Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Movie Review: Prometheus

 PROMETHEUS. IS. AWESOME.

 I remember seeing Ridley Scott's Alien in 1979.  I became a diehard fan of the franchise, the work of surrealist Swiss painter H.R. Giger, and of Scott's because of this film, and I have yet to be disappointed by any of Scott's work.  Prometheus is a "tour-De-force", engaging you from the initial scene until the closing credits.

 The film opens with what we assume is an ancient Earth.  A hairless, albino, humanoid alien stands on a cliff above a waterfall and watches as a space-craft launches.  He then consumes a viscous black fluid, which immediately begins unraveling his DNA.  Shortly after falling into the turbulent water below, his body is completely reduced to DNA chains, which begins to recombine with the ambient primordial life in the area.

Say it with me, "The Company screwed us."
 In 2091, Weyland Industries launches "The Prometheus" into deep-space to investigate what a team of scientists theorize may be the origins of human civilization or possibility humanity itself.  The mission is based on theory spearheaded by two scientists who have discovered a correlation between ancient cultural depictions from different eras and societies depicting humans being taught by giants about what they suggest is a star-system.  Only one matching system is in nearby space that has a body that can sustain life.  The trip takes 2 years.

Eye-candy like this through the whole film.
 The beginning of the film is fairly quick-paced, and initially you get the feeling this will be less of a horror film and more of a sci-fi flick.  The characters are also introduced and established quickly, making it difficult to feel much empathy for them as the film progresses.  The story itself, however, is enthralling enough to make up for this flaw.  You get the feeling that something is not quite right from the first scenes on the ship; the way David watches Holloway while she is in suspended animation, the chilly attitude of Ms. Vickers towards the entire team, and the mannerisms of the crew and scientists suggests that not all is what it appears to be. 

Uh-oh.
 The film's pacing slows when they find the alien structures on the foreign moon and begin their exploration.  The moon's atmosphere is toxic, but the air inside the structures is breathable, and the scientists boldly remove their helmets.  The structure is immense, and appears to be just one of a multitude of similar structures on the site.  It also appears that the structures have been long abandoned, although some of the alien technology still functions.  David, the ship's android, has learned the alien language by extrapolating a root language from primitive Earth languages.  He activates what appears to be a recording which shows the alien "engineers" running through the structure trying to reach safety from some unknown threat.  The room they run into is a storage facility of some sort, filled with pods that contain a black fluid.  The severed head of one of the aliens who did not make it through the door is retrieved by the crew as a sandstorm suddenly forces the team to retreat.  Two members of the team, a biologist and geologist, who elected to leave the expedition upon seeing the recording of the aliens, are trapped by the storm in the structure.

 At this point, all hell seems to break loose.

This guy drew the short straw.
 The storm appears to be a response to the breach of the structure.  This also results in the black fluid in the storage chamber being leaked into the ground, shown earlier to contain worm-like creatures.  On the ship, after braving the storm to retrieve the alien head, the team re-activates the aliens nervous system long enough for the head to explode due to some form of infection.  David, in a fashion which appears to common to androids in Ridley Scott films, betrays his human counterparts by intentionally allowing one of them to consume (via a tainted beverage) some of the black liquid.  Meanwhile, the biologist and geologist are attacked by the mutates worms, who are now strong enough to easily break bones, have acid for blood, and are intent in attacking the face and getting into the body of their victims via the mouth.

 And that is about as good as things will be for the crew of the Prometheus from this point forward.

He's got the whole world in his hands...
 Prometheus sets out to address, albeit through fiction, our most fundamental questions, such as "why do we (humanity) exist?", while making the point that just because we have access to our gods does not necessarily mean that our gods feel any obligation toward us.  Indeed, they may view us with malice and contempt.  While it addresses these issues, it avoids providing any actual answers.  We are left wondering what the intent of the alien "engineers" really was, the purpose of the facility, and if the "xenomorph" alien we are familiar with from previous films was an intentional design or a mistake.

 The cinematography is lush, the special-effects are mind-blowing, and the horror is extremely visceral, a common trait of Ridley Scott films.  While the characters are a bit limited, the story is not about one person or even the crew, it is about humanity and its contact with what may be its creators.  The crew provides a broad-brush sampling of human characteristics.  I am also not critical of the references to the other Alien films; this film is meant to operate within those established parameters, and in that was successful.  I am looking forward to the home release, so I can study further many of the clues which are in the film's set-design revealing more of the Alien mythology.

 Rumor has it there may be a sequel.  Scott himself has been quoted as saying that another film is necessary to bridge the gap between Prometheus and Alien.  While I would like to have some answers to the questions raised in Prometheus, and I am confident that Scott would make a wonderful film, I am not in a hurry to see something which is ham-handed in writing or characterization.  In other words, while a sequel sounds intriguing, experience suggests that a sequel is a bad idea.

 

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