The Wednesday Review: Prometheus (2012)

  • Director – Ridley Scott
  • Starring – Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender
  • Written By – John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
  • Year – 2012
  • Length – 124 mins

 At the start of the summer, I decided this was going to be the summer of expectation management.  There was so much promise and potential to look forward to, but I couldn’t shake the underlying fear that when it was all over I would be left feeling a tad disappointed.  However, we got off to a good start with films like The Hunger Games, The Avengers and Iron Sky all arriving on the back of significant levels of marketing which successfully fed the already heightened levels of anticipation.  Luckily, two out three have lived up to the hype, while one felt a little bit too stretched.  That’s not a bad percentage.  Next up was the big one though: Prometheus.

Right from the off, I think it is worth saying I thought Prometheus was fantastic and probably the best film I have seen so far this year.  It is an epic piece of film-making, during which Director Ridley Scott takes us on a gloriously mesmerizing journey following the crew of the spaceship USS Prometheus as they travel in pursuit of the answer to the ultimate question: Where do we come from?

Its 2089 and archaeologists Elisabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her boyfriend Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a network of unconnected cave paintings which appear to depict the origins of the human race and a star system deep into space.  The two persuade wealthy businessman Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce) to fund a deep space scientific expedition to travel to the far distant star system in an attempt to meet their makers.  After a two-year journey, during which the crew are kept in hyperspace and cared for by David, an Android (played by the again brilliant Michael Fassbender), the ship arrives at planet LV 223 and the crew suit up and set out to explore.

There is one thing that I want to clear up right at the start.  There is no doubt that Prometheus has been undone by its own publicity-generating machine, which has lead to both increased expectations, but also a potential misunderstanding of what the film actually is. Scott has consistently stated that Prometheus is contained within the Alien universe but is not a prequel and has in fact stated there will be two more films after Prometheus before we even get to Alien.

However the reviews and general reception of the film seem to suggest that people have been unable to leave their Alien (or more likely Aliens) baggage at the door, so are coming away disappointed as it was not the film they either expected or perhaps wanted.  And I think this is at the heart of the issue. People seemed to want chest-bursters and flame-throwers and instead they got a thought-provoking sci-fi film.  Is this the fault of the marketing department?  Where people sold a bum-deal?  I don’t think so as all the trailers and viral Internet clips were relatively restrained, not a chest-burster or flame-thrower in sight.

I haven’t seen Alien in probably 20 years and my memory of it is more than slightly fuzzy.  I purposefully didn’t re-watch it in the run up as what would be the point? Prometheus is set before Alien, so none of plot is relevant.  Therefore I was able enjoy Prometheus in its own right and judge it on its own merits.   I wasn’t constantly comparing it to Alien, which a lot of people seem to be doing. In my view this is the wrong way of looking at it and does a disservice to the film.

So now I have got that off my chest, onto the actual film which contained some outstanding performances across the board. Both Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron were impressive and Rapace in particular puts in one of the performances of the year.  She is of course a different beast to Ripley, but as I keep saying, it is a different film!

The interaction between the two archeologists (Shaw and Holloway) feels genuine and real.  The two have scoured the earth in pursuit of cave paintings and have now spent two years travelling through space chasing a theory.  They have a huge amount invested in the mission and  indeed each other.  You strongly feel the connection between the two, no more so than during a private moment in their quarters when they are examining a DNA slide. They are like proud parents.

Michael Fassbender as the android David has again proved why he is such a classic talent.  He plays David with some wonderful robotic charm, with just a touch of menace.  Bizarrely, even though he is an android, David gets some of the best character development as his motives and intentions unfold during the film.  The scenes of David looking after the crew during the first two years are intriguing to watch, so much so I was a little disappointed when he had to wake the crew up, I wanted to see more of him on his own roaming the ship. He also hands down gets the best line in the film, but I won’t ruin it for anyone that hasn’t seen it.

However I think my favourite role goes to Idris Elba as Janek the Captain of the USS Prometheus.  His interaction with Theron was priceless and he brought some much-needed grit and an element of normality to proceedings when things sometimes got just a little too philosophical.

As good as it was, there were issues with the film. The character development seemed scattered and some of the minor roles weren’t given enough time to properly develop before the inevitable happens.  Also the overarching themes of religion and the creation of life etc, occasionally felt overly forced to front and centre.  I normally struggle to get the underlying themes in most films on a first watch, but even I understood this one.  Therefore, perhaps they were a little too obvious.

I would also be really interested to understand how the editing process evolved, as at times the film seems a little disjointed and bordering on rushed, especially the 10 mins or so.  I wonder what pressures the studio brought to bear on the running time?  However I suspect that this will be explained in the inevitable Directors Cut where we will see what Scott actually wanted on the screen as I suspect that we have not seen his true vision yet.

So to sum up, if you are looking for chest-bursters, scampering Aliens and flame-throwers then this probably isn’t film for you, you are best served checking out Aliens again.  However if you want a thoughtful, engaging and mesmerizing sci-fi film, this this your kind of cake.

★★★★

Review by Will Malone
 
If you like Prometheus, then try Only Lovers Left Alive