I wasn’t keeping up with all the advertising for Prometheus that arrived before its release. I saw a trailer for it at cinema once, and a friend insisted that I just had to see this one clip of Guy Pearce giving a speech. Neither told me a whole lot. I skipped the rest of all the viral marketing stuff, for the usual reasons. I went in knowing precious little about this movie, and having now seen it, I’m convinced this was the right course of action. There is nothing to be gained by having knowledge of a film where the lack of knowledge plays such an integral part.
Comparisons between Prometheus and Alien are inevitable. Prometheus was first conceived to be a prequel installment in the Alien saga, but then reports came in that no, it wouldn’t be, but it would be like an “embryo” to Alien. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is between those two phrasings, but whatever. Even so, Prometheus is indeed a sci-fi movie made by Alien director Ridley Scott. It isn’t Alien, but there are times where it’s certainly trying to be. Not even counting certain broad strokes in the plot department, there are enough blatant references and callbacks throughout the film that anyone who has seen Alien before will be reminded of it, even if they have no prior knowledge of who directed it.
Set in the end of the 21st century, a science expedition from Earth searching for the origin of mankind arrives at a distant planet. Then stuff happens. How’s that for a spoiler-free plot synopsis? No, you don’t want to know anything more.
There is a lot of things I like about Prometheus, and the part that has really stuck with me these 1.5 days since I saw it is the acting. Two performances in particular stand out. The most immediately striking is that of Michael Fassbender in the role of the android David. Mannered, polite, efficient, and with movements that are just a tad off for a human being. And yet there are depths to the character, both of intent and of emotion. The other strong performance is that of Noomi Rapace, of Millenium trilogy fame. I had been a bit concerned about the Swedish actress’ transition to Hollywood; she did okay in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, but her character was so flat and unnecessary that she might as well not have been in it at all. Not the kind of thing to jump-start a new phase in one’s career. Her Prometheus performance is just what the doctor ordered, however. She plays Elizabeth Shaw, an archaeologist whose religious beliefs gives her added incentive to take part in the expedition. Particularly in the second half of the movie, Rapace shows a great affinity for the action genre with teriffic sustained power. Here is where her performance rivals her star-making one as Lisbeth Salander, and if this doesn’t lead to more big roles for her, I don’t know what will. That she does this without her character coming off as merely Ellen Ripley 2.0 is all the more impressive.
Without going into spoiler-y specifics, there are scenes in this film that I found almost spellbinding in their own ways. Some parts are pure visual spectacle to ooh and aah at. Others made me clench my teeth in suspense. Above all else, however, it’s the mysterious nature of everything that really got to me. There are times where Prometheus feels really nightmarish in a way, where you’re tossed from one situation to the next and aren’t sure what’s really going on at all. Highly effective stuff, and this is where I’m glad I stayed away from most of the promotional material. It felt like anything could happen. The film also doesn’t shy away from presenting some interesting thematic questions. Why is there this need for these people to find out who their creators are? What does the human-created android think about this? It all adds further weight to the more visceral moments of the movie.
Prometheus isn’t flawless, however. The first third or so of the film is a bit lacking. A movie like this needs a set-up phase to explain some of its key concepts and introduce its characters, but this one doesn’t quite keep things as interesting as one might hope. Compare this to Alien, where a similar portion keeps piling on a sense of foreboding dread more effectively. Another issues I had was with some of the dialogue, which feels stilted and awkward. I’m not ruling out that this was intentional – something to show the difference between our time and the future – but it’s still more distracting than immersive.
The dialogue problem is reasonably easy to look past. But had its first act been stronger, I wouldn’t hesitate to put Prometheus up there with the original Alien film in terms of personal enjoyment. As it is, it doesn’t quite measure up. The atmosphere isn’t quite as thick, and while the plot engages the mind to a better extent, it lacks something of Alien’s sheer gutsiness.
That said, it puts in a more than admirable effort. After all, “not as good as Alien” doesn’t say a whole lot considering what a great film that one is, and I wouldn’t even be comparing the two if Scott didn’t make it clear that he wanted there to be connection between the two. Standing on its own to legs, Prometheus is a thrilling and captivating sci-fi flick, and one well worth seeing in theater to get the full scope of what it wants to show you.
A closing note on the 3D: Don’t bother with it. There is a scene or two where it really adds something to the movie, but for the most part, it’s neither here nor there. I wouldn’t shell out the extra cash for it.