Directed by Ridley Scott
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Ohhh, is there anything worse than dashed expectations? To be absolutely certain that an upcoming work of art or entertainment (say, a film) is going to be a masterpiece, and then to have those certainties crushed by the actual movie…that hurts, man. And that pain can make some of those wouldabeen fans angry. Really angry. So angry that they can find themselves blinded to any merits the flick in question might have. When expectations are so high, the film will only ever be perfect or awful in the eyes of some viewers.
Released at the beginning of summer to divisive reviews, fanboy heartbreak, and strong but not spectacular box office, Ridley Scott’s long-awaited Alien prequel Prometheus delivered on its promise of eye-popping visuals, but disappointed many with its storytelling. But to take a gander at some message boards across the ‘net, you’ll find some that believe that Scott had practically committed an act of terrorism. I mean yikes, can the hate run high for this movie.
And even for those with cooler heads, one finds that those who were disappointed in the film were too let down, too disappointed to garner any sort of enjoyment from it. And that…that’s a damn shame. Because while Prometheus is undoubtedly a deeply flawed film, it’s also one of the more interesting and exciting sci-fi films to have graced the silver screen in the last few years.
Prometheus follows the exploits of the eponymous ship, as its passengers set course for a world they believe to be populated by what are dubbed “Engineers”, an alien race that is thought to have created human beings. This expedition, funded by one Peter Weyland (Pearce, whose elderly character’s surname should ring bells for Alien fans), is crewed with a diverse bunch of people, including: Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace), an archaeologist whose search for the Engineers surprisingly doesn’t conflict with her Christian faith; Holloway (Marshall-Green), Shaw’s headstrong scientist boyfriend; David (Fassbender), an android in the Ash/Bishop vein acting as caretaker of the ship; Vickers (Theron), Weyland’s representative on the mission; and Janek (Elba), the Southern-bred captain of the Prometheus. Other crew members include Fifield (Sean Harris), the crew’s requisite asshole, and Millburn (Rafe Spall), a biologist who really, really shouldn’t treat alien planets like a petting zoo.
As for the other crew…well, I don’t remember their names, and I don’t care enough to look them up. Little was done to flesh out the remaining members, and as a result they are mostly just kinda there. Too bad, as two such characters are involved in a climactic sacrifice that should’ve been rousing. Instead, because we don’t really care that much about them, the moment gets little more than a shrug and an “Aw, that’s too bad. They seemed nice.”
Anyway! After years in space, the crew awaken from their hyperslumber and get prepped for their mission with a bit of the ol’ exposition (in the hologram form of Weyland, who boasts an entirely unconvincing old age makeup). Their objective, it seems, is to scout the planet that they’ve determined must be the home world of the Engineers (they’ve done this by using cave paintings and pictograms from various eras throughout time, all of which hold the same star pattern – the system they’re currently in).
After all of five minutes of looking over a vast, newly-discovered planet, the team discovers a large, pyramid-ish structure. The crew suits up, then sets out to explore. What they find inside challenges their beliefs and threatens not only their lives, but all of humankind as well.
Decent enough setup, right? And wow, is it well made. The production design, cinematography, visual effects…everything looks just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Add to that Marc Streitenfeld’s must-own score, and you have a beautifully produced film.
And then there’s the cast. Original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo actress Rapace puts in a wonderful performance, full of fire and heart. The entire movie, for all of its scope, rests entirely upon her shoulders as the film’s protagonist, and she does a fine job of carrying it. Her Shaw is no Ripley ripoff, to be sure, as she at no point feels like a tough, badass warrior chick*. Instead, Shaw is keenly intelligent and fiercely devoted to her search for, essentially, the meaning of life. And even when things look bleakest for Shaw, Rapace’s performance insists that we view the character as a human being, as opposed to some indestructible superheroine. When she’s in pain, the audience feels it. When all hope seems lost, she makes us feel her hopelessness, instead of simply letting us witness it. Sadly, Oscar rarely recognizes genre flicks, but here’s hoping Rapace is rewarded with some much-deserved attention come awards season for her turn here.
Also award-worthy is Michael Fassbender, whose performance as David is one of the best in the entire franchise. His take on the android is fascinating, as he manages to make the audience sympathize with what is essentially a calculating, manipulative villain. It’s a testament to Fassbender’s skill that, with only a few looks sprinkled throughout the film, we understand what drives the android to do the horrible things he does (without benefit of the third act revelation regarding his character’s motivation and allegiance). This is one more sterling performance in a steadily growing and increasingly impressive filmography. Here’s hoping the actor’s abilities do not falter even as his star ascends (which seems to be so often the case with Hollywood).
