Although frenzied, even slightly messy works often provoke the greatest reactions in me as a filmgoer, sometimes the more controlled ones inspire just as much love. To call “Prometheus” controlled is an understatement; as a work of Ridley Scott the perfectionist production-design and visual detail is almost a-given. But indeed, the fact that “Prometheus” may be among the most visually beautiful things I’ve ever seen comes as an afterthought. Perfectly framed and hauntingly lit, using 3D technology to its full potential as an immersive device, its a thing whose sheer technical prowess has already inspired books. But pretty pictures do not linger for long, it’s the kind of conversation they provoke that does.
“Prometheus” has certainly been a conversation-piece for some time now, but what exactly these conversations have been is most intriguing. There are, of course, the traditional “masterpiece!” vs. “crap!” declarations, but most interesting is watching peoples’ takes on whether the film, simply, makes sense. In my eyes, it is a great film; one with ideas to match its scope, and the sense to give both a bit of mystery. Its imperfections are maddening, but it just gets too much right to neglect.
Director Ridley Scott uses the universe of his 1979 masterpiece “Alien” as a starting point for “Prometheus”‘s exploits, although the exact relationship between the two is one detail I’d rather not spoil. He’s a filmmaker whose output ranges from the highs of “Blade Runner” to the lows of “Robin Hood”, but it seems for the first time in a few decades he’s set out with true ambition.
“Prometheus”, set a few decades in the future, is the story of an expedition to a nearby planet believed to contain clues to humanity’s origins. Aboard are scientists, geologists, corporate tools, quirky navigators, and an android named David, among the more compelling film characters in recent memory. Played by perhaps our finest working actor, Michael Fassbender, David is as blunt as he is enigmatic, and as all-knowing as he is inquisitive. Noomi Rapace proves to be much more than a gimmicky new Swedish import; indeed, as the main scientist, she’s as brave and admirable a female protagonist as any other. It’s always a joy catching “The Wire”s Idris Elba in work as quirky as his ship captain character, and Charlize Theron continues her fairly unstoppable career comeback as the representative of the trillion-dollar corporation that green-lit the whole thing.
What exactly happens to these people when they land on the planet is something best left unknown before seeing “Prometheus”. Beliefs are confronted, true motives unveiled, and heads roll. Lots.
I implore you to see “Prometheus”, not because it solves humanity’s search for meaning, creation, and the meaning of creation. But because it has the gall to confront these issues head-on and incorporate it into its narrative. It has much more on its mind than probably any other work this summer, and three viewings deep into this thing, I’m only now beginning to unpack it.
This is not to call it the de-facto masterpiece of the decade — writers Jon Spaihts and “Lost” show-runner Damon Lindelof leave many narrative questions unresolved, and not the mere sort that can be answered in its inevitable sequel. The sheer sloppiness of some of their plot threads is what undoes some of “Prometheus”, dinging it down from bravura to flawed greatness.
But by all means, while buzzing about all the deeper questions, don’t forget to get excited. Alas, “Prometheus” represents the best of two genres — explorative adventure and disgusting body horror. The sense of mystique and world-building here rivals “Avatar”, with some action sequences engaging enough to rival the best from that film. But there’s one sequence about two-thirds into the film that’s an instant stone-cold classic, a little gruesome three-minute nightmare ranking right up there with “Scanners”-era Cronenberg. For this alone “Prometheus” outshines practically the past decade in horror, a genre it’s hardly dipping its toe into. Great stuff.
“Prometheus” has been compared by some to the most recent “Indiana Jones” installment, with regards to its perceived tarnishing of a cherished movie franchise. I’d find a comparison that I think is more fitting, but then I realize: there is none. I can’t recall anything quite like “Prometheus”, a work whose ambition is stunning, whose qualities are innumerable, and whose flaws only seem to deepen my fascination with it. A-