Ridley Brings the FireWritten by Taylor Hood
Film Review: Prometheus
Directed: Ridley Scott
Written: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Starring: Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Michael Fassbender
Genre: Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi/Horror
Running Time: 124 mins
Release Date: June 8th, 2012
A black screen greets me in the theater. My ears are assaulted with the heavy sound of breathing through an oxygen tank. It’s a space movie… or maybe a deep sea movie. Either way, I’m already intrigued. Sci-fi, especially sci-fi/horror, is my Achilles heel of movie criticism and I am sure to rush out to see every crappy flick the genre has to offer. The preview I am watching turns out to be the ultimate teaser for me. A woman’s face comes into view, frightened behind a Plexi-Glass helmet. “Space movie. Nice.” I think to myself. What follows is maybe the best trailer ever filmed. Intense split second shots build on one another, people running, screaming, flying through the air, giant explosions, a huge sand storm, but best of all, in a stroke of Blair Witch-like brilliance, voice over of a woman desperately crying, “We’ve made a terrible mistake”. Then I realize what’s happening here. The heavy, intermittent, electronic pulse, the vague shape of a horseshoe spacecraft on a desolate planet, and then the words, “From acclaimed director Ridley Scott”. My heart skips a beat. The cacophony of sound and dialogue build to a crushing crescendo and cut abruptly to silence. We are treated to the longest take in the preview. Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Bastards, X-Men: First Class) stares at a small pulsating brown dot on his index finger. A wicked smile slices his smooth, hawk-like features. “Big things have small beginnings.” Another tone and then the word we’ve been waiting for: “Prometheus”. Whoever edited this teaser deserves an Academy Award, perfectly built tension and anticipation. For the audience, the trailer was all that we needed to feel excited about a prequel to a 25 year old film.
For Ridley Scott, the decision to return to the Alien series must have been both difficult and vindicating. After the release of his 1979 space horror film, Ridley Scott sealed his reputation as a premier filmmaker in his field. Together with Blade Runner, Alien solidified Ridley Scott’s style. Drawn from the Kubrick school, (long takes and steady, relentless pacing) Scott’s films have begun to be tested by age, and they are passing. Both Alien and Blade Runner are now hailed as “canon” films.
The sequel, Aliens (a title as creative and original as the plot of Avatar), was taken over by a new director, effects heavy, bang-and-smash director James Cameron(Terminator, Titanic, Avatar). While the film is of high quality and is, indeed, one of Cameron’s best, its positives are largely driven by the sharp script and unforgettable performances (“Game Over, Man!”). The film is fun and the visuals breathtaking but it lacks the subtle, almost improvised beauty of Ridley Scott’s film. The slow terror and intense close ups were replaced with fast action and crowd pleasing explosions. Nevertheless, Aliens was still on par with Alien and started a trend for the series. Each installment would be a new “hot” director’s addition to the Alien universe.
The third addition, even more creatively titled, Alien 3, saw vaunted filmmaker David Fincher take his shot. A much more Scott-like director, Fincher attempted to return to the slow-paced, one alien, horror film that began the series. Unfortunately, gore-hungry fans were not impressed. The most interesting thing about this movie was that Sigourney Weaver (Galaxy Quest, Miss Congeniality) had to shave her head for the roll.
Taking a gamble at an “Alien Resurrection”, five years later, Twentieth Century Fox brought in the surprisingly talented Joss Weadon (Firefly, The Avengers) to write and an eccentric French art filmmaker named Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie, City of Lost Children). He managed to combine the two styles fairly seamlessly and pull off a decent death for the revered horror series.
I also should briefly mention the two “AVP” flicks. In 2004, Alien vs. Predator was released, and it was soon followed by a sequel, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem in 2007. Both sucked, enough said.
Two weeks ago, the brilliantly titled, Prometheus brought a true return to the Alien universe. As if rising from the sci-fi grave, Ridley Scott resurrected his beloved world. After almost a year of some of the most intense hype in cinema history, audiences finally got to see what the original maker had to add.
Ridley Scott began by doing what he does best. He created a very tangible and visceral story world. From the interior of the ships to the geography of LV-223 the spaces ooze atmosphere and feeling. In an even better creative choice, Scott creates a space craft that actually looks like the ship from the original film. Unlike Star Wars, which features sleek dazzling upgraded ships in their prequels, Scott chooses to stick with the flying trash cans that are so visually important to the style of the series.
