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Prometheus (2012)

Cover art:

reviews/promethposters.jpg

PrometheusStarring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Patrick Wilson, Logan Marshall-Green

Directed by Ridley Scott


We don’t see projects like this very often. Having the creator of an untouchable classic return to a disgraced franchise after 30 years is the rarest of rarities, something that normally exists only in the dreams of die-hard fans. After enduring a string of bad “vs.” movies, I never thought we’d see Ridley Scott return to the world of Alien – especially with the carte blanche to turn the series in a completely different direction. Whatever you think of his approach, everything about Prometheus seems like the kind of project that the Hollywood system was designed to destroy.

An event film with this level of hype and speculation is bound for divisive reactions so let’s get this out of the way: If you’re expecting another Alien, prepare to be disappointed. In fact, Prometheus is about as much a prequel to that film as Temple of Doom is to Raiders of the Lost Ark. While it technically predates the events in Alien, this is mostly a spin-off movie that explores a different part of the universe entirely.

The story follows inquisitive archeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, giving a terrifically vulnerable performance), who discovers an ancient star map in the caverns of Scotland. Theorizing that it was left by mankind’s creators, she joins a scientific expedition aboard the spaceship Prometheus led by Captain Janek (Idris Elba) and ventures out to the ass end of space hoping to literally meet her maker. Needless to say, very bad things await them. The journey is funded by the real villain of the series, Weyland Enterprises, so it’s not long before suspicious activities arise thanks to company woman Vickers (Charlize Theron) and ship android David (played to perfection by Michael Fassbender).

I’ve actually heard people say that Alien isn’t a horror film because it takes place in space, which is completely daft. Scott’s 1979 classic is pure unadulterated horror – with a few light sci-fi elements – that exists solely as white-knuckled suspense. Prometheus is a film that falls on the other side of the coin: it’s a brainy science fiction story that flirts with the kind of provocative ideas you never see in big-budget movies. Questions of science, faith and philosophy are explored against familiar Giger-esque backdrops, only this time Scott abandons the claustrophobia and quiet dread of Alien in favor of an epic scope full of wonder and awe. Sure, there are a few classic skin-crawling moments (including a sequence that rivals John Hurt’s chest-bursting), but the script by John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof is more concerned with exploration and big picture questions than straight-up horror. In essence, this is a quest movie that’s more King Kong than deep space slasher.

On a technical level alone, Prometheus is a visual masterpiece. Scott, known for his strong sense of cinematography and production design, has taken his craft to the next level thanks to technological advancements; the 3D images here lend a depth to the landscapes, caverns, and ship corridors that are truly breathtaking. I’ve never been a proponent of 3D (always paying for the 2D screen at the multiplex), but this is easily the strongest argument for the medium and makes you realize how misused it’s been these past few years.

The dividing factor for audiences – hardcore fans in particular – will no doubt be how Prometheus treats the mythology. When James Cameron took over the series, he methodically explained Alien by taking us through the life cycle and firmly setting the rules. Scott isn’t concerned with that kind of stuff and throws the series right back into its H.P. Lovecraft roots. In his world the threat has no system or order. It’s a giant petri dish of chaos, and as a result the menace is something far less tangible. I won’t spoil what fleshy things crawl out of the abyss, but I will say that the lack of a central boogeyman might turn off those purists who want more of the same. Personally, I found it refreshing. Ultimately we’re left with more questions than answers (we’re dealing with the writer of “Lost” here), but in the world of Alien that’s always best.

That said, Prometheus has its share of problems, mainly in the character department. While Rapace, Fassbender, and Elba deliver endearing characters, the rest of Prometheus’ crew consists of one-dimensional piss ants and faceless red shirts. Theron fills the token “evil company” role as ice queen Vickers, but her constant scowling gets old real quick. The same goes for Sean Harris’ surly geologist while Logan Marshall-Green isn’t given much to work with as Shaw’s squeeze. The rest of the cast is comprised of little more than featured extras, and as a result there isn’t much impact when people start dying. Even by comparison, the Marines in Aliens and the prisoners in Alien³ stood out more than these unlucky souls.

This, combined with a few pacing problems, leads me to believe that there was a lot of material left on the cutting room floor to satisfy a summer movie runtime. While the first half moves at a perfect stride, once all hell breaks loose, there’s a handful of moments that feel lost in the rush to the finish line. For a film of this scope, Prometheus definitely clocks in a tad short, but these problems could easily be corrected with an Extended Version — which is almost always a given with Scott’s films.

Ultimately your enjoyment of Prometheus depends on your expectations. Those wanting a giant creature feature or major insight into the mythos will come up short while more open-minded viewers reap the rewards. This is a grand film designed to ignite your imagination and give birth to endless theories like only great science fiction can. It certainly isn’t a masterpiece on the level of Alien/Aliens (then again, it’s not even working on those levels), but it’s a satisfying return to the universe and successfully revitalizes a series that was left for dead.

4 out of 5

Discuss Prometheus in the comments section below!

Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

  • conundrum

    This film was a disappointing mess. Do you know what the worst part is? In all honesty, I would be more willing to pay to see this movie’s trailer again rather than to see the actual movie again. The trailer got everything right, the subtle hints towards Alien without it being obtrusive to the story, the idea of man striving for the stars and the answers to deep questions only to find out that we might not like everything we discover. There was at least as much good characterization as there was in the movie itself, the acting was better, and it resolved nearly as many important points. Do you know what the movie actually ADDED to the story I had been given in the trailer? The idea that it was all a biological weapon, and that the woman would not give up searching for the answers. Period. Everything else (storywise) was filler.

    Pretty pictures in movies tend to impress me as much as they do in video games; they can enhance an already good experience, but can never make the experience good by themselves.

    HEAVY SPOILERS AND WHINING HEREAFTER

    About a week ago I started thinking to myself, “wow, a lot of what made Alien great was Dan O’Bannon’s script. I hope they can match pace with it.” They could not, and the importance of somebody with a clear vision writing a script has never been more clear. Ideas were thrown at the audience for two reasons: they would be crucial plot points later and needed to be explained (like the surgery pod), and nothing. The android watches their dreams. Weird. Why? No good reason. The android infects a crew member with random crap he found. Really weird. Why? No good reason. The proto-facehugger’s blood melted the guy’s helmet but turned him into superzombie. Why? No really good reason.

    I take that back, there was a third reason something would be introduced. To call back to Alien (even though they took subtle pains to ensure that this was not a direct prequel). A “biologist” finds an aggressive new life form and decides to run towards it and pet it like a toddler that just saw a fluffy dog. Why? So we could introduce a proto-facehugger. The woman clumsily reveals that she cannot have kids. I guess tattooing on her forehead that she was going to get an alien pregnancy would have been a bit over the line. A thoroughly insane robot. Why? Why not, that was a great twist in Alien. A proto-xenomorph popping out fully grown. Why? Oh yeah, this is an Alien non-prequel! I almost forgot amid the alien ship from the first movie, the queen facehugger, the hypersleep chambers, the company still being involved, and everything I listed above. Then, after all that having been shoved in my face to remind me that this is clearly in the Alien universe, they do not even show me the respect to have the space jockey end up in his seat.

    As for the wrinkles that got thrown in, I will just force the word “father” into this sentence and move on, much like the movie did. It is easier than needlessly pretending I am already dead.

    There are some good ideas in the movie. Good ideas buried under a mass of directionless scenes, callbacks to Alien, poor characters, and generally poor screenwriting. Returning to how I began, most of the best of it was distilled into the trailer. It is sad that adding over 2 hours to that trailer only detracted from what it was doing.

  • Terminal

    A disappointing movie. Two and a half knives for me.

  • LSD Zombie

    As much as I hate saying this, I actually agree with every word of Devin Faraci’s review. And I really dislike that guy. I can’t say that I’m rooting for it to fail at the box office though. More successful sci-fi films aren’t a bad thing.

    Although it would make me happy if Foy ends up being on my side when it comes to the lack of quality writing on Prometheus. Trash it Foy! You can take on Buz, Andrew and Steve! If it’s one continuous circle-jerk on DFF without a hint of contention, I will be disappointed.

    • Rottenjesus

      If there was ever a poster child “trying too hard to be the cool nerd in the room” it would be Devin. He’s the combination of a douche and a tool, essentially a douchetool.

      I enjoyed PROMETHEUS a lot, even with the clunky writing. Do I want to see the story continue? HELL YES. Since there’s more wonders and cosmic horror to be revealed.

  • Rottenjesus

    The alternate title for this movie should be AT THE SPACE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.

    I can’t get over how much I enjoyed this!

  • nonserviam03

    I liked it, but the script is pretty clunky. There are a lot of cool and interesting scenes and plot threads, and I kept expecting everything to come together, but it just never did. Those white snakes in the water that turned the guy into a rage zombie? Never becomes relevant. The exploding head? Never relevant. David poisoning that one guy and the girl with the dragon tattoo ending up with a poison squid baby? NEVER FUCKING RELEVANT.

    Prometheus just felt to me like the parts were greater than the whole. These plot threads and creepy scenes were all really intense and memorable individually, but they don’t connect to each other in a really well-done or meaningful way.

    • LSD Zombie

      I totally agree with nonserviam and kiddcapone. Jaw-dropping visuals, but a convoluted as hell script. There’s nothing profoundly intriguing about Prometheus. And if it weren’t for Fassbender as David, the movie would have been a total bore. Funnily enough, David had more character than everyone else in the film. I also could have done without the lame octopus creature from Dagon showing up in the climax.

      • nazo

        I pretty much agree with you three as well.

        THEMATIC SPOILERS AHEAD

        I would have liked the story much better if the Space Jockey didn’t care what happened to Earth, and it was revealed that the aliens were just completely insane, devoted to filling planets with the most dangerous, destructive, psychotic genetically engineered species, one of which was humanity.

