Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Prometheus 2D (2012) - Cinema Review (7.5/10)

Ahh, Prometheus... Probably my most anticipated film of 2012 along with John Carter. Directed by the near-legendary director Ridley Scott, Prometheus is a prequel to his own film, Alien, from 1969. For those of you who don't know (although I don't know what rock you've been hiding under if you don't), Alien went on to become one of the most highly considered and influential science fiction films of all time.

In terms of Prometheus' relation to Alien, I'll try and give a little background. In Alien, A derelict alien spacecraft is discovered on a distant world, by a cargo crew who intercept what they think at first is a distress signal. It contains a terrible creature that goes on to decimate the crew. Really, there were two major elements in the film. The beast itself, and the mysterious alien vessel and race that it originated from. The film hints, but never states, that the creature was potentially a biological weapon of the race to whom the derelict belonged.
As anyone who hasn't been in cryogenic freeze for the past forty odd years will know, it spawned a host of sequels and associated films that dealt only with the creature, yet strangely eschewed the mystery of its origin.
Ridley Scott has finally decided to pick up that unused thread of the story with Prometheus, almost completely separating it from the eponymous creature of the other films.

I've been a fan of Alien and its sequels for many years, but I always wanted to see someone make a film dealing with that mystery. So I was over the moon when Ridley decided to return to the franchise.

The question then becomes, how well did he succeed? This is where it becomes frustrating. Prometheus is both simultaneously excellent and disappointing at the same time. Often the flaws in these kind of films come about from destroying the mystery of what went before. Oddly enough, that isn't where Prometheus goes wrong. If anything, that's where it succeeds, only to be maddeningly undermined by the most basic of elements that should have been the easiest. I'll warn you now, in order to cover these my review will contain spoilers, so read no further if you don't want to ruin the film for yourself.

Prometheus is a film that relies very much in its earlier stages on that old horror movie stalwart; 'characters do something stupid to get them into a situation'. The worst example is when two characters get lost in a series of underground corridors, when one of them was in fact the individual responsible for knowing how to map the area in the first place. Then those two characters are not only conveniently forgotten by the ship's crew during an evacuation, but they seem to forget about contacting the ship themselves, until such time as they can be conveniently 'lost'. So once we get past that... where do those two characters go? Just the very location they chose to avoid earlier.

The reason they left the main party and got lost, was because they had the sense to decide to try and return to the main ship early, rather than progressing into an unknown area with the foolish and irresponsible scientists. So for no real reason they decide to hole up in that very area the scientists opened up, when they are stuck for the night in the abandoned underground chambers. Of course it doesn't end there. A character scared enough to not enter this room earlier, is now quite happy to try and interact with an alien beast displaying characteristics suspiciously close to that of a cobra. Of course this results in a rather unhappy conclusion for the poor fellow.

All the while this top-of-the-line absurdly expensive exploration mission leaves no-one monitoring events while two of their crew are stuck alone in an alien environment, so that their fates are not only missed but seemingly unrecorded in a situation where surely everything would be recorded.

Then of course we have the old 'The air is breathable so let's take our helmets off' situation, without testing it in some manner first.

We also have a character deliberately infected with something that could have potentially endangered everybody, despite the fact that such an act was clearly sanctioned by someone who also wants any opportunity to survive and live forever.

Later, one of the best scenes is also one of the most annoying. I'll try not to give too much away, suffice to say a character has to perform a self-inflicted operation in order to save themselves from a creature. It's tense, disgusting, nail-biting stuff. Unfortunately it is accompanied by some sheer idiocy. The character reaches this situation after escaping two others who seemingly forget her actions and then leave her to perform all of this without interruption. Not only that, but no-one else on board seems to be alerted to this drastic situation and the thing it leaves on board, except for a slightly unconcerned acknowledgement by the android character. Is any of this making sense?

We also have a selection of characters that are poorly introduced. The original Alien is a master-class in the introduction of varied and distinct characters, partly through script, partly through direction and editing and partly through excellent actors. Prometheus manages this with a small handful of the characters, while leaving others practically skimmed over but later used in such a way as to imply we should have known and cared for them.

Meanwhile the most interesting character in the whole film (with the possible exception of the android), is wasted. Meredith Vickers, played by Charlize Theron (Aeon Flux, Snow White and the Huntsman), is kept alive until the final reel where you hope something will happen, and then simply disposed of in an all-too-convenient way without any purpose. In fact there are a few elements like that in the film. Things with potential, that are just conveniently forgotten or discarded.

What is good, you may ask? As always, Ridley Scott can produce the most visually impressive films. There is little doubting that Prometheus looks superb, even if some of that is due to the ideas and designs that go all the way back to Alien. The soundtrack is also quite enjoyable, though I can't say particularly memorable. Ridley clearly wanted to distance himself from the 'horror movie/haunted house' feel of the original Alien soundtrack. In fact this distancing is a 'theme', if you can call it that, throughout the film. It does not have the expected trademark 'darkness' you would expect it to easily have. He has not tried to create a straight forward horror film atmosphere, which goes some way to making the film feel atmospherically less predictable than it unfortunately ends up being.

The overall themes and ideas involved are what save the film from being a complete mess. The somewhat unresolved mystery of the 'spacejockey' creatures (as the mummified spacecraft pilot of the original film came to be known) keeps things interesting. Enough is revealed (or at least confirmed for fans) to keep it satisfying, whilst keeping and even introducing new mysteries. The ending for the lead character Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), is sufficiently different and fun (even if her character is one of the least interesting), whilst the very end sets up a nice lead into the original film, albeit perhaps being a little too on-the-nose.

If I was only thinking of the themes and general ideas in the story, I would say this was an excellent prequel to Alien. It's just a shame that it was let down by the otherwise more conventional aspects of the story that Ridley Scott has himself done so much better in the past.

Be prepared... For many, my next few comments will verge on sacrilegious. Oddly enough, the film's general themes have a lot in common with the much derided first Aliens versus Predator film. While Prometheus has a much more serious and refined feel, it surprisingly doesn't succeed as well in some areas. For example, Prometheus obligatory powerful billionaire character is in fact more stereotypical and less interesting than his own presumed ancestor in AVP. Likewise, while itself flawed in places, AVP suffers from fewer occasions of 'stupid person does stupid thing' to move the plot along. It's difficult to admit, but I think AVP also did a better job of introducing its characters and making us care about them.

I think Prometheus can be boiled down to three levels. Firstly, the main themes and ideas, secondly the overall script and characters, and lastly the visual feel, from the production design to the direction. The production design and direction are superb, at the top level. The main themes and ideas are excellent if not especially original or expanded. The script and characters veer between good to downright badly thought out, saved only by excellent actors and direction.

If I could sum up the whole film in one word, it would be 'frustrating'. What makes it so frustrating, is that the weaker parts were those that so easily should have been right, while the elements that could have easily gone wrong were actually quite successful. It could have been a great film and is instead more of a fascinating failure.

I'm still giving it a relatively high mark, because even as somewhat of a failure, Prometheus is an excellent film in comparison to most. It works on most levels, has some wonderful and thought provoking ideas (even if only in relation to its own universe), and looks superb. It's just a shame it fell flat with so many of the basics.


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