Judge Steve Power doesn't mind that it hurts.
The search for our beginning could lead to our end.
It was amidst much hullabaloo that 20th Century Fox announced director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner) would be returning to the Alien universe. As is often the case, things gestated and mutated, and the end result came out quite differently than what most people were anticipating. Probably the most talked about film of 2012 (save Marvel's The Avengers) defied lofty expectations, dividing movie-goers and critics alike. However, love it or hate it, Prometheus is nothing if not ballsy filmmaking. If you haven't yet taken the ride, you're probably still wondering if this ride worth taking?
Facts of the Case
Archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Brooklyn's Finest) have discovered secrets buried in mankind's past which tells of a place light years away that just might hold the answers to mankind's origins. Thanks to the funding of billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce, Memento), the Prometheus is built; a state of the art interstellar spacecraft which will ferry a crew of scientific experts to a possible meeting with our makers.
"While Alien was indeed the jumping off point for this project, out of the creative process evolved a new, grand mythology and universe in which this original story takes place. The keen fan will recognize strands of Alien's DNA, so to speak, but the ideas tackled in this film are unique, large, and provocative."—Ridley Scott
This rather brave quote kicked off Fox's original press release for what was once a John Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) screenplay whose working title was Alien: Engineers. The statement sets in stone one fact many people should immediately take to heart: Prometheus is NOT an Alien prequel, at least not in the strictest sense. The films share a universe, and there is certainly connective tissue that links this film to the others, but outside of a teaser trailer that completely apes the 1979 classic, Prometheus is a completely different beast. Those walking in expecting The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in space will be sorely disappointed.
This is, first and foremost, an "idea" film that poses a simple question: "Where did we come from?" It uses the question to propel us along a journey that's as much a treatise on faith and creation as it is one of abject terror. Spaihts screenplay, reworked by Ridley and Lost co-showrunner Damon Lindelof, paints our central characters in fairly broad strokes, each filling a particular role in the "creation tableau." Most notable are Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw, who's on a personal quest of faith; Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, The Italian Job), the mission's cold corporate overseer; and David (Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds), the artificial being all too well acquainted with his own creators. Each actor digs into their respective roles, Fassbender in particular devouring the screen with a quirky and charismatic portrayal. The supporting ensemble is more or less set dressing, with the exception of Idris Elba (Luther), who gives an enjoyable if slightly less prominent performance as the Prometheus's captain, Janek.
One might think amidst the Daniken-esque meanderings on the origins of humanity, Prometheus would be more akin to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, but no. There's still that Alien DNA to contend with. The film hits the ground running, moving at a whip-fast pace, sparing no carnage as it careens along. There is much death here and it's almost always handled in grotesque fashion. There's nothing quite so "in your face" as the now legendary Chestburster scene, but there are one or two moments which come ever so close.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the film's production design. Arthur Max has done some staggering work with Ridley Scott in the past (Robin Hood, American Gangster), and he hasn't lost a step. Sets are massive and beautifully constructed, looking absolutely stunning in high definition 3D. The sterile, state-of-the-art look of The Prometheus, it's gadgets, and gear is as convincing as can be, without ever feeling overly derivative of what's come before. The alien architecture is uniquely beautiful and harkens back just enough to H.R. Gieger's classic designs without fully emulating them. Then there's the Engineer himself, a design that's both beautiful and utterly terrifying. Top to bottom, Prometheus is a stunning film.
On Blu-ray, Fox's four-disc release falls in line with what Ridley and Charlie De Lauzirika have delivered with past efforts. The 2.40:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer quality are of the highest possible order. The film's gorgeous visuals are crystal clear, devoid of any imperfection; clarity, color, and definition are astonishing to behold. The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track resonates around the room, filling the soundstage with wonderful ambiance and a low end punch that's unrivaled. This is a reference disc if there ever was one. Shot in 3D, as opposed to being stereoscopically retrofitted in post, the dimensional imagery excellent with a depth that seemingly goes on forever, while not overwhelming us with any cheap stunts or gimmicks. James Cameron's Avatar has a new rival.
For extras, we're given two fantastic commentary tracks, one with director Ridley Scott, and one with our writers stitched together from two separate recordings. Both tracks are fantastically enlightening listens. The gem of this set a colossal near four hour documentary that covers every aspect of the film, from impetus to release. De Lauzirika never fails to deliver a stunning effort, and this is no exception. But wait, there's more! The set also includes deleted scenes (with optional commentary!), featurettes that fueled Fox's fantastic viral marketing efforts that preceded the film's release, and an extensive collection of image galleries, trailers, and TV spots we've come to expect from Ridley. You'll never find a more all-encompassing package than is presented here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
All that said, there are two significant flaws with Prometheus.
For one, we the audience are expected to take several logical leaps with regards to certain characters and their behavior which are…for lack of a more polite way of putting it…quite stupid. Two characters in particular—the team's geologist, Fifield (Sean Harris, Harry Brown) and biologist Millburn (Rafe Spall, Anonymous)—commit several boneheaded acts that completely shatter our immersion in the tale. These brief turns ultimately pay off in cool ways, but feel so out of place they can't help but prove jarring. Maybe it's that privately funded expeditions tend to toss health and safety protocols to the wind, or more likely it's just dumb script machinations used to get characters into bad situations. Either way, they don't ring true and prove the one blatant kink in the film's armor.
The other flaw is more subjective, perhaps more a fault of today's audience expectations. Prometheus loves its ambiguity. There's a lot of high thinking going on here, none of which results in a climactic payoff. This is completely unsurprising, coming from the man who spawned the "Deckard as a Replicant" debate with Blade Runner. Ridley throws out several ideas about the origins of humanity, and who exactly our creators are, even going so far as to reveal the potential genesis for the classic xenomorph from his the 1979 film. Just understand that none of these ideas are wrapped in a package and tied with a neat little bow. Some consider these elements to be groundwork for additional films already in the planning stages, which actually makes me kind of sad. One of the most intriguing elements of Prometheus was seeing all of the subtle linking points, all of which have spawned some pretty amazing debates and exchanges of ideas, which is the hallmark of truly great science fiction. To chalk it all up as an exercise in world building not only disappoints, but also disheartens. I'd much rather Prometheus stand on its own and continue to stir debate.
I won't apologize for Prometheus' shortcomings. It's not a perfect film, and certainly not the prequel story Alien fans were hoping for. However, it is pure science fiction that stirs passions, discussions, and imaginations. That, in and of itself, is a true rarity in the genre, and the most successfully executed since Blade Runner. Dazzling design, tense plotting, memorable characters, and confident direction combine with lofty ideas for a film that far exceeds whatever contentious opinions may arise within us. Truly one of the great works of modern sci-fi.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• 2D Version
Review content copyright © 2013 Steve Power; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.