Saturday, June 9, 2012


With an unbridled ambition, amazingly sculpted production values, and a hype machine that is sort of unheard of, even in today's hyperbolic, every-week-releases-a-new-event-title world comes Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  Scott returning to the science fiction genre, one that he helped sculpt and mold for more forward thinking modern audiences, after a thirty absence would be enough a cause for celebration.  That Prometheus, despite it's non-committal marketing campaign, is essentially a de facto prequel to his 1979 horror masterwork Alien should give shivers to cinephiles everywhere.  While times may have changed, his latest is, but of course, offered in splendorific third dimension for the heightened demands of studio executives in love with head wear surcharges, there's still something striking about Scott's filmmaking.  The jolt, the bristles of tension, employed by an ingenious sound design and complementary score, coupled with a pristine and appropriately gray color scheme; his flair for pacing and dynamic for chills is still as sharp as ever.

It's just a bit of shame that his ambition got a little ahead of him this time out.  For as a chilly horror show, Prometheus hits the mark.  As a heavier, brainy piece of speculative science fiction, it's a bit messier.  Clearly Scott and team (the film was written by Jon Spaihts and Lost's Damon Lindelof) are aiming-- for the first half at least-- for the more minded scope of something like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, for the quest at hand is no less than the origins of humanity.  A mission, headed by true-believer archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace- the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), and funded by an ominous third party corporation seemingly with motives of their own, the stage is set for flight aboard the space ship Prometheus.  With themes that spew heavier than the film can really handle, there's a two fold to Prometheus.  On one side there's a fun, futuristic caper with spellbinding effects, and on the other, a drabber, less fulfilling treatise on playing with fire, while trying to meet ones maker.  Thankfully, Scott relieves the high mindedness, for the most part, behind come the second half as we journey to that place where no one can hear you scream.

Shaw is an interesting character, and a wise one to detract with Sigourney Weaver's Ripley.  Both are smart, strong and vulnerable, but in altogether different ways.  Part of that lies in Rapace's performance, which is strong enough to eclipse the films murkier moments, and the earlier stages of the film, where the is-it\isn't-is a prequel to Alien are a bit more confounding.  Shaw is a woman of faith, of which is only really documented by the cross around her neck-- Hollywood in the year 2012, even in a film set in 2093, is still a bit sketchy on fully committing to any sort of religious affiliation-- who discovers primitive cave etchings that might point to the origins of man.  Along with her boyfriend, the more Darwinian-based Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green), and a motley-crew of geologists and character actors aboard the ship.  Idris Elba plays the no-nonsense captain of the ship, providing nicely balanced levity to the terror and Charlize Theron plays a corporate stooge, along for the ride, and essays for the second time this summer (third time in a year counting Young Adult) yet another icy woman contemptuous of all, and again nails it thoroughly with most entertaining results.

The most novel part of Prometheus is the introduction of the robot David (Michael Fassbender), a sort of HAL-clone who models himself after Peter O'Toole in Lawrence in Arabia in disposition and elocution.  The surprise is that the motivations about David are never really made clear, and that jolts the film in a nicely-modulated balance between falling for and detesting the man-made creature.  The glee comes fully in Fassbender's performance, and it's wry sense of humor, and slight danger.  Perhaps the only thing David really seeks is his own freedom.  The lead performances across the map are top-drawer, but the fun begins as the body count rises and the origins of Prometheus start to take it's place.  The gore is subtle by today's standards but a few sequences hold a candle to the jolting Jon Hurt through-the-stomach scene in the original Alien, especially an eerie performance of self administered surgery that should delight the horror devoted.  And that's where Scott's master class of pacing and control come firmly back in stride, as an anxious quiver of panic is unleashed in the second half, prompting that joyously queasy sensation of watching through a hands covered face.

The real stars of Prometheus really are the aces behind the scenes.  The beautifully rendered and bountifully epic production design by Arthur Max and the immaculately lensed photography by Dariusz Wolski are bountiful, even in the earlier patches of Tree of Life-ponderousness is taking place.  Scott can always be expected to deliver on those fronts, with billowing, "Are you not entertained" pronouncements, but the spectacle of Prometheus is most certainly alive and exhilarating.  The chills and terror of mysterious creatures wrecking havoc are as well.  Too bad all the theology and philosophy gets in the way of a good time.  B

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