Movie Review – Prometheus (2012)
by NIR SHALEV
Either Prometheus contains the vaguest screenplay ever written or it’s a remarkable achievement in storytelling that doesn’t contain much exposition. Either way, there’s a unique and terrific story within that I won’t touch on because it exists mainly in the second half of the film and it concerns everything that happens in the first half.
Strikingly similar in structure and purposely reminiscent in style to Ridley Scott’s own classic film Alien (1979), Prometheus begins at the dawn of man and showcases that an alien race may have created mankind from its own DNA. The sequence is entirely wordless and breathtakingly beautifully shot. Then the film skips forward to the year 2089 (a jump-cut that spans an even longer time than 2001: a Space Odyssey’s famous jump-cut) and we watch as scientist couple Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover a cave painting in Scotland, one that dates back more than 35,000 years. Shaw sees that the painting depicts a tall man who’s pointing to five floating circles. She takes it as a sign and a sort of invitation by a possible alien race that’s inviting them to their planet, in another solar system, and relays her discovery to the Weyland Corporation, which she works for.
Four years later, the starship Prometheus is traversing the vast and infinitely dark outer space towards the solar system that was depicted in the cave painting. Its crew of 17 contains the captain of the ship, Janek (Idris Elba); the boss of the mission, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron); a geologist; a biologist; a few other unnamed souls; and Shaw and Holloway.
As they sleep in cryostasis throughout the voyage, an android named David (Michael Fassbender) watches over them and even watches some of their dreams using really cool future technology. Fassbender’s personification of David is a form of magnificence and not only does he borrow certain traits from Peter O’Toole’s terrific performance in Lawrence of Arabia, but David is seen watching that same film while en route to the undiscovered solar system. From the audience’s first sighting of David and all the way through to the end of the film David will become every viewer’s favorite character; and that’s mainly due to Fassbender’s brilliant performance.
The atmosphere of the planetoid that Prometheus lands upon, named LV-223, contains mostly CO2. After the crew spots geographical designs that could only have been made by a species born of Intelligent Design, they decide to land the ship next to a small mountain and enter it through a cave that’s been mysteriously terraformed long ago; inside is a breathable oxygen-rich atmosphere. They explore the cave, find magnificent results, and then the film hits the second half mark where it turns into an Alien-type film. But that’s where the vagueness of the screenplay kicks in. The first half of the film is dedicated to the aspect of exploration and perhaps that’s why it’s the slightly better half of the film. From the dawn of man sequence until the crew members bring a severed alien back onboard Prometheus for further analysis, the film is at its most fascinating and engaging. However, the exploration aspect must eventually slow down and give way to the horror aspect, the genre to which the film belongs, and the terrific grotesqueries that are forthcoming.
There is a terrific concept to the film’s overall story and the average moviegoer won’t pick up on it because it requires a serious amount of thinking after viewing the film. I’m not saying that the film is designed for intellectual thinkers (quite the opposite in many regards, for it is a traditional “haunted house” film that takes place on an alien planet) but it really makes one piece things together in their mind and also, probably on their own; thus the end result may vary drastically. At least four other screenplays can be written using others’ interpretations of what the overall story means and I find that to be a double-edged sword.
Prometheus, while containing far less exposition than films generally do (it can be referred to as the anti-Inception), is visual splendor. The cinematography goes for realism, aesthetically, and the result is an amalgam of terrifically creepy atmosphere and genuine wonder that lasts throughout and makes the viewer feel like they’re physically present on LV-223. Unlike the Pandora of James Cameron’s Avatar, LV-223 looks and feels very real and very cold. Its soil is grey-colored, looking like a mixture of grey sand and charcoal, and the film was physically shot on real ground so that we see actual mountain ranges. Prometheus is a mixture of a miniature model and a CGI version. The cave and its many tunnels and H.R. Giger-designed rooms were physically shot on sound stages, and not entirely in front of green screens and loaded with CGI (yeah, I’m still looking at you, Avatar).
What I like most about the film is the way in which it deals with the subject of exploration. When exploring other galaxies, planets, and foreign species, one can only comprehend so much based on one’s own previous understanding of said subjects. In Prometheus, there is no exception. What the scientist crew uncovers and understands is only the tip of the iceberg; the greater picture will always remain distant. And the reason that the film feels vague when it comes to explaining basically every action and visual cue that we see is because there is just so much that we can understand. The scientist crew is our eyes and ears and what they see and understand, we see and understand. What they don’t understand is then, also reflected back onto the audience. That’s how it works. For example: if we meet a member of an alien species, we wouldn’t have a method of communication with it and because neither party speaks the other’s language, we’d automatically believe the other party to be hostile, and vice versa. And then there’s alien architecture, terraformed caves on uninhabitable planets, metal vases that leak black ooze that turns maggots and worms into strange, quick moving, acid-equipped predators…. There is only so much that one can pick up in terms of understanding everything that we see, and the vagueness of the situations and Giger-based devices depicted in the film showcases that sometimes, what you see can and should be taken at face value. If you start asking questions, be prepared to remain in the dark. That’s only logical.
Lastly, if a sequel to Prometheus is in the works, acting as mediator between Prometheus and Alien, then I am definitely going to be there, in the center of the middle row, and with 3D glasses* on.
3 1/2 stars
*The film was shot in 3D with the RED camera and I watched it in IMAX. It’s a magnificent, gorgeous looking film and the 3D doesn’t hurt it in any way. It didn’t need to be shot in 3D nor does it have to be seen in 3D, but I do recommend watching it in the largest theater available, and that’s probably IMAX and probably in 3D. It’s not revolutionary like Hugo but it’s well done and the feeling of the glasses seems to disappear after 20 minutes or so.