Sunday, June 24, 2012


Typically, when I see a movie, I jot down some thoughts and will probably blog it within a few days.  Unless I'm being lazy, which has been known to happen from time to time.  With Prometheus, though, I had a different problem.  I just wasn't sure how I felt about it.  So, I pondered and pondered, making sure to stay off the interwebs and work it out in my noggin.  The more I thought about Ridley Scott's kinda-sorta-not-really prequel to Alien, though, the more I realized that my take on the movie didn't fit my traditional review format.  So, first up is this review.  My next post will be "Prometheus: What the Hell Was That?" and I will try to explain what confused me so much about this film.

Prometheus is, at its core, the story of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), and their quest for answers.  Shaw and Holloway are romantically-entwined archaeologists, and they have found the same star constellation in the primitive artwork of several ancient civilizations, separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles. 
"Is that...somebody playing jai-alai?"
That wouldn't be a big deal if the constellation was the Big Dipper, but this particular constellation is not visible with the naked eye.  In fact, human technology had to expand to an advanced degree before discovering it.  That fact, coupled with the inexplicable coincidence of societies that had no contact sharing the same image in their artwork, leads them to conclude that the constellation is a map.  A map to where, you may ask?  A map to a planet where humanity's predecessors (dubbed "Engineers" by Shaw and Holloway) came from --- humanity's cradle, if you will.  Their theory intrigues the aging corporate magnate Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and he funds a space voyage (on the ship Prometheus) to investigate the planet.  Once the crew arrives, however, they find a barren world with only one empty base.  Well, maybe not exactly "empty."
Giant statue head with made-to-scale aspirin tablet statues
They also find a corpse of what they presume to be an Engineer.  But what could wipe out the Engineers?  Why did they come to Earth in the first place?  Can we still find out where humanity came from?  The last two questions, while good, are not nearly as important as the first. 
That looks vaguely familiar, doesn't it?
When you consider that question, the natural follow-up is this: how likely is the survival of a group who doesn't know what they are up against?  Hint: not very.  With every passing minute on this planet, it feels less and less like the cradle of humanity and more like a tomb.

Now, if you've seen the film and are wondering where all the buff Powder clones are, that's what I'm going to get into with "Prometheus: What the Hell Was That?"

While my synopsis may not indicate it, there are actually more than a couple of actors in Prometheus.  Noomi Rapace was good as the innocent who has to get tough, but she wasn't great.  I wanted to like her character more, but wound up being distracted by some other plot elements instead.  I will say that she conveyed pain and fear better than anyone else in the cast, at the very least.  Oh, and if you have any fears about pregnancy, she's in a scene that you may not want to watch.  Ever.
Logan Marshall-Green was a lot less sympathetic.  He did a fine job playing an overconfident prick, but I think that his character was intended for more, given the amount of quality screen time he had.  I did like Idris Elba as the captain of the Prometheus.  It was odd seeing a captain play such a passive role in a sci-fi flick, but I enjoyed his laid-back approach.  I would have liked to see more of his character, but he did a good job with what he had and his choices at the end of the film didn't feel completely out of left field.
The rest of his core crew --- Benedict Wong, Emun Elliott, and a few others --- were inconsequential to the overall acting quality of the film.  The character design for Sean Harris was a bit unusual for a geologist.  I expected him to be a guard or something, but he was a scientist.  So...there's that.
Sometimes, even smart people get tattoos on their head
Rafe Spall's character was similarly odd.  He plays a biologist who shows zero interest in a dead alien and later acts like a complete jackass when encountering a new species.  Worst.  Biologist.  Ever.  I wasn't a big fan of either of those two.  Charlize Theron played a cold, calculating bitch in the background of scenes; I don't think Theron did a bad job acting here (her reaction post-flamethrower was pretty good), but her character felt like a waste of space to me, another bit of misdirection in a film jam-packed with it.  I have no idea why Guy Pearce was cast to play the elderly Peter Weyland; Pearce was fine and his makeup was good, but why cast a young man as an older man if you're not going to show him as a youth?  And, no, I don't count viral marketing as a good enough reason.  Maybe this means that Pearce will be showing up in a planned seuqel/prequel to Prometheus?  Whatever, it's not too important.  Similarly, I was surprised to see Patrick Wilson playing the incredibly bit part of Shaw's father in her dreams.  The most impressive actor in Prometheus, though, was definitely Michael Fassbender.  His work as the android David was fantastic.
Dare I say..."Fasstastic"?  No, probably not.
It takes a lot to play a character supposedly devoid of emotion and make him absolutely mesmerizing in every scene, but Fassbender accomplished it.  He was cold, manipulative and sneaky, but he didn't remind me of the other android characters from the Alien series; his character felt very unique.  He also had a viral ad that was pretty good, but it doesn't even hint at how much fun he was to watch as a quasi-villain.

