Review: "Prometheus"

Between unending trailers, viral marketing, social media, and the abundance of movie-centric blogs, you almost have to deliberately stick your head in the virtual sand in order to avoid prior knowledge of a given film. I myself appreciate this for the most part; I like to know what I'm getting myself into before I step into a theater and spend my (relatively) hard earned money. On the flip side, however, the plethora of media sources leads to at least one nasty side effect: the Disease of Expectation. With each passing year, it becomes more and more difficult to enter into a movie theater without bringing in prior expectations and as a result, too many films fail to live up to the standard we set out for them in our heads months before the opening credits roll. Prometheus could be described as the poster child for the Disease of Expectation and I'd like to take a stand against this affliction right here and now.

In the year 2089, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her partner Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) discover the last in a series of primitive cave paintings that point towards a distant star as the point of origin for our species. Their find leads to the commissioning of an intergalactic expedition on the scientific spaceship Prometheus, paid for by the Weyland Corporation. Along with a crew that includes Captain Janek (Idris Elba), Weyland Corp. representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), and a robot called David (Michael Fassbender), the doctors awaken from hyper sleep with the planet they believe holds the key to human life on the horizon. But when they arrive on the surface, it quickly becomes apparent that "the Engineers" (as the doctors call our would-be creators) aren't who they thought they were and the planet holds far more dangerous secrets than the crew could have ever imagined.

In many ways, Prometheus is the greatest sci-fi TV pilot of all time, and that is both its greatest strength and weakness. It's almost impossible to put this film in a box and title it unequivocally as a prequel or as a stand-alone film. It contains elements of both without ever completely drifting to one side of the coin or the other and depending on your interpretation of what's happening, this mix will either infuriate or transfix you. By the very nature of basing his film within the familiar landscape of the Alien films without forcing it to occupy the limited space of a direct prequel, Scott has, I think brilliantly, set himself up for what could become an addictive franchise. While it feels like an introductory course at times, Scott has essentially opened up the Alien universe to the creepy Pandora's Box within his mind and established the rules and mythology for a much more complex world than Alien ever aspired to dwell in. The most important thing I took away from this film is that the possibilities are literally endless for what can be done from here, whether in film, TV, or written form. As such, I think this is an incredibly ambitious piece of filmmaking that goes far beyond the somewhat limited reach of Prometheus itself.

That's not to say that there isn't anything to appreciate about the film on its own. The set pieces, both CGI and real, are gorgeous, drenched in a dark tone that perfectly suits the atmosphere of the film. A talented, if under-utilized group of actors all give quality performances, though they all could have been relied upon more heavily (more on this in a moment). Rapace brings a truly compelling nature to her character, reminding American audiences that she is in fact a legitimate movie star even if her body of work isn't as familiar on these shores. Fassbender, though, is the man of the hour as he absolutely nails his performance, bringing technical perfection and eerie hollowness to the role. To think that the average moviegoer (myself included) had no idea who this guy was three years ago is remarkable as he continues to make his mark as one of the very best actors Hollywood has to offer. Prometheus itself is a well-designed ship that harkens back to Serenity from the Firefly series. And of course, there are a host of CGI creatures that range from terrifying to just plain cool. I imagine a great deal of this film's budget was set aside for this department and that was money well spent.

But let's be honest now: there are some definite issues with Prometheus. The script comes across as choppy at times and the dialogue isn't anything to write home about. Basically all of the characters make poor choices at some point or another which inevitably leads to an escalation of the film's horrific events. Perhaps most egregious, Scott doesn't take much time to craft, evolve, and develop his characters and as a result there is a definite detachment between the audience and what happens on screen. In my mind, however, none of these issues come close to overshadowing the overall "good-to-great" feeling this film gives off otherwise. These certainly aren't issues that should draw the fierce, venomous vitriol that Prometheus has inspired across the ranks of fanboys and critics alike. And that's where we come to the problem with expectations: almost every decidedly negative review I've glanced through has come down, whether consciously or not, to the reviewers not getting what they expected to get from a movie that they thought was going to be an earth-shattering, game-changing film, which this simply isn't. 

I'd like to invite all of the haters (yes, I just used haters in what has otherwise been a fairly professional piece) to kindly jump off a cliff. To clarify: if you can honestly sit through Prometheus, judge it on its own merits, and tell me that you think it's a bad film, then I disagree with you but that's fine. My problem is with those of you who have picked this film apart based on the expectations you had going in. The fact that Prometheus isn't an epic achievement that inhabits the space set aside for the very best the sci-fi genre has to offer doesn't mean it isn't a quality film in its own right. Furthermore, if you're really this upset about the horror movie-like choices our characters make throughout the film, then I encourage you to go back and watch AlienAliens, and just about every other sci-fi movie of any substance and have a look at the miserable life choices the characters in those films make on a routine basis. This isn't a new phenomenon so let's all stop pretending that today's films aren't as smart as the ones we remember with fond nostalgia. 

All of that to say, I found Prometheus to be a bold and wholly engrossing film that had me riveted throughout despite its issues. I also firmly believe that the director's cut, rumored to be at least 20 minutes longer, will address some of these flaws and will end up being a much better film. Regardless, I woke up on the morning following my viewing thinking about this film and haven't been able to get it out of my head since and years from now, I think we'll be discussing the way in which a spectacular franchise got off to such an inauspicious start.