“In the beginning was nonsense, and the nonsense was with God, and the nonsense was God” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Prometheus (June 8, 2012)     4/5

Directed by Ridley Scott (20th Century Fox)

How ironic that in 2012, when technological development has reached a seemingly unprecedented apex, intelligent science-fiction has somewhat disappeared from the silver screen. In 1979, when “20th Century” Fox was still a relevant name for a movie studio, British director Ridley Scott changed cinema forever with an egg, a facehugger, a chestburster, a prolific heroine, and at long last, an alien. The final word was the one that stuck to posters like inevitable superglue, a marketing executive’s dream come true. This was the alien. It was singular; absolute. In space, nobody could hear you scream, but in theaters, everybody did.

Alien not only became an American classic, but also franchise gold, spawning three sequels, two spin-off films, comics, toys, etc. It was only a matter of time before Scott returned to his Alien universe, prompting this prequel to the series over 30 years later. Despite the fact that the long-awaited Prometheus is far from a perfect film, the much-hushed spectacle is arguably a perfect hybrid of chestbursting mythos and stand-alone storytelling, and certainly one of the year’s most entertaining movies. As if it needed mentioning, we are also left with a spectacular triumph of visual design.

So naturally, Scott uses all the 21st century technology at his disposal, filming Prometheus entirely with 3D cameras. Dare I say, the effect even trumps James Cameron’s Avatar. It almost becomes an essential conveyance of the film’s visual poetry; the theater screen ceases to exist, and the awe-inspiring display leaves us to stunningly absorb infinite levels of dimension and focus, whether onboard the ship that provides the movie’s title, on the moon where gooey shenanigans occur, in space itself, or simply when titles/words of any kind appear onscreen. Scott has also not lost his knack for relentlessly imaginative production design, matching his greatest achievements (especially Blade Runner, circa 1982), from Prometheus’s glossy interiors to the mysterious temple of an ancient, alien civilization.

As for the story of Prometheus itself, we are provided a narrative that owes as much to 2001: A Space Odyssey as it does to Scott’s original, although the result gears less toward abstract than it does toward obvious. The opening 15 or 20 minutes are honestly an astonishing piece of work, the two sequences in question foreshadowing brilliance that never quite arrives. But while the plot does begin to unravel throughout the film’s midsection, there remains a nifty bit of existentialism in Prometheus, backed by subtle theming that will hopefully be praised by even the most demanding filmgoers.

Nearing the end of the century in which we now live, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are two archaeologists who appear to be in love, and who are mutually eager to explore humanity’s origins. This leads them onboard the elaborately designed Prometheus (don’t worry, all mythological metaphors are thoroughly explained), flying them toward an extrasolar moon where they may begin to find answers. Another member of the crew includes android, David (Michael Fassbender), who serves his commanders without emotion, yet may begin to develop those that coincide with how he views his own superiority.

There is also Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, the beaurocratic woman who is supposedly in charge of the expedition (and who is carrier of that ever-common theme in the Alien franchise – objectives that corporate officials feel the need to keep hidden from our humble crew members). Prometheus also carries the ship’s captain, played by Idris Elba, as well as assorted crew members played by Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Emun Elliott, and Benedict Wong. Guy Pearce also applies half a ton of makeup for his role of the deceased, holographic Peter Weyland, CEO of Weyland Corp., and the guy supposedly funding this bound-for-disaster ordeal.

Although there are scenes in Prometheus that are perfectly jolting and satisfyingly gross, the film never achieves the level of fear that Scott aroused in Alien. There is surely suspense, emotion, and even well-needed humor, but never outright terror. However, the film is a quite interesting blend of atmosphere, action, mystery, and scares. I only wish the narrative weren’t so inconsistent; it is obvious how certain plot points are ignored, only to be revisited later in a predictable context. The script, written by Jon Spaihts and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof, also features some rather annoying dialogue, breaking one of the key rules of screenwriting – characters do not need to say things that are inherently obvious to the audience at any given time.

