Review: Prometheus

Ridley Scott has developed a knack for being a hit-and-miss director. Keep in mind, this is to be distinguished from the hit-OR-miss category, in which the difference is that the latter involves a successful film or a failed film, versus the former which contains both successes and failures within a singular film. For every brilliant move that Scott makes in one scene, another lacks the finesse to stick the landing. Scott has always been an admirable and intelligent director, but sometimes his ambitions get the better of him. Such has been the defining aspect of many of the films throughout his career, save for his exceptional science fiction efforts. Returning to the genre after being absent for three decades, Scott finds himself on terra firma with Prometheus. Here, he dares to gaze into the origins of humankind through the lens of epic science fiction, and despite some questionable narrative routes and plot holes, he largely succeeds.

The most overwhelming attribute of Prometheus is the visual grandeur it imposes. From its haunting opening credits to the majesty of the vessel, the production design and visual effects completely justify the scale that Scott aspires to and certainly has not been achieved since Gladiator. Here, where a group of scientists, entrepreneurs, and others arrive on a planet proposed to contain the beings which originated human life on Earth, they find that the consequences of their journey are strikingly similar to the legend of Prometheus. All the credit in the world goes to Ridley Scott’s chutzpah for pursuing a blockbuster entertainment that is far more about big ideas than the narrative trappings that contain them. For the film’s first hour, it is a richly absorbing experience, filled with tantalizing imagery and allusions to transcendence, but then things go downhill for the explorers, and in some cases the film itself. Though filled with some of the strong grisly imagery that defined Scott’s Alien, other action scenes have little imagination, and detrimentally, less motive.

Motive is another key ingredient lacking in the film’s second half. Several scenes feels completely arbitrary and unnecessary to the film’s overall arc, from the reveal of one character, to deaths of others. It just feels that Scott became so complacent with the bang up job he was doing with the first act, that he occasionally dozes off into autopilot. Fortunately, the film does return to a combination of horror and grandeur that it promised, but the effect is somewhat lessened. Questions arose as to how much of the film is a prequel to Scott’s original Alien, and the film is quite successful in paying enough devotion to the original, while carving its own path of discovery. The other standout strength of the film is the ensemble, playing all the right notes within Scott’s universe. Though Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron provide strong female presences in the film, above all stands Michael Fassbender as the android David. Possessing such control over subtle expressions, Fassbender’s robot is easily the film’s most memorable component, and provides an intriguing two way mirror for the film.

All in all, despite its questionable narrative detours and unmotivated character decisions, Prometheus represents a welcome return to science fiction for Ridley Scott. Few filmmakers dare to explore such heady and larger than life themes that Scott proposes in this film, and there is much here to admire, from the visual scale to the committed performances, the Alien reminiscent photography and the stunning production design. Ridley Scott may be seventy-five years old, but in spirit, he’s fresh out of school, ready to tackle the questions that have been at the core of mankind’s collective soul since its genesis.

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~ by romancinema on June 8, 2012.

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