Before you start reading this, know that isn’t really a sci-fi freak — at least, not in the Alien sense. I like action movies, love superhero movies and go beserk for mind-benders like Inception (whether Nolan’s 2010 film can be considered a sci-fi or not is still up for debate and a totally different blog post), but the far-space movie has never been on my top list.
And yet…Prometheus was one of the must-sees on my summer film list. Was it the prestige of Ridley Scott? The visuals? Michael Fassbender?
Hint: it was most likely Michael Fassbender.
But Scott’s newest cinematic conquest since the failed Robin Hood isn’t just another space movie. Prometheus is everything James Cameron’s Avatar should have been and has some things that Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is missing. There’s an intriguing — and thank goodness, followable — plot, whether you’ve seen Alien or not, fantastic performances, a decent script and visual effects that actually compliment rather than drown out the story.
Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) leads a team to a moon that promises to be the home of Man’s creators, a breed of giant humanoid creatures. Accompanied by robot David (Michael Fassbender), commissioned by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) and thwarted by businesswoman Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the team discovers our beginning, which could easily, if I may draw from the film’s tagline, be our ending.
It’s not Ridley’s best — that will always be Thelma and Louise for me, and Blade Runner as far as sci-fi goes — simply because it’s not his most original. There were times in the film that were direct draws from Alien, which makes sense because he started writing it as a prequel to his original film. Some of the themes and characters that have been replicated from 2001: A Space Odyssey (a Jupiter-esque planet is the backdrop of the moon and the robot’s name is David, a joke based on the Dave-HAL relationship).
But, like with the original Alien series, he outdoes his contemporary Cameron by actually having an intriguing story to accompany the mindblowing graphics as well as a cast that can make even the most nontechnical moments impressive.
Rapace continues to build her resume as an actress who can handle different types of characters (previously playing Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films and Simka in the latest Sherlock Holmes 2 romp). Pearce, decked out in aging make-up rivaling that of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, is recognizable but not intrusive. Theron is good, but nothing to write home about.
Call me biased for a good-looking British actor named Michael, but Fassbender’s performance is the biggest standout; we saw it in the viral commercial for “David” that bannered the IMDb homepage this spring. Pulling from Peter O’Toole’s performance in Lawrence of Arabia (a movie that Fassbender says played on loop while he was working on the project), he combines the automated motions, voice and expressions of a high-grade A.I. with the dapper and sometimes witty mannerisms of O’Toole. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Golden Globes gave him a nod come January.
Like any sci-fi flick, however, Prometheus was not founded solely on the performances of its actors. Visually speaking, the movie tops Avatar for me. I was lucky to see it in 3-D; static storms and giant holograms of the solar system leave viewers breathless as they expand past the screen, but the film is blessedly lacking gimicky jump-in-your-face moments. Unless you count that snake thing that attacks one of the engineers, which showed Scott hasn’t outgrown his shock-and-awe origins.
The light-stomached should be warned; there are moments in Prometheus that left me feeling like a trip to the nearest plumbing facility would be needed. Even my med-school friend who accompanied me that evening admitted queasiness at the gruesome Cesarian section scene (which was almost too reminiscent to the Alien birthing scene for comfort). Call it design or just luck, Scott followed that particular moment, and the others, with scenes that you couldn’t miss and didn’t want to walk out of.
The verdict: Prometheus is clearly Scott’s newest addition to the Alien universe (pun intended), but those who haven’t seen the original 1979 film can still enjoy it. It’s not for the weak-at-heart, but definitely for those who love an adrenaline rush, aliens included or not.