Prometheus – Movie Review
I have just walked out of my second screening of Prometheus, having been fortunate enough to have been invited to the press screening earlier this week by the Cool Shite crew (with thanks to Melbourne author, Tom Taylor) and again at the first public screening, and I can safely say that, in spite of some flaws, Ridley Scott’s long overdue return to the genre he helped define cinematically is a triumphant one and I am already busting to see it again.
I’m going to give you this review from two different and often times conflicting parts of my brain. Being a review on a pop-culture website, it’s safe to assume that many of you reading this (if not all of you) are fans of ALIEN and possibly the films it spawned, and you’re already likely aware of the “is it or isn’t it” status as a prequel to that series that continues to be up in the air in spite of having seen release in the UK over a week ago. I’m like you. I’m a tremendous fan of ALIEN (yes… over ALIENS), and I feel that may have been a distraction when I first saw Prometheus. Even the nagging notion that it may only be carrying the tiniest of threads across from a distant part of that saga’s universe became detrimental to the film experience, so to all those wondering the same: I say thee nay!
Forget ALIEN. Forget all of that. You’ve seen the trailers, you know it’s about the Space Jockeys glimpsed briefly in the original, so you know they’re connected, but that’s the extent of it. Just go in and let the film tell its story.
The problem I had going into Prometheus as a fan of ALIEN and someone well versed in the various factions of that universe was that the fast paced nature of the film when it really starts moving meant that my mind was constantly looking for links. It was racing ahead, predicting with varying degrees of accuracy where each tiny detail was potentially going. I was racing ahead of the film, but at the same time I was trying to keep up, so initially the film felt more hectic than it actually is purely because of my own state of mind.
There were things I picked up on in the first round that served me well in the second, and I’ll gladly admit that being able to absorb Prometheus without the hype it’s generated or the films that supposedly preceded it weighing on my mind and knowing what to pay attention to certainly made the second spin around the block much more enjoyable, but had I gone in and just let the story tell me what it wanted to, rather than what I was expecting it to, I certainly would’ve enjoyed it much more than I did. Don’t get me wrong either; I LOVED Prometheus when I saw it that first time, and knew there and then I’d be seeing it a number of times following, I just wish I could’ve removed any and all preconceived notions and suspicions of the film’s very coy director and cast.
However, I can tell that what I’ve just said may dishearten ardent Alien fans. If I saw that, I’d be bummed too. But I’d be thankful I’d been told that by another before going in. So all you Alien fans should take that on board.
Now for the film itself.
Being both a genre film, and a Ridley Scott film, Prometheus carries certain expectations that could stand to work against it in the minds of many. Being a science fiction film, you already run the risk of alienating particular audiences because it immediately demands a suspension of disbelief that some people may not be able to cope with, and there are moments where the science used to build believable fiction is largely stretched or glossed over for the sake of allowing things to happen in the film. There are a couple of moments that made me raise an eyebrow somewhat questioningly, but thankfully the story crafted is moving along at such a pace by that point that you are almost forced to get over it as more things are coming your way pretty fast (and some demand your attention in pretty unforgettable ways).
Science fiction films also tend to be fairly large in scale, particularly tentpole releases like Prometheus, which may already deter some people, and Ridley Scott’s recent filmography tends to lean in the “epic” direction. But this is really the only way anyone can compare Prometheus to Alien – scope. Prometheus is not a big film, scale wise. It has a fairly small cast, it takes place over a relatively short space of time and is set largely in three places all relatively close to each other. However, tbe ideas Prometheus puts forward are much bigger than the film itself and make you realise that the universe within the film has all the scope it needs. This is something I really loved about it — the story being told is rarely distracted by the scope of its playing field, though I know there are a number of people who point at this as being one the biggest faults in the film.
There are a number of questions put forward, some of which don’t get answered, or answered DIRECTLY in the film. There’s a lot of reading between the lines to be done, so if you’re not up for a film that’s putting the onus on you to think about things intelligently or with an open mind (philosophically speaking) then you’re probably going to hate Prometheus.
Speaking of hating things. I don’t like 3D. I also don’t like IMAX. See Prometheus in both. The 3D is stunning, as are many of the film’s sprawling panoramic shots. The prologue is mindblowingly beautiful in a big screen and the 3D is never used as any kind of gimmick or selling point, it’s just used to create depth, but it’s hands down the most elegant and subtle use of it so far, and having seen both 2D and 3D versions of the film, I can safely say that I will actively try to see it in 3D whenever possible… Yes, this does mean I may be upgrading my television in the very near future. Solely so I can continue to enjoy how beautiful this film is.
Two somewhat problematic things did stand out both times I saw the film though. The score at times seems overly grandiose. Scenes that ideally should’ve had softer sounds or different cues in general had sweeping themes seemingly too similar to the core ones, and though it didn’t necessarily detract from any of the accompanying moments, one can’t help but wonder how much more effective a scene may have been with a more subtle “Jerry Goldsmith” style approach. Actually that reminds me, ALIEN fans will have one other thing to look forward to — NO SPOILER — a reprise of Jerry Goldsmith’s score from the original. I won’t say anything else, because it really is a nice tip of the hat.
My other problem, in contrast to the overuse of music, is the underuse of certain cast members. I really wish Charlize Theron had more to do, because she shines when she’s given the spotlight, and the same goes for Rafe Spall and Sean Harris. I’m still not entirely sure what to think of Guy Pearce, other than whether his casting in the role he’s given is completely necessary.
The special effects hold up nicely and I suspect will for a long time to come. There’s an interesting mix of CGI and physical/in-camera effects that really help sell the reality of everything in the film. Even the somewhat bizarre design of the “Engineers” is made to work by the way they’ve been brought to life on screen.
At the end of the day, I suspect that, regardless of what I might say here, Prometheus is going to be a fairly divisive film. All I can suggest is that you see it with someone you can tolerate lengthy conversations with, because you’ll want to talk about it once the credits roll (I’ve been dying since the press screening)!
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