MOVIE REVIEW: Prometheus



Most of the time, once a great artist defines himself or herself in a particular genre and finds success in it, they stay there.  The genre or brand becomes their niche and expertise because that's where they've been successful.  The movie business is full of them.  You're never going to see a Spielbergian heart-wrenching drama from Adam Sandler's go-to director Dennis Dugan because his comedies have made over $1.5 billion dollars.  He knows what's good for him and he's not going to change.  Prometheus director Ridley Scott is not a Xerox machine like Dennis Dugan.  He's a true artist.  True artists create, not copy.

When British director Ridley Scott burst onto the scene with 1979's claustrophobic and penetrating classic Alien and followed that up with his multi-layered and incredibly symbolic sci-fi noir mash-up Blade Runner three years later, he could have made science fiction thrillers for life, and he probably would have done pretty well for himself.  However, like a true artist, he has challenged himself throughout his resume and career.  He wasn't afraid to create something small (Someone to Watch Over Me, White Squall, Thelma and Louise, Matchstick Men, Black Rain) and out of the box while still taking on the huge projects (Legend, Hannibal, Gladiator, American Gangster, Black Hawk Down, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven) expected of him.  Some were winners and others were losers, but none of them were retreads or conventional.  All brought out something different from Ridley.

Though he cut his teeth in science fiction, it's been 30 years between Blade Runner and 2012's Prometheus.  In that time, Ridley's Alien creation has gone through enough different visions that it has ended up a bastardized horror send-up thanks to the Alien vs. Predator films.  Prometheus grants the wish of many by teasing possible prequel connections to Ridley's own Alien beginnings while being a completely new journey of its own.  We've seen George Lucas endlessly tinker with and expand on his Star Wars creations with prequels, but Ridley Scott's vision here was not to expand, but to add layers, depth, and mythology.  

Prometheus is a modern, stylish, cerebral, and gorgeous exercise in science-fiction and terror that earns its place right along side those two first Ridley Scott films that defined both him and the genre.  After an auspicious opening credits scene that may or may not outline the delivered beginnings of life ages ago on a planet not-too-unlike our own, we are introduced to a pair of archaeologists exploring a cave in Scotland in the year 2089.  Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) is a passionate man of science while his lover and partner, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), is a devout Christian hoping to find the answers to faith that extend beyond science.  Their remarkable cave drawing discovery matches several others they have studied from other ancient civilizations around the world.  Each, without connection, possess the same star map cluster pattern that coincides with a possible life-sustaining solar system far from Earth.

Both Shaw and Holloway interpret these signs as an "invitation" from the "engineers" that possibly brought life to Earth.  The scientific ramifications of such a discovery could change man's complete understanding of their source and existence, which definitely flies in the face of the faith and creationism held by Shaw.  The two of them find a benefactor to this quest in the form of the elderly visionary Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), the Steve Jobs-time-10 trillionaire founder of the powerful Weyland Corporation.  Weyland, a man with a god complex and inspiration to define mankind, bankrolls an entire space expedition to the targeted solar system.

Cue four years later to 2093 when the scientific vessel Prometheus arrives to their distant moon destination.  Overseeing the scientific expedition of Shaw, Holloway, and other scientists is Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), a high-powered and driven representative of the Weyland Corporation, and the ship's captain Janek (Idris Elba).  Included in the crew is the android robot "David" (Michael Fassbender), the pinnacle of Weyland's technological creations.  Stewarding the crew through their two-year stasis trip, David is a somewhat haunting and curious machine with an affinity for basketball, Lawrence of Arabia, and human dreams.  His knowledge and capabilities are key to this mission.  Naturally, everything is not what it seems.  Some science and assumptions are validated while others are terribly wrong.

Those lofty questions and answers towards discovering what lies on, and what could leave this moon, spurs the deep ideas and building suspense of the film.  Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof and screenwriting rookie Jon Spaihts have done a remarkable job teasing and alluding to the familiar while painting a new opus for which to start fresh from.  Like his Lost modus operandi, Lindelof paces this thriller with many stop-and-think circumstances, jarring discoveries, and enough imagery and discussion to fill a college course afterwards.  The closest movie comparison I can make is with last summer's Rise of the Planet of the Apes,  an equally outstanding film (my full review).  Both movies have roots in a history we remember and love from classic film franchises while blazing a new trail from which to connect new ideas and new futures to.

The end result is nothing short of brilliant work from Ridley Scott and his team.  Well-balanced and uncliched, the suspense builds nicely without trying to copy the quiet menace of 1979's Alien or going over the top as a mindless "creature feature."  Rapace and Fassbender's performances, the first with bold grit and the second with perfect calculation, shine above the others, yet Elba and Theron have great moments along the way.  Visually, Prometheus is calibrated to perfection.  Like Hugo last year, this 3D movie is on another level when it comes to production design, visual effects, and the techniques made possible by digital filmmaking.  Even drops of liquid possess unimaginable depth, detail, and style.  

All in all, the movie delivers knock out summer entertainment and is, arguably, the best film of 2012 I've seen so far.  Prometheus is absolutely the necessary cleansing we needed for this franchise and who better to accomplish that than the man who started it.  We can't quite call this a reboot or a prequel for sure just yet, but let's just say the right seeds have been planted for a bold, new direction.  The film is testament to Ridley Scott's courage to revisit the science fiction genre and do right by his own creation.  Prometheus is excellently set up for a sequel which promises even more revelations and mythology.

LESSON #1: THE DANGER OF COMPETING AGENDAS-- Whether it's at home with "good cop/bad cop" parents, a large workplace of blended employees and backgrounds, or a spaceship of combined scientists and corporate representatives, many settings are ripe with different agendas.  To undertake such a bold mission like this, each of the crew members of the Prometheus have vastly different motivations and reasons for being there.  Some of those agendas do not mesh well and cause great friction.

LESSON #2: BIG THINGS HAVE SMALL BEGINNINGS-- Michael Fassbender's android David proclaims this memorable quote and he couldn't be more right.  The smallest organisms can cause disease and epidemics.  Single cells develop into complex lifeforms that multiply into a species and civilizations.  Even various technologies, codes, and algorithms combine together to create David himself and small problems that could have been prevented become big problems in a hurry when left unchecked.

LESSON #3: CREATION COMES FROM DESTRUCTION-- Like the saying says, "you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs."  From both a scientific, theological, and evenThe Lion King's "circle of life" standpoint, survival and life stem from the sacrifice or destruction of something else, from the smallest food chain of sustenance to the evolution and survival of one species over another.  Prometheus fascinatingly examines that higher order thinking with the crew's quest for humanity's possible creation, roots, and origin.