FILM REVIEW: Prometheus
A prequel pregnant with ideas, Prometheus is no masterpiece, but it's a more-than-enjoyable sci-fi ride filmed with grand vision and hobbled by an over-reaching script.
We begin in a cave in Scotland in 2089. Signs on the wall point to another race of beings that visited Earth eons ago. It seems they left an invitation of sorts, so we soon find ourselves on the spacecraft Prometheus, heading to the planet from where the calling cards came.
Make no mistake, this isn't some NASA venture. It's a fully corporate mission funded by Weyland Industries. Once the crew awakens from a deep sleep, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron in a spacesuit so tight you can see her last meal) spells it out for the hippie scientists: Weyland is footing the bill and Weyland is calling the shots.
After recently watching Theron in Snow White and The Huntsman, this movie shows her as a chilly queen of another sort. Vickers outranks the captain and doesn't seem to care much for the mission nor its success. And Theron is just one member of a strong cast.
Aboard an alien vessel, David (Michael Fassbender) makes a discovery that could have world-changing consequences. (Twentieth Century Fox)
Idris Elba is a blue-collar, concertina-playing pilot. Noomi Rapace appears as Elizabeth, the lead archeologist. Finally, there's the ghostly figure of corporate giant Peter Weyland. The gazillionaire behind the company is played by Guy Pearce, covered with enough makeup to pass as Professor Farnsworth. (Viral video tip #1: Weyland's fictional TED talk should be required viewing).
Prometheus is a movie with many facets and many ambitions. Near the beginning, as the ship rockets towards its destination, there's a remarkable sequence as David, the malicious android played by Michael Fassbender, babysits the deep-sleeping crew. We see him puttering around the space deck, watching old Peter O'Toole movies and even plugging into the crew's dreams, which materialize before us like an animated Lite-Brite.
There's a stillness, a 2001-quietness here that you should savour because once Prometheus lands, we jump straight into spooky, haunted house territory and all the ridiculous behaviour that goes with it.
Oh look: a room oozing with alien slime. Let's slog through it! Sure, the creepy David doesn't seem to be listening to us, but leave him to go off and wander a bit. What's that? The team got separated? No worries. We'll just leave the biologist to play pat-a-cake with the albino, cobra-looking creature over there and... "AHHH! MY ARM! GET IT OFF! AHHH AHHH!!!"
A major agent of the mission's misfortune is "trusty" David, given life by the meticulous Fassbender. This robot doesn't care about Asimov's Three Laws: he's cruel, conniving and frankly doesn't seem to think much of humans at all. It would be ridiculous if Fassbender didn't make it so damn entertaining, tossing off sneering one-liners and constantly provoking the fleshy bags of waters. (Viral video tip #2: Check out the product launch advert for the David android).
It would be a lot simpler if we could just sit back and enjoy Prometheus in all its slimy, gooey, chest-thumping glory -- except for the fact that the script keeps reaching for big questions. Who made us? Who made them? If they made us, where does God fit in? Prometheus even gives Rapace a cross to bear (and wear), saddling her Elizabeth as the requisite true believer. If I wanted a half-assed faith vs. science argument on film, I'd go rent Jodie Foster's Contact again.
That said, the visual scheme of Prometheus is so visionary, it hardly matters that its big ideas misfire. There's a moment, for instance, when a map of the universe is uncovered. The way the planets and galaxies shimmer into existence, as the soundtrack swells, approaches the grandeur of sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Note: if you're wondering whether there's an equivalent of the classic chest-bursting scene from the original, let's just say Prometheus offers a medical emergency that becomes a different kind of close encounter -- a very intimate, claustrophobic one. You might not want to see this film if you have a CT scan in your future.
RATING: 4 out of 5
Charlize Theron, left, and Idris Elba appear on the bridge of the ship in Prometheus. (Twentieth Century Fox)
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