Prometheus (2012)

One of the most anticipated films of the Summer release slate, “Prometheus” is Ridley Scott’s return to the unknown terrors waiting for us in the blackness of outer space.

Much speculation has been focused on whether or not this new science fiction epic is or isn’t a prequel to Scott’s 1979 masterpiece, “Alien.” Well, I’ll just get that bit of curiosity out of the way. It is, but don’t expect this new film to dwell on humans being threatened by xenomorphs. This isn’t a simple alien horror exercise. Scott has much grander ideas on his mind.

In fact, “Prometheus” is much less centered on either the monster movie elements in “Alien” or the action bombast of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, “Aliens,” as it is much more interested in asking the bigger questions involving our religious beliefs and the mysterious nature of the origins of life. It’s more a film about exploration and the dangers of discovery, and I enjoyed the journey very much.

Easily one of Scott’s best films since the 1980’s, “Prometheus” is one of the most beautifully shot and designed science fiction films I’ve ever seen. Massive, elaborate sets and props help give the film a sense of reality that separates it from films that rely completely on CGI for every sequence, and I can’t remember the last science fiction epic I saw other than maybe “Avatar” that really made me feel like I was actually seeing another world.

The story follows field scientist and believing Christian, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), who has discovered ancient cave paintings that seem to be a star chart pointing to a far off galaxy, each painted by different ancient civilizations that had no contact with each other. Dangling the possibility of discovering the truth about the origins of life on earth, she convinces the Weyland Corporation to build the most expensive, high tech space craft ever built to seek the answers to the biggest questions ever asked.

The ship is captained by Janek (Idris Elba), but the corporate decisions are made by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). The most interesting character in the film is the ship’s android, David, played by the ever watchable Michael Fassbender (“X-Men: First Class,” “Inglourious Basterds”). David spends the years while the others are in hyper-sleep mastering the sport of basketball on a bicycle and watching classic films like “Lawrence of Arabia,” even dying his hair to match Peter O’Toole’s in that film. Fassbender displays a tangible sense of wonder in David, curious about everything around him in equal measure, but unable to really emotionally connect to anything or anyone. Scott plays with our preconditioned distrust of androids that he himself created in films like “Alien” and “Blade Runner.” Is David there to help the mission or is he programmed for another purpose by the corporation?

It’s safe to say that this film isn’t for everyone. The person in front of me at the screening I attended declared this, “The worst movie I’ve ever seen,” as soon as the credits started to role. I assume he has seen at least two, maybe three, other movies.

The movie isn’t without flaws. One of the major questions the film and the characters in it want answered goes frustratingly unanswered, and this may be a deal breaker for some viewers. Others who are expecting this to be a big budget update of “Alien” or a straight up horror film will also likely come away disappointed. The grotesque horror, when it finally comes, is horrific indeed, but it might not be enough for those who came to see a gore show.

The best way to experience “Prometheus” is not to go in with the baggage of “Alien” in your head, but to let the film take you on a quest of exploration and discovery to its own ends. I was absorbed in the alien beauty of Ridley Scott’s wide-screen, otherworldly vistas and have been thinking about the film long since I left the theater. In a season where the science fiction we’re often fed is as brain dead as “Transformers” and “Battleship,” it’s refreshing to see a big budget sci-fi adventure that leaves the audience with a little more to think about than where to go eat after the credits roll.

~The Phantom of the Ville

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