Prometheus

Prometheus is, in case you somehow haven’t heard, a prequel film to Alien. Not a direct prequel, granted (which oddly earned the movie some scorn from reviewers), but I guess an origin story. In fact, I think calling it an origin story is about a million times more accurate, because the movie explains the origins of the Aliens, while the cast attempts to search for the origin and the creation of mankind.

Set in the late 21st century, the film follows a space crew — including an android Michael Fassbender — following maps left by ancient Earth civilizations. Several left diagrams showing themselves worshipping a large being with five dots above them. As it turns out, you can see these dots — stars — from Earth. And, as it happens, there is a planet just in the region. The ship takes off from Earth on a trillion dollar expedition to make first contact with these beings who may have created life on Earth. It all hits the fan, of course, when they land and realize that something incredibly deadly killed their creators — their gods — and that it might still be around.

The film is one of the most stunning movies I’ve seen in a long while, both in terms of visual effects and audio effects. The score complements the movie brilliantly — at times it’s magnificent, at others it’s subtle and muted, no doubt something the film owes to veteran Harry Gregson-Williams (The Rock and various Metal Gear games, to name some of his greats), who clearly approached the film as the artistic piece as it was and not the grand space opera it might have been. Special effects is always tricky for me, because films that are credited as having “great special effects” tend to be ones that were otherwise mediocre and were just visually impressive (often to the point where the special effects cease being special). Prometheus avoids that issue altogether; the film is visually stunning without overdoing it int he special effects department, and some of the film’s best moments involve grand, sweeping shots or close-ups of characters and non-CGI aliens.

The attention to detail in this film is incredible, as well as the obvious paralells to Alien. If you’ve ever seen Alien, you’ll probably notice it immediately: the layout of Prometheus, from the bridge to the mess hall, is exactly like the ship Nostromo in Alien. It’s eerily similar. But while much of Alien was filmed in the dark, you do get a bright, almost flourescent view of every part of the ship, helping to bring it to life just a little more.The crew is eerily similar too: some of them are in it just for the money, and before the crew finds out what they’re actually doing (the bulk of the crew originally believes it is a mining mission), they’re all calm, cool, professionals who (apparently) routinely go into 2+ years of cryogenic sleep to make some cash mining on some moon. Most of them do have parallels in Alien, but most of them stand on their own, which is awesome.

The ship’s captain this time around is Idris Elba as Janek, a true badass who is actually a lot like Dallas from Alien. Guy Pierce makes an odd appearance as an incredibly old man, Peter Weyland, the man funding the operation, and blows the part out of the water: playing a man clinging to his last days of life, spending trillions of dollars yet still suseptable to death. Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, the stone cold bitch who’s “actually” in charge of the operation — her role is somewhat one-note, which was disappointing. We have an android, too, but his identity is not a secret — Michael Fassbender plays our precursor to Ian Holm’s Ash, and actually does a pretty incredible job. While I felt that his performance wasn’t amazing (unlike others have claimed), he does manage to perfeclty capture what is in essence a prototype of Ash. He’s much less human, obviously, but you can see the oddities in him (such as his fascination with Lawrence of Arabia), and at times his HAL-esque demeanour.  It’s clear what he was going for and he nailed it. There are other supporting characters who do get minor roles, and they were all excellent, including Sean Harris and Rafe Spall (looking suspiciously like Andy Dick) as Fifield and Millburn, two dudes who start out as enemies and become a bickering bromantic couple.

The film of course stars Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green as Elizabeth and Charlie, lovers and the two scientists who discovered the drawings. As they search for the meaning of life, essentially, they find out that there may be no meaning. This sends the two of them spiraling emotionally into other directions; Elizabeth, while probably not a practicing Christian, wears a cross, and the meaning of that is brought into doubt. It becomes apparent that mankind might have been created by an alien race: if that’s so, then God isn’t just dead, but was never alive. This is problematic for Charlie and other crew members, but Elizabeth just keeps on repeating that she believes because she chooses to believe.

In the end, we aren’t actually left with an answer. Ridley Scott never definitively says thw how, and we, like the film’s protagonist, are left searching, left only to choose to believe (or to not believe). Ultimately, we’re left knowing that the only power any of us actually ever has is the power of choice, of free will. Where Prometheus gave fire to man in myth, that’s the gift we’ve been given by our creation (be the creator an alien, God, or pure chance) — free will — a gift we can use or not use (and in so doing, use), but a gift we can never be rid of. You can call it cheap for never giving us an answer, but it really makes the movie.

All in all, I felt it was an excellent movie. Scott clearly reached out here and clearly dreamt big, and while I don’t think  Prometheus quite lived up to the hype, it managed to capture equally the artistic merit and the grand, dark, girtty, corporate scope of his universe. It’s certainly much, much, much more than a typical horror or science fiction movie, it’s brilliance wavering between Alien itself and Blade Runner. His universe is a place filled with questions that we’re meant to dwell on, questions that he clearly never intended to answer, and questions that we’ll probably never answer. We’re left to guess, to hope, to fear, to think, and to wander around in the dark.   The truth to the movie is, of course, that we don’t know and that the only thing you can ever know is that you don’t know. And that’s about it.

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