Wednesday, June 27, 2012

In Theaters: Prometheus

Prometheus movie poster.
Poster via

Prometheus is the rare spectacle that allows itself room to breathe. An ambitious science fiction thriller which deliberately "precedes" director Ridley Scott's Alien, Prometheus also echoes masterpieces like Forbidden Planet and even 2001, and even if it falls short of those lofty heights it's a refreshingly thoughtful movie. If Alien was pure terror, Prometheus is more the danger and excitement of heading into the unknown. It's a movie where what waits at the end of the universe isn't very friendly at all, but there's still a thrill in uncovering it.

Noomi Rapace plays Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, an archeologist who has discovered clues all across the globe which seem to point to a distant world, which may hold the secrets to how human life began on Earth. A strangely credulous Weyland Coporation funds an expedition for her and her partner (Logan Marshall-Green) to explore this world and search for the Engineers, the beings the two believe are somehow responsible for man's existence. But the Corporation, represented by the chillingly pleasant android David (Michael Fassbender, aping Peter O' Toole), has its own agenda, and what the crew discover seems to threaten not only their lives but the survival of the entire species.

It's hard to talk about this film without spoiling at least some of it; a complex plot holds a great number of secrets, and a lot of the satisfaction of the film comes from finding out more, effectively sharing Dr. Shaw's desire to finally get answers from the gods who created her. If you're a fan of the Alien movies (or just the first), you'll likely get caught up in trying to trace the connections, of which there are many, but taking the film in such a literal sense seems like missing the point.

Many criticisms of the film have revolved around the old horror standard of people acting unwisely or rashly in a dangerous environment, but as much as this can actually bug me, I think the film sets up a rather solid rationale. The entire mission is an act of faith on behalf of a company whose aging founder is desperate for answers to the ultimate questions of Life, the Universe, and Everything- most of the crew are along for the ride, and not expecting to find anything, let alone anything dangerous. They're not expecting a crisis situation and so, inevitably, make mistakes. You expect them to be a little reckless.

Arguably the entire film is about the reckless charging in where angels fear to tread; it's about how faith compels us to great acts and great follies. The title alone has all sorts of mythical and spiritual connotations, and the movie isn't exactly subtle about this being a mission to meet God. This being a horror film, what we find isn't very pleasant, but the view of faith is kept complex, not entirely positive or negative.

Ridley Scott directs with a delicate touch. As a director he can sometimes go overboard with flourishes of style, but this time he's got a fairly complex story to present and makes sure that the images are clear and powerful. It's a gorgeous film, with slick 3-D photography bringing out the contours and textures of an alien space while leaving us just enough light to see.

At times the picture does seem to echo its source material a little too much- you'll recognize a lot of parallels, most notably the room full of small canisters that probably don't contain anything good, and inevitably some very Freudian monsters. Of course, some of the echoes are pleasurable; Michael Fassbender is excellent as a synthetic man with uncertain motivations, who models himself after Peter O' Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, another man who couldn't be read. And when it comes to body horror, Scott creates a truly ingenious sequence that's nearly as cringe-inducing as the original chestburster.

I like where this movie is coming from. It's thoughtful and thematically rich even as it takes the familiar shape of a thriller, and while parts are predictable the whole thing comes together rather beautifully. It ends with a link to the past, but also a rather bold statement of discovery and confrontation with the unknown, promising a sequel that, should it ever materialize, will be wondrously strange indeed. (The grosses have just been okay, but I hope this works out anyway.) I'm not sure this will ever be considered to be in the same pantheon as Alien or Blade Runner, but then again, we may just need to give it time.

Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Directed by Ridley Scott

Grade: A-

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