Sunday, June 10, 2012

Prometheus

Just how much and in what way Ridley Scott's shiny new science fiction film Prometheus would be connected to Scott's Alien has been a subject of great speculation ever since Prometheus was announced. Yes, we do find out where the race of predatory aliens that go on to terrorize Sigourney Weaver come from. But  Prometheus doesn't set up Alien so much as fill in the series' mythology; Scott and his team (Damon Lindelof and Jon Spaihts wrote the script.) are instead interested in attempting to answer Big Questions. Trying to make an Alien-related film profound is probably the worst choice Scott could have made; the issues that Prometheus attempts to raise are too vague and open-ended to distract from an unfocused last act.

It's the late twenty-first century and scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) have connected a series of archaeological finds on Earth to a distant star system and the possibility of finding the source and purpose of human life. Shaw and Holloway set sail on Prometheus, a ship captained by the I-just-work-here Janek (Idris Elba, having fun) and funded by the Weyland Corporation. Weyland is of course the "Company" that chooses the potential of harnessing the aliens over its own people in the Alien, but we're a long way from that cold, privatized space here. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce in heavy makeup) is a starry-eyed billionaire who sends the scientific team off with a holographic message, while the Company is represented on board ship by the chilly Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron, well-costumed and making something out of a thin role). There's also David (Michael Fassbender), a Weyland android who likes Lawrence of Arabia and follows an agenda known only to him . For a while Prometheus is good, nasty fun. There's something alive on the planet where Prometheus sets down, and we're with the doctors and their team as they avoid scary, viscous fluids and attempt to divine the meaning of the artifacts they find. There's a good deal of plot to avoid spoiling, but it's not a bad thing that the focus of Prometheus narrows to Shaw and her growing realization that she's opened the door to a potential Earth-destroying horror. Rapace gets to play a sexy, smart girlfriend here for a while and that's fun, but she has a natural ferocity as an actor that serves her well in the remarkable scene of self-examination that serves as the movie's centerpiece.

There's a very specific point at which I thought Prometheus went bad, and it was the point at which I realized that Scott was trying to make film about Everything. There's no true (human) antagonist in Prometheus, and we need one. In the Alien films the characters have the profit motive of Weyland to work against (as represented by Paul Reiser's lackey in Aliens, for example) and have survival as a clear objective, but here the characters are simply manipulating each other in different ways and the late revelations feel engineered to paper over some holes in the script. There are things to like in Prometheus; we feel the space the ship takes up, the giant cave key scenes take place in is designed with great specificity, and Fassbender gives great complexity to a character that I think is only supposed to be motivated by people reminding him he isn't human. Yet finally Prometheus dissipates under the weight of its ambition. We will no doubt return to this franchise, but I hope the next installment has a fresh creative mind behind it.

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