling short of being a truly great movie, Prometheus still a highly enjoyable, visually stunning and technically flawless companion piece to Alien. It's also proof that, at 74 years of age and 33 years on from that film, Scott is still at the top of his game. Shame, then, that the same level of craftsmanship, artistry, care and attention couldn't have been shown to the script.  The fact that it poses so many questions and delivers so few answers left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled and a little frustrated - I dearly hope a sequel comes soon that ties up all of the loose ends.
Go into this with an open mind and no expectations and you'll be pleasantly surprised and highly entertained.

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June 08, 2012
I totally agree. This movie is much more if you go into it with an open mind and no expectations.
 
June 06, 2012
Appreciate your thoughtful and comprehensive review -- thanks.

I subjected myself to Alien Resurrection again a couple of days ago. A great example of a poor sequel. So Prometheus has had me intrigued -- Is this going to be an example of a good prequel/spin-off, something to honor and complement the original? Or is it another mistake?

Your review has made me much more enthusiastic about getting to the cinema to answer those questions.
June 07, 2012
Thank you! I'm not a fan of Alien: Resurrection either, though I do think it has some good moments and I'm a huge fan of its director, Jean Pierre Jeunet. Prometheus certainly compliments the original movie, and it's refreshing to see an expansion of the Alien mythology that's not tied to Ripley or events seen in any of the other movies. I hope you enjoy it. :)
June 09, 2012
I hope so, too! Trying to get there in the next week. I'll post a QT with my thoughts.
 
June 05, 2012
Great write-up! I hated the third Alien movie and had no intention of seeing another. Your insight seems to have sold me on giving this film a look.
June 07, 2012
Thanks! Yeah, it's definitely worth a look. I have to confess that I also hated the third Alien movie when I first saw it, but it's grown on me over the years and I now think it's OK. There's something about its unfaltering bleakness and nihilism that has to be applauded! I hope you enjoy Prometheus. :)
 
June 04, 2012
Well, I had high expectations. Thank you for the interesting and persuasive suggestion that lowering them is the way to go. Well done.
June 05, 2012
Thanks! I really hope you enjoy the movie. :)
 
June 04, 2012
You are so lucky that you managed to see this before the American release in the U.K., Simon! It sounds pretty good, despite the fact that it does come up a little short from being great. I watch anything with Scott. Thanks for posting it for us in Movie Hype!
June 04, 2012
Cheers, William. We seem to be doing quite well with advance releases here in the UK recently. Makes a nice change after years of trailing behind the US! :)
June 04, 2012
I know...so cool! I will be featuring your review tonight once the 24 hour cycle is up :)
June 04, 2012
Cool, thanks! :)
June 04, 2012
You are very welcome.
June 09, 2012
Ok, Simon, I saw it and it was pretty good. I also reviewed it. :)
 
June 04, 2012
Great pictures and write-up too!
June 04, 2012
Thanks1 :)
 
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About the reviewer
Simon Lee Tranter ()
Member Since: May 8, 2009
Last Login: Aug 30, 2013 01:07 AM UTC
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Director: Ridley Scott
Genre: Adventure, Horror, Sci-Fi
Release Date: June 8, 2012
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 124 minutes
Studio: Scott Free, Brandywine Productions, Dune Entertainment
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"Chariots of the Gods"
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