If you’re a fan of science fiction movies, chances are you have immense respect for films like ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, both directed by the masterful Ridley Scott. Since those early days for the talented filmmaker, we’ve yet to see him tackle Sci-Fi again… until now. 20th Century Fox’s PROMETHEUS marks Scott’s long-awaited return to the fanboy (and fangirl) genre – the question is will it be worth the wait?
NOTE: this review is as spoiler-free as possible. Outside of the basic plot outline, which I keep vague on purpose, most of what happens within the film is never talked about in detail.
The story of PROMETHEUS revolves around the scientific couple of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who discover mysterious markings in a cave that help them validate a theory that we (humans) come from somewhere/something else, out in the far reaches of space. Their findings allow them passage on a corporate-funded exploration vessel called “Prometheus” commanded by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). Landing on a faraway planet which they believe to be the origin of the strange markings, their journey slowly but surely takes a dark turn.
Perhaps the most undeniably positive thing to state about PROMETHEUS as a movie is its stunning beauty and breathtaking presentation. On an aesthetic level it’s nothing short of amazing, perhaps even the most impressive-looking sci-fi film to date. And as a director, Ridley Scott once again proves he knows how to frame the action in a way that is engaging and frightening when necessary. Sadly, the rest of it is rather lacking. Yes, I said it, the movie just isn’t that good. Almost all of the characters are flat and underwritten, never grabbing the audience long enough to make us care, or even have a hope to be all that memorable. Noomi Rapace gets a solid chance at American cinema by taking the lead here, and while she turns in an admirable performance, it’s not enough to save the conflicted script. Michael Fassbender is probably the most interesting of the characters, and he’s playing an android – yes, the robotic guy in the film is the most interesting of the group. Fassbender gets some nice character moments that feel genuinely thought out and inventive, particularly a scene involving a classic epic piece of moviemaking that serves as an influence to the synthetic crew member. Logan Marshal-Green is given fairly little to do, save for a few disturbing moments halfway into the story. Charlize Theron is perhaps the most-wasted and pointless character in the story, not really serving any purpose other than being an authority figure that in the end does absolutely nothing important… save for one moment that could have been executed by any of the other characters. It surprised me too, that they’d give an Academy Award-winning actress so little to work with. Idris Elba tries to have fun with his role as the ship’s pilot, complete with a hick accent, but it just doesn’t translate. The supporting cast all look fine in their roles, but like the others just aren’t memorable.
Watching PROMETHEUS feels like you’re watching conflicting visions on the screen fighting each other for two hours. The script is written by Jon Spaihts (his second work after the box office flop THE DARKEST HOUR) and LOST scribe Damon Lindelof, though I’m sure Ridley Scott had quite a bit of say in the story. There seems to be little cohesion in the screenplay, as if they’re trying to do so much in a rather specific period of time. I wonder if there was perhaps a longer cut of the film that was forcibly trimmed down, though I’m not sure more of what’s there would have helped. As a movie, PROMETHEUS is fascinating to watch and engaging in its delivery, but I walked out feeling cold, and honestly have a hard time imagining myself ever wanting to sit through it again. And believe me, I’m surprised to hear myself say that! This really was one of my most-anticipated films this year, and I just couldn’t take much away from it. Even the final shot, which I can say without spoiling a thing, feels forced and cheap… like the unnecessary last shot of BASIC INSTINCT, you know “Here’s the ice pick under the bed, so you know she’s definitely the killer!” It’s that kind of ending.
If you’re a fan of ALIEN, you’ll likely appreciate what they tried to accomplish here, and while it’s definitely safe to say there’s connections to the sci-fi classic present, this is very much a different type of film. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the fact that in the 30+ years between this film’s theatrical cousin and present day, we’ve seen so much of this sort of thing played out on the big screen, there’s not much in the realm of sci-fi to really surprise audiences anymore… or maybe this effort is a little too derivative for its own good. Even the score by Marc Streitenfeld sounds like a wrong fit, with an almost overly ethereal quality. Jerry Goldsmith’s score for ALIEN was perfect, and James Horner’s score for ALIENS was exceptional, but this score just feels out of place. I’ll always respect Ridley Scott as a director, and I hope he continues to experiment with a wide variety of genres – heck, I’ll be first in line if he ever gets that BLADE RUNNER sequel off the ground. That said, as much as I wanted to love PROMETHEUS, it will likely go down in the history books (for me at least) as an impressive and ambitious misfire… though I should note, while many shared my points of view, some in our screening did enjoy it, so I encourage you to judge for yourself. Just set your expectations a little lower than I did. Oh, and save your money on the 3-D too, I don’t recall anything really jumping out at me.