"Prometheus" — movie review!

Posted on June 15, 2012

Apparently this film has been the source of both great love and great derision out there in moviegoer land! I can actually express both emotions for “Prometheus,” but I definitely enjoyed it more than not.

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE:

1) Some of these scientists were obviously graduates of the “University of People So Stupid They Will Get Themselves Killed Straight Off In Horror Films.” I mean, I don’t mind the occasional totally human panic-flail by a movie character; I often think we hold fictional people to much, much higher standards of logical conduct than we ever meet ourselves. But several of these guys were morons. “Hey, it’s an alien life form I’ve never seen before! I’m gonna try to pet it!” Then you deserve death.

2) Aside for the moronic bit players, remarkably few of the characters were deeply developed. Some of them were essentially ciphers, sometimes even personable and charismatic ones, but I wanted to invest a little more deeply. In the case of Meredith Vickers, holding back made sense (more on that later), but I’d have liked to know much more about Captain Janek, the Scottish woman whose name I never got (you see the problem?) and above all …

3) Charlie Holloway, played by Logan Marshall Green. Whereas several of the underdeveloped characters were at least played by actors so talented that they managed to breathe life into it (Idris Elba = the master), this part was both badly written and badly cast. I did not for two seconds think that this guy was a scientist, a visionary, in love with Elizabeth Shaw, any of it. The only moments where he was remotely credible were when he was baiting David about being non-human, and that’s him at his lowest — a bad sign. Since the first half of the movie is very much set up to provide tension between Charlie, Elizabeth and Meredith, having one point on that triangle be so weak diminished the whole movie. I mean, LMG is hot and all — if he ever wants to audition for taking me to dinner, he can read — but he was not the guy to rescue an underwritten part, at least not this one.

4) Too many plot contrivances took place only for the demands of action-movie pacing, and the action-movie stuff is never the best thing “Prometheus” has going. Better, I think, had they stuck with the suspense, which works wonderfully. There’s a gory, over the top action sequence that kills two people in a way meant to be horrible, but which had me and my friend laughing out loud … and then it’s immediately followed by a quiet, low-key scene that, in one two-second camera angle, conveyed more real horror than any of the gore had. We needed more of the latter, less of the former.

STUFF THAT MAKES ME GO HMMMM:

1) Apparently a lot of people are all huffy because this movie is about a search for Cosmic Truths and we don’t get them! Like, yeah, this action movie is going to tell us for once and for all what God is or your money back. Everybody should just lighten up. I was slightly peeved at one point at the fact that the mystery had become more opaque over time, but then as the movie went on, that began to make much more sense to me. It is, I think, the point of the movie: The harder you search for absolutes, the more they slip away. Shaw doesn’t give up, but what looked like scientific inquiry in the beginning has now been redefined as a search of faith. And I strongly prefer being given no answers to those kind of cosmic questions than being given lame ones.

2) Why in the name of what did they cast Guy Pearce as a 92 year old? Extreme old age makeup continues to be very unconvincing. I assumed we got that because there would be flashbacks to Peter Weyland as a young man, but it didn’t happen. Why not get Christopher Plummer, or Christopher Lee, or — if he’s still in shape for such, about which I have no idea — the absolute perfect person would have been Peter O’Toole. That said, Pearce gave a good performance. He’s just a mystifying choice.

STUFF I LOVED:

1) Michael Fassbender as David is the best thing in this movie — and he keeps his clothes on the whole time, so you know my opinion here is honest. David is a robot, but not an automaton, and the constant tease between everything he’s not supposed to feel versus everything he does and doesn’t feel is probably the single most fascinating part of “Prometheus.” He does some terrible things, but for motivations that are ultimately understandable both because of his robotic nature (he must, after all, follow Weyland’s orders wherever they lead) and whatever else he may feel (there’s a suggestion that Weyland’s fatherly emotions toward him may be genuinely appreciated). He’s the single coldest character in the film, and yet the few times we sense real wonder and joy, we do so through his eyes. The friend I saw the film with said, as soon as the credits began, “The whole thing should have been about David,” and I would agree, except for …

2) Noomi Rapace as Elizabeth Shaw. She convinced me she was both a scientist and a person of faith, and if the script sometimes muddied her purpose, her performance kept the character and the film on track. She plays the single scariest scene in the entire film — the surgical pod scene — with such intensity that I found myself short of breath at the end. (Also, how much do I love that, for once in film, a woman impregnated against her will with an evil/alien/demonic being doesn’t get sentimental as though this were an actual baby and instead says, “This should NOT BE HAPPENING, period”? A lot, that’s how much.) Although the script seemed to want to forget the physical trauma she’d been through, Rapace never did; she makes it clear that she is pushing herself through this by will alone, because she has no other choice.

3) I also really enjoyed Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, although for about 2/3 of the movie I thought she was going to be one of the elements I most disliked. At first, honestly, Vickers comes across as so controlling and so petty that I was thinking, “Man, she got to show a softer side as the Evil Queen in Snow White.” But once Vickers’ true connection to Weyland comes out, and we glimpse what’s underlying her motivations — particularly her animosity toward David — her performance suddenly made perfect sense.

4) The visuals on this: WOW. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen more dazzling effects. The holographic displays on both the Prometheus and the alien vessel were awe-inspiring, in a very I-want-to-go-to-there way. The ship itself is a believable, functional and yet dazzling thing. In the scene where they break atmosphere and head for the planet’s surface, I wanted to applaud; it was that stunning. And sometimes that design works to haunting effect, as in when David watches “Lawrence of Arabia,” or when Vickers’ luxurious escape pod is transformed, in the end, to a chamber of horrors complete with classical music and off-kilter chandelier. These weren’t only good design, they were also key elements of making me feel that I was truly in another time, on another world. That’s the stuff movie magic is made of.

5) I’m just going to call out the surgical-pod scene separately. That FREAKED ME OUT, in the best sense. That’s the core of cold, clinical horror that underlay “Alien” so beautifully, and that Ridley Scott does so well. And only on the way home did I realize that the pod’s default-male setting was not an annoying contrivance but Big Time Foreshadowing.

6) Finally, I loved the ending. Loved, loved, LOVED. Dude, Elizabeth’s riding off into the sunset with David literally in pieces at her side, about to find the gods and ask them some hard questions, just because she can. I can imagine it as brilliant scifi, but it could also be the road-trip movie of all time, or the romcom the 21st century has been waiting for. Whatever they’re selling, I’m in line for, is what I’m saying here.

One week unt
il “Brave,” right?

This weekend I’m finishing copyedits on SPELLCASTER! So excited for you guys to see this one …

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