Thursday, May 18, 2017

Summer School: 'Prometheus' (2012)

Once again, I'm looking back at previous installments of some of this summer's big returning franchises.

Anticipation for Ridley Scott's Prometheus was so high before it was released that I think I went into the screening expecting to be disappointed, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot to like about the movie. Watching it again now, I expected to enjoy it again, and while I appreciated most of the elements that I had appreciated the first time, I was more aware of the many flaws. I still have a positive overall impression of the movie, which doesn't live up to its lofty ambitions and doesn't really add anything meaningful to the core Alien storyline, but does have some breathtaking visuals, a few expertly suspenseful scenes and at least one great performance. It's not worth getting rapturous over, but it's not worth all the griping, either.

The basics of the story are actually remarkably similar to Scott's original Alien, with the diverse crew of an interstellar vessel landing on an unfamiliar planet and encountering hostile monsters there, eventually getting picked off one by one. In this case the ship has gone purposefully looking for alien life, but the characters are no better at intelligently responding to threats than the random characters in Alien (and in many cases make significantly dumber decisions). Set about 30 years before the events of Alien, Prometheus follows an exploratory vessel looking for the so-called Engineers, a race of beings who may have been responsible for the creation of the human race. In basing its mission around the findings of a pair of archaeologists on Earth, Prometheus actually mimics some of the ideas from Paul W.S. Anderson's Alien vs. Predator, with both drawing on the "ancient aliens" hypothesis that gets a lot of traction on message boards online.

Scott spends a lot more time pondering big ideas than Anderson did, of course, but Prometheus' dorm-room philosophizing is pretty far from mind-blowing. The Engineers also seem to have engineered the alien xenomorphs, although those creatures don't appear in any form until literally the last shot of the movie. Before that, the crew finds plenty of other deadly creatures on the planet they've been led to by ancient cave drawings, all of which are apparently weapons created by the Engineers to wipe out other races. Or something like that -- a lot of the supposed revelations of the movie are muddled and unclear, and thinking about them for too long makes them seem even less revelatory.

Luckily, Scott has a lot more to go on, especially the film's gorgeous look, which is constantly awe-inspiring. All of the new creatures look creepy and unsettling, the alien planet feels truly alien, and every bit of set design has purpose and beauty. This is one of the few movies that I actually appreciated more in 3D (it was also shot with native 3D cameras, which almost no production even bothers with anymore), and the visuals are truly immersive, drawing you into this harsh but wondrous world. The performance aren't always as accomplished, but Michael Fassbender is terrific as the chilly, amoral android David, a worthy successor to Ian Holm's Ash from Alien. Noomi Rapace plays the Ripley figure, one of the two scientists who discovered the existence of the Engineers, but she doesn't have the same steely determination. Charlize Theron's corporate liaison Meredith Vickers is meant as a villain of sorts, but she's actually the most pragmatic and level-headed character in the movie (at least until her pointless demise).

The movie aims to ask plenty of important questions about existence, but audiences mostly wondered why certain plot details didn't add up, or why Guy Pearce was cast to play an elderly man in distracting makeup, rather than just casting an actual older actor. When Scott stages scenes like the incredibly intense robotic surgery that Rapace's Dr. Shaw gives herself to remove an alien parasite, those nagging questions disappear. But the movie isn't quite captivating enough to make them go away completely.

No comments: