Movie review: Scott returns to the ‘Alien’ franchise with sci-fi ‘Prometheus’

By Varun Bhuchar

Over 30 years after relatively unknown filmmaker Ridley Scott exploded into the public consciousness with his second film “Alien” (1979), he returns to the franchise with “Prometheus” (2012). “Alien,” dark, realistic, gritty and terrifying, was the complete opposite of the sci-fi epic “Star Wars” (1977), which had debuted just two years earlier. Over the years, “Alien” grew to spawn a franchise that launched the careers of Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron and David Fincher. Yet Scott, the man who started it all, seemed to have turned his back on the work that had launched his career.

“Prometheus,” however, is a worthy addition to Scott’s canon. While not officially a prequel, “Prometheus” takes place in the same universe as the “Alien” series and introduces a new set of mythology and ideas to explore. In the year 2089, archaeologists and lovers Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, played by Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green, respectively, discover concrete proof regarding the origins of humanity. With this evidence, the two set out on an expedition on the scientific vessel Prometheus, funded by the wealthy Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), to find our makers.

Four years later, the crew, commanded by the icy Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), find themselves at their destination and descend to do their research. What they find on the surface of the planet, however, may threaten to destroy not only them, but all of humanity.

With modern technology now at his disposal, Scott creates a vision of the future that seems, well, futuristic. The Prometheus seems to evoke the aura of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise in its high-tech fluorescence and post-modernist decor. The breathtaking aerial shots that open the film look as foreign as anything that came from Pandora. It is a testament to the cinematography that the opening scene was shot in Iceland and is not in fact unused footage from “Avatar” (2009).

In all the technological wizardry “Prometheus” has to offer, it’s easy to forget that there are actual people in the film. Neatly making her transition to Hollywood from the Swedish film industry, Rapace portrays Shaw excellently. Yet, she’s no Ellen Ripley. In a disappointing move, “Prometheus” relegates its female heroine to a damsel-in-distress role. Rather than kicking ass and taking names, she’s running away from things and praying that she makes it to the sequel. I must begrudgingly assign badass points, however, to Rapace’s character for what is perhaps the most horrifying do-it-yourself surgery sequence ever committed to screen.

The other main female in the film, played by Theron, seems to phone it in as the cold and calculating captain of the Prometheus. She’s the same cold, icy bitch that she played in “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012) without the emotional vulnerability that made her so captivating to watch in “Young Adult” (2011). I hope that this isn’t a new stereotype that Theron falls into; she’s too good to have the next phase of her career characterized as having the range of Kim Kardashian’s talents.

Yet the sins of Rapace and Theron are more than absolved by Michael Fassbender’s ridiculously good performance as the android David. Literally channeling Peter O’Toole, Fassbender looks like a Ken doll with his square jaw, blond hair and chiseled-from-a-rock good looks. Emotionless and loyal to a fault, Fassbender effortlessly destroys the line between human and robot and makes us forget that his character is an android.

What brings Fassbender’s performance up to a whole new level is the moral ambiguity that lies at the heart of David’s actions. As fans of the “Alien” franchise know, the androids built to serve in this universe are not always what they seem.

While David never approaches HAL 9000 levels of malevolence, his actions are certainly not what one expects from a figure so lovingly advertised in the viral campaign for “Prometheus.”

There have been complaints from hardcore fans of the series that the film is riddled with plot holes to the detriment of its overall structure. While the story does have its flaws, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the film is unsalvageable. In fact, I believe that Scott’s masterful direction in building up the suspense and terror more than make up for any minor details that may have slipped through the cracks.

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