Backed by a smart script and a fun performance from Michael Fassbender, "Prometheus" is a chilling exercise in sci-fi that should have fans of director Ridley Scott's "Alien" inching toward the edge of their seat. Though not quite the sci-fi-horror masterpiece that "Alien" turned out to be, those with more realistic expectations will find plenty to like about "Prometheus." What we end up with is a unique big-budget movie that spends as much time and effort with ideas as it does advancing the plot, making "Prometheus" stand out against the sanitized releases we normally see this time of year.
From the very early portions of "Prometheus," we get the sense that there is an audacious story that the filmmakers are itching to tell. When a group of scientists stumble upon rather firm evidence that life originated elsewhere, we're soon off into deep space searching for a mysterious species of "engineers" that supposedly created humans. Filling the screen with stark, eerie landscapes that dwarf our overly brazen scientists, Scott makes it pretty clear that this isn't Michael Bay's version of space.
Based loosely on a well-known scientific theory that life was brought here from another planet, "Prometheus" trusts our intelligence enough to know that the ideas are rooted as much in science as fiction - even if the plot is a bit of a stretch, to be kind. A lesser movie would have wasted too much time trying to convince us that the plot could be true, though writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof understand that a leap of faith is needed anyway. As our spaceship of scientists approach a distant foreign moon that is expected to give us some answers, there is a true feeling of mystery so often missing in sci-fi movies. As our "heroes" start exploring a foreboding, hollowed out rock formation on the other side of the universe, we get a sense that just about anything can happen to any character.
But that mystery isn't just rooted in cave paintings and scientific theories, as "Prometheus" also finds the right character to anchor the film. Enigmatic David (Michael Fassbender) is too perfect to be anything but a robot and too smart and eloquent to be trusted in a movie of this kind. As we get deeper into the film, we understand that there is a lot more going on that David isn't telling us, keeping an exciting level of urgency that drives most of the film. Though there have been countless versions of David-like characters in science-fiction over the years, Fassbender evokes a quiet intelligence that makes David feel like an entirely new character, not a lame impression of ones we've already seen.
As David quietly schemes, our scientists plunge head-first into a situation that we sense they're not equipped to handle. Elizabeth (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are the two scientists leading the charge, and both are so eager to meet their makers that they don't seem to have even considered the consequences. Their scientific training may tell them to be cautious, but instead they act like two kids playing with matches. Idris Elba as the strong-willed Captain Janek also takes a conventional character and makes him easy to root for, though "Prometheus" would have been better served to give him a little more screen time.
The one character who does seem oddly out of place is Vickers (Charlize Theron), a cold, ambitious, corporate executive who is always on one power trip or another. Though Theron is once again excellent at creating an icy tone out of thin air, the screenplay doesn't really know where to go with her character and she ends up as little more than the means to an unnecessary plot twist. Though at first it seemed "Prometheus" was going to use her to delve into deeper themes, we find Vickers to be just an underdeveloped character with daddy issues.
Despite some loose ends, though, "Prometheus" is a refreshing throwback to an era of filmmaking that didn't require big productions to tie everything up neatly into a bow. After writing/creating hit TV series "Lost," Damon Lindelof's contribution to "Prometheus" can be easily seen, and we get just enough science to suspend our disbelief as the plot unfolds. It's also nice to see Ridley Scott directing material that needs his skill set; one can get the feeling that his most recent films like "Robin Hood" and "American Gangster" could have been directed by just about anyone to the same effect. Here, Scott does a fairly masterful job of creating a tense, thoroughly creepy tone that reminds us why "Alien" helped rewrite the rules of sci-fi in the late 1970s.
"Prometheus" may not be a groundbreaking sci-fi film that will inspire audiences to bicker over ideology, but it's also smart enough to help us forget that it's mainly a refurbishing of established sci-fi principles. Like "Alien," "Prometheus" is a shocking, frightening and mostly unpredictable bit of sci-fi-horror that creates an atmosphere dripping with hypnotic intensity. Even with a few rough edges, "Prometheus" knows its audience inside and out and the filmmakers are bold enough to go the distance instead of playing it safe. For an unofficial prequel to a classic, it's hard to ask for anything more.
by RTT Staff Writer
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