Despite how quickly Prometheus jumps into the action (in contrast to the slow-paced, brooding first of hour of Alien), the third act is resolved rather weakly, opening itself up for sequels but never quite providing the awesome climax that would’ve allowed the film to soar (not to say that the final scene isn’t worthy of applause). I also felt a slight longing for the minor characters to be more developed, although the main relationship between Shaw and Holloway is well-established. Some performances are also greater than others; Noomi Rapace (of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlize Theron are quite fitting, but I never quite bought into the two-dimensionality of Marshall-Green’s performance and character. No, the show is instead stolen by Michael Fassbender, giving an exquisitely memorable peformance as the film’s most “human” character, the non-organic David; tying into the themes that solidify Prometheus’s subtle intelligence and beauty.

David is a piece of machinery that is invariably curious; he models his look after Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, he spies on the dreams of his fellow crew members while they are in deep sleep, and he makes decisions that occasionally contradict human orders. David may not be blessed with emotion, but he has been programmed with enough intelligence to wonder what it is like, amongst several other human functions. He humorously compares his views of how he was created to those of the humans seeking their creators. Yet at the same time, we are not certain that he recognizes his spoken ironies as being humorous. For observant viewers of cinema, Prometheus‘s wise usage of a sexuality theme only deepens the film’s engrossing universe of thought; David might not know love, but he wonders about humanity’s relationship with its own reproductive abilities, and attempts to understand it, even be involved in his own way. We are never fully aware of David’s thoughts, feelings, or motivations, but he and Rapace are certainly at the core of the film, and Fassbender’s performance anything but robotic; we are always certain that this is a mechanical man with a hidden heart.

The film explains a lot to its audience, and you are always left wondering if the makers made the right decisions; that is, what to keep ambiguous and what to unveil. We do know this – Rapace’s character is a Christian lingering on the death of her father (Patrick Wilson) and mother, David is a cynical machine made by scientists, and Theron’s character may have parental issues of her own. These perspectives all come to shape how these characters view the origins of humanity, and what they hope to understand about it. At the end of the day, this is what Prometheus is about. Many fanboys will nitpick the movie until there is nothing left, examining elements of every shot and how they fit into the Alien universe. While they are surely allowed to do this, it would be unfair not to praise Scott’s use of ambiguity in continuing to build his own science-fiction universe. After all, these are mere human beings exploring the unknown, and we are supposed to be placed within their shoes. What fun would it be if we were aware of every extraterrestrial development?

Although I have already noted what makes Prometheus great science-fiction, it is also important to recognize what makes it such a fun film. One reason is this – feeble, stupid humans. I do wish I would’ve felt something more as certain characters were killed off, but luckily, emotion does exist in many (but not all) scenes where it is necessary. Yet that doesn’t change the fact that some characters in Scott’s film simply make hilariously bad decisions, contributing to characterizations that some may argue are weakly drawn. While it may be true that Prometheus doesn’t have the greatest screenplay to support such refreshing ideas, I didn’t particularly mind that a majority of these boys and girls consistently put themselves in obvious danger. This is a movie about humans questioning their place in a universe beyond comprehension, and for the most part, these miniscule entities of life don’t uncover such unknowable answers.

The universe is indifferent to many of their fates, and to some extent, so are we. Except for those who matter; those who may change the course of said universe. These are the characters who drive Prometheus, involving us in a script that may not be completely up to snuff, but no doubt provides the thought severely missing from modern science-fiction pictures. Plus, we are invited to be awestruck by some of the best visual effects in cinematic history. So who cares when everyone decides it is completely safe to take off their space helmets? After all, this was a franchise born by a man touching something he shouldn’t. If he hadn’t done that, his chest cramps would only be indigestion, and one of cinema’s greatest legacies would cease to be born. Thank you, Ridley Scott, for making such smart films about human ignorance. From experience, however, we have been shown that some humans have the strength to wise up. Perhaps, in the distant future, both they and Scott will finally find what they are looking for.

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