8 June 2012

Review: Prometheus

(Dir: Ridley Scott, 2012)

Expectations for a film based on its trailer are one thing, but expectations based on just the idea / concept of the film are quite another. When it was announced that Ridley Scott would be making a prequel to / another film in the Alien universe, the internet practically self combusted with geek excitement. Alien is after all one of the seminal sci-fi/horror’s of the last few decades, beautifully nuanced in its slow build of terror and isolation. Scott arguably made the right decision not to come back for a sequel as it allowed us James Cameron’s superbly amped up Aliens and David Fincher’s Alien3, which deviated the story in an interesting direction. But fortunately Scott saw the light and realised he had unfinished business in this universe, or with sci-fi at least, and so we have Prometheus.

The story follows the crew of the spaceship Prometheus in the year 2093, on an exploratory mission to find what they believe to be mankind’s makers, following clues left by many ancient civilisations, deciphered by scientists Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green). Funded by the famed Weyland Corporation, this leads the crew, including captain Janek (Idris Elba), Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and David (Michael Fassbender), to a moon many millions of light years away from Earth where they find... something.

Prometheus was intended to exist as a sci-fi film in its own right, but one that also kind of acts as a precursor to the Alien series if you look a little closer. It balances this superbly. The metaphysical nature of the story about man trying to meet his maker in order to rationalise existence is an interesting one, but as it progresses it’s suffused with the thought that maybe we might not want to know the answer as it might not be what we want. It might disappoint.

As to how the film is infused with the DNA of the Alien franchise, I was impressed with how this was approached. There are many visual cues that harken back – darkened corridors; the Geiger-like creepy synthesis of the organic and mechanical; chambers filled with multitudes of the unknown; harsh howling winds; a determined female lead – it does the right amount for us to feel it’s symbiotically connected, but this doesn’t overpower. I thought it presented and answered enough whilst still leaving plenty to be considered. After all, what fun would it be if everything was laid out explicitly?

The acting and casting is solid. Rapace is good as the lead and has the right amount of conviction, whilst Theron plays her role as the steely shepherd of the expedition well. The highlight however is Fassbender’s David. He is a synthetic human, much like Ian Holm’s Ash and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop in previous films, with a coldness about him that you can’t escape, even in his attempts at warmth. There is something unnerving about the character, not only seen in his calculated actions but also his ever so slightly perfect appearance that never changes. Yet again Fassbender proves he’s one of the best actors in the business.

The direction is spot on and it’s a well structured story, and while it feels like it packs a lot in it still takes time to build, until eventually the cavalcade of events intensify into a fitting crescendo. The script by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof (the latter of Lost fame) balances the scientific, ideological and (some) character development well despite some frustrating character actions. On top of this the visual effects and sound design are both excellent. It’s all very big and dramatic as befits sci-fi, but also manages to employ some interesting retro looking effects as a way of viewing past events. Visual aesthetics have always been a strength of the Alien films.  

Prometheus is a classy sci-fi film that thoroughly worked for me. I tried to keep my expectations to the minimum as there was so much obfuscation around what we would actually get, but the decision to approach this as a standalone sci-fi film that happens to provide some explanations about the origins of the xenomorphs whilst also examining mankind's origins, was definitely the right one. You could watch this having never seen any of the Alien films and not feel like you’re missing anything, whilst existing fans will love all the little details that link it. Scott’s decision to return to the genre proves to have been an extremely successful one and it’ll be very interesting to see where this may lead in the future.

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