A new daily unfiltered and unedited journal of random film thoughts going through my head. No proofreading or serious analysis allowed.
In defense of ‘Prometheus’
Alien: Covenant opens this week. While Ridley Scott’s latest gets its title from his 1979 sci-fi classic, its story is more closely connected to 2012’s Prometheus. This has bothered many critics, who weren’t too high on Prometheus. The film was a victim of questionable marketing and the expectations that stemmed from that. Sold as an Alien prequel, Prometheus was really its own story that just happened to be set in the same universe as Alien. It was less a horror film about monsters terrorizing those on board a spaceship and more a mystery about human origins and faith. Despite a $403M haul at the box office (a very strong number for an R-rated movie), the general consensus about Prometheus five years later is that it was a dissapointment. That is was bad, even.
I could not disagree more. Prometheus is one of the best blockbusters in recent memory; the rare film that’s visually stimulating, thematically rich, and littered with fun performances from an all-star cast.
Prometheus tells the story of the crew of the Prometheus, a spaceship that’s traveled to a distant planet seen on various star maps from primative cultures on earth, hoping to find the origins of humanity. Being a Ridley Scott film set in the Alien universe, things quickly turn sour. Gross creatures do gross things. Different characters reveal secret motivations. The crew discovers that the voyage isn’t going to be as magical as they thought. I won’t spoil anything in case you haven’t seen it.
Scott and DoP Dariusz Wolski shot the film in 3D but did so with minimal green screen use. Over 16 different sets were built, and they give Prometheus a very physical feel relative to other 3D films set in space. There’s a lot of grey coloring, a lot of gravel and rock. Prometheus finds its aesthetic beauty by not being beautiful in the classic sense. Before anything even really happens something about the planet just feels off due to how it looks. To paraphrase a line from the film, the place looks like death. Arthur Max, a production designer who created the sets with Scott, deserves a ton of credit for the finished product.
The film’s overall aesthetic is aided by a score from Marc Streitenfeld, a usual Ridley Scott collaborator, that can be both both eerie and sweeping depending on what a scene requires. As something to look at listen to, Prometheus was a great theater spectacle.
The work of the supporting cast helps elevate what are rather thin characters. Idris Elba plays the captain of the Prometheus. He’s blunt but well-intentioned. Elba manages to make the character stand out despite only having a couple scenes where he says more than one sentance. It’s a scruffy role for an actor usually reveled for his handsomeness. Also playing against type is Charlize Theron as the woman in charge of monitoring the expedition. She’s the closest thing the film has to a clear villain, but even her motivations come from a decent place. Charlize plays the part with an aura of practicality that comes off as cold. It’s a fun role for her, and signaled her shift to genre blockbuster superstar that she’d later explore with Mad Max: Fury Road and The Fate of the Furious.
But the real scene stealer is Michael Fassbender as the Lawrence of Arabia-quoting android David, a mysterious thing at the center of every important moment in the film. Fass nails the robotic movements required. Every step is efficient, and his face always completely emotionless even as carnage surrounds him (he’s back for Alien: Covenant, btw). It’s a brilliant physical performance. Everyone knows that Fassbender is one of the finest actors working today. Prometheus provides him with a different outlet though. He’s never been cooler or scarier, and he’s played some pretty cool/scary roles.
The most intense scene in Prometheus comes when Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace), pregnant with an alien thingy, has to go on a medical pod and have it surgically removed. It’s not for squemish folk, but will appease anyone who finds entertainment from the chest-bursters in Alien. It’s sharply edited and shows the operation in pretty gruesome detail but never reverts to drowning the lens in blood.
Prometheus caught a lot of criticism for not really answering the questions it raised (no surprise when you realize Damon Lindelof helped pen the film). That’s fair, to an extent. The film was clearly made with a sequel in mind and it’s far from the first film to leave things open for the next chapter. If you’re averse to that sort of franchise filmmaking, so be it, but don’t act like the sin is something only Prometheus is guilty of. I personally found the ending of Prometheus to be very satisfying and fitting thematically. Folks came to this planet looking for answers. Instead they got terrorized and more questions were raised. A fine tragic ending.