Film Reviews

Prometheus Ridley Scott

Rating - 6/10

When I was in 7th grade in 1980, Alien was one of my favorite movies, right up there alongside Star Wars and Jaws. I had the novelisation by Alan Dean Foster and carried it with me in school every day. In the school Spelling Bee that year I made it to the final round, facing a girl I had known since first grade.  For the championship, the moderator turned to me and posed the final challenge, "Your word is...alien". My best friend Harry, sitting in the audience, breathed a sigh of relief turning to another friend and saying, "he can't miss this, he reads that book every day!"  I hesitated, a bead of sweat forming on my brow, because so much was at stake. Not only was my legendary spelling acumen being put to the test, but I faced the greatest fear a 13 year old boy can confront - the prospect of losing to a girl. Under the pressure I made the most bush league mistake a competitive speller can make - I spelled it phonetically.  "A-L-E-I-N", I announced uncertainly.  All I remember hearing at that dismal moment is Harry's laughter reverberating around the auditorium.

Alien was a terrifying film, but more than anything I was captivated by its mood, established in the first frame and maintained throughout.  The sequels, helmed by James Cameron, et al, and bolstered by big money and the expectations that come with it, had no hope of recapturing the slow, simmering cauldron of tension that Ridley Scott had concocted under budget constraints and few prying eyes. But Prometheus, marking Scott's return to the series, promised great things.  Or did it?  I've been a Scott skeptic ever since Legend, and though he has had his moments, I thought both Thelma and Louise and Gladiator were entertaining but wildly overrated blockbusters.  So you might say I was cautiously optimistic, but kept my hopes in check.

It's a good thing, too. Prometheus is an expensive, spectacular mess of a film that largely wastes the talents of some actors and the fine performances of others.  Casting a woman who could live up to the heroic standards of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley is a difficult task and Scott chooses perfectly with Noomi Rapace, hot off the Swedish production of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Rapace gives it her all, but unfortunately Scott has given her little to work with.  The screenplay is so banal that we never really get to know her Elizabeth Shaw, despite her lengthy screen time.  She does have a few sequences to shine, including a harrowing self-surgery scene that is gory and exciting enough to live up to the Alien name. Charlize Theron plays corporate representative Meredith Vickers, and once again we are left scratching our heads. Is she a company flunky? Heartless robot? Caring but cold and efficient leader?  The film toys with all these possibilities and settles on none of them. Michael Fassbender, on the other hand, is given a great role as the android "son" of corporate titan Peter Weyland and knocks it out of the park.  He is ambiguous as only a machine programmed to show compassion can be. We never fully understand his motives either, but with him we have the most to work with and we come to suspect that his robotic love for his creator drives him to help humanity find its origins.  

Prometheus poses a slew of deep questions. Where do we come from? What makes us human? Can robots have feelings?  The usual sci-fi suspects. Scott's Bladerunner famously meditated on the robot question to great effect, posing ambiguous answers whereas this film simply punts or forgets it asked the questions in the first place. Instead we get the mandatory blockbuster action sequences, reeled off with aplomb but little suspense.  

Yet, the film is worth seeing for the spectacle alone. The CGI work is as good as I've seen, though admittedly I avoid many of the movies that rely on it excessively.  The set design is as wonderful as you'd expect and Scott establishes his environs expertly so we are never lost or confused as to where the action is taking place.  Ultimately there's enough cool stuff going on to keep you interested, even if you're left a little unsatisfied in the end.