Prometheus Review By Adam
Disclaimer: I will avoid any direct spoilers in this review. This is a film best seen fresh (don’t even watch the trailers). I will talk about my reaction to it and the way it fits into the Alien universe – this may allude to certain elements of the film, but I won’t be specific.
For 33 years people have been asking two questions: what exactly is the ‘alien’ and where did it come from?
Now, we are supposed to have our answers with Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien, Prometheus (and it is a prequel, make no mistake about it). Intriguingly or infuriatingly (depends on how you look at it), Prometheus is far more interested in asking questions than giving answers. This film expands the Alien universe exponentially; not through varied locations though, but by sheer mythology building. It turns out that the Xenomorph (the alien in question) is but a small factor in the far reaches of space.
As promised above, I will keep the plot developments to a minimum, and my version of minimum is as follows: scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapance) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a series of cave paintings that span centuries and continents. All of the paintings have the same symbols, which turn out to be a star map. The scientists believe that this is a message from our creators, that the wish was for us to make contact. Joining forces with wealthy industrialist Peter Weyland, the scientists and a small crew board the impressive intergalactic ship ‘The Prometheus’ and head to a foreign planet in order to find the origin of the paintings. That’s all I’m going to give up. Anything else is an arsehole move. I find it ironic that a bunch of critics want to give up every detail on a film that is about discovery.
This film is huge. Fucking massive, in fact. It is apparent from the outset: Ridley Scott wants you to be awed by his creation. After all the rumours, the one thing Prometheus actually is is a spectacle. The opening to this film is jaw-dropping and this sense of wonder does not dissipate for the entirety of its run time. Ridley Scott is considered a master stylist and Prometheus is his best looking film. So, by default, Prometheus may be the best looking film of all time. I’m serious. This film is absolutely gorgeous.
Director of photography Dariusz Wolski keeps this film’s look clean and efficient, even when the frames are flooded with action. A lot of Prometheus takes place in cavernous locations, and one of the problems of 3D is that is darkens the image. Usually, the combination of a dark setting and 3D is quite disastrous, but thankfully this is not the case with Prometheus; the 3D is the best I have seen. The film offers very little in terms of blatant pop-outs, but instead uses the technology to layer the screen with sci-fi staples: we get a cavalcade of holographic monitors, projections and even recorded dreams. This film is a sci-fi nerd’s nirvana.
Prometheus’s transcendent visuals owe a lot to the production design. Few would argue that the reason Alien has endured as long has it has is due to its striking design elements. From its low-tech spacesuits and milk-veined androids to its nightmarish creature, Alien’s technical credits elevated it from a B-movie fate. Prometheus is a design marvel. Every element of production designer Arthur Max’s work looks spectacular and complex. The film is a seamless blend of CGI and practical sets as new technology has allowed Scott to let his imagination run unchecked. While I was blown away by this film’s design, I’ll be completely honest: there is nothing in Prometheus that rivals the original’s Xenomorph. That design is one of cinema’s most disquieting images and, while Prometheus has a huge level of invention, it is not going to make you sleep with the lights on as the original did. But don’t worry, it is still icky, freaky and flat-out repulsive at times.
This brings me to the tone of Prometheus. The first departure this film makes from previous incarnations is its score. Composer Marc Streitenfeld’s score is quite triumphant, a mile away from James Horner’s iconic, pulse-raising Aliens score. While the sound design is amazing in Prometheus, those expecting a carbon copy of the first film’s quiet atmosphere will be disappointed. In fact, a lot of the tension in Prometheus is viewer-generated – we have seen what happens when you go into a biomechanical hive, and it’s not good. I’m not saying Scott doesn’t build a great atmosphere (and tension to boot), but Prometheus is definitely bolstered by previous Alien set-ups.
Prometheus is almost entirely a sensory experience. The characters are not as important as the locations they are investigating. Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof’s screenplay is preoccupied with big, operatic ideas; the characters are but cogs in a machine. That being said, everyone does an amicable job with what they are given, everyone except Michael Fassbender. Fassbender is a revelation as the android ‘David’. He single-handedly walks away with this film. I know it has become almost redundant to state, but Fassbender really is the best actor of this generation. He has nailed his character’s strange physicality and he imbues David with a child-like sense of wonder. Though David himself cannot feel fear, his cavalier attitude towards his surroundings creates extreme tension. Scott has cast this film with an abundance of talented performers (Idris Elba, Guy Pearce) so it’s just a shame that they don’t get more of a chance to establish their personalities. I will admit, however, that this seems like an unfair gripe – to complain about Prometheus’s character development is akin to chastising a Ferrari for not being an aeroplane. You need to accept this film for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Prometheus may or may not be the film event of the year; it all depends on your sensibilities. The majority of the critics I saw this with didn’t like it and that just baffles me. To them I say: this is a monumental work by a classic filmmaker and still you want more? I can completely understand why the reaction to this film will be heavily divisive: almost every Alien fan has a theory on what Prometheus’s story should be. Unfortunately for them, only one man is in charge of this franchise –Ridley Scott. It is his to do with as he pleases, and I, for one, am spellbound by his approach. Very few films can create a genuine sense of wonder and discovery, and Prometheus manages it for its entire 124 minute running time. Like all great sci-fi films, Prometheus does not tie things in a neat bow. It contains large, expansive ideas and often alludes to things without clarification. This is purposeful, this is what sci-fi is for: it is meant to engage the mind and make us think ‘what if?’
I hope this film blows up like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, with people making their own wild speculations on what it all means. Like Inception, even if you don’t want to intellectualise and speculate on the film’s meaning, there are enough visual pyrotechnics to keep even the simplest mind occupied. Did I get the Alien film I wanted? No. But what I got instead was entirely gratifying, in a wholly different and unexpected way. All this leads me to think is: will people be talking about Prometheus in thirty-three years time? I hope so.