By Dave Beauchene
I get the feeling that Ridley Scott, these days, is inspired by great things without being “greatly inspired” – and I mean that with all respect due to an accomplished director. Prometheus, after all, is an inventive, sometimes striking film. It’s obviously the work of someone with vision. The feeling, though, again, was more that the owner of that vision had tremendous means, than that the vision its self was tremendous.
For instance, the first frame of the movie is an absolute dead ringer allusion to 2001 A Space Odyssey, a film that probably most grand scale sci-fi pictures will carry definite influence from, Prometheus obviously included. The android (or whatever you’d call him) David, played really pretty well by Michael Fassbender, is not only reminiscent of HAL from 2001, in his initial and then eventual function, but is, for pity sake, named after the character Hal classically defies in that movie (he even sort of looks like the actor). All this isn’t necessarily bad. It could work to carry intuitive elements from that movie in order to paint elaborations in this one, but … it really doesn’t, does it?
I am positive, actually, that some people could argue that it does. There seem to be countless loose ends for viewers to tie up in Prometheus, and so I’m not really bothered by the blank feeling of the plot (it might take several views to unearth a lot of what’s here). I’m unimpressed by the blank feeling of the story. That first frame that calls to mind 2001 is a terrible way to introduce a movie that seems to have a lot of grandiose technical ramifications, but more often feels like a creator hitting marks than an expressing anything very large or inspired.
Scott seemed to do the same thing with his opening of American Gangster, that almost as obviously harkened to the opening of Goodfellas, but seemed to misunderstand where the punch in that opening came from. The opening shot of Prometheus depicts a massive celestial body rising from the bottom of the frame, but where 2001 lingered to relish the divine magnitude of that thing in its greater ethereal balet (these are the terms you’re made to use when you try to describe something like 2001) Prometheus simply harkens the iconography as part of a mere establishing shot.
Within a minute of this we actually see our first alien. I understand, again, that this is probably somehow completely explicable within the elaborate (often implicit) plot but … well, OK, lets go back to the beginning, here: When I saw the trailer for Prometheus, the feeling was that …actually, that’s just it: the feeling was imperceptibly profound. It was tremendous, and dark – a sense of foreboding ultimacy in the vastness of the universe. Maybe I took to much from the trailer, in this case, but one of the things I intuitively held wonder for in this movie, was the origin element – the life on that distant moon somehow begot or belonged to us. And then, a few minutes in, before I even see a human being, I see an alien. It’s subtle, but my orientation has now been flipped. Human beings are now, however quietly, the visiting aliens.
But this serves the plot, right? If you really know what’s going on? Great. My only problem – and this was just me – was that this amounted to less than what I think I would have gotten if the mystery of the situation had been played on better – if we started with the people, instead of the planet. I’m sure that opening functions, somehow, it just doesn’t seem like it means a whole lot. So it doesn’t help that none of the characters inspire much either. Fassbender’s David is of course the standout, but for me to a mostly unmemorable degree. Otherwise, the characters blur together, except for cold, obnoxious officiator played by Charlize Theron, and an old industrialist, or something, played by Guy Pierce under a pound of rubber. There are plenty of great, old actors; why go with a young one who under that much makeup just looks kind of silly?
There are good bits, of course, and I should mention them. The set and costume design is pretty great – dazzling without being over the top or implausible. The direction is at least (and surely you’d expect, here) sound and effective. And there is one great … alright PRETTY great scenes of suspense that involves an ultra-sophistocated robotic pod capable of complex operation on humans. I had a blast with this part, and was for a short while following reminded of why Ripley was often so compelling in Alien – as our heroine staggered hurriedly around in her space underpants and some of her own blood. She’s not in her underpants to look cute, but of course because the intuitive vulnerability is elevated; there’s no plan and no technology, just a human being fighting to survive. Some of the fight here is pretty cool to watch.
Unfortunately, the majority otherwise is just fine – urgent and neat looking and sort of vague, and then it’s over. Maybe Scott had no high pretentions for this movie. Maybe it’s just that we can’t get over a return to what seemed the hidden heart of a classic franchise by a classic director, and couldn’t help but need more from it. Whatever the case, most people are only so impressed, and I agree with them.
GRADE: 6.5 / 10