Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Short Take: Prometheus

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

Director Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a semi-prequel to his 1979 film Alien. The hallmarks are the same: gruesome monsters, body horror, terrific production design, and a strong-willed, never-say-die heroine (played this time out by Noomi Rapace). The major difference is that it takes itself a lot more seriously. The script, credited to Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, aims for gravitas by imposing Alien story elements onto Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke’s plot for 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the prologue, set in prehistoric times, extra-terrestrial beings sow the seeds for future humanity. The film then shifts to the late 21st century, where archaeologists (Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) interpret disparate cave paintings as an invitation by the extra-terrestrials to meet humanity in space. Two years later, a ship from Earth carrying the archaeologists and others arrives in the nearest habitable solar system. The film’s version of Kubrick and Clarke’s supercomputer HAL 9000 is an intelligent, untrustworthy android (Michael Fassbender) who has overseen the voyage while the ship’s crew has been kept in suspended animation. And like HAL 9000, he’s by far the most engaging character; the film presents him as an effete narcissist who idolizes Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. The film’s twist on the 2001 plot is that the extra-terrestrials’ goals are not benevolent. This of course sets the stage for the monster-movie suspense and gross-outs familiar to viewers from the first Alien picture. The creatures and the body-horror moments are really all that carry the story along. The awe, mystery, and grandeur of 2001 is turned into cliché. For all of Ridley Scott’s talent for imagery, he isn’t a deft storyteller; the only dramatic effect he handles well is jolting the audience. Despite actors as capable as Rapace, Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, and Guy Pearce, the cast is a pretty dull bunch. The real stars of the film are the behind-the-scenes artisans: cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, production designer Arthur Max, costumer Janty Yates, creature designer Carlos Huante, and visual effects supervisor Martin Hill.

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