    • Sirand

      Everything was relevant. The biological weapon was the crux of the entire script. The mutated earth worms, the zombie, the Lovecraft baby were all bi-products of that and showed the devastation the Engineers were planning on bringing to Earth.

      • nonserviam03

        They all came from the same point of origin, but they didn’t actually effect anything else. Remove the worms and the two guys who get offed in the pyramid entirely from the movie and what else will it change? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Even when the one dude shows back up as a rage zombie it doesn’t do anything but off some of the side characters. Same with the whole infection/pregnancy thing. You could remove the entire thread from the plot and it wouldn’t effect much of anything. Sure, it shows the devastation that the Engineers were planning on bringing to Earth, but they could have done that in a way that flowed a LOT better. It’s like subplots start and end ENTIRELY in the second act without actually carrying anything over into the finale. The ONLY scene that actually leads into the third act is when David finds the Engineer in Cryo-Stasis.

        The storytelling is just really clunky.

        • nazo

          Some of the plot points seemed like they were only there to make the movie conform to the Alien series checklist. The Charlize Theron character, the alien pregnancy subplot, themes of motherhood, the (brutally unfunny) comic relief duo that gets separated and offed, and plenty more.

  • kiddcapone

    Prometheus is a visual masterpiece. The story is half-assed.

    I’m really on the fence about this one. This was probably my most anticipated film of the entire summer. I loved everything I was watching yet I was occasionally bored. I was amazed at how awesome the film looked, yet I was also completely underwhelmed by film’s end. I loved many of the scenes, yet I hated the direction some of the scenes took. I just fucking don’t know…

    I guess it all comes down to the story. It wanted to be intellectually superior but it came up short, so it really hurt because they were clearly trying to emphasis that over gore and suspense. It was like a made-for-tv X-Files-ish script rammed into a big budget Hollywood blockbuster film. The makeup on the old guy was horrible. It looked like an actor wearing prosthetics. It just didn’t work at all. Sounds trivial but not really when it snaps you back into reality while you’re occupied in this amazing “other” world.

    I have my own theories on what most of the film was about so I’m anxiously awaiting the next DFF to see if anyone else is on the same page. My rating for Prometheus is a tough one for me. Visually it’s easily 5/5 but the plot was just barely 3/5. So…..I’ll put it on the middle.

    Prometheus – 4/5.

    • kiddcapone

      I went to see it again. It’s still a visual masterpiece, but the story sucked even worse (and I wasn’t impressed the first time around) . Really piss poor bushleague writing. So much nonsensical garbage thrown in with no real purpose. No rhyme or reason other than some “sound like it could be cool” decision making. It copied the Alien theme but felt more like an Asylum film with a big budget.

      Usually I initially rate a movie too low and it grows on me after repeated viewings and it grades out higher. This is on a very short list of films that headed in the complete opposite direction. The pretty polish is off and the turd under the surface supersedes all. It’s a complete misfire.

      Prometheus – 2/5.

  • Rottenjesus

    I loved this. LOVED IT.

    My nerd brain is still buzzing. Four knives out of five.

  • marineboy

    Ridley actually states in last weeks BBC radio interview that there is plenty he wanted to add that had to be left out for runtime issues and certification…also, the Director’s Cut is a possibility; “Never say never” in his words.

  • DavidFullam

    This one is going to be divisive. I’ve heard everything from 4 Stars to Alien Episode 1-The Phantom Menace.

  • Shambling_in_Bandages

    “I’ve actually heard people say that Alien isn’t a horror film because it takes place in space, which is completely daft.”

    Exactly. It isn’t the location or the time period that dictates the genre you’re playing in, it’s the mood of the piece. First and foremost, ‘Alien’ is a horror film. You could set ‘Alien’ in a 19th century Victorian mansion without too much alteration and it would still be a horror film: Some explorer guy gets impregnated by some unholy Lovecraftian thing on an overseas adventure, only to have something horrifying burst out of his chest once he has returned to the familial pile. The guests at his homecoming party are no longer completely alone in the shadowy, isolated mansion…

  • Jerel Of The Dead

    As someone who was entertained by AvP, I don’t think I will have any problem finding enjoyment from Prometheus.

  • aliensharkboy

    I think people expected way too much… but I’m glad it doesn’t suck, and after having read lots of not exactly great reviews, this has me once again excited to see the movie I’ve been waiting to see for a few years now…

    The flaws that have been mentioned here, aren’t the kind that usually bother me, so I’m pretty sure I’ll like it.

    • Sirand

      It’s a flawed film for sure, but I think some people are being too hard on it.

      Then again, I’m someone who enjoys stories that ask questions without giving easy answers. Days later, I’m still chewing over all the numerous threads, themes and nuances…and I’m excited to watch it again.

  • will graham

    Sadly Ridley Scott has stated that this is his cut and isn’t planning on making an extended edition.

    I wasn’t looking for another Alien, I was just looking for a film with a good story. This hasn’t got one.

    Visually 5/5
    Screenplay 2/5