Friday, June 8, 2012

Review: Prometheus Will Wrench Your Guts.

Prometheus is a divisive film and you are going to hear conflicting reports. Is it wonderful? Is it terrible? Does not enough happen? Does too much happen? Is it a direct prequel to Alien or is something else entirely?

I think your response will vary depending on what it is you bring to the film. How familiar are you with Alien? How precious is it to you? Do you have an affection for ponderous old-school epics? What exactly do you expect this film to be?

I have recently watched Alien, a film which has very little plot, often moves at a sluggish pace, but has so much craft that it is still a masterpiece. The design, direction and atmosphere are so strong that it elevates the story from what could be a schlocky minor movie in less capable hands. I also read a lot of bizarre, body-horror, sweeping sci-fi comics by European artists in Heavy Metal magazine. Those creatures and worlds have always captured my imagination. These are the things that I personally brought with me when watching the film.

I was pleasantly surprised, which is not to say that Prometheus is without its flaws, but I enjoyed the experience. Join me after the jump and I will tell you why.

I think that the similarities between Alien and Prometheus are a lot stronger than many reports would have you believe. Although Prometheus, at times, unnecessarily overcomplicates its story, in many ways it is a beat for beat retread of the major events of Alien. It’s about a mission, a discovery, an infection, a monster, and a showdown. And I don’t draw this comparison in a negative way - I am comfortable with the familiar and I enjoyed seeing a filmmaker revisit an earlier work from a new perspective, attacking it with a different sort of energy and creating on a far vaster canvas.

The design is as beautiful and twisted as you would want it to be and the scale is huge. There’s no denying that this is an amazing looking film with its share of breathtaking moments. Once the horror seeps in it is gut-wrenchingly visceral. One particular sequence is so audacious and inventive that you can imagine the delight in the writer and director’s eyes when they realised just how they would attempt to top the original. I haven’t been that creeped out, and that tempted to look away from the screen for a while. The whole film sparks to life whenever the characters are dragged through hell. Noomi Rapace is Sir Ridley’s new punching bag and rest assured, he puts her through her paces.

The story itself is about a trillion dollar mission to search for humanity’s “engineers”. Findings at a number of archaeological sites across the earth have uncovered what is believed to be an invitation in the form of a star map. The ship, Prometheus, with its rowdy crew and android David, arrive on the targeted planet and begin to explore until things go horribly bad, as you’d probably expect.

The story raises some big questions but doesn’t provide too many satisfying answers. And it’s there where the film really starts to unravel. I was completely engaged with the art of the film, but if you start to look too closely at what we are asked to accept then things begin to feel a little hazy. It’s hard to pinpoint many of the character motivations. As the agendas conflict, I’m not always entirely sure what exactly every character is hoping to achieve. In fact some of the biggest questions of motivation aren’t answered at all and we’re left dangling with the notion that this could be explored in a sequel. The film has huge aspirations but at time feels thin.

You’ll also have to suffer through some supporting characters making stupid horror movie decisions. “No! Don’t go in there you idiot! Why would you go in there! Don’t touch that thing! Jesus Christ, are you crazy?!”

That said, I think that the lead performances are brilliant. Fassbender is creepily engaging as the complicated android, managing to feel both trustworthy and completely untrustworthy at the same time. I enjoyed Noomi Rapace more and more as the film progressed, she earns our sympathy and yet exhibits so much strength. Charlize Theron is magnetic and incredible to look at, she approaches her role with all cylinders firing but I struggled to find her arc. And without any spoilers, there’s also an actor in there who you might find to be a bewildering choice considering his part.

And I did genuinely enjoy the expansion of the Alien lore, particularly when it came to the nature of the enigmatic “space jockeys” which have been teased in the film’s trailers. Those questions have begun to be answered and I was satisfied with that.

So I loved the film. I loved the experience of watching the film. That doesn’t mean you’ll love it too, but I do think Prometheus is worth seeing and discussing, even if it frustrates you.

I think that ultimately I’m very pro-creator. I do love filmmakers who have a really solid vision and style, and the ability to press forward and create the film’s that they want to make rather than films engineered to please the widest audience possible. (Do you go to an art gallery to see paintings designed by committee to appeal to the widest audience possible?). In that regard, at least, Prometheus is an achievement of interest.


  1. As someone who actively avoided the Alien franchise, going to chime in and say that I really enjoyed this. It was gross and epic and designed amazingly. It felt part 2001: A Space Odyssey and part Mass Effect. I'm sure there's things I missed due to my unfamiliarity, but overall it was kind of - a space opera. Bigger in every possible sense.

    1. This was exactly what I was wondering - everything I've seen suggests this is exactly the type of sci-fi I enjoy, but I know nothing of Alien whatsoever, so I'm afraid I'll miss key things.

  2. I think your review nailed it. A lot of reviewers think that people disappointed with the film expected it to be more like alien, wheras I found it was way TOO MUCH like Alien, especially since the film's excellent opening hour set me up with very different expectations.

    I could have done without the monster-movie stuff. If it had just been a 2 hour film of getting to know these (sometimes inconsistent but very promising) characters as they explore a creepy abandoned underground alien base and meet their makers, exploring the really interesting themes they bring up with David, with some of the characters going a bit crazy and things going a bit wrong (something like The Abyss) Prometheus may have just bumped up to one of my all-time fav science fiction films.

    Oh, and CAN WE TALK ABOUT Guy Pearce's terrible old-man makeup?

    1. OH GOD. I hated this choice SO MUCH. You mean we don't have a bunch of terrifyingly good older actors to play that role? Put Ian McKellen in a damned spacesuit.

    2. It's super distracting because we know its Guy Pearce so we're waiting for the big trick to be unveiled. Will the engineers make him younger? Is he not really old? You keep waiting for a reveal that never happens! It would have been far more effective with a really old actor in the role. Baffling!

  3. From what I understand, this movie is somewhat a parallel prequel; that is to day, if they came out with an Alien prequel, this movie would parallel it. It's supposedly in the same universe as Alien and happens prior to the events of Alien. Unfortunately, I cannot site my sources for this information as I can't remember where it came from.

    My question to those who've seen it; is it gory? I despise gore. I've seen too much in real life to want to see it as a form of entertainment. I'm not talking about aliens popping out of someones chest - that is completely understandable. I just hate watching someone, say, peel their face off and see every drop of blood.

    1. Tough call. I can't and will not watch horror, and I was okay with this. There is one particularly squeamish scene, but comparative to the famous chest-burster concept it's about on par.

  4. Man I miss going to movies. I am dying to see this and so many other films right now. Can't get away to do it.

    Still haven't seen Thor or Sherlock Holmes 2, and they are out on DVD now, too. Damn.

    Still, I'm sure I'll dig the movie, I like all the Alien stuff I've seen so far, even the ones people didn't like. I liked the third one even though most people crapped on it.

  5. ... did you really watch the film? and if you did, you honestly found the perfomances -apart from Michael Fassabender's performance- brilliant? seriously?

    What can I say.

  6. Okay... You got me. I didn't watch the film. I just bought a single pack of Prometheus trading cards and flipped through the pictures on the bus ride home.

    The anonymous posters are always the most astute!