Friday, June 8, 2012
Prometheus (Movie Review)
I'm a big fan of science fiction and a big fan of monster movies, and franchises like Alien, Predator, The Thing, Jeepers Creepers, or anything else with a weird scary creature out to get people. And hearing that master director Ridley Scott would finally be returning to the sci-fi genre for the first time since 1979 was very exciting news. So I've awaited Prometheus with nerdly anticipation.
I've got more to say about this movie than I usually do in my reviews. I'll start by letting the cat out of the bag and telling you that this is a fantastic movie. If you're a fan of sci-fi and horror, don't waste any more time on my review. Go see this movie right now!
Having said that, I'll give my thoughts on why you should do so while holding back as much plot information as I can so you can experience it fresh yourself.
Near the end of the 21st century, archeologists discover evidence that our planet has been visited over many centuries by the same alien beings. These archeologists also believe these beings may be responsible for the creation of the human race. They receive funding from the Weyland Corporation to investigate a distant planet believed to be the home of these alien beings. A crew is assembled and they arrive at the planet to discover... something different than what they expected. Different and very deadly.
This film does almost everything right. Every actor gives a wonderful, interesting performance, and with the exception of Charlize Theron, there are no big stars cluttering things up and taking me out of the story. The fresh faces combined with engaging performances pulled me into this world in a way that is rare for me.
It's also a very character-driven story. Everyone has a personal agenda. But that's not to say it lacks in story. In fact the hidden agendas of multiple characters contribute to the slow unraveling of the plot.
You'd be hard-pressed to identify a central "hero" of this movie. It's an ensemble cast and specific focus on a few characters only sharpens significantly in the final third of the movie. This is great because it keeps us guessing until the very end who will live and who will die.
And yes, lots of people die in this movie. And they die badly. The alien life forms intrusively violate the humans they attack, making me want to shake something off myself while watching. Ridley Scott still knows how to create marvelous tension for audiences. And even though I found myself frustrated at the stupidity of multiple characters (keep your helmets ON you morons!) I surprised myself by accepting this horror cliche, realizing that foolish and predictable as it may seem, it does make the experience more engaging and intense.
The creature effects in this movie are possibly the best I have ever seen in any sci-fi film. Either Scott used cutting edge animatronics that moved with incredible organic fluidity, or he finally figured out how to make creature CGI that I can't distinguish from practical effects. I suspect it may somehow be a combination of both.
The music does it's job well. The only time I noticed it was in a scene near the beginning when it suddenly occurred to me the intensifying effect it was having on an action sequence. In nearly every scene it served the mood perfectly without ever getting in the way by announcing itself with an obvious theme.
The visual design of the movie is almost overwhelming in its detail and incredibly life-like in its execution. There is so much to take in even in simple computer readouts and holograms. And the alien environments are creepy, wet and sticky, hinting at a world of other stories that could be told based on this material.
I only have a few small complaints. Strangely, Guy Ritchie was put in age make-up for the entire film. I'm puzzled as to why they didn't simply use an older actor for his part. Although he appeared as a young version of the character in an online promotional video, that hardly justifies this odd choice. There is also a scene opening the film that still doesn't make sense to me after watching the entire movie. Though I'm not ready to truly be critical of it, as I suspect this is a movie made for multiple viewings. There is also a line set up near the beginning of the film, involving Michael Fassbender's character and a clip from Lawrence of Arabia, that I thought for sure would return later in the film in a pivotal character moment. But this moment never came. I suspect these minor issues may all be the result of some scenes being cut. My hope is that on blu-ray we will see an extended version that makes better sense of these tidbits.
I'd also add that the chief "villain" alien of the story could have been scarier, in my opinion. But this may be because of my inevitible mental comparisons to the first Alien movie, which really shouldn't be made. Besides this, he wasn't the primary threat for most of the movie, so the creepy scares were no less scary because of his shortcomings.
"Prometheus" and "Alien"
I could have sworn that Ridley Scott went on record saying that, although Prometheus started out as a prequel to Alien, it evolved into a story that doesn't even take place in the Alien universe. Whatever he officially said, as far as I can tell, this movie easily fits into the continuity of the Alien movie series, despite not having an appearance by the creature from those films. (At least not technically speaking.)
The Weyland corporation, featured in the Alien films, is a big part of this story. And ships identical to the ship found on the alien planet from "Alien" appear in this film. And for Alien fans hoping this movie answers the question "who was the 'space jockey'", you'll be rewarded with an indirect answer, and walk away knowing with near certainty what the "space jockey" was doing before he died in the first Alien movie, and who he was.
I also did some quick research after getting home from the theater and found out that this movie takes place roughly 30 years before the events of the first Alien movie. So for Alien fans, Prometheus IS the prequel you were originally promised.
For those unfamiliar with the Alien movies, don't worry about all of this not making sense. Prometheus has almost no direct connection to the alien films in terms of its story, and you will enjoy the experience no less for being an Alien noobie. And if Scott, or another director, chooses to continue the story (which the ending leaves enough room for), it will almost certainly not become a reboot of the Alien franchise, but rather a story taking a completely different direction.
Even so, Alien fans may want to clear some time soon after seeing Prometheus to watch their Alien movies again!
The theme of this movie is very likely to stimulate thought on spiritual matters. Several characters take the journey to the alien planet specifically to find answers regarding humanity's purpose, and what happens to us after death. This is not just a theme, it's a driving force of the plot.
Unfortunately, the writers still seem to have very limited understanding of the relationship between faith, logic and science. One highly respected, sympathetic character is asked why he believes in heaven. (It's later indicated that he was a "Christian" character.) His response? "Because that's what I choose to believe."
While I would agree that, in the final analysis, belief is a choice, I'm tired of characters in fiction saying that they believe without providing any logical basis for their belief. In fact, one or two more times in this movie, a similar statement is made by another character under similar circumstances.
In one instance, a skeptical biologist asks the archeologist why she's willing to throw away thousands of years of Darwinism in favor of the belief that the aliens they are searching for are responsible for humanity's creation. Her response? "Because that's what I choose to believe."
For some reason, the popular mindset seems to be, "believe Darwinism, or believe something else despite evidence to the contrary". The problem is that a growing number of scientists are realizing that Darwinism has some serious shortcomings in explaining human life. Namely time. There just isn't enough time in the history of earth to account for our existence solely from gradual changes that started with a single celled organism. We also see sudden, giant leaps forward in the fossil record, where numerous new species suddenly erupt from out of nowhere.
I find it interesting that some of the most famous sci-fi concepts seem to result from trying to explain the failings of Darwinism and avoid divine creation. We grant incredible power to "mutation", resulting in sci-fi concepts like the X-men. Or we resort to theories of "seeding", wherein an alien life form is responsible for bringing human life to Earth. And that's where Prometheus sits.
But even in Prometheus, when this concept is discussed and it's suggested that a woman throw away her cross in light of their discoveries, it's pointed out that even if an alien race created us, we still have to ask "who created them?" So the "seeding" hypothesis doesn't help us avoid the need for God, it only slows us from reaching the inevitable conclusion that God is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the origin of life.
Prometheus ends on a similar note, with the surviving character saying that their search for answers continues.
Prometheus is an amazing, highly thought-provoking, intense and thrilling experience. Any fan of sci-fi and horror should see it as soon as possible, and Alien fans will also enjoy the subtle nuggets thrown in for them.
Rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.
For more information about our scoring system, click here.
Listen to this review this weekend on The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast!