Saturday, December 1, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus (Blu-Ray, 2012)

What if God was one of us?

Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Damon Lindelhof and Jon Spaihts
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron

In ancient times, the titan Prometheus was said to have given fire to humans – and been punished by the gods for his efforts.

Prometheus marks Ridley Scott's directorial return to sci-fi after a several-decade absence. It tackles weighty subjects like the creation of life, the scope of human ingenuity, and whether or not we're alone in the universe. Who created us? Who created them? This is a movie that attempts to transcend the boundaries of the screen, leaving questions in the viewer's mind long after the credits roll. Prometheus is ahead of its time, but in pursuing such grandiose questions it runs the risk of bordering on pretentious. These questions are posed by Prometheus, but never fully answered.

The story is thus: An ancient discovery on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, circa 2089, is the catalyst for a scientific mission to meet the first known extraterrestrial life. The cutting-edge starship Prometheus is dispatched to the distant moon of LV-223, believed to be their homeworld. For humanity, finding these “Engineers” and whatever they have to offer could well be the next step in the procession of human technological advancement that began with our discovery of fire. Prometheus soon arrives at its destination. When all they find are ruins, it seems that the time of the Engineers may have passed. What follows – an encounter with an inconceivably deadly biological weapon – is more than any of the crew bargained for.

The characters in this movie are a diverse group of semi-competent scientists. You'd think that one of the most important events in human history would warrant a slightly more tactful group of people, which may be one of the weak points of this movie. That said, the truth is that humans are imperfect; expecting a crew to gel cohesively in the depths of space is a tall order.

Leading the Prometheus crew is Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), a highly religious archaeologist. Rapace turns in an outstanding performance in this movie, one that frequently brings back memories of Sigorney Weaver's iconic Ripley character. Shaw is both tough-as-nails and extremely feminine; her sheer grit is inspiring. Michael Fassbender steals the show as David, the ship android. David is unquestionably the most interesting character in the film. As a creation of mankind the same way mankind is the creation of beings elsewhere, David is full of curiosity about the nature of the universe. Fassbender is perfect in this role; he is entirely believable as the morally ambiguous android.

David has a scene early on where he explores various facets of the human experience – playing basketball, eating grits, grooming, and watching Lawrence of Arabia. In the latter film, as Peter O' Toole extinguishes a match with his hand – there's fire again – he says “the 'trick' is not minding that it hurts.” This line has a deeper meaning in regards to the mission. Achievement comes at a price, after all.

Also featured prominently is Charlize Theron as Vickers, an icy Weyland executive. She is one of the weaker cast members, however, and never really gains a foothold with the audience.

The blu-ray has some very worthwhile extras that add a lot to the story. I've lamented in the past that most of the extras included on DVDs and blu-rays amount to nothing more than behind-the-scenes features that take away a lot of the magic of the special effects – in essence, a magician giving away his secrets.

This particular disc, however, is more in line with what I want out of extras. For starters, we've got the usual commentary tracks that give quite a bit of insight into the story. One with Ridley Scott himself, another with the writers of the screenplay. Moreover, there are several semi-short vignettes “designed by Weyland Corporation” showing quite a bit of the backstory behind the movie. We meet a young Peter Weyland in one and see what makes David tick in another. All of them are a glimpse into the sterilized – to the point of creepiness – laboratory world of Weyland. The most eerie of these vignettes is “Quiet Eye”. All of them are must-see, and give great insight into the movie itself if watched beforehand.

There are nearly 40 minutes of deleted scenes, many of which add a great deal to the story. They often give an entirely new spin on the story that cast the protagonists in a less kind light; in particular, Shaw looks more like an antagonist in some of the later scenes. Perhaps this is why those scenes were cut: They throw things into too much of a gray area.

Moving on to the visuals, it isn't hyperbole to say that this is one of the most visually impressive movies of the decade. The wow factor comes through loud and clear in the blu-ray version. Not since Avatar have I been this impressed by a film's visuals. While that movie thrives on bright colors, it also takes place in a largely cartoonish world. On the other hand, Prometheus features a mostly-non-CGI world; as a result, I would argue that it is superior visually even if the imagery itself isn't quite as stunning. Much like animatronics often trump CGI, there's no substitute for utilizing reality.

While I have sung the praises of this movie pretty extensively, it isn't without its problems. It has a slow pace, and at times feels like it would be more at home in the 1980's. There are spaces of time where not a whole lot seems to happen. This is an old-school exercise in suspense-building, and it didn't seem to translate too well for a modern audience. As I previously mentioned, there are some issues with the behavior of the scientists, and some seriously bone-headed moments that detract from the movie (for instance, the inability of Vickers to run sideways). Fans of Alien might be expecting more of a connection here than there is. There's plenty to nitpick on this movie about.

That said, Prometheus can be deep and engaging, and genre fans who write it off may be doing themselves a disservice. Watch it twice. The true genius of this story is hard to see in a single viewing alone, and a second watch will help greatly in comprehending it.

In the end, Prometheus is less “prequel” and more story that takes place in the same universe as Alien; it may well also be related to Blade Runner. All three seem to take place in the same corporate-dominated dystopia, where the wealthy elite run amuck with no oversight and no ethical boundaries. Are these glimpses into our own future? The way things are going, it's entirely possible.

Four Stars out of Five


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