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Prometheus

Movie Information

The Story: A corporation sends a small group of specialists into space to track down what may be the origin of life on Earth. The Lowdown: Never as deep, and certainly not as daring, as it seems to wish it was, Prometheus is still compelling as entertainment -- and boasts some incredible effects and design.
Score:

Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Greene
Rated: R

Enough with all the coyness—yes, this is a prequel to Alien. However, it’s the kind of prequel where, yeah, you’ll get the connection if you know the first film, but, you don’t need to get it in order to understand the plot. That’s smart (though, in truth, I doubt the interest from people who’ve never seen Alien is very strong), but it’s the kind of smart that also keeps Prometheus from being the “great” film Ridley Scott was obviously trying for. It’s apparent that Scott was hoping to make a sci-fi picture that is also an “important” statement that explores big themes—and which has that enduring impenetrable mystery of Kubrick’s 2001 (with maybe a dash of Malick’s Tree of Life). The problem is that Scott is too much of a professional popularizer to make that leap of faith—in himself and in his audience—to pull it off. Prometheus—whatever its merits—isn’t taking any real chances.

We get a workable basic concept of following what appear to be guideposts left on Earth by ancient aliens works—which somehow skirts the feel of crackpot “ancient aliens” speculative TV shows. But what makes the film successful is the quality—and effectiveness—of the very spectacle laid out for us. And there Prometheus—whether you attribute it to Scott or to the production designers and effects technicians—scores very nicely. It’s also nice to see a big movie that doesn’t feel the need to climax with some kind of gigantic battle. Oh, sure, there’s an exciting climax with the requisite peril and explosions, but it’s geared toward story, character and concept—not just the need for a big ending. Will it spawn a sequel? Well, it’s certainly pitched to one, but it has the wisdom to have a self-contained ending. Is it short of greatness? Yes, but it’s still an impressive show.

While Scott’s attempt may fall short, he has made an entertaining, fast-moving, good-looking film that at least flirts with big questions. That it’s fast-moving is no small feat when you consider that it’s not really an action-oriented film, being more interested in mood, atmosphere and theme. It doesn’t even rely on the stock false scare techniques of Scott’s own 1979 Alien—and that’s partly the result of Scott’s desire that the film should be more than an exercise in sci-fi horror. (In that regard, at least, it’s a more original movie experience—whether it’s a more effective one is undoubtedly a personal call.)

For instance, I’m not skeptical about the idea that the big scientific force behind the story might have strong religious beliefs. That Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is a Christian is fine. That she not only makes supposedly scientific decisions based on what she “chooses to believe” isn’t, and it’s even harder for me to swallow that a huge corporation backs her theory founded on that basis. I get that it’s all about the film’s desire to explore the nature of faith, but it’s not really explored—merely stated. That the film ends in a way that suggests a subsequent film (or films) will explore it is—at this point—something of a side issue.

Now, if you want to pick other aspects of the movie’s plot apart, it’s certainly possible—and casting Guy Pearce (under gobs of makeup) as the incredibly old corporate head Peter Weyland just feels like a stunt. But it’s overall solid enough for purposes of drama. Most of the characters are pretty well defined, but Rapace’s Shaw and Michael Fassbender’s android, David, are the standouts. Fassbender gets the best of the film, evidencing both a charismatic appeal and an air of suavely sinister villainy at the same time. In fact, the whole film is worth watching for his performance. Rated R for sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language.

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

52 thoughts on “Prometheus

  1. Xanadon't

    casting Guy Pearce (under gobs of makeup) as the incredibly old corporate head Peter Weyland just feels like a stunt.

    I suspect we’ll be seeing Guy Pearce as a younger man in a flashback scene at some point should there be a sequel.

    On the whole I was very impressed with the movie and enjoyed it enough that I’ll be heading out to see it again before long.

  2. Jeremy Dylan


    I suspect we’ll be seeing Guy Pearce as a younger man in a flashback scene at some point should there be a sequel.

    I bloody hope so. He’ll be feeling a bit gypped over the five hour makeup process otherwise.

  3. bsummers

    I suspect we’ll be seeing Guy Pearce as a younger man in a flashback scene at some point should there be a sequel.

    Count on it. Lance Henriksen did three Alien movies in the Bishop/Weyland role.

  4. Jeremy Dylan

    Having done some research, it appears that several scenes of Pearce as a younger version of his character were shot and then later cut from the film. They may wind up on the DVD.

  5. Xanadon't

    Yeah, I could see an extended version clocking in at 150 minutes or so. Any guesses whether or not Janek visits Vickers’ quarters and puts to bed any remaining speculation (apparently it’s out there) that she may in fact be a robot?

  6. Orbit DVD

    I liked this quite a bit. Is it too early to predict an Oscar nomination for Fassbender? His performance was inspired and they still owe him one for SHAME.

  7. Jeremy Dylan

    (though, in truth, I doubt the interest from people who’ve never seen Alien is very strong)

    I think I’ve seen ALIEN, although it was so long ago I don’t remember much about it and it may have been one of the sequels.

    I saw this mainly on the strength of the cast – Elba, Theron, Fassbender, Rapace, Pearce.

  8. bsummers

    “Surely you jest.”

    Don’t call him Shirley…

    That joke isn’t as funny in print for some reason.

  9. luluthebeast

    It was fine. Had poor plotting, good f/x, mediocre monsters, an absurd, yet beautiful beginning, which, as I’ve been thinking about it, could have been easily fixed by having ape creatures downstream. I just have no desire to see it again. Except maybe to tivo it and fast-forward to Fassbender’s parts.

  10. bsummers

    I’ll admit that the story strained credibility on a couple of points, the main one being that Weyland would mount this trillion-dollar mission, yet keep it’s purpose a secret from the idiots who would screw it up by accident or moralists who would do it on purpose once they find out what it’s really about.

    Other than a few things like that, I thought the story was elegant and the f/x spectacular. Noomi Rapace would not have been my first choice to anchor a new reluctant-female-adventure-heroine franchise like Sigourney Weaver did for Alien, but I came away believing she can pull it off.

  11. luluthebeast

    Ken and I pretty much always disagree on whether a science fiction film should be as scientifically accurate as possible. It bugs me when it’s not; him, not so much. Nigel Kneale did a much better job in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, and that was 45 years ago. It just doesn’t take that much effort for a writer to do his/her homework!
    The non-monster f/x was very good, I just thought the beasties were mediocre. I was pleasantly surprised by Rapace, who seems to have bulked up a bit from her DRAGON TATTOO days. That must have been some special joy-juice she was injecting herself with to do all the things she did after getting sliced open!

  12. Ken Hanke

    Noomi Rapace would not have been my first choice to anchor a new reluctant-female-adventure-heroine franchise like Sigourney Weaver did for Alien, but I came away believing she can pull it off.

    Considering the spectacular drop in box office from week one to week two, I question if a franchise is a sure thing.

  13. Ken Hanke

    Ken and I pretty much always disagree on whether a science fiction film should be as scientifically accurate as possible. It bugs me when it’s not; him, not so much. Nigel Kneale did a much better job in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, and that was 45 years ago.

    Meh. That has nothing to do with why I like Quatermass and the Pit.

  14. bsummers

    Considering the spectacular drop in box office from week one to week two, I question if a franchise is a sure thing.

    It’s a different landscape from 1979, that’s for sure. Alien raised the bar for sci-fi/horror, and it takes more to impress these days. I hope they do make a sequel.

    Heck, they’re exhuming Arrested Development for a movie, and making a sequel to Anchorman. All the good ideas must have been done.

  15. Ken Hanke

    Alien raised the bar for sci-fi/horror, and it takes more to impress these days.

    I wasn’t that impressed with Alien in 1979, but I don’t know that I think it takes more to impress these days. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have the Transformers and Twilight movies.

  16. bsummers

    “I wasn’t that impressed with Alien in 1979″

    I got prepped for Alien the same way I think a lot of sci-fi heads did in 1979 – they did a big spread previewing Alien & the production art behind it in the magazine Heavy Metal. For sci-fi comic fans, knowing that elements of the design were done by H.R. Giger and the great Mobius himself, it was hard to not be excited.

    Of course, that sort of unconventional movie marketing is old hat, now…

  17. Ken Hanke

    Oh, Alien was just as promoted in the film magazines at the time — back when all good film nerds read Film Comment and American Film — in large part because Scott was considered a pretty big deal owing to The Duellists (which I’ve still never seen). The Giger art was a part of it, too. And a big deal was made over the way Scott got the look of his sets by hazing them up with incense. It all sounded pretty darn interesting. Then I saw it and, to me, what I got was an expensive redo of It! The Terror from Beyond Space and a lot of stock false scare “boo” effects (including the hoariest of them all, false-scare-by-cat). It did look nice, though.

  18. luluthebeast

    Meh. That has nothing to do with why I like Quatermass and the Pit.

    I didn’t think it would, but Kneale lifted the whole movie out of the usual SciFi hum-drum.

  19. Ken Hanke

    Maybe it was because he disliked science fiction altogether that his take feels fresh. Plausible has nothing to do with its appeal for me.

  20. luluthebeast

    The plausibility of his work always appealed to me because he would start with an idea that had nothing to do with science fiction, but something to do with the human element, to which he would work in the science and fictional elements and end up with a product that while being classed as science fiction was at it’s heart a well written drama.