The first thing I think of when I ponder Ridley Scott's direction in Prometheus is how incredibly gorgeous the movie looks.  The cinematography is sometimes breathtaking, the sets are impressive in both size and style, and the details of the Prometheus ship technology and the Engineer base are well beyond cool.  The imaginative visuals in this movie make it one of the most visually astounding science fiction films I have ever seen.
I'm not always an IMAX guy, but this looked amazing in IMAX
Scott obviously had a pretty good relationship with Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, as they turned in good performances, but I was a little disappointed in the rest of the supporting cast.  There are a lot of characters in this film that make important decisions, but I felt that Scott made them seem more important to the overall story than they were, which made them feel overvalued and underdeveloped. 
Example number one
I wouldn't have minded that so terribly if the film wasn't so packed with subtext.  Prometheus is a dense movie that does not stop to explain itself to the likes of you, the audience, or hint at what details are going to be important later.  On the one hand, I respect that choice; more often than not, films err on the side of over-explaining themselves.  Prometheus, though, is absolutely unapologetically confusing.  Scott definitely gives enough hints to read into his intentions, but the fact that I feel compelled to write another blog post about those intentions should indicate that his storytelling is not as taut or clear as it could have been.

That's really the problem with Prometheus.  It has one truly impressive performance (Fassbender) and a good secondary performance (Rapace), a wonderfully developed universe, and an ambitious concept (humans seeking their makers).  What it doesn't have is good storytelling.  There are a few reveals in this film, but they are predictable and dull.  And then there is a twist, which is astounding because it appears to have no motivation.  For the first two-thirds of Prometheus, it is a slow-boiling sci-fi thriller with somewhat pretentious themes, and it looks like it's going to be great.  And then it suddenly becomes a horror movie, complete with psycho killers and monsters.  That just felt cheap to me.  I also didn't appreciate the bushels of questions (that is the proper term of measurement for questions, by the way) I was left with when the film finished.  Granted, it did get me to ponder the film for an entire week after seeing it --- which is quite a feat --- but I was left unsatisfied.  Prometheus is absolutely gorgeous and ambitious, it handles the creation of mankind so well that the existence of an alien Engineer race doesn't preclude the existence of God, and it is very, very impressive.  It is also purposefully obtuse and frustrating.  As much as I wanted to be blown away by this movie, the story and the unexplained subtext disappointed me.  Still, it is certainly worth seeing, if only for the spectacle and Fassbender.

By the by, I wanted to call out as the source for all the cool pics I included in this post.  I don't know who's in charge of that site, but they are definitely the web's singular resource for all things --- pics, details, theories, whatever --- Prometheus.  And they appear to be pretty bright; after I jotted down my interpretations of what happened in this movie in my follow-up post, I went back to compare my take with theirs and I learned a few things.


  1. I largely agree with everything, but I would put more emphasis on how incredibly dumb the characters (chiefly the geologist and biologist) were. Having characters that incredibly stupid is what toes the line between good sci-fi and bad horror. Multiple, "Don't do that!" moments from the audience is not what one should be shooting for in a sci-fi flick. Also, as you mentioned, the one-dimensional caricatures that were everyone outside of Rapace and Fassbender made it all feel cheap beneath its flashy skin. My theory here is that they spent so much time with the David character that the rest got some blanket treatment. With that said, thank God that they spent as much time as they did with David. Fasstastic should nab an Oscar for his performance.

    Overall, the biggest problem was biting off way more than they could chew. There were enough ideas in there for a handful of sci-fi movies. I thought David and the Engineer material should have been the focus and it really should have had little or nothing to do with the Aliens franchise. In the end, it all felt like a jumbled mess of ideas. It resembled more of something from an adolescent who wants dinosaurs, aliens, Eskimos, and the Nazis packed into one feature film, than a responsible director with a single vision.

  2. I pretty much have to agree with nbj above. The movie was a mess. And the characters were dumb AND unlikable. For my money putting Rafe Spall in anything and not giving him as much screen time as possible is also a waste. Same goes for Benedict Wong.

    The one redeeming feature was that it looked amazing but that doesn't make up for th elack of tension. This was an Alien movie for god's sake. They invented tension for this franchise.

    Nice review though Brian.

  3. Excellent points, of course.

    @NB: Looking back, I may have rated this one a little too highly because of the visuals because you're right --- this is a clusterfuck of ideas

    @Toby: Great call about the tension. After seeing the first two Alien(s) just before this, I should have noticed the drop-off in quality there.