Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Prometheus (20th Century Fox. Directed by Ridley Scott. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof)
If, as genre critics have long held, science fiction aims to evoke a sense of wonder, then Ridley Scott's return to the Alien universe qualifies as the quintessential SF film. Not just because it asks Big Questions about the origins of terrestrial life and man's relation to the cosmos (questions that some viewers might grouse are not answered explicitly or thoroughly enough by the film), but because it is filled with stunning visuals, from sublime images of a prehistoric Earth to the eponymous high-tech starship that lands on a barren moonscape housing an ancient, pyramidal structure stocked with colossal, mysterious artifacts. Prometheus is a breathtaking film long before the inevitable alien attacks start eliciting gasps.
It's also a film whose plot keeps the audience's attention riveted to the screen, as the main characters trek through deep space to find what is lurking under the surface of the Earth-like moon LV-223. Tension mounts considerably as the secret agendas of certain mission-members are revealed, and the crew in general slowly realize the dire consequences of their over-reaching investigation. The action sequences interspersed throughout the narrative are both thrilling (e.g. a massive [albeit conveniently-timed] sandstorm) and harrowing (including a birthing scene that rivals the legendary chest-bursting from the original film in its ability to induce sheer, squirm-in-your-theater-seat dread).
There are a few detracting elements that keep Prometheus from earning the status of absolute masterpiece. Some of the film's themes, such as the old religious-faith-vs.-scientific-fact debate, could have been developed more fully. In terms of the characters: Noomi Rapace proves no mere Ripley-redux as the plucky heroine, Michael Fassbender is at once creepy and charming as the android David, Idris Elba steals scenes as the ship's caption, and Charlize Theron as the mission's overseer emerges as more than the ice princess suggested by the movie trailer (and, wow, does the statuesque actress look hot in the form-fitting garb of the future), yet the rest of the rather sizable cast is eminently forgettable (in particular, Guy Pearce in Benjamin Button-esque old-age makeup).
Ultimately, Scott's film should be admired for the fine balancing act it pulls off: an original storyline (despite apparent homage to SF classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Thing From Another World) that simultaneously hearkens back to the motifs of the Alien series (the duplicitous android, the shady mega-corporation, and, of course, the nightmarish, body-invading creatures). The final, dialogue-free scene goes a long way in terms of exposition and justification of the much-hyped "prequel" label. Still, fans expecting the familiar SF/horror fare of the prior installments are apt to be disappointed. Those who are willing to accept Prometheus on its own terms, though, are guaranteed to be entertained.