As the TV series Lost approached the highly-anticipated finale of its six seasons of unanswered multiple plot threads, co-creator, executive producer and head writer Damon Lindelof warned the avid audience that many questions would go unanswered. Granted, the sci-fi series dealt with over twenty principal actors, whose stories jumped decades and multiple timeframes. Even so, it seemed that Lindelof and his co-executive producer Carlton Cuse shared a tacit sense of glee in withholding … knowing that at some point, we’d all have to fend for ourselves. A cosmic joke of a sort, appropriately nodding to the title of the series itself.
As the co-writer of Prometheus, it seems that Lindelof is at it again. (The other co-writer is Jon Spaihts of 2011’s The Darkest Hour.) But given this project is a self-contained two-hour feature rather than a six-year saga, the murky story is simply maddening. Principal characters switch agendas, or never quite have them; fascinating ideas are introduced, yet end up swirling around in some amorphous hyperspace, never orbiting back; and as a quasi-prequel to Alien, this film is woefully uninspired. While the movie’s humans need to stay in a suspended hyper-sleep in barracks for two years (as the spacecraft “Prometheus” keeps on course toward its charted destination), there’s no need for us to lie in another kind of suspension, waiting nearly an hour for the first big event of this space opera to occur. (Editor’s note: Check out our look at the 3D experience.)
While we’re waiting, however, the view is terrific. Director Ridley Scott, returning to the sci-fi genre after three decades (1982’s Blade Runner), makes his 3D digital debut with this film. Rather than utilizing the go-to green screen and heavy-handed CGI, Scott and his crew (including production designer Arthur Max) constructed enormous sets, taking up five stages of U.K.’s Pinewood Studios. By working in actual depth, Scott & Co. allowed the 3D technique to capture a true dimensionality that we’re unused to experiencing. It is stunning.
Prometheus opens atop a cliff, with violent waters swirling hundreds of feet below. A pale, muscle-bound alien-type human sacrifices himself by drinking one hell of a cocktail. He reacts violently, black roots coursing through his body, his corporeal being ultimately dissolving into fragments on the ocean floor. We can only assume that this event illustrates the story’s version of the inception of man. Springing not from some celestial father, or Darwin’s apes, but an alien. But the underlying question, that evades any scrutiny whatsoever: at the end of our planetary day, does it even matter?
We flash forward to the last decade of the 21st century, meeting two archeologists, partners in business and in life: Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw and Logan Marshall-Green’s Charlie Holloway. She’s conflicted over her spiritual beliefs, attached to the cross she wears around her neck, unsure if her maker is the traditional God or something she and Charlie refer to as “the engineers” (aliens who created humans, maybe merely because they could). Charlie’s an atheist, looking to debunk religion altogether.
When they find a cave with ancient pictograms pointing to a particular location in space, matching other pictograms from multiple eras and geographies, they decide to find a sponsor and go space exploring. Weyland Industries, headed by the eccentric billionaire Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, unrecognizable under layers of age make-up) has just the deep pockets they need. Though in the current year of 2093 he’s supposedly dead, that doesn’t stop his hologram from making speeches. And he still lives on through his corporate mouthpiece, the officious and humorless Ms. Vickers (Charlize Theron), on board to protect the company’s interests.
Playing with the theme of who’s creating who, and who’s playing god – and just what is God anyway? — Weyland, Shaw and the android David (Michael Fassbender) take turns manipulating fate. As wryly played by Fassbender, David is a particular bright light in the piece, even with his cinematic origins deeply imbedded in all those semi-subservient space robots that precede him (Alien’s Ash, of course, as well as 2001′s Hal, Star Wars’ C-3PO, Moon’s GERTY, etc.). With his beautiful yellow hair, David not only resembles his favorite movie character (Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia) but he connects with the concept of a stranger – albeit a superior one – in a strange land.
Rapace follows her aggressive character Salander (of the original Dragon Tattoo series) with another imposing kick-ass heroine, and Idris Elba’s ship captain is a smart blend of masculine ease, authority and innate humor.
Similar to 1979’s Alien, Scott gives us an excruciatingly dramatic scene that is unlike any other, and one that will forever be associated with this film. But sadly, Prometheus is light years away from the DNA of the auteur’s prior iconic sci-fi films, neither delivering the thrill ride of Alien, nor the brilliance of Blade Runner.
Begging the question: Did we really need a vague prequel? Even a visually dazzling one? Prometheus is one of the smartest Titans around … maybe he’s got the answer.
Rating on a scale of 5 Androids Who Dream of Electric Sheep: 3
Release date: June 8, 2012
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Sean Harris, Rafe Spall
Running Time: 124 minutes