Thursday, 31 May 2012
FILM REVIEW: PROMETHEUS
20th Century Fox Films
When, in the late 21st century, pictographs are discovered in a cave in Scotland, dating back some 35,000 years and similar to other such drawings found in archaeological digs around the world, doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) believe they have unearthed the greatest discovery in human history: evidence not only of alien visitation but the "engineers" of human life.
And Prometheus, Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi after a 30-year absence following Blade Runner (1982), is very much an origins story: of both humankind and the Alien franchise, which began with Scott's seminal 1979 sci-fi/horror film, Alien.
The key to your enjoyment of Prometheus, however, depends on whether or not you perceive the film as a prequel to Alien, or merely as a distant cousin; sharing some cinematic DNA and existing in the same fictional universe.
I'm a latecomer to this universe, having only seen all four Alien films in their entirety last year, so admittedly my knowledge of and love for this franchise and the world it inhabits is thin and unimpassioned. And while I greatly admire Scott's Alien (the proceeding films chronologically diminishing in quality), I'm not sure that it required a prequel, or if Prometheus is the best possible version of that.
Narratively it's all rather underwhelming: five years after their discovery, Shaw and Holloway are headed for the far reaches of the universe, on board a spaceship and as part of an expedition funded by ageing billionaire, Weyland (Guy Pearce), and overseen by the icy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), to find the so-called engineers.
They're joined by a generically ragtag bunch of geologists and engineers (Sean Harris, Rafe Spall, Kate Dickie), the ship's captain, Janek (Idris Elba), and his flight crew (Benedict Wong, Emun Elliott). And then there's David (Michael Fassbender), the impressively human-looking android who models himself on Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.
Manning the flight while all else were in cryogenic stasis, David, as designed, is there to serve the humans and their mission. But the android would seem to have an agenda all his own, one which comes into sharper focus once the exploration team touch down on a distant planet, and discover the remnants of an ancient extraterrestrial culture. And something else.
Of course Scott and his screenwriters, Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, attempt to imbue proceedings with much more weight, touching on philosophical and theological questions -- the existence of God; the creation of life -- without providing any real answers or conclusions. No doubt in a bid to appease 'middle America' audiences, Prometheus both dismisses God as Creator, while having its scientist heroine, Shaw, steadfastly clinging to her faith.
On the plus side, the film looks great. Production design by Arthur Max, and lensing by Dariusz Wolski, not to mention the army of visual effects artists, gives the film a beautiful yet sterile and foreboding palette. Yet it goes without saying that the 3D is completely unnecessary; see it in 2D and you'll lose none of the film's visual majesty.
But as easily as the performances could be lost in this landscape, both Rapace and Fassbender manage to register. Shaw may not entirely be the equal of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, but Rapace makes for a resilient and empathetic heroine.
The real (anti) hero of Prometheus, however, is Fassbender, who imbues the mechanical David with humour, menace and, yes, soul, if not a heart.
Perhaps the same could be said of Prometheus: a machine seemingly designed for one purpose but which completes an entirely different mission altogether. Hardcore fans of Alien will know better than I if it achieves what it -- or they thought it -- set out to do, but for me Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi, prequel or not, is more underwhelming than disappointing.