There are several moments in Ridley Scott’s new film “Prometheus” which arrested my gaze completely at last night. While watching them, I was reminded of the sense of awe and mystery I have experienced in other great SF films like “2001: A Space Odyssey”(1968) or “Alien”(1979). Sadly, they look so good and ambitious that what happens after them is really a letdown compared to what I saw before.
The movie is a long-waited return for Ridley Scott, who made “Alien” 33 years ago. With that memorably terrifying film, he chillingly reminded us that nobody can hear you scream in the space while introducing us one of the most famous(and the most horrible) monsters in the movie history. Its big commercial success was followed by several sequels, and, except James Cameron’s explosive “Aliens”(1986), none of them were particularly good; as you know, we were recently treated with such horrible garbages like “Alien Vs. Predator”(2004) and its equally horrid sequel.
“Prometheus” has been advertised as if it were a prequel to the series, but the answer is yes and no. There are apparent links to the series observed here and there throughout the film, and you will see the familiar elements from the series including that unforgettable creature design by H.R. Giger. But the movie also has its own story to tell, and its ending implies that it may continue the story in its possible sequels.
The premise of the movie is based on one of those illogical preposterous opinions you have heard about before. It is 2089, and two archaeologists, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw(Noomi Rapace) and her lover/colleague Dr. Charlie Holloway(Logan Marshal-Green), have just found an cave with interesting murals in one isle near Iceland, and it seems they discover an important clue to the origin, or the creation in the view of some of you, of mankind. The movie instantly moves forward to 2093, and we see them and other people in a spaceship named Prometheus, which has been managed by the main computer and an android robot named David(Michael Fassbender) while the human crews are sleeping in their hibernating chambers.
The movie does not explain well about the technology advance in their world, but it seems they have made a huge progress in space industry as well as other fields during the late 21th century. Though it takes around 2 years to get to their destination, they have journeyed more than 10 trillion kilometers in the space; according to one character, the powerful company backing this project invested one trillion dollar. It’s 2012 now, but “2001: A Space Odyssey” still looks far more futuristic. Maybe our children or their children will also find this movie too fantastic at the end of this century.
The CEO of the company is Peter Weyland(Guy Pierce in unrecognizable heavy make-up). In the hologram message made during his last days, he explains the motive behind the project to the crew and, of course, the audiences. From the murals from the ancient cultures all over the world including the one discovered by Dr. Shaw and Dr. Holloway, the certain pattern was found, and it was concluded that this pattern is a sort of the invitation to mankind from the alien species who, uh, contributed to the origin of Homo sapiens. How happy the defenders of Intellectual Design will be to see that their argument is proved to be right.
But wait, how did the hell our ancestors get that clue when their creators were already gone? Was that knowledge imprinted on the pieces of DNA somewhere on our 46 chromosomes then somehow stored in our collective consciousness to inspire us draw these murals? I must say I and one of my colleagues, biological majors, could not help but amused by the opening scene where the pieces of alien DNA floating in the water are shown like fragments of ramen noodles instead of our usual molecular models. I know it’s an artistic choice, but both of us were too knowledgeable to ignore its artistic silliness.
Anyway, I have to admit that the movie looks terrific with its excellent visuals. Right from its National Geographic opening sequence, it presents the series of spectacular scenes to be appreciated. The movie has several good shots of its vast backgrounds filled with wonder, which remind us how much special effects have been developed since the time of “Alien”. I liked the looks of the planet the character arrives in(It’s LV-223 – don’t confuse it with LV-426), and there is a wondrous scene when David discovers a crucial place for his secret mission in the huge underground space where something insidious may lurk in.
I forgot to tell you about what they encounter on the planet. They find several big architectures made by the aliens, nicknamed “Engineers”, and they soon go inside one of these buildings, which turns out to be your typical haunted house. The characters usually move around the dark, ominous corridors, and we know something terrible can happen at any time. We come to know more about the aliens and what they created, and this time, somebody can hear them scream because they can breathe in the atmosphere of the building.
Compared to this set-up, the second part of this movie is rather disappointing. It goes into a messy situation not that far from “Alien”, and we get lots of familiar sights seen from its trailers and the other movies in the series. The movie discards most of the intriguing ideas about God and the existence of mankind it toyed with at first while going into that action/horror mode, and the characters mostly remain as the objects ready to be dispatched as required by its predictable plot. It is not wise to attempt to touch an alien creature even when you think it is small and cute, but one of the characters commits such a stupid act(for heaven’s sake, are you really a biologist?), and we surely get what is predicted.
Most of the actors assembled for the movie are wasted due to the poor characterization in the film. Guy Pierce’s best moment is not in the film but in one of the promotional trailers, and Charlize Theron tries her coldest with her one-dimensional company executive while being underutilized, and Idris Elba does a competent job as the captain of Prometheus who does care about his job and duty.
Thankfully, Noomi Rapace, who recently got a career breakthrough as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”(2009) and its two sequels, gives a strong performance as the brave, resourceful heroine of the film. I was particularly impressed by a frantic scene when her character is determined to take care of her imminent problem for herself using a high-tech surgery machine equipped with many tools including a laser scalpel. Even right after such a dreadful ordeal, Dr. Shaw moves on while maintaining her strength to fight against a giant creature(it reminded me that they still sell squid snack at South Korean theaters), and Rapace makes us to believe that as a part of her character.
With the appearance reminiscent of young Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”(1962), which incidentally appears in the film as his character’s favorite film, Michael Fassbender is also very good as a courteous android robot with a hidden purpose. David is the most fascinating character in the film, and there is an amusing irony in his encounter with the entity responsible for the creation of his master; imagine HAL 9000 at the end of the ultimate journey in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, and you will get the idea. And I have never expected that Fassbender will weirdly evoke my memory with “Re-Animator”(1985) around the story’s ending.
“Prometheus” is a well-made SF movie stuffed with the sights to dazzle you at big theater. Although its thin story is deficient in several aspects including human elements while its one foot is stuck in the Alien series, I enjoyed its visuals on the big screen, and I was also engaged by its two good lead performances. I won’t deny that I had a good time with it, but, to be frank with you, I prefer to see “Alien” at the same theater I went to at last night.
Sidenote: I saw it in 2D. There are several scenes in the film that can be visually enhanced by 3D, and I know Ridley Scott is one of the directors who know how to use 3D. None the less, I did not see any problem with enjoying the movie while watching it in 2D – but I think the big scenes in the film are definitely helped by IMAX.