The rest of the cast is perfectly solid. Theron and Elba put in predictably good performances, as do the rest of the cast (even if their screen time is as sparse as their character development). Particularly interesting is Pearce’s involvement with the film. His performance as Weyland is just fine, but it is horribly marred by one of the worst old age makeups I’ve seen in recent years. And considering that his character never appears as a younger man (and that the viral videos he appeared in sans makeup to promote the film were conceived after the film’s production), it’s baffling that he was cast in the first place. Why not just cast an actor of the appropriate age in the role? Was Ian McKellan busy? Okay, probably. Rutger Hauer? Christopher Plummer? Anthony Hopkins? Hell, if you wanted to be super-cool and add a neat nod to the existing Alien-verse, why not cast Ian Holm as Peter Weyland? Ah, well.
So, anyway! Checklist: great cast, great visuals, solid story. Surely, this is a fantastic film, right? Right?
Well, wait. Sadly, much like a couple of other recent studio tentpoles, Prometheus has a bit of a rotten foundation. While the scope of the story is impressive and the themes it attempts to tackle are weighty, the film is hampered by some pretty terrible writing. There are a few plotholes, a handful of head-slapping contrivances, and perhaps some of the dumbest fucking characters I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi film!!! It’s stunning, just how downright idiotic some of these characters’ choices are. I won’t get spoilery, but yeesh! You’ll see them when you get there (assuming you haven’t already viewed the film, in which case – you know what I’m talking about).
And let’s be clear: some critic-dodging has been going on with writer/executive producer Damon Lindelof (he of “Lost” fame). I actually liked “Lost” quite a bit, even the ending (which had many longtime fans crying “foul”!). But in answering the criticism for his work on Prometheus, the writer has ducked responsibility for any of the real issues with the script by assuming that most fans’ problems with the film stem from the screenplay’s ambiguity.
Pardon the language, but horseshit. Point of fact, I adored the fact that the film refuses to answer every little question. I love that we have to take our knowledge of the previous Alien films and fill in the blanks in regards to how Prometheus fits into the franchise. I dig the ambiguity! What I hate is the fact that in a well-produced, well-acted film set in a universe I care about, quote-unquote intelligent characters do something as dumb as remove their fucking protective helmets on an alien planet, simply because it’s possible to breathe in that atmosphere! Uh, gang? I can think of more than a few reasons why you shouldn’t do that, chief amongst them being the possibility of alien bacteria, and I’m only a fucking movie theatre manager (not a, you know, scientist or biologist or archaeologist or whatever).
I hate that an otherwise terrified biologist, shuddering with fear in a dark alien environment, would decide that it’s a good idea to pet a muscular, albino alien-snake (leading to what must always happen when one attempts to pet a muscular, albino alien-snake). And spoiler, but I hate that a fucking trillionaire feels the need to fake his death and hide aboard his own damned ship simply for the purpose of…what? Surprising the crew later on?
All that, combined with some cheap and easy scripting, makes Prometheus an incredibly frustrating experience. Because, you know what? I actually really like the damned film. A lot. As mentioned already, it’s beautifully made and very well acted, and it features some truly breathtaking moments that will remain some of the best filmmaking I’ll see all year.
And the story is pretty great, too. While the A to B to C throughline is fairly simple (and not terribly unlike Alien’s plot), the themes that it attempts to tackle resonate throughout the film and long after the credits have rolled. I’ve had several hour-long conversations with friends, pouring over the movie’s themes and pondering its meanings. No film that can inspire that much thought can be entirely dismissed.
And I wonder if that’s not my biggest problem with Prometheus, which might also be the biggest problem that others have as well (though I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone). It seems as though all of fandom expected Prometheus to be a masterpiece, and it gets so close to being just that. All of the elements are in place, to be sure.
But it misses the mark. It isn’t a masterpiece. It’s merely a damned good movie. And that, in and of itself, is a letdown with this particular picture. I believe that some people can’t accept that, or find anything good in the film, simply because they wanted (needed) it to be perfect. And sadly, it’s not. But still – beautiful filmmaking, big ideas, great cast, wonderful sequences. Those virtues cannot be discounted simply because of some of the screenplay’s fumbles.