    It’s the same with Harlan Ellison, who I realize many people dislike because he can be such an asshole. But many of his stories that are classed as science fiction or fantasy are basically stories about human frailties and ugliness that he put in a science-fictional situation, but the human element is always the most important, as was Kneale’s better works.

  21. Dionysis

    “…an expensive redo of It! The Terror from Beyond Space”

    Yep, that is how I perceived the movie when I saw it way back when.

    I liked ‘Aliens’ a lot better; in fact, of the series, IMO, it was the best of the bunch.

    Gee, I really hope none of the ‘out of fresh ideas’ film makers try and remake them.

  22. Ken Hanke

    I liked ‘Aliens’ a lot better; in fact, of the series, IMO, it was the best of the bunch

    That far I can’t go. And I liked Alien Resurrection better than any of them.

  23. Dionysis

    “And I liked Alien Resurrection better than any of them.”

    I admit this surprises me; I thought it was by far the weakest of the series. It seemed lifeless and devoid of any real excitement to me. It played (again, just one person’s opinion) as a ‘let’ go through the motions and churn out another for some quick cash’ movie.

  24. bsummers

    I think I’ve told this story before, but oh well. In 1990, I was in Prague. I was walking around the new high-end shopping district late one night, in the snow. I came upon a shop window filled with the biggest TVs I had ever seen at the time. All of them were showing the movie Alien. Standing in front of the window was this giant man, wearing a cloth cap and a worn trenchcoat. Standing there, he looked a like a caricature of a newly-emancipated Eastern European in shock at the flood of commercialism from the west.

    I walked up in the snow to stand next to him & marvel at the giant TVs. He looked at me, started to look away & then did a double-take. He looked back at the TVs, and then turned & stared back at me. Only then did I remember that I had on my Alien baseball cap, which was exactly the same as the ones the characters on the giant TV screens were wearing. All this happened in complete silence, and I watched him shake his head & walk away…

    Poor guy – to this day I wonder what sort of kink I put on his brain with that stupid hat…

  25. bsummers

    “”And I liked Alien Resurrection better than any of them.”

    “I admit this surprises me; I thought it was by far the weakest of the series.”

    I agree with Di. Alien Resurrection seemed crass to me, especially after Sigourney Weaver famously insisted that her character Ripley get killed off in Alien3, because she didn’t want to see her get exploited ad nauseum. Then comes that bastard Joss Whedon with a clever “let’s clone Ripley” script, and they offered Weaver $11 mil to wake up & kill the bad monsters one more time…

    All that being said, I liked some things about it, and thought it hilarious that they hired Jean Jeunot to direct. He brought french actor Dominic Pinon along with him. And Dan Hedaya was great as the psycho commander, I thought…

  26. Ken Hanke

    I think you’re near the crux of why I liked it the best. I’m putting it in context of Jeunet’s filmography more than the series of movies. That may seem wrong if you liked the series, but I wasn’t impressed by the first, was bored by the second (believe it or not, that’s possible), and hated the third, so I had nothing invested in it.

  27. bsummers

    I can see that. Sandwiched between City of Lost Children (which also starred Ron Perlman alongside Pinon), and Amelie, Alien Resurrection was an interesting diversion.

    Now, if they had cast Audrey Tautou in A.R. instead of Winona Ryder, then you’d have had something.

  28. Jeremy Dylan

    We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.

  29. bsummers

    “Hey wait a minute, cops – is this some kind of bust?”

    “Yes, they’re very impressive. But that’s not important right now.”

  30. Big Al

    A brief sociopolitical synopsis of the “Alien” series.

    Alien(1970s): inconveneint little stinker bursts from your belly making life all messy. Men fail to cope and only a strong woman can clean up the mess. Feminists stand and applaud.

    Aliens(1980s): typical male solution to monster problem, “Send in the Marines!” Again, only a woman forklift driver can deal. Feminists stand and applaud.

    Alien3 (1990s): All the men are in prison and only a woman, in a moment that equates messy childbirth with messianic sacrificial crucifixion, can save the day. Feminists stand and applaud.

    Alien Ressurection (2000s): “an inconvenient monster” with a human head must be defeated by his mommy and her girlfriend while orbitng Toilet Earth. Al Gore and Ellen Degeneres lead the applause.

    Prometheus (2010s): alien engineers as non-traditional parents declare to their dysfunctional children “I brought you into this universe, and I can take you out!”. Feminists protest that the heroine is straight, married, Christian and too damned cute!

  31. bsummers

    Um, Ripley (as played by Sigourney Weaver) was only ever portrayed as straight. She seduced the male doctor in Alien3. And there was nothing resembling romance between her clone and the android played by Winona Ryder in Alien Resurrection.

  32. luluthebeast

    [b]And there was nothing resembling romance between her clone and the android played by Winona Ryder in Alien Resurrection.[/b]

    And it’s our loss that there wasn’t!

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