How sweet it is to have Ridley Scott return to sci-fi genre 30 years after giving us “Blade Runner.” His “Prometheus” is a stunning movie to watch and once again reminds us of what a stylistic perfectionist he is. While it is said to be a prequel to “Alien,” it is really separate from that film as it deals with different set of themes and ideas. While the original “Alien” dealt with corporate greed in trying to use the creature as a weapon, “Prometheus” is more fascinated with the origins of humanity.
Noomi Rapace, Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” stars as Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist who along with her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) discovers a star map in several unconnected ancient cultures on Earth. They come to interpret the map as an invitation from those who created humanity to discover the origins of life on a distant planet. A few years later they are on board the spaceship Prometheus which takes them and several engineers to that location.
When they land on the planet LV-223, not LV-426 from the first two “Alien” movies, they discover a species which appears to be extinct along with a monolithic statue of a humanoid head. In the structure they explore, they also find a large number of metal cylinders which soon start leaking black fluid. After that, everything goes wrong and the characters discover that their need to learn about humanity’s creators was a huge mistake.
The smartest thing Scott did with this particular prequel is not make it the kind that ties up all the loose ends to the original movie which comes after it. That has been a big problem with prequels like “The Thing” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” as they get so concerned about getting all the details right that any suspense or drama gets completely robbed, making for a far less effective motion picture. “Prometheus” however takes place several decades before the events portrayed in “Alien,” so the filmmakers don’t have to worry about that here.
“Prometheus” uses the element of mystery to great effect as several of the characters appear to have ulterior motives which they do an excellent job of hiding from others. Charlize Theron, who’s on a roll right now with last year’s “Young Adult” and this summer’s “Snow White and the Huntsmen,” is especially effective as Weyland Corporation employee Meredith Vickers. Hiding discreetly in the shadows and coming off with a tough as nails attitude, she clearly has her own agenda as you would expect any member of that (or any) corporation to have.
The movie’s most fascinating character (as well as its most enigmatic) is David, an android designed to be indistinguishable from humans who’s played by Michael Fassbender. We first see him looking over the ship while the rest of the crew is in hyper-sleep, and he models his behavior on Peter O’Toole’s performance from “Lawrence of Arabia.”
David is like Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” in that he is more human than the humans he works with. But the words of the Borg Queen from “Star Trek: First Contact” of how Data is “an imperfect being created by an imperfect being” kept echoing through my head as we see David gaining an ego as he is fully aware of how superior he is to humans. With that comes a wealth of insecurities like envy and jealousy which wipe away the façade that his infinitely polite behavior hides.
Idris Elba co-stars as the captain of the spaceship Prometheus, Janek, who serves as the movie’s most realistic character. Sci-fi movies need a down to earth character like this as in the midst of this technical mumbo jumbo, you need someone to say “what the hell is going on.” Elba, so good on the BBC series “Luther,” is a strong addition to this cast even though I found his American accent a little weird at times. Couldn’t he have made Janek British like him? Anyway, he gives what may be seen as the movie’s most underrated performance.
But while much of the acting praise may go to Fassbender, I have to single out Rapace who gives a fantastically strong performance as Elizabeth Shaw. While “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” may have marked her breakthrough in American films, her role in “Prometheus” is the one which deservedly makes her a star in this country. Just watch her in the scene where another character yells right in her face that he wants to go back to the ship. Rapace doesn’t budge or blink at this raw anger, and she is as riveting in the movie as she is in that one scene.
Rapace also has the movie’s most unnerving scene as, upon finding that she has a “foreign organism” inside her body, gets into a robotic surgery device to have it removed. It’s a brilliantly icky scene that shakes up the audience in a way that watching Anthony Hopkins cut off a piece of Ray Liotta’s brain and serving it to him did in “Hannibal.” Rapace sells the scene completely and has you pinned in your seat as she struggles to get control over her body.
On top of all that, she does a practically flawless British accent which is more than I can say for many actors in American movies.
Among the other excellent performances in “Prometheus” come from Sean Harris who plays the unhinged geologist Fitfield who never lets his mohawk hairdo upstage him, Guy Pearce who is almost unrecognizable under pounds of makeup as the CEO with a god complex Peter Weyland, Logan Marshall-Green as archeologist Charlie Holloway who goes to extremes in his work for better and for worse, and Rafe Spall as the all too friendly botanist Milburn.
“Prometheus” asks a lot of profound questions about who created us and why those same beings chose to abandon planet Earth. It deliberately doesn’t answer all of those questions, but while many consider this one of the movie’s biggest problems, I think it’s one of its many strengths. To answer all those questions would have weakened this movie tremendously and, as I said earlier, the element of mystery plays a strong part in its overall success.
There’s no real satisfying way to answer all the questions “Prometheus” presents as we have enough trouble answering them in our own lives. I think the movie’s main focus is on the struggle of faith as Rapace’s character thrives on it, and she spends the story seeing it severely tested. The lack of answers ends up reinforcing the faith she has in those who created human beings, and that keeps it from being killed off completely.
Scott as always gives us a visually sumptuous motion picture to view with extraordinary visuals and special effects that feel wonderfully unique to everything else out there. With cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, frequent music composer Marc Streitenfeld, editor Pietro Scalia, and writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, the director gives this movie that Ridley Scott look and feel the way only he can accomplish, and it all makes his eagerly awaited return to the sci-fi genre he so brilliantly transcended with “Alien” and “Blade Runner” all the more welcome.
While “Alien” was a masterful combination of the sci-fi and horror genres, “Prometheus” is really more sci-fi than horror. “Prometheus” has its thrilling moments, but it is not out to scare the shit out of you the way the 1979 classic did. Scott is getting more cerebral with this film, and it makes you eager to see a sequel made to it sooner than later. I don’t care what anybody says, “Prometheus” was very much worth the wait and, despite whatever flaws it may have, it had me enthralled from beginning to end.
Actually, one thing you could say about the movie is that it may give ammunition to creationists who claim that human life came about through the efforts of a supernatural being. Then again, the very last scene of “Prometheus” before the end credits roll features a familiar looking creature that doesn’t quite appear the way it first did all those years ago. With that, you can safely say that the filmmakers do firmly believe in the theory of evolution!
* * * * out of * * * *