Logan Marshall-Green, Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender in Prometheus.
Prometheus is a big budget science fiction movie that also happens to be a prequel to 1979's Alien. Set in the late 21st Century, it tells a story that will be immediately familiar to anyone who's seen any of the previous Alien movies. A diverse group of people (and one android) go on a quest in space to a remote location where they discover ancient secrets and plenty of danger.
Prometheus (which is the name of the spaceship the crew travels in) raises questions about mankind's origins and place in the universe. It features several compelling characters and some decent acting from Fassbender, Rapace and Theron. By the final scene however, Prometheus proves ultimately disappointing, as it turns out to be just another space alien/monster movie getting by on its past glory.
Another plot device that has shown up in nearly all the Alien movies, and gets trotted out for this one as well, is the impregnation of one of the characters by an alien in its embryonic state. The twist this time is that the character (played by the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace) must give herself a C-section using a highly advanced operating machine.
The cinematography is flawless, although I didn't see it in 3D (which I loathe). From a purely visual standpoint Ridley Scott creates a magnificent movie experience amidst a cinematic world that offers bleak austerity and at the same time is impressively monumental and awe inspiring. Without giving too much away, the central mystery concerning the ancient god-like species that created mankind is never satisfactorily resolved. As I said Prometheus raises more questions than it answers (although the ending does leave open the possibility for yet another installment in the venerable franchise).
The lone synthetic life-form along on the mission has always been one of the more interesting characters in the Alien movies and Michael Fassbender continues the tradition with relish as David. He is slightly morally ambiguous, and above all else, desires to be human. His favorite movie is Lawrence of Arabia which he often quotes. Fassbender does a brilliant job at conveying David's yearning for a human soul by making him almost too perfectly human. He sounds quite a bit like Hal 9000 from Kubrick's 2001.
Another standard character that shows up here is the company man (or in this case woman) working for the large conglomerate that funded the mission. Charlize Theron (now at the peak of her career) plays Meredith Vickers, an ambitious woman with a secret agenda, capable of using ruthless tactics to get what she wants. She's a bit more subtle than Paul Reiser's corrupt yuppie Carter Burke was in Aliens but both characters serve the same basic function.
Even though I was slightly disappointed by Prometheus, it's still a much better movie than the recent John Carter for example. It doesn't rely on CGI effects to razzle-dazzle the audience but instead tells an intriguing story, even if it is one we've seen variations of many times before. Since just about the only thing Hollywood seems content to do these days is churn out sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings of previous plots and movies, then at least Prometheus is better than most of the flotsam and jetsam currently floating across movie screens.
Charlize Theron and Idris Elba in Prometheus.
I find it interesting that Scott and the studio made the conscious decision to distance themselves from the Alien franchise, when so obviously this movie is set in the same universe and is filled with several of the same tropes that were featured in the earlier films. Was this just to avoid comparison or were they worried that the later films in the franchise had so damaged the brand that mentioning Aliens would work against it?
If it was to avoid comparison then I can understand somewhat because this is inferior to the first two Alien movies. It's not as suspenseful as Alien or as action packed as Aliens. It is however, a decent movie in its own right, with plenty to recommend about it, despite some flaws.
As Patrick wrote, visually it is flawless. I did opt to see it in 3-D and I was reminded once again of the enormous difference between movies filmed in 3-D, as this one was, and those that are merely transferred to 3-D after being filmed in 2-D. The special effects are quite well done. They are glossy and polished and yet the ship still looks like a functioning spaceship. The alien planet is rendered gorgeously. We take CGI and modern effects for granted so much these days, but a movie like this one can still make you stop and take notice.
The other strong point is the cast. Fassbender is the scene stealer as the android with the Peter O'Toole obsession. Noomi Rapace may not equal Sigourney Weaver, but she does a good job in the lead role. She's a strong character without being masculine and you're definitely rooting for her to survive. Charlize Theron continues her busy run at the theater and at 36 is the most beautiful woman working in movies today.
My biggest complaint is something that Patrick pointed out. There are way too many unanswered questions scattered throughout the plot. In fact, there aren't really any answers provided. The script was written by Lost co-creator, Damon Lindelof, so perhaps it's not so surprising that we aren't given satisfactory answers. Instead we are simply teased with the possibility of a sequel. If you have already seen the movie, then I highly recommend this video on YouTube that points out some of the many questions that are never answered.
Because the movie looks so good and because the cast is so great, I still had a good time watching this movie, but because of the disappointingly empty ending, I left the theater feeling let down. I will willingly go to see a sequel, but with slightly more trepidation than I took with me into this one.
Michael Fassbender as David in Prometheus
As my brothers pointed out there is very little originality to be found here and a plot that never explains anything. Pop quiz: How many episodes of "Star Trek" or "Doctor Who" involve them arriving on a planet or ship to discover a mystery that often turns out threatening? Answer: nearly all of them. We have seen nearly every plot point in this film before.
The direction and writing are extremely tired. These folks are on a strange planet, they hear a noise from a dark corridor, so of course they go to investigate with just a weak little flashlight in hand. Your average boy scout troop is better prepared and twice as smart. Two scientist, which you would think denotes some intelligence, come across a snake like creature that pops up from some goo that was not there a couple of hours ago. Question number two: Do they keep their distance or try to touch it while talking assuringly as if it understands what they are saying. Answer; A few seconds later the average human IQ goes up a few points.
Elizabeth and Charlie discover life exists on another planet. This causes a conversation in which Elizabeth's faith in God is brought to task. Clearly this is foreplay for these two as they then have sex, in which an infected Charlie impregnates Elizabeth. Question number 3: Why does a woman, who expects to soon take a two year cryogenic nap have unprotected sex? Answer; These are the dumbest scientists on the face of any planet.
Question number four: How does David somehow know that the goo is a living DNA sample that once digested by Charlie will travel with his sperm into Elizabeth, impregnate her and create an alien life form, that she will then carry until they wake up on earth? How did he know they would have sex? Would it have worked if they had oral sex? Anal? A handjob. What if he pulled out first? I apologize for paying so much attention to this one aspect, but sex so rarely happens in a science fiction film. Answer to #4 question; He read the script.
Michael Fassbender is the best thing about the film. We have seen this character type before. Spock, Data, David in A.I. were all emotionless creatures struggling with discovering their humanity. The best thing about Fassbender's David is that he is threateningly cunning. He is the smartest one on board the ship. Question #5: When a giant circle rolls after two girls in a straight path, do they turn left, right or continue running in the path of the rolling object? They are girls, do I really have to give you the answer?
I love science fiction films. They have always fascinated me because I always believed that they have the ability to be the most unique of all film genres. Ridley Scott just proved me wrong. Question number 5: What would I rather watch, the sequel to Prometheus or a new episode of "Doctor Who"?
Photos © Copyright Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation (2012)