It’s my hope that the viewers who were content to spit venom at the film once it ended will eventually give it another shot to reappraise it, now that their expectations are in place. It’s a good film, in spite of its flaws, and is deserving of another look. So, if you’re reading this and shaking your head, do yourself a favor: Give the film a rental, at the very least. You might be surprised at how much more you enjoy it on the second go-round.
Regardless of what one thinks of the film, one fact which should remain utterly undisputed is just how friggin’ brilliant the film’s Blu-ray set is. It should be noted that, in addition to the DVD, there are three Blu-ray versions available: a feature film only disc; a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD with deleted scenes, two commentaries and four of the short promo films used to market the film; and the four-disc 3D Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. For the purposes of this review, I’ll be taking a look at the latter.
The film’s presentation…it awes. Sure, it’s a gorgeous looking film to begin with, but wow! The picture is just eye-scorchingly beautiful with a “damn, am I bleeding” sharp image, loads of detail, and stunning colors. If this film looked better in theatres, it can’t have been by much. Just wow.
The audio, too, is everything you’d want it to be. With the right setup at home, this DTS-HD Master Audio track will kick your ass and make you love it for doing so. Personally speaking, the next time I need to show off my system, I’m using this disc.
And then…then there are the bonus features. Son of a bitch, Fox wasn’t fucking around when they put this package together. Perhaps taking their cues from their earlier release of the Alien Anthology, Prometheus comes absolutely loaded with extras, so much so that it’ll take any normal person some time to wade through them all.
First up are the features available on the two-disc set as well. There’s a set of deleted scenes that are pretty fascinating to those who dig the film. In fact, a few of the scenes actually undo a few of my problems with the feature (pity they weren’t left in, then). In “Our First Alien”, biologist Milburn gets a moment to discover a far-less threatening creature than the one he confronts later in the film, and this scene almost excuses his head-slappingly dumb actions in that later sequence (if only by setting the precedent that Milburn is a leap-before-you-look type when it comes to newly-discovered life forms). Another “why’d they cut this” scene involves a bit more dialogue between Theron and Pearce, which explains away why in the hell no one thought to acknowledge the tentacular beastie that Shaw left in their medical bay (another niggle of mine).
There is an alternate version of the Fifield attack sequence, which has the angry mutated bastard looking very much like a typical Alien xenomorph, which really should’ve been the one seen in the actual film. Further deleted scenes include the Engineer speaking at length with David and a prolonged cat-and-mouse fight between the Engineer and Shaw. Again, why the hell were these cut?
Also included are The Peter Weyland Files, the four short films set within the movie’s world (including the utterly brilliant “Happy Birthday, David”, which introduces us to the Fassbender character as though he were a product), and two commentaries: one with Ridley Scott, the other featuring two separate recorded tracks edited into one featuring writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Rounding out this set of features is the Prometheus mobile app, which allows you to sync your iOS or Android device to your Blu player and enjoy exclusive movie-related content.
Now, on to the features exclusive to the four-disc set. First up and most notable is The Furious Gods: The Making of Prometheus, a ridiculously extensive documentary that covers all the bases of the production in exacting detail, from the inception of the script to the release of the finished film. It’s a perfect companion piece to the documentaries created for the other Alien films and even does them one better.
Also included is the Weyland Corps Archive, featuring loads of bonus material presented in three sections: Pre-Production, Production, and Release. Pre-Production is host to tons of pre-vis and conceptual artwork, while Production features screen tests (including Noomi Rapace’s first take on Shaw), a cool time-lapse video of the Juggernaut ship’s construction, and a nice set of unit photography stills.
The Release portion boasts a marketing gallery, full of some fascinating alternate posters, and all of the film’s trailers and TV spots (thank you!). There are also some promotional featurettes and the HBO “First Look.” Whew. Top that all off with a 3D version of the film and DVD/digital copies of the film as well, and you have the best damned disc release any film has seen this year.
Whether or not you’ll buy the film (or ever watch it again) is entirely up to you. But if you do decide to add it to your collection, go for the four-disc. It’s worth the price for the documentary alone. And if you feel like forgetting the movie ever existed, I understand that as well. I just hope that one day those who were let down by the film will be able to reevaluate it for what it got right. Which, in this writer’s opinion, was considerable.
*Understand, I find Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character to be one of the most interesting and involving characters in sci-fi. It’s just that the character is typically reduced to the label of “badass warrior chick”, which is what I was certain Prometheus’ lead would be when the project was announced. I’m glad to have been wrong.
PROMETHEUS 4-Disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Special Features
PROMETHEUS 2-Disc Blu-ray Special Features
3 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5