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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
There's not much alien about Prometheus
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There's not much alien about Prometheus

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Prometheus
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Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien - let's get that out of the way up front. Ridley Scott stated in numerous interviews that the movie had 'Alien DNA' but was otherwise unconnected to his 1979 opus or the three sequels that followed it. As dubious as that claim sounded at the time, after watching the film it is clear he was being honest - the director's return to the world of science fiction for the first time since 1982's Blade Runner is more than your average intergalactic creature-feature.

So what is Prometheus? A week later I'm still trying to figure that out. At its core, the intricate and complicated screenplay by Damon Lindelof (Cowboys & Aliens) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) wants to be about the origins of man, i.e., a theoretical discussion about Darwinism and religion and how both relate to evolutionary theory. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where do we go from here? Are we alone in the universe? These are just a few of the questions the film purports to ask, the end product interested not so much in answers as it is in reigniting an age-old debate.

At the same time, the movie is also a big-budget Hollywood thriller filled with stock characters, familiar story beats, and a series of scares - most of which can be seen coming millions of light years away. It doesn't quite know what to do with itself when all is said and done, the final product reaching for the stars while frustratingly coming up short as it waves at them with somewhat fruitless abandon.

After an ominous and unsettling opening title sequence, the story begins in 2089 with two archeologists, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), making an otherworldly discovery in Scotland's Isle of Skye. Fast-forward a couple of years, and the pair find themselves aboard the spaceship Prometheus (named after the Greek god), heading to an unexplored planet in a far corner of the galaxy. Their expedition has been financed by elderly billionaire industrialist Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), who shares their interest in discovering mankind's origins.

From there things follow a relatively familiar playbook. Headstrong captain Janek (Idris Elba) is skeptical their excursion to this planet will meet with success, while child-like humanoid robot David (Michael Fassbender) might not be near as innocent as he first appears, and icy executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) hides an agenda she's loath to share with Shaw and Holloway. The group of scientists and astronauts explore the planet, make shocking discoveries, and uncover a secret that could very well lead to Earth's demise.

What I didn't expect is just how hypnotic the first two-thirds of this adventure proved to be. Scott orchestrates the action with almost Kubrick-like efficiency, weaving all of Lindelof and Spaihts' nebulous plot strings together with ease. Subtle homage is paid to both Alien and Aliens, and the first foray into the mysterious complex that once housed gigantic beings similar to humans, yet far more advanced, is an astonishing feat of technical, visual, and storytelling wizardry. The movie drew me in and had me right where it wanted me, every fiber of my being intimately interested in learning more.

So what's the problem? Well, first off, while the majority of the cast is excellent - Rapace, Theron, and Elba in particular - none of them play particularly interesting characters. On top of that, some of what they do and how others respond to these actions doesn't make a lick of sense, and the final third is so overly rushed and frenetic that much of the dialogue is lost in the sound and fury. Marshall-Green's character in particular is a whiny wet noodle I couldn't wait to be done with. His sullen response to his and his beloved's monumental breakthrough on this heretofore unexplored world is extraordinarily bizarre.

Yet Prometheus can't be written off. Despite my dissatisfaction with the last 20 minutes I can't wait to see the film again, to let what Scott is talking about and hinting at sink in more thoroughly. I'm also beyond taken with Fassbender's David, easily the movie's most important and intriguing character, his evolutionary process in many ways the key ingredient around which all else revolves. Once again, the actor is a revelation, his performance another in a long line of divine balancing acts.

Forget about the monsters, forget about the Machiavellian corporate tinkering, forget about Shaw's handling of an invasive abuse of her privacy and body which literally caused one member of my preview audience to faint from shock - none of that matters in the grand scheme of things. It is David who matters the most, his journey the one I tend to think will have the most long-lasting impact and the one where the majority of the answers to many of the drama's humanistic riddles can be found.

It is easy to see why, after 30 years, Scott chose Prometheus as his return to science fiction. It's chock full of ideas, gives him a massive canvas to work upon, and allows him to directly tackle questions he's tinkered around with in one way or another since 1977's The Duelists. If the movie ends up leaving something to be desired it isn't for lack of trying on his part. Scott has gone all-out in regard to this particular opus, and as far as evolutions go, his own - into Stanley Kubrick or Terrence Malick - isn't as ungainly or as farfetched as one might initially believe.

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