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Prometheus (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

PROMETHEUS (2012)

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green

Written By: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof Directed By: Ridley Scott

The Short Version

Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe, but it’s only a “sort of” prequel.

The direction and cinematography are amazing.

Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender excel in their roles.

The script could have used another polish.

Overall, Prometheus is well worth seeing, on an Imax screen, if you can.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

SMOKY MELLOW CHEDDAR ON A CRACKER.

It’s got great character to it, but it’s not quite as sharp as one would probably have expected, and it’s been served for a more standardized appeal.  Still damn delicious, though.


Pairs Well With...

VODKA.

Straight.

“We call them Engineers.”


Depending on the circles you walk in, Prometheus was either the most or second most anticipated movie for the Summer of 2012.  (Sharing distinction with The Avengers, of course.)  Why?  Because it’s director Ridley Scott going back to the universe he first brought to the screen with Alien, that’s why.

Pretty compelling reasoning, all things considered.

But, as other highly anticipated films from The Phantom Menace to Freddy vs. Jason have taught us, having doesn’t always end up being quite as much fun as wanting, especially when a previously established mythos is being built upon.  So, with that in mind, how well does Prometheus stack up?

Damn well, actually.  Not perfectly by any means, but damn well.

Though initially conceived as a direct prequel to Alien, Prometheus as it has come to be is more of a “sideways” prequel, since Ridley Scott decided that while he wanted to visit that universe again, he wanted to put his focus on a different aspect of it.  Out story takes place in the last decade of the 21st century, and follows an exploratory starship on a mission to a previously unexplored corner of space.  This mission was commissioned by none other than the enormously wealthy Peter Weyland himself (Guy Pearce, Lockout), who was inspired to do so because of discoveries made by a pair of archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil), suggesting that several ancient human societies were visited by extraterrestrials who conveniently left behind some star maps – maps pointing out the star that the ship is about to arrive at.

But what if, instead of finding the gods of old, they find something else?  Or, perhaps worse, what if they find the gods of old and something else?

Since most of the audience knows what universe this comes from, it doesn’t take a psychic to guess that whatever comes next is not going to be pleasant for the crew…

And now, of course, people want to know just how much of the old familiar Alien mythos shows up.  Since I really want you to see this movie and try to avoid spoilers in any case, I’ll limit myself to just a few notes on that subject.

First and most obvious, the Weyland name and logos are all there, as is the android technology, which even follows the established naming protocol of the series.  (A, B, C, and now D.)  There’s no mistaking that this is The Company.

Second, the production design is incredibly faithful to what came before, and yes, H.R. Giger is involved.  (Bonus: nice visual nods are also made on a few occasions to 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Third, you will hear a whisper of Jerry Goldsmith’s original score.

As for the fabled creature itself… not telling.  But the species represented by the one dubbed by fans as “the Space Jockey” from the original film is central to everything.  Indeed, that imagery is lifted wholesale throughout.

All right, one more hint.  Sharp series nerds will remember that the original planet was designated LV-426.  The planet visited by the Prometheus has a different – but close – designation.  So, like I said, sideways.

But oh, how very, very beautifully sideways.

If you can see Prometheus in a theatre, do it, and if you have the further opportunity to see it in Imax, do that.  Once you hit the home video front, get the highest definition copy that your equipment can stand.  From start to finish, this is one of the most beautifully filmed Hollywood features I’ve seen in quite a while.  The cinematography is first rate, and it should go without saying that Ridley Scott’s direction does the DP’s work lots and lots of favors.  The outdoor shots are magnificent, but the interior work – even in the dark, cavernous corridors – gives those a run for their money, too, made all the better for the fact that Prometheus relies on physical effects as much as possible and only hits the CG switch on relatively few occasions.  The overall look isn’t quite the claustrophobic terror trap of the original saga, but there’s still no questioning that at its heart, this is a horror flick. 

What’s more, even the stereoscopy (aka “3D”) is wonderfully achieved (at least on the Imax print), which, despite the general hype for the stuff, is a very rare thing.  (Even a clip from Lawrence of Arabia that is used in the film gets the treatment to surprisingly decent results.)  That also removes my last possible thing to complain about visually (save for some of the haircuts, but oh well), so on the eyeball scale, Prometheus is indeed everything you could have hoped for and more.

It’s when you get to the script that you start hitting the occasional snag.

Getting the biggest worry out of the way first, in terms of weaving the story of Prometheus into that of the Alien saga, the script does a decent job of it.  At the behest of director Scott, it also does a nice job of throwing ancient astronaut theory as popularized by Erich von Daniken into the mix as a way of tying everything together.  Most of the characters are very nicely realized, especially the android, David, and our heroine, Elizabeth, with great care being taken to be sure that they are not carbon copies of other characters whom series fans will want to make them analogs for, while at the same time doing so casually enough that it doesn’t seem forced.  (Great performances by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender certainly help on this front, as well.)

But then there’s the matter of the other archaeologist, Charlie, and the stiff-as-a-board ship master, Miss Vickers (Charlize Theron, Aeon Flux).  Charlie never quite fits into any scene that he’s written into, and is obviously there not for the sake of himself as a character, but as a plot point for two others, and Logan Marshall-Green’s less than compelling performance doesn’t do anything to make up for the slack.  Charlize Theron, meanwhile, more than holds her own, but her character – which has so very, very much potential – ends up feeling wasted as time goes on.

 Indeed, what happens with these characters is symptomatic of the script as a whole, which has something of a Goldilocks’ porridge complex: sometimes it’s too thick, sometimes it’s too thin, and sometimes it’s just right.  Fortunately, the most important stuff is “just right,” and the fact the Ridley Scott is at the helm also does a lot to make the stuff that’s “just right” the most memorable, but those other two bowls of porridge are still definitely there, and they do show up a lot, particularly, again, when Charlie or Miss Vickers are around.  The script also has a problem picking twists that are hard to figure out; if you’re paying any attention at all, you’ll guess most of them well before they happen.  You’ll be in the grip of awesome direction, so you won’t care, but still.  I’d say that the script for Prometheus could definitely have used one more round of polish before going live.

At the end of the day, though, one still ends up with the second best film in the Alien series, and considering what’s sitting up top (namely Ridley Scott’s original Alien), second place is not a bad way to finish at all.  There’s also one more thing worth noting here: Prometheus is the first film of 2012 that has made me want to see it again while it’s still playing in a theatre.  Other stuff has been good, but I’ve come away from those thinking that I’d just have to remember to pick them up when they come out on home video, at some point.  (Yes, even that movie.)  Prometheus, on the other hand, I will definitely be catching on the big screen at least one more time, and I’ll pick up the blu ray on the first day that it’s out.  So I guess the flaws aren’t exactly damning, are they?

Bottom line, Prometheus is the best film that I’ve seen on the big screen so far in 2012.  No, it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s gripping, it’s thought provoking, it’s creepy, and it’s gorgeous… and I already want to see it again.  You should, too.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2012

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