(I am making any and all attempts to have this be a spoiler free page, so if you choose to comment, please make sure you’re not ruining anything for anyone else. This part of the review will mostly exist to make you want to see it – the other part, to be linked to at the end of this one, will be for after you’ve seen it. Any debate containing spoilers should be confined to that page.)
My favourite film of all-time is 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is no film I love more than Kubrick’s stunning and terrifying masterpiece. At the same time, I don’t profess to be a buff of the sci-fi genre. In fact, in writing this, I must admit that I only saw the original Alien a few months ago, and the direct sequel, Aliens, a couple of weeks ago. I watched them in preparation for Ridley Scott’s return to this universe, Prometheus, a beguilingly complex film whose strengths lie in its exploration of the thematic moreso than the expectations placed on it as a result of its lineage – that is to say, what most people assume this will be is a return to the atmospheric monster-horror that Alien more or less perfected.
Alas, that it is not.
That isn’t to say that elements of that aren’t present – they are, and they are wondrously shocking when they appear – but as a whole, as a film, as a rather hugely ambitious and expensive piece of blockbuster cinema, to reduce it to merely that is, I feel, missing the point. What writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof have done here is craft something altogether different, if clunky at times. Gone is the grittiness of the Nostromo, and in its place is the sleek, 2001-echoing perfection of the Prometheus ship.
Some reviews I’ve read have pointed this out as though we should be saying, “Oh, how dare Ridley Scott not make a separate film in exactly the same visual style as another he has made!!!!” Like, the beauty of Alien wasn’t in the fact that it was grimy and sullied, it was the fact that it was loose and artful and intense and horrifying.
In any case, any description of the plot I put here can be prettily easily gleaned from one of the many trailers: coupled doctors Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway are archaeologists who’ve stumbled upon a recurring visual motif in various cave paintings/inscriptions/etc. from civilisations past. So, the Weyland Corporation has funded an expedition – on the ship Prometheus – to the planet the supposed ‘star map’ or ‘invitation’ indicates. And so, the Weyland Corporation tosses a trillion dollars at the project, which just seems silly because they could’ve given that money to me so I could live in luxury and watch re-runs of The Nanny in perpetuity.
The film plays into the old conspiracy theory that aliens came to Earth to build the pyramids, and explores what could potentially happen if that were true and humans happened to investigate it. Naturally, when they land on the planet and explore, they get more than they bargained for because why would you be watching if everything went according to plan?
It’s not a perfect film, by any means, but the casting is pretty great. Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw does a great job of oscillating between wide-eyed wonder and abject terror as she confronts the more sinister aspects of the planet. Charlize Theron plays Meredith Vickers, who is almost a bureaucratic gargoyle, watching over the ship for Weyland Corp. in the most haughty, frosty way imaginable. Other major cast members include the very pretty Logan Marshall-Green, who doesn’t get much to work with but does quite well with it, all the while being rakishly handsome, and Idris Elba, whose Captain Janek is, regrettably, relegated more or less to comic relief and rote heroics (but in a pretty great way, because Idris Elba).
However, it is Michael Fassbender’s near-human David who turns in the best performance, and it’s a brilliant one. Fassbender was the lone guardian of the ship in the time it took Prometheus to travel to its destination, and in that time he has studied human behaviour, numerous languages, and films, all to the effect of creating an enigmatic personality for his pre-programmed being. What really sells it is the perfection of his modulated, clipped delivery, which is perfectly robotic and human all at once.
My best advice for seeing Prometheus is drop all of your expectations as much as you can. Don’t go in wanting another sequel to Alien, you’re going to be disappointed. So save yourself the disappointment and go in at the very least expecting something far more grandiose in scope, and be prepared for the need to sit in the cinema for a few minutes afterward to order your thoughts. Prometheus covers some fascinatingly existential thematic ground, encompassing origin and creation, religion, humanity and fear, all the while remaining a gloriously intricate visual triumph. It’s a film of its own, and it’s there for you to love, if you’ll let yourself.
Prometheus is out June 7 in Australia, and if any of them are reading this, June 8 in the US.
The spoiler-filled part two of my review of Prometheus can be found here.
(For those interested, I would say that it’s worth seeing in 3D if that’s something you’re prepared to do. It really helps create the immersive world necessary to fully appreciate the film. But take that recommendation with a grain of salt because I haven’t seen it in 2D [yet])