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STUDIO 20th Century Fox
RUNNING TIME 124 Minutes
• Ridley Scott Commentary
• John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof Commentary
• The Peter Weyland Files
• Deleted and Alternate Scenes
Space Jockey: The Motion Picture.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Ridley Scott
In 2089, super-rich eccentric Charles Weyland (Guy Pearce) decides to fund a space journey to LV-223, a moon that anthropologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) believes may be inhabited by a superior race of alien “engineers”. When the crew of the spaceship Prometheus touches down on LV-223, what they discover may destroy the human race.
Questions are easy. Coming up with answers to the questions that fans have had since 1979 is hard. As an Alien franchise mega-fan, I wanted some frickin’ answers. The single most disappointing thing about Prometheus is that it doesn’t really attempt to provide answers (at least not directly). Despite the massive disappointment that Prometheus delivers, Ridley Scott still gave us a gorgeous and icky (albeit clumsily written) creature feature.
Visually, Prometheus is pitch perfect. Production designer Arthur Max built a fascinating twist on Ron Cobb’s futurist aesthetic. The Prometheus is a multi-trillionaire’s extravagant space yacht, outfitted for exploration (and comfort, oddly enough). The ship is so beautiful that I really wish we could’ve spent more time in it. Hallways freeze with blue light. Cryo-chambers glow with sickly yellow gas. A chandelier dangles above a futuristic grand piano.
H.R. Giger’s grotesque design motifs are also beautifully depicted, doing great justice to Giger’s original vision. The Derelict ship from Alien has become a fully realized idea. The Space Jockey has finally been demystified, and while many were disappointed with the reveal of the marble-skinned humanoid Engineers, I was satisfied to finally know what Ridley Scott had in mind. I had literal goosebumps when the Space Jockey chair rose up out of the floor.
Simply put, costume designer Janty Yates fucking nailed the costumes for Prometheus. These are Oscar-worthy designs, combining practicality with whimsical retro-future concepts. Charlize Theron’s stunning silver suit really helps define her character’s stuck-up posture and icy attitude. The bubble-headed space suits could’ve looked very silly, but they end up looking very sexy.
Dariusz Wolski’s lighting and camera work is bloody fantastic, especially aboard the Prometheus. This combined with Ridley Scott’s eye for composition makes for some of the best cinematography I’ve seen this year. Also, Prometheus might be one of the few films worth seeing in 3D this year. Holographic displays extend deep into the screen, adding a much-needed dimensionality to the interface that Idris Elba stares at throughout the film.
The film also delivers on the icky creature factor as well, but not as you would expect. I like the monsters we got, even if they weren’t xenomorphs. The “Trilobite” squid-baby is shockingly disgusting on a deeply visceral level. The most effective scenes in Prometheus are the introduction and birth of this tentacled monstrosity. The way Michael Fassbender says, “It’s not exactly a traditional fetus” gives me the willies every time.
Speaking of Michael Fassbender, his performance is unparalleled in this film. He is the film’s brightest spot, by far. The sequences of him wandering around in flip-flops or bleaching his hair aboard the dark Prometheus are utterly fascinating. Noomi Rapace is damn good here, too, but Elizabeth Shaw is no Lisbeth Salander. The rest of the film’s acting ranges from good to merely adequate. Logan Marshall-Green’s performance as Holloway stands out as particularly odd. I don’t think he’s a bad actor, but his character is very poorly written.
Charlize Theron plays a fantastic ice queen as Meredith Vickers, but some of her emotional beats feel contrived. Her family ties to Weyland are an unnecessary addition. Her character arc would’ve been just as effective if Weyland was a father figure, and not her actual father.
The character of Charles Weyland is a total misfire. Guy Pearce gets put into old-man-prosthetics for a few scenes, and for what? Evidently there was a dream sequence cut from the film that featured a younger Weyland. The film obviously works better without the dream sequence, so I would have rather seen someone like Christopher Lee show up for a brief cameo and be done with it.