Next, he overhauls the storyline. Yes, this is a prequel to a very simple horror story, but the return to the simplistic is exactly what caused the failure of Alien 3. In the modern world, audiences are smarter and slasher films just aren’t “cutting the mustard”. This had to be a tech-heavy Sci-fi romp; more Event Horizon than The Thing. More importantly, in order to maintain the sanctity of the original, a certain amount of mystery had to stay intact. The plot of Prometheus is confusing and, unfortunately for some, not all of the questions are answered. Considering the undertones of hubris and religious zealotry, it seems fitting that the “god” who the characters find refuses to answer their questions.
Themes are certainly the element that this film is built around. They are complex and the thoughtfulness behind the symbolism is evident in every frame. The “Prometheus” title is tied into all aspects of the film, from the name of the space craft to the legend itself. Prometheus was a Titan who tried to steal fire from the gods. The characters are also attempting to find their creators and steal their secrets. Prometheus was eventually tied to a rock where his insides were torn out repeatedly. Any fan of the series knows that this could not be a more appropriate legend to referance. Most significantly, the ambition and hubris of Dr. Weyland throughout the Alien series is a clear tie to the legend of the fire stealer, Prometheus.
The film does have a few flaws. With all of the setting, story and theme building, Ridley Scott left out a lot of the more human elements. Often characters run around, seemingly without motivation. Certain people act bad in one scene and good in the next. There is actually a chase scene in which I’m not even sure anyone is chasing the main character (though I did love the obvious visual reference to the final chase in Alien). There are times when one character tries to kill another, but then they are working side by side in the next scene without really bringing the issue up. The android, David (Fassbender) goes from evil robot (another reference to the original) to the severed head savior of the mission (an unusual and somewhat forced reference to the sequel, Aliens) without any real arc. The main acting talents, Charlize Theron and the resurging Guy Pearce are huge wastes and the film largely relies on the ability of Fassbender to lead the cast. It doesn’t matter that he is one of the most talented up-and-coming actors working today, this is still a problem.That said, Ridley Scott manages to maintain the veiled secrecy established in the first film and still give a few answers. He beautifully paces his film to remind us of the experience of Alien. It is a lovingly crafted and painstakingly built piece of cinema with none of the Hollywood schlock of Transformers. Prometheus appeals to the Sci-fi fan who loved Moon, not the “fan” who loved Battleship.
While I love movies that operate on a number of levels and rely on the intelligence of their audience, Prometheus is not as good as its trailer and it is far from the best movie ever. Even so, it is so much better than the shit George Lucas makes that it makes me hate all of the spoiled, unsatisfied, dorky-ass, internet dwelling fanboys that are bashing this film. The Phantom Menace was so far from its original in every way, that it was unrecognizable. Scott has done the opposite. His film is accurate to his story world and the style of ship and clothing is on par with the original. Finally, a long awaited prequel from a director who actually watched his original film before writing his new one.
After leaving the theater, I did some simple research and found a swarm of angry fans. I was floored. It might not be the greatest movie ever, but it was still a smart, well made and delicate film. Any open ended questions not only serve the purpose of keeping the story shrouded in secrecy, but also represent the style of good sci-fi/horror today. Prometheus was written by Lost head writer, Damon Lindelof who is known for his Twilight Zone style. If Lost taught audiences anything it’s that you don’t really want to know the answers. Wasn’t Lost ten times better before you saw the finale? Some are claiming that this film ruins the original because it doesn’t match up to the beginning of Alien. You know these people. They are the same ones who are still pissed that J.J. Abrams breathed new life into Star Trek by altering the story world. Well I am going to beat the fanboys with their own weapon: balls-to-the-wall geekiness. Alien begins with the discovery of a derelict spacecraft on a planet called LV-426. Prometheus begins with a buried spacecraft on a planet called LV-223. This isn’t the same planet. Ridley Scott even tempered this expectation by saying time and again that “this is not a prequel.”
On the whole, Prometheus may not be what everyone wanted. But then again, everyone wanted to experience Alien again for the first time; still a feat that nobody can pull off. Scott has done the next best thing. He has created a stunning film that appeals to the sensibility of the modern audience and maintains all of the elements that made Alien great. From the tight corridors to the desolate planet, from the evil android to the “final girl”, Prometheus is brilliantly constructed and wonderfully nostalgic. Ridley has made a film on the level with the only other sci-fi he has ever done: Blade Runner and Alien. I just hope that our “know-it-all”, ADHD, Hollywood-schlock driven, internet whining culture can someday recognize that. Because for those of us who saw what Ridley Scott was trying to do, Prometheus most certainly brought the fire.
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