Spectacular visuals and Fassbender’s David rise to the top of Prometheus

Review by C.J. Bunce

Ridley Scott suggests a “sequel to the prequel” is a possibility in the feature material to the October 9, 2012 release of his is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-prequel to Alien blockbuster Prometheus on Blu-Ray, 3D, and DVD.  The trailer to the video release gets it just right–there are so many unanswered questions left in this summer’s big-budget blockbuster, sci-fi release that you may think you’re watching 2001: A Space Odyssey.  What was this Dr. Manhattan-looking being in the distant past and in our distant future eating that dissolved him into the ocean?  How does that being relate to the rather squiggly creature that emerged in one of the movie’s key scenes?  Why didn’t Scott just come out and call this a prequel?  Surprise, people!  It’s a prequel!  It’s actually really good at being a prequel, because unlike other prequel movies, it doesn’t re-hash every bit of the original film or films.

The plot to Prometheus is pretty big in scope–let’s take a spaceship to the far reaches of space so we can meet our maker in person.  If you’ve ever read Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods or even watched Leonard Nimoy’s old In Search of… series, the core of the story will be familiar to you–aliens once came to ancient Earth and either met with us or created us.  I think, but still don’t know for sure, if that was the intended plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Numerous similarities between Prometheus and 2001 will have you thinking about this one long after your first viewing.  Unfortunately, taking a spaceship to meet God was the plot of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, too.  Each of these three films really attempted to use science fiction in a serious, thought-provoking way, so props are due for that.  But each of them got so convoluted along the way that they struggled with what they wanted to be.

Prometheus is a dreary, disturbing ride compared to other sci-fi movies that have a look as good as this film, from a cinematic perspective.  Pardon the analogy but if Star Trek 2009 is like going to recess, Prometheus is a trip to the principal’s office.  Often a thoughtful story is an absent element in much of mainstream sci-fi so you have to give some credit to Ridley Scott for his efforts here.  But Prometheus spends a lot of time doing a lot of things that ultimately don’t all fit together.  There is this strange parallel theme of “a kid left for adoption who is now angry when she is about to meet her biological parent” that is just too obvious and echoed in this film too much.  How should that kid feel about it?  The film’s heroine just must know why, at all costs, including abandoning her own species–why did our creator leave us here on Earth?  The single theme is so heavy that although you may enjoy the visuals, by film’s end you’re more than ready for the film to end.  Do I really want to know what this creator looks like?  Not really, especially if he looks like Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.  Does the average guy on the street view this subject as so jaw dropping as the characters in this film?  Likely not.

Am I saying this is a bad film?  Definitely not.  First off, Michael Fassbender creates a very classic borg character with his David 8 android.  He speaks like a robot–like HAL from 2001.  Yet he is Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, too He is so much like Data–in mannerisms, speech, personality and empathy, that you wonder why the (numerous) writers had to waste our time with stale references to future humans treating this great creation like a third class citizen.  That became a monotonous topic in Star Trek and it should be considered passe for all science fiction.  How would you feel if you got to meet a real-life android that appeared completely human?  You’d think he was incredible and treat him/it as something special, not something to be loathed.  I think future humans would feel the same way.  Sure–Fassbender’s David is classic danger robot.  But he upstages everyone in each scene and if there is a sequel, we need to see more of his kind.

What makes this film horror?  The bleak, darkness?  Sure.  The gory, goopy gore?  Sure.  The squiggly gross-out beings?  Yep.  But even more basic, it has a key element of most popular–and basic–popular horror–all these characters are excited to meet these aliens, despite their very grotesque living quarters, despite guys turning up dead, despite these vases that must be keeping something secret inside–there’s none of the expected “hey, maybe these aliens are dangerous.”

I do wish we got to know and understand more about the passengers on the ship.  Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), the star of the movie, has a personal relationship with another crew member, yet we get no feel of any chemistry between them, so when they are later separated the emotion isn’t what it should be.  Their shipmates are very much caricatures of characters from past Alien franchise movies.  One Asian actor has hardly any lines for most of the movie and the camera just hangs on him staring blankly multiple times.  I’ve no idea what we were supposed to think of that as viewers.  Charlize Theron is abrasive throughout, and there is not much more to her character.  Guy Pearce is completely unidentifiable as the old man who heads up Weyland Industries–and his casting only would make sense if they planned to make a prequel to this prequel featuring his younger self.  Rapace, whose English could use some volume coaching, manages to get one standout, classic scene that is on par with any scene from the original Alien, and it involves a real-time, self-performed Caesarian section.  It sounds gross, and is, but it is the stuff of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, or, yes, Sigourney Weaver’s Ridley in the earlier Alien films.  Shaw is one tough character.

Putting the story aside, Prometheus has some great, big action sequences, including a finale with a big payoff.  The blue spacesuits are superb, despite the odd bubble helmets that bounce off each other when characters get too close to each other.  The soundtrack by German composer Marc Streitenfeld is far superior to any recent science fiction score you’re heard in years and I wish he’d take over the Star Trek films.   The vistas throughout the movie could hardly look better–landscapes, outer space, seascapes– from the prologue of what I think was supposed to be a young Earth, to the brief spaceship battle at the end, to the interiors of the alien spaceship, all decked out in their creepy and grotesque Gigerian influences, this movie looks like a great science fiction movie.  The visual effects play nicely on the small screen, but you may wish you saw this one in the theater.  I think Prometheus is actually a better video rental because of the weighty plot–if you need to walk away and come back later you can, and still appreciate all the great visual effects.  And although I think it is not a better film than Aliens, my favorite film in the franchise, it is better than the later films.  I’d rate it close to, if not as good as the original Alien.

Here is the trailer for next week’s video release:

The Blu-Ray, DVD, and 3D editions of Prometheus will be available October 9, 2012.

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