Another script-related issue is the complete lack of chemistry between any of our characters. One thing that Alien did so well was letting the cast act like a small blue-collar family. The crew had a tangible history. They had alliances and grudges. You really got the sense that the crew of the Nostromo were breathing each other’s air for a long time. In Prometheus, all of our characters are woken from hypersleep with no idea who anybody else is or why they’ve been transported so far into space.
They’re all introduced to one another literally minutes before they’re forced to start working together, and this results in some very bad chemistry. Any attempts to let the characters bond over conversation feels bungled. None of them want to get along, and they’re all constantly at each other’s throats. Another factor contributing to the lack of chemistry is that the film is loaded with too many characters, a problem that last year’s The Thing prequel had. There were too many nameless characters around strictly to create a body count.
The dialogue is quite spotty throughout most of the film, and performances never attain the natural cadence that the Nostromo’s crew had. It feels like the cast was just directed to read heavy-handed expository dialogue right off the page. Most attempts at characterization felt forced, such as Janek (Idris Elba) playing the accordion, or Shaw’s stubborn religious beliefs. If Ridley Scott had just let these actors improvise a bit more, perhaps we would have seen some great character interactions. There are still little character gems, like when Milburn (Rafe Spall) bumps his helmet against Fifield’s (Sean Harris) or when the ship’s copilots (Emun Elliott and Benedict Wong) share a few laughs.
The film lingers for too long after its kamikaze climax, clumsily setting up a sequel. Sure, there’s some great monster-on-monster action in these last few minutes, but it feels like an untidy denouement. The slimy final scene is a point of contention with some Alien fans, but I don’t mind it. As long as Ridley Scott is putting slimy alien monsters in front of the camera, I’ll be watching.
Prometheus is a film obsessed with questions. Poor storytelling has allowed this film to pass without giving up any real answers, resulting in a less-than-satisfying experience for many viewers. Some of those viewers decided to direct their vitriol and disappointment at Damon Lindelof, but after reading John Spaihts’ draft of the screenplay I can say with confidence that Prometheus is more deeply flawed, even at the conceptual level. It has a lot of great ideas, but doesn’t really know what to do with them.
Somewhere along the way, Ridley Scott, John Spaihts, and Damon Lindelof got too wrapped up in the heady mythological ideas and neglected to tell us a satisfying narrative. Nevertheless, when Prometheus does things right, it gets them very, very right. I just wish it wasn’t such a mixed bag. It certainly isn’t the Alien prequel we wanted it to be, but if you’re able to forgive Prometheus‘ rough spots, you’ll find a nasty sci-fi creature romp that’s very easy on the eyes.
This two-disc set is a wonderful presentation, with reference-level quality video and audio. Prometheus was shot with RED cameras, which can tend make the image look too clean. To prevent this over-clean look, it appears that Prometheus has some added grain to make the transfer look more like celluloid. It’s a damn fine transfer, with no excess sharpening, no noticeable artifacts, and lovely black levels. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 is one of the best audio tracks I’ve heard at home in 2012.
Ridley Scott’s commentary is very disappointing, which is unlike him. He seems very proud of the film, and spends a large amount of the running time just describing what we’re seeing on screen. It’s got a few tasty nuggets of info, but it’s nowhere near as interesting as the Lindelof/Spaihts commentary. Spaihts and Lindelof seem to dislike each other, so it makes sense that they were recorded separately. The deleted/alternate scenes are a great supplement, but I can see why they were excised or re-shot. There are a few moments that I wish were still in the final cut, but most of these scenes belong on the cutting room floor.
The Peter Weyland Files is a collection of the viral videos used to promote the film. You can find most of these videos on YouTube, but it’s still nice to have them here. There’s also a DVD copy of the film included, along with iTunes and Ultraviolet copies.
I find it difficult to recommend this two-disc set when the four-disc collector’s edition is so much better. Honestly, the documentary from that set is better than the movie itself. If you’re a special feature hoarder like me, spend the extra cash for the collector’s edition. It’s one of the best Blu-Ray sets of the year. If you’re a philistine monster who doesn’t care how movies are made, then go for this comparatively meager set.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars